Objectively Ollie

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

Amid all the celebratory grave-dancing as if Oliver Perez were a dictator who’d been overthrown, there’s a great deal of selective memory and retrospective criticism for the Mets decision to re-sign Perez after the 2008 season.

Much of it is designed to laugh at the Mets without accuracy or context—some is directed at Perez himself for his failures on the field and his perceived selfishness in exercising his right not to go to the minor leagues; some at the prior regime led by fired GM Omar Minaya for doling out the contract; a portion is used as a hammer to symbolize Perez as an outlet for the fall of the Mets from 2006 until now.

But the story behind the story tells otherwise; of course it’s easier to engage in 20/20 hindsight at the expense of facts, but the truth is that very few people were openly against the Perez signing and no one could’ve predicted what a disaster the pitcher became.

There was the hedging “if Ollie gets his head together”; or “will he live up to his prodigious talent?”; or “can the Mets solve the enigma of Perez?”. But nothing to the tune of “this is a horrible mistake that the Mets will regret immediately.”

Indulging in such ambiguity is not making a prediction. It’s an if/but/maybe.

With that in mind, let’s have a look at Perez’s tenure with the Mets, sans self-serving vitriol.

Perez had been good enough for the Mets to justify the deal.

Oliver Perez was a throw-in from the Pirates at the trading deadline in 2006.

The Mets—reeling from the still-hidden injury to Duaner Sanchez in a car accident (why not blame him too?) and ostensibly putting forth the pretense of bolstering their bullpen for the stretch run with Roberto Hernandez—acquired the 25-year-old Perez as a “Rick can fix him” guy in reference to then-pitching coach Rick Peterson; Perez had abundant talent, but pitched so terribly for the Pirates that they sent him back to the minor leagues.

Thrust into the spotlight after injuries and desperation forced the club into using him as a starting pitcher in the NLCS, Perez performed admirably.

In 2007, he went 15-10 and pitched well enough to have won 18 games.

In 2008, Perez was inconsistent for the first half and regained his groove after the firing of Peterson and hiring of Dan Warthen as pitching coach. It appeared as if the constant, in-your-face style of Peterson had worn not just on Perez, but all the Mets pitchers and Warthen’s more hands-off, less technical jargon-infused style meshed neatly with the pitching staff.

He was durable (371 innings in 2007-2008); he was pretty good (25-17 record with a terrific hits/innings pitched ratio of 320/371); and good strikeout numbers (354). Perez was and always would be wild; a mechanical nightmare; and mental question mark.

Based on talent and performance, keeping Perez after the 2008 season was the correct move without discussing the money.

These were the options and they weren’t good, logistically, practically or financially.

Here’s a rundown of the pitchers who were traded or signed elsewhere as free agents in the winter of 2008-2009 when the Mets re-signed Perez to a 3-year, $36 million contract.

CC Sabathia (7-years, $161 million) and A.J. Burnett (5-years, $82.5 million) signed with the Yankees—the Mets weren’t approaching either with that kind of money.

John Smoltz and Brad Penny signed 1-year, incentive-laden contracts with the Red Sox; both were gone from Boston by late August after being, at best, mediocre.

Carl Pavano signed a 1-year, incentive-laden contract with the Indians—the Mets were not going there.

Randy Wolf is often discussed as a pitcher the Mets should’ve pursued instead of Perez. In 2008, Wolf had his first fully healthy season since 2003; he logged 200 innings for the Padres and Astros and pitched well; but he wasn’t exactly in demand as he only managed a 1-year, $5 million base with innings-incentives from the Dodgers.

Were the Mets supposed to go after Wolf instead of Perez? In retrospect, considering Wolf’s career resurgence and health, yes; no one knew that then.

Derek Lowe—with whom the Mets were negotiating—signed a 4-year, $60 million contract with the Braves. He’s been durable, but inconsistent in his two seasons with the Braves; the Mets weren’t matching that contract; and he’s owed $30 million through 2012. The Braves were equally as desperate for pitching as the Mets.

Randy Johnson signed a 1-year, $8 million contract with the Giants. Johnson pitched very well when he was healthy; he wasn’t going to the Mets or back to New York.

Edwin Jackson was traded from the Rays to the Tigers for Matt Joyce. Joyce was a top prospect and there’s a question as to whether the Mets had a similar young player to exchange for Jackson.

Jason Marquis was traded to the Rockies for Luis Vizcaino; Marquis was a guaranteed innings-eater; he too would’ve been a better option for the Mets.

Javier Vazquez was traded from the White Sox to the Braves; the Braves also received Boone Logan in exchange for a package of minor leaguers—none who are missed.

Minaya loved Vazquez; in a similar vein of  “woulda, coulda, shoulda”, Vazquez was one of the best pitchers in the National League in 2009; but after his shaky 2008 for the White Sox and bad experience with the Yankees (which was repeated in 2010), the Mets weren’t gutting the system to get him.

Then there are the fliers and journeymen—Mark Hendrickson; Scott Olsen; Mike Hampton; Russ Ortiz; Jeff Weaver and Kevin Correia.

Correia’s the one pitcher who’s been any good; he signed with the Padres for nothing after the Giants non-tendered him.

So what were the Mets supposed to do?

They were still harboring thoughts of contention; Minaya took steps to fill the holes that had sabotaged the team in 2007-2008 by acquiring J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez. Did any of the above listed names—the ones who were considerations for the Mets—clearly supersede the signing of Perez to the point where the retention of Perez could’ve been ripped so savagely? Prior to Perez’s odious performance, was it said to have been a grave mistake?

No.

And before you start mentioning Jason Vargas, whom the Mets traded in the Putz deal, here’s my advice: don’t mention Jason Vargas.

Vargas was horrible for the Mets. He didn’t pitch at all in 2008 after Tommy John surgery. His stuff is mediocre. He pitched well for the Mariners last year and for portions of 2009, but to unload on Minaya for “missing” out on Vargas is second-guessing at its height. No one was holding a candle for his departure and selling Vargas as a viable replacement for Perez was not going to cut it.

Seek and ye shall find.

If you’re actively searching for mistakes GMs have made, they’re all over the place and it doesn’t matter if it’s a GM who’s the subject of idol-worship or a perceived dunce.

The Royals’ Dayton Moore signed Gil Meche to a 5-year, $55 million contract.

The Dodgers’ Ned Colletti signed Jason Schmidt to a 3-year, $47 million contract.

The Yankees’ Brian Cashman signed Carl Pavano to a 4-year, $40 million contract—and then after that disastrous and humiliating tenure, tried to bring him back this year for another $10 million!

Former Mariners GM Bill Bavasi signed Carlos Silva to a 4-year, $48 million contract.

The Red Sox paid over $100 million in posting fees and salary for Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Even the exalted ruler and object of lust; the king of all he surveys; the corporate-speaker par excellence; the man who finds himself being portrayed by Brad Pitt in a forthcoming film; Michael Lewis’s Midas—-Billy Beane—signed Esteban Loaiza to a 3-year, $21 million contract.

It happens.

Teams make mistakes.

Mining through the reasoning behind said decisions is much more useful and productive than ridicule for its own sake.

Bidding against oneself and monetary scales.

Omar Minaya is not the first general manager to have been judged as “taken” by Scott Boras (Perez’s agent). It happens time and again and it seemingly is always a Boras client who winds up getting overpaid.

In the past two seasons, it was Matt Holliday and Jayson Werth upon whom industry shaking contracts were lavished.

And it’s going to happen again.

