Why Brodie Van Wagenen might succeed as Mets GM

MLB, Uncategorized

Mets

As the Mets move toward the finish line in their search to replace Sandy Alderson as GM, reports are stating that Brodie Van Wagenen, Doug Melvin, Kim Ng and Chaim Bloom are receiving second interviews. It has been a ponderous process for the Mets with rumors, innuendo and the familiar mocking the club must endure as a matter of course.

The inevitable questions about control, inherited staff, financial parameters and how much influence Jeff Wilpon will have will continue regardless of whom the Mets hire.

A total outsider like Van Wagenen might be viewed as a blatant attempt on the part of the Mets to reinvent the wheel, but it does make some sense and could succeed.

Let’s look at why.

Understanding both sides.

Any good lawyer will know how to make the other side’s argument. As a longtime player agent and co-head of CAA Sports’ baseball division, Wagenen has relationships with every major-league team and its executives. When trying to maximize the value of contracts and endorsements for his clients, he also needs to understand what the other side is thinking. It’s a short step over the velvet rope from being seller to the buyer.

This is not someone who will be parachuting in with theories, demands and expectations without having the faintest clue as to what really happens in the trenches.

He played baseball at a relatively high level.

Van Wagenen played baseball at Stanford University (as a teammate of Astros manager AJ Hinch). He wasn’t great, but he was serviceable. Playing at a Division I school in the Pac-10 – especially a school like Stanford that does not provide academic breaks to its athletes – is notable.

Many front office staffers are inhabiting a persona based on their environment. Chewing dip and carrying around an empty bottle in which to spit the juice does not make one a peer of professional athletes. If anything, it invites eye-rolling and ridicule from those same professional athletes. Similarly, uttering the lingo of athletes and trying to be one of them is transparent and deservedly ridiculed.

No, he did not make it to the major-leagues. He didn’t even play professionally. But as a former player, he will have a well-rounded idea of what it’s like to play and run a ballgame on the field, limiting the reactive know-it-all responses and insecurity that is inherent from those who cannot say the same and find themselves in an undeserved position as a front office boss, top-tier executive, or well-compensated analyst.

Delegation.

It is highly unlikely that Van Wagenen will be in the middle of every single deal big and small and interfere with the heads of the baseball departments.

The best executives are the ones who hire or retain smart people and allow them to do their jobs. If Omar Minaya, John Ricco, et, al. are part of the deal and will not be replaced, Van Wagenen can accept that and let them work without looking over their shoulder, sowing discord, and making passive aggressive maneuvers and statements to undermine them.

Managing the owner.

For an organization like the Mets, with Wilpon insisting that he will be involved, it takes people skills that a player agent must have to nudge him in the right direction without him knowing he’s being nudged. The idea of autonomy is secondary to this peacekeeping nuance.

Younger GMs are looking for autonomy and control in part because it grants them at least three years of on-field results being irrelevant. That’s three years of job security and blamelessness. They’re heavy on data and short on interpersonal skills. That is not an issue with Van Wagenen who understands the numbers, but also knows how to persuade.

The tactics.

There are repeated demands that the Mets tear the entire structure of the organization down to its exoskeleton and start over. Is that wise? With Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Amed Rosario among others, the team is not destitute at the big-league level. In the minors, the farm system is better than it was given credit for in preseason assessments.

Certainly, when there is a barren farm system, bloated contracts and declining players, it makes perfect sense to gut it and start over. The Mets are not in that position and hiring Van Wagenen is not only a signal that the Mets are serious about contending quickly, but that the Wilpons are ready to give him some money to spend to make that a reality instead of a bait-and-switch to sell season ticket plans with the same digging through the bargain bin, crafting an “if everything goes right” roster and hoping that it somehow works out.

Salesmanship.

What is an agent if not a salesman?

To take the job, he will need to divest himself of any agent-related interests in the players, but the relationships will remain in place because he got his players paid and because most players will be smart enough to realize that he might turn around and go back to being an agent after his tenure with the Mets concludes. Other organizations will know it too.

***

At first glance, the mentioning of player agents running an organization sounds quirky for its own sake. In the case of the Mets and Van Wagenen, it’s a radical departure from what the Mets and the Wilpons have done in the past and, in the grand scheme, it isn’t such a terrible idea.

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If the Mets want Omar Minaya, they should just hire Omar Minaya

MLB, Uncategorized

minaya

For weeks now, the New York Mets have been dropping hints that Omar Minaya is their preferred choice to return to his former role as general manager on a permanent basis. Minaya, who was rehired in spring training as an assistant to GM Sandy Alderson as a troubleshooter to blunt relentless and fair criticism of the club’s minor league system, is a current member of the triad of baseball decision makers along with John Ricco and J.P. Ricciardi. The three have been running things since Alderson’s leave of absence to address his recurrence of cancer. Alderson’s exit has been labeled a firing without a firing. Alderson himself all but said if he were making the hiring and firing decision on the job he’s done in the past two years, he’d have fired himself.

Recognizable names like Ben Cherington, Dan Duquette and Kim Ng among others have been mentioned to replace Alderson, but the looming presence of Minaya is a constant. Already, various incarnations of the same story have surfaced with Minaya either spearheading the entire search or as an inherited, non-negotiable part of any new front office structure.

Whether the Mets truly intend to conduct an exhaustive search or not is known only to them. With the strategic leaks emanating from the club saying Fred Wilpon wants someone more old-school and that Minaya is a candidate to pull a Dick Cheney, be put forth as the person overseeing the vetting process before jumping into the fray himself with a, “hey, how about me?” move, he could very well get the job.

Perhaps it’s calculated and the Wilpons have already made clear to Minaya that once the smoke clears and they can effectively sell it to a perpetually angry fan base and dubious, hypocritical media, he’s the guy.

