You Were Expecting More From The 2013 Mets?

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For what the Mets lack in on-field success in recent years, they make up for in agendas and alibis. The alibis are coming from the team itself; the agendas from the fans and media. The media loves to roast the Mets for their play and personnel moves (perfectly fair) and for their business dealings such as entering into an innocuous agreement with Amway (unfair and self-serving). The fans either wallow in self-pity, hope the team loses so Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins will be fired, or have secondary benefit from the self-flagellation of being a Mets fan as if punishment in this life of baseball fandom will lead to paradise in the next. Opposing fans who need to worry about their own issues point to the Mets as everything they perceive as “wrong.”

If there’s some paradise a pious Mets fan is looking for, the only virgin they’re likely to run into in a sports-related heaven is Tim Tebow and he’s probably no fun to hang out with; the only Kingdom they have to look forward to is in a storybook.

The key question is this: What were you expecting?

They’re in year three of an acknowledged rebuild.

They have a starting rotation of Matt Harvey, Jon Niese and a mix-and-match array of journeymen.

They have one outfielder (who’s actually a first baseman) in Lucas Duda who can hit and has a 25-30 foot radius of balls he’ll catch, block, kick or swallow.

They have one high potential reliever in Bobby Parnell, two decent veterans Scott Atchison and LaTroy Hawkins and more bad journeymen.

One of their main power hitters, Ike Davis, takes the first two months of every season apparently contemplating the mysteries of life in a “what does it all mean?” hypnotic state as he counts the seams of the next low, outside curveball he’ll swing and miss at while batting .150.

They have the foundation for a decent middle infield with Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy, a star at third base in David Wright, and a catcher in John Buck who’s hitting like Johnny Bench when he’s closer to Barry Foote.

Their top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, acquired in the R.A. Dickey trade, is out with a broken foot and has had his Flushing debut stalled probably until September; their top pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler, acquired for Carlos Beltran, is embarrassing himself with a little league-level whine about not liking it in Las Vegas and is throwing a tantrum hoping to be sent to a more preferable location.

These are the facts.

What gives you the impression that Wally Backman, John McGraw or Connie Mack as manager; Dave Duncan, Rick Peterson, Leo Mazzone or Mel Harder as pitching coach; and Branch Rickey as GM would make any difference whatsoever with this group?

Judging by the lack of moves they made last winter and the removal of the last pieces of the Omar Minaya regime (Jason Bay was dumped and Johan Santana’s Mets career is over with his injury), did you truly in your heart of hearts expect a shocking Athletics/Orioles 2012-style rise for the Mets in 2013?

This team is playing up to its potential and that potential is currently not good. No amount of screaming, yelling and pronouncements of what would “fix” them or what “I’d do” is going to change it especially if your prescriptions are buried in the simplicity of faux expertise and blatant idiocy that’s ten times worse than anything Alderson’s done or will do. The organization has all but said they’re playing for 2014 and beyond when they’re supposedly going to have some money to spend and the prospects they’ve been acquiring and cultivating since Alderson took over will begin to bear fruit.

These are your 2013 Mets. This is it. Deal with it. Or get into therapy. Or just shut up.

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The Rays-Royals Trade Part I—The Truth

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The Rays traded RHP James Shields, RHP Wade Davis and a player to be named later to the Royals for OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Mike Montgomery and 3B Patrick Leonard.

Let’s look at the trade from the standpoint of the Rays, the Royals and the players involved.

For the Rays

Trading away name players—specifically pitchers—for packages of minor leaguers has become the template for the Rays under their current regime. They did it with Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, and Edwin Jackson. As much as their GM Andrew Friedman is worshipped for his guts and willingness to make a deal a day too early rather than a day too late, the get-back on those trades has been retrospectively mediocre. In those trades, they got a lot of stuff, the most notable up to now is Matthew Joyce, whom they received for Jackson. Apart from that, they’ve yet to show a big bang from any of those deals and mostly got salary relief.

Friedman stockpiles. There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s not turn him into Branch Rickey and prepare his bust for the Hall of Fame just yet.

