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

MLB, Uncategorized

RicciardiRiccominaya

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

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

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

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

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

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

This must all be factored in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s not that guy.

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

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

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

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

MLB, Uncategorized

Syndergaard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The biggest fish

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

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

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

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

Immovable objects

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

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

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

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

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

There’s no point in discussing Jason Vargas.

Pending free agents

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

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

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

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

Potentially valuable chips

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

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

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

***

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

A small opening could net the Mets a global star

MLB, Uncategorized

Beane

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

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

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

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

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

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

But act how?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s hard to see.

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

Then there’s the Mets.

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

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

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

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

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

The root of the Michael Kay Show freakout about Mike Francesa

Broadcasting, Uncategorized

LaGreca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Terry Collins and his expletive-filled rant for the 2016 Mets

MLB, Uncategorized

Collins rant

Right off the bat, if you’re acting stunned at the clip of former Mets manager Terry Collins’ expletive-laden screaming match with the umpires in 2016 after Noah Syndergaard threw a fastball behind Chase Utley in retaliation for Utley’s filthy and blatantly illegal 2015 NLDS cross body block that broke Ruben Tejada’s leg, you exhibit how limited your knowledge of how uniform personnel are when they’re in their element.

I’m not talking about their restrained, crafted personae that every manager, executive – and to a certain extent – player must use in this hyper-attentive world where statements and body language are dissected whether there’s any underlying intent or not. I’m talking about the baser instincts of people who have been doing one thing their entire lives and revert to that automatic response when they don’t have time to think about the reaction.

For this reason and this reason alone, those who have never played in any setting other than as a child – if that – and insert themselves into the game using statistics, algorithms and by taking advantage of the current landscape by sopping up information created by others and regurgitating it to sound faux knowledgeable will never climb over that line between theory and practice. There’s no measuring stick of instinct. Either it’s there or it’s not and it starts by playing the game from a formative age and learning by doing.

That was Terry Collins. The real Terry Collins. It was a display of the personality that got him fired from two previous managing jobs and prevented him from getting another opportunity for a decade before the Mets hired him. To get that opportunity, Collins restrained his rage and tendency to scoff at the admittedly stupid questions asked by the media; he stopped directing it at the players when they made a mistake and alienated veterans while terrifying rookies.

Those who believe the Mets players who relentlessly defended him did so out of a sense of duty get the real story when they see how he jumped in, went bonkers and got himself ejected from the game with that tirade. They defended him because he defended them. He was one of them. They knew they weren’t getting a corporate crock of bullshit when he spoke to them one-on-one sans a camera of a microphone in his face forcing him to watch what he said to maintain that façade.

Some 25-year-old kid who graduated from a high-end college, has an impeccable resume for a job at Google or Facebook, and proclaims him or herself as a “lifelong baseball addict” when seeking employment with an organization and even goes to the lengths of uttering clubhouse vernacular and spitting dip juice into an empty Gatorade bottle to look authentic can never bridge that gap.

The same holds true for the blatant attempt on the part of many organizations to begin sprinkling coaching staffs with those who have the same career experience as most front office staff. The Astros placing director of process improvement(?) Sig Mejdal – a literal rocket scientist – down on the field in the organization’s low minors, in uniform and serving as a coach might have seemed like a cutesy “fish out of water” story, but in reality, it was a grooming process for the players, fans and media to prepare for the time when these front office people who have never even put on a baseball glove are in uniform, in the trenches and managing teams.

It’s coming.

But will they be able to go into a borderline deranged rant as Collins did and make it seem authentic? Or will it be entering the gorilla’s habitat and trying to act like a gorilla with all the gorillas knowing how absurd it is while refraining from tearing the interloper apart?

Collins is a baseball guy who adapted because he needed to adapt to have a job. But that clip showed what will be missing when people like him are extinct. Even if the cyclical nature of sports and life in general reverts to hiring those who have a similar sensibility as Collins, it will never be the same. Unfortunately, a large percentage of observers who deem themselves baseball “experts” will not know the difference.

What sparked the last Mets spending spree? Can it happen again?

MLB, Uncategorized

Machado pic

As the Mets’ skid continues and they prepare for an unexpectedly critical three-game series against the crosstown Yankees that, without hyperbole, can make or break the entire season, there is an ongoing and potentially franchise-altering debate as to the club’s direction.