There is reason to be hesitant to again entrust Minaya with the fate of the organization. However it’s a mistake to base that hesitancy on faux baseball “experts” who are granted a forum and have an inexplicable following as they respond to the mere suggestion of Minaya with such florid and baseless made-for-social-media responses such as “facepalm” or “eyeroll” without formulating a well-organized and cogent critique and what credentials the Mets should be looking for in their new GM instead of those Minaya brings to the table.

Reading Moneyball/Astroball/Whateverball does not make one an expert; nor does having a basic grasp of sabermetrics or the ability to regurgitate stats and scouting terminology while posing as a peer of experienced baseball people. Of course, a critique of Minaya’s time as Mets GM can be done. There were positives and negatives to the regime, but that can be said about any executive in any business.

During Minaya’s first tenure, the club relied on antiquated strategies even for the time-period as the sports information boom had yet to explode and permeate the game as it has today. Advanced statistics were scoffed at and ignored. While the aggressive spending on Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran and Billy Wagner worked in the immediate aftermath, the patchwork to fill holes and salvage the remnants of their near misses from 2006 to 2008 resulted in a series of sunk costs and declining, injured veterans. The farm system was decried at the time, but in later years, it was found to be far stronger than that the prospect rankings suggested. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Jeurys Familia, Lucas Duda, Steven Matz among others were already present.

As innovative and advanced as statistical analysis has become, every team has a department dedicated to using the new metrics to assess players. They’re mostly working from the same playbook with subtle differences in how diligently they rely on the numbers. With much of the playing field leveled by these advancements, something of a necessary reversion is taking place with a greater reliance on the unquantifiable and eyeball assessment – something Minaya is good at.

When he’s doing crisis control, such as clumsily firing Willie Randolph, when Tony Bernazard was accused of abusive and arrogant behaviors, or dealing with incidents like Francisco Rodriguez beating his pseudo father-in-law in the clubhouse family room, he’s repetitive and clueless.

There’s no debating that Minaya has a checkered past as Mets GM and is certainly not the type of person who fits in the mold of this era’s preferred top baseball executive. If they’re going to do this, the key to its success is to examine and understand Minaya’s strengths and weaknesses and remove the weaknesses from the equation.

When flashing his glittering smile in a finely tailored and stylish suit while introducing his glossy new free agent signing or trade acquisition, Minaya is great – one of the most charismatic baseball executives around. His ability to persuade players to believe in what he’s doing and sign with the Mets when the club’s history and inherent issues – namely the Wilpons – would normally give pause to any player and agent with options is notable and impressive. Even when he doesn’t get what he wants at first, he revisits the idea and makes it happen where the player has no choice as he did with trading for Carlos Delgado one year after he spurned the Mets’ free agent pursuit to sign with the Florida Marlins.

Letting him head baseball operations and leaving Ricco to do the hatchet work and organizational spokesman stuff when the inevitable problems crop up can work.  Certainly, Minaya is not the guy to hire if an organization is looking for the creation of a new algorithm. That this is even up for consideration and knowing how Minaya operates as a Euro-fútbol manager who buys international stars implies that the Wilpons were not lying when they said their finances are stabilized and they’re ready to start pouring money into the team again. Why else would it be floated that they’re considering a move of Amed Rosario to center field unless they’re ready to unleash Minaya to do what he does best and go on a big game hunt for Manny Machado to take over at shortstop?

The easy answer for the Wilpons is to follow the current trends and hire a 30-something numbers guy with an impressive degree from a high-end school and let him or her move the Mets into the present and future with a technocratic tilt. Besides the reality that doing that doesn’t guarantee success on the field, more damage can be done when hiring a top executive due to outside pressure than by hiring someone who has known flaws but is trusted and familiar to ownership. Already any outsider is handcuffed by inheriting Minaya and Ricco while simultaneously needing to mitigate Jeff Wilpon. That hire might be told when getting the job that there will be reasonable autonomy, but that will last until the new baseball “boss” walks into Wilpon’s office with a trade proposal that will yield five prospects for deGrom and receives a bemused hiccuppy laugh followed by, “We’re not trading deGrom.”

Then what?

Minaya knows the deal and he loves the Mets. The Wilpons trust him. He’s well-liked throughout baseball. If he’s allowed to stay in his lane, he could legitimately achieve what the club has been pushing since mid-summer amid mocking and ridicule and return the Mets to contention by 2019.

Rather than adhering to what will get them better media coverage and nods of approval from those whose opinions are irrelevant, they should do what they’re comfortable with. If that means rehiring Minaya, so be it.

The Mets’ embarrassment could spark real and necessary change

MLB, Uncategorized

Ricco

The Mets’ 4-2 loss to the Braves Thursday could be viewed as “another day, another loss” in a season of promise that devolved into a disaster at stunning speed, even for them. But with each passing day, it grows clearer that the solution to repair what ails the club cannot come from inside the organization. For the duration of Sandy Alderson’s tenure as general manager, assistant GM John Ricco was rightfully viewed as his heir apparent. He preceded Alderson with the organization and his private sector resume largely mimics Alderson’s when Alderson was plucked from a law firm that was representing the Athletics and, with no baseball operations experience, was named the club’s GM. Ricco is also an attorney and worked in the MLB commissioner’s office before joining the Mets.

The transition would have been relatively seamless and moved forward whenever Alderson decided to leave had the Mets not disintegrated in consecutive years as they did in 2017-18.

