The R.A. Dickey Trade, Part II—As A Means To Bash The Mets

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R.A. Dickey was found money for the Mets. Rather than spend it immediately, they invested it wisely in blue chip stocks to secure their future. It was the smart move. But as a means to bash the Mets, it’s a handy weapon. There’s a movement to lump the decision to cut ties with Jose Reyes (batting champion) after 2011, and Dickey (Cy Young Award) as additions to the prototypical “long list of Mets’ mistakes” as if they just dumped Tom Seaver in a front office fit of pique; to cast it as more of the same from the Mets, a franchise whose main function is to torment their fans by testing their loyalty, seeing how much abuse they’ll take.

It suits the storyline, but comes nowhere close to suiting reality. The sports media has transformed from analyzing and assessing to validating fan anger or writing controversial columns to accumulate webhits and attention.

The truth about Dickey is that while he won the Cy Young Award, he is not in a class with prior winners of that same award. Therefore, he should not be treated as such just because he won the award. Looking at the winners in the American and National Leagues in the past five years alone and you see something akin to Sesame Street’s “Which of these doesn’t belong?”

2012: R.A. Dickey, David Price

2011: Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander

2010: Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez

2009: Tim Lincecum, Zack Greinke

2008: Lincecum, Cliff Lee

Barring financial constraints and extenuating circumstances, would any of these pitchers have been on the market immediately following the season in which they won the award? I’m not talking about the next summer when the pitcher is a pending free agent or a year later when he’s making it clear he wants a contract extension or wants out. I’m talking about a month later.

Because Dickey is such a unique story throwing a trick pitch; is 38-years-old with a Mets team whose 2013 is unlikely to be much different with or without him, he can’t be placed into a category as a Cy Young Award winner who must not be traded. Unlike Verlander, Lincecum and the others, Dickey was an iffy proposition to be a significant contributor to a potential Mets’ renaissance in 2014 and beyond.

Ignoring irrelevant media and fan responses to this trade, the facts are that the Mets organization was barren at catcher and now, in sending Dickey to the Blue Jays, has a soon-to-be 24-year-old, power hitting catcher who can throw in Travis d’Arnaud. They acquired a 20-year-old, flamethrowing righty pitcher in Noah Syndergaard, a competent veteran catcher John Buck, and a 17-year-old throw-in, outfielder Wuilmer Becerra. They received all of this in exchange for Dickey, whom they got for nothing and whose rise is unlike anything anyone’s ever seen in a non-fiction setting; who, at 38-years-old, wanted another $25 million+ to sign a contract extension to forego free agency after 2013; and whose value was never, ever going to be higher for a team that, tacitly or not, knows their time to try and contend is in 2014 and not 2013. They also sent Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas to the Blue Jays, neither of whom the Mets would need with the acquisitions of Buck and d’Arnaud and who the Blue Jays required to catch Dickey’s knuckleball.

The most fascinating aspects have nothing to do with the deal itself, but the negative reactions to it and that Mets GM Sandy Alderson got the okay from ownership to pull the trigger. Fans are taking their cue from critics and the media and expressing anger at losing their Cy Young Award winner and eloquent, likable spokesman, Dickey. Objectively, however, the return on this trade was beyond anything the club could’ve expected in a best case scenario.

It’s a subtle and Executive of the Year level accomplishment that Alderson was able to impress upon the Wilpons that the short-term pain wouldn’t be any worse than the vitriol they already engender for reasons real and exaggerated, and that the long-term gains were beyond measure. A key part of being a GM, especially when working for an embattled ownership group so cognizant of public perception as the Wilpons, is to dissuade them from short-term maneuvers for short-term gain when the long-term is where their focus should be. Somehow, Alderson managed it and it’s in the best interests of the club and the fans.

***

Below are video clips and analysis of d’Arnaud and Syndergaard.

Travis d’Arnaud

His bat wiggle and leg lift are, to a gentler degree, reminiscent of Gary Sheffield. The leg lift is fine as long as he gets his foot down in time—it’s a timing mechanism. There will be slumps due to the moving parts; specifically he will have stretches where he’s behind a good fastball because he’s not getting his foot down in time, but it’s not a giant hitch to be exploited and will be counteracted by his short arms and short swing. For a power hitter, he doesn’t strike out an inordinate amount of the time. At worst, he’ll hit 15 homers and bat .275 in the big leagues, but is more likely to be a 20-25 homer man with a .280 BA, a .350 OBP, and an .820+ OPS.

Considering that the Mets catchers last season (mostly Thole and Nickeas) had a .218/.281/.286 slash line with 5 homers and threw out 24% of stealing baserunners, it won’t take much to top what the Mets had before. The righty-swinging d’Arnaud could bat lefty and surpass that offensive production; he threw out 30% of basestealers in Triple A.

The Mets will keep him in the minors for the first few weeks of 2012 to keep his arbitration clock from ticking, but don’t be surprised to see them sign him long term shortly after he arrives in the majors as the Rays did with Evan Longoria.

***

Noah Syndergaard

Syndergaard is big (6’5”, 200 pounds) and has the strikeout-accumulating combination of a power fastball, a sharp overhand yellowhammer curve, a changeup, and that he’s sneaky fast.

Syndergaard already has a mid-90s fastball, but his short and quick pre-stretch (when he brings his arm down after taking the ball out of his glove) and that he hides the ball behind his body as he accelerates will confuse the hitter and make his velocity appear to be closer to 100+ mph.

In general, a pitcher will take a longer time to deliver and the ball will be visible when collapses his back leg to generate power. In Syndergaard’s case, it isn’t. He lifts his leg, separates his hands and ZOOM!!! the ball’s on the way. Because of that rapid fire delivery, the fastball explodes on the hitter, hence the term “sneaky fast.” If he rips off a curve or changeup, it’s very difficult to adjust.

He’s only 20 and spent 2012 in A ball, but it’s not unreasonable to think he could be in New York and pitching for the Mets by late 2014.

***

The way to judge a trade isn’t after the fact. The way to judge a trade is to determine if it made sense at the time it was consummated. For the Mets, with Dickey, it did. Any criticism is self-serving and misinformed. They did the right thing and got a lot for a pitcher from whom they expected nothing when the prior regime signed him as an, “Oh, yeah. Him.” It worked out and they took maximum advantage of Dickey’s rise. Anything else would’ve been foolish and the Mets’ future is brighter because of that luck and this ruthless intelligence.