Did Perez have other clubs pursuing him in that winter of 2008-2009? I remember the Reds, Cardinals and Braves as talked about landing spots. Was it real or a rumor floated by Boras and his minions? Does it matter?

Had the Mets held firm to a different deal as they did with Lowe; with Joel Pineiro; with Bengie Molina, either Perez would’ve stayed because he had no other serious suitor; or he’d have gone. We don’t know what would’ve happened subsequently.

Perhaps, if he’d signed with the Cardinals, Dave Duncan would’ve done another miraculous clean-up on Perez and created a 15-game winning, 200-innings man and the Mets would currently be lamenting the loss of Perez.

Financially, the $36 million is in line—considering money available and payroll factors—to the Athletics mistake with Loaiza; in fact, the A’s mistake was worse because the Mets (before getting into the ownership’s current legal issues) were better equipped to swallow the money if Perez faltered as he did.

The Mets kept Perez. It didn’t work out.

This will happen again.

Oliver Perez wasn’t the first mistake a team has made with a questionable talent and won’t be the last. To imply that it was a foreseeable, preventable error based on his results after-the-fact is nonsense.

The Mets are moving forward. You should move forward as well. Gloating over this is tawdry and precisely the type of behavior that the Mets—from organization through fanbase—wanted to get away from with Sandy Alderson’s hiring as GM.

There are better things to do and larger holes to address than this overt party at the termination of Oliver Perez‘s Mets career.

It wasn’t as cut-and-dried “wrong” as the backtracking “experts” say as they take their cheap shots and aggrandize themselves.

It made sense and didn’t work.

He was terrible.

His money is gone.

He’s gone.

It’s over.

Move forward.

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Believe it or not, I needed to do some research as to which pitchers were available, traded and signed as free agents elsewhere in the winter of 2008-2009 and I used my own book from that year as a reference!!

This year’s version is available now.

I published a full excerpt of my book on Wednesday here.

The book is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.


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Heroes

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen exploded after pitcher Jake Peavy had to leave Saturday’s game with pain in his shoulder—ESPN Story.

Peavy, recovering from an injury of unknown territory for an athlete—a detached muscle in his back—admitted to having shoulder pain all spring and (deluding himself?) thought it was normal spring soreness. Now Guillen, a players manager, is not going to believe Peavy no matter what he says regarding his health.

This is an ominous sign for the White Sox; Peavy has always been a high-risk pitcher because of his all-out delivery and atrocious mechanics; in fact, on an annual basis, I said that I was waiting (not hoping, waiting, realistically and objectively) for his arm to come flying off at the shoulder. The one year—2010—I accepted the motion for what it was and picked him to win the Cy Young Award, he rips the latissimus dorsi completely off the bone.

With his salary ($37 million guaranteed through 2012), you’ve got a potentially bottomless pit in the White Sox payroll.

The mechanical issues are what they are and can’t be seen as the final arbiter in whether or not a pitcher stays healthy. You look at a pitcher like Dave Stieb, who had horrendous mechanics—so bad that Stieb had a public back-and-forth with Tom Seaver when Seaver criticized them—and was one of the most durable pitchers in baseball from 1980-1990; and Steve Karsay had picture-perfect mechanics right out of the textbook and was constantly hurt.

You never know.

The best you can do is let them pitch and hope they stay healthy; that it’s in their genes to be able to withstand the pounding that all pitchers take.

As far as Peavy’s decision to pitch through the pain, you can chalk that up to some macho code combined with the desire to be the man who pitched through the pain and led his troops to victory.

Athletes receive divergent signals. Should they confess to being too hurt to play? Or is it part of their job description to fight through normal aches that come with strenuous physical activity?

There’s an old saying of knowing the difference between pain and injury.

What that means is anyone’s guess.

Just like the mechanics of all pitchers and hitters are different, so too are their pain thresholds and it’s unfair to judge someone who is legitimately hurt and wants to participate but can’t.

Years ago, Jim Leyland was quoted as saying: “Christ, you have to play in a little pain.” And “We don’t need any *bleeping* heroes.”

Which is it?

Where’s the line between doing what needs to be done not in a selfish, aggrandizing way but as a means to assist the group in pursuit of the common goal?

Kirk Gibson‘s limping homer in the 1988 World Series off of Dennis Eckersley in game 1, spurring the Dodgers to their 5 game destruction of the heavily favored A’s are on one end of the spectrum; the prepubescent, adolescent fantasies about courageously and selflessly saving the girl and limping away in bloody, dramatic glory exemplified in videos by the talentless Enrique Iglesias are on the other.

A billion people (and not just kids) have the backyard, Gibson moment or the closed door Iglesias moment every single day—only Iglesias was arrogant enough to place it into the plotline of a video.

The truth is it doesn’t happen very often and many times, those that try to work their way through the pain by means of “helping” the team end up making things worse.

Where’s the line between selfishness and heroism?

The line between playing with pain or, as Leyland said, “not needing any *bleeping* heroes”?

Maybe there’s a stat for it.

If it’s discovered somewhere, let me know because I certainly can’t find it.

I published a full excerpt of my book on Wednesday here.

The book is available  now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.


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Stereotypes, Safe And Detrimental

Books, Management, Media, Players

Dave Cameron of Fangraphs discusses the stereotypical “types” teams search for in filling positions—link.

I disagree with much of what Cameron says and, more importantly, why he says it; I detect an agenda that he and other stat people maintain to “prove” their way is best.

In this case, the premise is somewhat sound.

I can quibble with the assertion that it’s “harder to find a good hitting shortstop than any other position on the diamond”, but it’s the battle against stereotypes that—presumably—we can agree on.

I loathe the concept that a third baseman and first baseman both have to be sluggers; plodding, immobile, two-fisted maulers can be hidden in left field or first base; that the closer has to throw very, very hard; or that immutable “rules” must be adhered to when building a club.

It’s an old-school, ignorant and safety-first method of running a team.

There are so many factors in a team’s construction that holding onto any one sacrosanct concept is ruinous. What does the club need? Do they have a pitching staff that requires solid defenders? Will the player inserted at third base or first base cost the club more runs defensively than he’d provide offensively? Can the offense carry a non-existent bat?

These are not meaningless questions and they can’t be answered with the simplistic, primordial and inane “third baseman must hit homers”.

30 years ago, shortstop was a defense-first position. Before Earl Weaver shifted Cal Ripken from third base to shortstop, the position was relegated to the Bucky Dent, Mark Belanger, Larry Bowa, Ozzie Smith-type player who was in the lineup for defense and defense alone.

Look at some of the names that played shortstop regularly back in 1982 as Ripken became a shortstop who could actually hit and hit for power: Glenn Hoffman; Alfredo Griffin; Tim Foli. Apart from Robin Yount and Alan Trammell and a few that could hit a bit like U.L. Washington, Rafael Ramirez and Bill Russell, they were primarily no-hit glovemen.

Another interesting note in Ripken’s 1982 shift to shortstop was who replaced him as the primary third baseman for those Orioles. It was a minor league journeyman named Glenn Gulliver. Gulliver couldn’t hit (.200 average with no power that year), but he could walk (his OBP was .363) and field the ball at third base.

This was the ahead-of-his-time genius of Weaver—he didn’t care about perception; he inserted Gulliver into the lineup, batted him second and took advantage of what he had: a big third baseman superstar in Ripken who was quick enough and smart enough to play shortstop and a third baseman who had attributes he could take advantage of to make the team better.

It had nothing to do with clinging to stereotypes of “how things have always been”; it had to do with the hand he was holding and how best to take advantage of it.