Most observers have established positions on one extreme or the other. One side advocates for a complete and total rebuild trading any valuable assets to reload for the future. The other wants the team to spend-spend-spend to add free agents and go all-in.

Already, general manager Sandy Alderson has downplayed the idea of a teardown like the ones that succeeded for the Astros and Cubs with the somewhat justified assertion that they do not always work and the circumstances must be such that no other strategy makes sense. For the Mets to endure the short-term pain of trading away Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and anyone else of value, they need to accept that there is no potential avenue of success should they retain them.

It’s a tough sell to tell the fans that the team will lose 90+ games for the foreseeable future as youngsters in Single and Double-A develop and the club is relying on the vagaries of the draft, especially if they might pull the trigger on such a blueprint and then find themselves either making mistaken evaluations or ending up right back in the middle which is where they are right now.

Neither the Astros nor the Cubs are solely constituted of homegrown talent or players who were acquired in those gutting trades. What those teams had in common was that their farm systems were largely destitute when they embarked on those extreme reconstructions and they were losing 90 to 100 games anyway. The Mets are not in that position…yet. Once the Astros and Cubs had developed a solid core around which to build, they started spending big money.

With deGrom, Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Amed Rosario in place and under team control, the Mets already have that core. A full gutting does not make sense.

The question with the Mets – and the Wilpons – is whether they will do what needs to be done to bolster that group with big-name talent not to fill in, but to take the pressure off those youngsters that they do not need to immediately vault into superstardom.

Mets history has been one in which cycles of contention were followed by extended lulls where it was obvious what was coming and the organization failed to act before bottoming out. Instead, they responded by forcing mismatched pieces into the structure and created an eyesore in the aesthetic and practical sense. The breakdown of the mid-to-late-1980s annual World Series favorite gave way to the Vince Coleman and Bobby Bonilla years; the late 1990s contenders devolved into the botched attempts to implement Moneyball strategies without actually understanding it by signing Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer instead of Vladimir Guerrero and sticking Jason Phillips at first base; the 2006-2008 teams that barely missed winning that elusive title and became the case study for dysfunction and collapse were undone by faulty patchwork and financial nightmare.

The 2006-2008 teams were only contenders because of what happened from 2002-2004.

The 2004 Mets had degenerated into a mess with their misplaced attempts at aggression and a lack of the necessary competence and “final say” authority in the baseball operations. This led to trading their best prospect, Scott Kazmir, for an injured journeyman Victor Zambrano, in a flawed attempt to make a playoff run when they were below .500, 7 games out of first place, and 7.5 games behind the Wild Card leader at the trade deadline.

There was no one to say, “No.” There was no plan. There was a committee with different fiefdoms trying to maintain their position and ingratiate themselves to a meddling ownership. The results were plain to see.

Once Zambrano got hurt and the club staggered to the finish line – again – ownership acted by hiring Omar Minaya to head up its baseball operations. Minaya was a member of the Mets “family” having worked in the organization during its previous heyday and sold the Wilpons on the need not just to be aggressive in pursuing upgrades, but to go for the crème de la crème of free agents.

Yes, they overpaid to get Pedro Martinez and, on the field, they didn’t get what they paid for by a longshot. Off the field, the Martinez signing was a bullhorn to other players and agents that the Mets were no longer messing around, satisfied with making an offer and coming in second as if that was somehow a noteworthy accomplishment.

The “at least they tried” template that was in place in 2004 is in place in 2018 and the results are looking eerily similar.

It was that humiliation and concession that their trades, bargain signings and faux attempts to be forward-thinking failed that served as the catalyst not just to hiring someone like Minaya who was under no illusions about how to get the team back into contention, but was willing to take the necessary steps to get it done and – most importantly – convinced ownership that it needed to be done.

That club had a young foundation around which to build with David Wright and Jose Reyes, both 22, that was not as deep as the one they have now.

Much has been made of the Mets having a relatively large payroll – perhaps not for the New York market, but large nonetheless – of around $157 million; that they spent money in the offseason to try and fill their holes by singing Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Jason Vargas and Anthony Swarzak; that they hired a new-age manager suited for today’s game in Mickey Callaway. But, like 2004, it’s all going wrong.