Alderson has left the club, ostensibly to treat his recurrence of cancer. Seated next to Jeff Wilpon at the press conference to announce that news, Alderson himself essentially said that if it were up to him, he’d fire himself for the club’s downfall following their 2015-16 postseason appearances. So, Alderson is out and not returning. In his stead, they have a tri-head GM of Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya. This is unworkable in the short and long term. With clubs looking to deal with the Mets not knowing whom they should call and how long it will take for them to reach a consensus, the team is in stasis. Since the Mets made their highest value targets – Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard – off-limits barring a loony offer, the changes they did make are cosmetic.

The biggest problem for the Mets has morphed from the appearance of disarray to actual disarray.

On the bright side, the Mets are somewhat lucky in that they’re getting an in the trenches view of how Ricco would function as the fulltime GM. That trial run as the club spokesman and potential final decision maker is not helping his case to be given the job. With every press conference in which he serves as the organizational front man, he goes from “the guy whose voice we never heard” to “the guy whose voice we hope to never hear again.” It’s irrelevant whether he’s been a competent and evenhanded voice behind the scenes. He lacks the infectious personality that will automatically make it seem like he at least has a plan and believes in it and can get others to follow him. It’s clinical. He sounds like a doctor telling a patient that tests reveal a sexually transmitted disease. That is not going to work, especially in New York and specifically with the Mets.

Part of the search for the new GM goes beyond any blueprint he or she presents in an interview. It must be a person who can be sold to the fan base and media simply by mentioning the name. Listing potential names is generally a waste of time and more of a function of market research than anything else. Hiring a person who seems to check all the boxes and serves to placate the fans and media is not enough of a reason. Mickey Callaway has proven that.

Alderson is being blamed for the roster construction and the perceived dilapidation of the organization in general, but Ricco and Ricciardi were present and had a significant amount of sway for the entire time Alderson was there. Minaya was the GM who oversaw the rise and fall of the Mets from 2005-10. Can any one of the three make a case that he is the one who should be entrusted to fix this?

This goes beyond picking a new GM who is salable to the fans and has a background and clearly delineated plan. Because they have already stated their intention to contend in 2019, a new GM who might have wanted to trade away deGrom, Syndergaard and any other player of value to boost the farm system, clear some salary and reboot has already been told before interviewing that there will not be a rebuild. Right there, it puts a potential GM at a disadvantage as he will be walking in with parameters and residue from past failures rather than a clean slate.

Wilpon is another issue. He trusted Alderson enough to leave him alone as much as Wilpon leaves any of his underlings alone, but he had two decades of experience in the game from about every perspective a front office person can have. He’d earned the benefit of the doubt. While Ricco is liked within the organization, the first instinct Wilpon will have is to tighten his grip, not loosen it. Add in Ricco’s poor showing thus far as the team spokesman and it cannot work.

The beneficial aspect to the Mets slide toward what will be close to 100 losses is the urgency to act and willingness to change. It will spark the necessary action of hiring a veteran baseball man with experience and flexibility to adapt. Working the owner is part of the job. With none of the three current baseball men running the club capable of doing it, it is vital they find someone from outside – someone to be the baseball CEO; someone who knows what the hell he’s doing.

Mets trade candidates: Will they stay or will they go?

MLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Uncategorized

Syndergaard

With Manny Machado the first star name to be traded with just shy of two weeks before the non-waiver trade deadline, let’s look at the New York Mets trade candidates, who will stay and who will go.

WILL BE MOVED

Jeurys Familia

It is a certainty that Familia will be traded. Even if the Mets have an eye on re-signing him, it makes zero sense to retain him for the remainder of this season. They are not making the qualifying offer for a closer so they cannot even make the “draft pick” argument to retain him. They’re not crawling back into playoff contention. There’s no point in keeping him.

Like almost every closer in baseball today, Familia is occasionally shaky. He loses the strike zone and is prone to the longball. However, he does have a predominately successful postseason resume and his fastball is reaching the upper-90s again. There should be a good return for Familia of perhaps two top 10 prospects from an interested organization.

Asdrubal Cabrera

Cabrera will also be traded. Another player who would not receive a qualifying offer from the Mets, he is having a “sing for his supper” season with 17 homers, and an .824 OPS as he heads toward offseason free agency. He has remained on the field for the entire season and would be a solid addition to a contender as a second or third baseman. With that pending free agency, he would not complain about being shifted back to third, opening the door for multiple teams.

They’re not getting a giant return for Cabrera, but a reasonable expectation would be mimicking the Curtis Granderson for Jacob Rhame deal from 2017. Rhame has struggled, but has a promising arm.

Jerry Blevins

Blevins has been miscast as a pure lefty specialist by manager Mickey Callaway. As he too heads for free agency and with a proven track record as a dependable reliever despite his poor results in 2018, the Mets will still not get much for him – a low-level minor leaguer probably outside of a club’s top 15 prospects – but teams will have interest and he will be sent to the middle of a pennant race. Perhaps a landing spot is back where he began his major-league career in Oakland with the surprising Athletics.

MIGHT BE MOVED

Zack Wheeler

The Mets are in a difficult spot with Wheeler. Although his injury history and penchant for losing the strike zone are problematic, he has hit a groove under Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland that is clearly giving the organization pause before dealing him when he finally appears to have figured it out.

The offers on the table for him should predicate their next move. If it is a return that surpasses a potential 2020 draft pick from a rejected qualifying offer when he hits free agency after 2019, they should pull the trigger. Short of that, maybe they’re better-served to retain him and hope his evolution is legitimate.

Wilmer Flores

Flores is a free agent after 2019 and it’s difficult to discern whether he’s playing first base regularly because the club is showcasing him or that they have seen more than enough of Dominic Smith to realize that Smith is not the answer and Flores should be playing ahead of him regardless of Smith’s status as a first-round draft pick, service time and trade considerations.

