Longoria, the Rays, and…Wright

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On the heels of Evan Longoria agreeing to a contract extension with the Rays that will guarantee him $100 million through 2022, the news is out that the Mets offered David Wright a 6-year, $100 million extension. Naturally, as is the case with anything the Mets do, this is cast as a lowball, “show me,” “look we tried,” proposition when the offer is legitimate and reasonable considering what comparable players have received.

The main differences between Wright and Longoria are leverage, age and perception. Wright is a free agent after 2013; prior to the new contract, Longoria was locked up by the Rays until 2016. Wright is about to turn 30; Longoria just turned 27. Longoria is considered a big game player because many of his hits have been considered “clutch” (with good reason) and Wright is more of a steady performer whose numbers accumulate and he’s unfairly been seen as a central figure in the disappointment of a Mets team that stumbled at crunch time.

In reality, they’re pretty much the same player. In fact, Wright has the advantage of durability that Longoria doesn’t have. Longoria has had quadriceps strains, hamstring tears, and wrist problems. Wright got hit in the head and suffered a stress fracture in his back, both of which he’s recovered from.

In his career, Longoria has traded his arbitration years and window to freedom for security. He signed a contract as a rookie (shortly after he arrived in the big leagues) that guaranteed him $17.5 million and could have made him as much as $44.5 million. Now, as an established star player, he’s got his $44.5 million and an additional $100 million on top of that. There’s not a no-trade clause in the deal with Longoria’s only recourse if the Rays decide to trade him is waiting until after 2017 when he’ll be a 10 and 5 player (10 years in MLB, 5 years with the same team) and subsequently can reject any deal. But before then, if the Rays choose to move him due to financial constraints or because they receive an offer they can’t refuse, there’s nothing he can do about it. It’s a trade-off that both sides made. Longoria gets his guaranteed money, the Rays have flexibility. Because Longoria is locked up until 2022, it doesn’t mean he’ll be a Ray for that entire time. That’s the way the contract was designed and the manner in which the Rays operate. The Rays said, “We’ll give you more security in exchange for flexibility.” Longoria accepted that.

The Mets are not in the position of the Rays where they have a terrible ballpark and limited fanbase. The Mets’ financial problems are not related to baseball’s structure, but are a byproduct of circumstance and will presumably end at some point. For the Mets and  Wright, the offer that has been made public isn’t for public relations purposes, but is a reasonable, market-driven deal. That doesn’t mean Wright’s going to take it. For all the talk that the Mets are dragging their feet, the Wright camp is probably also taking a wait-and-see approach to know where the dollar figures are for players in this year’s free agent class. If there’s a team that tosses a record amount of money at Zack Greinke and rolls the dice on Josh Hamilton; if a club gets crazy for Wright’s childhood friend in Virginia B.J. Upton, then Wright can say he’s going for the big money next winter and unless the Mets pay him and pay him big now, he’s not signing anything. But if the deals these players get aren’t what’s expected; if the number of teams that are still willing to go overboard as the Angels did with Albert Pujols is limited to one or two; if no club other than the Dodgers is spending wildly, then Wright isn’t going to do much better than the 6-years, $100 million and will be more willing to take it.

The Jose Reyes comparisons are simplistic and stupid. Those negotiations weren’t “negotiations” in the truest sense. The Mets wanted Reyes back, but they didn’t want to give him $100 million (money that they didn’t have and certainly didn’t want to spend on him) and they knew they had a reasonable—if significantly less flashy—replacement for him with Ruben Tejada. It’s a different matter with Wright. The Mets want him back and know how hard he’ll be to replace on and off the field.

The common sense approach from the Mets to Wright is to be conciliatory and ingratiating. They should not imply that because Longoria and Ryan Zimmerman took $100 million over six that Wright should know what’s good for him and do the same thing. The Mets should approach Wright with the facts. Those facts are that he’s not going to do much better on the market than 6-years at $100 million with a reachable option to make it 7-years at $125 million and perhaps an eighth year option as well; that the Mets are in position to get markedly better and contend by possibly 2013 and definitely 2014 with all that young pitching and money coming off the books; and that, like the Rays and Longoria, it behooves both sides to come to an agreement. A no-trade clause isn’t even necessary for the new deal because Wright will be a 10-and-5 player after 2013.

The Wright-Mets extension talks aren’t in a holding pattern because the participants staked their positions with no room for compromise and a pure impasse. 6-years at $100 million was a start. If a deal gets done, it won’t be until the other pieces currently making the free agent rounds come off the board and there’s a clue as to what the numbers have to be and could be to make it worthwhile for the Mets and Wright. In that context, the Wright and Longoria comparisons are equal and like Longoria, I’d expect Wright to eventually sign an extension with the Mets, but it won’t be until the new year.

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2012 MLB Award Winners—National League MVP

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Here are my top five finishers for the National League Most Valuable Player along with who I picked in the preseason.

