Once the Mike Matheny veneer was gone, so was Matheny

MLB, Uncategorized

Matheny

As much as the St. Louis Cardinals will deny it and say there was not any one single incident that sparked their sudden urgency to make a change at manager, the tipping point to finally pull the trigger and fire manager Mike Matheny was the revelation that relief pitcher Bud Norris was using various tactics to “teach” rookie reliever Jordan Hicks how to behave like a major leaguer and did so with the tacit and chuckling approval of the manager. The issue was discussed here.

That, combined with the club hovering around .500 and rapidly hurtling toward irrelevance, made it the obvious decision.

Inevitably, the question regarding Matheny’s dismissal will be, “Why?” This answer is more nuanced than saying the team was not living up to expectations or that he lost control of the clubhouse. The reality of Matheny’s dismissal is not the “why” in the conventional sense. If on-field struggles and strategic gaffes were the barometer of Matheny keeping or losing his job, then he would have been fired after 2016 or 2017. Instead, he was given a three-year contract extension after the 2016 season on top of the contract he was already working under, so he’s signed through 2020 making it even more surprising that an owner such as Bill DeWitt agreed to the change. DeWitt is not “cheap” in the literal sense, but he is frugal. If they make the obvious move and hire Joe Girardi as the replacement, Girardi will want a contract commensurate with his resume and that means he’s not taking an entry-level deal. Presumably, DeWitt is aware of this and accepts it for the greater good.

Regarding Matheny, much like players are increasingly assessed by their combination of skills, so too does that apply to managers and front office personnel. It’s no surprise that given the star-like nature of today’s front offices with the entire organizational solar system revolving around it, few managers are blamed for what happens on the field and fired, especially during the season. Matheny is the second manager who has been dismissed during the 2018 season. The Cardinals will be lucky to get the same results the Cincinnati Reds have gotten by replacing Bryan Price with Jim Riggleman.

The root cause of team’s inconsistency and mediocrity is difficult to pinpoint and discern. Looking at their roster and they should not be playing .500 ball. But that was also the case in 2017. On the other side of the coin, should Matheny not be credited for the positive work he did in the first four seasons of his managerial career when he made the playoffs in each and won a pennant in 2013?

The implication that Matheny was completely inept is misplaced. He was hired to fill a role and he did it. He had substantial success during his tenure. Replacing a legend in Tony La Russa and stewarding a team that was transitioning from one rife with veterans and big money players to one that is built more on younger players, sabermetric principles and opportunism along with the ever-present “Cardinals way” was not as seamless as it appeared. History is littered with managers and coaches who took over for a legend, ran a team that was expected to win and failed. So, he was not a failure, nor was he a mistaken hire. Based on results, it’s difficult to envision anyone having done better than Matheny did.

However, as the on-field results declined and the smoldering controversy with how he oversaw and even encouraged Norris’s behavior grew into a blaze, the team continued to play poorly. If the team was not playing well and his status as having superior skills at corralling the diverse personalities in a clubhouse and navigating the difficult terrain of the media were decaying, what was the benefit of retaining him?

Once that veneer was gone, so was Matheny.

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The Mets must trade Zack Wheeler before the MLB trade deadline

MLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Uncategorized

Zack Wheeler

It’s easy to become hypnotized by Zack Wheeler’s arm and paralyzed by the fear that just as he appears to figure out how to harness his gifts and seems to be healthy, the New York Mets are debating whether to trade him or not.

There should be no debate. The Mets not only should trade Wheeler before the approaching MLB trade deadline, but they must trade Wheeler. Here’s why:

  • He’s only locked in as a Met through 2019.

Wheeler is under team control for one more season after this one. Given the poor state of pitching in general across the major leagues, should he remain injury-free and be little more than serviceable, that should be worth at least $30 million in the current climate. Despite reports that the Mets are in a stronger financial situation than they’ve been in years – believe it or don’t – the approaching trade/sign decisions on Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard take precedence over Wheeler.

Beyond his arm and the perception that he might have put the puzzle pieces together, a major factor of why Wheeler is so attractive as a trade chip is that he is not a rental and whichever team trades for him will have him for another year at a reasonable price.

His current salary is $1.9 million. A guesstimate of his 2019 arbitration award with his 2018 production should come in at around $4 million. Sure, the argument could be made that the Mets could use that themselves, but with them unlikely to sign him long-term and their status as a contender for 2019 hinging on issues that go far beyond the 150 innings Wheeler might give them in a reasonable scenario, it’s better to maximize his value when it’s at its highest.

  • Barring a miraculous jump, that value will never be higher to the Mets.

Had the Mets traded Wheeler at any point preceding this one, they would have received very little in return. Since he’s pitched far better than his basic statistics indicate in 2018, has regularly gone beyond 100 pitches and provided six innings-plus in 13 of his 18 starts and has been consistently effective, this goes beyond eye-popping velocity and secondary stuff including a new and impressive split-finger. His control has drastically improved; his mechanics are cleaner and more easily repeatable; and he’s taken the ball every fifth day without the multiple maladies that negatively impacted his early career.

Clearly, manager Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland have had a good influence on Wheeler. That he’s healthy right now makes it of greater importance that they think about this logically and are not hindered by “what if?” Wheeler has always been a “what if?” A few months does not eliminate that the answer was rarely positive until now and it remains speculative.

  • He can return after 2019 when the Mets have a better idea of what they are.

Wheeler has been adamant in his desire to stay and, unlike most players, it sounds genuine. He had called Sandy Alderson in 2015 and told him he wanted to stay when he was part of the original trade for Jay Bruce – one year before the Mets acquired Bruce. Alderson said it did influence him.

But this is about current need and pure business. If Wheeler continues his upswing and truly likes being a Met, there’s the looming free agency a year-and-a-half from now. He can return.

The state of the Mets is more pressing in this process than Wheeler himself. Their farm system is weak and they do not yet have a permanent general manager to replace Alderson. They are not contenders and are preparing a selloff of their pending free agents. They are debating what to do with deGrom and Syndergaard. Wheeler is several levels down from those two and is not as franchise-altering should they trade him and it turn out to be a mistake.