Be wary of anything that subverts your will like the “sposdas” because it’s those who grasp frantically at the way things are “sposda” be who sabotage and ignore the obvious even if it’s right in front of their faces.

It’s the safe and stupid option.

I published a full excerpt of my book on Wednesday here.

The book is available  now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.


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Trading Pudge

Books, Management, Players, Spring Training

Not much the Nationals do makes sense these days, but trading Ivan Rodriguez is a good idea.

According to this MLB Trade Rumors posting, the Nationals are considering giving the starting catching job to Wilson Ramos.

With that the case and Rodriguez making $3 million, they’d be better off with the cheaper Jesus Flores backing up or sharing catching duties with Ramos; Rodriguez doesn’t have many years left and if he’s going to be a backup, he might as well do it for a better team than the Nats.

The Nats have no chance at contention and to play Rodriguez at all—even part-time—is self-defeating. Ramos is tremendous defensively and at age 23, his hitting is similar to Rodriguez’s. This is not the Ivan Rodriguez-MVP candidate from his days with the Rangers; he’s still solid behind the plate, but if they’re going for defense, why not do it with the future rather than a more expensive past?

The Stephen Strasburg factor has to be accounted for as well. One of the reasons the Nationals signed Rodriguez before last season was so he could mentor and handle Strasburg; Strasburg might not pitch at all this season and if he does, it won’t be until September for a few token appearances; judging from how cautious they were with the prized righty, the Nationals will take a more conservative approach as he returns from Tommy John surgery.

So what do they need Rodriguez for?

There are teams that could use him—the Angels, Astros, Padres, Brewers, Diamondbacks and Rockies would all benefit from his presence. He can’t play every day anymore, but he can catch and call a game as a part-timer/veteran insurance.

After the deranged contract they lavished on Jayson Werth, I hesitate to believe the Nats will do something logically sound, but trading Rodriguez to clear both his salary and the path for the younger catchers is a wise decision.

I published a full excerpt of my book on Wednesday here.

The book is available  now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.


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Book Review—The Extra 2% By Jonah Keri

Books, Management, Players

There are easy and convenient explanations from both side of the spectrum in baseball analysis as to how the Tampa Bay Rays were able to craft one of the best and most efficient organizations in baseball.

Were they the product of stat-based theories with some outside-the-box application of strategies from other industries?

Were they beneficiaries of the ample number of high draft picks accumulated as a “benefit” of being so awful for so long?

Are there ancillary aspects to the surge from baseball purgatory to a case study of how to run a team properly?

Is it all of the above?

Jonah Keri answers all of these questions and more in The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First.

Stuck in a small market with an atrocious and difficult to access stadium; a history of heinous on-field results and rotten off-field behavior; awful front office decisionmaking; and an owner who micromanaged and alienated civic leaders and local businesses, the heretofore named Devil Rays were a laughingstock like no other.

There was no hope; no future; no reason to pay attention to them…until they were taken over by a young, fearless and energetic group led by Stuart Sternberg.

Foregoing what had failed in the past for the Devil Rays and other clubs, sifting through what worked and didn’t work by cutting to the heart of what makes a successful player, team and organization, the newly named Rays have become the blueprint on how to run a baseball team whether in large or small market.

What was the secret?

Those who are invested deeply in stats see the Rays as a validation of their way of doing things with cold, objective reasoning; old-school thinkers point to the high draft picks, speed, pitching and defense that would’ve made John McGraw proud; others (myself included before reading the book) feel that the Rays turnaround began in earnest once they stopped tolerating players like Elijah Dukes, Josh Hamilton and Delmon Young whose behaviors on and off the field led to the perception that the Rays were like the lawless deserts of Yemen—anything goes with no one willing to put a stop to it. They also stopped bowing to the Yankees and Red Sox as evidenced by the willingness to get into on-field scraps with both.

The truth is that it’s a combination of everything.

Sternberg, team president Matthew Silverman and de facto GM Andrew Friedman took advantage of the foundation that was left by the prior regime; they were lucky with players like Gabe Gross, Grant Balfour, Dan Johnson and Carlos Pena; they jettisoned the likes of Dukes and Hamilton and were unperturbed by Hamilton’s blossoming into a star with the Reds and Rangers; they got rid of Young, but made sure they acquired the pieces—Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett—that were a tremendous boon to their leap into a pennant winner.

The Rays took bits and pieces from everyone and everything.

They utilized former Indians and Rangers GM John Hart’s innovation of locking up players long-term before they reached arbitration years; it was that which allowed them to sign Evan Longoria to what’s being called the most value-laden contract in baseball history.

Dumping contracts before they became prohibitive—like their trading of Scott Kazmir—provided freedom to do other things they would otherwise not have been able to do like trade for an established closer in Rafael Soriano.

They’ve opened baseball academies in countries where baseball isn’t a known entity; I’ve long thought there were ripe areas to explore in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and South America. The Rays are doing that and finding players whose athletic skills would’ve been on a soccer field rather than a diamond; they’re bound to find players in this manner and other clubs will by copying them.

Of course, sports is reliant on people and their performance; you can’t look at the numbers, calculate a formula and automatically expect the desired result—it doesn’t work that way. In any endeavor of dealing with human beings, there are bound to be times for a necessary and conscious decision to deviate from established praxis.

The front office and manager Joe Maddon are aware of this; Maddon is allowed the freedom within structure to defer to his baseball wisdom—accrued through years and years of doing anything and everything within the game—and run his team as a man with a brain and not as some faceless, middle-managing automaton.

Maddon isn’t under threat of job security if one of his off-beat maneuvers doesn’t work. I’m on record as saying that I don’t like the way Maddon game-manages; nor am I a fan of his quirky “theme trips” like players wearing hockey jerseys on the road. I’m the “you’re wearing a coat and tie and shut up” guy; but Maddon’s style is suited to the Rays from the front office through the players.

Sections in the book—such as the discussion of how the Rays missed out on Albert Pujols (it’s specious and mentioned that every team except the Cardinals missed on Pujols); and the battle for viability with no money and a terrible ballpark—drag a bit; but this is no love letter to the Rays way of doing business at the expense of dissenting thought.

All voices are heard without ridicule or dismissal.

The Extra 2% and the Rays turnaround under a strict budget is compared to the Moneyball model, but Moneyball and The Extra 2% are sparsely compatible. You can almost see Keri’s subtle and lightly expressed eye-rolling at the cut-and-dried nature in which Moneyball was presented as a biblical text; that the implication in Moneyball of “if you don’t do it this way, you’re a moron; Billy Beane is Midas, period” is viewed with disdain.

The Extra 2% is not Moneyball and like other strategies, the narrative therein cannot be copied by mirroring what the Rays have done. Each circumstance is different. One question postulated and answered is whether the Rays would be able to run their club the way they do if they were in a more scrutinizing market with a fan base that reacted angrily if something like trading a Kazmir was done while the team was still in a moderate form of contention.

The easy answer is no.

But given the fearlessness with which the front office has squeezed every ounce of use they could from the players they’ve had and dispatched them without remorse, I believe they would run the team in the best way based on the bottom line of winning and doing it within their financial parameters; it’s a testament to the strategy. It’s not about taking Wall Street to baseball; it’s about doing what is necessary to maximize the investment and that, more than anything else, is the overriding theme of the book.

The Rays way is done without smugness, condescension or abuse; it’s systematic and it works. You’ll see that in Keri’s book.

