The Yankees’ Other Key Pending Free Agent

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Last night’s absurd 9-1 loss to the expansion-level Astros aside, the Yankees have surpassed the low-level expectations they were saddled with given their injuries to key players, lack of big name free agent signings and insistence that they’re going to get their payroll down to $189 million by 2014. At 15-10, the doom and gloom surrounding the club after the 1-4 start has subsided for the moment. That said, the age and number of injuries they’ve had will eventually catch up to them as the season moves along. If they’re still in position to be a factor by July, then it will be appropriate to laud the team’s resiliency and a playoff run.

What’s ignored in their good start is the steady hand that’s guided them through it, manager Joe Girardi. While the most prominent pending free agent the Yankees have is Robinson Cano, Girardi’s contract is also expiring at the end of the season and the team has been content to let him work in the final year with no rumors floated about a possible extension. Whether they’re willing to let the season play out and consider their options is known only to them, but unless they’re undertaking a full-blown rebuild—one that Girardi, with his resume, would not be interested in overseeing at this point in his career—then it makes no sense to run the risk of Girardi leaving.

For all the criticism he attracts for overusing his bullpen and overmanaging; for showing how clever he is with unnecessary in-game offensive decisions related to the near and dear to his heart “small ball” and doing “stuff” to make it look like he’s “managing” when just sitting there and letting the players play would be a better move, Girardi is now ensconced as the Yankees manager and those that are calling for his dismissal are complaining for its own sake.

He’s a good manager based on the following prime criteria, contingent on the situation, that a good manager needs to have:

  • The team achieves what it’s supposed to achieve

I don’t mean that the Yankees expectations are to win the World Series every year and if they don’t, the season is judged as a failure. That’s what wound up dooming Joe Torre. I mean that if a team like the Nationals, for example, doesn’t have any significant injuries and finishes at 85-77 and out of the playoffs, then that falls on manager Davey Johnson. Barring a clear screw-up, a manager shouldn’t be dumped based on playoff results.

  • The team overachieves

Girardi’s one season as Marlins manager resulted in the definition of a club that overachieved. In 2006, following a sell off the prior winter in which they dumped A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Carlos Delgado, Paul Lo Duca, Luis Castillo and Juan Pierre, they were widely expected to lose over 100 games. Girardi won the Manager of the Year by keeping them in Wild Card contention and had them at .500 as late as September 16th before a 78-84 finish. He was fired by owner Jeffrey Loria in a fit of petulance. Not much has changed from then to now with Loria who’s on his fifth manager since Girardi.

  • There’s accountability from the top down

The worst thing a manager can do is to accept that there’s a “rebuilding” going and act as if it doesn’t matter what the game results are as long as the players “develop.” That doesn’t mean trying to win every single game like it’s the seventh game of the World Series at the expense of health and sanity, but it means that there won’t shrugging and disinterest if the losses begin to pile up.

Girardi has managed the Yankees for five-plus years and they’ve made the playoffs and won 95+ games in four of them. If they want to bring in someone else, whom are they going to hire to replace him? Is it that easy to find someone who can deal with the circus, handle the media, have respect in the clubhouse and win with a diminished and aging roster all at the same time? If they were still going to have a $200+ million payroll and toss money at all their issues, then they could find the prototypical “someone” to manage the team and be okay. That’s no longer the case. There’s rarely an answer as to who the fans/media might want as a the new manager. It’s just change for change’s sake. There are times when it’s necessary to make a change just because. This is not one of those times.

It must be remembered that had he not gotten the Royals job prior to Torre being let go, GM Brian Cashman was seriously interested in Trey Hillman. Hillman had an airtight resume, was impressive in both presence and tone and was a disaster in Kansas City. He was strategically inept and couldn’t deal with the scrutiny and media in Kansas City. One can only venture a guess as to how bad he would’ve been in New York. It’s not that simple to find a good manager, especially in New York.

If Torre was the dad/Godfather to all the players, then Girardi is the no-nonsense brother who took over the family business and is running it his way. Girardi has never gotten the credit he’s deserved for the seamless transition from Torre. He never tried to be Torre and in the first season at the helm, it caused some friction with the veterans who weren’t accustomed to the energy, detachment and lack of personal attention with a pat on the back here and a paternal embrace there that was a daily part of the Torre regime. He also missed the playoffs in his first year after Torre had made it in every one of his seasons running the show. He survived it.

The easy thing for him to do would’ve been to copy his former manager and mentor. Instead, Girardi took little bits and pieces from his former managers Don Zimmer, Tony LaRussa, Torre, and Don Baylor. Girardi is more of a “what you see is what you get” than Torre ever was. Torre was calculating and Machiavellian. In circumstances in which he’d had enough of certain players—such as when he batted Alex Rodriguez eighth in the 2006 ALDS loss to the Tigers—the old-school and occasionally vicious Torre came out. His close relationships with Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada among others were due in part to him nurturing them through their formative years and in part because he was a self-interested actor who knew he needed those players on his side if he was going to succeed and continue in his job with an owner always looking to fire the manager if his demands weren’t met. When Girardi took the job, there were the familiar sibling tensions, especially with Posada, that he had to navigate. Sometimes he did a better job than others. Now there’s a détente between Girardi, Jeter and the other remaining veterans, but there will never be the affection there was with Torre.

He’s earned the right to have his status defined. By all reason and logic, the Yankees are playing far better than should’ve been expected given the issues they face. Girardi is looking into the contractual unknown. Perhaps they’ve told him they’ll take care of him at the end of the year. Maybe they haven’t. They could be waiting to see what happens. In any case, it’s a mistake. A number of appetizing jobs might be open after this season including the Angels (that one might be open in a matter of days), Dodgers, Tigers, Rangers, Mets, Blue Jays, Nationals and Mariners. All of those teams would be interested in Girardi.

It’s doubtful that he leaves the Yankees, but while they’re concerned about Cano’s contract, they need to pay attention to Girardi’s as well because he’s done a good job and they need him to stay.

//

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The Meaning of the David Wright Signing

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A week after Black Friday, it was Blue and Orange Friday as the Mets signed their star third baseman David Wright to an 8-year contract extension for $138 million. Of course this decision elicited reactions far and wide. Let’s take a look at the reality of the Wright contract for everyone involved.

For David Wright

I wrote about Wright’s decision to re-sign with the Mets yesterday.

Wright had the choice of waiting until his chance at free agency after next season and face the prospect of being traded or getting hurt. Maybe he would have had a career season and put himself in position to make perhaps $20-30 million more on the open market; maybe he would’ve been traded to a preseason/mid-season title-contender.

Or it could’ve ended badly.

Wright saw what happened to his friend and former teammate Jose Reyes when he chased the money, went the the Marlins and now is playing for the Blue Jays in Canada on artificial turf for the next five years. There was the added attraction of Wright being a Mets icon who will rewrite their record book, be the best position player in their history and to never wear another club’s uniform. The offer was on the table, he wasn’t going to do much better as a free agent and didn’t really want to leave apart from a fleeting, “what if?” curiosity of what it would be like elsewhere.

In the end, he chose to stay in the only baseball home he’s ever known.

For the Mets

There’s no getting around how important it was for the Mets to keep Wright not just because he’s a top 5 third baseman in all of baseball and their most popular player, but because they had to undo the perception of the club being broke and having little interest in: A) spending money; B) give the fans what they wanted.

Like Carlos Beltran functions as a symbol of the near-miss of the 2006 team; Jason Bay the symbol of the desperation to hold onto the shriveling tendrils of contention; Reyes the star who spiraled down the drain like the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme money that gutted the Wilpons’ finances, Wright is a bridge to the better times of the Mets and can be the elder statesman for the future.

It was important for the club to step up, show the fans, media, and the rest of baseball that they were willing to do what it took to keep the one player they had to keep. It wasn’t simply an on-field maneuver. Truth be told, the rebuilding might have been expedited with a lower payroll had they traded Wright for a package of prospects—in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were loud voices in the front office that wanted to do that exact thing. But for the same reason they didn’t trade Reyes when many were screaming that they should, there were collateral reasons not to pull the trigger on Wright.

And here’s a flash about Reyes: the Mets did want him back. To say that they didn’t is silly. What they didn’t want to do was give $100 million to a speed player whose defense was markedly declining and who had had multiple injuries over the years when they knew they were also going to need money to sign Wright. What they were hoping was that the Reyes market crashed and he had to return on a deal the club found reasonable. Had the Marlins not jumped in with their backloaded $106 million deal, that’s exactly what would’ve happened. In addition, the Mets had a big league ready replacement for Reyes in Ruben Tejada. No such replacement on or off the field existed for Wright.