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The R.A. Dickey Trade, Part I—The Rumors Are Lies

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The Mets’ trade of R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays along with catcher Josh Thole and a minor leaguer for catcher Travis d’Arnaud, catcher John Buck, minor league righty Noah Syndergaard and another minor leaguer is contingent on Dickey signing a contract extension with the Blue Jays by Tuesday afternoon. Until then, it’s not done. But negative analysis of why the Mets are doing this has run the gamut from them being tight-fisted to petulant to stupid.

It’s none of the above.

The easy storyline is to take Dickey’s comments at the Mets’ holiday party as the last straw. At least that’s what’s being implied by the New York media. That holiday party has become a petri dish for dissent and the final impetus to trade players. It was in 2005, after all, that Kris Benson’s tenure with the club was effectively ended when his camera-loving wife Anna Benson arrived in a revealing, low-cut red dress. Then-Mets’ GM Omar Minaya subsequently sent Benson to the Orioles for John Maine and Jorge Julio, which turned out to be a great deal for the Mets.

The Benson trade and the pending Dickey trade are comparable in one realistic way: they got value back. Maine was a good pitcher for the Mets for several years and they spun Julio to the Diamondbacks for Orlando Hernandez, who also helped them greatly. With Dickey, it’s an organizational move for the future and not one to cut a problem from the clubhouse.

Were the Mets irritated by Dickey’s constant chatter? Probably a bit. In looking at it from the Mets’ position, of all the clubs Dickey pitched for as he was trying to find his way with the knuckleball—the Rangers, Brewers, Twins (three times), and Mariners (twice)—it was they who gave him a legitimate shot. He took advantage of it, they got lucky and he became a star because of his fascinating tale on and off the field and his ability to tell it. It’s not to be ignored that the Mets, under Sandy Alderson, gave Dickey a 2-year, $7.8 million guaranteed contract after he had one good season in 2010. They didn’t have to do that. They could’ve waited to see him do it again, wondering if it was a fluke. The Mets invested in Dickey and he agreed to it. For him to complain about the contract he signed with such silly statements as the $5 million club option for 2013 setting a “bad dynamic” and threatening to leave after the 2013 season as a free agent were things better left unsaid considering all the variables.

If the Mets were truly interested in wringing every last drop out of Dickey and seeing if he could repeat his 2012 season while placating the ignorant fans complaining about this brilliant trade, they would’ve kept Dickey on the cheap as a drawing card and worried about later later—just as they did with Jose Reyes.

Rather than repeat that mistake, they dangled Dickey to pitcher-hungry teams and when they didn’t get the offers they deemed acceptable, they waited until the big names (Zack Greinke, James Shields) and medium names (Ryan Dempster, Anibal Sanchez) came off the market and struck. That it was simultaneous to the holiday party “controversy” is a matter of timing convenient for conspiracy theories. Delving deeper into the reality of the situation and there’s no substance to the “Dickey Must Go” perception.

This is a cold, calculating decision on the part of the Mets for the future, not to send a message. If you think Alderson was influenced by Dickey’s comments, you’re misjudging Alderson badly. It’s amazing that he’s been able to convince the Wilpons to make deals for the long-term that won’t be popular with a large segment of the fanbase and will provide kindling for the members of the media to light another fire to burn the embattled owners at the stake, but he did it. Personalities didn’t enter into it. Alderson, as the A’s GM, had Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson. While they were productive, he kept them and tolerated their mouths and controversies, then discarded them. As CEO of the Padres, he acquired Heath Bell knowing his reputation. It’s not personal until the personal is affecting the professional. Dickey’s situation hadn’t reached that tipping point.

It’s a childhood fantasy to believe that every player in a major league clubhouse is a close friend to every other player in a major league clubhouse. Like any workplace, there’s conflict, clashes and little habits that get on the nerves of others. Did Dickey’s sudden fame grate people in the Mets clubhouse? Were they jealous? Probably, especially since there’s a prevailing perception that a knuckleballer is comparable to a placekicker in football and isn’t really getting hitters out as much as he’s tricking them with a pitch they rarely see. Whether or not that’s true is irrelevant. As we saw in the Cy Young Award voting, no one’s giving credit based on how they got their results. Dickey was among the top pitchers in the National League and garnered enough votes to win the award. The Cy Young Award, like Reyes’s batting championship is a title based on so many factors that it shouldn’t enter into the equation as to whether or not a player stays or goes.

How many players are there about whom teammates, on-field management, front office people and opponents don’t roll their eyes and whisper to media members of how annoying they are? In today’s game, there’s Mariano Rivera. 30 years ago, there was Dale Murphy. Apart from that, who?

Even Goose Gossage, who has replaced Bob Feller as the Hall of Fame’s grumpy old man in residence, doesn’t criticize Rivera personally when going into one of his rants about closers of today that should begin with a fist pounded on the desk and, “In my day…” and end with, “Get off my lawn!!!”

On the opposite end, there are players universally reviled like Barry Bonds. Most are in the middle. People can still do their jobs without loving the person they work with.

The trade of Dickey was baseball related and nothing more. It was the right call.

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Meet The Mess Or A Mess To An End?

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There’s no spinning an eight run first inning, a 16-1 loss, and rampant humiliation the type the Phillies have inflicted on the Mets over the last three games. Only the Mets could let a Phillies team that’s dealing with an embarrassing season of their own do this. The Phillies, with a too little-too late comeback, have made their disappointing season a bit more bearable. But it’s still disappointing. That aside, they walked into Citi Field and backhanded the Mets and the Mets took it. Again. No doubt the Phillies were laughing on the bus back to Philly and they had reason to. It can be glossed over through the prism of payroll and preseason expectations or lack thereof, but the Mets participating in the Phillies downfall earlier this season by beating up on them is rendered meaningless by the past three games.