In this trade, the Rays cleared Shields’s $9 million for 2013. He has a club option for $12 million in 2014 with a $1 million buyout. They also got rid of Davis and his $7.6 million guarantee through 2014. (He has club options through 2017.) They received Myers, one of baseball’s top hitting prospects who, ironically, looks like a clone of Evan Longoria at the plate; they received Ororizzi, Montgomery and Leonard. Of those last three, Odorizzi is the only one close to big league ready.

Friedman maximized what he was going to get for Shields and the youngsters will certainly get a chance to play in the big leagues without the pressure and expectations to perform they would’ve been subjected to elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean they’ll become stars.

Considering the Rays’ financial constraints and strategies of bolstering the farm system by trading their veterans, this is a great move for them.

For the Royals

In 2012, the Royals were expected to take the next step (sort of like the Rays did in 2008) and have all their accumulated top draft picks vault them into contention or, at least, respectability. It didn’t work.

At some point a team has to try and win.

The Royals saw what happened when they acquired a scatterarmed and talented lefty, Jonathan Sanchez, before the 2012 season and he was about as bad as a big league pitcher can possibly be before getting hurt. Montgomery’s mechanics are heinous with a stiff front leg and across-his-body delivery; he has a power fastball with zero command and a curveball he’s yet to bridle. The young starting pitchers the Royals had developed have either faltered with inconsistency (Luke Hochevar) or gotten hurt (Danny Duffy).

They also saw a top young prospect Eric Hosmer experience a sophomore slump and exhibit why it’s not as easy as making the gradual progression with massive minor league production translating into big league stardom. The struggles of Hosmer clearly had an affect on how they viewed Myers and when he was going to help them.

With Shields, they get a proven 200+ inning arm that they have for the next two years. With Davis, they’re getting a potential starter who can also give them 200+ innings and he’s signed through 2017. We know what Shields is; Davis was very good as a reliever in 2012 and his overall numbers in two years as a starter have been mediocre. The Royals had a pitcher who’d struggled as a starter, was moved to the bullpen, pitched very well and was shifted back to the rotation. His name was Zack Greinke. Davis doesn’t have Greinke’s stuff, but his bloated ERAs from 2010 and 2011 stemmed more from individual games in which he got blasted. He’s a control pitcher who, if he doesn’t have his location, gets shelled. A pitcher like that can be a useful starter.

These are not rentals and they’re not desperation acquisitions for a GM, Dayton Moore, under fire. We’re already hearing from the armchair experts on social media making references to “cost certainty,” “team control,” and “upside.” They’re words that sound good as a reason to criticize. Most couldn’t tell you whether Myers bats righty or lefty. He’s a name to them. A hot name because he’s put up big numbers, but just a name.

It’s silly to think that the Royals don’t know what they have in their prospects, especially when the same critics make a great show of crediting Moore’s assistant Mike Arbuckle for his shrewd drafting that netted the Phillies Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, and others. But in the interests of furthering the agenda to discredit the trade from the Royals’ standpoint, it suits the argument to suggest Arbuckle doesn’t know how to assess Myers, Odorizzi, Montgomery and Leonard.

Did the Royals make a trade to get better immediately and take the heat off of the GM? Possibly. Or it could be that they’ve seen firsthand the ups and downs of developing and playing their own youngsters, know that there are no guarantees, looked at a winnable AL Central, a weakened AL East and West and extra playoff spots available and decided to go for it.

2013 is Moore’s seventh year on the job. It does him no good to leave all these youngsters for his successor to look “brilliant” similar to the way in which Friedman was assisted by the posse of draft picks the Rays accumulated under Chuck LaMar because they were so terrible for so long. The list of players—B.J. Upton, Jeff Niemann, Davis, Shields, Jake McGee, Carl Crawford and Jeremy Hellickson—were there when Friedman took over as GM. That’s not diminishing the great work Friedman’s done. It’s fact.

Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, and Billy Butler make a solid, young, and controllable foundation to score enough runs to win if they pitch.