Any assertion that the Mets must go all-in for a Manny Machado or any other name free agent and try to win immediately with deGrom, Syndergaard, Conforto, Rosario, et, al. and shun the half-measures the club has become infamous for is predicated on the realization that hoping for a best-case scenario with no margin for error is not enough. If the Bernie Madoff-induced financial problems are truly in the rearview mirror as the Wilpons and Major League Baseball continue to attest, then there’s no viable explanation not to pry open the vault and spend some cash on legit players. Alderson is signed through 2019 and despite repeated accusations of him being cheap, he was perfectly willing to spend on players when the money was available to him during his days as the GM of the Athletics in their late-1980s-early 1990s dominance that overlapped with that of the Mets.

The only question is whether the club has reached the level of frustration and acceptance that they did in 2004 to force them to act.

Fixing the Mets’ problems starts with two words: enough’s enough

MLB

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Like a gambler who walked into the casino and embarked on a searing hot streak in which he accrued a significant bankroll and then remained at the table repeatedly doubling and tripling down when it was clear that the early luck had deserted him, the Mets have squandered an 11-1 start to the season and are now under water at 27-28. To make matters worse, the cracks in the club’s foundation and worst case scenarios have become a reality. Had the season started like this with the catastrophic bullpen woes, a startling number of injuries, managerial gaffes, player underperformance and the same rampant dysfunction that has been a hallmark of the organization for much of its existence, then it might have been easier to accept it and move on. However, after tearing out of the gate and stirring hope in even the most pessimistic Mets observer, they have settled into the mediocrity most have come to expect.

It can be fixed if they accept what has gone wrong and finally – finally – take the necessary steps to make it right.

In the 2017-2018 offseason, the objective reality is that the Mets were one of the higher spending teams in terms of free agents. That’s if the acquisitions are assessed based on the money spent. Still, the signings were economical and market-related. Due to the barren free agent landscape in which so few teams were willing to spend big money and the heaviest hitters – the Yankees and Dodgers – staying predominately out of the fray to get below the luxury tax for 2019, the Mets got discounts on players who otherwise would have been out of their price range.

Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Anthony Swarzak, Jason Vargas – all were imported to fill holes. On paper, it made sense. Early in the season, it appeared that the club had spent wisely. As the season wore on and the injuries began, the same symptoms of the condition that has afflicted the club for that past decade recurred and they retreated to the “if this, then that” malaise with no margin for error. Until they tacitly decide to treat the condition rather than briefly arrest it so they can function for a day or two, nothing will change over the long term.

Manager Mickey Callaway was hired for multiple reasons – all of them solid. A respected pitching coach, he could work with the Mets pitchers and maximize them; having spent his career with experienced and well-regarded managers as a player (Mike Scioscia, Buck Showalter) and as a pitching coach (Terry Francona), he could not help but absorb the lessons they taught practically and theoretically; and as a younger man, he would more adept at understanding and implementing available advanced information than his predecessor Terry Collins was.

After that great start, the pitfalls of hiring a manager who has never managed before are showing. His inexperience has led to numerous strategic and verbal gaffes. He’s done things that are legitimately bizarre with the latest being the dueling press conferences where general manager Sandy Alderson focused on the positive and Callaway lamented the negative with each seemingly saying the opposite of what the other said. Not long after expressing his belief that team meetings were unnecessary, he called a team meeting. He appears frustrated and at times lost, haphazardly jumping from one tactic to the other hoping that he hits on one that works. If the Mets had a greater margin for error or a more proactive response to fixing issues, then they might be able to gloss over any flaws their new manager might have and needs to correct. But again, as has become customary, they don’t.

Mets fans do not want to hear about the Yankees. They do not want to be compared to them and they certainly don’t want to be told, “Well, the Yankees wouldn’t do it that way.” But there are times when the Mets should look at the way they Yankees operate, take notes and copy it. A prime example is how the Mets have defended and retained Mike Barwis as the senior advisor for strength and conditioning despite the litany of injuries from which the players continue to suffer.

No outsider can know how much Barwis’s methods have contributed to the Mets’ injuries. Every player has his own team of trainers and gurus, so to place the onus on one person is profoundly unfair. Regardless of fault, the overriding feeling that the Barwis program is problematic will not go away. The number of injuries – especially to players’ backs – that keep happening is a clear signal that the ongoing narrative must be interrupted. In 2007, when the Yankees were dealing with back and hamstring problems for their veteran players and they seemed to coincide with general manager Brian Cashman’s bizarre decision to hire a new strength and conditioning coordinator Marty Miller, a guy he’d found at a country club and had not worked in baseball for a decade, no one in power was overtly blaming Miller, but the Yankees acted anyway by firing him, swallowing his contract.