Suggestions that the Mets have quit are inarguable. It’s not about talent anymore, it’s about incompetence. A big league team cannot allow another big league team—regardless of disparity in talent and money—to treat them like a punching bag and leave them lying in the dirt shrugging as if it’s accepted that this is the way things are and will remain. The Mets could’ve hit the Phillies back for once and ended their playoff hopes. Instead, they gave them a lifeline. Behind the Cardinals by 4 with 12 to play and having to leapfrog both the Dodgers and Brewers make a Phillies playoff appearance all but impossible, but it could’ve ended this week and the Mets could’ve been the ones to do the deed. Instead, they chose to lay down.

Are the Mets this bad? No. Were they as good as they looked in the first half of the season when they were one of baseball’s most pleasant surprises and talked of buying at the deadline rather than selling (and did neither)? No. But there’s no escaping the 9 straight home losses and 14 of 16 since August 19th. Comparisons to the 1962 version of the Mets are based on nothing other than attempts at ridicule and pure numbers—there’s no comparison between the situations, but that it’s mentioned in this context is bad enough.

No one wants to hear the likes of Michael Kay saying, “I told you so,” when he had the team winning 50 games before the season. He didn’t tell anyone anything. The end result doesn’t prove the prediction accurate. Nor does anyone want to hear Mike Francesa, who earlier in the season repeatedly stated that Mets’ manager Terry Collins deserved a contract extension and is now speculating on the same manager’s job security. The beat writers have taken to Twitter and other outlets with their passive aggression and self-indulgent agendas.

It’s all meaningless.

But this has to be examined logically. Does it make a difference whether the Mets won 81 games? 77 games? Or 70 games? No. The front office is presumably angry about the perception of disinterest on the roster; that the stands are completely and deservedly empty; but in the big picture, they’ll take the higher draft pick and get a better player.

What can they do to fix this to avoid the same fate a year from now and have the Mets a more welcoming and inviting destination for prospective free agents as they have money to spend with the expiring contracts of Johan Santana and Jason Bay at the conclusion of 2013?

Collins isn’t going to be fired. There are increasing pushes for Wally Backman to take over as manager because he’s a feisty and aggressive, in-your-face type that won’t tolerate the mistakes that are being tolerated now. Backman will be on the coaching staff in 2013 as the bench coach in part to be feisty; in part to provide a link to the 1980s; in part to prepare as a possible heir apparent to Collins. The only coaches on this current staff that will return are Tim Teufel (he’s popular with the Wilpons); and Dave Hudgens (GM Sandy Alderson likes the way he teaches hitting). Apart from that, they’re all gone.

As for the players, the Mets have to get some fighter types who aren’t going to meekly accept the bullying of other clubs. This current group is too cerebral and passive. No one hits back. How about some mindless tough guys who don’t take garbage from other teams?

Jonny Gomes and Kyle Farnsworth are two of the types of players the Mets should consider adding. It’s not because they’re supremely talented or are drastic improvements over what they currently have. We don’t know what Farnsworth will do on the field one year to the next—he’s no worse than what they currently have—but he’s known throughout baseball as someone not to mess with. Gomes has pop off the bench and walks, but more importantly is always ready to drop the gloves and it was him who sent the message to the Yankees and the rest of baseball in 2008 with a spring training brawl that they weren’t going to shove the Rays’ collective heads into the toilet anymore.

Even if it’s a lateral move talent-wise, the Mets have to get some of the faces that have epitomized their fall over the past 5 years. By that I mean trading Bay for something, anything and eating money if they have to. Chone Figgins and Franklin Gutierrez for Bay and $5 million would match up financially and the change-of-scenery might benefit the players, the Mariners, and the Mets. Shin-Soo Choo is going to be available and so will Chris Perez from the Indians. Maybe two bad teams could come to an agreement for a Bobby Parnell, Lucas Duda deal.

The notion of trading Ike Davis was floated recently. The source was in question and the Mets, as usual, were blamed for spreading the rumor that Davis doesn’t listen and parties too much. The truth is that the source in Adam Rubin’s piece was referred to as a “baseball source.” No one from the Mets was said to be that source other than via uninformed speculation. That doesn’t diminish the logic behind the idea. If the Mets can bring in an impact bat at a key position like Justin Upton as part of that deal or in a three-way trade, they have to explore it. I’d try to get Upton or see if the Rangers would want to be creative with Ian Kinsler. That would free the Mets to revisit the proposed trade by the Padres in which Daniel Murphy would’ve gone to San Diego for Luke Gregerson and perhaps ask for the speedy and versatile Everth Cabrera.

Many good things have happened to the Mets in 2012 in spite of the ludicrous conclusion to the season, but they can’t move forward with the roster and coaching staff in its current state. It comes back to the original question of whether this is a mess with an end or a simple mess.

Right now, it’s a combination of both. Behind the scenes and without fanfare, the farm system is being rebuilt well with plenty of young talent infusing the organization. Some, like Matt Harvey, are beginning their big league careers, and Zack Wheeler is on the way; but changes—cosmetic and practical—have to be made if only to put forth the perception of doing something. Anyone would’ve accepted the Mets being outgunned. It was expected. But players who should be happy to have a job can’t been seen as giving up. And that’s what’s happened. Keeping those players who’ve either quit or can’t play—Andres Torres, Josh Thole, Bay—won’t help, but dumping them certainly will if only for the sake of appearance.

Appearance is currently all they have left and, right now, it’s not particularly attractive. In fact, it’s downright ugly.

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Francesa’s Mets Rant Was Preplanned And Absurd

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It took two losses to light the fire under Mike Francesa that exploded with a comical rant against the Mets? Two losses from 24 hours earlier when he had as guests both Mets’ manager Terry Collins and General Manager Sandy Alderson that led to this “passionate” and “angry” fit of screaming? Was this the playoffs? Did the Mets, playing the Rockies needing one win in four games to secure a spot in the playoffs, lose all four games?

No.

It was four games played by two also-ran teams that are looking ahead toward 2013. So why this faux outrage? And why didn’t Francesa address these concerns with the Mets braintrust when he had them on the show? Instead of screaming in their faces, he acted as he always does when Alderson is a guest: like a cowering Marine recruit or fresh out of law school attorney talking to a combat veteran and experienced, Ivy League-educated partner at his firm. He was servile and bottom line intimidated by Alderson because every word Alderson says to him is underscored with the unsaid, “You don’t know anything and you’re a baseball idiot.”