Flores has two positions: first base or DH. With the talk that the DH may be coming to the National League sooner rather than later and Flores’s still untapped 30-home run power and history of late-game heroics, unless it’s an offer too good to refuse, the Mets should hold onto him.

Devin Mesoraco

Mesoraco has acquitted himself well since joining the Mets in exchange for Matt Harvey. Teams might be interested in him via trade. There is an argument that since so many entities insist that based on the numbers Kevin Plawecki is a serviceable starting catcher, the Mets should open the door to play Plawecki every day for the remainder of the season to get a better gauge on him by moving Mesoraco.

A free agent at the end of the season, there is no qualifying offer attached to him – not that the Mets would offer it anyway – so he’ll get a job for 2019. Given the sorry state of the catching market, he could end up back with the Mets. The return would be light, so it makes little sense to trade him.

Jose Bautista

Bautista has rejuvenated himself sufficiently with the home runs, walks and defensive versatility that the Mets could get a middling prospect for him. If that is the case, they need to pull the trigger and likely will.

99.9% WILL NOT BE TRADED

Jacob deGrom

Much of the chatter comes from agenda-driven media outlets and from deGrom’s own representatives.

None other than Michael Kay came up with a Twitter-based poll with shocking results straight out of North Korea or the MAGA/Fox News wing of the Republican party that Mets fans would be fine with trading deGrom to the crosstown Yankees.

Columnists are pushing the idea under the pretense that the Mets can immediately replenish their farm system with a bounty of prospects. While true, it’s also a storyline that generates a lot of web hits, shares and retweets. Just because this is a fact does not mean they should do it.

For his part, deGrom expressed his desire to remain with the Mets, but his agent created a controversy over the All-Star break saying that if the Mets are not willing to sign him to a contract extension now, perhaps they should trade him.

It’s all noise. The Mets are under no obligation to trade him because deGrom has no bargaining power. He’s not a free agent until after 2020. If he says, “Trade me.” The Mets can say, “No.”

And that’s the end of that.

Financially, deGrom would certainly like the security of a $100 million deal or more, but he’ll get $12 million to $15 million in arbitration for 2019. For someone like deGrom, it’s unlikely that he’s a guy who wastes his money frivolously; nor is he Curt Schilling believing that he’s going to be a billionaire with cockamamie schemes.

If the Mets are planning on hiring an outsider as GM, it makes no sense to trade deGrom before knowing what the new GM’s plan is. A caveat is that the question of what the prospective GM wants to do with deGrom et, al. will be asked during the interview process. If the GM wants to trade deGrom and Jeff Wilpon doesn’t, that person is not getting the job. Ultimately, it’s up to ownership. Based on that, they will not want to trade a good soldier who brings fans to the park and is one of baseball’s best pitchers.

The only scenario in which deGrom will be traded is if there is a deal on the table that is so lucrative that the team making the trade will be savaged for it. It’s certainly possible, however unlikely.

Noah Syndergaard

Most of the same factors that apply to deGrom also apply to Syndergaard. That said, there is a slightly better chance that Syndergaard is moved than deGrom. The return would be nearly identical because Syndergaard’s injury history and that he’s not having the all-world year deGrom is will be mitigated by him being four years younger and having an extra year of team control. Syndergaard has expressed his desire to stay just as deGrom has, but Syndergaard’s position sounds more like “this is what I’m supposed to say” than the squeaky-clean deGrom. Syndergaard has more of an edge to him.

Regarding both pitchers, if the Mets are truly intent on doing a quick spin and contending in 2019, then they need to retain deGrom and Syndergaard. Presumably, they know that.

Steven Matz/Seth Lugo/Robert Gsellman

All three would bring back a good return, but it makes precious little sense to trade them when there has been a stated intent to contend in 2019 and they’re part of the solution, not part of the problem.

The Mets tri-headed interim GM and how it might go

MLB, Uncategorized

RicciardiRiccominaya

Sandy Alderson’s decision to step away from his role as New York Mets general manager has left the organization with a tri-headed replacement in the form of his assistants John Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya. With the organization in its familiar position of disarray tinged with predictable disappointment, the remainder of the 2018 season will be dedicated not just to assessing the product on the field, but in the front office as well.

Presumably, the Mets will have a more extensive search once the season is over.

There are a few things to remember here. First, the Wilpons are insular and do not like hiring outsiders. Alderson was an exception and they seemingly had not choice. He quickly became part of the Mets “family”.

Second, the organization is attentive if not outright vulnerable to fan anger, media entreaties and, most importantly, ticket sales.

Third, any executive who walks in thinking he or she will be the final say authority and operate without oversight from ownership will be hit in the gut with a figurative sledgehammer the first time an acceptable trade offer is made for a player the Wilpons don’t want to move and who they believe sells those tickets.

While the Wilpons are being criticized for the above issues as well as Jeff Wilpon’s statement interpreted as him asserting his power as having final say authority, it’s important to realize that he’s the owner and every operations head must answer to ownership. Bill Belichick, Theo Epstein, Billy Beane, Brian Cashman, Andrew Friedman, Jeff Luhnow, Gregg Popovich – all of them – must get approval before pulling the trigger. Some are accorded more leeway and freedom than others, but there’s no absolute power granted to what is, for all intents and purposes, a high-level employee who is still an employee.

This must all be factored in.

As for the three voices who will be running the Mets, there is an endless series of questions that need to be asked such as who do opposing teams call with a proposal? Who makes the assessments and how? Will there be a window for other executives to call GM 2 and GM 3 if GM 1 doesn’t give the answer they want? The foundation for paralysis is vast, but this is the Mets, so things might not be all that much different than they were before apart from Alderson not being there to willingly bear the brunt of that dysfunction.