Whether the Mets think that Barwis is a problem or not, making a change for its own sake is neither capricious nor unfair.

The Mets have seemed satisfied with what they have and fail to go all-in to improve and ensure that they can at least contend should injuries and other stumbling blocks come up as they always do. The Astros gutted their team and accrued a litany of young, high-end talent. Once they felt they were ready to win, they started spending money and resources to buttress that young talent. The Mets have not done that to the nth degree as they could and should have.

This is not to imply that the Yankees and Astros never get it wrong, but they give themselves better coverage for being wrong because they’re willing to acknowledge those mistakes and move on from them while having the depth to handle it. It was the Astros who rushed to trade for Carlos Gomez when the Mets saw issues with his medicals as they backed out of a trade near the 2015 deadline. That trade cost the Astros Josh Hader, Domingo Santana and Brett Phillips. It was also the Astros who decided, just over a year later, that it was not going to get any better with Gomez and addition by subtraction was the best course of action. They released him.

Would the Mets have done that? Or would they have tried to squeeze every single ounce of whatever Gomez could have provided them to shun accepting that they screwed up and it was best to move on?

On May 22 of this year, the Mets marked the twenty-year anniversary of acquiring Mike Piazza from the Florida Marlins shortly after he was traded there from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Initially, when Piazza was on the trade block and it was only a matter of time before the Marlins moved him, the Mets declared that they were not interested before even getting involved with the negotiations. Then-general manager Steve Phillips went into a long diatribe about “chips,” how the Mets already had a catcher in Todd Hundley, and if they spent those chips to fill a hole they did not have, they would not have them available to fill a hole they did have.

Technically, he was correct. Those Mets, though, were dull and lacked an identity. They were good enough to contend with the caveat that everything – including Hundley returning from reconstructive elbow surgery – was predicated on hitting the bullseye with their eyes closed. When they caved to public pressure and acquired Piazza, everything changed and the Mets became a legitimate player for all the big names – all from that one deal they didn’t really want to make. Not only that, after the 1998 season, Hundley the “chip” netted them Charles Johnson and Roger Cedeno from the Dodgers. Cedeno was a key component to the Mets 1999 NLCS club and was eventually traded as part of the package to get Mike Hampton which led to the 2000 pennant; Johnson was spun immediately to the Orioles for Armando Benitez, who was predominately very good for them as a setup man and closer.

Would the Alderson Mets do these things?

Alderson was hired for his deliberate nature and that he would not behave reactively or panic as other New York general managers have. That sensibility can also be problematic. Alderson is risk averse to the point of paralysis. The hedging nature stifles creativity and has prevented the Mets from rolling the dice on players who might be superfluous and create a logjam despite the knowledge that logjams can be worked out just as the 1998 Mets did with Piazza and Hundley.

Should it be that a New York-based team is never, ever in on the big names in free agency? The Mets are never considered as an option for the brightest stars because they will not go as far as they need to go to get them. We’re not talking about Bryce Harper here. But is there a reason that the Mets should not be in on Manny Machado? Machado was mentioned as an all-but guaranteed Yankee, but the Yankees do not really need Machado now or in 2019 and beyond. As they are already having buyer’s remorse on another player they did not need, Giancarlo Stanton, are they prepared to spend money just to spend it and it could be better utilized to fill their starting pitching holes?

Even if the Yankees do get in on Machado, so what? Should the Mets recede into the background because of competition for a date to the prom from the big, bullying brother? If they make themselves attractive and offer as much if not more, there’s zero justification for them to steer clear apart from conscious choice.

And if they want to push the shaky excuse of having a shortstop in Amed Rosario and a third baseman in Todd Frazier, no one wants to hear it. Like with Piazza and Hundley, they can figure it out. If Machado is willing to go shift back to third base, Frazier can be moved to first base or traded. If Machado wants to stay at shortstop, Rosario can be moved to second base or traded. These are sticking points only because the Mets make them sticking points.

On the trade front, it’s somewhat understandable that the Mets do not get involved in the biggest names simply because they do not have the cache of prospects to allow them to trade the few marketable ones they do have. But spending money? That should not be an issue.

Yet it still is. It’s irrelevant whether that is due to the residue of the Wilpons’ financial problems post-Bernie Madoff, because Alderson does not want to spend the money, or a combination of the two.