On a day when the Yankees lead in the American League East was cut to 2 ½ games by the onrushing Rays and after Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi had a public meltdown of his own telling a heckler in Chicago to “shut up,” Francesa decided (and it was preplanned despite any allusions to the contrary) to unleash with both barrels on the Mets organization.

I CAN SIT HERE AND TYPE IN ALL CAPS AND ACT ENRAGED AT THE LACK OF BASEBALL SENSE AND POST-ALL-STAR-BREAK TUMBLE THE METS HAVE TAKEN!!!! I CAN TRY TO ACCUMULATE LISTENERS, WEBHITS WITH MY SCREAMING!!!!

But what good does it do? It would be transparent and stupid, drawing attention for the wrong reasons with a short-term burst and no legitimacy.

Francesa, the same man who said for a month that manager Collins deserved a contract extension without bothering to check or have it checked what Collins’s contract situation was (the Mets exercised Collins’s 2013 option last September), now compares Collins to one of Francesa’s favorite targets from years gone by, former Jets’ coach Rich Kotite?

How’s that work? He went from deserving a guarantee of employment to the blackest mark on a Jets franchise that has blocks of black like a partially declassified government document?

Like the callers who wait on hold for an eternity for the opportunity to “discuss” sports with the “knowledgeable” hosts on any sport-talk show, there was plenty of shouting to “do something” with no viable suggestions of precisely what should be done. What would he like them to do? All he did was reference runs scored, their record since the break, ridicule the young pitchers without knowing one thing about them, and tear into Collins.

Where’s the solution?

Could he come up with one?

In the act, Francesa sounds like a fool on the verge of a stroke. What makes it worse is that it’s fake.

The one thing Mets fans and personnel don’t need to hear is how bad the team is from those who had predicted that this same roster was going to lose somewhere between 90 and 110 games. Those same people who were strangely silent when the Mets were playing solid baseball and were one of the surprise stories of the first half of the season. All of a sudden, those silent voices—Francesa, Joel Sherman, Michael Kay—are going to pop up like the weasels that they are and pick at the bones with ego-propping exhortations of how “right” they were. But where were they back then? Were they waiting for the bottom to drop out “knowing” this would happen or were they simply hoping it would to boost their own poorly-disguised agendas?

It’s easier for Francesa to sit by like the lonely girl at the school dance hoping someone will pay attention to him and, when no one does, to strip off all his clothes and cause a humiliating scene that people are going to talk about—and ridicule—in its aftermath than to intelligently retort what the GM himself said to him directly the day before.

Are the Mets supposed to spend money they don’t have in the middle of a rebuild to keep the media off their backs when it’s been known since Alderson took over that the entire organization from top-to-bottom needed a total reconstruction? Which players did he want? No answer is given.

He wants them to spend money as if that’s the end-all/be-all of formulating a winning team after having watched the Yankees of the 1980s toss money at the wall, change managers and general managers and placate the fans with name players in free agency and trades that did little more than speed their descent to the depths. Did spending money help the Red Sox this season? The Angels? The Marlins? The Tigers? The Phillies?

In one breath he says something to the tune of “nobody knows with bullpens,” and in the next, he wants them to spend money on said bullpen. They did that and it hasn’t worked. Did he want Heath Bell? Jonathan Papelbon? Rafael Soriano was essentially useless to the Yankees until Mariano Rivera got hurt, now everyone’s in love with Soriano because he’s doing a job that he can do, a job that the Yankees only gave him because their designated replacement for Rivera, David Robertson, got hurt and looked like he needed to rush to the toilet when he was pitching the ninth inning instead of the eighth.

I didn’t hear one predictably negative word from Francesa about David Wright while Wright was carrying the team and playing like an MVP candidate in the first half, but now Wright’s not Evan Longoria; he’s not a player that can carry a team; he’s not a “superstar”. But why didn’t he say it then? Was he waiting until the inevitable slump?

Francesa doesn’t know the plan of Alderson, but when this primal scream started, did Francesa have a plan behind the shouting? If so, he’s got it hidden as well as he accuses the Mets of hiding their plan. The Mets do have a plan and it’s obvious, albeit unpopular: wait until the expensive contracts expire; wait until the financial circumstances of the Wilpons improve; take the lumps; and spend for 2014. They won’t say it, but it is what it is. It’s a rebuild. That’s what happens in a rebuild, like it or not.

If Francesa were an actual inside baseball person and walked into the clubhouse like a raving lunatic, he’d be ostracized similarly to former Mets’ employee Tony Bernazard who was fired due to his decision to do exactly what Francesa did yesterday with a bunch of minor leaguers.

It was embarrassing, but would be acceptable if he simply came up with a viable solution!

But he didn’t.

Instead, he referenced sore spots in New York sports and said things that would twist the knife to anyone who was the object of said vitriol by saying the words, “Rich Kotite”.

It’s indicative of the Francesa mentality that the replacement for Kotite was Francesa’s friend Bill Parcells and upon the hiring of Parcells the Jets went from clueless to Francesa’s team to the point that he wore a Jets pullover during his show.

The Jets are back to being on his hit list. Their GM Mike Tannenbaum worked with Parcells and the reference of “Mr. T” has gone from a term of endearment to a clean curse. Coach Rex Ryan has brought on much of the animosity himself with his blatantly arrogant, bloviating statements of perceived greatness that doesn’t exist on or off the field. In fact, Rex Ryan’s team is taking the mirror image of his father Buddy Ryan’s teams as they had a short burst of success after the new coach took charge with the lax discipline and player love for the coach, and is now coming undone as a direct result of the reasons that the players wanted to play for the Ryans. Francesa will turn his attention to them soon. Judging from their disarray, the Jets are well on the way to a truly disappointing season, one in which the rest of football would see as a piled on comeuppance worse than what they got from the Giants’ Super Bowl victory.