And this has nothing to do with Jeff Francoeur. He’s a convenient buzzword designed to invite vitriol and indicate ineptitude.

Now with Shields, Davis, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie, they can pitch.

When Friedman or Billy Beane makes a big trade, it’s “bold,” when Moore does, it’s “desperation.”

I don’t see it that way. The Rays did what they do with a freedom that other clubs don’t have to do it; the Royals made themselves better. It’s not the “heist” that it’s being framed as to credit Friedman while torching Moore. Both clubs get what they needed in the immediate future by making this trade.

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The Genius Will Return…In 2015

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It’s almost biblical or a tenet of faith for any religion or cult.

According to the actions of Billy Beane along with whispers and reports from sources in the MLB front office—MLB Trade Rumors—the Athletics are likely to receive approval to build a new ballpark in San Jose. They’ll have to pay the Giants to relinquish their territorial rights, but they’re expecting to get their new park.

Until then, the apparent entreaty to suffering A’s fans is to endure; do penance; be patient; follow the great leader and put faith in him, trusting that he’ll show the way.

Support a team that’s going to be stripped down to its bare bones (again) in the hopes that someday, someday, someday the “genius” that is their overrated and propagandized GM will reappear and the team will rise to prominence.

Of course it won’t hurt that the A’s are going to have money to spend on players similarly to how the Marlins are now.

In 2015.

But for now, it’s a housecleaning.

Again.

I don’t care one way or the other what Beane says and does—I see right through him and his nonsense—but when is the mainstream media going to stop kowtowing to this man and see him for the snakeoil salesman that he is?

Since the last time the Athletics were relevant for reasons other than a celluloid bit of dramatic license or a crafty bit of creative non-fiction, Beane is on his third manager and second rebuild with one season of 81-81 since 2006 to show for it; they haven’t been contenders in spite of various attempts to recreate some semblance of competitiveness. That competitiveness from the early part of the 21st Century was based more on having three All-Star starting pitchers and stars at key positions than it was for finding “undervalued” talent and “genius” in doing so.

It’s a circular proclamation based on a lie and there’s nothing to replicate. He’s not a card-counter—he’s flinging darts at a dartboard while blindfolded. It’s partially his fault; partially due to circumstance; partially due to an attempt to maintain that veneer of brilliance that was never accurate to begin with.

Regardless of the positive analysis of the packages of young players Beane’s received in trading Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez (and presumably what he’ll get for Andrew Bailey and whatever else isn’t nailed to the floor), why does he have to tear apart what’s already in place in anticipation of whenever the new park is going to be open for business?

Is that the shining light off in the distance now? The new park?

The A’s spent years cultivating the young core of pitchers; they’re all in their mid-20s and the types of arms around whom a club should be built. Twice he’s tried to bring in veteran bats to augment those young arms and they’ve failed both times; but that’s a reflection on him and bad luck than it is a failing of the concept of keeping the young pitchers and trying to find someone, anyone who can produce offensively.

In 2009, he made what turned out to be a disastrous trade for Matt Holliday in which he surrendered Carlos Gonzalez; signed a shot-as-an-everyday player Jason Giambi and an out-of-place Orlando Cabrera.

It didn’t work.

In 2011 he signed Hideki Matsui, Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour and traded for Josh Willingham.

It didn’t work.

So now it’s another teardown? Another reconstruction? How many does he get? Three? Five? Ten? Thirty?

A normal GM judged on his accomplishments gets maybe two rebuilds—and that’s if he’s got a track record of success a la Pat Gillick.

Can Beane be mentioned in the same breath as Gillick?

Gillick’s in the Hall of Fame; Beane’s in the Hype Hall of Fame.

Or the Gall of Fame.

Is he Connie Mack or Branch Rickey where he can do whatever he wants with impunity based on success that was fleeting and had a limited connection to anything he actually did? Success that’s perceived to be more than it was because of that book and now a movie in which he was portrayed by the “sexiest man alive”?