Speaking of books, my book got a nice shoutout on Twitter from WCBS in New York sportscaster Otis Livingston.

olivingstonnyc

You can’t start your baseball season off right before checking out http://amzn.to/hSJEEO and get my buddy @PRINCE_OF_NY book.. I did!

I published a full excerpt on Wednesday here.

The book is available  now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.


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Metaphorical Disaster

Books, Management, Media, Players, Spring Training

Today the Mets released Luis Castillo in a move that was unavoidable for the team; demanded by the fans and media; and necessary in a baseball and cultural way. If any one player exemplified the Mets fall from where they were when he arrived on July 30th, 2007 to the mess they’re in now, it’s Castillo.

And it’s not all his fault.

Before he put on a Mets uniform, Castillo was recognized as a good, speedy, useful player; one who led on and off the field and was a stand up character with the media. In an accident of circumstance and an exercise in scapegoating, Castillo has become the lightning rod of the downfall of the Mets.

I don’t know what people were expecting.

Statistically with the Mets, Castillo was essentially what he was with the Marlins and Twins. He lost a few steps defensively due to age and injuries; he hit predominately singles; stole a few bases; and got on base at a reasonable clip.

The main issue with Castillo is the perception that the entire club structure—the best team in the National League for most of 2006 and 3/4 of 2007—and their collapse coincided almost directly with his arrival.

Was it because of him? Did he bring bad mojo from Minnesota?

Of course not.

The Marlins won a championship with Castillo as a primary player; the Twins made the playoffs in his one full year with the club.

Castillo played as he normally did for the rest of 2007 with the Mets and was a free agent after the season. Much criticism was doled out on GM Omar Minaya for bidding against himself and re-signing Castillo to a 4-year, $25 million contract. It was a lot of money, but it’s not as if there were a multitude of options available at second base and they tried to use a similar tack—and a successful one—when they were looking for a catcher after the 2005 season when they placed identical contract offers on the table for Ramon Hernandez and Bengie Molina, waited and moved on by trading for Paul LoDuca when neither player answered quickly enough; the Mets made an offer to David Eckstein after 2007; the offer was supposedly never relayed to the player by his agent and Eckstein wound up taking a 1-year deal from the Blue Jays.

They were left with Castillo. At the time, was $6 million a year for an ancillary player with a consistent history of performance (such as it was) that much money?

No.

Castillo was out-of-shape and appeared lazy in 2008 and he still managed a .355 on base percentage; the boobirds were out for him as the club, for the second year in a row, suffered devastation and a missed playoff spot on the last day of the season.

In 2009, the whole team—except for Castillo—was on the disabled list. Castillo had a very good year; left alone with David Wright in the lineup, he wasn’t able to garner credit for a return to some semblance of form because of the humiliating dropped pop-up against the Yankees, costing the Mets the game and further cementing Castillo’s place in infamy.

By 2010, the team was crumbling, the front office and management knew they were on the way out and the attitude of the entire organization appeared to be one of resignation. Castillo was benched for much of the second half.

Unlike Oliver Perez, who at least has had a few positive moments for the club in the 2006 playoffs and with a very good 2007 season, the memories of Castillo are all negative; for the most part, he played the game the way he always has.

The Mets had to make this move for the greater good. They’re in flux and it makes no sense to be playing Castillo when there are so many questions that need to be answered in a season that is clearly going to be one of sifting through the wreckage, cleaning up, salvaging and making drastic changes.

But to suggest that Castillo is the epitome of all that’s ailed the Mets since the trading deadline in 2007 is wrong.

There’s plenty of blame to go around.

I published a full excerpt of my book on Wednesday here.

The book is available  now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.


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This Has a “Mets” Feel To It

Books, Management, Media, Players, Spring Training

I wasn’t all that enamored of the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers to begin with, but now that Shaun Marcum left yesterday’s game with a shoulder problem and the two big acquisitions—Marcum and Zack Greinke—are hurting, they look worse.

The conundrum for Marcum and the Brewers was summed up on MLB Trade Rumors:

Brewers right-hander Shaun Marcum, acquired from the Blue Jays in an offseason trade, exited his Cactus League start due to shoulder tightness, tweets Buster Olney of ESPN.com. Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke acknowledged feeling concerned about the righty, and Olney described the potential situation as “not good.” The Brewers have already lost ace Zack Greinke for a few starts after he suffered broken ribs in a pickup basketball game, and a potential injury to Marcum, though only speculation now, would be a major blow for a team expected to be in the thick of the NL Central race. Marcum, 29, missed all of 2009 with Toronto following Tommy John surgery in late 2008.

The Brewers were crowned as big off-season “winners” (cue the Charlie Sheen jokes) because of their flashy moves getting name talent.

They had a choice this past winter: go for it in 2011 with Prince Fielder in the final year of his contract and no discernible chance of keeping him; or trade Fielder and move forward with a different core.

Deciding to go for it this season, the Brewers got Greinke without surrendering that much to get him; they also traded a top prospect, Brett Lawrie, for Marcum from the Blue Jays.

But amid all the excitement certain important facets of winning receded into the background. They didn’t strengthen the bullpen, instead sticking with what they had last season. They had to take Yuniesky Betancourt‘s contract from the Royals to get Greinke; Betancourt has no range and is limited offensively. They don’t have an established catcher—an important aspect of a pitching-based club; their overall defense is shoddy; and they have a rookie manager in Ron Roenicke.

Now both are injured.

Greinke—who has never, ever pitched for a club with expectations of legitimate contention—is out with broken ribs; Marcum has an undetermined shoulder problem.

How many times did the Mets make the big moves in the winter to bring in glossy names and spur the media and public to expect great things only to see the club fall apart once play began?

That’s what I see as a viable possibility with the Brewers.

If I were running a club with a potential need for mid-season offense—the Braves for example—I’d call the Brewers now and say, “If you decide to put Fielder on the market, give us a call.”

The Brewers season could spiral very quickly if things continue as they are right now. I’ve seen this storyline before. And it’s not a happy ending.

I published a full excerpt of my book on Wednesday here.

The book is available  now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.


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Viewer Mail 3.17.2011

Books, Management, Media, Players, Spring Training

St. Patrick gave you a reason to get drunk today; I gave Mets fans a reason (well, more of a reason) yesterday.

To the mails!

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE the Rangers and Neftali Feliz:

I don’t pretend to know what Wash is thinking, but it might be that he’s trying to get the attention of Mark Lowe or another bullpen guy. Lowe had said that, if Feliz’s role were to change, he wanted the closer’s job. He hasn’t really shown that he can handle it, so maybe his manager was trying to push some buttons to make him more competitive.

I’m going to play the Buster Olney card and say that a source told me I’m right on the money here.

I don’t get the sense of pretentiousness from Ron Washington that he uses sly allusions to motivate and send messages to his players.

I totally understand where he’s coming from; the designated closer gives the manager a built-in excuse when that closer gacks up a game; if a manager has to find someone to do the job and determine whether to stay with what he’s got or try something else, he’s wide open for second guessing; with Washington, he’s more wide open for second guessing since his bullpen deployment is weak to begin with.

I’m sure Lowe does want the closer’s role; like Washington saying he wanted someone established, my reply is: Yeah? So?

Ah, Buster Olney. He hears voices.

Bob’s Blitz writes RE me:

The volume of accurate and interesting information that Paul Lebowitz can pump out is amazing.

Bob is a good man.

If you haven’t checked his site, dig it for pop culture, comedy, sports and—most importantly—pics of great looking women.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE my book excerpt—link:

Looking forward to your Yankees review – I think.