It didn’t have racial undertones of choosing the handsome, steady white guy over the flashy and injury prone Dominican. It was a cold baseball decision made by the front office—exactly the type of rationality they wanted when the hired Sandy Alderson as the GM to replace the “I want to make people happy immediately regardless of long-term cost” Omar Minaya.

As for the repeated reference to Fred Wilpon’s ill-advised comment in the New Yorker Magazine that Wright wasn’t a superstar player, it was a year-and-a-half ago. Do you really believe that Wright and Wilpon haven’t since spoken and hashed it out? The Mets paid him like a superstar and Wright will be the first one to tell you that he’s not an Albert Pujols or Alex Rodriguez in their primes. How many true “superstars” are there in baseball? Not many and Wright, along with many other All-Star players, is not a prototypical superstar. It’s not the insult it’s portrayed to be and in the end, what’s the difference?

For the rest of baseball

Wright is very popular around baseball and if he’s willing to invest the rest of his career to the Mets, it’s a signal that the circumstances are getting better around the entire franchise. Because of the lack of money and last four seasons of steady decline and rebuild, the Mets were a “no go” destination unless a player had no other choice. As we’ve seen with the Orioles and Athletics on the positive side and the Red Sox and even the Yankees on the negative side, that is more of a function of how they’re viewed in the moment.

With Wright onboard and the young pitching Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Jonathon Niese that has much of baseball salivating to get their hands on them, along with NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, the Mets have the foundation in place to make a serious move into legitimate contention.

Wright signing and the Mets paying him tells the rest of baseball that the talk of wanting to keep Wright wasn’t lip service to placate without a true intention of following through. They followed through.

For the fans

Even the most miserable Mets fan who didn’t want Wright back, who is still complaining about the supporting cast they’re surrounding the third baseman with, has to feel some sense of happiness that they’re keeping someone and not masochistically pleading for a repeat of the flogging they took for their dealings with Reyes.

They kept Reyes rather than trade him because, as said before, they wanted to keep him; and they also wanted to sell a few more tickets in a lost season. It was a retrospective mistake, but it was more understandable—given the circumstances—than the simplistic entreaties that they “should’ve traded him” would suggest.

Mets fans will still complain, but it won’t be about not holding onto their own players. For now anyway.

For the media

As usual, the Mets can’t win with the media. Whatever they do, it’s twisted to suit the narrative of a moderately brainless idiot who occasionally and by mistake manages to get something right.

This is exemplified by today’s passive aggressive piece in the New York Times by Tyler Kepner. Amid the begrudging credit given to the club for keeping their third baseman, Kepner took the cheap shots that have become a prerequisite in this market by, of course, mentioning the Wilpon comment; rehashing past mistakes such as Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo; questioning the wisdom on the part of Wright and the Mets in staying together; and naturally making sure to mention the supposed superiority of the Yankees who, according to Kepner, have a “business model sets them up to contend for the title every year.”

That same Yankees’ business model that: has an array of immovable contracts; Derek Jeter appearing as if he’s packing on the pounds to audition to be Engelberg in The Bad News Bears—20 years later; ancient players from top to bottom; lost Russell Martin to the Pirates; and has, topping their catching depth chart, the equally horrendous Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart.

Referencing the Yankees as anything to admire right now is an outrageous display of clinging to the past and a none-too-sly shot at the Mets during a brief moment of happiness.

Kepner offhandedly points out the acquisition of Wheeler from the Giants for Beltran in the tone of the Mets being a broken clock that manages to be right twice a day, then contextualizes it by equating the decision to trade Angel Pagan—a talented player who is baseball-stupid—as the Giants getting “even.” Like the Wright signing, the Pagan trade made sense at the time. It didn’t work, but the way to judge any trade/free agent signing/draft pick is whether it was logical. Anything other than that is second guessing.

What the Mets have done under Alderson is to retreat from the Wilpons’ prior modus operandi with GMs of the past and, instead of concentrating on doing what the media wanted them to do to garner good press, are pushing back and running the club as it should be run. The same press that had Minaya thinking everyone is his friend is intimidated by Alderson because the GM sees right through them and won’t respond to their tactics—tactics that Kepner again employs and will be roundly ignored if not ridiculed by those who know better and understand his intentions with such a transparent piece.

This is a positive move for the Mets. They did what needed to be done in keeping Wright. That is the only way in which this signing must be judged. It makes sense now, therefore it makes sense, no matter what happens in the future and over Wright’s career that will be as a Met and a Met alone.

//

Of Reyes And Agendas

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I make no secret of reveling in the fact that Moneyball and Billy Beane are, by now, incongruent; that I find it funny that Beane has become a joke; that he’s trying to put forth the portrayal of the hapless everyman who’s been swallowed up by the big money clubs who stole his blueprint and left him behind.

The casual fan watches Moneyball, sees the “genius” with which Beane implemented the stat-based theory and found a means to compete in an uncompetitive world, then looks at the Athletics utter non-competitiveness and questions why he’s still considered a “genius”. Beane’s fall adds a perceptive resonance to the truth and directly correlates it to Moneyball being perceived as “wrong”.

Moneyball isn’t necessarily “wrong” insomuch as it was inaccurate and crafted in such a way to make Beane look smarter than he really was; to appear to be creating something when his main attribute was—as a matter of desperation—using the statistical analysis that few other clubs were using to the degree that he did.

And it worked.

For awhile.

Now it doesn’t work because teams like the Yankees and Red Sox are using the same strategy, buying the players Beane once got for free and covering up the ones that don’t work by flinging money at the problem.

My agenda isn’t to be seen as “right”, but to present the full context.

Others—specifically those who have a personal investment in bashing the Mets—can’t say the same.

Jose Reyes is either going to stay with the Mets or he won’t. They’ll make an offer. It will be a lucrative offer. And if someone vastly surpasses it, he’ll leave; if it’s not a drastic increase, he’ll have a decision to make.

Does the reason he leaves or stays matter?

Only in their warped, egocentric, self-aggrandizing views of themselves.

By “them” and “their” I mean any and all people who criticize an entity because it’s a convenient target like a piñata; because they have a vested interest in its failure or success.

Sandy Alderson was hired by the Mets. In the same scope of the Mets and Reyes, does it matter why he was hired? There are floating ideas that the Mets were forced to hired him by the commissioner’s office who wanted someone they trusted in place to keep an eye on the Wilpons and restore order to one of the big market franchises for whom it behooves MLB to be successful and not a laughingstock.

Alderson is the Mets GM; multitudes were pushing for him to be the GM because they thought they were getting the “father” of the Moneyball movement (another myth); but then he started GMing and wasn’t making the decisions they wanted, therefore he’s not any good.

It’s fan and media logic. And it’s ridiculous.

Alderson made the right decision in biding his time; not sacrificing the Mets limited prospects for veteran players to win 5 more games and appear to be competing in a division that they had no chance of winning or for a playoff spot they had no chance of securing; he dumped Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo; he made low-cost maneuvers that worked (Chris Capuano) and didn’t (Chris Young); he somehow found a way to get rid of Francisco Rodriguez‘s contract without having to take a headache off the hands of the team that took him; and he extracted a top tier pitching prospect in Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran.

It’s still not enough.

Whether or not the Mets were under siege due to the Bernie Madoff scandal would have little effect on Alderson’s strategy as GM. Rightly or wrongly, he doesn’t want to have a club with a payroll in the $150 million range; if that’s because he wants to appear smarter by doing it cheaper or that he feels he can stock his team just as well as the super-spenders without the capricious spending doesn’t matter if it works.

If the Mets had the access to funds the Yankees and Red Sox do, there’s still no guarantee that they’d allocate such a large chunk of their payroll to Jose Reyes.

It’s not because Reyes—as a talent—isn’t worth it. It’s because the team has multiple needs; Reyes’s injury history to his legs makes him suspect; a large part of his game is based on speed; and another team might jump in and blow them out of the water.

If that’s the case, they’ll have to move on and figure something else out.

Teams do it all the time.

Is Reyes replaceable? As a shortstop, they’re not going to replace him; but for the same reasons outlined in Moneyball, the Mets could find other pieces at various positions for the same amount of money that would be going to Reyes; they can bring in multiple players on the mound; in the outfield; behind the plate and possibly make themselves better and cheaper in the long run.