Without a permanent GM and a known blueprint as to where the organization is headed – retool or rebuild – nothing major will be done unless a team make a so-called Herschel Walker offer where the question goes beyond the Mets having traded one or both of their aces but to, “They got that much?!?” and openly fleeced the other party.

  • He’s healthy.

Wheeler’s Tommy John surgery was more complex than most and was a case study that the procedure is not guaranteed to succeed in the customary time frame, if it succeeds at all.  After missing two full seasons with the surgery and its aftermath, how far he’s come is notable. That said, it cannot be ignored that he finally got back on the mound in 2017 and missed time with biceps tendinitis and arm fatigue.

Almost all pitchers are one pitch, one move, one step away from a long stint on the disabled list. Wheeler has a documented history of it. While he’s making his starts and providing length, it’s better to maximize that than retain him hoping it’s not a mirage.

***

These same arguments can be spun around to make the case to retain him. However, judging by the Mets’ needs and the current circumstances, it makes zero sense to hold onto him based on a few months when he’s been with the organization for seven years and this is the first since 2014 where he can be trusted to take the ball every fifth day with solid results. Much of that was due to injury, but it was also because there were times when he seemed to have zero clue where the ball was going once it left his hand and his durability was nonexistent.

It’s always a scary thought to trade that type of talent, especially for prospects. When considering all the variables, the wise decision is to move him and do it soon.

On Bud Norris, Mike Matheny and the line in policing the clubhouse

MLB, Uncategorized

Jeff Nelson, Mike MathenyA story reported initially by The Athletic and discussed here by Yahoo brings up an issue that will never change in sports and probably shouldn’t change in sports – how a clubhouse/locker room is handled by the veteran players and the steps said veteran players should take to teach younger players how to behave in the top professional leagues.

In this instance, St. Louis Cardinals reliever Bud Norris is reportedly “riding” flamethrower Jordan Hicks and has been doing so since spring training. Complicating matters is manager Mike Matheny’s role in the situation as he has shed any notion of ambiguity and chuckled about it with tacit approval.

While greater attention has been paid to so-called “hazing”, for many veteran players, there is a belief that they are extending a hand to the young players and helping them by showing them the proper way to act.

Of course, there are the players who are simply jerks and, were it not for their status in the .0001 percentile of having the athletic ability to reach the top level of their sport, they’d bounce from job to job and blame everyone else for their self-inflicted problems. Mel Hall is one. Jon Rauch is another. Both needed to be threatened to stop their act: Hall by Gerald Williams when he wouldn’t leave Bernie Williams alone with the early 1990s Yankees; Rauch by Matt Harvey with the Mets when Harvey was the target of the treatment.

If the player is relatively useless and is lucky to have a job, the organization can take advantage of these issues to have the player serve as an example and get rid of him for his behavior.

Into which category does Norris fall?

He’s not totally disposable as he does have some use. But he’s not someone from whom any organization should tolerate off-field distraction. Fortunately for him, he’s having a very good year as the Cardinals closer.

Still, veterans get their leeway in overseeing the clubhouse sans interference from the manager. Matheny’s mistake is not in signing off on the behavior, but in commenting on it at all. One of the fastest ways for a manager to lose support in the clubhouse is to interfere with the clubhouse hierarchy and how the veterans police it. The clubhouse is supposed to be sacrosanct and the domain of the players. Managers stepping in over such trivial issues tends to explode in their faces.

Part of the manager’s job is assessing the situation and determining if the target of the treatment is being negatively impacted by the behavior; if it is affecting his performance and, by extension hurting the team, or if he’s just being too sensitive to mostly harmless hijinks. If it’s the former, then he must step in for the good of the club and its sole purpose: winning.

With social media and the disappearance of the line as to what the public should and should not know, outside voices who have never been athletes and part of the competitive world of intense scrutiny and pressure they inhabit will transpose a sports organization into a conventional workplace when it is not that and should not be perceived as such.

Some young players arrive in the majors and immediately misbehave. If that misbehavior is damaging the player and the team, the veteran players are correct in addressing it. If that is viewed as hazing, so be it.

As for Norris going to Matheny with infractions that deviate from the oft-mentioned and unabashedly self-important “Cardinals culture”, that’s not going to win him any friends not just with the Cardinals, but throughout baseball. It does cross a line, this time in the opposite direction, breaching the same protocol managers adhere to with their hands-off approach.

Nobody likes a rat. If said rat is costing the players money in fines and perhaps disfavor with the manager and possibly the entire organization, it can easily escalate from a veteran educating a young player to irreparable fissures. While Matheny essentially named Norris as the bullpen capo who keeps the others in line, there remains a difference between Norris following the standard he set in policing the clubhouse and running to the manager as a tattletale.

It’s Matheny’s clubhouse and he can run it as he sees fit. He’s a tough guy and old-school player. He’s extended that to his role as manager. If he’s adhering to that, he should know that the bad far outweighs the good in having a player running to the manager with stories about code violations and that he makes it worse by telling the media about it.

It’s not up to the media or fans to judge any of this, but there should at least be some boundaries on both sides and from all the insider perspectives.

The Mets, their next GM, Random Name X and Random Reporter Y

MLB, Uncategorized

Mets

As random columns and blog postings speculate as to the next general manager of the New York Mets, writers are conjuring names from front offices of other clubs with no context, no inside information as to what the Mets are thinking, and no willingness to use the only genuine way to predict what they will do: history.

They’re pulling names out of their asses based on pure fantasy and selfish agendas. To make matters worse, they fail to look beyond the hot trends of the moment – baseball outsiders, high-end degrees, innovative statistical analysis and ingenuity – and take that first, crucial step by checking to see that the puzzle piece either fits seamlessly or can be altered slightly to kindasorta fit enough to make it work.

To elucidate exactly how clueless the media is in general, one need only look at the timeline of former Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik and disproven story of how he went from an inspired hire and scouting and stats “hybrid” who had made his way up through the ranks as an old-school, eyeball scout and slowly learned the value of sabermetrics not just to understand them, but to aggressively implement them.