Have the lambs stopped screaming, Jane?

You needn’t worry about me calling on you; I find the world more interesting with you in it. Make sure and extend me that same courtesy…

I’ve been wanting to mention a couple of things regarding the book. There are plenty of companies you can use to circumvent the mainstream publishers and get your product out there, but I-Universe has consistently given me great service and a beautiful product.

They especially went above-and-beyond the call of duty this year by speeding up the process so I could make changes that I wouldn’t have otherwise made due to time constraints and the need to get the book out as quickly as possible.

For example, the Adam Wainwright injury occurred after I’d submitted the manuscript and I was prepared to move forward with the book as it was, but I was assured that the alterations wouldn’t delay the process for more than one day and I made the changes.

I recommend them to everyone. If you read me regularly, you know my praise doesn’t come lightly or cheaply.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE my book excerpt, Carlos Beltran and the Mets:

I pretty much agree with this… especially the Beltran scenario. Sorta sad that THAT’S what Mets fans have to look forward to…. the most…. in my opinion.

It’s all cyclical. The Mets do have plenty of talent, but in that division with all the pitching questions and off-field legal/financial cesspool, it is what it is.

Max Stevens writes RE the Mets and my book excerpt:

Great preview of the Mets today.  I’m looking forward to reading your book.  There’s little if anything I disagree with in your analysis. So how long do you think it’ll be before the fire sale starts in Queens?  Do you think that Alderson and his brain trust would torch the whole thing to the ground and rebuild from scratch?  This is actually the scenario I’m hoping for, much as it hurts me to see the Mets lose again and again.  But can a nuclear option – dealing Wright, Reyes, and maybe even Jason Bay – fly in NYC?

They’d be foolish not to listen on anyone. I doubt they’ll trade David Wright but given his position and contract status, they’d get a bounty for him. Bay’s making a lot of money; he’s not going anywhere.

The saddest part is it doesn’t matter if it would fly. Fans are fed up. There’s the natural optimism from opening day approaching, but, as I said to Jeff, reality is what it is. This is how it has to be. It’s borderline preordained.

This is kinda-sorta a comment even though it wasn’t said to me directly.

I was linked on LoneStarBall after my posting about the Rangers—link.

The comment portion is interesting. It goes as follows:

So how much heed should we pay to a person who immediately goes on to say:

On another note regarding the Rangers search for a closer, why didn’t they keep Rich Harden and try him as the closer if they intended to shift Feliz to the rotation?

The poster of the link defended me with:

I don’t really care if you pay heed or not, just sharing some Interwebby reading.

But to be fair, you did leave out his reasoning on how Harden might be better suited as a closer.

Here’s what I don’t get: do people not understand the concept of context? That picking and choosing quotes to bolster an argument is a losing proposition?

Rather than present a reasonable, cogent case against my idea of Rich Harden as a closer—and there are several—they edit creatively, dishonestly and clumsily and follow-up with a snide dismissal.

It’s transparent and weak.

You want an argument against Harden as a closer? Here it is: He’s never been a reliever; he sometimes loses the strike zone; his injury problems are constant and occur to various parts of his body; and he had an $11 million option for 2011 with a $1 million buyout that the Rangers weren’t going to exercise no matter what; if they were going to keep him, it would’ve been under a renegotiated and cheaper deal.

But instead, we get a short, sweet and inaccurate bit of snark designed to denigrate.

If that’s the best you’ve got, don’t waste your time coming at me.

I published a full excerpt of my book yesterday here.

The book is available  now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

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Behold The Bad

Books, Management, Media, Players, Spring Training

Or is it bad is in the eye of the beholder?

One man’s pragmatism is another man’s amorality.

There are some that consider Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria capricious, petulant and impossible; that he uses threats and bullying to get his way.

Did he use unethical tactics to force the state of Florida to build him a new ballpark? Has he played Jedi mind tricks with MLB itself to pocket a vast chunk of the revenue sharing his low-budget Marlins receive from the other clubs? Does he play fast and loose with semantics to enrich himself?

Maybe.

But does he run one of the more efficient and successful teams (in terms of bang for the buck) in baseball? Does he have a championship ring? Is there a new ballpark on the way for his team, accomplishing something the prior owner—the just as ruthless, albeit with a smile—Wayne Huizenga?

Yes.

You can say whatever you want about Loria.

He’s straddled or crossed the line of perceived propriety in conducting business; his clever chicanery is discussed in detail in Jonah Keri’s book—The Extra 2%—about his Florida statemates, the Rays. (I read the book and a review will be coming soon.)

But Loria is a businessman.

He’s a smart businessman.

He essentially traded the first club he owned, the Expos, for the Marlins; he made his money in the art world which often has nothing to do with quality, but what people think is quality based on what they’re told; how others value a certain piece of work.

You can find this phenomenon in any endeavor which has a non-linear way of judging value like music, writing and filmmaking—even baseball with its increasing reliance on stats is a transient and judgmental landscape.

You can “pump and dump” anything including athletes; such a strategy is the hallmark of a large part of the creative world. Hype can make or break a song, book, film or painting.

Loria has populated his Marlins front office with smart and gutsy people who know baseball and make unconventional decisions. From president of baseball operations (the true baseball boss) Larry Beinfest; to GM Michael Hill; to player personnel men Jim Fleming and Dan Jennings, there’s an intelligence and talent recognition skill that has kept the Marlins competitive despite the imposed payroll constraints.

So now Loria is being referred to as a George Steinbrenner wannabe because he’s angry at the Marlins poor play in spring training—Palm Beach Post Story—but he’s the owner of the team. If he has unrealistic expectations and is demanding, that’s within his rights as the owner.

He wanted to fire Joe Girardi because Girardi talked back to him in 2006? He took the side of Hanley Ramirez in a dispute with former manager Fredi Gonzalez? He’s angry that the team is looking clueless in spring training?

So what?

He owns the team.

The Marlins are talented, but flawed. I said as much in response to a question about their 2011 hopes for contention—Viewer Mail 3.14.2011—and they’re working with a manager on a 1-year contract who’s clearly under fire already.

Is it the “optimal” way to run a team? Not for the fleeting tastes of those who are looking to hide amongst the rabble and don’t think for themselves; those that are reluctant to state a dissenting opinion for fear of being shouted down or cast out.

No matter what you think of Loria and his aesthetics, you can’t argue with his financial intelligence, winning within a budget and getting himself the cash cow of a new ballpark without having to pay for it.

It’s business and there are about 20 teams/fan bases in baseball who’d be in much better shape right now if they had the Marlins front office—from the owner on down—running their teams.

MLB and the media can gnash their collective teeth and shake their heads all they want, but Loria—like Steinbrenner—built something through any number of means that could be seen as illegal, sleazy, mean and outright crazy.

But look at the results.

Isn’t that what matters?

The bottom line?

I published a full excerpt of my book yesterday here.

The book is available  now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.


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Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide—An Excerpt

Books, Management, Media, Players, Spring Training

The following is a full excerpt from my now available book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

A full analysis and predictions for the New York Mets.

New York Mets
2010 Record: 79-83; 4th place, National League East.

2010 Recap:

The Mets got off to a terrible start, then had a blazing hot streak that vaulted them into surprising contention. Without Carlos Beltran out due to knee surgery and Jose Reyes missing part of spring training due to a thyroid issue, the club held their own through the All Star break when a devastating West Coast swing sent them reeling back into mediocrity.

