No Joking Allowed With the Mets

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Someone has to put a set of rules together to list what the Mets ownership can and can’t do. At this point, however, it appears that the only thing that Jeff and Fred Wilpon can do to stop the avalanche of criticism they receive is to walk into one of the auto body shops that dot the landscape around Citi Field and, in a Stephen King sort of way, walk through a door in the back that’s actually a portal to another dimension from which they can never return.

You would think that Jeff Wilpon was a combination of Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein and openly laughing at the latest massacre he engineered (the Mets) when he made a harmless—and accurate—joke while the Mets were graciously honoring Mariano Rivera by saying, “Wish we could see you in the World Series, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen.”

Is this wrong? Is it mean-spirited? Is it something that should never ever be said?

Instead of the major point of discussion being the Mets dramatic win in which they beat the usually unbeatable Rivera, a percentage of time, energy and newsprint is being wasted on chastising Wilpon for making a lighthearted and dead-on self-deprecating joke at his and his team’s expense when no one on this planet or any other thinks the Mets have a shot at the playoffs this season. It was satire and it was true.

What would’ve been said if Wilpon had joked the opposite and said, “Maybe with a little luck we’ll see you guys again in October. You just have to do your part. Haha.” Or, “It’s still only May, we might see you guys in October. You never know.”

With the first comment, he’d be considered obnoxious, disrespectful, arrogant and stupid. With the second, he’d be considered delusional, ignorant and deranged.

Ask yourself this: Would the reviled, convicted, suspended, loathed, hated, suspended, less-loathed, less-hated, suddenly canonized as a “great” man when he was in actuality just an older version of the bloviating and blustery lunatic who was only placated by his team winning championships four times in five years to prevent him from blowing up the universe—none other than George Steinbrenner—have bothered to give a Mets player a gift and farewell if the situation called for it? He would only do it if he was convinced to do so after changing his mind multiple times and then okaying it at the last minute. It would have to be a Mariano Rivera-level player and person. That’s something the Mets and most other teams don’t have. The Mets do something nice and it turns into this.

Wilpon didn’t say, “Man, we suck,” as a vast number of fans in the fanbase say on a regular basis. He made a bit of dark humor while doing something gentlemanly for the crosstown rivals and one of their retiring stars, but like most things with the Mets, it’s used and twisted to put forth an agenda. The sad part about it is that there are still people who use it to fan flames that were more arson than incidental.

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If You Expected More From The 2013 Mets, It’s On You

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Would Mets fans be satisfied if the club had won 3 more games than it has and was sitting at 20-26 rather than 17-29? Would more fans go to Citi Field to watch a still-bad team, but not as bad as this, play? Would there be less media vitriol and fan apathy/anger? Less abuse from opposing teams heaped on a club that they’re supposed to beat on?

No.

So why is there an uproar over the Mets playing as anyone who looked at their roster with an objective viewpoint should have predicted they would? Why the outrage from fans who presumably knew that 2013 wasn’t about anything more than looking at the young players who are on the bubble for being part of the future—Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy, Bobby Parnell, Dillon Gee, Jordany Valdespin, and even Ike Davis—and determining whether they’re part of the solution or part of the problem? Why is there anger at the Mets playing in line with their talent level?

The statement, “I didn’t think they’d be this bad” misses the fundamental word in the sentence: “bad.” Bad is bad and there are subsets of bad. There’s bad without hope and there’s bad within reason to build something. The Mets are bad within reason to build something.

Yes, they’re looking worse than they would have if Johan Santana was able to pitch; if Jonathon Niese hadn’t struggled; if Davis had hit better than former Mets pitcher Al Leiter; if Tejada hadn’t become error-prone and flyball happy; if Duda fulfilled his potential in a consistent manner, but even in a best-case scenario, where was this team going? In a division with the Nationals, Braves and Phillies and a league with the Cardinals, Reds and Giants, were the Mets going to make a miraculous run similar to that of the Athletics of 2012 or the Indians in the fictional film Major League?

Blaming Sandy Alderson for his failure to bring in any quality outfielders is a fair point, but no one wants to hear Mike Francesa reaching back into his past to pull a “look how right I was about this player” when ripping the Mets for not signing Nate McLouth. This is the same Nate McLouth who endured two lost years with the Braves, was in the minor leagues, was signed by the Pirates and released by them only to sign with the Orioles and rejuvenate his career.

Let’s say the Mets did sign McLouth. Where would they be now? If you go by advanced stats and transfer what McLouth has done for the Orioles this season, his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is 1.1. So the Mets would have one more win with McLouth assuming he replicated his 15 stolen bases in 16 tries, 4 homer and .810 OPS—a shaky premise at best.