The Michael Kays of the world will sit in front of their microphones and rant and rave about how the Yankees would never let a key player leave if they really wanted to keep him. Apparently he’s forgotten that Andy Pettitte left the Yankees after the 2003 season to go to the Astros for less money, in part, because of a lack of respect shown to his work and loyalty; that had George Steinbrenner not made a last second phone call to Bernie Williams, the 1999 Yankees would have had Albert Belle and Williams would’ve gone to the Red Sox.

Alderson was hired to be the adult and not respond to public demands that border on the bratty and bullying.

He’s done a very good job in clearing some of the polarizing personalities; dumping money; restoring order and behaving in a rational, well-thought out fashion to do what’s best for the club. He’s also verbally backhanded every media member who tried to exert their will over him, specifically by intimidating the likes of Mike Francesa and Joel Sherman, slapping them down every time they say something idiotic in reference to what Alderson’s thinking without knowing anything about what he’s thinking, planning, doing.

The entire concept of the movie version of Moneyball—amid more silliness and trickery designed to convince the audience that reality isn’t real—was that Scott Hatteberg was a viable replacement for Jason Giambi and the manager of the club, Art Howe, ignored the GM’s demands to play Hatteberg until he had no other option; when Hatteberg played, he came through.

The public doesn’t want to know that Hatteberg was a regular player from the beginning of the season onward; that the Red Sox were lucky with David Ortiz and it wasn’t a grand design of diabolical brilliance; or that the Mets might be better off in the long run if they let Reyes leave.

Accept it or don’t.

It’s not going to alter objective truth one way or the other.

//

There’s Logic And Then There’s ESPN Logic

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Here’s one from the Bizarro world known as ESPN, where expertise is discouraged in favor of providing…um…words; words in some semblance of…order regardless of content and whether what those words conveyed make, y’know, logical sense on planet Earth.

Matt Meyers writes on ESPN Insider (it’s subscription only so I’ll cut and paste the relevant bits) that the Mets should release Jason Bay.

The Jason Bay he refers to has two guaranteed years remaining on his contract at $32 million; he has a contract kicker for 2014 at $17 million that activates if he has 500 plate appearances in 2012 and 2013 or 600 plate appearances in 2013.

Releasing Jason Bay would require the club—a club that has no money—eating $32 million and then finding a replacement for Bay.

Because, according to Meyers, Bay is “mediocre at best and putrid at worst” in the outfield, Meyers suggests Endy Chavez as his replacement.

Who the Mets are going to place in the middle of the lineup to have any kind of offensive threat is unclear; how they’ll score without whatever limited amounts of offense Bay can provide at this point in his career is unsaid; and that’s before finding out exactly whom his replacement in left field will be.

Bay isn’t that bad an outfielder; it’s a reputation he carted over from the Red Sox as a smear campaign was initiated to justify their then questionable decision to let him leave and it was only reinforced by Bay’s UZR numbers…until UZR altered their formula at mid-season 2010 to, lo and behold, say that Bay wasn’t as bad as they originally thought.

No, he’s not Barry Bonds or Kevin McReynolds in their primes, but he’s not a Greg Luzinski-style liability in the outfield.

As for his hitting, there’s no defending his lack of production given his career history and what the Mets are paying for, but to release him? And let him go to a contender for nothing?

Meyers’s “plan”, short of winning the bidding war for Chavez, is to shift Lucas Duda to left field:

Duda, who is 25 years old and has a .278/.349/.466 line with the Mets this year after crushing Triple-A the past two seasons, has shown he is a major league-caliber hitter. However, Duda is not an effective right fielder. So with first base blocked by Davis, the Mets need to find a way to put him in left because he can be a nice, cost-controlled solution there for the next five years. In right, he’s a liability. In left, he’s an asset.

Who’s going to play right field? The Mets aren’t going to have the money—with the ownership’s financial problems and having handed Bay a $32 million golden parachute to leave—to find anyone with name recognition. So who?

Of course they could get lucky somewhere, but if they’re hoping to hit the lottery, they might as well hope to hit the lottery with Bay and get something for the cash Meyers has them flushing down the toilet.

Rather than release Bay—which is absolutely ludicrous before Meyers’s argument and worse after—they could trade him for another bad contract and get something for him to see if a change-of-scenery helps any other team’s highly paid and unproductive players.

Meyers then says in reference to Mets GM Sandy Alderson:

Alderson already showed he’s not afraid to cut bait on underperfoming veterans with big contracts when he cut Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo in spring training. The money on Bay is spent, and the Mets should just treat it as a sunk cost and just tell Bay, “Sorry, but this just didn’t work out.” Considering his performance to date as a Met (.721 OPS), it would be hard to say they aren’t acting in the best interest of the club.

The failure to express the differences between Bay and Castillo/Perez is conspicuous if you’re looking for legitimate, common sense analysis; if you’re looking for stuff flung at a wall to slide down like a dead millipede, they I suppose you’ll agree with Meyers.

Castillo and Perez were absolutely and totally useless to the Mets and had to be dispatched for reasons that extended further than their on-field ineptitude; for a fresh start with the new regime, the club had to eat the combined $18 million of two players who were going to deliver nothing. Castillo had a brief trial with the Phillies and didn’t play this year; Perez has spent the season in the minors for the Nationals.

Bay hasn’t declined to that level; nor has he engendered the vitriol in the clubhouse that those two did.

I love these decisive maneuvers without a viable solution as a backup plan. They release Bay and….and….and….Endy Chavez? Shift Duda to left? Then what?

If Meyers came up with a comparable contract along with the Mets eating some money to trade Bay for Chone Figgins or Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners; or that the Mets take Barry Zito, Carlos Zambrano or John Lackey in exchange for Bay, I’d say that it’s something to explore; but to release him?!?

This is ESPN at its best. Or worst.

A ridiculous idea; shaky premises; no endgame other than the initial decision that would be utterly disastrous and following it up by making things worse than they’d be if they kept Bay and hoped for the best.

In short, it’s ESPN logic. And that means it’s not logical at all.

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Einhorn Or No Einhorn

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Amid their egocentric beliefs that they’re influential in the big business that is baseball ownership, you can read the clumsily presented and agenda-driven Mets stories from those who have neither the skill nor the nuance to even try to hide their contempt for the Wilpons.

They’re everywhere.

Or you can read what Bill Madden wrote yesterday in the NY Daily News.

It says something that there are very few in-depth, verifiable narratives regarding the deal collapsing apart from broad-based assumptions and outsider statements of what’s “obvious”.

We don’t know what happened; Einhorn said his piece, rife with corporate cliches; the Wilpons have said nothing.

Don’t automatically think that the supposed “white knight in a bad hairpiece”—Einhorn—is being entirely forthright as to the chain of events and that the Wilpons’ silence is an admission of “guilt”.

The main issue that’s being debated now is how much money are the Mets going to have to spend this winter to improve the club and who’s in their price range.

You’ll find your answers if you care to look for them.

Here are the facts: the Mets have prohibitive contracts coming off the books; there’s not much available via free agency; the Mets improvement—if any—in 2012 will come from rebounds, returns from injury and young players stepping forward.

The contracts of Luis Castillo ($6 million) and Oliver Perez ($12 million) are expiring; and they’ve already dumped Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran.

The one free agent the Mets are absolutely going to pursue and will pay is their own free agent, Jose Reyes.

Apart from that, here are the big name free agents this winter: Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Lance Berkman, Beltran, Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, K-Rod.

The Mets don’t need a first baseman; they could use Buehrle and Kuroda, but neither is coming to the Mets; Jackson is big and durable and I’d go after him, but the Mets aren’t giving him the $70-90 million (at least) he’ll get on the open market and he’s represented by Scott Boras. Given what the front office believes about relief pitchers, they’re not paying for Bell or Papelbon; if they go after a closer as a backup to Bobby Parnell, it’ll be a Brad Lidgetype on an incentive-laden contract.

What free agents are they missing out on sans Einhorn?

On the trade front, they could go after B.J. Upton or Marlon Byrd; check in on Brandon Phillips. There are useful though not earth-shattering free agents like Jason Kubel and Josh Willingham.

These are ancillary acquisitions who would help, but not throw a scare in the NL East that the Mets are coming.

The Mets improvement in 2012 will stem from finding out what’s wrong with Jason Bay and getting him into some semblance of what he was with the Red Sox and Pirates, or trading him for another heavily-paid underachiever like Chone Figgins.

