Fred Wilpon, The Mets, “The” Truth And “A” Truth

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I’m waiting for the inevitable conspiracy theories to morph into absurd leaps of logic. How about something fictional to the tune of, “Jenrry Mejia’s actual identity is Jose Luis Madoff Alvarado and is the product of a love affair between Bernie Madoff and the daughter of a shady business associate in the Dominican Republic 28 years ago,”?

A great fake story can be crafted from Mejia’s current situation to link the ancillary and unconnected drama surrounding the Mets. Reality doesn’t enter into the equation. It’s the story that’s important. Here’s a good plotline: There’s a holdup with Mejia getting his visa to report to spring training. Other players have used fake names to get signed. The Mets were involved heavily with Bernie Madoff. Fred Wilpon is a pathological liar and/or a delusional elderly man—the pieces fit!!!

Except they don’t.

With Wilpon’s press session yesterday inviting agenda-laden questioning of his personal finances in relation to the Mets, the story has legs for a few days. Bolstered by the club’s continued lack of spending, Wilpon’s statement that the financial problems are subsiding and GM Sandy Alderson is free to spend money if he deems it appropriate is inviting eyebrow-raised glances and “yeah, buts”—NY Times Story.

Is the decision to again stay out of the free agent market linked to financial limitations or are they adhering to a plan to clear the decks of dead contracts, rebuild through the draft to put in place a strong foundation, and buy pieces to fill needs rather than create splashy headlines? Does it matter? Do we need answers?

Regardless of the “why,” this is what they’re doing. The strategy is highlighted in the aftermath of the Mets deciding not to give Michael Bourn a fifth year option while simultaneously surrendering the 11th pick in the draft to get a pretty good player and placate an angry fanbase, possibly severely hindering the future—sort of what the Mets did for years under Steve Phillips, Jim Duquette and Omar Minaya—and wallowing in the mess they were in for most of the previous decade-plus.

Signing Bourn would have been a mirror image of mortgaging the future for the present and doing so in a manner that would reverberate for years to come. Bourn was not worth the 11th pick in the draft. If Bourn were in the draft now, he wouldn’t be picked that high. When he was drafted by the Phillies in 2003, it wasn’t until the fourth round, so the Mets were supposed to willingly give up that high a pick in a spot where Andrew McCutchen and Max Scherzer were selected?

The Mets could use Bourn, but not at that price especially with Jacoby Ellsbury set to be a free agent after the 2013 season and Shin-Soo Choo also to be available.

I’m not a defender of the Wilpons. I don’t see how it’s possible that they didn’t realize there was something fishy with the Madoff returns. If the money kept rolling in, why ask questions you don’t want the answer to? Did they suspect? They must have. Did they want to know the answer if they asked? Definitely not. But these half-baked predictions of the Wilpon demise—presented by self-styled soothsayers using partial truths hidden under the pretense of research, extrapolations and an end in mind to foresee a cloudy future—have been consistently wrong.

There wasn’t supposed to be a settlement in the Picard lawsuit. There was.

They weren’t supposed to maintain control of the team. They did.

They would be forced into bankruptcy. They weren’t.

They couldn’t afford to keep David Wright. He’s a Met for the next decade.

How many times are we going to have ironclad statements of what “will” happen be wrong before stepping back and accepting that regardless of intentional ambiguity in what’s said, the Wilpons are going nowhere and the Mets’ finances do indicate that they’ll be able to spend on players in the coming year.

This constant digging for evidence against the Wilpons is similar to rehashing the O.J. Simpson murder trial or the Kennedy assassination. It’s over. No one’s going to be prosecuted; no crime will be proved; and the investigation has ended. Independent to irrelevant facts or fiction, the Mets will have money to spend on better free agents than Bourn after this season; they’ve accumulated young pitching talent they haven’t had since the 1980s; and they’ve done precisely what Alderson set out to do in the first three years of the rebuild.

Wilpon’s meeting with the media presents an opportunity to revive a meaningless past and allows the aforementioned investigative reporters and analysts to twist what he says into a new attempt to be retrospectively “right.” But “right” is in the eye of the beholder.