It grates Francesa that Alderson won’t kowtow to him and calmly, coolly answers his questions with logic and intelligence rather than stammering and return fire. The Jets steer clear of Francesa’s show for the most part. That Alderson isn’t going to hide or act capriciously to take the heat off of his organization or his bosses and make a desperate mistake that Omar Minaya’s operation made with signing Jason Bay or that the Red Sox, Phillies, Tigers, Yankees and Angels made in tossing money at their problems feeds into Francesa’s feelings of inadequacy because he can’t bully this new Mets regime with his spewing and attempts to foment a revolution among the fanbase.

If the Mets hire a “Francesa-approved” manager (since Collins has lost said approval), would he then refrain from this type of hate speech? Or if the players—and it’s the players, not the manager—aren’t good enough to compete, would they be on the burner?

Minaya was never treated in this way because everyone liked him and, occasionally, felt sorry for him as it was so easy to get him flustered and repetitive due to his desire to be everyone’s friend and his difficulties with the intricacies of the English language. Francesa wasn’t Minaya’s friend. It was another tactic to have his voice heard and, perhaps, listened to in a reactive fashion. “Francesa’s on our case and getting the fans after us, so we’d better do something.” It’s a blatant and transparent altering of strategy that Alderson, with his Marine training and legal background, is going to see right through and roundly ignore.

The Mets themselves were surprised by their early season vault into contention. They knew that the team was going to have a hard time competing unless Johan Santana came back strong; unless Wright had an MVP season; unless R.A. Dickey was a solid, mid-rotation starter; unless the young players Ruben Tejada, Josh Thole, Daniel Murphy and Ike Davis stepped forward; and unless the revamped bullpen performed. It just so happened that in the first half of the season, much of that (aside from the bullpen) and more happened. Suddenly the Mets were a feel-good story who couldn’t be criticized specifically because they were operating under constraints of a rebuild and the lack of money available to buy players—players who would’ve done more harm than good in the long-term had they bought them.

Once the players came back to earth, injuries mounted and hot streaks ended, the team came undone. But how can anyone scream about it when nothing was expected in the first place? That they played as well as they did given the difficulty of the National League East and the hindrances and negativity surrounding the club is a minor miracle.

This is an explanation of why the team’s come apart as it has. It’s not yelling and screaming. It’s just fact. Facts are what Francesa was unable to coherently provide yesterday. The session was designed to exert his will on the franchise when they don’t care what he says and don’t think much of his baseball-intelligence to begin with. In the past, the Mets played defense with Francesa; now they just treat him as a North Korea-style agitator that has to be paid attention to in a “watch him” sort of way, but has limited weapons to deploy and doesn’t want to push too far because if Alderson truly decides to tell Francesa what he thinks of him, he’ll be left publicly cowering instead of validating the still deniable underlying fear he has of the Mets’ GM.

If Alderson fires back, Francesa won’t have a response because yesterday’s bellowing was the one weapon he has left. It was noisy and little else.

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The Mets Acquired Kelly Shoppach Because…

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I hate to shatter the myths and nonsense that are being floated by the Joel Shermans of the world, but here’s the truth without sycophancy or prophecies of doom.

The Mets acquired Kelly Shoppach because:

  • He was available now

You can ignore the ridiculous notion that the Mets “should’ve” either traded for him earlier this year when they were still hovering around contention or signed him before the season started. Had Shoppach been on the market earlier this season, some catcher-hungry contending team at the time—the Nationals, Brewers, Rangers—would’ve gone out and gotten him with a better offer than what the Mets would’ve surrendered.

As for the idea that Shoppach would’ve signed with the Mets last winter? Yes, he would’ve…if they’re offered him substantially more money than the Red Sox did ($1.25 million). The Mets had precious little cash to spend and what they did have, they used on trying to fix the bullpen. It hasn’t worked, but that’s where the available money went. Shoppach was placed on waivers by the Red Sox, the Mets claimed him and the Red Sox agreed to send him to New York for a player to be named later. The planets were aligned so the deal was there for them to make when it wasn’t before.

Thole has some attributes. He can catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball and has shown patience at the plate. But he has no power whatsoever and he can’t throw very well from behind the plate. He’s a slap hitter who’s tried to pull the ball and that’s plainly and simply not going to work. Shoppach has power that none of the other catchers on the Mets’ roster do, he takes his walks, and he can throw well.

  • They know what he is and maybe he’ll want to stay

Sherman posted the following on Twitter:

For those asking why #Mets did this: Why not? 6 week look to see if like someone who could give inexpensive platoon mate to Thole in ’13.

Look to see? Look to see what? Is Shoppach going to be somehow different over the next 6 weeks than he’s been over the first 8 years of his career?

The Mets did this because they couldn’t stand to look at Thole almost every day and they’re aware of what Nickeas and Johnson are (journeyman 4-A catchers). Thole is a backup. Shoppach will be with the Mets for the rest of the season and the team is going to have the chance to entice him with legitimate playing time in 2013 and being on an up-and-coming club with, by and large, a good group of guys. If he was a free agent after spending the season with the Red Sox, other more financially stable clubs with a better chance to win would’ve been pursuing him and the same situation as last winter would’ve been in effect this winter: he wouldn’t join the Mets if he had a choice. Now maybe he’ll want to stay.

This Sherman tweet was after Howard Megdal posted tweets detailing how this is a good move for the team with the predictable caveat that they won’t have any money to spend in 2013 either, so Shoppach is one of the few possibly upgrades they can make.

What you have to understand when taking seriously the mainstream media with Megdal, Sherman, Bob Klapisch and the other cottage industry Mets bashers is that not one of them had it right regarding the outcome of the Bernie Madoff trial. No one predicted a settlement and the consensus was that by now the Wilpons would either have been forced to sell the team or had it legally removed from their possession in some sort of a financial downfall the likes we haven’t seen since Bruce McNall of the Los Angeles Kings.

No one knows what the Wilpons’ finances truly look like. If they don’t have much more cash to spend on next year’s team than the $95 or so million they have this year, I’d venture a guess that GM Sandy Alderson told ownership that it makes little sense to do anything too drastic given the contracts of Jason Bay and Johan Santana next year (combined they’re owed $50 million in salary and buyouts), so what they have to do is sit on their hands and wait until those deals expire. Concurrent to that will be the arrival of Zack Wheeler to go along with Matt Harvey, Jonathon Niese and Dickey in the Mets’ rotation of the future. Spending money on bullpens is almost always a mistake and what they’ll do in lieu of that is to try a different hand with pitchers they find on the market. The difference between the Mets bullpen of 2012 and other, cheap bullpens like those the Rays have put together in recent years is that the pitchers the Mets signed haven’t worked out and the ones the Rays signed did. Billy Beane spent a lot of money on relief pitchers Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour last season and I didn’t see anyone ripping the genius label from around his neck even though they should have half-a-decade ago.