1. Buster Posey, C—San Francisco Giants

Not only did Posey have to handle a pitching staff that was the key to his club’s success, he had to function as the centerpiece of the Giants’ offensive attack and he was doing it a year after he’d sustained a devastating ankle injury in a collision at home plate.

Where would the Giants have been without him? The concept that he could’ve sat behind the plate in a rocking chair and nurtured that pitching staff based on its greatness is ludicrous. Barry Zito gets by with trickery; Tim Lincecum was dealing with extended adversity on the mound for the first time; and they lost their closer Brian Wilson—the one constant was Posey.

Statistically at the plate, he led the National League in batting (.336); led the majors in OPS+ (172); had 24 homers, 39 doubles and an OBP of .406.

2. Andrew McCutchen, CF—Pittsburgh Pirates

If the award was handed out at mid-season, McCutchen would’ve won. As much of a linchpin to the Giants as Posey was, McCutchen was more of a key to the Pirates’ woeful offense. McCutchen had a .327/.400/.553 slash line with 31 homers, a league-leading 194 hits, 20 stolen bases and good defense in center field.

3. Yadier Molina, C—St. Louis Cardinals

Molina has become an offensive force to go along with his all-world defense. Posting a 48% caught stealing rate and completely shutting down the opposition’s running game is written in ink before the season, but he also had a .315/.373/.501 slash line with 22 homers, along with 12 stolen bases in 15 tries.

4. Ryan Braun, LF—Milwaukee Brewers

I almost wish Braun had been head-and-shoulders above the other competitors to see if there would be enough fallout from his failed PED test after winning the award in 2011, and then the deft stickhandling the Players Association did to overturn his suspension.

Braun wound up leading the league with 41 homers and OPS at .987. He also stole 30 bases and has become a respectable glove in left field.

Had he been the clear MVP, he wouldn’t have won it.

5. Michael Bourn, CF—Atlanta Braves

Bourn’s defense was superlative, he stole 42 bases and had a career high 9 homers. The main reason he’s ahead of other candidates Chase Headley, Clayton Kershaw, and David Wright is that his team made the playoffs. Otherwise all have cases for the 5th spot.

My preseason pick for the NL MVP was Troy Tulowitzki.

Yah.

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The Media Vultures Circle The Mets Again

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Since the Mets have come apart after a surprising first half of the season when it was being speculated as to whether or not they’d be heavy buyers at the trading deadline, the same reporters who were so sure that the Wilpons days as owners were numbers just a few short months ago and wrote relentless pieces about the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and its damage to the franchise have popped up again.

They were silent for a period of time, trying to maintain an aura of credibility that only exists because they’re in the media, as if that matters. Being paid by the New York Post, Newsday, ESPN or whatever other entity you can name doesn’t automatically imply knowing what they’re talking about. No one—no…one—I read speculated on the possibility of a Madoff settlement to save the Wilpons. In fact, the Wilpons might even wind up getting money back after all is said and done. They didn’t get rich being stupid and to suggest that they’re broke and the team is still in danger of being lost to the family is based on the same shoddy speculation that was indulged in months ago and turned out to be wrong.

It’s similar to the same so-called experts who felt that the Mets’ farm system was destitute of prospects. As it turns out, Omar Minaya’s scouting/drafting operation was far better than anyone thought.

Now, as the team has stumbled from their unexpected heights of contention at the All-Star break, the doom and gloom has returned. I’m not talking about from the fans—that’s expected; I’m talking about from the supposedly credible “insiders” in the media. Just the other day it started again about the possibility of David Wright leaving the club after next season. Compared with the Jose Reyes situation, will the Mets let Wright leave as they did Reyes? Are they going to be a stripped down version of other teams that haven’t spent one penny more than the bare minimum? Of course not. Wright’s going nowhere. The two situations were totally different on and off the field.

The Mets front office baseball people didn’t want to spend the necessary money to keep Reyes and wouldn’t have done so even if they had the money to spend and were allowed to run the team as they wanted. Last winter the Madoff trial was hanging over the oraganization’s collective heads like a guillotine. But money or not, GM Sandy Alderson would not want to allocate $100+ million to a speed player approaching 30 who’s had multiple injury problems; and if you look at Reyes in 2012 with the Marlins, it’s trendy to point to his recent hitting streak and solid play after a slow start, but the Marlins exponentially more dysfunctional than the Mets, are terrible and in the midst of a housecleaning that’s put them in a worse position than the Mets. Don’t bet on Reyes being with the Marlins past next season.

