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

MLB, Uncategorized

Machado pic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A stark reality about the 2018 Mets

MLB, Uncategorized

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

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

What does that mean, you ask?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are no more in-betweens. Choose.

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

So, you wanna trade Jacob deGrom, huh?

MLB, Uncategorized

degrom

Without bothering to link the offending article by the non-credible, click-seeking source, the concept of the New York Mets trading their most valuable assets Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard brought Mets fans back to the brink of the usual civil war, fighting one another as to the direction of the franchise and how it should proceed.

There’s a fine line between clickbait and a legitimate Rx based on the circumstances. That, however, is secondary to an evenhanded assessment of the idea of a reboot and to start by trading deGrom. Without saying whether they should pull the trigger on such a decision and when, there are certain foundational factors that must be in place if they do decide to head in that direction.

If you would like to or are grudgingly willing to trade deGrom, you need to accept the following realities:

  • No half-assing it.

If you’re pulling the trigger on dealing deGrom, there’s no accepting the nonsense of an unemployed and unemployable blogger saying the team “might as well listen” just to see what’s offered and decide from there. With the Mets being so cognizant and reactive to public perception, once it leaks that they gauged the market for deGrom, then they have to trade him. There’s no “let’s see.” It’s either move him or don’t with full commitment. Listening to offers is an admission that the product is available for sale. There’s no checking in, nor is there due diligence just to get a sense of what’s out there. It’s akin to a married guy (or girl) starting a Tinder account to see how many swipes he or she gets. The mere act of checking means there’s interest in following through.

Since it’s the Mets, the fallout from it becoming known that they were taking offers on deGrom would be so fierce that they would either need to pull him back from the market and do their familiar bit of clumsy damage control or admit they’re restarting and trade him.

And none of that refusing to trade him to the Yankees just because it’s the Yankees. Right there, holding to that line takes out one of the teams with the most glaring need for a pitcher of deGrom’s stature and the deep farm system to overpay to get it done. The best offer gets the player, period.

  • Sandy Alderson cannot be the one to make the move(s).

There have been situations where an interim or outgoing GM has been entrusted to oversee a housecleaning and has acquitted himself professionally, leaving his successor with a solid core from the trades he made. Jerry Dipoto with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Omar Minaya with the San Diego Padres, and Dave Dombrowski with the Detroit Tigers are just three examples of that.

Alderson is the one who made the trade to get Syndergaard in the first place when he was in the low-minors and was a secondary piece to the true object of their desires in the R.A. Dickey trade, Travis d’Arnaud. Alderson would know the names of the minor leaguers who would constitute an acceptable return on a housecleaning. There’s no doubt that he would acquit himself professionally and have the organization’s best interests at heart even if he won’t be around to bear the fruits of the trades.

But at age 70 with his tenure as Mets GM likely coming to an end in the not-too-distant future, it should fall on his likely replacement, John Ricco, to take the reins. Ricco has been with the Mets for 12 years. He’s the obvious heir apparent to Alderson. He has the business acumen and the intelligence to understand the coldblooded sabermetric components necessary to run an organization today. Since the Mets rehired Omar Minaya as an assistant to Alderson and Ricco was Minaya’s assistant when the Mets were at their title-contending heights during the Minaya regime, the two can easily work together with their roles reversed.

Minaya, a baseball rat, is more comfortable scouting and eyeball analyzing without needing to go through the daily grind of dealing with the media and falling all over his words when the time comes to be a disciplinarian and handle crisis control. Ricco is perfectly suited to that. He’ll know the stats and the projections for the players the Mets will receive and Minaya can use his scouting acument to either believe the numbers or say, “Forget the numbers, this kid can’t play.”

Alderson’s hiring deviated from the Wilpons’ history of insular “Mets blood only” front office personnel. At the time, it seemed that hiring Alderson was a precondition for Bud Selig to sign off on them retaining ownership as they sorted out the Bernie Madoff mess. Alderson was a competent and unflappable caretaker to ensure that the organization weathered the financial storm. Now, since he won’t be there three to five years from the time of the trades and will not be overtly invested in their outcome, he should not be the one to make the calls.

  • No tanking, but no sentiment either; and the Wilpons must spend.

If they’re trading deGrom and Syndergaard, then it makes zero sense to put up the pretense of moderate respectability in the near term as they did in the first four years of Alderson’s tenure.