The Mets’ owners get bashed when they interfere and they get bashed when they don’t. This time I think they’re keeping hands off not because of money in and of itself, but because they’re listening to reason from their baseball people that it doesn’t make sense to waste money when the time to spend will be in 2013-2014, like it or not.

This is a good move for the Mets and no amount of twisting and turning on the part of those who have made it their life’s work to tear into the Mets regardless of what they do can change that or turn it into another reason to criticize for things they didn’t do—things that weren’t going to happen if they’d tried.

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Omar’s Players

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The talk of the Mets in recent weeks has centered around their twin aces Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey. Santana pitched a no-hitter two weeks ago tomorrow and Dickey just had a team record scoreless innings streak ended in the ninth inning of last night’s 1-hit masterpiece against the Rays.

The Mets, who most observers (including me) had losing over 90 games, have been examined with a new set of questions wondering whether they’re real contenders and if they’re going to be buyers at the trading deadline.

We don’t know yet. They’ve surprised so far and with their plate discipline and opportunistic play. With the aforementioned Santana and Dickey pitching like this, there’s no reason to think they’re going to completely collapse to the depths of their negative expectations.

One thing that’s glossed over amid the eye-opening resilience and positive vibe hovering around the team is that the majority of the good work they’ve done has been because of players that former GM Omar Minaya brought into the organization.

Minaya was called one of the worst GMs in baseball during the waning days of his tenure—an assertion that is based on indistinguishable parameters. It’s ridiculous. He had his strengths and weaknesses as a GM. In today’s game he would have to be in the right circumstances to get another chance as a GM because he’s great when making a big trade or signing a big star, drinking in the accolades at a flashbulb-popping press conference with his big smile and expensive, tailored suit. He’s fine when he’s charming people one-on-one who take his frequent English malaprops as a part of his charm. But when things went wrong he turned from the toast of the town to just plain toast.

As an assistant (now with the Padres) he’s a valuable voice to have around and has always been a sound judge of tools and talent. He has a great rapport with and understanding of young Latin players.

The players on the team now that have helped the Mets to their 34-29 record were almost exclusively acquired under Minaya’s watch.

Santana arrived via trade. Dickey was a veteran signing with a fluky pitch signed as an afterthought—but it was the Mets and Minaya who signed him. Jonathon Niese, Lucas Duda, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Bobby Parnell, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ruben Tejada, Dillon Gee, Josh Thole and Justin Turner were all brought in by people working under Minaya.

It’s a fact.

In response to the credit I’m giving Minaya, you can expect it to be said that the scouts and developmental people were the ones who handled the young players; that Dickey was blind luck; that if Minaya was still the GM, none of the young players would be with the Mets now because they would’ve been traded for expensive veterans or not given a legitimate chance; that his faults don’t outweigh whatever positives can be mustered. It will brought up that he also signed Jason Bay and botched the firing of Willie Randolph; that he allowed Tony Bernazard to run roughshod over the club and over people; that he doesn’t have the linguistic skills to be a GM in today’s atmosphere of the rock star GM and political spinmaster who has to respond to questions with deftness and ambiguity.

It’s all true.

But I’m of the belief that if you get the blame you also get the credit. By that criteria, Minaya deserves to receive credit for this Mets team because it was put together, mostly, by him and his staff.

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New York Style Injuries And “Knowledge” Of The Masses

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After the news broke that Mike Pelfrey is going on the disabled list—and possibly under the surgeon’s knife—with an elbow issue, the most glaring aspect is that nobody backtracked or expressed regret for ripping Mets’ manager Terry Collins for pulling Pelfrey after eight innings on Saturday.

What you’ll hear is the excuse: “We didn’t know.”

Exactly. You didn’t know. Because you’re not in the dugout and are not a baseball person, the manager is left to take a beating by outsiders stemming from the ignorance that comes from a little bit of self-anointed knowledge of statistics and “experience” accrued by watching games and studying numbers without actually being involved in the activity of playing, coaching and managing a baseball game and baseball players.

It’s remarkably easy to react to something that appears to be wrong in the realm of a layman and go on a tangent on Twitter.

What would’ve happened had Collins done what the masses wanted him to do—after the fact and knowing that closer Frank Francisco blew the game—and left Pelfrey in the game? Would that have been referenced as the time when he got hurt?

We don’t know when he got hurt, but that would’ve been the “when”, true or not.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and a forum to vent with others actually listening to the venting and giving it credibility with mass agreement makes it worse.

The Mets are being hammered by injuries.

Their frontline roster is competent and they’ve played relatively well to start the season, all things considered; but the main reasons I had the Mets finishing at 69-93 and in last place in the NL East were the notoriously rough division and the profound lack of depth in the organization. Up to now, the young players Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ruben Tejada, Josh Thole and Dillon Gee have held their own, but when you lose the 200 innings of Pelfrey and a veteran like Jason Bay—regardless of fan perception of the two—it’s going to hurt badly by highlighting the absence of viable replacements for those players.

Those who were celebrating Pelfrey’s and Bay’s injuries have their own issues to deal with. In a baseball sense, the same prevailing lack of logic applies as when there were calls to release Pelfrey and Bay. Who’s going to play left field? (One suggestion last year was for the Mets to get Endy Chavez back; Chavez is currently batting .156 for the Orioles.) And who precisely are they supposed to get to replace the 200 innings that Pelfrey would provide?

Who?

On the other side of town, Michael Pineda’s saga as a Yankee continues. The majority of it is out of uniform and in MRI tubes. He’s getting a second opinion on the diagnosis for his ailing shoulder which, obviously, is not a good thing. If the initial diagnosis was good, why would he need a second opinion?

There’s little to say about the Yankees and their treatment, development and assessment of pitchers other than it’s awful.

