So, you wanna trade Jacob deGrom, huh?

MLB, Uncategorized

degrom

Without bothering to link the offending article by the non-credible, click-seeking source, the concept of the New York Mets trading their most valuable assets Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard brought Mets fans back to the brink of the usual civil war, fighting one another as to the direction of the franchise and how it should proceed.

There’s a fine line between clickbait and a legitimate Rx based on the circumstances. That, however, is secondary to an evenhanded assessment of the idea of a reboot and to start by trading deGrom. Without saying whether they should pull the trigger on such a decision and when, there are certain foundational factors that must be in place if they do decide to head in that direction.

If you would like to or are grudgingly willing to trade deGrom, you need to accept the following realities:

  • No half-assing it.

If you’re pulling the trigger on dealing deGrom, there’s no accepting the nonsense of an unemployed and unemployable blogger saying the team “might as well listen” just to see what’s offered and decide from there. With the Mets being so cognizant and reactive to public perception, once it leaks that they gauged the market for deGrom, then they have to trade him. There’s no “let’s see.” It’s either move him or don’t with full commitment. Listening to offers is an admission that the product is available for sale. There’s no checking in, nor is there due diligence just to get a sense of what’s out there. It’s akin to a married guy (or girl) starting a Tinder account to see how many swipes he or she gets. The mere act of checking means there’s interest in following through.

Since it’s the Mets, the fallout from it becoming known that they were taking offers on deGrom would be so fierce that they would either need to pull him back from the market and do their familiar bit of clumsy damage control or admit they’re restarting and trade him.

And none of that refusing to trade him to the Yankees just because it’s the Yankees. Right there, holding to that line takes out one of the teams with the most glaring need for a pitcher of deGrom’s stature and the deep farm system to overpay to get it done. The best offer gets the player, period.

  • Sandy Alderson cannot be the one to make the move(s).

There have been situations where an interim or outgoing GM has been entrusted to oversee a housecleaning and has acquitted himself professionally, leaving his successor with a solid core from the trades he made. Jerry Dipoto with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Omar Minaya with the San Diego Padres, and Dave Dombrowski with the Detroit Tigers are just three examples of that.

Alderson is the one who made the trade to get Syndergaard in the first place when he was in the low-minors and was a secondary piece to the true object of their desires in the R.A. Dickey trade, Travis d’Arnaud. Alderson would know the names of the minor leaguers who would constitute an acceptable return on a housecleaning. There’s no doubt that he would acquit himself professionally and have the organization’s best interests at heart even if he won’t be around to bear the fruits of the trades.

But at age 70 with his tenure as Mets GM likely coming to an end in the not-too-distant future, it should fall on his likely replacement, John Ricco, to take the reins. Ricco has been with the Mets for 12 years. He’s the obvious heir apparent to Alderson. He has the business acumen and the intelligence to understand the coldblooded sabermetric components necessary to run an organization today. Since the Mets rehired Omar Minaya as an assistant to Alderson and Ricco was Minaya’s assistant when the Mets were at their title-contending heights during the Minaya regime, the two can easily work together with their roles reversed.

Minaya, a baseball rat, is more comfortable scouting and eyeball analyzing without needing to go through the daily grind of dealing with the media and falling all over his words when the time comes to be a disciplinarian and handle crisis control. Ricco is perfectly suited to that. He’ll know the stats and the projections for the players the Mets will receive and Minaya can use his scouting acument to either believe the numbers or say, “Forget the numbers, this kid can’t play.”

Alderson’s hiring deviated from the Wilpons’ history of insular “Mets blood only” front office personnel. At the time, it seemed that hiring Alderson was a precondition for Bud Selig to sign off on them retaining ownership as they sorted out the Bernie Madoff mess. Alderson was a competent and unflappable caretaker to ensure that the organization weathered the financial storm. Now, since he won’t be there three to five years from the time of the trades and will not be overtly invested in their outcome, he should not be the one to make the calls.

  • No tanking, but no sentiment either; and the Wilpons must spend.

If they’re trading deGrom and Syndergaard, then it makes zero sense to put up the pretense of moderate respectability in the near term as they did in the first four years of Alderson’s tenure.