John Ricco began his baseball career with the commissioner’s office and joined the Mets in 2004. His career trajectory somewhat mimics Alderson’s in that he was an outsider who came into baseball and to the Mets almost by accident. He has familiarity with the numbers and the intelligence to understand and deploy them without reverting to them as a crutch. There’s no ego where he’ll ensure that everyone is aware that he’s in charge and garner credit even for that which was lucky or was someone else’s idea.

In the negative sense, when teams make a change from one boss to another, the succession of number two to number one often fails. Perhaps Ricco is too similar to Alderson in temperament and personality to be the change the club needs.

If the Mets do not hire an outsider, Ricco is the heir apparent but will be more of a front man and calming voice to assess the situation and make a rational decision. He’s well-spoken and has the lawyerly skills to say something without saying anything and that, more than most other attributes, is how the GM job is done today.

J.P. Ricciardi was a minor-league player for the Mets and his relationship with Beane extended to working in the Oakland A’s front office before he was plucked from his role as a middling executive to become the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays. His time with the Blue Jays was tumultuous not for deals he made or didn’t make, but for his complete lack of a filter when speaking to the media, fans and even the players. He had public disagreements with Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Adam Dunn and Shea Hillenbrand to name a few. To his credit, when he’s asked a question, he’s giving an answer and it’s certainly not in the GM double-speak that is designed to say absolutely nothing. For someone listed at 5’8”, he’s fearless. It’s easy to envision him getting into a traffic dispute with someone the size of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, shoving him and saying, “Hey man, you wanna go? Let’s go!!!” Of course, he’d get killed. And that’s the problem.

His “say whatever comes to mind” style and pugnacious nature as baseball boss didn’t work in Toronto and it’s not going to work in New York.

Omar Minaya does not seem to want to be a GM again. When he was rehired to be an assistant to Alderson in spring training – supposedly by Fred Wilpon himself – there was an over-the-top reaction as if the Mets were usurping and undermining the baseball operations staff with an unwanted interloper. That might have been true if Minaya was that type of person who is interested in himself and triangulating his position to gain power any way he can get it.

He’s not that guy.

Minaya is a very nice man with a keen scouting eye. He loves the Mets organization and has been loyal to the Wilpons for years. His time as GM from late 2004 through 2010 was notable for the rapid rebuild from laughingstock to a club on the verge of a World Series win two years later. Then, his short-term strategies of buying stars degenerated into desperation to patch together a deteriorating foundation. Some of the trades he made – for Carlos Delgado, Duaner Sanchez and John Maine – were outright heists. Like a European football (soccer) manager, he buys stars.

Ironically, Minaya’s best Mets teams were ahead of their time in having a lineup filled with guys who hit the ball out of the park; a strong defense; a mediocre starting rotation; and a deep and diverse bullpen. This is how most top-level clubs are built today. Because he falls into the category of old-school and doesn’t have reams of stats detailing why he’s making the moves he does and is not a relentless self-promoter, he does not get the credit for building a team that the stat guys would admire and laud had it been built by one of “them” because he’s decidedly not one of them. Therefore, it lacks the purity they seek in a sabermetrically-constructed club.

Regardless of where the Mets go after the season, there are major issues to addressed in the short term. While Alderson would most certainly have had the nerve to trade Jacob deGrom and/or Noah Syndergaard if it got to that point, the Wilpons okayed it and a deal too good to refuse was on the table, the current structure makes it implausible that such deals will take place. The same holds true for potentially valuable disappointments Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith. No giant housecleaning deals will be made in-season and they’re not gutting the club down to its exoskeleton after the season. Expect pending free agents Jeurys Familia, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jerry Blevins to be on the move. Apart from that, this season will be dedicated to looking at their young players, making judgments, deciding who stays and who goes and leaving it to the next GM whether that’s someone who’s with the organization now or not.

No Joking Allowed With the Mets

Ballparks, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, Players, Playoffs, World Series

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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The Wilpons Are Going Nowhere, Part II—Evil Fred

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It’s time to stop with the “yeah buts” and come to the realization that the Wilpons are more resourceful than they’ve been given credit for. Fred Wilpon didn’t get rich by being stupid and the money they’re borrowing, while viewed as a desperate lifeline with the opportunity to pay down a debt that’s set to rise exponentially in 2014, is a daily business endeavor for people who have the money to purchase a sports franchise in the first place. If a person owes the banks hundreds of millions of dollars, it benefits neither the banks nor the borrower if there’s a default. In fact, it’s a disaster. Therefore it behooves the Wilpon creditors to help them, and if that means providing a loan at favorable terms and the Wilpons borrowing against SNY, then that’s what they’re going to do. It’s easier to assist the current owner than it would be to stage a liquidation or for MLB to force them to sell the Mets.

Since the Bernie Madoff swindle was exposed, there’s been an overt attempt to display the Wilpons in an unfavorable light by tossing everything that’s happened to them personally and with their ballclub into one giant Dutch oven and somehow concoct a palatable meal with ingredients that don’t mesh.

When they backed out of the agreed upon deal with David Einhorn they were “being the Wilpons.” Actually, the deal was unfavorable to them as Einhorn wanted significant say-so in the operations of the club and preapproval as majority owner. With Einhorn being so aggressive, the relationship was doomed to end with a power struggle for control of the club and it was a battle that the Wilpons, still trying to find their financial equilibrium, would probably not be in shape to win. They were wise to pull out from it when they had the opportunity to do so.

Steve Cohen and Jim McCann were buying their way in? Both have questionable histories in their business lives with Cohen employees investigated and arrested for insider trading and McCann’s 1-800-Flowers operation accused of overcharging customers.

