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.

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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

mets.jpg

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

Reyes

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.

A stark reality about the 2018 Mets

MLB, Uncategorized

SyndergaardFor the Mets, as humiliating as Saturday’s 17-6 loss to the Brewers was, it’s more of a symptom than the actual illness. In the aftermath of the debacle, 30 percent of the way into the 2018 season, it’s abundantly clear that the Mets will have a good chance to win when Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard start; a reasonable chance when Steven Matz starts; and an “if this, then that” chance to win when Zack Wheeler and Jason Vargas start.

Fortunately for the Mets, the entire National League is about as mediocre as they have shown themselves to be. That is neither something to aspire to nor to be proud of, but once the sausage is on the grill, few are asking how it was made. As the season moves forward and it becomes clearer that they’ll need to make some significant changes to rise to the top of the wide open National League, they must accept that stark reality and act with a sense of urgency and a (painful) plan to move forward if it does not work.

What does that mean, you ask?

It means that the Mets must shun the pretense of “now and the future” and go all-in for 2018. For example, one of the few prospects of value the club has is Peter Alonso. If he is a must-have for a non-contending team that holds a card the Mets need and is open for business – Chris Archer, Kelvin Herrera, Michael Fulmer – then they must go for it now and throw the bomb to win while deGrom and Syndergaard are at or near the top of their games; while they (presumably) have Yoenis Cespedes back healthy(?); while Asdrubal Cabrera and Jeurys Familia are singing for their free agent suppers; and while Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman are successfully adapting to their extended innings as relievers.

If it works, great. If it doesn’t, this window the Mets very nearly burst through in 2015 and, to a point, in 2016, is closed and it’s time to move on with the preemptive decisions that competing clubs have made to proceed from popular and talented players for the greater good.

This differs from the reactive and silly demands that the Mets trade deGrom and Syndergaard during the season after they have lost seven out of 10 games in that it’s a viable and doable blueprint.

While fans are pushing for a change in the front office from general manager Sandy Alderson, the truth is that Alderson’s tenure with the club is ending sooner rather than later. The Wilpons will not fire him. He signed a contract extension of undisclosed length after 2017, but the increasing profile of assistant GM John Ricco and the rehiring of former GM Omar Minaya to be a special assistant make clear where this is headed. Once Alderson does depart, Ricco will take command as GM and be the objective leader who can handle the GM-speak, knows the contractual rules, is sabermetrically savvy and will implement the coldblooded maneuvers while Minaya does what he prefers in eyeball assessment and scouting.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is doing what needs to be done if the team goes all-in for 2018 and falls short. What that means is taking their most valuable assets – deGrom, Syndergaard, Cespedes and, to a lesser degree, Matz, and veteran guys they can get something for like Todd Frazier – and clean house to replenish the farm system and replace what they surrendered to go for it in 2018.

With deGrom emerging as a top five starter (or higher) in baseball and being under team control through 2020 and Syndergaard’s abilities and long-term team control through 2021, between them they should yield at least five blue-chip prospects as well as ancillary pieces.

Right there, they restart with long-term assets and money off the books to perhaps buy some players. If that includes trading top prospect Amed Rosario and signing Manny Machado – who’s a couple of months away from turning 26 and will still be in his prime when the Mets are ready to contend again – so be it.

There are no more in-betweens. Choose.

Accepting mediocrity as a matter of circumstance, presenting the excuse that the Mets are in the same boat as everyone else and hoping that everything breaks perfectly as it did in 2015 is over. Mets fans have a few rare seasons they can point to as peaks: 2015, 2006, 2000, 1999, 1984-1986, 1973 and 1969. What built the two World Series winners in 1969 and 1986 was homegrown talent, savvy trades, patience and some extremely good luck. They can jam their arm into the window as it slams shut in 2018 to try one last time to get through it. It will be painful, but one way or the other, they’ll need to get treatment after the fact if it fails. If it succeeds, it was worth the pain. Regardless, how much more agonizing can it be than what they’ll inevitably be forced to deal with if they stand pat, end up with a season result that hinges on the flaws of the rest of the National League, and stand by haplessly if they choose to remain as is?