In fairness, those years were about getting out from under the onerous contracts of Jason Bay, Johan Santana, et, al. as well as cleaning up from the fetid wreckage of the Madoff disaster. Since the club appears to be, in part, beyond its financial woes, it can’t stop at trading deGrom and Syndergaard. It must extend to anyone and anything that can yield a significant return of youngsters who are under long-term team control or are close to big league ready. That includes dealing Michael Conforto, Steven Matz, Jeurys Familia, Jerry Blevins and anyone who has any value whatsoever to make a quick turnaround with the organization spending money on the big free agent class of 2018-19 and possibly some of the prospects they accrue in trades to turn the team around fast with younger, cheaper and more athletic players.

***

With the doom and gloom surrounding the Mets, it’s easy to forget that this same team started the season off at 13-2 and hit a rough stretch in which they have been one of the worst teams in baseball. They’re still above .500 – one of the benefits to a hot start – and it’s too soon to tell whether the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are for real and if the Washington Nationals have righted their ship. The National League is relatively parity-laden, so the Wild Card spots will be available should the Mets not jump back into contention for the division title.

The idea of trading deGrom and/or Syndergaard is the typical extreme reaction for a few weeks of bad play, but if they do eventually decide to do it, they must leap in with both feet or not even bother. Otherwise it makes zero sense and they’re better off just staying where they are and seeing what happens as the season moves along.

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Ending the Joe Girardi vs. Mickey Callaway nonsense

MLB, Uncategorized

Girardi Callaway pic

Had the Cleveland Indians won one of the final three games of the 2017 ALDS and eliminated the New York Yankees while the crosstown Mets were still conducting their managerial search, I firmly believe that Joe Girardi would be managing the Mets right now.

After moving on from Terry Collins – not “firing” him, per se, but by not offering him a new contract – and the rumblings of Girardi’s likely divorce from the Yankees grew louder and louder, the Mets quietly acknowledged that they were “monitoring” the Girardi situation. As a proven winner who could handle New York and would have taken the job, it made perfect sense.

But the Yankees won the final three games of that ALDS and advanced to the ALCS before losing to the Houston Astros in seven games. Even then, there was uncertainty regarding Girardi’s future with the club. His contract had expired; his relationship with several players was reportedly strained; and the replay gaffe in Game 2 of the ALDS stung his reputation despite the silly, sentimentalist narrative that the same players who had grown tired of his constant intensity and tight as a drum style fought back to save him.

However, the 2017 Yankees arrived back on the big stage at least one year earlier than the front office reasonably could have expected. Every one of Girardi’s teams had either achieved what its talent said it should have or far surpassed it. As the club did its deliberations of whether it wanted to retain Girardi, there remained a chance that they would focus on the positive and ignore the negative by keeping him with a new contract.

Could the Mets have waited?

Mickey Callaway was not just on the Mets’ radar, but he was on the short lists of multiple other clubs who were looking for a new manager. Had the Mets not hired him – basically not letting him leave the building without making sure he would take the job – someone else would have. Now, fans who are displeased with some of the rookie mistakes that the neophyte manager is making tactically and verbally would likely say that the Mets, in retrospect, would have been better off. But that is neither here nor there. This is secondary to the reasons that speculation that the Mets would be better off had they waited for Girardi. There’s no answer to that question.

If the Mets sat on the sideline and waited out Girardi and the Yankees, they ran the risk of running into the similar conundrum to ones they have had in the past with Buck Showalter, Lou Piniella and Joe Torre.

Had the timing been right, Showalter could have been hired to manage the Mets after the Yankees dumped him following the 1995 season. Instead, after a relatively strong finish, the Mets had already given Dallas Green a contract for 1996.

When Piniella walked away from the final year of his contract with the Seattle Mariners after 2002 and the Mets had fired Bobby Valentine, Piniella wanted to manage the Mets and the Mets wanted him. The Mariners refused to let Piniella go without compensation and they demanded Jose Reyes. The Mets said no. Eventually, with nowhere else to go, Piniella went to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays who were all too happy to surrender one of the best players, Randy Winn, as compensation for his services.

(A note on “wanting” Piniella: at least the Wilpons did; GM Steve Phillips, who knew that he would be mitigated with the presence of the handsome, charming, explosive and successful Piniella, preferred someone less threatening and got it in Art Howe.)