Wright’s different. A power bat that walks, is the de facto captain of the team (the Mets should make it official already), and who plays a difficult to fill position is not getting traded, nor is he going to be allowed to leave as a free agent. It’s true that the Mets have a large financial commitment to Jason Bay and Johan Santana next season ($50 million with their contracts and buyouts), but that will free a large amount of money to re-sign Wright and import players for 2013 with either backloaded free agent contracts or via trade. This idea that simply spending money would’ve made a significant difference in 2013 is ignoring that the teams that have spent tons of money on players in recent years haven’t succeeded. The Red Sox were supposed to “challenge the 1927 Yankees” as the best team in history in 2011, but collapsed in September and that collapse revealed disciplinary and personal fissures that resulted in the departure of manager Terry Francona, the hiring of Bobby Valentine and desperation maneuvers to patch over their holes and hope that they’d revert to performances and team-oriented behaviors of the past. Needless to say, it hasn’t worked and the Red Sox are in deep trouble moving forward as long as there are factional disputes and power grabs in the front office and the insistence that they don’t need to substantially alter the personnel.

The Phillies? They had an all-world starting rotation, signed a top-notch closer and had an offense that should’ve scored enough to support that rotation. But they’re old and injuries removed significant names from their everyday lineup and rotation. They’re not getting any younger and have contract commitments that made it necessary to trade Hunter Pence and consider again trading Cliff Lee to re-sign Cole Hamels and hope to have the health and performance they’ve lacked in 2012.

The Angels? Jered Weaver is 15-1; Mike Trout is on his way to winning the Rookie of the Year and the American League MVP; they traded for Zack Greinke; stole Ernesto Frieri from the Padres; Mark Trumbo is having an MVP-caliber season of his own and will eventually hit a ball that will never land; and signed Albert Pujols (this generation’s Joe DiMaggio) last winter, are still hovering around mediocrity and are in serious danger of missing the playoffs. Could the fact that they had too many players for too few positions and a manager, Mike Scioscia, who was used to being totally in charge and found his power usurped with a roster that doesn’t fit his style have something to do with their lack of cohesion and simply looking off?

Importing stars and spending money is not necessarily the answer and with the Mets, who were they supposed to get last winter? Would they be any better now if they’d signed Jonathan Papelbon? First, Papelbon wasn’t signing with the Mets; second, they didn’t have the money. Who else was other there that would fill a hole the Mets had? C.J. Wilson? He wasn’t coming to the Mets. Prince Fielder? Would he take an IOU?

The 1998 Mariners had Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Edgar Martinez in their lineup and went 76-85. In 1999, they went 79-83. They traded Griffey for nothing after 1999 and lost in the ALCS in 2000. After that season, they lost A-Rod…and won 116 games in 2001. If you said in 1999 that the team would lose those two stars and win 116 games two years later, people would think you insane.

We don’t know what’s going to happen with prospects; how much luck will be involved; what the future holds. But the Mets have enough young players—especially young pitching—for a bright future.

Madoff was a PR disaster and financial nightmare for the Mets, but what it did was free the organization to let them rebuild correctly. As much as Minaya is savaged for spending money and for the contracts he gave to Oliver Perez, and the soon-to-mature big money deals he gave to Bay and Santana, no one could’ve expected the Wilpon financial empire to come undone. Whether they suspected that Madoff was a fraud or not, did anyone think it would come crashing as it did? Even with the Bay/Santana contracts, they should very well have had some money to spend if things had gone on as they were.

In retrospect, it’s going to be viewed as a good thing that the Mets had to trade Carlos Beltran and got Zack Wheeler; that they couldn’t toss more money at the wall and hope that stacks of cash would fill holes in a foundation that needed what’s being done now: a true rebuild.

If you think that a Mets’ starting rotation in 2013 of R.A. Dickey, Santana, Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey and Wheeler won’t be able to make a run at a playoff spot if there’s a halfway decent bullpen and a couple of more offensive weapons, then you’re not accepting facts. As for the financial holes, no one knows how much money the Mets have to spend or not. They settled the Madoff case and, much to the poorly concealed disappointment of Howard Megdal, Bob Klapisch, John Harper and Joel Sherman, paid off several of the loans they’d taken out to continue to do business.

And they still own the team.

With the Bay/Santana money coming off the books after next season, Wright will be re-signed. A realistic idea to improve the offense and make Wright more willing to stay and not hold the organization hostage would be to make a serious play for Justin Upton to play right field (signed through 2015 with $38.5 million coming to him from 2013 onward); and pursue his brother B.J. Upton to play center field. B.J.’s not getting the $100 million he’s probably going to want, but would $70 million over 5 years get it done? To play with his brother and Wright, their childhood friend from Virginia? Maybe. And a lineup of Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada, Wright, the Uptons, Jordany Valdespin or Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and a better hitting catcher would score enough runs to support that starting rotation.

It’s doable.

Ignore the media as they’re seeking ways to make up for their inability to write epitaphs for the Mets by writing them pre-death; also tune out the fans who are throwing tantrums as the team spirals. They weren’t expected to be any better than this. The young players are showing promise and things are far more positive than anticipated from December to April. Realistically that’s all the Mets and any organization can ask for when they’re rebuilding from the ground up amid financial catastrophe, declining attendance, media hit squads and palpable fan anger.

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