Are the Mets not spending or are they not spending stupidly? There’s a fine but important line between the two. No matter how they got to this point, it was for the best. Had they stuck to the road they were on, there would be more bloated contracts for aging players, fewer prospects, and a longer and increasingly difficult path to getting younger and better—if they ever decided to do that at all. The “why” deserves a shrug as a response. Much like the media experts can subtly alter their facts to suit a designed narrative, so can Wilpon. It’s all a matter of point-of-view.

“The” truth will never be fully known. “A” truth is what we have and it varies based on who’s listening.

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The Bourn Destination

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The Bourn Destination isn’t another change to the film adaptations of the Robert Ludlum series of books with protagonist Jason Bourne played by Matt Damon, then the new character, Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Renner. The spelling is different and Michael Bourn, while having attributes of his own, doesn’t possess the sets of skills, kills and thrills that the fictional Bourne characters do. Locations are being scouted and New York is under consideration, but in the end, it’s not going to happen.

Michael Bourn is more of a background character/sidekick than a headliner. Given that he’s the biggest name available on the free agent market and had his career season in 2012, he’s become a “star” by attrition. The teams that are willing to pay him what agent Scott Boras is asking (said to be $15 million per year for at least five years) are nonexistent.

The prevailing storyline has Bourn and the Mets flirting with one another, but this is contingent on Bourn’s price and contract duration coming down significantly and no other team jumping in at the last minute to take him away from the Mets. I wrote about the Mets and Bourn here. There are arguments for both sides of signing him and walking away, but like the Mets failed pursuit of Vladimir Guerrero in 2004, the interest is legitimate and the determination to get a good deal will preclude them from getting the player.

In the end, the Rangers are the most likely landing spot for Bourn.

The holdup for the Mets is no longer money. It’s the draft pick compensation. The Mets, rightfully, don’t want to trade the 11th pick of the first round of the upcoming draft for Bourn. Some will see this as an excuse not to pay him and that they’re using the public, vulture-like circling around Bourn and Boras as a means to excite the fans while hoping that the dominoes fall in place where the Mets can actually get him cheaply. GM Sandy Alderson is playing poker, putting it out there that the Mets are serious about Bourn and that they can seal the deal on their terms.

Under the Wilpons and then-GM Jim Duquette in 2003-2004, the Mets tried a similar strategy with Guerrero as his market was crashing due to a back injury that made clubs reluctant to guarantee him the five years he wanted. For days it was expected that the Mets would get Guerrero at favorable terms (three years with incentives raising it to five). The Orioles were also in the mix. The media and fans were shocked that the Angels dove in with a guaranteed five-year contract and nabbed Guerrero. It was conveniently ignored that the shy Guerrero wanted zero part of New York and was probably offended that the Mets thought they were going to swoop in and get him at a discount because of a back injury that wound up being a non-issue. Guerrero won the AL MVP in 2004 and finished third, ninth, and third again in the voting for the following three years of the deal.

In retrospect the Mets should have paid Guerrero. With Bourn, they’re pulling the same histrionics for the sake of PR with the end result—not getting the player—being the same as well.

If they want him, they need to go get him without these pretentious shows of cleverness. There isn’t a “we have to get this guy” tone with the Mets in this pursuit and Bourn isn’t that type of player. They’ll take him if he falls into their laps at the right price, but if he’s taking less money than he wants, why sign with the Mets?

The Rangers need a center fielder superior to Craig Gentry and Bourn is the logical choice. They have the money and the draft pick compensation is negligible to the Rangers since they hold the 25th pick and they will have the 34th pick as compensation for losing Josh Hamilton. We’re talking about dropping one pick nine slots before they have another pick to get a player they need to contend in 2013.

The Mets and Rangers are both waiting. But the Mets are waiting for more things—the resolution of the draft pick debate, the price to lower substantially—than the Rangers are. Bourn is from Texas, there’s no individual income tax in Texas, and the Rangers are a better team with a legitimate shot at the World Series. If he’s going to take short money, it will be from the Rangers and not the Mets.

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The Saga of Scott Kazmir

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Drafted, disciplined, traded, lionized, traded, released, finished.

The saga of Scott Kazmir is summed up neatly with that order of words.