None other than one of the worst columnists in baseball today if not in baseball history overall, Joel Sherman, wrote a Mets-bashing column lamenting that the club had “missed out” on Zduriencik, calling him a “truly Amazin’ exec” in part for that combined knowledge in scouting and stats and in part because he had worked for the Mets in the early-1990s and knew the terrain.

Sherman is one of the “experts” who has and will offer his ideas as to the next Mets GM. In fact, he personifies the widespread nonsense of the entire endeavor.

In a whistleblower-type move, former Mariners scout Tony Blengino revealed the truth after the Mariners fired him by saying that it was he who completed Zduriencik’s application package and that the idea of Zduriencik understanding stats was a ruse.

It was pure payback, it was ill-advised and Blengino was caught in the backdraft of his vengeful revelations, but it served a purpose in that it showed how little the media really knows beyond what they’re told and how their opinions form based on their own insipid and ill-informed interpretations as to what’s really happening inside organizations.

As much as outsiders present their case of how organizations should be run, the reality of how they are run is far different and is adherent to the whims of ownership. If it is an owner who is willing to recede into the background, absorb criticism based on having delegated so much authority to an underling, and accept that it might not work for the foreseeable future if it works at all, then the act of putting all the chips on one philosophy can succeed.

It’s not easy. To imply that other GMs have that all-encompassing power is ridiculous. Not even Bill Belichick is immune to interference and overrule from Bob Kraft.

Regarding the Mets, it’s not about who the Wilpons should hire based on that randomness. It’s about who they will hire.

If you really believe the Mets will pick any one of the names suggested – Chaim Bloom, Kevin Goldstein, David Stearns, Tim Naehring – and give them the same carte blanche that not even Sandy Alderson received, you’re parachuting in with zero understanding of the Mets or are insinuating your own ludicrous beliefs on a situation where they hold no sway.

If the new GM walks in to Jeff Wilpon’s office and says, “I have a trade offer where we’ll send Jacob deGrom to the Yankees and Noah Syndergaard to the Phillies for a combination of nine prospects…” it’s won’t fly no matter how significant the return is, where the prospects rank on various lists, or how smart it seems in the moment.

As alluring as the prospect of a new age GM is, the Mets are not going down that road. With that in mind, wouldn’t it be preferable to have someone the Wilpons trust so they don’t feel obligated to scrutinize every move that is made? Someone they know or at least has a history to give that person some wiggle room?

“Random Name X” from “Inept Reporter Y’s Ass” is not cutting it and it’s not going to happen.

The Nationals, players’ only meetings and automaton managers

MLB

Martinez RizzoWith the Washington Nationals reeling and desperately trying to turn out of their accelerating death spiral, the club held a players’ only meeting after yet another loss. As manager Dave Martinez faces scrutiny for the underachieving club whose championship window is not just closing but is about to be blown out of its frame, he seems at a loss for words with the following comment:

“We were a pretty good team in May. Not very good in June, but we’ll get better.”

“I know we’re going to get better. We’re going to continue, and we’re going to win a lot of games.”

This while the inevitable and perfectly reasonable question is being asked as to whether the Nationals would be in this position right now had they not decided to move on from Dusty Baker for the younger, more pliable and cheaper Martinez.

This is a repeat of the Nationals’ previous attempt to hire the cookie-cutter manager who did what he was told, Matt Williams, to replace the veteran and somewhat headstrong Davey Johnson. To compound the growing sense of “what might have been?”, Johnson came out in his book saying that he was basically an unwilling accomplice to “Incident X” in the Nationals downfall from would-be dynasty to historic underachiever: the 2012 shutdown of Stephen Strasburg.

Even more troubling is Jim Riggleman, the manager who Johnson replaced because he was a veteran caretaker manager whose role was to oversee the rebuild and keep the young players in line, is enjoying a renaissance as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, having turned the club from 110-loss oblivion to playing around .500 ball under his stewardship following their atrocious 3-15 start under Bryan Price.

Martinez epitomizes the preferred manager in today’s game where collaboration takes precedence over competence and experience; where following orders is at or near the top of the job description when it wasn’t even included in the list of requirements before front offices took center stage as the hub around which entire organizations orbit.

To blame Martinez, Mickey Callaway or Paul Molitor for the poor seasons of their clubs and to credit Dave Roberts, Aaron Boone or Gabe Kapler for a club’s success misses the point of how managers are handled – not hired – handled today.

Martinez merely serves as the latest case study of why these new-age managers are largely interchangeable. His statement above is indicative of not knowing what to do while knowing what he’s allowed to do. He’s a figurehead and the players know it. The team meeting is a signal that they’re taking matters into their own hands to stack sandbags and prevent the flood from worsening because, judging by their history with Williams, they’ve seen this natural disaster before and are acting before it’s too late.

This is a grand distance from a Billy Martin explosion with the food table being flung across the room; a Lee Elia expletive-laced rant; or even Jim Leyland screaming at the players and telling the GM – his “boss” – to get the hell out of his office and stop telling him how to do his job and getting away with it.

Don Zimmer once started a team meeting by screaming at his players before coming to a dead stop and telling them that it wasn’t their fault that they stunk and couldn’t play, so there was no reason to yell at them for it.

None of this happens in today’s game even with the remaining veteran managers like Mike Scioscia, Buck Showalter and Ron Gardenhire who have a certain amount of leeway in dealing with the players.

Disposable managers with entry-level contracts know their place. Martinez appears devoid of passion not due to natural stoicism, but through borderline catatonia that was drilled in as a prerequisite for the job. That’s essentially the logical conclusion of hiring a manager whose role is to take orders and who, should he deviate from that, will be replaced by another manager who takes orders. When the Nationals caved and hired Baker, it was because they could not afford to hire another Williams and Baker was willing to take short money for the opportunity. After two years, two division titles, and two close-call Game 5 losses in the NLDS, the Nationals felt sufficiently emboldened in their arrogance that they were talented enough to win on cruise control and could hire another manager like Williams. The results are eerily similar not just on the field but with the players’ action and reaction.

