You Were Expecting More From The 2013 Mets?

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For what the Mets lack in on-field success in recent years, they make up for in agendas and alibis. The alibis are coming from the team itself; the agendas from the fans and media. The media loves to roast the Mets for their play and personnel moves (perfectly fair) and for their business dealings such as entering into an innocuous agreement with Amway (unfair and self-serving). The fans either wallow in self-pity, hope the team loses so Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins will be fired, or have secondary benefit from the self-flagellation of being a Mets fan as if punishment in this life of baseball fandom will lead to paradise in the next. Opposing fans who need to worry about their own issues point to the Mets as everything they perceive as “wrong.”

If there’s some paradise a pious Mets fan is looking for, the only virgin they’re likely to run into in a sports-related heaven is Tim Tebow and he’s probably no fun to hang out with; the only Kingdom they have to look forward to is in a storybook.

The key question is this: What were you expecting?

They’re in year three of an acknowledged rebuild.

They have a starting rotation of Matt Harvey, Jon Niese and a mix-and-match array of journeymen.

They have one outfielder (who’s actually a first baseman) in Lucas Duda who can hit and has a 25-30 foot radius of balls he’ll catch, block, kick or swallow.

They have one high potential reliever in Bobby Parnell, two decent veterans Scott Atchison and LaTroy Hawkins and more bad journeymen.

One of their main power hitters, Ike Davis, takes the first two months of every season apparently contemplating the mysteries of life in a “what does it all mean?” hypnotic state as he counts the seams of the next low, outside curveball he’ll swing and miss at while batting .150.

They have the foundation for a decent middle infield with Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy, a star at third base in David Wright, and a catcher in John Buck who’s hitting like Johnny Bench when he’s closer to Barry Foote.

Their top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud, acquired in the R.A. Dickey trade, is out with a broken foot and has had his Flushing debut stalled probably until September; their top pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler, acquired for Carlos Beltran, is embarrassing himself with a little league-level whine about not liking it in Las Vegas and is throwing a tantrum hoping to be sent to a more preferable location.

These are the facts.

What gives you the impression that Wally Backman, John McGraw or Connie Mack as manager; Dave Duncan, Rick Peterson, Leo Mazzone or Mel Harder as pitching coach; and Branch Rickey as GM would make any difference whatsoever with this group?

Judging by the lack of moves they made last winter and the removal of the last pieces of the Omar Minaya regime (Jason Bay was dumped and Johan Santana’s Mets career is over with his injury), did you truly in your heart of hearts expect a shocking Athletics/Orioles 2012-style rise for the Mets in 2013?

This team is playing up to its potential and that potential is currently not good. No amount of screaming, yelling and pronouncements of what would “fix” them or what “I’d do” is going to change it especially if your prescriptions are buried in the simplicity of faux expertise and blatant idiocy that’s ten times worse than anything Alderson’s done or will do. The organization has all but said they’re playing for 2014 and beyond when they’re supposedly going to have some money to spend and the prospects they’ve been acquiring and cultivating since Alderson took over will begin to bear fruit.

These are your 2013 Mets. This is it. Deal with it. Or get into therapy. Or just shut up.

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Off Season Losers In Retrospect

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Several days ago I listed the off season winners in retrospect discussing teams and the moves they made this past winter. Now it’s time for the losers.

New York Yankees

Acquired: Michael Pineda, Raul Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Jose Campos

Subtracted: Jorge Posada, A.J. Burnett, Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi

The YES Network website still hasn’t mentioned Jose Campos since he got hurt. For that matter, nor have they mentioned Manny Banuelos’s recent injury. Maybe they haven’t been informed yet. Yeah. That’s it.

The trade of Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos is an absolute and utter disaster—a fireable offense for GM Brian Cashman.

Kuroda’s been good and unlucky.

Pettitte’s unexpected return has been a bolt from the blue and Ibanez has contributed the power I expected.

It’s fine to talk about them “having” to get rid of Burnett, but they’re paying him; they got low minor leaguers for him; he’s pitching well for the Pirates; and the players the Yankees got haven’t played yet in 2012. Had Pettitte not returned I guarantee there would be people now lamenting the loss of Burnett.

Guarantee.

Boston Red Sox

Acquired: GM Ben Cherington, Manager Bobby Valentine, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Mark Melancon, Nick Punto

Subtracted: GM Theo Epstein, Manager Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Josh Reddick, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek

It’s only when you look at the list above all at once do you realize how rancid an off-season the Red Sox had. Never mind the exchange of GMs/managers. Had he stayed, Epstein probably would’ve had better success fending off the advancing power grab of Larry Lucchino but it would’ve taken a Herculean effort for Epstein to prevent the mediocrity that the Red Sox have become.