Following the team’s collapse in September 2007, there were some in the Mets front office who still blamed manager Willie Randolph for the 2006 NLCS loss and definitely held him responsible for blowing a seemingly unblowable division lead in the final three weeks of the season. Torre was let go by the Yankees after their ALDS loss to the Indians to be replaced by Girardi. Had the Mets fired Randolph, Torre would most certainly been interested in remaining in New York and ending his managerial career where it started just to shove it to the Yankees — an organization that shrugged off the work he did for them, never truly seeming to appreciate his contribution to their return to glory.

Girardi’s contribution could be viewed as similarly dismissed. How many managers could have handled the egos in the room when he took over even after having played with many of them as a teammate, extinguished the inevitable bonfires big and small that occur with so high-profile a team, and won? Girardi’s work when the Yankees transitioned from the Derek Jeter/Mariano Rivera/Andy Pettitte years to a patched together group of journeymen and then youngsters he was entrusted to develop. The job he did was overlooked. Getting the mediocre-at-best teams from 2013 through 2016 in at above .500 when there was no justifiable reason for that to happen – and even making the playoffs in 2015 – was remarkable.

Girardi would have cost exponentially more than Callaway did and expected some level of say-so in the club’s construction. For all the talk of the cheapness of the Wilpons, they would have paid Girardi and likely given him some sway in the roster.

Girardi would not be making the tactical gaffes that Callaway has, but could any manager have gotten the Mets off to a better start than Callaway’s 13-2? Is that even possible?

The speculation is nonsense because the circumstances were not right for it to happen, eliminating it as anything more than an “if everything breaks that way” possibility. Unlike the previously mentioned instances when, had the Mets taken that extra-aggressive step, they could have gotten all three of those managers, they had to weigh the chances of Callaway getting another job and Girardi turning around and signing a contract extension with the Yankees, leaving them to again sift through the uninspiring remnants and hire their third or lower choice.

It’s easy to discuss as a “what if?” but there’s no definitive answer, so it’s pointless.

Matt Harvey: blame and absolution for his Mets Knightfall

MLB, Uncategorized

Matt Harvey Reds

As Matt Harvey prepares to make his first major league start Friday in Los Angeles for a team other than the New York Mets, insiders and outsiders have established their positons in the debate as to where it went wrong for him in New York.

In general, one side says that Harvey gave everything he could for the Mets and went beyond personal interests to help the team in its pennant-winning season of 2015. The other blames Harvey for his downfall, asserting that relentless partying, selfishness and arrogance did him in.

The Mets have taken the high road after designating Harvey for assignment and subsequently trading him to the Cincinnati Reds for Devin Mesoraco, thanking him and lamenting the disappointing end.

Harvey has been mostly silent but cryptic, implying that he holds animus against the Mets.

There will never be a meeting in the middle for Harvey, the Mets or those who provide outside assessments as to how it went wrong. What should be remembered, however, is that things in life are rarely so simple as to say one side is right and other is wrong. Without partaking in ignorant rumor, innuendo, gossip and the admittedly slanted positions of the participants, it’s possible for Harvey to be justified in his complaints about the Mets and for him to have sowed the seeds for his own collapse independent of the organization and its handling of him.

From the time at which he arrived on the scene as a young, handsome, gifted athlete, Harvey played hard on and off the field. The extent of his partying and lifestyle choices negatively impacting his on-field performance is known only to his closest intimates. It’s quite possible that he simply liked meeting women, seeing his name in the front of the newspaper as well as the back, and stoked the fires of his own reputation without engaging in truly self-destructive behavior. It’s also possible that he did allow his off-field interests to interfere with his preparation and performance. Or it could be somewhere in the middle.

The two extremes need not be mutually exclusive.

The same armchair experts who are analyzing his mechanics, making statements about his physical issues like they know better than the doctors for the Mets and for the Boras Corporation, and seek to know the unknowable are simultaneously engaging in pop psychological analysis regarding what’s really going on in his head.

Perhaps Harvey would have been better off on the field had he shunned a few late nights. But for some athletes, there is nothing worse than sitting home alone trapped in one’s own head and playing and replaying insecurities that can grow pervasive should they be allowed to fester. The same statements that it was Harvey’s nightlife that was the problem emanate from an arena that also blames his struggles on Tommy John surgery, thoracic outlet syndrome and whatever else. There’s no way to know because there’s no alternative but speculation.

From the outside, it seems the Mets stretched the limited number of rules that today’s athletes live under as far as they have for anyone going back to the lawless days of the Davey Johnson/Darryl Strawberry/Dwight Gooden/Keith Hernandez underachievers and overindulgers of the 1980s.