Were they supposed to waste money on players to win 75 games this year? Or does it matter whether they win 75 or 65 to the attendance figures or what their true goal is: to contend in 2014 and beyond?

There are calls for Alderson’s head; for manger Terry Collins’s head; to demote Davis; to do something. But here’s the reality: Alderson has spent the first two-plus years of his tenure weeding out players who hurt the club on and off the field and clearing salary space; he and his staff are concentrating on the draft and development to build a pipeline that will provide players to contribute to the club as Mets or in trades to supplement David Wright, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Niese, Parnell and Travis d’Arnaud. Firing Collins would be a cosmetic maneuver to toss meat to the fans hungry for blood, but no matter who’s managing this group whether it’s Collins, Wally Backman, Tim Teufel, Bob Geren, Connie Mack, John McGraw or Tony LaRussa, they’re not going to be much better than they are right now with the current personnel, so what’s the point?

The positive thing about Alderson is that, unlike his predecessor Omar Minaya, he doesn’t react to the media and fans’ demands. He replies to it, but doesn’t answer to it. Minaya answered to it and that’s why is reign—which was better than people give him credit for considering the Mets were five plays away from making the playoffs and probably winning at least one World Series in three straight years—is seen so negatively.

This season was never about 2013. They were hoping for the young players to be better; for Davis to build on his second half of 2012; for there to be clear factors to point to in giving the fans hope, but it hasn’t happened. That doesn’t alter the overall scheme that once Jason Bay’s and Santana’s contracts are off the books and they finally get rid of the negativity hovering around the organization with rampant dysfunction and lack of cohesion even when they were winning that they’ll be a more attractive place for free agents to come and the team will have the money available to make it worth their while.

They were a bad team at the start of the 2013 season and they’re a bad team two months into the 2013 season. Does how bad they are really matter?

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Did the Mets Go McKayla Maroney on Brian Wilson?

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When watching Brian Wilson throw for him in a private workout, did Mets GM Sandy Alderson have the now famous look of “not impressed” on his face as McKayla Maroney did during the Olympics? Or is the assessment of “not impressed” an extrapolation from the New York Post without it actually having been said?

The title of the story written by Mike Puma and scattered across the internet has the two keywords “not impressed,” but when actually reading it, the tone was far more muted and less incendiary to the ego of an athlete—especially one like Wilson who likes the spotlight.

What the story says about Wilson is the following:

“Physically, he’s not ready,” the source said. “He’s got a ways to go.”

That, along with the stated possibility that the Mets will revisit Wilson in spring training if he’s still available doesn’t add up to “not impressed.” It adds up to what the “baseball source” says and should be taken at face value. (Bear in mind that it’s the Post and this source might be a Citi Field custodian who overheard a conversation between Mr. Met and a hot dog vendor.)

If the Mets don’t deem Wilson ready enough to offer a Major League contract, that’s a fair analysis. Wilson is recovering from Tommy John surgery and while certain pitchers are able to return within a year, others take a longer time. Wilson had the surgery in late April of 2012. Expecting every pitcher to be ready to go within 12 months is stretching it. If and when he’s signed, June/July would be a more reasonable expectation for him to be able to contribute meaningfully. If that’s the case, he might be better-served to go to a contending club.

For a team like the Mets, they would have to give him a guaranteed deal for 2014 to get him. It’s up to the Mets to determine the value of a contract for 2014 because it wouldn’t make sense to either Wilson or the still-rebuilding Mets to sign for a few months and end the relationship.

The phrase “not impressed” is simple enough to garner attention and provide a clear-cut analysis of how the Mets felt about Wilson’s workout whether it’s true or not. The problem is it might not have been said or even implied. Perhaps the statement of him not being ready is what it is instead of a conveniently simplistic summary. But that’s not what the masses want. They want their candy now! And the odds are that the majority either read the headline and moved on without taking the full context into account or didn’t read the article at all.

Unless Alderson had McKayla’s look on his face while watching Wilson, “not impressed” probably wasn’t the proper term to use or believe when seeking insight. The intent of that type of word choice is to deliver immediate gratification via webhits and conversation-starting, and that’s what it did.

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The Wilpons Are Going Nowhere, Part I—Preying on Ignorance

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After the avalanche of personal financial losses combined with the inability to spend to bolster a flagging franchise and heavily backloaded contracts, the Mets fell from legitimate World Series contender and big market spender to scrimper and saver. They scoured the scrapheap to find bargains and hoped to remain competitive while the organization was rebuilt from top to bottom with a drastically reduced payroll at the big league level and an ownership under siege from all angles. Attendance collapsed and fans called—prayed—for the Wilpons to sell the franchise. The Mets had no money to keep their own free agents such as Jose Reyes, nor to buy the bigger names available on the market. Rookies got the chance to play not out of development nor having won jobs outright, but because they had no one else to put out there.