Jason Bay struggled in his transition to New York and Citi Field and a crash into the left field wall at Dodger Stadium gave him a concussion and ended his season. David Wright had a big comeback year at the plate; Reyes was up-and-down; Johan Santana again got hurt, shortening his season for the second straight year.

The season turned ugly as closer Francisco Rodriguez assaulted his father-in-law in the clubhouse family room, was arrested for assault and suspended by the club.

John Maine got hurt; Oliver Perez was horrific; Jeff Francoeur didn’t listen to anyone trying to help him fulfill his potential.
Mike Pelfrey had a good, if inconsistent, year; R.A. Dickey was a discovery with his knuckleball; and Jon Niese and Ike Davis were two homegrown players to build around.

2011 ADDITIONS:

GM Sandy Alderson was hired.
Manager Terry Collins was hired.
LHP Chris Capuano signed a 1-year, $1.5 million contract.
C Ronny Paulino signed a 1-year, $1.35 million contract.
RHP D.J. Carrasco signed a 2-year, $2.4 million contract.
OF Scott Hairston signed a 1-year, $1.1 million contract.
RHP Chris Young signed a 1-year, $1.1 million contract.
RHP Taylor Buchholz signed a 1-year, $600,000 contract.
INF Brad Emaus was selected from the Toronto Blue Jays in the Rule 5 Draft.
INF Chin-lung Hu was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
RHP Boof Bonser signed a minor league contract.
LHP Tim Byrdak signed a minor league contract.
C Raul Chavez signed a minor league contract.
OF Willie Harris signed a minor league contract.
LHP Taylor Tankersley signed a minor league contract.
RHP Blaine Boyer signed a minor league contract.
C Dusty Ryan signed a minor league contract.
LHP Casey Fossum signed a minor league contract.
RHP Dale Thayer signed a minor league contract.
RHP Jason Isringhausen signed a minor league contract.

2011 SUBTRACTIONS:

GM Omar Minaya was fired.
Manager Jerry Manuel was fired.
LHP Pedro Feliciano was not re-signed.
LHP Hisanori Takahashi was not re-signed.
C Henry Blanco was not re-signed.
OF Chris Carter was not re-signed.
RHP Elmer Dessens was not re-signed.
RHP Kelvim Escobar was not re-signed.
RHP Sean Green was non-tendered.
RHP John Maine was non-tendered.
3B/1B Mike Hessman was not re-signed.
RHP Fernando Nieve was not re-signed.
INF Fernando Tatis was not re-signed.
LHP Raul Valdes was not re-signed.
OF Jesus Feliciano was not re-signed.

2011 PROJECTED STARTING ROTATION: Mike Pelfrey; R.A. Dickey; Jon Niese; Chris Young; Chris Capuano; Johan Santana.

2011 PROJECTED BULLPEN: Francisco Rodriguez; Bobby Parnell; Manny Acosta; D.J. Carrasco; Taylor Buchholz; Tim Byrdak; Taylor Tankersley; Pat Misch; Oliver Perez.

2011 PROJECTED LINEUP: C-Josh Thole; 1B-Ike Davis; 2B-Ruben Tejada; 3B-David Wright; SS-Jose Reyes; LF-Jason Bay; CF-Angel Pagan; RF-Carlos Beltran.

2011 BENCH: C-Ronny Paulino; INF-Luis Hernandez; INF/OF-Daniel Murphy; OF-Scott Hairston; OF-Willie Harris; 1B/OF-Nick Evans; INF-Brad Emaus; 2B-Luis Castillo.

2011 POSSIBLE CONTRIBUTORS: OF-Lucas Duda; INF-Chin-lung Hu; RHP-Boof Bonser; RHP-Blaine Boyer; RHP-Dillon Gee; RHP-Jenrry Mejia; C-Mike Nickeas; INF-Justin Turner; OF-Fernando Martinez; RHP-Ryota Igarashi; OF-Jason Pridie; RHP-Dale Thayer; LHP-Casey Fossum; RHP-Jason Isringhausen.

ASSESSMENTS

MANAGEMENT:

Because of the lawsuit filed against the Wilpons in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and attempted recovery of some of the money, they’re in the process of seeking a minority shareholder to infuse the club with money. How this plays out will be one of the side stories of the season. Or the story if things go badly on the field.

After a long interview process, the Mets hired veteran baseball man Sandy Alderson to replace the fired Omar Minaya.

Alderson’s career has had a fluctuating trajectory. An outsider who entered baseball as a matter of circumstance and going from lawyer to Oakland Athletics GM, he had a long and successful run working in tandem with Tony La Russa to build the best team in the American League from 1988 through 1992. When the money that was available to buy the best players was gone, so was the success. Then La Russa left and the Alderson A’s fell into the netherworld of non-competitiveness.

When Billy Beane took over the A’s, replacing Alderson, and became known as a “genius” because of Moneyball, Alderson’s foresight in building the foundation for the stat-based “revolution” upon which Moneyball was based was credited for getting the ball rolling. Following a stint with MLB’s front office, Alderson took the job as president of the San Diego Padres; his tenure was pockmarked with in-fighting, turf battles and an underlying enthusiasm on the part of the club president to encourage the varying factions—stat based and scouting—to constantly battle for control with one thing in common, fealty to Alderson.

After leaving the Padres, Alderson was given the task of cleaning up the messy disorganization and under-the-table chicanery that went on with baseball in the Dominican Republic. Then the Mets came calling.

After his hiring, he went on all the talk shows and gave as good as he got; intimidating bullies like Mike Francesa, Alderson showed he still has the passion to build a team and do it in a way that isn’t designed to validate his role in Moneyball as his work with the Padres always had the aura of attempting. He’s running the Mets, he’s standing up to all critics and he’s done things the right way in refusing to spend money for the sake of good press; instead, he’s got a plan and is bringing in people with whom he’s worked before and who will enact his edicts without an eye on how it can help their station.

He brought in two former GMs, both of whom failed in their stints as a boss—Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi—and are loyal to Alderson.

His actions and statements have looked good so far and instead of trying to live up to a fairy tale called Moneyball, he’s doing what’s best for the team.

Terry Collins was hired as the Mets manager after a process that took about as long as the GM search.

Collins has been a respected baseball man but his raging temper and known intensity cost him two jobs with the Astros and Angels. His last big league managing job was in 1999 and a mutiny amongst some of the players led to his ouster.

He’s toned himself down a bit as he’s aged, been a minor league director among other jobs in North America and overseas and is a stickler for detail, hustle and playing the game the right way.

The Mets need his discipline and hard charging ways.

For too long, the inmates have run the asylum for the Mets and in order for the culture to change, everyone in management has to be on the same page. That’s not to suggest that Collins is going to be a “middle managing” yes-man as Moneyball implied the field manager should be, but someone who stands up for himself and what he believes while maintaining the respect of the players and his bosses.

Collins is no yes man.

He won’t shy away from telling the players the way he wants things done; nor will he hesitate to bench them if they don’t acquiesce. Because of the new regime, there won’t be the backstabbing atmosphere of unhappy players running to assistant GMs or ownership to undermine the manager.

It won’t be tolerated. Collins is in charge of the clubhouse and the players are going to play and act correctly or they won’t play; nor will they be there for long.

It’s a welcome change after years of dysfunction on all levels.