The rotation will be solid if Johan Santana comes back and gives them 180 innings at 75% of what he was; if Mike Pelfrey is serviceable; if Jon Niese steps forward; and if R.A. Dickey continues to pitch as well as he has.

They’re not spending big on the bullpen. Teams build superior bullpens with castoffs and retreads and, money or not, that’s what the Mets were and are going to do.

Offensively—with or without Reyes—they’ll have enough to score a fair amount of runs with David Wright, Ike Davis, Bay, Lucas Duda and an improved Angel Pagan.

The size of the offer they present to Reyes will be a greater window into the financial circumstances of the club; not a pieced together extrapolation that pops up—without disclosed sources—in the blogosphere or on Twitter.

When the Reyes negotiations start, then we’ll know.

And not before then.

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Mike Pelfrey Utters A Truth No One Wanted To Hear

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Oh, and he’s not getting non-tendered either.

Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey made some statements that are creating controversy inside and outside the clubhouse.

From the NY Post:

“It’s unrealistic for anybody at the end of last year to come in and say, ‘The Mets, this is a one-year thing, next year we’re going to win it all,’ ” Pelfrey said before the Mets’ 4-3 loss to the Diamondbacks last night. “It’s unrealistic.”

One unidentified Met replied with the following:

“He’s cutting his own throat,” the player said. “What’s his record, six and nine? He’s supposed to be the ace of the [bleeping] staff. Why don’t you go and win 12 or 13 games?”

Pelfrey is 100% right and if you examine the decisions made by GM Sandy Alderson and the new front office, they know it too. If there was any concept of truly being contenders, Carlos Beltran nor Francisco Rodriguez would not have been traded; K-Rod’s appearances would not have been managed as cautiously as they were due to his contract kicker for games finished; and they would’ve been more aggressive in trying to acquire help for a “pennant race” had they actually been in one.

That they’ve stayed at or near .500 with the injuries to key players and struggles from Jason Bay and Angel Pagan among others is a testament to manager Terry Collins and a result of rampant parity around the National League.

If this unidentified player has a problem with Pelfrey, he should confront him directly or put his name to the quote. I put zero stock in that.

As for the idea that Pelfrey is going to be non-tendered, he’s not.

Forget it.

This same front office ignored the media/fan entreaties (demands) to immediately release Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez—who were useless. They’re not dumping Pelfrey for nothing.

He’s a 200-inning man regardless of his performance. His record is not an indicator of how he’s pitched—he’s been okay—and as the club gets better, his record will get better and he’ll look better. Pelfrey is not an ace, but he can be a valuable cog in the machine. They might look to trade him, but they won’t just let him go.

He’s immature; he gets flustered easily; he needs to keep his opinions to himself. Independent of the messenger, look at the message, which is absolutely accurate.

//

And Jose Reyes As Babe Ruth

Books, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

Judging from the reaction in fan and media circles, you’d think the Mets are running the risk of losing Babe Ruth rather than Jose Reyes and David Wright.

It’s grown stale.

The latest bit of journalism to catch my eye aren’t from the usual suspects in the New York media who are doing everything they can to paint the Mets as the epitome of the big market team whose ownership issues have forced small market behaviors.

No.

It’s Will Leitch in New York Magazine whose latest piece has inspired me to say the following: Will Leitch should stop writing about baseball.

At least until he learns something about it and can maintain some semblance of belief—backed up by intelligence—regarding the subject.

When a writer has me hearkening to the similar baseball-ignorant related ramblings of Stephen A. Smith, it’s time to step back and contemplate fresh tactics.

Previously, I thought Leitch simply had a Moneyball-fetish and truly didn’t comprehend what he was saying as he continually advocated the nonsensical book as the Holy Grail; that he believed everything in the mythical tome of Michael Lewis (coming to a theater near you in September). Now I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s an opportunist who’s using the issues hovering over the Mets as a hammer to brutalize a club that is trying get its act together.

From the fanboy perspective, I suppose Moneyball is a convenient set of tenets upon which to build oneself up as an “expert”. In the tradition of that atrocious film “Kick-Ass”, it’s the loser makes good, gets the pretty girl and becomes popular.

In other words, it’s a fantasy.

You see it repeatedly when the self-proclaimed baseball experts who haven’t any in-the-trenches, innate knowledge of the game make declarative statements of what they’d do were they running a club or functioning as part of a front office.

This is how you get the caller to Mike Francesa’s show who claimed he would’ve ordered Jorge Posada—a borderline Hall of Fame switch hitter—to bat left-handed against a left-handed pitcher because the numbers dictated that it was a good idea; how you find a Padres numbers cruncher with the abject failure to understand protocol as he suggested to then-manager Bruce Bochy that he bat pitcher Woody Williams second in the batting order.

And how no one is willing to get into a substantive debate about the subject, choosing instead to make comments from afar where they’re safe from retort by the object of their vitriol.

Leitch’s piece combines familiar Mets ridicule with profound negativity and a “they can’t win” sensibility.

It also exhibits a total lack of knowledge and memory of that which he’s advocated previously.

Not long ago, he wanted Billy Beane to come and take over the Mets ignoring what Beane truly is, not in the Moneyball sense, but in objective analysis.

Beane is a competent executive. No more, no less. His teams haven’t been good in recent years; he’s made some overtly stupid decisions; and has taken advantage of his fame without acknowledging the pitfalls of a “genius” and crafted perfection that never existed in the first place.

The Mets hired Sandy Alderson to run the club and he imported many of the characters and strategies from Moneyball—Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi among them.

Now, as the Mets tenuous financial situation is in the process of being untangled, there’s concern that they’re going to go the way of clubs like the Padres and Marlins who’ve repeatedly torn down the entire foundation of their franchises due to financial constraints.

They might trade Reyes or not even make an attempt to re-sign him; they could deal Wright; there are no impact free agents to be available in the coming years; they’re an exercise in dysfunction with no discernible strategy and few prospects both practically and metaphorically.

We’ve heard it all before.

The New York Mets will not crumble to the ground if Reyes and Wright are no longer the cornerstones of the franchise. They’re not the end-all, be-all of club existence. With the way the franchise is currently constituted, the Mets have to have everything on the table in terms of willingness to deal.

But here we are with Reyes playing brilliantly and placing a wrench in the theories of those who claim there’s no “evidence” of a contract-year bump; of course there’s a contract-year bump for certain players and Reyes is one of them. He wants to get paid and is doing everything he can towards that end.

Each sparkling defensive play; every stolen base; all the exciting triples into the Citi Field gap and Predator-style dreadlocks flying through the air complete with the Reyes smile that was so prominent in 2006, the media and fans pound the drums, blogosphere and social networks with entreaties as to how they want the Mets to ante up and prevent any possibility of the player entering his prime years playing in another uniform.

It would be a similar mistake to do anything desperate now as it was when the prior regimes made such ghastly and short-sighted errors such as the trading of Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano and the bidding-against-themselves signings of Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo.

In fact, it would be the exact opposite of why they hired Alderson; of doing what it was the likes of Leitch wanted them to do: find someone like Alderson, unbeholden to fan/media whims and acting in a way commensurate with his Marine-lawyer background to do what needed to be done for the good of the club without reverence to the past nor what would look good in the short-term.

So which is it?

If you examine similar clubs who’ve had financial catastrophes in the past, you come up with some interesting parallels.

The Red Sox were a joke before John Henry took over. Yes, they were good occasionally (like the Mets); yes, they spent money (like the Mets); and yes, they had a loyal and frustrated fan base that took a perverse and masochistic pride in their lot as a punching bag for the Yankees both literally and figuratively (like the Mets).

Spurned by the “genius” Beane—who’d agreed to take over the franchise after the 2002 season and backed out to remain in the comfort-zone of limited media exposure, fan obsession and expectations—they turned to young Theo Epstein who has presided over a model franchise since then.

The Rangers were a train wreck and financial nightmare as recently as last season. They made a decision in 2007 to trade a player the same age as Reyes is now (27)—Mark Teixeira—and laid the foundation for the pennant winning club of 2010 and rebuilt the franchise with the ridiculous haul of prospects they received from the Braves that included Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

You can’t say now what will work and what won’t; if a team comes to the Mets and makes an offer that would yield a substantial return for any player, they would be stupid not to think about it.

Alderson’s not stupid.

Indicative of a lack of baseball knowledge or the barest interest in accuracy is the comparison of the Mets to a small-market locale when Leitch writes the following:

But do the Mets want to be the sort of franchise that trades away its best players in their prime because of financial concerns? What are we, Minnesota?