The Mets, Mickey Callaway and whether 100 losses automatically costs the manager his job

MLB, Uncategorized

Mets

By now, any realistic fan, media member, indifferent observer and anyone in between who has paid attention to the nose dive of the New York Mets must realize that there’s no recovering from it and they’re either going to lose 100 games or will come close to it. Since the team has come undone and general manager Sandy Alderson has stepped away due to a recurrence of cancer and he all but said that he will not return, the focus has been on how the Mets might function under the tri-headed interim GM of John Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya.

A background note is the status of manager Mickey Callaway.

One can only guess how the Mets season would have proceeded as they sat at 12-2 and let a five-run eighth inning lead against the Washington Nationals slip away with five outs to go and Jacob deGrom on the mound. About to go 13-2 and beat the reeling Nats for the fourth straight time, right there was the season-changer. Callaway’s poor choice of words in the aftermath of the bullpen implosion, saying what was clearly in the back of his mind with the word “tailspin”, only exacerbates the missed opportunity for 2018.

But that’s irrelevant now.

For those who are defending Callaway by saying this isn’t his fault and he should not take the fall for a flawed, injury-prone and shorthanded roster, nor for the dysfunctional organization and mediocre at best farm system, they have a point. That said, while he is not the problem, he is a problem. His strategic gaffes, total lack of awareness of what to do next, and borderline delusional statements when speaking to the media cannot be ignored when assessing whether he should return or even finish out the season.

Should the Mets lose 100 games or close to it with a new GM coming in, the manager will be a point of contention. Further muddling the Callaway situation is the looming presence of Joe Girardi as he waits for another opportunity to manage. Were Girardi – a true star manager – not available, it’s an easy argument to pardon Callaway and leave him alone with this as a learning experience, hoping he’ll be better for it. But like the question as to what would have happened had the Mets won that fateful game against the Nationals, reality is what it is. They lost and Callaway appears in over his head to the degree that he could feel a certain sense of relief should the Mets pull the plug.

Girardi will not turn this current team around, but he’s a known quantity in New York and throughout baseball with a winning pedigree that goes beyond being the Yankees manager and accruing wins, but by either achieving what the talent on his rosters said they should achieve or drastically overachieving based on talent available. He’s a selling point for the organization to say they’re not tolerating the status quo and are taking steps to alter their image.

The situation begs the question of whether 100 losses should automatically cost the manager his job. The answer is not a simple yes or no. The circumstances largely dictate what an organization should and will do. If it is a proven manager and there are mitigating circumstances as to how they fell so far, the manager gets a break.

While they did not lose 100 games in 2017, the San Francisco Giants and Bruce Bochy fall into this category. Bochy did not get fired after the Giants – team with which he won three World Series – lost those 98 games. He has built up enough capital in his near quarter-century as a manager to know what he is.

Teams that set out to lose 100 games by tanking cannot justifiably blame the manager if he succeeds in their unacknowledged goal by losing those 100 games. However, some managers are simply placeholders until the team is ready to contend when a preferable or proven manager will be hired. Dale Sveum lost 101 games for the Chicago Cubs in Theo Epstein’s first year running the club and it was by intent. Sveum had been a popular managerial contender and, in an almost impossible situation with the Milwaukee Brewers when he replaced Ned Yost in September of 2008, brought the Brewers to the Wild Card before losing. Sveum lasted another season with the Cubs before he was fired. Epstein cited various concerns in firing Sveum and they went beyond the club’s record. The team was undeniably awful, but the manager was still held accountable. Epstein is notably ruthless and discarded Sveum’s replacement, Rick Renteria, when Joe Maddon came available.

In his first managing job with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Maddon himself oversaw back to back seasons where he lost a combined 197 games. The organization was undergoing a radical change with a new ownership and pure outsiders, led by Andrew Friedman, running the baseball operations. Using financial terms like “arbitrage”, the Devil Rays – newly christened the “Rays” for 2008 – simply let the roster fulfill its logical conclusion without taking overt steps to improve it in 2006 and 2007. Since the roster was horrible, they lost a lot of games by natural selection. Maddon was hired as part of the solution and not because he was expected to win with a team that could not have won no matter who the manager was. Because Maddon was so experienced as a minor league manager and major league coach, there was a reasonable justification to give him a pass for the endless losing. If the manager is making mostly the right moves – even as he learns on the job – and the players play for him; if he handles the media; if he maintains his focus and has answers even if those answers don’t yield results any better than they were before, there’s reason to retain him.

The Houston Astros went beyond arbitrage under Jeff Luhnow and gutted the entire organization as if it was an expansion team. When Luhnow took charge, the team had just finished a 106-loss season under former GM Ed Wade, so it wasn’t as if much needed to be done to make them worse. After retaining the manager he inherited, Brad Mills and firing him during that first season, Luhnow hired Bo Porter as his manager. Porter might have survived the rebuilding process and been the manager in charge once the Astros turned the corner had he known his place and maintained some semblance of control over the clubhouse. He did neither. Adding in tactical and technical gaffes, Porter openly challenged Luhnow and tried to go above his head to the owner with his complaints about how the organization was being run. He was deservedly fired. Replaced by A.J. Hinch, the Astros are now a powerhouse not because Hinch had a better resume, but because he was part of the solution rather than a glitch that needed to be removed.

Obviously, a large portion of how the manager is judged is based on the players. But there are mitigating factors to consider.

So where are the Mets in this context?

Can they justify retaining a manager who is still learning how to do the job amid an enraged fan base and an indifferent roster? Or should they send a signal to the fans and players that there is the accountability that Callaway continually referenced from the time he was hired and tried to implement?

If there is accountability with the Mets, it has already led to Alderson’s ouster even though his illness is cited as the reason for his departure. If he wasn’t ill, it’s unlikely he would be back for 2019 with how all – not some, all – of his 2018 acquisitions have faltered.

That should only extend to the manager if they’re replacing him with Girardi. Short of that, hiring another no-name who might not be any better is a waste of time. And based on the above criteria, the Mets should not wait. Girardi should be hired to assess the team for the remainder of the season so the club can get a head start on fixing a fixable mess for 2019.