Is it the people or is it the businesses they’re involved in that leaves them ripe for financial mistakes that, to the layman, would view as “illegal” or “wrong”? I have no idea what Cohen and McCann were up to. Perhaps they knew what was happening with their companies and perhaps they didn’t. Either way, it’s ridiculous to link that with Wilpon involvement. Because these people were investing in the Mets, it was equated into the Wilpons being at fault as if they’re supposed to comb over every little instance in a friend/potential business partner’s past before accepting his or her money to be a partial owner of the club.

Bill Maher bought his way in as well and he’s a controversial, potty-mouthed, unabashedly left wing political commentator and comedian who likes to smoke pot. Does that mean that Fred Wilpon is sitting in Maher’s Jacuzzi with a group of strippers and getting high? Given the nature of the attacks against the Mets owners, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the implication.

All that’s missing is the ominous music in the background, Fred and Jeff Wilpon walking in slow motion, and a ludicrous connection from so far in outer space that people believe it because it’s so asinine.

Every huge business with tentacles flowing all over and poking multiple pies on numerous platforms will have circumstances that don’t look quite right. Sometimes that’s intentional and sometimes it’s not.

In opposition to the obvious accusations of graft that accompanied Frank McCourt’s tenure as Dodgers owner in which MLB essentially shoved him out the door as bankruptcy filings indicated that he was possibly taking money from the club to maintain a lavish lifestyle like some sort of Beverly Hillbilly, the Wilpons are well-liked by the other owners in baseball and Fred Wilpon is close with Commissioner Bud Selig. Selig, if he could help it, wasn’t going to take steps to force the Wilpons out. Perhaps it was friendship or perhaps it was that Selig and his inner circle people examined the Wilpons’ plans and understood that if they settled the Madoff lawsuit with trustee Irving Picard, regained some of the money they lost, and got their array of businesses back on solid financial footing, then they could do as they just did and secure a loan to have more cash available to spend on the team.

While the easy decision is to take that money and purchase cosmetic upgrades, given the manner in which GM Sandy Alderson and his staff have gone about rebuilding the farm system and swiped top prospects from the Giants (Zack Wheeler) for the soon-to-be-free agent Carlos Beltran in the summer of 2011 and Blue Jays (Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard) for R.A. Dickey, it would make little sense to spend for the sake of it. There are players out on the market that can help the Mets, but the strength of the NL East and their own weaknesses makes it risky to even part with a second round draft pick as compensation plus pay the amount of long term dollars it will to get a Michael Bourn. The Mets could use Bourn, but is it worth it at his agent Scott Boras’s current requests? No.

The important fact is, though, that they can do something significant with the money available. This team isn’t far away from contention. With the young pitching they’ve accumulated; their new young catcher with All-Star potential d’Arnaud; David Wright having re-upped to stay long-term; the pitching and Ike Davis, they’re on the verge of taking the next step.

It has to be remembered that the Madoff nightmare began in December of 2008 when the contending Mets from 2006-2008 were on the downside of that cycle. It took another two years for the entire apparatus to come down completely with Omar Minaya fired and a new regime—with the aforementioned limited funds and mandate to rebuild the farm system—in place with Alderson.

Five year plans are five year plans for a reason. It takes at least three to get rid of the dead weight (Jason Bay); change the template of how they find players; draft well and let the young players develop; and to alter the perception of the team as a dead-end, transforming it into a destination that players will welcome rather than use because they were traded there or have no other choice.

It’s hard to remember, but there was a time that no one wanted to go to the Phillies, the Dodgers, the Yankees, the Red Sox. Things change.

No matter when the club finally turns the corner, the Wilpons will be the owners of the team. They’re going nowhere. By the time 2014 rolls around (or even 2013 if the young pitching comes along faster than expected), no one’s going to say a word about the ownership since the on-field product will make the Mets fans and fans in general forget that Bernie Madoff even existed and the media members whose agendas are all-too-clear will run out of places to put the goalposts to salvage their predictions—few of which have come to pass.

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Jeff Wilpon’s Lesson: Never Answer Questions

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Would the reaction to Jeff Wilpon be any different had he chosen not to respond to questions about David Wright and R.A. Dickey? If Wilpon, who was in Far Rockaway along with Matt Harvey giving away meals to victims of Hurricane Sandy, had uttered “no comment” to the questions about the club, then that would’ve been the story. He chose to answer and now it’s become more fodder for the franchise its own fans use as a punching bag, a sadomasochistic device, and an exercise in self-mutilation like running to the bathroom to cut themselves and covering it up with a Mets wristband.

Why is it okay for the Red Sox to clear out their entire house at mid-season to give themselves the oft-repeated buzzword “financial flexibility”; for the Diamondbacks to listen to offers on Justin Upton; that the Rays are always open for business on every player under their employ; the A’s do bizarre things and dump all their highly paid players like the Marlins just did, but Billy Beane at the time was still called “smarter than the average bear”, yet the Mets can’t merely mention the word “trade” without it turning into another indictment of the franchise and prophecies of doom that both Wright and Dickey are essentially gone?

No one knows what’s going to happen. Even supposed “insiders” are constantly getting their facts wrong or are twisting what they know to suit editorial edicts in order to forward the storyline that the Mets are in familiar disarray to spur conversation, webhits, and the circular entity of the 24-hour news cycle.

The Orioles were considered a joke until 2012 when, all of a sudden, it’s not such a bad place anymore because they had a shockingly great year; no longer is there the ridicule of their decision to pluck Dan Duquette from oblivion and install him as their GM and players are willing to go to Baltimore for more than just one final payday from a desperate franchise.

In the aftermath of Beane’s winter overhaul/gutting in 2011 when the Athletics traded away every recognizable player and walked away with a haul of prospects, they suddenly found themselves making the playoffs.