He’s fired managers for reasons and non-reasons. He’s blamed others and used his image and roundabout excuses to shield himself from the ridicule he deserves.

Now it’s the new ballpark that will save him.

His drafts have been mostly atrocious and the rebuilding of the farm system by trading his established players for the crown jewels of other organizations smacks of desperation.

But he’s got a plan in place. They’re loading up the farm system with power arms and bats that hit homers and get on base. And they’re not done.

The new park is the key.

Then he’ll be on the right track.

Then he’ll put a team together that’s going to win.

But it’s not going to happen until the new ballpark opens.

“We may not be much now, but you just wait boy!! Wait until we have that new park and—guess what?—will be able to spend money to buy established players. Then we’ll show you.”

Believe it if you want. Compare the A’s situation to other clubs who needed a new park, got it and became powerhouses.

But you can’t compare the A’s to the Marlins because the Marlins, in spite of a terrible 2011 season of their own amid unrealistic expectations and capricious, Steinbrenner-like behaviors of their owner Jeffrey Loria, had a foundation of young pitching and bats that the Athletics didn’t; ballpark or not, the Marlins were pretty good because they have a gutsy baseball management team that is skillful at talent recognition and does something that Beane has been shoddy at doing: finding players.

Apart from being able to spin doctor his way out of anything and manipulate the media with deft use of the language, reputation and an intimidating bullying nature, what has Beane done to warrant the pass?

Nothing.

2015 is plenty of time for Michael Lewis to plan and complete a sequel to Moneyball with a new plot.

“Billy Saves Christmas”?

“Selig’s Choice”?

What will happen when they have the new park and the latest strategy fails?

Will there be increased scrutiny on what he is and what he’s done rather than the unfounded and illogical belief the he knows what he’s doing? That it’s all part of one grand scheme to rule the world?

Salesmanship is a form of genius and the people keep buying it.

I suppose that’s something to hold onto when everything else comes undone.

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I’ll be a guest later today with former MLB player Les Norman on his baseball show Breakin’ the Norm on the ESPN affiliate 810 WHB in Kansas City. I’ll link the appearance and post it here.

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MLB CBA—The Draft Changes Explained In Plain English

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The changes to the draft are complicated and their understanding is fluid—the reactions to the announcement of the changes were immediate and angry and didn’t appear to be fully grasped before they were made public.

Jim Callis explains the changes and why they might not be as awful as feared here on Baseball America.

Wendy Thurm explains the entire deal in the most easily graspable piece I’ve read on the subject here on Baseball Nation.

I’ll go bit by bit. (If I’m inaccurate or wrong, let me know. I won’t yell…this time.)

Limiting the bonuses.

There will be a yet-to-be-defined limit on how much teams can spend on their selections in the first 10 rounds without penalty.

The limit will be based on what was spent in total (aggregate) the prior season; it will be higher than the year previous.

Penalties are as follows (from the Baseball Nation piece):

Teams that exceed the ceiling by 5% will be taxed 75%; teams that exceed it by 5-10% will be taxed 75% and lose a first-round draft pick the following year. If a team goes over by 10-15%, the tax will be 100% with the loss of first- and second-round draft picks. Draft spending at 15% more than permitted will be taxed 100% and the team will lose two first-round picks.

Callis explains why it’s not going to be as horrible as initially thought:

In 2011, clubs spent a record $228 million on draft bonuses, and 20 of them exceeded their aggregate slot totals for the first 10 rounds by at least 15 percent.

However, the initial assumption that the new penalties would be based on something near the old slots doesn’t appear to be correct. Last year, MLB valued the total worth of the 331 picks in the first 10 rounds at $133 million. Those slot numbers were less that MLB’s guidelines from five years earlier, however, and were 44 percent lower than the $192 million teams paid to sign 303 of those players.

MLB won’t get to unilaterally decide the worth of draft picks going forward, though. It negotiated the values with the union, and they reportedly (and not surprisingly) will be much higher.

To the best of my understanding, this means that teams won’t be able to dump wads of cash on players who are consensus blue-chip stars without penalty. There won’t be any Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper bonuses nor a Major League contract.