The Mets tri-headed interim GM and how it might go

MLB, Uncategorized

RicciardiRiccominaya

Sandy Alderson’s decision to step away from his role as New York Mets general manager has left the organization with a tri-headed replacement in the form of his assistants John Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya. With the organization in its familiar position of disarray tinged with predictable disappointment, the remainder of the 2018 season will be dedicated not just to assessing the product on the field, but in the front office as well.

Presumably, the Mets will have a more extensive search once the season is over.

There are a few things to remember here. First, the Wilpons are insular and do not like hiring outsiders. Alderson was an exception and they seemingly had not choice. He quickly became part of the Mets “family”.

Second, the organization is attentive if not outright vulnerable to fan anger, media entreaties and, most importantly, ticket sales.

Third, any executive who walks in thinking he or she will be the final say authority and operate without oversight from ownership will be hit in the gut with a figurative sledgehammer the first time an acceptable trade offer is made for a player the Wilpons don’t want to move and who they believe sells those tickets.

While the Wilpons are being criticized for the above issues as well as Jeff Wilpon’s statement interpreted as him asserting his power as having final say authority, it’s important to realize that he’s the owner and every operations head must answer to ownership. Bill Belichick, Theo Epstein, Billy Beane, Brian Cashman, Andrew Friedman, Jeff Luhnow, Gregg Popovich – all of them – must get approval before pulling the trigger. Some are accorded more leeway and freedom than others, but there’s no absolute power granted to what is, for all intents and purposes, a high-level employee who is still an employee.

This must all be factored in.

As for the three voices who will be running the Mets, there is an endless series of questions that need to be asked such as who do opposing teams call with a proposal? Who makes the assessments and how? Will there be a window for other executives to call GM 2 and GM 3 if GM 1 doesn’t give the answer they want? The foundation for paralysis is vast, but this is the Mets, so things might not be all that much different than they were before apart from Alderson not being there to willingly bear the brunt of that dysfunction.

John Ricco began his baseball career with the commissioner’s office and joined the Mets in 2004. His career trajectory somewhat mimics Alderson’s in that he was an outsider who came into baseball and to the Mets almost by accident. He has familiarity with the numbers and the intelligence to understand and deploy them without reverting to them as a crutch. There’s no ego where he’ll ensure that everyone is aware that he’s in charge and garner credit even for that which was lucky or was someone else’s idea.

In the negative sense, when teams make a change from one boss to another, the succession of number two to number one often fails. Perhaps Ricco is too similar to Alderson in temperament and personality to be the change the club needs.

If the Mets do not hire an outsider, Ricco is the heir apparent but will be more of a front man and calming voice to assess the situation and make a rational decision. He’s well-spoken and has the lawyerly skills to say something without saying anything and that, more than most other attributes, is how the GM job is done today.

J.P. Ricciardi was a minor-league player for the Mets and his relationship with Beane extended to working in the Oakland A’s front office before he was plucked from his role as a middling executive to become the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays. His time with the Blue Jays was tumultuous not for deals he made or didn’t make, but for his complete lack of a filter when speaking to the media, fans and even the players. He had public disagreements with Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Adam Dunn and Shea Hillenbrand to name a few. To his credit, when he’s asked a question, he’s giving an answer and it’s certainly not in the GM double-speak that is designed to say absolutely nothing. For someone listed at 5’8”, he’s fearless. It’s easy to envision him getting into a traffic dispute with someone the size of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, shoving him and saying, “Hey man, you wanna go? Let’s go!!!” Of course, he’d get killed. And that’s the problem.

His “say whatever comes to mind” style and pugnacious nature as baseball boss didn’t work in Toronto and it’s not going to work in New York.

Omar Minaya does not seem to want to be a GM again. When he was rehired to be an assistant to Alderson in spring training – supposedly by Fred Wilpon himself – there was an over-the-top reaction as if the Mets were usurping and undermining the baseball operations staff with an unwanted interloper. That might have been true if Minaya was that type of person who is interested in himself and triangulating his position to gain power any way he can get it.

He’s not that guy.

Minaya is a very nice man with a keen scouting eye. He loves the Mets organization and has been loyal to the Wilpons for years. His time as GM from late 2004 through 2010 was notable for the rapid rebuild from laughingstock to a club on the verge of a World Series win two years later. Then, his short-term strategies of buying stars degenerated into desperation to patch together a deteriorating foundation. Some of the trades he made – for Carlos Delgado, Duaner Sanchez and John Maine – were outright heists. Like a European football (soccer) manager, he buys stars.

Ironically, Minaya’s best Mets teams were ahead of their time in having a lineup filled with guys who hit the ball out of the park; a strong defense; a mediocre starting rotation; and a deep and diverse bullpen. This is how most top-level clubs are built today. Because he falls into the category of old-school and doesn’t have reams of stats detailing why he’s making the moves he does and is not a relentless self-promoter, he does not get the credit for building a team that the stat guys would admire and laud had it been built by one of “them” because he’s decidedly not one of them. Therefore, it lacks the purity they seek in a sabermetrically-constructed club.

Regardless of where the Mets go after the season, there are major issues to addressed in the short term. While Alderson would most certainly have had the nerve to trade Jacob deGrom and/or Noah Syndergaard if it got to that point, the Wilpons okayed it and a deal too good to refuse was on the table, the current structure makes it implausible that such deals will take place. The same holds true for potentially valuable disappointments Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith. No giant housecleaning deals will be made in-season and they’re not gutting the club down to its exoskeleton after the season. Expect pending free agents Jeurys Familia, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jerry Blevins to be on the move. Apart from that, this season will be dedicated to looking at their young players, making judgments, deciding who stays and who goes and leaving it to the next GM whether that’s someone who’s with the organization now or not.

The Mets’ “remarkable achievement” and the clear and unclear future

MLB, Uncategorized

Syndergaard

Not only will the New York Mets not play well enough to get back into some semblance of contention to prevent the organization from a midseason sell-off, but the way they’re losing makes clear that they’re on the way to a 66-96 season. That’s a remarkable achievement for a team that started the season at 11-1 and was 17-9 after 26 games.

