Alderson And The Experts

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You can watch the Sandy Alderson interview with Kevin Burkhardt on Mets Hot Stove above and make your own determination as to what he’s actually saying.

The body language/tone/behavior/baseball experts on Twitter and in the media took the “look” of Alderson as ranging from profoundly negative to depressed to near suicidal.

If you read the transcript of the juicy bits of what he said here on MetsBlog, you can make an entirely different judgment.

Those who are ripping the Mets as a matter of course for the relentless need to complain; because there’s an editorial mandate to do so or because it’s designed to drum up webhits in a trolling sort of manner; to push a book; or just because, here’s the truth: they either don’t want to understand reality or are utterly incapable of doing so, and they’re not accepting facts.

If you dissect the Mets 2012 situation financially and in talent, they’re not going to be anything more than a fringe contender for a Wild Card spot if they bring Jose Reyes back and have everything go exactly right.

Some are actively trying to tilt at windmills, aggrandize themselves as influential voices and catalyze a new ownership.

The Wilpons are not selling the team. This is the position they’re in at least until their part in the Madoff lawsuit is completed and they have a firmer grip on what the circumstances are. Anyone hoping for a Mark Cuban to walk in, buy the team and start spending, spending, spending the team back into relevance hasn’t the faintest idea of how an organization—sports or otherwise—is run; Cuban did all of those things the Mets are entreated to do; but what the ignorant outsiders are failing to grasp is that the Dallas Mavericks went through multiple incarnations of players, coaches and a lack of success before hitting the jackpot with an unexpected championship last season.

The Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies proved this very year that spending capriciously for star players doesn’t automatically guarantee a championship.

The Mets have gone down that road. They signed the big names—Johan Santana, Jason Bay, Billy Wagner, Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez; they filled all the holes; they did everything the fans wanted them to do including building a new ballpark.

They haven’t won.

In fact, they degenerated into a disaster.

It’s not because of the Madoff Ponzi scheme and the Wilpon’s entanglement in that nightmare, it’s because they were top-heavy and shoddily constructed—built to win immediately for a short window.

The window closed and they hadn’t won.

It’s not Omar Minaya’s fault; it’s the Jeff Wilpon’s fault; it’s not Bernie Madoff’s fault.

It happened. And it happens to the teams that are perceived as doing everything the “right” way.

Sandy Alderson was hired to fix the Mets and that’s what he’s doing whether you like it or not.

Do you believe that John Henry intended to spend $160 million on payroll when he bought the Red Sox? If he did, then what was the purpose of hiring Theo Epstein and his young, stat savvy crew of Ivy League educated, sabermetric wizards? Why did he hire Bill James? Why did he hire Billy Beane only to be spurned at the altar?

Henry wanted to create the Moneyball Red Sox patterned after the cheap and efficient method in which Beane (and, in part, Alderson) transformed the A’s into a dominant franchise without spending a ton of money.

Things morphed into the Red Sox competing with the Yankees for the same players and a championship or bust attitude. It’s part of the reason for the 2012 Red Sox catastrophe and departure of both Terry Francona and Theo Epstein.

People wanted the “Red Sox way” and that’s what they’re getting.

Alderson has the people—Paul DePodesta, J.P. Ricciardi—from that school of thought; a similar school of thought that has made the Rays into a team that wins with a non-existent payroll and an atrocious ballpark. When the Stuart Sternberg regime took over the Rays, they knew they could’ve won a few more games if they’d spent some money on mediocre big leaguers to look better than they were. But is there really that big of a difference between 68 wins? 76 wins? 82 wins?

No.

So why bother wasting cash to lure a negligible number of extra fans?

Reyes will either stay or he won’t;  barring a sudden leap from the pitching staff, some luck with bullpen signings/trades and the new Citi Field dimensions helping David Wright and Bay become what they were before entering baseball’s version of the Grand Canyon, Reyes’s presence isn’t going to help the team escape the morass in which they’re currently trapped. The club will save some face and make people who already have Reyes out the door look foolish, but that’s all.

It takes a brutal assessment and sheer courage to say to the fans that the team isn’t going to be able to contend with Reyes, so why overpay to keep him? The National League East is a nightmare. If the Mets had the cash of the Yankees and Red Sox, they’d be able to cobble a contender from the current market by signing Jonathan Papelbon; C.J. Wilson; Josh Willingham.