Minnesota?

Which Minnesota is he referring to?

The Twins with their $113 million payroll? The same club that just lavished a contract worth $184 million on Joe Mauer?

Actually, with the way they flamed out in the playoffs last year—the year they were supposed to finally get past the Yankees—and the injury-ravaged, high-expectations, disaster they’ve been this year, you can compare the Twins to the Mets, not the other way around.

Leitch’s allegiance to the Moneyball model isn’t based on any deep-rooted understanding of the concept, but that it’s a book that he read and hasn’t the faintest clue as to how terribly the story was twisted to suit the ends of the author; in order to comprehend that, there must be a foundational baseball knowledge to start with.

Now I’m starting to see that Leitch’s baseball savvy is clearly more in line with the aforementioned Stephen A. Smith rather than someone with whom you could have a legitimate back-and-forth without having to explain these concepts to them like a college professor.

I don’t see Leitch’s column as slimy in a Joel Sherman sort of way, but it’s ignorant and tilted towards smarminess to attack the Mets.

At the end of the piece, Leitch writes: “And yet whichever path they choose, as any die-hard Mets fan knows, will probably be the wrong one.”

Perhaps taking that statement to heart considering his own goal in writing a hit-piece of this kind would serve him well. Get it right or quit writing about baseball altogether. Or at least present a case that isn’t dripping with sarcasm for its own sake.

****

I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.

****

Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here and recently received a 5-star review on Amazon.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

//

New Yorkered

Books, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

Did you hear?

Mets owner Fred Wilpon allowed New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin insider access for a piece in the new issue—link—and the antics of the embattled owner have become fodder for more ridicule hurled at the organization.

This is on top of the Bernie Madoff mess; the on-and-off field player issues; and the attempt to sell a portion of the team while still maintaining control for the Wilpon family.

Dissected everywhere by voices credible and not, it would take far too much time to selectively retort to individual analysts. Some make salient and sensible points; others use this as ammunition to tear into the Mets and Wilpon.

This is a story because it’s a prominent piece in a reputable magazine; the Mets are always a target for abuse; and there are agenda-driven writers making it out to be more than it is.

Fred Wilpon has always been a yeller, but has shied away from actual interference in the club machinations; son Jeff was seen as the meddler, not Fred. His contribution has been signing the checks and getting his dream ballpark built. That he watches games and criticizes like a fan is unsurprising and no different from any involved owner who cares about his team.

Billy Beane was seen to have been tearing into his manager’s moves during the Moneyball fantasy and he was the hard-charger whose actions were evidence of the organizational boss who wanted things done his way; Wilpon does it and it’s more humiliation flung at the organization.

But Beane was considered an infallible genius; Wilpon a clueless fool.

It’s all about perception and framing.

For all the things that were published in the piece, we don’t know what else was said regarding Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran. Didn’t it occur to anyone that if Toobin was following Wilpon to the degree in which he was able to write a 12 page article on the Mets owner, that Wilpon probably said quite a bit more—much of it likely positive—than what was printed?

Could it be that Toobin and the editors of the New Yorker knew what the reaction would be? What the number of webhits would be? How many extra copies of their somewhat pompous magazine would sell to the Mets fanbase—a fanbase that is generally more blue collar and presumably isn’t a regular reader of the New Yorker?

The majority of the piece isn’t even about the Mets. It’s about Bernie Madoff; it’s about the way Fred accumulated his fortune; about his family and the reaction to the Madoff disaster.

Did anyone bother to read it or were they taking the same tack as Toobin, picking and choosing that which was more convenient to reach the end result of another tool to swing at the Mets?

It looks bad to have the criticisms against players in print, but in truth it won’t matter at all in the grand scheme; players are notoriously pragmatic when it comes to getting paid; if the money is there, then they’ll willingly sign with the Mets.

As for the statements about Beltran, Wright and Reyes, they were harsh to be sure, but were they inaccurate?

Carlos Beltran has been a loyal Met; he’s played hard and brilliantly, but he signed with the Mets for one reason: they offered the most money. And this was after he and agent Scott Boras tried to sell Beltran to the Yankees for fewer years and less money than what he got from the Mets.

David Wright is a terrific player, but is he a mega-star along the lines of Alex Rodriguez? Of Albert Pujols? No.

Reyes wants to make up for the signing of the far below market value contract he signed in August of 2006; a deal that precluded his arbitration years and cost him a lot of money; a deal he signed simultaneously to Wright signing his longer and more lucrative extension. Reyes is going to want “Carl Crawford money” as Fred said. If the Mets offer the highest amount of money, he’ll stay (if he’s not traded first); if not, he’ll leave.

The number of players who do as Cliff Lee did and go to the venue of their preference at the expense of money is very, very few and far between; Jim Thome did it as well, but these are veteran players who had either gotten paid already and were in the twilight of a great career (Thome), or were going to get their money one way or the other (Lee).

Reyes is not one of those players; he’s looking to cash in. All will be forgiven if there are enough zeroes on the check.

Fred has never openly meddled with the player moves as Jeff has been perceived to have done. It’s going to be up to GM Sandy Alderson and the money available whether the Mets offer is higher than other clubs pursuing Reyes and, given his history, Alderson isn’t going to take the money that’s coming off the books—Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, possibly Francisco Rodriguez, Beltran—and hand it all over to Reyes at the cost of 3-4 pieces that might provide more use to the club over the long term than one player.

The implication that Wilpon’s comments will scare off potential free agents or employees is ignoring both the past and present in terms of owner/player relationships.

George Steinbrenner was a raving maniac; a convicted felon; a twice suspended owner; a reviled and loathed madman for whom no one wanted to work—until he offered them enough money to look past his faults; beyond the rampant and repeated lunacy of the appropriately nicknamed Bronx Zoo. He got away with things because he spent cash and his teams won. Lo and behold, upon his death he turned into a “great man” rather than a capricious, mean and bullying force who embarrassed baseball and his club times too numerous to recount in a small space.

I don’t know if you can go through the list of sports owners and not find a vast percentage who were clownish and brutal in their treatment of underlings. Marge Schott; Jeffrey Loria; Ray Kroc; Tom Hicks; Peter Angelos; Drayton McLane; Vince Naimoli; Frank McCourt—all said and did things that created controversy and a media frenzy.

You can focus on their negatives or their positives based on whatever’s convenient.

Steinbrenner donated tons of money to charities and paid for the educations of the children of killed-in-action firefighters and police; Loria’s team wins under a minimalist budget; McLane’s teams were successful and his overruling his baseball people turned out to be right several times; Angelos’s teams were successful early in his ownership; McCourt’s teams have been a pitch or two away from back-to-back World Series appearances.

Had the Mets gotten one extra hit in 2006, 2007 and 2008 there was a legitimate possibility of three straight World Series appearances/wins.

How would that have altered the view of the Mets and their ownership?

Skilled writers who clearly had an agenda like Toobin can adjust stories to highlight points that will draw the most attention; the media-at-large can take that to establish or bolster their own personal biases and beliefs.

That’s what’s happening now.

It’s meaningless.

It’s ridiculous.

It’s a farce.

You can say the same about the Mets if you want, but it won’t be due to this article by Jeffrey Toobin or the over-the-top reactions to it.

****

I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.

****

Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here. Conveniently, it’s about the Mets.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

//

Metaphorical Disaster

Books, Management, Media, Players, Spring Training

Today the Mets released Luis Castillo in a move that was unavoidable for the team; demanded by the fans and media; and necessary in a baseball and cultural way. If any one player exemplified the Mets fall from where they were when he arrived on July 30th, 2007 to the mess they’re in now, it’s Castillo.

And it’s not all his fault.

Before he put on a Mets uniform, Castillo was recognized as a good, speedy, useful player; one who led on and off the field and was a stand up character with the media. In an accident of circumstance and an exercise in scapegoating, Castillo has become the lightning rod of the downfall of the Mets.

I don’t know what people were expecting.

Statistically with the Mets, Castillo was essentially what he was with the Marlins and Twins. He lost a few steps defensively due to age and injuries; he hit predominately singles; stole a few bases; and got on base at a reasonable clip.

The main issue with Castillo is the perception that the entire club structure—the best team in the National League for most of 2006 and 3/4 of 2007—and their collapse coincided almost directly with his arrival.

Was it because of him? Did he bring bad mojo from Minnesota?

Of course not.