By accepting this, it becomes easier to speculate on how the club will move forward. As stubborn and insular as he is, Fred Wilpon is not stupid. When the team is under siege and, more importantly, the fans don’t just stop coming to the games but stop paying attention to the team completely, is when he acts.

In 2004 when the club was stagnant, boring and in disarray, he hired Omar Minaya as the new club GM and opened the checkbook letting Minaya buy players to bring the team back into the public consciousness.

In 2010, one year after the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme decimated the Wilpon family finances, Sandy Alderson was hired to replace Minaya in part because the club needed a steady hand who could withstand the onslaught for basically accepting that the team was not overtly trying to contend and in part because he would keep a tight rein on the club’s depleted coffers.

Now, in 2018, as the Alderson regime has run its course, they may have made a ghastly mistake with manager Mickey Callaway who – full disclosure – I enthusiastically encouraged the club to hire when Joe Girardi’s status was still unknown, and the team is old, slow and indifferent, it’s inevitable that Wilpon will act. Taking a mulligan for the apparent mistake with Callaway, my hope is that he goes for the lightning strike by prying Billy Beane away from the Oakland Athletics to be the new president of baseball operations.

First, however, the short-term decisions will be entrusted to Alderson. Like other executives whose status was in question at the time of the trade deadline, Alderson will follow the lead of Jerry Dipoto when he was the interim GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010 and Dave Dombrowski shortly before he was dismissed by the Detroit Tigers in 2015 and make deals that are in the best interests of the organization before departing or receding into a consultant’s role.

Since the team is not getting back into contention, the next step is to determine which players to keep and which need to go. Some are easy; some are not.

The biggest fish

Obviously, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard will fetch the biggest hauls on the trade market and the Mets have implied that rather than simply saying “no” as they have in the past when other teams call and inquire about them, they will see what those interested parties have to say.

Of course, that does not mean a trade of one or both is likely. The reasons they’re so in demand in a possible trade are the same reasons why the Mets should consider retaining and building around them. DeGrom is under team control for two more seasons after this one; Syndergaard for three.

With the way deGrom is pitching and that he and he alone might make the difference between a team winning the World Series or missing the playoffs entirely is enough of a carrot to entice that team to overpay in terms of a cacophony of blue-chip prospects that is too massive for the Mets to turn down.

Syndergaard is currently out with a finger injury and, as the only one of the Mets’ current starting rotation who has not had Tommy John surgery or is dealing with a tear in the elbow as Seth Lugo is and pitching through, the threat of his elbow giving out is a looming concern. For a pitcher who throws as hard as Syndergaard does and who has missed time in both 2017 and 2018 with a variety of injuries, the clear preference – if the Mets do trade one of them – is to move him. He won’t yield as much as deGrom, but he still brings back a lot.

Immovable objects

Media members and fans who pressured the Mets to retain Yoenis Cespedes cannot lament that choice now. The organization had its concerns that once Cespedes got his money, his motivation would dissipate commensurately. He was mercurial and had injuries to several parts of his body before he got to the Mets, so there could be a combination of factors involved in his current status.

It is pointless and unfair to question how hurt a player truly is. What is unquestioned, however, is that he cannot be counted on to be that key figure in the everyday lineup. He has a full no-trade clause. If he were healthy and productive, there would certainly be teams who would take him off the Mets’ hands for the remaining two-and-a-half years on his contract. Even if it was for a limited return, simply getting that contract off the books allows the Mets to reallocate that cash to help them retool.

This is purely speculative and useless. He’s hurt and is not returning anytime soon. He’s going nowhere.

There were voices who hated the Jay Bruce signing. Those same voices – claiming to be Mets fans – are seemingly taking a bizarre, cannibalistic joy in having been “right”. Bruce has been horrific and was always a limited player, but in the past he could be counted on for consistent power numbers. That has not been the case and it was recently revealed that he is dealing with a hip injury that has been an issue since March. Bruce tacitly refuses to use that as an excuse, but when a player who has posted the annual numbers that Bruce has and does nearly nothing in his return to the Mets, clearly the hip is the main reason for that. No team is taking his contract.

It’s doubtful any club will make a worthwhile offer for Todd Frazier or Anthony Swarzak, so they might as well hang onto them.

There’s no point in discussing Jason Vargas.

Pending free agents

Although Jeurys Familia has had some high-profile blown saves and hiccups in the postseason, he was still very good in the 2015 postseason and the run up to it. He is mostly reliable as a reliever, has that playoff experience and, as a pending free agent, would not complain about being a setup man for the remainder of the season. The Mets will not get a Gleyber Torres as the crosstown Yankees did when they traded their closer, Aroldis Chapman, to the Chicago Cubs in 2016, but if Familia shows he is healthy and effective, they can acquire some useful youngsters for him. 99.9999 percent, he will be traded.

Asdrubal Cabrera is having a big free agent year. His ability to play second base and third base – plus shortstop in a pinch – his big offensive year and that he’s a switch-hitter will make him attractive. They can repeat the type of trade they made in dealing Curtis Granderson and getting a good, raw arm in Jacob Rhame.

Jerry Blevins will be moved and they’ll get a low-level minor leaguer.

Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista and Devin Mesoraco will remain to fill out the roster for the rest of the season. In Reyes’s case, it will presumably be for a photo-op if David Wright can get back on the field so they can play one last game at third base and shortstop together, whatever that’s worth.

Potentially valuable chips

Should Wilmer Flores be traded, do not expect the same tears of sadness he shed in 2015 when he was almost traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. By now, Flores wants the chance to play regularly and that is not happening with the Mets. If he went to the American League to DH, it would be better for him and the Mets could get a prospect.

It would be easy for the Mets to be hypnotized by Zack Wheeler’s recent run of success amid a fastball that is reaching levels of velocity that it had not since before his Tommy John surgery, but that would be a mistake. Wheeler is injury-prone and inconsistent, capable of being unhittable one day and then not having the faintest idea where the ball is going once it leaves his hand the next. He has one year of team control after this one. Another team will likely be similarly hypnotized by Wheeler’s potential and make an offer that the Mets should accept.