I’m sick of seeing Francona complaining about how he was treated in Boston. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, the hot chicks to whom he’s sending candid photos of himself wouldn’t know who he is; not to mention would he not have two World Series rings and respect as a “great” manager—which he’s not.

Bailey got hurt as Reddick is on his way to making the All Star team and has been the Athletics’ best player. Melancon is back in the minor leagues; Shoppach is on the trade block; Ross was playing well before he got hurt; Punto is Punto.

No one’s saying they should’ve overpaid to keep Papelbon, but giving Scutaro away for a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen made no sense.

Detroit Tigers

Acquired: Prince Fielder, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Collin Balester

Subtracted: Wilson Betemit, Brad Penny, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Joel Zumaya

Fielder and Cabrera are doing their jobs at the plate and more. The porous defense created by the signing of Fielder and shifting of Cabrera to third base hasn’t been as catastrophic as expected. That’s unless the pitching staff has it in their heads that they have to strike out more hitters or pitch differently to prevent balls from being hit to the right or left sides of the infield—highly unlikely.

The Tigers are 5 games under .500 because their pitching has been bad. The off-season isn’t a failure because of the signing of Fielder, but 5 games under .500 wasn’t what Mike Ilitch had in mind when he paid all that money to sign a huge bat like Fielder to replace Victor Martinez and team him with Cabrera.

Minnesota Twins

Acquired: GM Terry Ryan, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, Joel Zumaya

Subtracted: GM Bill Smith, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey

Terry Ryan was supposed to come back into the GM’s chair and start doing things the “Twins’ Way”. Well, that “way” is no longer working. The reason that vaunted “way” worked in the past was because they had talent on the roster and a club that was built for how Ron Gardenhire managed.

That’s no longer the case.

Marquis was released. Carroll hasn’t hit. Willingham’s been fantastic. The Zumaya signing was worth a shot I suppose, but he got hurt again. What he needs now is a friend—a real friend—to tell him that it’s over and he should retire before he damages himself permanently.

Maybe that’s what the Twins need too.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Acquired: GM Jerry Dipoto, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Chris Iannetta, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins

Subtracted: GM Tony Reagins, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Mathis, Tyler Chatwood

Pujols has started hitting and the Angels will rise and fall on what he does, but the uncharacteristic decision on the part of the Angels to depart from the template they’ve adhered to for a decade has led to this disconnect between GM Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia and the club.

Scioscia’s hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, was fired against Scioscia’s wishes. They never took serious steps to bolster the bullpen and had too many players for too few lineup spots.

Owner Arte Moreno made maneuvers that were not team-related, but related to the TV deal he wanted to secure. And he did.

They did business like the 1980s Yankees and they’ve been playing and behaving like the 1980s Yankees. The one thing that will save them is the thing that was lacking in the 1980s: the Wild Cards.

Cincinnati Reds

Acquired: Mat Latos, Ryan Madson, Ryan Ludwick

Subtracted: Ramon Hernandez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, Edgar Renteria, Francisco Cordero

The Reds are in first place and playing well no thanks to Latos (he’s been horrific); Madson (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Ludwick (.205/.290/.402 slash line with 6 homers in a homer-friendly home park).

It’s not as if they needed Alonso with Joey Votto ensconced at first base. They have a young catcher in Devin Mesoraco so they didn’t really need Grandal. And Volquez has been consistently inconsistent and injured since his great rookie year with the Reds.

But the winter moves are what’s relevant here and if they’d held onto the players they traded for Latos (and I’m not retrospectively ripping the deal since I thought it was good for both sides), they could’ve gotten mid-season help rather than an in-season nightmare.

Milwaukee Brewers

Acquired: Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Norichika Aoki, Jose Veras, Brooks Conrad

Subtracted: Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee

Ramirez is starting to hit and will hit put up numbers by the end of the season. We’ll never know whether the improved defense and pop from Alex Gonzalez and a full season from Mat Gamel would’ve made up for the loss of Fielder because both blew out their knees within days of each other.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. They did the best they could under their financial and practical circumstances.

St. Louis Cardinals

Acquired: Manager Mike Matheny, Carlos Beltran, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist

Subtracted: Manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto.

So wait…now that the Cardinals are at .500 and freefalling it’s been miraculously discovered that the transition from a Hall of Fame manager/pitching coach combination to a manager who’s never managed before anywhere wasn’t going to go as smoothly as it did when they got off to a hot start?

That replacing Pujols wasn’t as simple as signing Beltran and moving the now-injured 36-year-old Lance Berkman to first base?

Shocking.

Colorado Rockies

Acquired: Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, Jeremy Guthrie, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Colvin, Jamie Moyer

Subtracted: Chris Iannetta, Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith

The starting pitching has killed them.

They loaded up on starters, but it hasn’t been enough as Drew Pomeranz got hurt and they gave Moyer 10 starts. It hasn’t helped that Hammel has been very good for the Orioles while Guthrie has been terrible for the Rockies.