They don’t.

This is why Alderson was brought onboard. I saw no negativity in what he said concerning the rebuild—and that’s what it is; his body language indicated what those who are looking for “clues” wanted to see; his tone was matter-of-fact, realistic and intelligent; his content was comprehensive and honest.

Alderson asked Reyes’s representatives what it would cost to sign him; they received silence; the Mets told him to shop around and come back. What else are they supposed to do? What else can they do?

Nothing.

Reyes will be presented with offers from other clubs; the Mets might be able to match them; if they can, he’ll stay; if they can’t, he’ll go elsewhere (watch the Angels) and the Mets will move on in a rational, coherent and coldblooded manner to turn the team into a profitable and successful franchise that can spend money to fill holes, but also has players who were developed internally or are unappreciated foundlings that come through.

This is where they are. Stop complaining about it. If you don’t like the product, don’t go to the games and come back when the team is deemed worthwhile for you to spend your money to watch.

Perhaps the Mets would be better off is Alderson was that straightforward about the team. Maybe then the armchair analysts would shut up.

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Hot Stove Bat To The Kneecap

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To the best of my recollection, the Mets have won several hot stove championships in recent years.

In the winter of 2001-2002, reeling from having been picked to make the playoffs and stumbling to mediocrity in 2001, GM Steve Phillips acted aggressively in acquiring Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar and Jeromy Burnitz.

The brew he concocted was toxic; it neatly paralleled the deteriorating relationship and festering tensions between Phillips and manager Bobby Valentine; the result was a 75-86 record and Valentine’s firing after the season.

They also became the darlings of drastic off-season facelifts in the winter of 2004-2005—Omar Minaya’s first year—by signing the biggest pitching name, Pedro Martinez and the biggest outfield name, Carlos Beltran; and hiring Willie Randolph as the manager.

After briefly flirting with contention, they finished tied for 3rd place with an 83-79 record.

In 2007-2008, coming off a monstrous 2007 collapse, the acquired one of the top three pitchers in baseball, Johan Santana; but the injury to Billy Wagner in August left the club with a bullpen in shambles and they stumbled from the playoff race on the last day of the season.

These are not instances limited to the Mets.

The “hot stove champions” look unbeatable from November to March.

Then they start playing.

If headlines and media/fan approval were championships, the 2011 Phillies-Red Sox World Series would’ve been epic; the 2010 Mariners and their “Amazin’ Exec” GM Jack Zduriencik would be on the way to the Hall of Fame; the 2011 Athletics would’ve provided a fitting conclusion to the Moneyball fantasy as Billy Beane‘s genius coincided with his dramatically licensed and factually inaccurate portrayal in the movie.

The Red Sox collapsed; the Phillies were bounced in the playoffs; the 2010 Mariners lost 100 games and were a embarrassment on and a travesty off the field; and the Athletics are horrible as Beane uses his chameleon-like skills at fostering positive public perception to lay the atrocity off on the lack of a new stadium, others stealing “his” strategies and morphing into the likable and hapless everyman, swallowed up by factors out of his control.

Buy it if you want—if you’re a mindless sheep; if you’re stupid.

Because the Mets haven’t signed Jose Reyes to a new contract immediately upon his filing for free agency the consensus—which appears to be based on faux “sources” and the demands of editors to drum up attention and render web hits—is that Reyes is already out the door.

He might be.

He might not be.

Whether he’s a Met or not in 2012 doesn’t automatically mean the Mets are going to be any better than they’d be without him; nor does it mean the team that signs him will have a stamped ticket to the playoffs.

In spite of what the likes of Joel Sherman and Bob Klapisch write, the Mets winning another hot stove title or treading water and perhaps badly hindering the club’s retooling efforts will not repair the issues surrounding the team for 2012.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the more important time for a team’s success or failure is the summer.

Drafting players that will eventually be tradable; gauging the market and the competition; going for a deep strike or holding fire—making intelligent analysis based on circumstances rather than maneuvering for positive coverage and validation of media imbeciles and reactionary fans—are far more important to winning than anything that’s done in the winter.