Between the lines you can read the clear disappointment from media members who’ve made it their life’s mission to prove that their initial assessments of the Wilpon financial nightmare would eventually result in them unloading the Mets to pay their bills. They made their statements, factually, in the beginning. Then the tenor changed to reflect the “I want to be right,” dynamic.

Howard Megdal, who wrote a book regarding the Mets and Madoff, is constantly shifting field position from one area to the next as if it was a preplanned or desperate attempt to wind up being accurate in his projections about something. Much like the Wilpons, he’s adapting, except the Wilpons are doing it successfully.

This piece on Capital New York refers to the attendance figures and the bond ratings for Citi Field being lowered by Standard and Poor’s because of poor on-field projections and attendance; this latest one indulges into the same random speculation that’s been evident in the reporting from the start but was more effectively camouflaged then as opposed to now.

I’m not questioning the math used by Megdal and Richard Sandomir of the New York Times, but I am questioning the interpretation of the math and the agendas behind the interpretation.

Does any of this—the bonds, the debt, Madoff—matter now? Or will a rejuvenated Mets club with some money to spend and young players showing their wares at the big league level breathe new life into a jaded fanbase and improve the situation to the point that the bond rating rebounds? And is it time to move on from the endless prophecies of financial doom and accept that the Wilpons are going to survive as owners of the Mets?

Few if any predicted a settlement with the Wilpons in the lawsuit that Irving Picard, the trustee in the Madoff recovery case, had filed. Yet they settled. Megdal writes that the trustee “had” to settle for fear of the Wilpons being unable to pay as if the circumstances of the settlement (the “why”) render the result meaningless. I thought the end result was the key. It’s like a homegrown club winning a World Series or a group of free agent mercenaries winning the World Series—what’s the difference?

There is a correlation between payroll and attendance, but as with any position of advocacy, the “why” is twisted to suit this line of thought. Teams with a low payroll are:

  • Rebuilding, financially-strapped clubs like the Mets and Indians
  • Functioning with a low payroll through conscious ownership decision and profiteering like the Marlins
  • Dealing with not having any money like the Rays and doing the best they can under those constraints.

It doesn’t take complicated formulas to determine why teams draw or don’t draw. The Rays’ attendance woes stem from a lack of fan interest without connection to how good the team is. Cubs fans go to the games no matter what. With the Yankees, we’ll see in 2013-2014 how much the outlandish prices fans pay for tickets, parking, food, etc., plus a team that’s not as strong as it’s been in the past will influence fan enthusiasm/apathy. Knowing the Yankees fanbase, I’d say their attendance will fall commensurately with how their mediocre current roster is expected to play.

An interesting case study to the on-field product/attendance/payroll connection will be the 2013 Red Sox. They’ve had a top four payroll and a top four attendance figure in the AL in recent years, but their 2012 season was a disaster and there are still ominous signs for a team that’s spent to improve and will have a payroll around sixth or so in MLB, but might not be significantly better in 2013 than the .500 club they were before they gutted the team in August of 2012. By the summer, the fans might stop going to Fenway. Bad team=bad attendance independent of payroll.

Each team in each city has a reason that there may be an attendance ceiling or that it may plummet through the floor. There’s no theory of relativity and immutable law of the universe to explain why this is the case for every single club because it’s different for every single club.

It’s market-driven and cyclical. It can’t be chalked up to “big payroll=big attendance” any more than “big money star players=championship team”. That was proven by the Angels, Marlins and Red Sox just last season. The A’s won their division and were twelfth in the AL in attendance. Since the Rays became contenders in 2008, the highest they’ve finished in attendance on the AL is ninth. Usually they’re last or next-to-last.

You can’t make a state like Florida suddenly love going to baseball games by putting together championship caliber teams (as both the Rays and Marlins have done in the past 15 years); by spending money (as the Marlins have done); or by building a beautiful new park with luxurious, non-baseball-related amenities (as the Marlins have also done). It doesn’t work because the fans in Florida are not interested. In New York, once the Mets fans believe that the team is for real, they’ll go to the games again. When the team was playing well over their heads into the summer for the past two seasons, the fans didn’t come back to the park in droves because they (accurately) didn’t believe in its reality. It’s not hard to calculate.