The Marlins won a championship with Castillo as a primary player; the Twins made the playoffs in his one full year with the club.

Castillo played as he normally did for the rest of 2007 with the Mets and was a free agent after the season. Much criticism was doled out on GM Omar Minaya for bidding against himself and re-signing Castillo to a 4-year, $25 million contract. It was a lot of money, but it’s not as if there were a multitude of options available at second base and they tried to use a similar tack—and a successful one—when they were looking for a catcher after the 2005 season when they placed identical contract offers on the table for Ramon Hernandez and Bengie Molina, waited and moved on by trading for Paul LoDuca when neither player answered quickly enough; the Mets made an offer to David Eckstein after 2007; the offer was supposedly never relayed to the player by his agent and Eckstein wound up taking a 1-year deal from the Blue Jays.

They were left with Castillo. At the time, was $6 million a year for an ancillary player with a consistent history of performance (such as it was) that much money?

No.

Castillo was out-of-shape and appeared lazy in 2008 and he still managed a .355 on base percentage; the boobirds were out for him as the club, for the second year in a row, suffered devastation and a missed playoff spot on the last day of the season.

In 2009, the whole team—except for Castillo—was on the disabled list. Castillo had a very good year; left alone with David Wright in the lineup, he wasn’t able to garner credit for a return to some semblance of form because of the humiliating dropped pop-up against the Yankees, costing the Mets the game and further cementing Castillo’s place in infamy.

By 2010, the team was crumbling, the front office and management knew they were on the way out and the attitude of the entire organization appeared to be one of resignation. Castillo was benched for much of the second half.

Unlike Oliver Perez, who at least has had a few positive moments for the club in the 2006 playoffs and with a very good 2007 season, the memories of Castillo are all negative; for the most part, he played the game the way he always has.

The Mets had to make this move for the greater good. They’re in flux and it makes no sense to be playing Castillo when there are so many questions that need to be answered in a season that is clearly going to be one of sifting through the wreckage, cleaning up, salvaging and making drastic changes.

But to suggest that Castillo is the epitome of all that’s ailed the Mets since the trading deadline in 2007 is wrong.

There’s plenty of blame to go around.

I published a full excerpt of my book on Wednesday here.

The book is available  now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.


//

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide—An Excerpt

Books, Management, Media, Players, Spring Training

The following is a full excerpt from my now available book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

A full analysis and predictions for the New York Mets.

New York Mets
2010 Record: 79-83; 4th place, National League East.

2010 Recap:

The Mets got off to a terrible start, then had a blazing hot streak that vaulted them into surprising contention. Without Carlos Beltran out due to knee surgery and Jose Reyes missing part of spring training due to a thyroid issue, the club held their own through the All Star break when a devastating West Coast swing sent them reeling back into mediocrity.

Jason Bay struggled in his transition to New York and Citi Field and a crash into the left field wall at Dodger Stadium gave him a concussion and ended his season. David Wright had a big comeback year at the plate; Reyes was up-and-down; Johan Santana again got hurt, shortening his season for the second straight year.

The season turned ugly as closer Francisco Rodriguez assaulted his father-in-law in the clubhouse family room, was arrested for assault and suspended by the club.

John Maine got hurt; Oliver Perez was horrific; Jeff Francoeur didn’t listen to anyone trying to help him fulfill his potential.
Mike Pelfrey had a good, if inconsistent, year; R.A. Dickey was a discovery with his knuckleball; and Jon Niese and Ike Davis were two homegrown players to build around.

2011 ADDITIONS:

GM Sandy Alderson was hired.
Manager Terry Collins was hired.
LHP Chris Capuano signed a 1-year, $1.5 million contract.
C Ronny Paulino signed a 1-year, $1.35 million contract.
RHP D.J. Carrasco signed a 2-year, $2.4 million contract.
OF Scott Hairston signed a 1-year, $1.1 million contract.
RHP Chris Young signed a 1-year, $1.1 million contract.
RHP Taylor Buchholz signed a 1-year, $600,000 contract.
INF Brad Emaus was selected from the Toronto Blue Jays in the Rule 5 Draft.
INF Chin-lung Hu was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
RHP Boof Bonser signed a minor league contract.
LHP Tim Byrdak signed a minor league contract.
C Raul Chavez signed a minor league contract.
OF Willie Harris signed a minor league contract.
LHP Taylor Tankersley signed a minor league contract.
RHP Blaine Boyer signed a minor league contract.
C Dusty Ryan signed a minor league contract.
LHP Casey Fossum signed a minor league contract.
RHP Dale Thayer signed a minor league contract.
RHP Jason Isringhausen signed a minor league contract.

2011 SUBTRACTIONS:

GM Omar Minaya was fired.
Manager Jerry Manuel was fired.
LHP Pedro Feliciano was not re-signed.
LHP Hisanori Takahashi was not re-signed.
C Henry Blanco was not re-signed.
OF Chris Carter was not re-signed.
RHP Elmer Dessens was not re-signed.
RHP Kelvim Escobar was not re-signed.
RHP Sean Green was non-tendered.
RHP John Maine was non-tendered.
3B/1B Mike Hessman was not re-signed.
RHP Fernando Nieve was not re-signed.
INF Fernando Tatis was not re-signed.
LHP Raul Valdes was not re-signed.
OF Jesus Feliciano was not re-signed.

2011 PROJECTED STARTING ROTATION: Mike Pelfrey; R.A. Dickey; Jon Niese; Chris Young; Chris Capuano; Johan Santana.

2011 PROJECTED BULLPEN: Francisco Rodriguez; Bobby Parnell; Manny Acosta; D.J. Carrasco; Taylor Buchholz; Tim Byrdak; Taylor Tankersley; Pat Misch; Oliver Perez.

2011 PROJECTED LINEUP: C-Josh Thole; 1B-Ike Davis; 2B-Ruben Tejada; 3B-David Wright; SS-Jose Reyes; LF-Jason Bay; CF-Angel Pagan; RF-Carlos Beltran.

2011 BENCH: C-Ronny Paulino; INF-Luis Hernandez; INF/OF-Daniel Murphy; OF-Scott Hairston; OF-Willie Harris; 1B/OF-Nick Evans; INF-Brad Emaus; 2B-Luis Castillo.

2011 POSSIBLE CONTRIBUTORS: OF-Lucas Duda; INF-Chin-lung Hu; RHP-Boof Bonser; RHP-Blaine Boyer; RHP-Dillon Gee; RHP-Jenrry Mejia; C-Mike Nickeas; INF-Justin Turner; OF-Fernando Martinez; RHP-Ryota Igarashi; OF-Jason Pridie; RHP-Dale Thayer; LHP-Casey Fossum; RHP-Jason Isringhausen.

ASSESSMENTS

MANAGEMENT:

Because of the lawsuit filed against the Wilpons in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and attempted recovery of some of the money, they’re in the process of seeking a minority shareholder to infuse the club with money. How this plays out will be one of the side stories of the season. Or the story if things go badly on the field.

After a long interview process, the Mets hired veteran baseball man Sandy Alderson to replace the fired Omar Minaya.

Alderson’s career has had a fluctuating trajectory. An outsider who entered baseball as a matter of circumstance and going from lawyer to Oakland Athletics GM, he had a long and successful run working in tandem with Tony La Russa to build the best team in the American League from 1988 through 1992. When the money that was available to buy the best players was gone, so was the success. Then La Russa left and the Alderson A’s fell into the netherworld of non-competitiveness.

When Billy Beane took over the A’s, replacing Alderson, and became known as a “genius” because of Moneyball, Alderson’s foresight in building the foundation for the stat-based “revolution” upon which Moneyball was based was credited for getting the ball rolling. Following a stint with MLB’s front office, Alderson took the job as president of the San Diego Padres; his tenure was pockmarked with in-fighting, turf battles and an underlying enthusiasm on the part of the club president to encourage the varying factions—stat based and scouting—to constantly battle for control with one thing in common, fealty to Alderson.

After leaving the Padres, Alderson was given the task of cleaning up the messy disorganization and under-the-table chicanery that went on with baseball in the Dominican Republic. Then the Mets came calling.

After his hiring, he went on all the talk shows and gave as good as he got; intimidating bullies like Mike Francesa, Alderson showed he still has the passion to build a team and do it in a way that isn’t designed to validate his role in Moneyball as his work with the Padres always had the aura of attempting. He’s running the Mets, he’s standing up to all critics and he’s done things the right way in refusing to spend money for the sake of good press; instead, he’s got a plan and is bringing in people with whom he’s worked before and who will enact his edicts without an eye on how it can help their station.