The Rays know where they’re at and act accordingly

MLB, Uncategorized

RAys
When the Tampa Bay Rays traded Evan Longoria, Corey Dickerson, Steven Souza Jr., Jake Odorizzi and Brad Boxberger and repeated their usual trend in free agency of finding players who sought a mutually beneficial circumstance to try and replenish their bonafides while the Rays hoped to get motivated value, the word “tanking” was thrown around. It was an easy assumption to make. But there’s a difference between tanking and accepting losing as a necessary corollary for the experimenting that the club is doing. The difference is subtle and might have the same result as tanking without the intent and the justifiable criticism that goes along with getting as close to losing on purpose as a team can get without throwing games a la the 1919 Black Sox, but it won’t be viewed as “dirty.”

After an atrocious start losing 13 of their first 17 games, the Rays have won 19 and lost 12. In doing so, they have turned their starting rotation into a petri dish by using “bullpen games” – a concept teams had generally done only in an emergency – as a regular part of their strategy. It might seem odd, but that’s only because no club has ever taken it to its logical conclusion before. However, the Rays have a history of flouting norms to achieve their desired ends.

It was the Rays under owner Stuart Sternberg and general manager Andrew Friedman who were one of the first clubs to put circumstantial tanking into action before it became such an objectionably noncompetitive act that teams openly wallowed in and even took pride in doing. When Sternberg took over, he and his staff tacitly chose not to overspend on free agents or make shortsighted trades just to win 75 games instead of 65. Getting higher draft picks; developing their players and signing them to preemptive long-term contracts; manipulating service time; finding players who needed a job and had upside; and identifying puzzle pieces who, individually, weren’t much, but in combination were formidable was their method of competing with the Yankees and Red Sox. And it worked. It was so obvious that it begs the question why no one else tried it. They tricked out the Moneyball concept and went all-in from a different angle.

Now the Rays are doing something else unconventional in having three regular members of their starting rotation and using their relievers in the other games. Already Sergio Romo – a career-long reliever who had not been in a starting rotation since his first two seasons of professional baseball in 2005 and 2006 – has started two games this season…and they were on back-to-back days.

Naturally, if this takes hold across baseball, it will not only change the landscape of how players are assessed, utilized and paid, but it will essentially take the pitcher win and rather than say it is meaningless as many insist it should be, will make it legitimately meaningless.

They are discarding the constraints of convention and longtime tactics by ignoring the idea that a starting pitcher must pitch X number of innings followed by specialized relievers until the ninth inning when the designated closer will pitch regardless of the situation.

This can easily be compared to the incremental changes that took place as teams went from four starting pitchers to five, relied more heavily on relievers, transformed relievers into specialists and chipped away at how things have always been done. In context, is it any different from Jack Chesbro throwing 454.2 innings, starting 51 games and winning 41 in 1904 and that never happening again? It’s ludicrous to think about today. In a few years, the same could be said about having five starters and eight relievers with the innings doled out according to those roles whether the pitchers available are suited to that blueprint or not.

Friday’s trade of Denard Span and Alex Colome to the Mariners for pitchers Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero could be viewed as a head-scratcher, but in reality, it makes perfect sense. Moore fits into the Rays’ pitching experiment as a big-league ready arm who they can plug into their grid. Romero is in the low-minors, is about to turn 21, has impressive numbers and a quirky, over-the-top motion. They were not getting more than this for Span and Colome. Span’s injury history is such that they needed to act before he got hurt again and they were left with nothing when he departs as a free agent at season’s end. (He has a mutual option the Rays were not exercising.)

As a team and as well as they have played since that hideous start, what is the best-case scenario for the Rays this season? They’re in the AL East with the powerhouse Yankees and Red Sox; the World Series champion Astros are in the AL West. Let’s say the Rays win a Wild Card. It’s one game. Anything can happen. But as top-heavy as the AL is, what is the likelihood that they can get past the Yankees or Red Sox in that one game and then get past the Astros in either the division series or the championship series?

There is no likelihood because it’s not going to happen.

So, like the decision in 2006-2007 to tank without tanking, the Rays are trying this new method of using erstwhile relievers to pitch the first inning and flipping the entire script as to how pitchers are used because they have the opportunity and the wherewithal to see if it can succeed. They’re accepting reality and trading away Span, whom they only acquired as a salary exchange in trading Longoria, and Colome, who is just another in a long line of replaceable short relievers who just happened to be their closer and led the majors in saves in 2017.

They know who they are, they know what they are and are making the wise decision to shun pretense and act rather than react.

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.

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.