Few expected the Mets to have the willingness or ability to re-sign David Wright to a contract that he deemed acceptable. The prevailing view was that they’d tender an offer that was done so for its own sake with zero intention of keeping him, then keep him for his star status while he was signed, trade him in July of 2013, or let him leave as a free agent. But they jumped in with a major, fair market deal to keep their most marketable player. Few expected them to have any money available at all until possibly after the 2013 season when Jason Bay and Johan Santana both come off the books, but now with the loan they’ve taken out against SNY, they have money to play with.

There’s a fine line between objective reporting and, “Look, I was right.” Where the fuzziness ends and clarity begins is in the eye of the reader, but it’s become an egomaniacal prophecy to be “right” and prove that the Wilpons are shady characters who behaved either as outright greedy criminals or were willing accomplices without getting their hands dirty as they should have known something was amiss, but didn’t want to ask questions to stop the money from coming in.

In the end, it no longer matters because they’re getting the house in order financially and on the field, like it or not.

All through Megdal’s piece about S&P, there’s an underlying “Haha!!! Look!! It’s not just me that’s saying this!!!” along with the caveats to provide enough wiggleroom to save face in certain quarters that don’t know any better and say, after the fact, that “X was always a possibility,” with another phantom trapdoor looming ahead.

The media members haranguing the Wilpons are doing so to: A) bolster their own arguments; and B) stir up discontent in the fan base with flashy, summarized assertions that, when dissected, are not the entire story. They’re playing on people’s ignorance of the ins and outs of the financial quagmire the Wilpons found themselves in rather than explain all possibilities in objective terms, simply and concisely. They report with an end in mind and that can’t be classified as reporting at all.

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Meet The Mess Or A Mess To An End?

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There’s no spinning an eight run first inning, a 16-1 loss, and rampant humiliation the type the Phillies have inflicted on the Mets over the last three games. Only the Mets could let a Phillies team that’s dealing with an embarrassing season of their own do this. The Phillies, with a too little-too late comeback, have made their disappointing season a bit more bearable. But it’s still disappointing. That aside, they walked into Citi Field and backhanded the Mets and the Mets took it. Again. No doubt the Phillies were laughing on the bus back to Philly and they had reason to. It can be glossed over through the prism of payroll and preseason expectations or lack thereof, but the Mets participating in the Phillies downfall earlier this season by beating up on them is rendered meaningless by the past three games.

Suggestions that the Mets have quit are inarguable. It’s not about talent anymore, it’s about incompetence. A big league team cannot allow another big league team—regardless of disparity in talent and money—to treat them like a punching bag and leave them lying in the dirt shrugging as if it’s accepted that this is the way things are and will remain. The Mets could’ve hit the Phillies back for once and ended their playoff hopes. Instead, they gave them a lifeline. Behind the Cardinals by 4 with 12 to play and having to leapfrog both the Dodgers and Brewers make a Phillies playoff appearance all but impossible, but it could’ve ended this week and the Mets could’ve been the ones to do the deed. Instead, they chose to lay down.

Are the Mets this bad? No. Were they as good as they looked in the first half of the season when they were one of baseball’s most pleasant surprises and talked of buying at the deadline rather than selling (and did neither)? No. But there’s no escaping the 9 straight home losses and 14 of 16 since August 19th. Comparisons to the 1962 version of the Mets are based on nothing other than attempts at ridicule and pure numbers—there’s no comparison between the situations, but that it’s mentioned in this context is bad enough.

No one wants to hear the likes of Michael Kay saying, “I told you so,” when he had the team winning 50 games before the season. He didn’t tell anyone anything. The end result doesn’t prove the prediction accurate. Nor does anyone want to hear Mike Francesa, who earlier in the season repeatedly stated that Mets’ manager Terry Collins deserved a contract extension and is now speculating on the same manager’s job security. The beat writers have taken to Twitter and other outlets with their passive aggression and self-indulgent agendas.

It’s all meaningless.

But this has to be examined logically. Does it make a difference whether the Mets won 81 games? 77 games? Or 70 games? No. The front office is presumably angry about the perception of disinterest on the roster; that the stands are completely and deservedly empty; but in the big picture, they’ll take the higher draft pick and get a better player.

What can they do to fix this to avoid the same fate a year from now and have the Mets a more welcoming and inviting destination for prospective free agents as they have money to spend with the expiring contracts of Johan Santana and Jason Bay at the conclusion of 2013?