In fairness, those years were about getting out from under the onerous contracts of Jason Bay, Johan Santana, et, al. as well as cleaning up from the fetid wreckage of the Madoff disaster. Since the club appears to be, in part, beyond its financial woes, it can’t stop at trading deGrom and Syndergaard. It must extend to anyone and anything that can yield a significant return of youngsters who are under long-term team control or are close to big league ready. That includes dealing Michael Conforto, Steven Matz, Jeurys Familia, Jerry Blevins and anyone who has any value whatsoever to make a quick turnaround with the organization spending money on the big free agent class of 2018-19 and possibly some of the prospects they accrue in trades to turn the team around fast with younger, cheaper and more athletic players.

***

With the doom and gloom surrounding the Mets, it’s easy to forget that this same team started the season off at 13-2 and hit a rough stretch in which they have been one of the worst teams in baseball. They’re still above .500 – one of the benefits to a hot start – and it’s too soon to tell whether the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are for real and if the Washington Nationals have righted their ship. The National League is relatively parity-laden, so the Wild Card spots will be available should the Mets not jump back into contention for the division title.

The idea of trading deGrom and/or Syndergaard is the typical extreme reaction for a few weeks of bad play, but if they do eventually decide to do it, they must leap in with both feet or not even bother. Otherwise it makes zero sense and they’re better off just staying where they are and seeing what happens as the season moves along.

This is Matt Harvey. Accept it and move on.

MLB, Uncategorized

Matt Harvey pic

Matt Harvey is trying to have a life comparable to that of Derek Jeter and Tom Brady sans the on-field production. With his latest foray into the gossip columns occurring simultaneous to his on-field future being in flux, it’s time for the Mets to accept that this is what Harvey is. There won’t be an awakening that he needs to focus primarily on his pitching and making as much money as he possibly can in his rapidly approaching free agency. There won’t be a more subdued off-field lifestyle. And there won’t be a “new” Matt Harvey in any way but as a statement that sounds good.

This is not to imply that he should stay home and watch TV, never leaving the house; but the intentional attempt to get his name and face in the gossip columns was growing tiresome when he was at his peak. Now that he’s trying to regain some semblance of what he lost, it’s growing offensive. The attention he gets from the images kissing models and partying late into the night is not a matter of circumstance. It’s intentional quid pro quo. Someone – whether it was the public relations representatives of Adriana Lima, Harvey or both – contacts the columnists and makes sure that the date will garner the desired attention and buzz. This is a fundamental reality of the trade-off between a famous person and the paparazzi. Harvey, however, does not need this type of attention just now. While spring training is essentially meaningless for a veteran player who is just trying to get in shape for the season, for a player – particularly a pitcher – like Harvey returning from a serious injury and two years away from free agency, it minimally behooves him to just show up, stay out of the limelight, do his work and party without the glare of the flashbulbs and the viral media attention endlessly shared in a hollow attempt to play the rock star when it’s unknown as to whether he can hit the same cords he once did.

Harvey has courted drama and the wrong kind of attention for much of his major-league career. The Mets looked the other way and shrugged because of his excellence on the field and that he was the clear star of their universe, for better or worse. Now, though, he’s their fourth starter behind Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz. Should Zack Wheeler prove himself healthy enough to start, Robert Gsellman replicates his surprising 2016 performance and Seth Lugo shows his workmanlike production, Harvey could find himself behind all of them.

The time for granting him passes, laughing and shrugging is over. He wants to be Jeter, but is turning into Bo Belinsky: someone whose fame is due to off-field pursuits rather than as a natural result of on-field performance. To make matters worse, Syndergaard has taken over as the man about town and is doing so in a more media savvy and salable way for himself and the organization.

Eventually, it gets to a point where the drama is no longer self-created as means to an end, but is just who he is. From the Scott Boras demands for Harvey’s innings limits to missing team workouts to the spate of injuries and talk-talk-talk of how he wants greatness but still pops up in the front of the newspaper rather than the back, the Mets are not motivated to placate Harvey or Boras any longer. Protecting him is not in their best interests because signing him to a long-term contract is not happening. He is not the type of person in whom a long-term, $100 million-plus investment is a wise one and every team that considers him will ask itself the hard question of whether he’s going to take the money and lose interest in being a baseball player. By now, it’s clear that the team that does it won’t be the Mets. With that, they need to wring him out, get what they can from him and move forward. Whether that parting of the ways is achieved through a trade or allowing him to leave as a free agent depends on his performance. Either way, he can be someone else’s distraction. It’s enough already.