The 2010 Phillies were staggering at mid-summer, barely over .500 and entertaining offers for Jayson Werth; relentlessly and rightfully hammered for trading Cliff Lee to the Mariners in exchange for Roy Halladay and gazing into the abyss of a lost season, they fixed the hole they themselves created in the rotation by trading for Roy Oswalt; and they were lucky that Shane Victorino got injured and they had no one else to play center field, so they had to keep Werth.

Those Phillies went on a tear to win the NL East and lost in the NLCS to the Giants.

The same Giants who picked up Cody Ross on waivers and signed Pat Burrell after he’d been released. Both players were key components to the Giants championship.

Slightly over three months ago, the Cardinals desperately traded away their one young star-talent, Colby Rasmus, to acquire Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel—without whom they wouldn’t have made the playoffs, let alone won the World Series.

It’s all hindsight.

If Reyes signs a $150 million contract and pulls his hamstring in May, will the critics be savaging the Mets for letting him leave?

Money aside, does anyone truly believe that GM Sandy Alderson and his staff don’t have a viable backup plan in the event Reyes departs?

Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be sexy to be sensible.

Continue reading the blatant partisanship from Sherman among others if you want to have a basis for complaint.

But don’t misunderstand what you’re reading as you indulge in the hackery and do not say you weren’t warned.

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The Jose Reyes Free Agency Profile

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Name: Jose Reyes


Position: Shortstop.

Vital Statistics: Age-28; Height-6’1″; Weight-200; signed by the New York Mets as an undrafted free agent in 1999.

Agent: Peter Greenberg.

Might he return to the Mets? Yes.

Teams that could use and pay him: New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Atlanta Braves; Florida Marlins; St. Louis Cardinals; Milwaukee Brewers; Cincinnati Reds; Chicago Cubs; San Francisco Giants; Los Angeles Dodgers; Boston Red Sox; Detroit Tigers; Kansas City Royals; Minnesota Twins; Los Angeles Angels; Seattle Mariners.

Positives:

Reyes is unstoppable when he’s healthy. He can hit for average and some power; he provides extra base hits and loads of triples; he can steal 70-80 bases; is a superior defensive shortstop with a cannon for an arm; and he’s a switch-hitter.

His personality is infectious; he excites people by his mere presence; he’s intelligent, well-spoken and charming.

As he showed with his display during the first half of the season, when Reyes is sufficiently motivated, he’s one of the most dynamic players in baseball. Any club will be better with him at the top of their lineup and in the field. His pricetag won’t be as heavy now as it looked like it was going to be in July; while it sounds strange that a team could get an MVP candidate and Gold Glover at a discount even if they’re paying as much as $130 million, that will be the case if he’s physically sound.

Negatives:

His frequent hamstring injuries are a big concern. He doesn’t walk. And once his speed begins to decline, it’s reasonable to wonder whether a team will be paying $20 million annually for a singles and doubles hitter who’ll hit 10 homers a year and is losing several steps defensively.

It must be understood that there’s always the potential for a pulled or torn hamstring that will keep him out for months or possibly an entire season.

Reality:

Amid all the criticisms doled out to the Mets for failing to lock Reyes up before this; the rumors that they’re reluctant to keep him at whatever cost or are planning a face-saving offer without intending it to succeed; and the fear of the unknown without him, it’s selectively ignored that the Mets have made the mistake of overpaying to sign, trade for and/or keep players due to fan reaction and desperation.

Does it really matter why the Mets let him leave if they choose to do so?

If it’s financially-related or a cold-blooded analysis that he’s not worth it, isn’t that why they hired Sandy Alderson as GM in the first place—because they’re running the team like a business and not to cater to the fans desires if they’re going to hinder their rebuilding attempts?

References to the Red Sox and Yankees as teams who don’t make such calculations are ridiculous.

It was the Red Sox who traded Nomar Garciaparra and allowed Pedro Martinez and Jason Bay to leave as free agents because, in order, they didn’t like Nomar’s attitude and contractual demands; Pedro’s arm had been judged to have only a year or two left before a full breakdown; and they didn’t want to pay Bay for the full 4-5 years it would’ve taken to keep him.

They were right about the first two; Bay would’ve been fine had he stayed in Boston.