STARTING PITCHING:

Despite 15-9 record and solid across-the-board stats, Mike Pelfrey’s season wasn’t as good as it appears on paper. He got off to a great start thanks to a new split finger fastball, but once it got around the league that he was using a new pitch, he struggled.
Pelfrey’s season can be divided into parts. From the beginning of the season through June, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball accumulating a 10-2 record; then he was terrible until August when he regained his form. Pelfrey is a contact pitcher, throws strikes and doesn’t allow many homers. In 204 innings, he allowed 213 hits and 12 homers; he walked 68 and struck out 113. With Johan Santana expected out until the summer, Pelfrey is going to be relied on as the number one starter. It depends on which Pelfrey shows up as to whether he’s going to be able to fulfill that mandate.

R.A. Dickey arrived like a bolt from the blue. It’s said that it takes time for a knuckleballer to find his way in baseball, but Dickey had been a journeyman since taking up the knuckleball when injuries derailed his career as a conventional pitcher. Dickey was masterful after joining the club in late May. He went 11-9 in 27 games (26 starts), allowed 165 hits in 174 innings, 13 homers and only walked 42.

Dickey was also a leader on the staff and well-spoken representative for the club. It’s always a dicey thing to expect an older pitcher who has his one big year to repeat that the next year; sometimes it’s a matter of opportunity and figuring it all out; other times it’s just a confluence of circumstances that comes and goes. It’s different with a knuckleballer and I believe Dickey is for real.
To avoid arbitration, Dickey signed a 2-year, $7.8 million contract with a club option for 2013. He has some security for the first time in his career.

Lefty Jonathon Niese was one of the top rookie pitchers in baseball for much of the season before he tired in September. With a good fastball, curve and cutter, Niese put up some terrific performances specifically a masterpiece of a 1-hit shutout against the Padres in June. Niese wound up 9-10 on the season and his ancillary numbers don’t look impressive to the naked eye, but he pitched better than his numbers. In 173 innings, he allowed 192 hits and 20 homers; he walked 62 and struck out 148. Niese has the stuff to be a 12-15 game winner in the big leagues.

6’10” righty Chris Young was signed to an incentive-laden 1-year contract. Young has pitched in 18 games in the past two years. When he’s healthy, he’s tough. His motion is deceptive and his height makes his fastball seem faster than it is; he has a good curve and changeup and he’s willing to pitch inside. His big problems are staying healthy and late season stamina. When he was healthy and pitching well for the Padres, he had a tendency to tire out at the end of the season and couldn’t be counted on for more than 150-170 innings—then in the past two years, the injuries hit his shoulder. If he’s able to pitch, he’s a great, low cost pickup; but after all these injuries what can the Mets reasonably expect? I’d expect very little.

Chris Capuano is a 32-year-old veteran lefty who signed a 1-year deal with the Mets. Capuano was a solid, durable starter with the Brewers for 2005 and 2006, he slumped in 2007 and underwent Tommy John surgery (for the second time) in 2008. He’s a contol pitcher whose strikeout numbers—when he was healthy—were high enough that he shouldn’t be considered a pure junkballer. He gives up his share of homers and hits when he’s not pinpointing his spots, but he was a good mid-rotation pitcher before, maybe he can rejuvenate his career with the Mets.

Johan Santana had surgery on his shoulder and isn’t expected to be able to pitch until June at the earliest. Santana wasn’t as dominant as he was with the Twins last season, but he was good enough to post an 11-9 record and have an ERA under 3.00. Judging by how he actually pitched, he should’ve won 17 games. Santana is one of the top pitchers in baseball, but he was damaged several times by the big inning. Shoulder surgeries are tricky and it’s hard to know what the Mets are going to get when Santana returns.

He’d already lost a few inches on his fastball and with him coming back from another injury that could diminish his velocity even further, it could be an issue reducing his effectiveness further.

Perhaps he’ll have to rely more on his changeup and locating his fastball. He can win that way, but it will take some time for him to learn to pitch differently to account for it.

BULLPEN:

Francisco Rodriguez will return as the closer. After the humiliating way his season ended as he assaulted his father-in-law in the Citi Field family room, he’s going to be on his best behavior. K-Rod is a good closer but the most interesting dynamic will be if the Mets are not contending and K-Rod is approaching the 54 appearances he needs to guarantee his contract for 2012.

The provision in his contract calls for the kicker if he either finishes 55 games in 2010 or has a combined 100 games finished in 2010 and 2011. K-Rod finished 46 games last season. Will the Mets, if they’re out of the race by mid-August, sit K-Rod to “unguarantee” his $17.5 million for 2012? And will the union fight it if they do?
I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to sit K-Rod in order to get his contract off the books.

Another option, if he’s pitching well and behaving, is to trade him while picking up some of the 2012 contract. He’d get a couple of good prospects back and I think this is the likeliest scenario, contingent on his behavior.

Bobby Parnell drew plenty of attention with his fastball after returning from the minors. Clocked at 102 mph, he has the velocity to blow people away. In 35 innings, he struck out 33 and only allowed 1 homer. He did surrender 41 hits, but that was skewered by a couple of games in which he gave up crooked numbers against the Diamondbacks and Phillies. Apart from that, he was reliable and has the potential to be a top set-up man with that power fastball.

Manny Acosta was a solid pickup from the Braves before last season. Acosta has a good fastball and struck out 42 in 39 innings. He allowed 30 hits, but his one bugaboo has always been the home run ball. His control is occasionally wanting and when he falls behind and has to throw his fastball in the strike zone, he tends to give up the long ball.

D.J. Carrasco signed a 2-year contract. A 34-year-old righty, Carrasco is a durable, multiple inning reliever who’s pitched well out of the bullpen for the White Sox in 2008 and 2009 and spent last season with the Pirates and Diamondbacks. He occasionally has trouble throwing strikes, but has strikeout potential.

Taylor Buchholz is trying to regain his footing after missing 2009 with Tommy John surgery and bouncing from the Rockies to the Red Sox as he returned last season. Buchholz was an integral part of the Rockies bullpen in 2008 as a set-up man with a 2.17 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 66 innings. He has a good fastball and wicked curve; his stuff translates better to going once through the lineup and if he’s healthy, he could be a cheap find for the Mets.

Veteran lefty specialist Tim Byrdak signed a minor league contract. Byrdak has been one of the unheralded lefties in baseball since joining the Astros in 2008. He’s 37, has had some trouble with the home run ball and control, but lefties have hit .202 against him in his career. He’s a pure lefty specialist who should make the Mets out of spring training.

Taylor Tankersley is another lefty who, like Buchholz, is trying to regain his effectiveness. Tankersley had a good year in the Marlins bullpen in 2007, but has gotten blasted since. He didn’t pitch in 2009 with a recurring stress fracture in his arm and wasn’t good in 2010. For his career, he’s held lefties to a .223 average so he, like Byrdak, will be a lefty specialist. The Mets will be able to use two lefties in the bullpen, so Tankersley has a good chance to make the team and get into a lot of games.

Pat Misch is a soft-tossing lefty who is short just enough on his fastball that he’s unable to get inside to righties and has to rely on control and spotting his pitches. He has very good control and is a useful pitcher to have around as a long reliever/spot starter.

Oliver Perez is only still on the roster because he’s making $12 million this season. Alderson has said that if Perez doesn’t earn his way onto the roster, he won’t be with the Mets.

I don’t expect him to be with the Mets.

LINEUP:

Catching prospect Josh Thole will receive every opportunity to take over as the starter. Thole is a lefty-swinging slap hitter who’s batted .300 in the minors in two of the past three seasons; his hitting style reminds me of former Pirates catcher Mike Lavalliere—a spray hitter with 25 or so doubles and maybe 8 homers. He has a strong arm behind the plate.