With the news in this Jayson Stark piece on ESPN that his fastball is puttering in at 84-85 mph, he might be better-suited to begin throwing sidearm and marketing himself as a lefty specialist.

Because he was such a high-profile player and representative of so many different things—a questioned draft pick and trade; a falling star; trading a name player sooner rather than later; an attitude problem—it’s easily lost that Kazmir, with his draft status and subsequent salaries in mind, has been mostly a bust.

The Mets drafted Kazmir in 2002 and it wouldn’t have been as noteworthy had the process not been detailed in Moneyball. The Mets were going to draft Nick Swisher if Kazmir wasn’t available—and they didn’t think he would be—but he was and they took him.

In the minors, Kazmir had a reputation for swaggering arrogance and off-field mishaps. It drew the ire of the Mets’ influential veterans Al Leiter and John Franco when, in the team’s weight room, Kazmir changed their radio station and they told him to change it back.

Mets’ pitching czar Rick Peterson advocated the ill-fated trade the Mets made for Victor Zambrano in July of 2004 not because of disciplinary issues, but because of the cold, hard data that Peterson relies on in judging his charges. Zambrano would help immediately and Peterson felt that he could repair his mechanics and make him more effective; Kazmir was small, had a stressful motion and wouldn’t be a durable rotation linchpin for at least another 2-3 years and only that for a short period of time.

The Devil Rays acquired him while still being run by Chuck LaMar and brought him to the big leagues later that season. Opposing hitters were impressed and writers eagerly used the array of power stuff displayed by Kazmir to hammer the Mets decisionmakers for trading him. It was that Mets regime’s flashpoint and death knell. Zambrano went on the disabled list after three starts and the Mets came apart leading to the demotion of GM Jim Duquette in favor of Omar Minaya and the firing of manager Art Howe.

Peterson survived the purge.

Kazmir was impressive over parts of the next five seasons with his best and most durable year coming in 2007 with the rebuilding Rays. He struck out 239 hitters in 32 starts and made the All Star team. But there were warning signs. He had elbow and shoulder woes and, under the pretense of financial constraints and falling from playoff contention in August of 2009, the Rays made him available via trade.

The Angels came calling and dealt three prospects for Kazmir and the $20 million+ remaining on his contract.

In reality, the Rays saw that Kazmir was declining and an injury waiting to happen, so they dumped him and his salary and got some useful pieces in Sean Rodriguez and two minor leaguers in exchange.

Kazmir had a mysterious “back injury” in 2011 that was more likely a face-saving gesture from the Angels to let him try and straighten himself out while not enduring the embarrassment of a former All-Star being sent to the minors. While trying to come back, he got pounded in 5 minor league starts and the Angels released him.

After his release, teams considered Kazmir, but no one signed him.

As much as the Mets are rightfully criticized for that trade, it turned out that the mistake wasn’t dealing him, but what they dealt him for. Following that season, there was every possibility that they could’ve centered Kazmir around a deal for Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder or inquired about Ben Sheets. Instead, they got Zambrano; Zambrano got hurt; and there was a regime change in Flushing.

Kazmir is about done now. The next step is either have a surgery that he may or may not need to “fix” a problem that doesn’t exist and “prove” that he’s on the comeback trail and will again have that velocity and movement that made him such a coveted prospect to begin with.

My advice to Kazmir is, as I said earlier, become a sidearming lefty specialist. He’ll always have a job and might even be effective in that role.

But will his ego be able to handle it? Unless he’s remarkably stupid and wasteful, he has enough money to live the rest of his life, so it comes down to whether or not he wants to continue playing baseball.

It won’t be as an All-Star starter because that pitcher, along with the one who’s immortalized in print and perception for the right and wrong reasons, is gone forever.

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Mets Minor League Slash Adds to the Perception of Being Broke

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The Mets are dropping their single A team in Port St. Lucie of the Gulf Coast League—NY Times Blog.

In truth, the Mets eliminating one of the minor league teams isn’t that big of a deal.

Coinciding with the prevalent money issues; the upcoming Madoff trial; the $40 million bridge loan the Wilpons recently took from Bank of America; that they’ve yet to pay back the $25 million loan of a year ago from MLB itself; that they let Jose Reyes walk without a fight; and have spent little on Major League players this winter—among many other things—makes the decision to dump the single A team simply look bad.