Apart from preemptively trading him, what could they do other than put up with him and his act to maximize his marketability and production before his inevitable departure? The departure came sooner than expected and in circumstances few could have predicted. There’s more than enough blame to go around even if it’s uncertain exactly where to place it.

There are no Dave Duncans to fix a Matt Harvey anymore

MLB, Uncategorized

Duncan

Dave Duncan is still around as a pitching consultant for the Chicago White Sox. At 72, it’s unreasonable to expect him to put forth the time and energy necessary to repeat the wizardry that took unfulfilled talent, the injured, and reclamation projects and make them into Cy Young Award winners, All-Stars and Hall of Famers as he did with Bob Welch, Dave Stewart, Mike Moore, LaMarr Hoyt, Dennis Eckersley, Chris Carpenter, Woody Williams, Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse and countless others.

However, that’s exactly what Matt Harvey needs. Yet there’s no one to do it for him.

Harvey, designated for assignment by the New York Mets on Saturday, is having his career trajectory dissected to determine exactly where it all went wrong. You can find these stories everywhere with all its authors thinking they and they alone have found the secret or basking in the glory of their innate lack of knowledge as to why he came undone.

There’s no definitive answer.

Fixing him is a different matter and that endeavor will be tasked to someone who will have theories as to how to move forward. In consultation with Harvey and his agent Scott Boras, a plan will unfurl. Either it will work or it won’t. Judging by the reality that every organization is essentially working from a similar playbook with pitching coaches no longer left to their devices and their individual instruction as was the case in Duncan’s heyday as Tony La Russa’s aide-de-camp, the odds are that it will make little difference in Harvey’s future.

The days of the Mr. Fix-It of Duncan are over as organizations make their plans in conjunction with medical recommendations, technological advances and the ever-growing group of individual handlers that seemingly all players have.

In the days of Duncan polishing his reputation as baseball’s preeminent pitching guru, he was largely left to his own devices and entrusted with overseeing the pitchers without interference from a phalanx of others. Pitchers often ended up with La Russa and Duncan because they had nowhere else to go and had reached the point in their careers where it was either listen to what Duncan had to say and implement it or no longer have a career. Desperation breeds sudden flexibility. Duncan’s reputation and the number of pitchers he could count as notches on his belt certainly gave him credibility with the egomaniacal and selfish entity known as the professional athlete.

Whether it was a mechanical adjustment, changes to the pitcher’s repertoire or a mental reprogramming, Duncan carried a reputation of fixing the heretofore unfixable. That he had the opportunity to do so stemmed from a confluence of events that are no longer in place. Teams will not entrust any investment to a single individual and that investment will likely have an army of advisors who are also seeking and demand input.

There are pitching coaches who are well-regarded in today’s game. Ray Searage is viewed as the modern Mr. Fix-It, but that has stemmed from a crafted narrative. His own results have fluctuated and if there were fallbacks or failures as was the case with Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, the shifting of blame has been rapid and largely eliminated any positives his relationship with those pitchers created. There’s no credit for the good without blame for the bad.

John Farrell, Tom House, Dave Righetti, Mickey Callaway – all are well-regarded and have had success, but none will ever have the cachet that Duncan had of taking pitchers who were broken remnants of what they were and pasting them back together.

Duncan is still around and in baseball, but the landscape has changed. What worked before won’t work now, mostly because the outside influences for the likes of Matt Harvey won’t let it.

The real issue with Matt Harvey’s partying

MLB, Uncategorized

Matt Harvey Screenshot

Ninety-nine percent of you have no idea what professional athletes are doing with their downtime. 99 percent of the remaining 1 percent who do know keep quiet about it because otherwise they would not be able to do their jobs while serving as daily media members regularly around the players; doing their jobs as teammates, coaches and managers who need the players to contribute; owners who pay and hope to profit from them; and those – gossip columnists, public relations people, agents, handlers, cohorts, greenflies and flunkies – whose main function is to facilitate whatever the client wants.

Some athletes, like the Mets’ Matt Harvey, enjoy the nightlife. Some like playing golf. Others prefer to stay in their hotel room or at the ballpark playing Xbox. Still others bring their families with them everywhere they go and prefer as normal a life as possible given the circumstances.