Teams won’t be as willing to take shots on players who are coming out of high school or are college juniors  and offer then a check with enough zeroes to coax them to sign.

If a club thinks the player is worth it, then they’ll pay to get him signed. A Strasburg-level talent is going to get his money one way or the other, it just won’t be $15 million.

The players aren’t exactly free to take their talents elsewhere.

Like a fee for a loan or a closing cost, the percentage of the penalty can be folded into the bonus and shared by the team and the player. If a player isn’t interested in signing or having his check reduced, he’ll have a choice of not signing; but if he has nowhere to go and his amateur status has run out, he and the team that selected him will have extra motivation to get a deal done.

Where’s Strasburg going if he doesn’t sign?

I’m sure Scott Boras has a scheme running through his head as he sits in his darkened lair, his fingers tented, head bent slightly downward with his hooded eyelids barely glaring off into the unknowable darkness, but what he’s going to do to circumvent the new draft rules and the restrictions?

Fewer high school players will be selected in the early rounds if they’re represented by a Boras-type who’s going to demand they get paid regardless of any penalties.

“This is a special talent that deserves special treatment,” he’ll say.

But if there’s an Alex Rodriguez sitting there, a team is going to pick him and pay him.

Fewer clubs will gamble on a Todd Van Poppel.

In 1990, Van Poppel repeatedly said he was going to college at the University of Texas and that MLB clubs shouldn’t bother wasting a pick on him. This was a windfall for the club with the first pick in that year’s draft—the Braves—because they wound up taking Chipper Jones as a “consolation”.

Some consolation.

The Athletics had extra picks in the draft that year, so they picked Van Poppel 14th, offered him a $500,000 bonus and a Major League contract.

He signed and had a journeyman career. Whether or not going to college would’ve exposed his flaws—a lack of movement on his fastball; poor secondary stuff; terrible control—or helped him hone his talents is the height of 20/20 hindsight. Who knows?

Teams will undoubtedly go for a deep strike in this way if they can afford it. Those Athletics under then-GM Sandy Alderson spent money at all levels of the organization and were a championship caliber big league team willing to “waste” a pick for that kind of notable talent. That will happen again independent of financial penalty.

The expected quality of the next year’s draft and who will be available will directly influence this kind of decision; if there’s a weak draft class, a team isn’t going to spend crazily for a “maybe” and risk losing the next year’s picks and vice versa.

The owners; current big leaguers; and “choosing other sports”.

Owners care about saving money; big league players don’t care about the amateurs and are somewhat jealous of players who’ve accomplished nothing professionally getting a huge payday for being a draft pick.

As for the “great athletes going to different sports”, it’s a little presumptuous to believe that a young athlete can translate his talents from baseball to basketball (where height is a great equalizer) and football (where the monetary benefits are limited; the contracts are not guaranteed; and the abuse on one’s body is exponential).

Intelligent pragmatism will take precedence.

At 5’11”, 150 pounds, could Greg Maddux have chosen to play football? Maddux was so small that when he reached the majors, then-Cubs manager Gene Michael thought he was a new batboy.

Carlton Fisk was a terrific basketball player, but he’s 6’3″. Would that have worked out better than baseball, where he became a Hall of Famer?

I suppose Prince Fielder could play football and be an offensive lineman; Matt Kemp could be a linebacker; the 6’8″ Doug Fister could be a forward in basketball. But how many players truly have that option?

Mark Schlereth told the story about his nudging of his son Daniel away from football into baseball. Daniel Schlereth was a quarterback, but is 6’0″. The number of NFL quarterbacks who are that short and get a chance to play are extremely limited. The Hall of Fame caliber offensive lineman Mark Schlereth‘s “nudge” can put you through a wall; in this case it sent his son to baseball.

Even if they’re not getting a $7 million bonus for signing their names, $2 million is still a lot of money—enough money to have a pretty nice, leisurely life provided they don’t purchase ten cars and impregnate 5 women simultaneously; in other words, as long as they’re not stupid.