One would think that the litany of failures—Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Andrew Brackman, Pineda—would tell them that perhaps it’s time to do something entirely different as the Texas Rangers have consciously decided to do in pushing their pitchers harder in the minors and letting them work their way through the middle innings in lieu of planting in their heads a predetermined pitch/innings count so they know that they’re coming out of the game.

The most laughable part of the Yankees’ pitching merry-go-round is that there are still Yankees’ apologists in the media trying to put forth a defense of the treatment of Pineda.

Mike Francesa is constantly discussing the prospect the Yankees acquired—Jose Campos—as if he’s the Holy Grail of the trade.

Given their absurd pitching failures, what makes anyone think the Yankees are going to do a better a job developing and using Campos than they have with the other pitchers they’ve ruined with their idiotic rules.

Joel Sherman of the NY Post clumsily altered reality on Sunday by implying that GM Brian Cashman’s statements about Pineda were designed to remove pressure from him as he became acclimated to life with the Yankees.

So saying that he’ll have made a mistake if Pineda doesn’t develop into a number 1 starter and refine his changeup is taking pressure off him? A number 1 starter is generally a Tim Lincecum, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay-type. Being placed into that category wouldn’t put pressure on a 23-year-old to overdo it?

The Yankees and the media openly questioned Pineda’s fastball when he pitched in spring training possibly leading him to try to throw too hard and light up the radar gun; perhaps ignoring pain in his shoulder while doing it to validate the trade and rhetoric.

Compounding all of this by comparing Montero to Miguel Cabrera only exacerbated the problem.

This idea that they didn’t “need” Jesus Montero is ludicrous. If they were going to trade him away due to an overabundance of hitting and need for pitching, they could’ve done it for someone established. Or they could’ve kept Montero as the DH and allowed Hector Noesi to have a legitimate shot in the rotation.

Regardless of the reasons and actions, this is where they are. They have Pineda and Campos and the trade is already looking like a long-term disaster.

The Yankees currently have the overall pitching and hitting to live without Pineda, but in the future when Andy Pettitte decides to retire once and for all; when CC Sabathia is aging and can’t be counted on for 240 innings every year; and are concerned enough about the luxury tax guidelines that they can’t fling money at their holes, what are they supposed to do then?

Wait for Campos?

They’ll be waiting until 2016 and he’ll be on a series of brilliantly devised limits.

To protect him of course.

The Yankees protection is an implanted time-bomb and I’d rather go without it in every conceivable sense.

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The Giants Must Address Their Closer Situation

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The Giants’ loss of Brian Wilson unravels much of their winning strategy.

Santiago Casilla was designated as the replacement closer when it was revealed that Wilson would miss the rest of the season with Tommy John surgery.

That decision was either short-lived or not final-final because when Casilla started the ninth inning of Friday night’s game against the Mets with a 3-2 lead, he had a short leash of one batter. Jason Bay led off with an infield hit and manager Bruce Bochy yanked Casilla in favor of Javier Lopez to pitch to the Mets lefties Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Josh Thole.

Strategically, it was the correct move even though it didn’t work. But if Wilson were available, Wilson would’ve been pitching regardless of lefty or righty bats coming to the plate.

The Mets tied the game and the Giants won the game in the tenth inning, but to do it they had to use Lopez, Sergio Romo and Clay Hensley to finish the game when, under normal circumstances, they would’ve used one pitcher, Wilson.

And that’s the problem.

The Giants have a very strong bullpen as long as they have a legitimate closer to be the linchpin. When there’s such disarray as to the roles and the pitchers don’t know when they’re going to be called on, it turns into anarchy that makes it very hard to win. Bochy has never functioned with a closer by committee; there are managers who can do that. Davey Johnson likes to have more than one short reliever racking up the saves; Buck Showalter and Joe Maddon are capable of doing it. It’s not a strength of Bochy. For his entire managerial career he’s either had Trevor Hoffman and Wilson. The haphazard way in which they’re coping with Wilson’s loss is indicative of Bochy’s need to have that ace in the bullpen.

As much as the Giants’ starting pitching is considered their strength, the problem they now have is that without Wilson, they’re likely to reconsider pulling their starters when they normally would because they might need them to go deeper into the games. As the season winds down, that extra stress and workload due to the absence of Wilson will take its toll on the team—a team that isn’t going to run away with any division. They’re going to make their playoff run in September and have to be healthy and fresh.

Tim Lincecum should be fine; Matt Cain is a workhorse; Madison Bumgarner is a rising star; Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito are still question marks. Zito especially, with his 84 mph fastball, has zero margin for error and, in a larger scope, nor do the Giants.

It’s very hard to compete when relying so desperately on the starting pitching and having an All-Star closer if that closer is no longer there. Their defense has been horrible and they don’t hit. When you combine the sequence of events, it’s going to be a bad ending in San Francisco unless they do something definitive to address one or more of these issues.

They’re going to need someone who can close.

Brett Myers is likely to be available; I’d prefer Carlos Marmol whom the Cubs will absolutely want to unload.

When Wilson went down, so did the Giants blueprint. It has to be dealt with. Soon.

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Bud Selig As The Lobotomized Roger Goodell

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While the idea of the Mets wearing hats from the NYPD and FDNY was symbolic and small in the grand scheme of remembrances of the catastrophic events on 9.11.2001, it wasn’t something that should’ve been dismissed for an arbitrary reason such as “consistency” as was proffered by MLB discipline czar Joe Torre.

We can go through all the collateral questions of this “wear the hats” controversy:

Where was the Vietnam veteran, Marine lawyer, all-around tough guy and Bud Selig crony, Mets GM Sandy Alderson during all this?

Why is Josh Thole, a rookie who can’t play and runs his words together when he speaks, the Mets’ player rep?

Who cares if the Mets chose to wear “unsanctioned” MLB hats in a game between themselves and the Cubs as the two teams are a combined 45 1/2 games out of first place and no one would otherwise be watching if not for the ceremonies beforehand?

We’ll ignore all that and the brainlessness of Selig’s tenure as MLB Commissioner.

This isn’t ending the All Star Game in a tie.

Nor is it pushing beer, beer and more beer on the fans to make as much money as possible during a game and then adding a “drink responsibly” or “designate a driver” as if they don’t realize that neither suggestion is or ever will be taken seriously.