Cuddyer has been everything advertised. Scutaro and Hernandez haven’t.

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They Hired Jerry DiPoto To Do This?

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A team that spends their money in this way in free agency—C.J. Wilson ($77.5 million over 5-years); Albert Pujols ($250 million over 10-years); and LaTroy Hawkins (1-year, $3 million)—and to trade a top prospect starter Tyler Chatwood for Chris Iannetta and find a taker for Jeff Mathis, probably didn’t need to hire a new GM to do it.

That’s nothing against new Angels GM Jerry DiPoto who made a series of terrific trades while the interim GM of the Diamondbacks to help build the foundation for this year’s surprising NL West champion; nor the players he acquired—he got quality for the most part and/or filled the Angels’ needs—but don’t make it seem like the act of a genius when he had an owner in Arte Moreno who authorized the payouts.

As for the deals themselves, Pujols for 10 years is more palatable when there’s the DH option as he ages, but $250 million is a lot of money for one player no matter how it’s sliced; he’s a historic player and will produce in the foreseeable future for the Angels; one thing that will be very interesting is how he ages. Will the progression and decline be natural or will he maintain his excellence for the length of the contract leading to…questions?

Pujols is this era’s Joe DiMaggio in both performance and stature; even DiMaggio tumbled rapidly and was finished by 36.

My first reaction to the Wilson contract was: “That’s it?”

From wanting $120 million, he took $77.5 million?

Obviously the visions of riches Wilson had dancing under that thick lustrous hair weren’t available from the Rangers, Marlins or anyone else.

The Angels signed a pitcher for less than the extension they agreed to with Jered Weaver and bolstered an already excellent top three starters with Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.

Wilson isn’t young (31), but he has clean mechanics and hasn’t been a starter long enough for wear and tear to be a concern. He’s a good pitcher and will be good for the Angels.

This is a formidable team, but don’t place any appellations of “genius” or provide undue credit to DiPoto because he just did what former GM Tony Reagins and another whom was interviewed for the position, Omar Minaya, could’ve done amid all the criticism they received as GMs—he spent a load of money.

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Those Last Three Outs

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Tony La Russa, when scoffing at the suggestion that “anyone” can close games has said something to the tune of, “those last three outs are different”.

It’s not something that can be equated by stats or stuff. Closing is a mental endeavor more than anything else. It helps to have a power fastball like Goose Gossage; a bat-destroying cutter like Mariano Rivera; or a split-finger fastball like Bruce Sutter, but what all three of these pitchers and the other great closers of past and present have had is that they’ve been able to handle the mental and physical stresses of the job.

This phenomenon is being played out in front of our eyes as we’re seeing another quality arm who should be able to do it, one who I specifically pointed out as a winning choice—White Sox lefty Matt Thornton—imploding in his first week as the full-time closer.

Thornton has a high-90s fastball and good slider; he strikes out tons of hitters; has historically handled righties and lefties; doesn’t allow many homers; and throws strikes. His demeanor is indicates a closer’s mentality with the aura of “gimme the ball”.

But he’s been awful so far this season. So awful that while manager Ozzie Guillen is sticking with him, he’s come out and said he wants to see better results—ESPN Story.

In other words, time’s running out on Thornton’s foray as the White Sox closer.

Can it be explained by dissecting Thornton’s games and finding a reason why he’s gotten off to an atrocious start in his star turn? He’s had three save opportunities this season and blown them all including the April 8th game against the reeling and winless Rays in which he got tattooed for 5 runs. His defense certainly didn’t help him, but that’s no excuse.

Is it a slump? Or is being the designated “closer” in his head?

Some pitchers have been very good as set-up men and, when asked to pitch one inning later, have faltered. LaTroy Hawkins and Guillermo Mota were two solid relievers who simply could not do it.

La Russa always chafes at the implication that he destroyed the game with his specialization and role-based strategies.

The accusation is a misnomer. La Russa was simply doing what was best for his club at the time—the Athletics—and used Dennis Eckersley in a way that was best suited to what Eckersley could and couldn’t do.

The suggestion that “anyone” can get the outs in the ninth inning is contradicted by the qualified pitchers who’ve failed.

It’s not as simple as going out there and recording three outs. It’s an exercise in mental toughness more than a lights out fastball or sharp breaking pitch.

It’s important for one new to the situation and designation as the “ace” out of the bullpen to get off to a good start. Thornton’s already gacked that test. Next is whether he can overcome adversity and regain his bearings—another prerequisite.

Can he recover?

Judging from the statements of his manager, Thornton had better get a move on or he’s going back to the set-up role and Chris Sale will be closing sooner rather than later.

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here (coincidentally, it’s the section about the Mets).

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