The only time the Mets have fully invested in pursuing the top notch free agents under the Wilpon ownership was when Omar Minaya convinced them that it was necessary to do so. Not only did he pursue the likes of Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, he proved it was not for show with Mets trying and failing, happy to come in second as if they deserved credit for it. Minaya pursued those players with a vengeance and got them. In doing so changed the image of the Mets as bystanders in the free agent market to an organization the best players would consider because they knew the Mets were serious.

The time for longwinded explanations and shrugging of the shoulders is over. It’s enough. Everyone seems to know it but them. Until that light comes on and they awaken from their slumber, they will be mocked for flaws of their own making not just because of their actions, but because of their inaction. The result is what we are seeing now. It’s not going to change unless they too say enough’s enough.

Sentiment cannot block the Mets’ necessary move with Jose Reyes

MLB, Uncategorized

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When the New York Mets’ list of players currently on the disabled list begins to trickle back to active duty, there will be a roster crunch that will finally give a large faction of Mets fans what they have been demanding in Jose Reyes being designated for assignment.

It is difficult to dispute the decision, if (when) it is made.

There is a catch-22 for Reyes and the club. He will not gain any consistency at the plate unless he plays regularly; there is nowhere for him to play regularly; nor has he given the club reason to find him at-bats. For players like Reyes – former All-Stars who have been the best player on their respective teams for essentially their entire lives – it is a difficult transition to adjust to a backup role and not know when or if they will get an opportunity to play. Some have adapted to it and some haven’t. In Mets history, two players who did so and did so well were Rusty Staub and Lee Mazzilli. Reyes has not. If he was hitting or retained the speed that made him such a dangerous weapon earlier in his career, then the Mets could swallow his shaky defense in exchange for expediency and what he does do.

He’s not, he hasn’t and the Mets can’t.

The .145/.203/.203 slash is bad enough. What is worse, however, is how overmatched he has looked at the plate. With the flamethrowers that every team trots out one after the other, Reyes’s lack of bat speed and that he will not get the playing time to get his timing down makes it cannibalistic for player and team.

Vulnerable to sentiment, the Wilpons have allowed affection, affinity and outside voices to influence how they operate. In some cases, there was a baseball-related explanation for rehiring Omar Minaya to serve as an assistant to general manager Sandy Alderson to shore up what has been an objective problem with the organization: the lack of minor-league talent. In others, the club doled out severance contracts to the likes of John Franco and Al Leiter when they were well past their sell-by date and the club should have cut ties with them two years earlier than it did. They blocked Alderson from firing Terry Collins when he wanted to make a change. And they have haphazardly jumped from one organizational philosophy to another without a full commitment to any specific one so they can have the option of going in another direction if immediate dividends are not paid or they are too harshly criticized.

If personal affection is seeping into cold business decisions and they are reluctant to part ways with Reyes due to some semblance of sympathy, the Mets can look at the circumstances under which Reyes departed as a free agent after the 2011 season to give them solace to do what must be done.

He wanted to stay with the Mets. There’s no doubt about that. But he also wanted his $100 million contract. In the dueling loyalties between finances and emotions, 99.9 percent of the time, finances win. Had his heart been so set on remaining with the Mets, at some point in 2011, he could have gone to Alderson or straight to the Wilpons and said, “Look, I really don’t wanna leave. Let’s work something out.”

He didn’t.

He knew the club’s finances were a mess. Taking the step to sign for $75 million or whatever the sides hammered out would have prevented the nomadic travels to Miami, Toronto and Colorado before ending up back with the Mets when the Mets gave him a chance no other club was prepared to give him after his domestic incident with his wife. Framed in the business sense, the Mets have every right to cut ties with a player who is providing no benefit.

The roster and club needs provides a greater motivation to make the move. It’s ludicrous to believe that Jose Bautista will continue the hot start he’s enjoyed since joining the Mets, but he will certainly maintain the ability to walk, pose a power threat and an ability to play third base that Reyes does not have.

Eventually, the Mets will come to the inevitable conclusion that Reyes is ill-suited for this role; that if something happens to Amed Rosario, they will not be any worse if they shift Asdrubal Cabrera back to shortstop than they will be if they put Reyes out there; and that the expected July return of T.J. Rivera gives them another alternative whose place on the roster is more deserved than Reyes’s.

Once it is accepted that the minuscule reason for Reyes remaining on the roster is not worth the resistance to cutting him, then the DFA will come. With veterans of greater importance edging toward their return, the club will have no choice.