If a player like Joe Mauer (who’s used as an example in the Baseball Nation article) decides he wants to go and play football and baseball in college and walk away from a still-large bonus and run the risk of having his knee torn out in a scrimmage and having nothing, then that’s his choice.

It’d be pretty short-sighted though.

The draft is the ultimate crapshoot.

The idiocy of the Moneyball “card-counting” concept in which the Billy Beane-led A’s were drafting “ballplayers” rather than jeans models looked terrific…until they began playing the game professionally and their verifiable results from the amateur ranks, lo and behold, didn’t translate to the professional arena.

Some made it to the big leagues and played well; some made it to the big leagues and didn’t; some failed in the minors; some got hurt.

In other words, it was a typical draft.

The 2002 Moneyball draft for the Athletics was about as mediocre as the those of the teams that weren’t led by a “genius” nor guided by a computer.

This concept that teams who invest in the draft or have a “system” are going to get an automatically positive result through that conscious choice are ignoring the fact that the draft is the ultimate crapshoot. It’s perception that feeds the circular viewpoint that building through the draft is a guarantee to success. For every team like the Rays and Giants who’ve benefited from a detailed focus on player development and savvy trades, there are clubs like the Indians that hoarded their draft picks and dealt away veterans for top prospects and got middling-to-poor results.

These alterations will actually benefit teams in ways they haven’t thought about before.

The changes to the draft bonus money will limit the number of players who are kept around mainly because they had a large amount of money paid to them and the front office wants to save face by not admitting they made a mistake.

The days of “projects” or “tools guys” who are allowed to hit .220 and be baseball clueless or have zero command, zero breaking stuff, a lights-out fastball and little else will mercifully end. Performance or a deep belief in the ability of the player will be placed to the forefront rather than salvaging money or preventing public embarrassment for drafting and paying a player who couldn’t play.

The media tantrums.

You’ll see people in the media and bloggers who make their way and garner attention “analyzing” the MLB draft squawking in self-righteous indignation at the way the draft is bastardized and small market teams will suffer.

It’s an agenda-laden lament stemming from a hidden self-interest.

Because the number of players from whom to select will be limited, there won’t be the opportunity to “assess” and conjure mock drafts.

The mock-drafts and attempts to turn the MLB draft into an extravaganza the likes of the NFL, NHL and NBA are ignoring the limited knowledge of the players drafted and that the game of professional baseball, unlike the other sports, is totally different from the amateurs.

In football, they use different schemes and tactics from college to the NFL, but the game is the same.

In basketball, the 3-point line is closer in college; in the NBA the defense is better and the players are faster, but the game is the same.

In hockey, it’s hockey. The players are bigger and faster; the goalies are better, but it’s the same activity.

None of those sports make it possible to function as an entity unto oneself.

But in amateur baseball, they’re using aluminum bats and living under the thumbs of coaches and parents who tell the players what to do and when to do it under the threat of lost scholarships and playing time. In the pros, they’re using wooden bats, playing in poorly lighted stadiums with pebble-strewn infields in front of sparse crowds and clawing their way to the big leagues in a primordial rise where winning is secondary to the battle between pitcher and hitter.

In the other major sports, players cannot function without their teammates; in baseball, it’s individualism with a team construct and this cannot be replicated from one venue to the other.

The bottom line.

Changes are part of baseball and initially scoffed at as “ruining the game”.

Branch Rickey created the first farm system by buying up minor league franchises; it was ridiculed an eventually became the norm.

Baseball adjusted.

The draft was designed to prevent the Yankees from signing all the top players because they had all the money, championships and “lore” to lure (see what I did there?) to get the players to want to be Yankees.

Baseball adjusted.

The end of the reserve clause; divisional play; expansion; the Wild Card; advanced stats—you can find any change that was proposed and implemented and find fault with it; locate blanket statements from “experts” or “insiders” talking about ruining the game.

But the game’s still here.

It’s evolving.

It will adapt.

It will survive.

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