Collins isn’t going to be fired. There are increasing pushes for Wally Backman to take over as manager because he’s a feisty and aggressive, in-your-face type that won’t tolerate the mistakes that are being tolerated now. Backman will be on the coaching staff in 2013 as the bench coach in part to be feisty; in part to provide a link to the 1980s; in part to prepare as a possible heir apparent to Collins. The only coaches on this current staff that will return are Tim Teufel (he’s popular with the Wilpons); and Dave Hudgens (GM Sandy Alderson likes the way he teaches hitting). Apart from that, they’re all gone.

As for the players, the Mets have to get some fighter types who aren’t going to meekly accept the bullying of other clubs. This current group is too cerebral and passive. No one hits back. How about some mindless tough guys who don’t take garbage from other teams?

Jonny Gomes and Kyle Farnsworth are two of the types of players the Mets should consider adding. It’s not because they’re supremely talented or are drastic improvements over what they currently have. We don’t know what Farnsworth will do on the field one year to the next—he’s no worse than what they currently have—but he’s known throughout baseball as someone not to mess with. Gomes has pop off the bench and walks, but more importantly is always ready to drop the gloves and it was him who sent the message to the Yankees and the rest of baseball in 2008 with a spring training brawl that they weren’t going to shove the Rays’ collective heads into the toilet anymore.

Even if it’s a lateral move talent-wise, the Mets have to get some of the faces that have epitomized their fall over the past 5 years. By that I mean trading Bay for something, anything and eating money if they have to. Chone Figgins and Franklin Gutierrez for Bay and $5 million would match up financially and the change-of-scenery might benefit the players, the Mariners, and the Mets. Shin-Soo Choo is going to be available and so will Chris Perez from the Indians. Maybe two bad teams could come to an agreement for a Bobby Parnell, Lucas Duda deal.

The notion of trading Ike Davis was floated recently. The source was in question and the Mets, as usual, were blamed for spreading the rumor that Davis doesn’t listen and parties too much. The truth is that the source in Adam Rubin’s piece was referred to as a “baseball source.” No one from the Mets was said to be that source other than via uninformed speculation. That doesn’t diminish the logic behind the idea. If the Mets can bring in an impact bat at a key position like Justin Upton as part of that deal or in a three-way trade, they have to explore it. I’d try to get Upton or see if the Rangers would want to be creative with Ian Kinsler. That would free the Mets to revisit the proposed trade by the Padres in which Daniel Murphy would’ve gone to San Diego for Luke Gregerson and perhaps ask for the speedy and versatile Everth Cabrera.

Many good things have happened to the Mets in 2012 in spite of the ludicrous conclusion to the season, but they can’t move forward with the roster and coaching staff in its current state. It comes back to the original question of whether this is a mess with an end or a simple mess.

Right now, it’s a combination of both. Behind the scenes and without fanfare, the farm system is being rebuilt well with plenty of young talent infusing the organization. Some, like Matt Harvey, are beginning their big league careers, and Zack Wheeler is on the way; but changes—cosmetic and practical—have to be made if only to put forth the perception of doing something. Anyone would’ve accepted the Mets being outgunned. It was expected. But players who should be happy to have a job can’t been seen as giving up. And that’s what’s happened. Keeping those players who’ve either quit or can’t play—Andres Torres, Josh Thole, Bay—won’t help, but dumping them certainly will if only for the sake of appearance.

Appearance is currently all they have left and, right now, it’s not particularly attractive. In fact, it’s downright ugly.

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Attendance Figures, Part II—Some Teams Just Don’t Try

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It’s not a remote experience for clubs to be content with losing 90 games, occasionally getting lucky and hovering around .500 and collect revenue sharing, put forth the pretense of spending money on players and pocketing profits while formulating a new plan every few years to return their teams to prominence while not caring whether their teams win or not.

The Twins and Pirates were rotten for years and refused to spend money. The Cubs have loyal fans and have had ownerships that have tried to win, but there’s a masochistic enjoyment of being known as the “lovable losers” to the point where it doesn’t matter if they win or not because they’re going to be in the top 5 in attendance no matter what. That attitude of, “oh, whatever” is one major thing that Theo Epstein has to combat. The Red Sox had a similar attitude of liking the pain of The Curse and constantly being abused by the Yankees and the Baseball Gods. Epstein ended that attitude in Boston; it might be harder to do with the Cubs.

For teams like the Twins and Pirates, it just so happened that the continuous presence at the ocean floor in the standings led to high draft picks and eventually those draft picks begat circumstantial improvement to the big league product. The Pirates are still 15th in the National League in attendance despite being in playoff contention and having a one of the few players in baseball that it’s worth the price of admission to see, Andrew McCutchen. Even the last Pirates teams that were legitimately good and had star power from Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla didn’t draw better than middle of the pack in the NL. It’s a football town and the ballpark has had little to do with anything in terms of fans coming out.