Ike Davis impressed in spring training 2010 and was recalled from the minors in late April. His swing was compared with John Olerud’s, but after watching him over the long term, he’s more of a Lyle Overbay-type with more power. He takes his walks (72 in 601 plate appearances); strikes out a lot (138 times); and has power (19 homers, 33 doubles). The 24-year-old Davis is a good fielder and will hit 25-30 homers in the big leauges with 100+ RBI and a .350+ on base percentage.

The Mets are going to give Daniel Murphy a chance to win the second base job, but I’d prefer to play Ruben Tejada there. Tejada impressed me with his fearlessness and overall solid fundamental play. Early in the season, he was overmatched, but never gave up. He puts a good move on the inside pitch and I believe will be a solid hitter and fielder at the big league level. The 21-year-old has hit above .280 in his last two minor league seasons, takes his walks and has some speed.

After a difficult 2009 season when there were questions as to whether he’d been psyched out by the vast dimensions of Citi Field, David Wright had a very good comeback year. While he’s criticized for the things he doesn’t do—he’s never going to be a megastar player—he’s still unappreciated by Mets fans.

Wright had 29 homers and 36 doubles; batted .283 and his on base percentage dropped from its usual heights of .390 or above, to .354; he struck out 161 times, but that was misleading as he was k’ing at a breakneck pace early in the season but made better contact as the season wore on.

Jose Reyes missed most of spring training with a thyroid condition and was very streaky last season. Tried in the number 3 hole in the lineup (which I thought was a great idea), Reyes went into a funk. He showed flashes of being the five tool machine he was from 2005 to 2008, but his on base percentage sank to .321 and he stole only 30 bases. Reyes is still a superstar talent and is only 27, but he’s a free agent at the end of the year and with the dollars thrown around for Carl Crawford, will the Mets be willing to invest over $120 million in Reyes if he has a big year?

That’s what he’s going to want. At least.

If the Mets are out of contention, they have to at least listen to offers for Reyes if he’s playing well. They could trade him and then pursue him again as a free agent if they so desire.

I think Reyes is going to get traded and if he’s playing up to his potential, they’ll get a lot for him. A lot. It may be the right move in the long run.

Jason Bay struggled through his first season in New York. I doubt it was due to fear—he handled Boston with no problem—but with some players (Carlos Beltran for example) it takes a year to get accustomed to playing in New York. Bay’s defense, criticized as “poor” due to his UZR ratings, was a very good defensive left fielder for the Mets; those that are immersed in UZR explained this as the season moved along…by altering their calculations. Lo and behold, Bay wasn’t as bad as they initially thought. What a shock.

A concussion sustained while crashing into the left field wall at Dodger Stadium ended Bay’s season after 95 games. I believe Bay will be back to his 25 homer, 100 RBI self this season and he was a surprise with his defense, speed, solid baserunning and all-around good play.

Angel Pagan finally stayed healthy in 2010 and showed everyone what he could do if given the chance to play regularly. In 151 games, Pagan batted .290 with a .340 on base percentage; had 11 homers; 31 doubles and 7 triples, plus 37 stolen bases. The switch hitter played hard every play and was excellent defensively in center and right field. The big issue with Pagan has always been his health. I don’t think that one healthy season means he’s automatically gotten over that hump, but he’s the heir apparent to Beltran.

Carlos Beltran was unfairly blamed for the Mets slide after the All Star break because that’s when he came back. Of course it’s possible that the continuity of the club was disrupted by Beltran’s insertion into the mix, but the Mets problems went far deeper than Beltran’s defense or the shifting of Pagan to right and benching of Jeff Francoeur. Beltran regained his timing as the season wore on, but he’s never going to be the force he once was. His injured knee is reducing his power from the left side of the plate and it’s obvious. If he plays the full season, he can still hit his 20+ homers, hit a few doubles and get on base; even stealing a few with canniness once in awhile.

His Mets career has run its course; he’s a free agent at the end of the season and it would be best for all if they parted ways and the Mets got some useful pieces for him.

BENCH:

Catcher Ronny Paulino will begin the season suspended for using a banned substance; he’ll miss the first eight games of the season. Paulino is a good part-time catcher and, batting right-handed, will see time against tough lefties to spell Thole. He has some on base ability and a little pop. Paulino is a good handler of pitchers and throws well.

Luis Hernandez is a journeyman switch-hitting utility infielder. He can play second, third and short and batted .250 in 47 plate appearances for the Mets in 2010.

Daniel Murphy is being eyed as a possible solution to second base. He blew out his knee turning a double play on a take-out slide that was said to have been dirty. Murphy can hit enough to get 300-400 at bats in the big leagues, but he’s not a good enough hitter to tolerate the likelihood of inadequate range at second base. I would make Murphy a roving utility player and use him as the Athletics (under Sandy Alderson) used Tony Phillips.

Brad Emaus is a 25-year-old infielder whom the Mets selected in the Rule 5 Draft from the Toronto Blue Jays. Emaus can play second or third and has 15-20 homer power; gets on base; hits plenty of doubles; walks and doesn’t strike out. He bats right-handed and can even steal a few bases.

Veteran outfielder Scott Hairston signed a 1-year contract. Hairston can play all three outfield positions, has some pop, doesn’t hit for a high average or get on base. He’s a fifth outfielder on a good team; a fourth outfielder on the Mets.

Mets nemesis Willie Harris was signed to a minor league contract. Harris is a versatile outfielder/third baseman who had a habit of making terrific plays defensively and getting big hits against the Mets, some of which cost them dearly in 2007-2008 as they fell out of the playoff race. Harris has speed and some pop and is a better hitter than his .183 showing last year with the Nationals.

Nick Evans has shown flashes of being a useful righty bat in the big leagues, but former manager Jerry Manuel didn’t like Evans for whatever reason. He’s hit for power and put up good average/on base numbers in the minors and can play first base or the corner outfield positions.

Luis Castillo is in the same boat with Perez. Alderson has said that he’ll have to earn his way onto the roster. It’s highly, highly, highly unlikely he’ll play well enough to win the starting job at second base in the spring and they won’t able to trade him with other teams knowing the reality of the situation. I expect him to be released early in the spring so he has a chance to hook on somewhere else. It’s time for him to go.

PREDICTION:

Best case scenario in the standings, the Mets are a .500 team. In the NL East, that might get them third place.

The best case scenario in practicality is if they’re around 5-10 games under .500 into the summer, Beltran is playing well enough to convince a few teams that he can help them in their stretch drives and there will be a moderate bidding war for his services in a trade. Alderson is savvy enough to dangle him out there and get a good return for him.

Reyes and K-Rod are different matters. Reyes, a free agent, will yield a significant return in a trade if he’s healthy and playing well. The Mets circumstances financially and on the field make it a question as to whether they’re going to be able to give Reyes the contract he wants at the end of the season if they want to keep him.
I expect Reyes to be traded this summer.

K-Rod’s contract is a huge obstacle; it’s not something that can’t be worked out. If he’s pitching well and behaving, someone will take him.

Alderson and his people are sifting through the muck of years of disorganization and it’s not an overnight process. This season is dedicated to seeing what they have in Thole, Murphy, Pagan, Niese, Dickey, Tejada and the young players on the way. After the year, Castillo, Perez and Reyes are coming off the books. They’ll have money to spend next winter (maybe) and as much as they hesitate to say it, it’s known that the Mets are in a so-called “bridge” year from the Minaya regime to what Alderson, his assistants and Collins are trying to build.

They’re going to have a long year, but it could be productive if they’re smart, fearless and aggressive in trading.

PREDICTED RECORD: 73-89

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