Steven Matz is notoriously injury-prone and, although he’s been solid of late and is under team control through 2021, he is a “make a good offer” arm where he’s not on the block and is not as much of a get as deGrom or Syndergaard, but still has value to get two or three good pieces back.

***

Despite Alderson’s wait-and-see attitude, he sees where this is headed. A housecleaning is coming. It will start on the field and, given how badly the front office moves have turned out in recent history, will extend to the executive suite as well. Until then, waiting and hoping for the best in the trades is a preferable alternative to suffering and disappointment in a hopeless cause.

A small opening could net the Mets a global star

MLB, Uncategorized

Beane

With the New York Mets 11-1 start a distant memory and the likelihood of an extended hot streak to get back into contention growing increasingly remote by the day, speculation as to the club’s next move is rampant. Most are either unrealistic or of the Band-Aid variety.

Little has been said about the status of the front office and general manager Sandy Alderson other than that the Wilpons have confidence in him and that he is working under a two-year contract signed in the offseason.

There is no denying that the acquisitions and retentions the Mets made over the winter have not panned out. Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Jason Vargas, Adrian Gonzalez, Anthony Swarzak, A.J. Ramos and Jose Reyes have ranged from bad to disastrous. That’s not counting the in-season signing of Jose Bautista and the discarding of Matt Harvey.

Part of it is financial. It is a valid argument to say that a New York-based team should not be playing at the low minimum tables hoping to get supernaturally lucky. It remains unknown whether that is Alderson’s choice, due to financial limitations imposed by ownership, or a combination of the two. To absolve Alderson of all guilt here is absurd. How they react is the question.

The Mets are not the organization that fires people haphazardly. Whatever is said about the Wilpons, they are loyal to those in club baseball operations, often to a fault. Also, it is rare that they hire outsiders with Alderson being an exception that was clearly done with encouragement from Major League Baseball.

As the club comes apart and regardless of the negatives said about ownership, they’re not in a cocoon where they hear, see and know nothing. They’re completely aware of what’s going on and how the organization is perceived. They are attentive to fan anger and, while it might be delayed, will eventually act.

But act how?

A series of player moves and adjustments to the current management scheme is cosmetic. What the team needs is to change the story from the top down and, as Susan Slusser writes in the San Francisco Chronicle, there might very well be the rare combination of juice and competence available to ignite the fan base and keep the raging masses quiet in the name of a legendary executive, Billy Beane.

The flux in the Oakland Athletics upper tier is only part of the reason that Beane could choose to move on. While Slusser’s piece is speculative and mentions the Bay Area neighbors, the San Francisco Giants, as a possible landing spot if Beane wants to remain in the area, it should be remembered that the baseball boss of those Giants, Brian Sabean, has three of something that Beane – despite all the accolades, fame and fortune – does not: World Series trophies. Replacing Sabean with Beane might seem on-paper logical if Sabean chooses to leave, but how does going across the Bay and winning a championship do anything to help Beane’s legacy? It does not give him the one level of recognition that has eluded him as something more than a father figure of the sabermetric movement and increasingly mythical idol whose exploits are more fantasy than fact.

Therein lies the question if Beane does choose to leave the A’s: What does he want to do and where is the best opportunity to do it?

Beane is now a global star and his interests are diverse. Sure, he could go on the lecture circuit like a former U.S. president, make a fortune and relax, but would someone of Beane’s furious energy and enormous ego be satisfied by that?

The main attraction to Beane would be achieving the only remaining goal by having those who see through Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball” for the twisted nonsense it is to accord Beane the legitimacy that he currently lacks. While the story made him famous, it wasn’t long before it became an albatross, glossing over Beane’s true status as an excellent executive, if not the infallible genius and borderline biblical baseball figure who transcended his sport.

Much of that was Beane’s fault for taking part in it, taking advantage of it, and for believing that he was more than he was. In fairness, it’s impossible for even the most grounded people not to get caught up in that level of adulation. Beane’s own failures as a player and rise as an executive quenched much of that thirst to be somebody, but there remains that missing piece. He’s wealthy, he’s still idolized, and he’s built and rebuilt the A’s with a different cast of characters and in multiple baseball landscapes three different times. Despite that, a championship and even a pennant has eluded him like a cosmic joke.

The idea of him taking over a European football (soccer) team is as presumptuous as it is Sisyphean. What’s the risk-reward? It’s a reversion back to his afterglow egomania of Moneyball. As Beane gallivanted as a “star”, the A’s appeared to be a diversion which received a fraction of the necessary attention – that same attention that Beane lavished on the organization to succeed under difficult financial circumstances, change the game (for better and worse), and become a worldwide phenomenon. Once he took hands-on control of the organization again, he rebuilt and cemented his status as more than the totem of a skillfully conniving writer like Lewis.

For him, the A’s have become a case of diminishing returns. With the changes mentioned in Slusser’s article, apart from nostalgia, does he even want to stay?

Should Beane leave the A’s (speculative), remain in baseball (more speculative), and look for a challenge commensurate with his public image (difficult), where could he go?

Based on baseball’s current state in which front office executives are stars in their own constellation, there are very few jobs that will be open, even for Beane. Most clubs have their own “star” GMs or presidents of baseball operations and they are are ensconced. Others have younger GMs who are in the middle of rebuilds and have the trust of ownership.

Forgetting the idea of him going to the Giants, there are three teams that make varying levels of sense: the Baltimore Orioles, the Miami Marlins and the Mets.

Would Peter and John Angelos hire Beane and take the hands-off approach he would need? Would they pay him? Would Beane want to go into the same division with the banes of his existence, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, and do so with a far higher payroll than he current works with in Oakland, but still a limit on how much he can spend?

It’s hard to see.

Would Derek Jeter cede the spotlight? Would he pay him? And even with the new ballpark in Miami that has been denied Beane for so long in Oakland, even if he turns the Marlins into a winner and gets that championship, the city really doesn’t care.