The Angels were considered the go-to franchise for top-to-bottom cohesion, and now look totally dysfunctional and clinging to the past with Mike Scioscia and the future with Jerry Dipoto not even reading the same book, let alone on the same page.

And the Red Sox, whose decline from what they were in the winter of 2010-2011 to where they are now doesn’t even warrant the word “plummet”.

Teams spend. Teams save. Teams sign and trade. They dispatch and allow stars to leave. This past season proved that no combination of these is a precursor to winning or losing regardless of what outsider “experts” believe.

No matter what the Mets decide, it’s hard to foresee them receiving more punishment than they currently do, so why shouldn’t they have every option on the table including trades of Wright and Dickey now or at mid-season? Fans and critics have to accept this truth: the Wilpons are not selling the team; they are still digging their way through the financial mess the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme created; and the team is being rebuilt. Whether or not that includes Wright or Dickey is neither here nor there and the team would be remiss by not having every single option on the table. A trade is on that table whether the word is uttered or not.

Wilpon was asked a question and he answered it. That’s all it was.

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Bet On the Wilpons Surviving and Thriving

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I’m ambivalent about the Wilpons settling their part in the Madoff lawsuit.

All along, I was relatively disinterested in the entire episode. The circumstances were what they were and once the trial was completed, then the direction of the Mets would be determined. Because they were so badly hurt by the Madoff Ponzi scheme, the money that was once available to the Mets to pursue players was no longer there; they were forced to scour the bargain bins and deal away veterans Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran while sitting by haplessly and avoiding any bidding war for big free agent names that, given their on-field state, likely wouldn’t have come to the Mets under any circumstances apart from the Mets being the highest bidder. (See Jason Bay.)

Now that the lawsuit is over (and you can find details of the settlement here on NYTimes.com), it’s become clear that the supposed experts didn’t know any more about the nitty gritty of these types of deals than the media/social media would-be experts who were lending their opinions regarding issues about which they knew nothing.

Yes, the sources and “experts” might have information and insight about the law and the financial world, but that information and insight stemmed from personal experience and not from what they were privy to in terms of information as to what the Wilpons’ strategy was going to be to save themselves.

In the end, the Wilpons chose to settle and for now they’ve bought themselves time with what wound up as, by all accounts, a very favorable deal considering the alternatives.

What we’re presented with from those who provide commentary to the reporters telling the story is something to the tune of factoids that are kindasorta true, but only true from their point-of-view. These are not absolute facts like in a math/science problem that’s been solved; they’re interpretations.

I don’t recall reading or seeing anyone suggesting that the Wilpons were going to be able to settle the case and save themselves. Every outcome ended with them having to sell the franchise because their financial footing was no longer viable.

Look where they are now.

As much as the context is provided that the case was settled and their creditors are off their backs for the time being, there are ongoing doom and gloom revelations about the bonds that funded the building of Citi Field; the loans to the banks due on the club and SNY; and how the Wilpons are still in dire financial straits.

“X loan with Y bank of $400 million comes due on <THIS> day.”

“The bond interest payments must begin late in the year <BLANK>.”

“They’re still going to put a subpar product on the field because they don’t have the money to pay for players.”

Don’t buy it.

The Wilpons didn’t get rich being stupid.

Guilt, innocence or willfull blindness no longer matter because they settled the case and put themselves in a great position to end up retaining control of the franchise.

I said long ago that the Wilpons and Saul Katz had to know what was going on with Madoff, but there might’ve been a “don’t tell me what I don’t want to know” aspect of the gains they were making with the disgraced swindler.

They didn’t ask. Madoff didn’t tell. And everyone rolled merrily along.

Then Madoff got caught and the Mets were in the middle of the cesspool.

What the chroniclers of the case and the Wilpon-bashers have failed to account for is how smart the Wilpons are. They didn’t get rich being dumb or lucky and they’ve hired lawyers whose specialty is extricating their clients from situations just like these and helping them maintain their businesses and positions.

What I find funny (ha-ha and sad) is that a bunch of non-financial, non-lawyerly reporters felt that they were somehow qualified to provide commentary on issues that they probably only had a baseline understanding of and were simply regurgitating what they were told by “experts” and believed everything that was said because they had neither the aptitude nor the education to question what was being offered as what “would” happen in this lawsuit.

The settlement was pragmatic and smart and you can bet that the Wilpons are going to figure a way to keep control of the franchise when the loan payments become onerous by refinancing and extending the timeframe in which they have to pay.

What this means to the Mets and how they’re going to move forward remains to be seen. Will Sandy Alderson stay? Will the Mets examine a contract extension to keep David Wright past 2013? And what’s going to happen if and when all the decisions they made due to financial constraints wind up being seen as a net positive (a term that became familiar during the lawsuit) because the Mets couldn’t continue tossing bad money after bad money in a self-destructive attempt to placate angry fans and overpay for players who weren’t going to help them one way or the other?

They’ve cleared some players they no longer needed and are moving in the direction of paying players what they’re worth rather than giving them a large contract to keep pace with the big spenders in baseball. Letting Jose Reyes leave could eventually be seen as a smart and lucky baseball decision. They’re concentrating on development and giving their own young players a chance to play.

In a few years, we might one day look back at this and say something to the tune of, “The Madoff mess actually led the Mets back to prominence because of the seeds that were planted out of necessity because there was no money to buy ready made players.”

The Wilpons survived mostly because they, their lawyers and advisers are smarter than you.

Don’t think they’re not preparing to get their other financial ducks in a row, because they are.

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Joke Or Not, If Alderson’s Unhappy, He Should Leave

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To the best of my knowledge the Mets aren’t paying Sandy Alderson with IOUs from one ply peeled from two-ply pieces of toilet paper.