The Yankees let both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui walk after winning a World Series they wouldn’t have won without them; GM Brian Cashman didn’t want to re-sign Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada and he was right in both cases.

This concept that the Mets are at fault for Reyes’s hamstring problems is as stupid as the Cashman suggestion that the Mets were at fault for his decision to give Pedro Feliciano an $8 million package for what looks like will be nothing. The Yankees “superior” medical staff okayed the deal for Feliciano; the Red Sox misdiagnosed Clay Buchholz‘s back injury this season and Jacoby Ellsbury‘s broken ribs last season.

Teams make medical mistakes—it’s not only the Mets.

You can’t build a team similar to the Red Sox from 2003-2008 without enduring some pain of these brutal, unpopular choices that need to be made. To think that a front office as smart as the one led by Alderson doesn’t have a contingency plan in place to replace Reyes with several lower cost acquisitions or via trade is foolish.

Prior Mets regimes were reactionary and thin-skinned; they allowed the fans and agenda-driven media people (or fans who think they’re the media) to interfere and affect what would’ve been better for the club in the long term. They doled generous severance packages to declining and borderline useless veterans Al Leiter and John Franco and essentially let those two have a significant say in the construction of the club—it was known as the Art Howe era.

That’s also how they wound up with Martinez; Mo Vaughn; Jeromy Burnitz; Johan Santana; Bay; Francisco Rodriguez; J.J. Putz and numerous others.

Do they want to repeat the past mistakes and spend capriciously to keep critics quiet? Or do they want to have a plan, work within a budget and build a sustainable foundation?

Whether the budget is based on lawsuits, financial collapses or creating a streamlined, profitable club is irrelevant—this is where they are and they have to react accordingly.

Say what you want about Alderson—that he’s desperate for credit; that he’s got a massive ego; that he intentionally creates factions in his front office to maintain a power base loyal to him—he’s not concerned about what people say when he makes a decision; it will be rational one way or the other.

If Reyes leaves, so be it.

What he’ll want: 7-years, $150 million.

What he’ll get: From a club other than the Mets, 6-years guaranteed with a mutual option based on games played and health for a 7th year at a total of $140 million if he reaches all incentives.

From the Mets, 5-years guaranteed at $105 million with easily reachable options for two more years based on games played and health to push it to $140 million.

It’s up to him whether money and guaranteed dollars are more important than his supposed desire to stay with the Mets. Players have shunned the chance at extra money in recent years to go to a preferred locale, so it’s not assured that he’s following every penny elsewhere.

Teams that might give it to him: Tigers, Phillies, Nationals, Braves, Cardinals, Marlins, Brewers, Dodgers, Angels, Mariners, Giants, Mets.

Would I sign Reyes if I were a GM: Yes.

Will it be a “bad” signing for the club that does pay him? It might be, but his upside and that he’s a shortstop makes him worthwhile—within reason.

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What Price Friendship?

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New Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said in a conference call that he would consider shifting Hanley Ramirez to another position. Presumably that position would be third base. This set off speculation—that has been advanced in the past—that a Ramirez shift would coincide with the Marlins making a big move on Ramirez’s close friend and current Mets free agent shortstop Jose Reyes.

A big move would have to include many, many zeroes on the check Reyes receives for signing the contract.

In prior years, the Marlins would never have been involved with trying to sign a marquee free agent such as Reyes; but with their new ballpark and new manager, it’s been said that they’re going to be heavily involved in bringing recognizable star players to Miami to try and win with payroll rather than finding players on the scrapheap.

I do believe it’s possible that Reyes is courted by the Marlins; I also believe Ramirez would move to another position to facilitate the signing.

Talent-wise, it’s a terrific move to have two dynamic, offensive forces on the left side of the infield. Reyes is a far better defender than Ramirez; Ramirez would be able to play third base.

Financially, one would assume the Marlins can do it.

Logistically, it might draw a number of fans who would ordinarily find other avenues of entertainment in Miami.

In practice, I don’t know if it would work.

Reyes’s injury history is what it is. If, in his contract year, he was injured twice with the recurrent hamstring woes that have plagued him forever, it’s a warning sign for when he’s assured of $120 million.