It’s not a guided by expediency turning of a deaf, dumb and blind eye to rampant PED usage.

It’s not some ill-planned and bottom line idiotic version of “realignment” that’s limited to moving the Astros to the American League and adding two Wild Card teams.

It’s the Mets wanting to wear a different hat than mandated for one game.

But Selig decided to be a lobotomized version of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in terms of hard-line rules (and Goodell relaxed the NFL’s stringent rules today); and pulled Torre in front of him as a slightly younger (but still elderly) human shield to protect him from taking the blame of a decision that he could’ve shot the cuffs of his rumpled suit, gone to his rotary phone, made a phone call and reversed.

Torre wanted to be “consistent”? Did he really think other teams were going to squawk if the Mets got to wear NYPD hats and the Royals, Tigers, Dodgers and whoever didn’t?

And what would’ve been wrong with every team wearing a hat in honor of law enforcement? Were they worried that someone was going to walk out with a hat commemorating their favored gentleman’s club? Or Coca Cola when Pepsi Max is the official soft drink of MLB?

Wouldn’t it have been easier to just let them wear the hats than to look like a bunch of doddering and clueless imbeciles who don’t have any concept of the national mood?

I guess not.

Again MLB looks like a bunch of nitpicking fools who are so clumsy that they managed to screw up a tribute by deeming it illegal and threatened the Mets with a fine if they ignored the edict.

The PR savvy thing would’ve been to let the Mets wear the hats.

But this is MLB. The people running the game are tone deaf and tactically inept.

Don’t expect more because you’re not going to get it under this regime.

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The Mets Have To Get Better Players

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It’s unfair to compare the rebuilding Mets under a first year front office that’s diametrically opposed to the previous one and the Phillies who are in the midst of a run of excellence they haven’t enjoyed since the late 1970s-early 1980s, but it’s instructive to look at the two teams to understand why the Phillies are where they are and what the Mets need to do to get there.

Let’s take a look.

Draft, scout and develop.

The Phillies have benefited from a strong farm system in a multitude of ways. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Vance Worley and Carlos Ruiz all came up through the Phillies organization; Shane Victorino was found in the Rule 5 Draft; Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence were acquired in trades because the Phillies had prospects other clubs coveted; Raul Ibanez, Cliff Lee and Placido Polanco were signed as free agents; and even Wilson Valdez, a journeyman castoff from the Mets, has been a valuable utilityman standing in at various times for the injured Utley, Polanco and Rollins.

The Mets have some players from their system with promise. Jonathon Niese, Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada and Bobby Parnell all have potential. They also developed Jose Reyes and David Wright. but others have failed for one reason or another. Fernando Martinez can’t stay healthy; Josh Thole isn’t going to hit enough; Ike Davis is hurt. The Mets didn’t have the prospects to trade for veterans as the Phillies did and their rampant dysfunction in recent years made them an unappealing destination for players with choices. Players will want to go where a team appears to have its house in order or will pay them more money than anyone else. That’s essentially how the Mets got Jason Bay, Francisco Rodriguez and Johan Santana. While the Phillies have gotten production from their free agents, the Mets haven’t.

Role players should be role players.

When talking about Phillies utilityman Valdez, it’s instructive to look at the Valdez-type players the Mets have and see that they’re playing more frequently than would be optimal for a good team.

Justin Turner, Scott Hairston, Dillon Gee, Jason Isringhausen, Pedro Beato—all have use on a limited basis—but the Mets are utilizing them as regular, key players. When limited players are playing almost every day, they’re going to be exposed for what they are; and when 4-5 of them are playing every single day, it’s going to catch up; that’s what’s happening to the Mets.

They’re not a good enough team and they don’t have enough good players. The only reason they’ve stayed as close to .500 as they have is because the rest of baseball is so laden with parity that no one can tell which teams should be bad and which should be atrocious.

Play the game correctly.

It was laughable when, in the waning days of the 2010 season, Utley took Tejada out on a play at second base and the Mets reacted like a bunch of Southern women at a church social, indignant that such a thing would occur. There was talk of retaliation and the team taking a different approach to plays on the bases and at the plate.

Different approach? How about playing the game correctly without it being a response?

It was about time the Mets decided to stop being so nice to their opponents and let them have it when the opportunity arose. Following Utley’s take-out of Tejada, Carlos Beltran slid hard toward Utley and, in typical Mets fashion, missed him completely.

Had Utley been knocked into left field, he wouldn’t have said a word about it because he’s old-school, keeps his mouth shut and plays the game the right way.

You want to send a message? When Utley blocks second base with his knee as an opponent is stealing second, drive your spikes so hard into his leg so to break the skin. You don’t like him standing so close to the plate, dawdling and messing with the pitchers’ heads? Hit him in the back.

It’s called doing something about it other than yapping.

This is playing the game the way it should be played and is one of the reasons the Phillies are where they are and the Mets are where they are.

Be aggressive, smart and lucky.

This isn’t to imply that the Phillies do everything correctly because GM Ruben Amaro Jr, has made some horrible gaffes and silly free agent signings in his time as GM; it’s been glossed over by the way the team has played and that he rectified the bigger mistakes by trading for Oswalt a year ago and getting Lee back via free agency last winter; but those two deals stemmed from the fact that both Oswalt and Lee were willing to join the Phillies because the Phillies were contenders and in an atmosphere the players wanted to be a part of. Neither Oswalt nor Lee wanted to join the Mets because the team was in such disarray and the club’s reputation has taken a brutal beating due to the off-field mishaps and lawsuits surrounding team ownership.

But the Phillies weren’t exactly the bastion of cohesion until they started winning. In fact, they were a joke for 14 years from 1994 through most of 2007 before the Mets collapse and Phillies rise.

These things change quickly. The Mets have a new drafting style, a top-down chain of command that won’t be usurped as it was with Tony Bernazard running roughshod over the organization, a plan of attack and a GM able to express himself coherently—all of this gives them every chance to turn things around within the next three years.

All they have to do is adhere to the principles elucidated above.

They have to be a more than a little lucky.

They have to get better players and not use roster-filler on a daily basis in key roles.

It’s that simple. And that difficult.

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