The Twins are an example of the simplest of cause and effects when it comes to a sports franchise. It’s been evident with the Mets of recent years and now the Phillies and Orioles in different directions. If the teams are good, the fans will pay to go and see it; if the teams are bad, they won’t. This is a different circumstance than what confronts the Pirates, the Florida franchises and the Athletics. The Twins were bad for years and played in an unfriendly atmosphere in the Metrodome. They built from within and became the dominant team in the AL Central for almost a decade, then moved into a brand new park, Target Field and spent money to try and win once they were on the verge to do so. They never made it to the finish line with the Johan Santana, Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter core and now the team is facing a long rebuilding process. The fans are still coming to the park in reasonable numbers, but if the rebuild takes a long time that won’t last, new park or not.

The Mets attendance has plummeted from 3-5 years ago with the club a title contender and the opening of Citi Field and it’s happened because the team has been unlikable, rudderless and just plain bad. Aggravation with the franchise has caused apathy within the fanbase. The prices of the tickets aren’t helping matters either. What family can go to a game in this economy when paying $30 (at the minimum) each for a ticket and having to pay $20 to park, plus food and souvenirs? If you’re talking about a family of four paying in excess of $200 to sit in the upper deck and watch a team that’s floundering after a surprisingly good first half, what’s the point? These fans are not casual and they are loyal, but they don’t want to hear about the bright future (and the Mets do have a bright future) when the now is so mediocre and pricey.

The Orioles regularly led the American League in attendance in the 1990s when they had just built Camden Yards—the first of the new age/old school parks that are now the norm—and maintained that trend until the fans could no longer take the perennial losing and stopped going. Now they’re coming back because there’s been a significant improvement in the team. But Baltimore is a baseball town with a long history of success and were waiting for the team to be good again. The Marlins and Rays have no chance of success in Florida because the Florida population in general doesn’t care about baseball one way or the other.

Read Part I here.

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Figures of Attendance, Part I–the Mets, Rays and Marlins

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In today’s NY Times, amid the accolades doled out on R.A. Dickey for another superlative performance, the attendance situation surrounding the Mets is discussed. GM Sandy Alderson all but said he’s keeping veteran outfielder Scott Hairston in spite of his attractiveness on the trade market as a power righty bat off the bench and as an occasional starter because wins help credibility and he might help the team win a few extra games.

It’s very easy to criticize the decision and say that once a team is guaranteed of missing the playoffs that there’s no difference between winning 76 games, 66 games of 56 games. Apart from the requisite jokes of a team being so terrible that they lose over 100 games, there’s some logic in the theory. Specifically, in his book The Extra 2% about the Rays, Jonah Keri said that the Rays new ownership and management team knew they were awful and shunned the idea of wasting money and resources to bring in players that would likely have helped them win 5 or so more games, but wouldn’t have done much of anything to help them in the long term.

The Rays could do that because they were such a perennial laughingstock and no one knew what to make of the financial guys who’d taken over the team. Given the moves they did make—changing the name, appearing to be afraid of making a mistake in trades to the point that they were frozen in time—there was much to ridicule. But bolstered by the high draft picks; some truly savvy trades; clever long-term contracts and service time sleight of hand; and more than a little luck, the Rays have become the case study of building a winning team under a strict budget.

That the Rays have made the playoffs in 3 of the past 4 years and have a chance to make it again this year doesn’t alter the fact that their attendance is 13th out of 14 AL teams in 2012; was 13th last season; 9th in 2010; 11th in 2009 coming off their pennant in 2008; and were 12th in 2008. In 2007, they lost 96 games and were last with almost 1.4 million fans coming to Tropicana Field. They’ve gained around 400,000 people a season since they started winning. That’s not good.

The Marlins have a new ballpark and went on a spending spree to try and win. Non-baseball-related amenities and attractions were installed in Marlins Park with the undertone of ownership not caring why people were coming to the park; whether they were there to watch the game, go to a restaurant or nightclub, get a haircut or just look at women mattered little. Attendance hasn’t risen to the levels they desired and the 51-61 Marlins are 12th in the National League. That’s after being last from 2006-2011 and next to last in 2005; 14th in 2004 (coming off a World Series win); and next to last in 2003 when they did win the World Series.

If the Rays think a new park in St. Petersburg or wherever else in Florida they can find the space and get the approval to build one is going to help, they need only to look at the other Florida franchise to see the truth. And good luck after the way the Marlins ballpark was built with the subsequent investigations into the shady practices that were its genesis.