The elimination of one of the Mets nine minor league teams isn’t going to cut enough money out of their spending that it’s going to make a significant difference to organizational finances. As the Times piece says, the Mets were one of three Major League franchises with nine affiliates; the decision, as Jim Duquette says, is more philosophical than cost-cutting. I think it’s more cost-effective to keep or expand the reach into the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and even places like Africa and the Middle-East than it is to have that extra A team with a load of players who—barring a sudden growth spurt; the discovery of a new pitch; a mechanical tweak at the plate or on the mound; or some other unforeseen stroke of luck—have almost zero chance of making it to the big leagues.

The players listed who have played in the St. Lucie affiliate are Edgardo Alfonzo, A.J. Burnett, Octavio Dotel and Jenrry Mejia; some star players—Pedro Martinez among them—have gone down there for rehab assignments.

Even if the Mets weren’t in such dire financial circumstances, they might have done this anyway.

This maneuver and the club’s financial troubles are probably independant of one another with slight, if any, connection. The baseball people don’t feel it’s a necessary outlay; as piddling as the savings will be, ownership should be happy to save a few pennies, but in the scope of the greater storm clouds hovering over the Wilpons, the money’s not going to make a difference one way or the other.

But the perception that the Mets are cutting down to the bare bones is evident and there’s no airtight defense for the allegation that they don’t have the money to run the team the way they have in the past, because they don’t.

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The Phillies And Ryan Madson—Leaks And Lies And Baseball

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Much like the Keith Law-Michael Lewis dustup over Law’s negative review of Moneyball (which was somewhat embarrassing for both parties, but was absolutely and completely hysterical), someone in the Phillies-Ryan Madson contract negotiations and reporting is lying.

First, Jon Heyman and Jim Duquette said on Twitter that the Phillies and Ryan Madson had agreed to a 4-year, $44 million contract with a $13 million.

Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports said the same thing.

Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com said the Madson camp told him there was no agreement yet and talks were ongoing.

It sounded done. And stupid.

But wait!! All contracts have to go to ownership for approval. But given the series of maniacally overpriced contracts that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has given to players like Ryan Howard along with spending big on Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and with Jimmy Rollins a free agent, team president David Montgomery didn’t sign off on what Amaro wanted to do.

Now the Madson agreement might be on the verge of collapse with Jonathan Papelbon a possibility for the Phillies.

If you believe the rumors (and I don’t) Madson could be a target for the Nationals, Rangers or Red Sox.

Madson’s been a closer for one year and that wasn’t even full-time; paying him on a level with a proven short reliever like Papelbon, Heath Bell or Francisco Rodriguez (remember him?) is idiotic.

Jayson Stark said on Twitter that Amaro called the rumors unequivocally false and that there was no agreement.

Lots of stories.

Is someone lying? Or is what most normal people would consider lying in real life—intellectually and otherwise— “just baseball” as Mike Marshall said in Ball Four?

The following is what I suspect based on my own analysis of baseball and human nature.

Ready?

Here we go:

Amaro and Boras had the parameters in place for a deal with the reported dollar figures; Boras leaked it to friendly reporters in an act of quid pro quo—they exchange information for mutual benefit; the reporters reported it and people believed it was true because it was true; all that remained was for Amaro to get approval from Montgomery—an approval that had been fait accompli in prior negotiations; but the public reaction to the contract for Madson was widespread and negative; Montgomery hesitated, understanding the ramifications of being the first team to sign a closer (who is only a semi-closer for part of a season) and spending that amount of money when the Phillies have upcoming layouts to Rollins, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Hunter Pence; he nixed the it and wondered whether that same money or slightly more could get a better and more proven reliever in Papelbon; this left Amaro in a bad position because if the deal was done and the club president turned it down, Amaro looks impotent and powerless in the organization and, worse, to his peers, media and public; and with the criticism levied as the details initially leaked, the Phillies are going to look even dumber if they still give it to him and he pitches poorly; in a face-saving maneuver, Amaro played semantics and told Stark that there was no deal—which is technically true because he needed Montgomery’s okay; and Montgomery didn’t okay it.