With the size of their paychecks, their age and that they have so much free time on their hands, it’s unavoidable that players will try and find things to do. There’s nothing wrong with that…until the public perceives it as affecting their performance. Yoenis Cespedes’s golf addiction has been viewed as a negative. When R.A. Dickey told his intriguing life story, his sudden burst of fame and loquaciousness grated on some in the Mets organization. When Gary Gaetti became a born again Christian, his transformation from foul-mouthed team leader to evangelical was portrayed as the cause of a fissure in the Twins clubhouse.

This has gone on forever.

Stoked by a media which bases much of its reporting and response as a reverberation to public reaction, intentionally or not, it feeds the fire. If it’s viewed as a problem, it’s a problem even if it’s not the problem.

Harvey’s nocturnal activities have been under scrutiny since his big league arrival in 2012 when he was a relatively unknown and unhyped former first-round draft pick of the prior Mets front office regime led by Omar Minaya. Handsome, swaggering and incredibly talented, Harvey’s production on the field and his natural magnetism led to him quickly being adopted by the tabloids as an heir apparent to their aging former player of choice, the Yankees’ Derek Jeter. As his stature on the field grew, so too did his nighttime exploits. He was celebrated for it.

And it was irrelevant because he was coming through on the field and showed the potential to be the next on and off-field star, more Joe Namath than Jeter.

Since 2016, his career has plummeted faster than it skyrocketed. Blame is allocated in multiple places with the latest being his penchant for late nights and poor optics. Harvey’s reported trip to Los Angeles to go to a nightclub while the Mets were playing in San Diego is another line in Harvey’s long list of “what are you doing?” moments not because he was partying, but because he’s pitching terribly, has lost his job as a starting pitcher, and is heading toward free agency as a reclamation project rather than a superstar acquisition.

The club shrugged off the trip to L.A. in part because it really doesn’t sound like a big deal and in part because what’s the difference? How much worse can he pitch? It’s difficult to envision his on-field struggles stemming from going out and having a few drinks the night before a game when the game isn’t set to start until the next night. It’s just that he’s not very good right now. If he was, the partying would be “Matt being Matt” circa 2015 and not “Matt parties as his career sinks.”

As organizations seek to turn their clubs into corporate structures with chains-of-command, orders being issued from the top down and carried out without question, the fundamental flaw that can never be excised from their version of an ideal structure is that the key employees – the players – are indispensable and paid multiple millions more than the decision makers.

The owner is not replaceable in a conventional sense because the property belongs to him or her until it is sold and they sign the checks.

Some interchangeable front office person, regardless of how good at the job, can be replaced with few noticing the departure over the long term. There are thousands of them using the same formulas. That goes for Billy Beane, Theo Epstein, Andrew Friedman, Sandy Alderson or anyone else. So there’s nothing they can do about a player choosing to stay out all night because they’re making too much money, have guaranteed contracts and are under no obligation to follow orders…until they cannot perform as they did before. But for five or six pitchers, the vintage 2013 Harvey was not replaceable.

The Mets sound as if they know he’s not part of their long-term future and it’s becoming increasingly evident that their season no longer hinges on him. If he gets to the point where the distractions outweigh any possible usefulness, he’ll be gone before the season is over and they won’t miss him.

This has nothing to do with his off-field life.

The odds are that Harvey’s partying is no worse now than it was when he started the 2013 All-Star Game. It’s a perceived problem because he’s no longer an All-Star; he’s figuratively carrying a mop out to the bullpen every day until he shows he deserves another chance at the starting rotation or he’s trustworthy enough as a reliever to be used in key situations and not when the Mets are far behind or far ahead.

It’s a natural human inclination to be nosy. In a culture in which everything is posted on social media, there’s a blatant or hidden agenda for everything, and failures make for more interesting viewing than successes, Harvey is a sideshow — one that will be canceled when it wears out its welcome. He is largely to blame for the attention he receives not because he makes the wrong decisions – who can say what’s right or wrong? – but because the same people who propped him up and turned him into the Dark Knight, lauding him for his style and female companions, are turning on him. None of it was because they liked or disliked him. It was because he was interesting.

In this Kardashian-infested world where talent is secondary to the ability to grab attention and no one admits to watching or paying attention to any of it simultaneous to knowing every single aspect about their lives, salaciousness sells. The shifting of the Harvey narrative does not emanate from a condescending disapproval of his lifestyle, but from his results on the field. When the Mets say it’s not a big deal, they’re not talking in terms of disciplining him or straightening him out. It’s because it doesn’t matter anymore.