With mercenaries; corporate entities; team bosses who think their installation was based on merit and not on marrying someone; and questionable ethics and morals, the Marlins are getting what many think they deserve. It gets worse from here.

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Role Reversals and Trade Deadlines Make Strange Bedfellows

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The “Mets-Phillies rivalry” isn’t so much a rivalry. It’s more two fanbases that dislike one another due to their close proximity. The teams were never in contention at the same time until 2007 and by then the Mets had the reputation as condescending and arrogant because of their 2006 and early-2007 dominance and the Phillies’ reputation as underachievers and authors of the greatest collapse in baseball history in 1964. Jimmy Rollins stoked the fire with his bluster early in 2007 and looked foolish as the Mets were strolling to a second straight division title; but Rollins backed it up with a blazing final month and by winning the MVP in the Phillies’ remarkable comeback that seized the momentum and sent the Mets into a spiral that culminated in the front office regime change and roster turnover.

The Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and became the dominant team in the NL with another pennant in 2009 followed by two more division titles in 2010-2011.

The tide has turned again.

This time it’s the Phillies who are reviled throughout baseball because of their smugness, penchant for trading and signing every big name on the market and “we’re better than you” mouthiness, much of it emanating from their fans. The Mets are the young upstarts expected to lose 90+ games (and in the ludicrous world of Michael Kay, 110 games) but find themselves in the thick of the pennant race and looking to buy players rather than sell.

So where does that leave them?

With each mounting loss and rising deficit in the playoff race, the Phillies’ decision to sell grows more and more likely. But would they trade anyone to the Mets?

The Mets are in need of a right-handed hitting bat who can play first base. They’re continually placing Justin Turner at the position against lefty pitchers instead of Ike Davis. Turner is not an experienced first baseman and is not meant to be in the lineup regularly; he’s a useful bat off the bench and can play second, third and a little shortstop. It’s not as easy to play first base as the Mike Francesas of the world will lead you to believe. That notion is a disproved theory from the 1950s that a player can be “hidden” at first base. The Mets cannot let an inexperienced defender cost them runs; that’s where they are if they insist on using Turner there.

With Ryan Howard activated, Ty Wigginton no longer has a regular place in the Phillies’ lineup. Wigginton hits well against lefties and enjoys hitting in Citi Field (1.278 OPS with 3 homers in 34 plate appearances). The Mets can use him. As the velocity of the Phillies plummet rises in new and enterprising ways like last night’s debacle against the Braves in which Antonio Bastardo entered a 0-0 tie in the 8th inning, proceeded to load the bases, walk in a run and serve up a grand slam to Brian McCann, it’s clear that there’s not going to be a turnaround for the Phillies when Roy Halladay returns or at any other time. They’re closer in the standings to the dregs—the Padres, Rockies, Cubs and Astros—than they are to a playoff spot.

This is pretty much it.

Sometimes teams that revile one another will acknowledge that concessions need to be made to do business. The Red Sox were going to trade Mike Lowell to the Rangers who, with the Red Sox knowledge, planned to send Lowell to the Yankees. It never came to pass but that style of plausible deniability is necessary in a true rivalry as fierce as that of Yankees-Red Sox.

Such is not the case with the Mets and Phillies.

The Mets can use Wigginton and the Phillies are coming apart at the seams. That’s a starting point for negotiation without partisan rancor and fan perception standing in the way.

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Who Won’t Be Traded At The Deadline?

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Everyone’s coming up with their lists of players who are going to be available or traded at the upcoming MLB trading deadline. I’ve been doing it too and will continue up to the big day, but there are also names floating around that come from anonymous (possibly nonexistent) sources; have reasons to possibly be on the block but actually aren’t; or are pulled out of the air by rumormongers because they can’t think of anything else to write or talk about.

Here are some of the players that are implied to be available, but aren’t and won’t be traded.

Josh Willingham, Twins

The Twins are ready to deal but they’re not going to get rid of every big league player on the roster. They just signed Willingham this past winter, he’s paid reasonably and they wouldn’t get much for him if they did decide to trade him. The days of teams taking on big contracts and giving up significant prospects are over and the Twins aren’t going to pay any of Willingham’s salary.

He’s 33 and is signed through 2014 at $7 million per year. He’s either more valuable for the Twins to keep or to look to trade as the contract winds down.

The Twins aren’t going to have the stomach to rebuild the team completely in an expansion-franchise sense. Willingham can help them in the next two seasons and he’s a good influence on the younger players.