At this point, I highly doubt that Madson will receive that same $44 million from the Phillies and I’m sure that Boras is really, really angry.

I think Papelbon is going to wind up with the Phillies and they’ll be better because of it.

I’m not getting this from anywhere other than my own understanding of people and baseball.

You’re better off listening to me because there’s no agenda; nor is there a trade-off in play.

You know what you’re getting here, for better or worse.

Do you know with the “insiders”?

I think we both know the answer to that question.

If you’re smart, you do know what you’re getting from those with a vested interest in the proceedings and that you shouldn’t believe it because it may be twisted or false—presented as such for their own purposes.

And you’re their target.

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Mets Can’t Get Too Clever With Reyes

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This is not turning into an “all Jose Reyes, all the time” deal, but there’s much to talk about with the Mets shortstop currently back in his part-time office, the disabled list.

ESPN’s Jayson Stark discusses Reyes’s fluid situation of free agency with the latest injury factored into the equation.

Here are the main quotes:

The buzz in the business is that the Mets were prepared to offer him $100 million over five years. Maybe that would have gotten it done, hamstring pops or no hamstring pops.

But now you could see those guaranteed years shrinking — to four years, maybe even to three, with options that would vest a fifth year if he can just stay off the DL.

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But there’s another side to this argument. For one thing, the Mets can’t drop the years and dollars too low — because it would draw other clubs into the auction.

Stark brings up the paucity of big money teams that will pursue Reyes and the overall market in his posting.

I’m not thinking about Adrian Beltre or Albert Pujols or any of the clubs Stark mentions as possibly being in or out on Reyes.

I’m thinking back to Vladimir Guerrero and the Mets in 2003.

At age 28, Guerrero was a free agent with an injury that was worrisome—more worrisome in fact than Reyes’s hamstring because it was Guerrero’s back.

The Mets were interested in Guerrero and amid rumors that there was no market for him they tried to sign him to a short-term contract at a relatively cheap price with incentives ($30 million guaranteed over 3-years).

The Yankees were also supposedly considering Guerrero (and GM Brian Cashman was said to prefer Guerrero), but owner George Steinbrenner signed Gary Sheffield.

Guerrero was floating free into January of 2004—unprecedented for a player of his talents at that age, back injury or not.

The rumors were rampant that the Mets were about to net the slugger…until the Angels struck—as is their wont—like lightning. Without warning, they signed Guerrero to a 5-year, $70 million deal and the Mets were sitting on their hands, wondering what happened.

The New York Times reported that there was a Players Association investigation into who leaked Guerrero’s medical records to the Mets—medical records that turned out to be wrong in the severity or Guerrero’s back woes.

Guerrero wound up bolstering his Hall of Fame credentials with the Angels; was a perennial MVP candidate and All-Star; and a leader in the clubhouse and on the field.

Were the Mets afraid of Guerrero’s medical prognosis? Were they being cheap? Were they hesitant when they should’ve been aggressive?

All of the above?

Considering the way the Mets were being run in those days and their “solution” to missing out on Guerrero was to sign Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer, it’s probably that they were being cheap. And being the Mets.

Luckily Mel Hall wasn’t around.

The only reasonable answer is that the Mets got greedy and thought they were the only team in on Guerrero.

They missed out on him because of it.

Truth be told, Guerrero doesn’t like speaking to the press in English and would’ve wanted no part of living and playing in New York; he had little interest in being the front-and-center leader of a team that wasn’t particularly good and was better off in a stable atmosphere like that with the Angels.

How does this relate to Reyes?

If the Mets think that no one is going to jump in and offer Reyes a lot of money despite the hamstring problems, them they’re putting themselves in a Guerrero-like circumstance where they’ll lose him for the wrong reasons.

If the club comes to the conclusion that Reyes is only worth X amount of dollars and Y number of years, sticks to it and he leaves, so be it; if they lose him because they were lowballing him, the Sandy Alderson regime will be making the same mistake the Jim Duquette regime did—and that’s not what the Wilpons (and MLB itself) had in mind when the Mets hired Alderson.

It would be a mistake.

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