Nor are the checks written in the penmanship of someone right-handed trying to write left-handed and signed, “Jeff’s Dad” as if Jeff Wilpon were trying to pay Alderson with whatever’s left of his dad’s teetering financial empire.

Alderson’s being paid in real money and he’s being paid a lot of it.

Alderson has decided, as he’s making his way to spring training, to start a Twitter account. The first tweet was either a badly worded or misunderstood joke or a shot at the Mets’ paucity of funds.

Under the handle MetsGM, Alderson said:

Getting ready for Spring Training-Driving to FL but haven’t left yet. Big fundraiser tonight for gas money. Also exploring PAC contribution.

Whether it was an attempt at comedy or a legitimate kick at the fact that he doesn’t have any money to spend, he’s oblivious if he didn’t realize that saying that would be construed as a negative toward his employer.

Can you imagine one of George Steinbrenner’s GMs saying something like this and still being the GM the following day?

Or Vince Lombardi so openly disparaging a team that he tried to craft into the epitome of professionalism and year-round proper representation of the Green Bay Packers?

It wouldn’t happen because there was a baseline, known code of conduct of what would and wouldn’t be acceptable from any and all employees of their teams.

Alderson was a Marine and should understand that even if the Secretary of the Navy is from a different party as the President or disagrees with policy, he’s not going to publicly say something so negative—even in a joking context—about his bosses or his branch.

Alderson was a lawyer and a respected GM for the first decade of his career with the Athletics. Then, when he moved to the forefront, his own personality came to light.

Along with the resume of being Vietnam veteran and well-spoken military man and adaptive, intuitive corporate lawyer, there’s another side to Alderson—a snarky, credit-seeking and obnoxious side that has reared its head repeatedly.

As GM of the Athletics, Alderson’s success was tied to two things: money and Tony LaRussa. When the A’s spent money under Alderson and were managed by the Hall of Famer LaRussa, they won. When the money dried up, they slowly declined; then LaRussa left and the team came apart.

Alderson went to the Padres, behaved like a capricious tyrant and created factions that were beholden to him to craft an aura of dysfunction where everyone was looking over their shoulders for someone holding a knife.

It’s been this way in every job he’s undertaken since and is now happening again with the Mets.

Whether he wanted the Mets job (and it certainly appeared he did when he was interviewing for it) or took it as a favor to Bud Selig is irrelevant. He took the job and is being compensated heavily for it. He’s gotten everything he wanted including the high-priced hirings of his lieutenants Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi. He hired the manager he wanted in Terry Collins. If he had a load of money at his disposal, there’s no guarantee he would’ve wanted to spend it on Jose Reyes because it’s never been his modus operandi to invest so much money in a player who relies on speed and doesn’t get on base.

But that’s neither here nor there.

The circumstances with the team are what they are, financially and practically.

Financially, ownership is under siege from a lawsuit that they claim is doling out blame and holding them accountable for transgressions that they are not guilty of committing.

That will be settled in time and the Wilpons will either find a way to maintain control of the team or sell it.

Alderson may or may not be the GM of the new owner; he may or may not remain as the GM if the Wilpons retain control.

Practically, even if there was a ton of money available, the free agent market was such that the Mets were unlikely to dive deeply into it to bring in enough talent to compete in a loaded division. The farm system needed to be rebuilt and the big league club overhauled. In actuality, the Madoff trial is giving them the built-in excuse to refurbish the club correctly—something I would think Alderson would embrace to put a club together devoid of the $200 million superstar since those contracts almost inevitably become onerous by year four or five.

That too is secondary to the perception of the team.

On the one hand, okay, it’s a joke; on the other, he’s the GM and shouldn’t be openly attacking his club even in jest. If you’re the GM of the team and there’s even a split-second hesitation as to how a joke is going to be interpreted, then it shouldn’t be said. Once it has to be explained, it was a bad joke.

If it was a subtle attempt to say publicly what he says in starker terms privately; if Alderson is unhappy with the money at his disposal; if he doesn’t like working for the Wilpons; if he took the Mets job only as a favor to Selig; if he wants out and is being passive aggressive to get that information into the public sphere, then he should resign and stop taking the Wilpons’ money to be the GM of the club.

This type of stuff is why they’re the “Mets”. I don’t mean the Mets organization. I mean an adjective for a punchline of whatever can go wrong, will go wrong and that the employees—even in the upper reaches of the hierarchy—are willing to make negative and embarrassing comments to highlight that fact.

Done with appropriately hideous timing befitting the “Mets”, while the team across town is enduring their own humiliating scandals involving their GM Brian Cashman and his bevy of girlfriends and divorce, one of whom was apparently stalking him, Alderson decided—as seems to be the Mets wont—to make the Mets the butt of evening gossip and laughter. For the titular head of the baseball operations, someone whose conduct and skills in dealing with the media and manipulating the language to prevent such a thing from happening, it was a stupid and inappropriate comment to make. Former GM Omar Minaya’s biggest fault was crisis control and a lack of skill with the language, but I have no recollection of him saying something like this about his employers.

The Mets are not going to stop being a joke until they cease treating themselves as a joke. It comes from a clear set of rules that are adhered to from the simplicity of wearing a coat and tie when traveling on the road to not criticizing the organization.

From the time of Alderson’s hiring, I said that the Mets have to cease the practice of acting as if any star player who joins the organization is doing them a favor; that any and every player they currently have is here out of desperate necessity rather than out of a business agreement between parties. Until the Mets make the conscious decision to stop laughing at themselves, why should anyone else hesitate to laugh at them?

If there are people within the current organizational structure who don’t want to be part of the Mets, then they should leave. When I said it 15 months ago, I was referring to the players. But it also applies to the GM.

If Sandy Alderson doesn’t want to be part of the Mets, then he should go. They’ll get someone else.

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