Justin Upton, Diamondbacks

I understand the thinking that the Diamondbacks might listen. Managing general partner Ken Kendrick called Upton out for his mediocre play and GM Kevin Towers listened to offers on Upton shortly after taking over. There’s a logic to doing something drastic when a team with high expectations is struggling, but Upton is only 24 (25 in August); is signed at a reasonable rate ($38.5 million from 2013-2015); and the Diamondbacks still have a good shot at the playoffs despite their poor start.

Upton has a no-trade clause to four teams: the Tigers, A’s, Indians and Royals.

Other teams will call and ask; as he should, Towers might listen to what the offers are; but Upton’s not getting moved.

Alex Gordon, Royals

He’s finally found a defensive home in left field; he’s signed through 2015; is hitting better after a bad luck-infused start; and the Royals aren’t doing the “we’re rebuilding” thing and dumping any and all veterans.

The Royals have something positive building in spite of their stimulus response critics. Gordon is a part of that.

Felix Hernandez, Mariners

They’re not trading him. Forget it.

It’s partially because the Mariners have a load of pitching on the roster and on the way up and need a veteran leader to front the rotation when they’re ready to move from terrible to mediocre to (someday) pretty good, but if they’re letting Ichiro Suzuki go after this season, they don’t want to alienate the fanbase entirely by dumping two fan favorites within months of one another.

Tim Lincecum, Giants

There’s a logic to the idea. He’s been bad this season, somewhat unlucky and his velocity is down. Lincecum is a free agent after the 2013 season and has shown no inclination to sign a long-term deal for one penny less than market value.

One thing that flashed through my head was Cole Hamels and one of the Phillies’ minor league arms (Phillippe Aumont, Trevor May) for Lincecum. The Giants would get an ace (pitching like an ace) for the rest of the season and a young pitcher; the Phillies would have Lincecum for this year and next.

But the Giants aren’t going to trade their most popular and marketable player regardless of how poor he’s going.

David Wright, Mets

Wright is having an MVP-quality season and is back to the player he was until the Mets moved into Citi Field and turned Wright into a nervous wreck who altered his swing and approach to account for the stadium’s dimensions. The Mets are hovering around contention and aren’t drawing well. Trading Wright would throw the white flag up on the season. That’s not going to happen.

He’s signed for 2013 at $16 million and the Mets are going to give him an extension comparable to Ryan Zimmerman’s with the Nationals. He’s going nowhere.

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Should the Mets Honor Chipper Jones?

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There was a raging debate on Twitter as to whether the Mets should give a farewell to the retiring Chipper Jones when the Braves come into Citi Field for the final time this September.

Some say no. Some say yes.

I can understand those that feel the Mets shouldn’t be honoring an opposing player, but apart from that the arguments against it don’t hold much water.

The number of players that would warrant an opposing team acknowledging his career-long performance and who openly announce that they’re retiring before or during that season are relatively few. Former basketball star Julius Erving did it and essentially had a tour that went on for an entire season.

It happens.

Wayne GretzkyJoe Montana and Jim Brown didn’t say, “this is it” and didn’t get the opportunity to have all their opponents and fans wish them well.

In baseball, I can’t think of any player who’s said he’s retiring and been feted by opponents in an overt fashion mostly because players on that level don’t admit they’re retiring until they retire. Perhaps it’s because they haven’t decided yet.

Mariano Rivera has intimated that he’s going to hang it up after 2012, but the main reason he hasn’t openly said it yet is because, I believe, he wants to leave himself room to continue playing.

With Jones and the Mets, it’s not as if they’re retiring his uniform number or giving him a car as they would a player who’d been a star for the Mets. If they do anything, it’ll be a 10-15 minute goodbye to give grudging credit to a great player whose biggest moments always seemed to be against the Mets and whose departure will make the rivalry far less interesting. My guess is that they’ll give him a memento from Shea Stadium. The fans will applaud for Jones not because they liked what he did to the Mets, but because of the way he did it with class, consistency and professionalism.

There was never a hatred between Jones and Mets’ fans. When they chanted his given name of “Larry”, it wasn’t vicious and he laughed it off. He was respected in a competitive fashion without the vitriol that accompanies the palpable and mutual loathing between Pedro Martinez against the Yankees.

Jones named one of his children “Shea” after the Mets’ former park where he had those huge moments. If it’s possible for an opposing player to embrace New York, Jones managed it.

There are players whose dignity earn them that type of honor. Rivera, Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr.—their behaviors accorded them a certain stature that would make it more of a “we’re fans of baseball and thank you for playing the game correctly” rather than cheering for a despised opponent.

Chipper Jones is among their number and deserves that moment between himself, the Mets and Mets’ fans.

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