He brought in two former GMs, both of whom failed in their stints as a boss—Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi—and are loyal to Alderson.

His actions and statements have looked good so far and instead of trying to live up to a fairy tale called Moneyball, he’s doing what’s best for the team.

Terry Collins was hired as the Mets manager after a process that took about as long as the GM search.

Collins has been a respected baseball man but his raging temper and known intensity cost him two jobs with the Astros and Angels. His last big league managing job was in 1999 and a mutiny amongst some of the players led to his ouster.

He’s toned himself down a bit as he’s aged, been a minor league director among other jobs in North America and overseas and is a stickler for detail, hustle and playing the game the right way.

The Mets need his discipline and hard charging ways.

For too long, the inmates have run the asylum for the Mets and in order for the culture to change, everyone in management has to be on the same page. That’s not to suggest that Collins is going to be a “middle managing” yes-man as Moneyball implied the field manager should be, but someone who stands up for himself and what he believes while maintaining the respect of the players and his bosses.

Collins is no yes man.

He won’t shy away from telling the players the way he wants things done; nor will he hesitate to bench them if they don’t acquiesce. Because of the new regime, there won’t be the backstabbing atmosphere of unhappy players running to assistant GMs or ownership to undermine the manager.

It won’t be tolerated. Collins is in charge of the clubhouse and the players are going to play and act correctly or they won’t play; nor will they be there for long.

It’s a welcome change after years of dysfunction on all levels.

STARTING PITCHING:

Despite 15-9 record and solid across-the-board stats, Mike Pelfrey’s season wasn’t as good as it appears on paper. He got off to a great start thanks to a new split finger fastball, but once it got around the league that he was using a new pitch, he struggled.
Pelfrey’s season can be divided into parts. From the beginning of the season through June, he was one of the best pitchers in baseball accumulating a 10-2 record; then he was terrible until August when he regained his form. Pelfrey is a contact pitcher, throws strikes and doesn’t allow many homers. In 204 innings, he allowed 213 hits and 12 homers; he walked 68 and struck out 113. With Johan Santana expected out until the summer, Pelfrey is going to be relied on as the number one starter. It depends on which Pelfrey shows up as to whether he’s going to be able to fulfill that mandate.

R.A. Dickey arrived like a bolt from the blue. It’s said that it takes time for a knuckleballer to find his way in baseball, but Dickey had been a journeyman since taking up the knuckleball when injuries derailed his career as a conventional pitcher. Dickey was masterful after joining the club in late May. He went 11-9 in 27 games (26 starts), allowed 165 hits in 174 innings, 13 homers and only walked 42.

Dickey was also a leader on the staff and well-spoken representative for the club. It’s always a dicey thing to expect an older pitcher who has his one big year to repeat that the next year; sometimes it’s a matter of opportunity and figuring it all out; other times it’s just a confluence of circumstances that comes and goes. It’s different with a knuckleballer and I believe Dickey is for real.
To avoid arbitration, Dickey signed a 2-year, $7.8 million contract with a club option for 2013. He has some security for the first time in his career.

Lefty Jonathon Niese was one of the top rookie pitchers in baseball for much of the season before he tired in September. With a good fastball, curve and cutter, Niese put up some terrific performances specifically a masterpiece of a 1-hit shutout against the Padres in June. Niese wound up 9-10 on the season and his ancillary numbers don’t look impressive to the naked eye, but he pitched better than his numbers. In 173 innings, he allowed 192 hits and 20 homers; he walked 62 and struck out 148. Niese has the stuff to be a 12-15 game winner in the big leagues.

6’10” righty Chris Young was signed to an incentive-laden 1-year contract. Young has pitched in 18 games in the past two years. When he’s healthy, he’s tough. His motion is deceptive and his height makes his fastball seem faster than it is; he has a good curve and changeup and he’s willing to pitch inside. His big problems are staying healthy and late season stamina. When he was healthy and pitching well for the Padres, he had a tendency to tire out at the end of the season and couldn’t be counted on for more than 150-170 innings—then in the past two years, the injuries hit his shoulder. If he’s able to pitch, he’s a great, low cost pickup; but after all these injuries what can the Mets reasonably expect? I’d expect very little.

Chris Capuano is a 32-year-old veteran lefty who signed a 1-year deal with the Mets. Capuano was a solid, durable starter with the Brewers for 2005 and 2006, he slumped in 2007 and underwent Tommy John surgery (for the second time) in 2008. He’s a contol pitcher whose strikeout numbers—when he was healthy—were high enough that he shouldn’t be considered a pure junkballer. He gives up his share of homers and hits when he’s not pinpointing his spots, but he was a good mid-rotation pitcher before, maybe he can rejuvenate his career with the Mets.

Johan Santana had surgery on his shoulder and isn’t expected to be able to pitch until June at the earliest. Santana wasn’t as dominant as he was with the Twins last season, but he was good enough to post an 11-9 record and have an ERA under 3.00. Judging by how he actually pitched, he should’ve won 17 games. Santana is one of the top pitchers in baseball, but he was damaged several times by the big inning. Shoulder surgeries are tricky and it’s hard to know what the Mets are going to get when Santana returns.

He’d already lost a few inches on his fastball and with him coming back from another injury that could diminish his velocity even further, it could be an issue reducing his effectiveness further.

Perhaps he’ll have to rely more on his changeup and locating his fastball. He can win that way, but it will take some time for him to learn to pitch differently to account for it.

BULLPEN:

Francisco Rodriguez will return as the closer. After the humiliating way his season ended as he assaulted his father-in-law in the Citi Field family room, he’s going to be on his best behavior. K-Rod is a good closer but the most interesting dynamic will be if the Mets are not contending and K-Rod is approaching the 54 appearances he needs to guarantee his contract for 2012.

The provision in his contract calls for the kicker if he either finishes 55 games in 2010 or has a combined 100 games finished in 2010 and 2011. K-Rod finished 46 games last season. Will the Mets, if they’re out of the race by mid-August, sit K-Rod to “unguarantee” his $17.5 million for 2012? And will the union fight it if they do?
I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to sit K-Rod in order to get his contract off the books.

Another option, if he’s pitching well and behaving, is to trade him while picking up some of the 2012 contract. He’d get a couple of good prospects back and I think this is the likeliest scenario, contingent on his behavior.

Bobby Parnell drew plenty of attention with his fastball after returning from the minors. Clocked at 102 mph, he has the velocity to blow people away. In 35 innings, he struck out 33 and only allowed 1 homer. He did surrender 41 hits, but that was skewered by a couple of games in which he gave up crooked numbers against the Diamondbacks and Phillies. Apart from that, he was reliable and has the potential to be a top set-up man with that power fastball.

Manny Acosta was a solid pickup from the Braves before last season. Acosta has a good fastball and struck out 42 in 39 innings. He allowed 30 hits, but his one bugaboo has always been the home run ball. His control is occasionally wanting and when he falls behind and has to throw his fastball in the strike zone, he tends to give up the long ball.

D.J. Carrasco signed a 2-year contract. A 34-year-old righty, Carrasco is a durable, multiple inning reliever who’s pitched well out of the bullpen for the White Sox in 2008 and 2009 and spent last season with the Pirates and Diamondbacks. He occasionally has trouble throwing strikes, but has strikeout potential.

Taylor Buchholz is trying to regain his footing after missing 2009 with Tommy John surgery and bouncing from the Rockies to the Red Sox as he returned last season. Buchholz was an integral part of the Rockies bullpen in 2008 as a set-up man with a 2.17 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 66 innings. He has a good fastball and wicked curve; his stuff translates better to going once through the lineup and if he’s healthy, he could be a cheap find for the Mets.

Veteran lefty specialist Tim Byrdak signed a minor league contract. Byrdak has been one of the unheralded lefties in baseball since joining the Astros in 2008. He’s 37, has had some trouble with the home run ball and control, but lefties have hit .202 against him in his career. He’s a pure lefty specialist who should make the Mets out of spring training.

Taylor Tankersley is another lefty who, like Buchholz, is trying to regain his effectiveness. Tankersley had a good year in the Marlins bullpen in 2007, but has gotten blasted since. He didn’t pitch in 2009 with a recurring stress fracture in his arm and wasn’t good in 2010. For his career, he’s held lefties to a .223 average so he, like Byrdak, will be a lefty specialist. The Mets will be able to use two lefties in the bullpen, so Tankersley has a good chance to make the team and get into a lot of games.