Regardless of whether the Marlins and others begin to decry the Mets medical protocol as substandard and imply that they’ll keep Reyes healthy, he’s continually gotten hurt with the same injuries—the Mets didn’t make mistakes every time with Reyes; it’s not an issue to be discounted amid a celebratory gala to introduce him as the newest team star.

Ramirez is another matter.

Apart from 2011, he’s been durable and ultra-productive; he’s also been a nuisance by using his status as the highest paid player; the star of the team; and the pet of owner Jeffrey Loria to be the alpha-male in the clubhouse and try to bully colleagues and ostensible superiors. When Andre Dawson has to venture down to talk to Ramirez about his attitude (and bring Tony Perez along with him to prevent him from strangling Ramirez), it’s not a good sign.

The friendship between the Reyes and Ramirez is legitimate and not a made-for-public-consumption golf outing between two players like Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson who were said to detest one another; Ramirez is the godfather to Reyes’s daughter and they would undoubtedly love to play together if circumstances are right.

Before automatically believing said circumstances are “right”, the Marlins need to calculate all the probable eventualities.

If the Marlins sign Reyes to a contract worth $120 million, where does that leave Ramirez?

Hanley Ramirez is signed to a super-team friendly deal that, when he signed it, was worth $70 million through 2014. He’s set to make $15 million in 2012; $15.5 million in 2013; and $16 million in 2014.

A signed contract is relatively meaningless in today’s sports world and that agreement doesn’t mean he won’t want an extension commensurate with what Reyes would be paid; with what Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Braun received from the Rockies and Brewers respectively to essentially set in stone that they won’t suit up for another club for the rest of their careers.

Am I the only one who can picture Ramirez grinning happily at the Reyes press conference not only because his friend is joining the Marlins, but because he thinks he too is going to get a similar contract as a matter of course with the club’s new free-spending ways?

The Marlins aren’t exactly the warmest and fuzziest of organizations; they’re ruthless bordering on brutal and—Loria’s prodigal son or not—won’t be automatically predisposed to compensating Ramirez to keep him quiet and happy.

With Reyes, he wasn’t malingering through his injuries and this is both a positive and a negative; if he couldn’t stay on the field in his contract year when the talk of him making a Joe Mauer-style killing in free agency was at its height in June while he was scorching hot, what are the chances of him getting through a 6-7 year deal on his aging, fragile, meal-ticket legs without the requisite hamstring problems popping up again?

And with Ramirez, his attitude has always been questionable; he’s gotten away with transgressions because of the reasons elucidated above. If he walks up to Larry Beinfest, David Samson or Loria himself with wide eyes and an expectant nod regarding an extension on top of his current contract, they’re more likely to tell him to take a hike than they are to acquiesce to his demands.

That’s where things get dicey; that’s where things can blow apart before they’re completely constructed.

Hanley Ramirez’s demeanor has always tended more toward the Manny Ramirez than the Jose Reyes.

Manny was well-known for letting his displeasure with whatever it was that irritated Manny at that particular moment seep into his on-field play. He would not hustle; he’d throw tantrums; he’d try to force his employer’s hand. The Red Sox ignored him (while trying to dump him repeatedly) because he was one of the most productive players in the history of the sport and because they needed him. It was only when he was in the final year of his guaranteed deal and set to have his contract options exercised—and was outright demanding that they not do so—that the team said enough was enough; they were able to bring back a reasonably comparable bat in Jason Bay, and they finally traded him.

It all looks good now and will look better if the Marlins do pursue and get Reyes. They have Guillen, an established manager with a long-term deal who won’t be under and mandate to tolerate Ramirez’s act; they’ll be talented enough to make a run at the playoffs if Josh Johnson returns healthy. But if Ramirez thinks he’s being slighted, that close friendship could turn into jealousy and anger before spring training is over.

Players go where the money is, not where their friends are; and after the heady excitement from childhood of “imagine if we played together in the big leagues” wears off, all that remains is reality.

The reality is almost exclusively about money.

On paper, getting Reyes and making Ramirez a third baseman would be a brilliant strike; but they’d better think long and hard about the signing and potential reverberations before jumping in with both feet because the aftermath could be disastrous if it doesn’t go according to the blueprint.

And these things rarely go according to the blueprint.

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