Then there’s the Mets.

There’s a salable storyline with the Mets being the team that drafted Beane in the first round in 1980 as the expected outfield bookend the number one overall pick that year, Darryl Strawberry, and his failure as a prospect with the Mets. It was Alderson who brought Beane into the A’s front office and mentored him. It works from the organization’s perspective and Beane’s perspective were Alderson to recede into a consultant’s role and Beane to take over as president of baseball operations.

Beane gives them that immediate credibility and someone young enough to believe he’ll be there for an extended period to any plan through to its conclusion. There’s the allure of the big city, one that is massive enough and will offer the attention and worship he so craves should he succeed. Unlike most GM candidates or Alderson’s likely heir apparent John Ricco, Beane’s reputation and style would sufficiently intimidate the media to let him work without their inane suggestions and blatant trolling. Beane has the star power to quiet the critics and give the fans something to cling to that goes beyond random trades, free agent signings, or tactical changes with the fundamental issues remaining the same.

To Beane’s benefit, he can take solace in similar factors which, simultaneously, could spur his desire to jump back into the ring fulltime as he would need to do to fix the Mets. As disgusted as much of baseball was with how he began to inhabit the character “Billy Beane” rather than being Billy Beane, the irony is that like some Dickensian tale, there are far more loathsome characters in baseball whose behavior dwarfs anything Beane did during his heyday. Theo Epstein, Jeff Luhnow, A.J. Preller and many others might have taken the Beane mantle and been far more despicable in their cold-bloodedness, the flouting of rules and propriety, and doing whatever is necessary to win even if it’s bordering on the vile in treatment of people like vessels for their own fulfillment.

There are natural sticking points to this happening. First, Beane must opt out of the Faustian bargain he made to become so famous in the first place; second, the Wilpons must decide what to do with Alderson and Ricco; and the Mets must give Beane the money and necessary freedom to make it worth his while.

There’s an opening, if only a minuscule crack, for the Mets to do something that will garner them attention not as a punchline and can fundamentally change how the organization is perceived. That something is to make a bold move on Billy Beane.

The root of the Michael Kay Show freakout about Mike Francesa

Broadcasting, Uncategorized

LaGreca

The Michael Kay Show’s simmering anger at Mike Francesa’s return to New York radio on WFAN finally boiled over with an unhinged rant from Don La Greca.

Francesa’s return is one thing; but they were deprived of the chance to beat him – which they were never going to do – and when they won, they were basically a transitional title holder like Ivan Koloff or the Iron Shiek so the champ could get a break making his return and immediate knockout all the more embarrassing. That is the true source of the anger.

La Greca’s response is comparable in its foundation to the scene in Rocky II when Apollo Creed, over the emphatic objections of his trainer, demands a rematch with Rocky Balboa exclaiming, “Man, I won, but I didn’t beat him!”

Some don’t care as long as they win; others want to beat the best to earn the title. There are arguments for both. When Francesa’s return was announced, the Kay show talked tough, but it was hollow. Presumably even they were self-aware enough to know they would lose, but for it to happen so effortlessly was particularly galling.

During Francesa’s interminable “retirement tour,” there was a somewhat understandable expectation – amid reasonable dubiousness that Francesa was really retiring – that Kay and his show were the heir apparent to winning the afternoon sports talk radio battle, such as it is. Winning by process of elimination diminishes the victory, but a win is a win. La Greca’s rant was visceral as if he and, by extension, Kay are angry not because they lost and they’re being mocked for Francesa simply showing up and taking his title back by snapping his fingers and making their short-lived ratings victory disappear like he’s a Diet Coke-swilling Thanos, but that Francesa took away something they felt they were entitled to.

In the interim of Francesa’s departure, signs were clear that Francesa’s return was not just possible, but likely and then imminent. First, when Craig Carton was arrested and subsequently fired from the WFAN morning show, Francesa, in a faux act of benevolence, made clear that he would be willing to remain, ostensibly to “save” the station from ruin. It never came to pass and WFAN moved on with Francesa’s placeholder show Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott.

Kay beat that show in the ratings, but considering how spectacularly awful it is, had he not won in that ratings book, then it would really be time to find another vocation. In fact, it would have been a fireable offense.

Francesa had to do nothing more than simply return to the radio to immediately regain all the listeners who begrudgingly tuned to Kay. This went beyond a ratings period and the analysis of it. Think about how professionally castrating it is to be so irrelevant that even those who were indifferent to Francesa and flipped to Kay didn’t even think about it before switching back.

It transcends debates about the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Knicks and Rangers. It has nothing to do with Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Mickey Callaway, Yoenis Cespedes, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Sam Darnold and Eli Manning. It’s more fundamental with who puts on a compelling show where, like him or not, Francesa still has the “What would Mike say about this?” allure and the cocksure attitude to blunt the “Who the hell are you to be saying this?” retort.

Very few have that. The Kay show definitely doesn’t.

If La Greca isn’t screaming like a lunatic, nobody pays attention to what he says because nobody cares.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Francesa if he didn’t make some preposterous face-saving statements and maneuvers of his own. The supposed opportunities he expected once he left radio failed to materialize. Undoubtedly, he had offers, but either they were financially insufficient, were not big enough to suit his ego, or both.

So, he returned. Is Francesa having a private laugh about so easily regaining his title and the Kay show’s reaction to it? Of course. But at the end of the clip linked above, when Francesa was asked about it, his reply was predictable in its dismissiveness. The Kay show was always beneath his notice if he noticed it at all. He won’t punch down because all that does is give validation to any perceived competition where there isn’t one.

The anger stems not from losing to Francesa (they should be used to that); not from the perception that they cannot beat the top dog in the ratings (they can’t); but from their belief that they were the next in the line of succession as if by sheer existence as the only moderately listenable afternoon sports talk radio show in New York, they should therefore have been anointed the top spot. That is not the case and the Kay show staff knows it. La Greca screaming until he turns purple is the illustration of that point and its inherent frustration knowing there’s nothing they can do to change it.