Pat Misch is a soft-tossing lefty who is short just enough on his fastball that he’s unable to get inside to righties and has to rely on control and spotting his pitches. He has very good control and is a useful pitcher to have around as a long reliever/spot starter.

Oliver Perez is only still on the roster because he’s making $12 million this season. Alderson has said that if Perez doesn’t earn his way onto the roster, he won’t be with the Mets.

I don’t expect him to be with the Mets.

LINEUP:

Catching prospect Josh Thole will receive every opportunity to take over as the starter. Thole is a lefty-swinging slap hitter who’s batted .300 in the minors in two of the past three seasons; his hitting style reminds me of former Pirates catcher Mike Lavalliere—a spray hitter with 25 or so doubles and maybe 8 homers. He has a strong arm behind the plate.

Ike Davis impressed in spring training 2010 and was recalled from the minors in late April. His swing was compared with John Olerud’s, but after watching him over the long term, he’s more of a Lyle Overbay-type with more power. He takes his walks (72 in 601 plate appearances); strikes out a lot (138 times); and has power (19 homers, 33 doubles). The 24-year-old Davis is a good fielder and will hit 25-30 homers in the big leauges with 100+ RBI and a .350+ on base percentage.

The Mets are going to give Daniel Murphy a chance to win the second base job, but I’d prefer to play Ruben Tejada there. Tejada impressed me with his fearlessness and overall solid fundamental play. Early in the season, he was overmatched, but never gave up. He puts a good move on the inside pitch and I believe will be a solid hitter and fielder at the big league level. The 21-year-old has hit above .280 in his last two minor league seasons, takes his walks and has some speed.

After a difficult 2009 season when there were questions as to whether he’d been psyched out by the vast dimensions of Citi Field, David Wright had a very good comeback year. While he’s criticized for the things he doesn’t do—he’s never going to be a megastar player—he’s still unappreciated by Mets fans.

Wright had 29 homers and 36 doubles; batted .283 and his on base percentage dropped from its usual heights of .390 or above, to .354; he struck out 161 times, but that was misleading as he was k’ing at a breakneck pace early in the season but made better contact as the season wore on.

Jose Reyes missed most of spring training with a thyroid condition and was very streaky last season. Tried in the number 3 hole in the lineup (which I thought was a great idea), Reyes went into a funk. He showed flashes of being the five tool machine he was from 2005 to 2008, but his on base percentage sank to .321 and he stole only 30 bases. Reyes is still a superstar talent and is only 27, but he’s a free agent at the end of the year and with the dollars thrown around for Carl Crawford, will the Mets be willing to invest over $120 million in Reyes if he has a big year?

That’s what he’s going to want. At least.

If the Mets are out of contention, they have to at least listen to offers for Reyes if he’s playing well. They could trade him and then pursue him again as a free agent if they so desire.

I think Reyes is going to get traded and if he’s playing up to his potential, they’ll get a lot for him. A lot. It may be the right move in the long run.

Jason Bay struggled through his first season in New York. I doubt it was due to fear—he handled Boston with no problem—but with some players (Carlos Beltran for example) it takes a year to get accustomed to playing in New York. Bay’s defense, criticized as “poor” due to his UZR ratings, was a very good defensive left fielder for the Mets; those that are immersed in UZR explained this as the season moved along…by altering their calculations. Lo and behold, Bay wasn’t as bad as they initially thought. What a shock.

A concussion sustained while crashing into the left field wall at Dodger Stadium ended Bay’s season after 95 games. I believe Bay will be back to his 25 homer, 100 RBI self this season and he was a surprise with his defense, speed, solid baserunning and all-around good play.

Angel Pagan finally stayed healthy in 2010 and showed everyone what he could do if given the chance to play regularly. In 151 games, Pagan batted .290 with a .340 on base percentage; had 11 homers; 31 doubles and 7 triples, plus 37 stolen bases. The switch hitter played hard every play and was excellent defensively in center and right field. The big issue with Pagan has always been his health. I don’t think that one healthy season means he’s automatically gotten over that hump, but he’s the heir apparent to Beltran.

Carlos Beltran was unfairly blamed for the Mets slide after the All Star break because that’s when he came back. Of course it’s possible that the continuity of the club was disrupted by Beltran’s insertion into the mix, but the Mets problems went far deeper than Beltran’s defense or the shifting of Pagan to right and benching of Jeff Francoeur. Beltran regained his timing as the season wore on, but he’s never going to be the force he once was. His injured knee is reducing his power from the left side of the plate and it’s obvious. If he plays the full season, he can still hit his 20+ homers, hit a few doubles and get on base; even stealing a few with canniness once in awhile.

His Mets career has run its course; he’s a free agent at the end of the season and it would be best for all if they parted ways and the Mets got some useful pieces for him.

BENCH:

Catcher Ronny Paulino will begin the season suspended for using a banned substance; he’ll miss the first eight games of the season. Paulino is a good part-time catcher and, batting right-handed, will see time against tough lefties to spell Thole. He has some on base ability and a little pop. Paulino is a good handler of pitchers and throws well.

Luis Hernandez is a journeyman switch-hitting utility infielder. He can play second, third and short and batted .250 in 47 plate appearances for the Mets in 2010.

Daniel Murphy is being eyed as a possible solution to second base. He blew out his knee turning a double play on a take-out slide that was said to have been dirty. Murphy can hit enough to get 300-400 at bats in the big leagues, but he’s not a good enough hitter to tolerate the likelihood of inadequate range at second base. I would make Murphy a roving utility player and use him as the Athletics (under Sandy Alderson) used Tony Phillips.

Brad Emaus is a 25-year-old infielder whom the Mets selected in the Rule 5 Draft from the Toronto Blue Jays. Emaus can play second or third and has 15-20 homer power; gets on base; hits plenty of doubles; walks and doesn’t strike out. He bats right-handed and can even steal a few bases.

Veteran outfielder Scott Hairston signed a 1-year contract. Hairston can play all three outfield positions, has some pop, doesn’t hit for a high average or get on base. He’s a fifth outfielder on a good team; a fourth outfielder on the Mets.

Mets nemesis Willie Harris was signed to a minor league contract. Harris is a versatile outfielder/third baseman who had a habit of making terrific plays defensively and getting big hits against the Mets, some of which cost them dearly in 2007-2008 as they fell out of the playoff race. Harris has speed and some pop and is a better hitter than his .183 showing last year with the Nationals.

Nick Evans has shown flashes of being a useful righty bat in the big leagues, but former manager Jerry Manuel didn’t like Evans for whatever reason. He’s hit for power and put up good average/on base numbers in the minors and can play first base or the corner outfield positions.

Luis Castillo is in the same boat with Perez. Alderson has said that he’ll have to earn his way onto the roster. It’s highly, highly, highly unlikely he’ll play well enough to win the starting job at second base in the spring and they won’t able to trade him with other teams knowing the reality of the situation. I expect him to be released early in the spring so he has a chance to hook on somewhere else. It’s time for him to go.

PREDICTION:

Best case scenario in the standings, the Mets are a .500 team. In the NL East, that might get them third place.

The best case scenario in practicality is if they’re around 5-10 games under .500 into the summer, Beltran is playing well enough to convince a few teams that he can help them in their stretch drives and there will be a moderate bidding war for his services in a trade. Alderson is savvy enough to dangle him out there and get a good return for him.

Reyes and K-Rod are different matters. Reyes, a free agent, will yield a significant return in a trade if he’s healthy and playing well. The Mets circumstances financially and on the field make it a question as to whether they’re going to be able to give Reyes the contract he wants at the end of the season if they want to keep him.
I expect Reyes to be traded this summer.

K-Rod’s contract is a huge obstacle; it’s not something that can’t be worked out. If he’s pitching well and behaving, someone will take him.

Alderson and his people are sifting through the muck of years of disorganization and it’s not an overnight process. This season is dedicated to seeing what they have in Thole, Murphy, Pagan, Niese, Dickey, Tejada and the young players on the way. After the year, Castillo, Perez and Reyes are coming off the books. They’ll have money to spend next winter (maybe) and as much as they hesitate to say it, it’s known that the Mets are in a so-called “bridge” year from the Minaya regime to what Alderson, his assistants and Collins are trying to build.

They’re going to have a long year, but it could be productive if they’re smart, fearless and aggressive in trading.

PREDICTED RECORD: 73-89

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