On Terry Collins and his expletive-filled rant for the 2016 Mets

MLB, Uncategorized

Collins rant

Right off the bat, if you’re acting stunned at the clip of former Mets manager Terry Collins’ expletive-laden screaming match with the umpires in 2016 after Noah Syndergaard threw a fastball behind Chase Utley in retaliation for Utley’s filthy and blatantly illegal 2015 NLDS cross body block that broke Ruben Tejada’s leg, you exhibit how limited your knowledge of how uniform personnel are when they’re in their element.

I’m not talking about their restrained, crafted personae that every manager, executive – and to a certain extent – player must use in this hyper-attentive world where statements and body language are dissected whether there’s any underlying intent or not. I’m talking about the baser instincts of people who have been doing one thing their entire lives and revert to that automatic response when they don’t have time to think about the reaction.

For this reason and this reason alone, those who have never played in any setting other than as a child – if that – and insert themselves into the game using statistics, algorithms and by taking advantage of the current landscape by sopping up information created by others and regurgitating it to sound faux knowledgeable will never climb over that line between theory and practice. There’s no measuring stick of instinct. Either it’s there or it’s not and it starts by playing the game from a formative age and learning by doing.

That was Terry Collins. The real Terry Collins. It was a display of the personality that got him fired from two previous managing jobs and prevented him from getting another opportunity for a decade before the Mets hired him. To get that opportunity, Collins restrained his rage and tendency to scoff at the admittedly stupid questions asked by the media; he stopped directing it at the players when they made a mistake and alienated veterans while terrifying rookies.

Those who believe the Mets players who relentlessly defended him did so out of a sense of duty get the real story when they see how he jumped in, went bonkers and got himself ejected from the game with that tirade. They defended him because he defended them. He was one of them. They knew they weren’t getting a corporate crock of bullshit when he spoke to them one-on-one sans a camera of a microphone in his face forcing him to watch what he said to maintain that façade.

Some 25-year-old kid who graduated from a high-end college, has an impeccable resume for a job at Google or Facebook, and proclaims him or herself as a “lifelong baseball addict” when seeking employment with an organization and even goes to the lengths of uttering clubhouse vernacular and spitting dip juice into an empty Gatorade bottle to look authentic can never bridge that gap.

The same holds true for the blatant attempt on the part of many organizations to begin sprinkling coaching staffs with those who have the same career experience as most front office staff. The Astros placing director of process improvement(?) Sig Mejdal – a literal rocket scientist – down on the field in the organization’s low minors, in uniform and serving as a coach might have seemed like a cutesy “fish out of water” story, but in reality, it was a grooming process for the players, fans and media to prepare for the time when these front office people who have never even put on a baseball glove are in uniform, in the trenches and managing teams.

It’s coming.

But will they be able to go into a borderline deranged rant as Collins did and make it seem authentic? Or will it be entering the gorilla’s habitat and trying to act like a gorilla with all the gorillas knowing how absurd it is while refraining from tearing the interloper apart?

Collins is a baseball guy who adapted because he needed to adapt to have a job. But that clip showed what will be missing when people like him are extinct. Even if the cyclical nature of sports and life in general reverts to hiring those who have a similar sensibility as Collins, it will never be the same. Unfortunately, a large percentage of observers who deem themselves baseball “experts” will not know the difference.

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Fixing the Mets’ problems starts with two words: enough’s enough

MLB

mets.jpg

Like a gambler who walked into the casino and embarked on a searing hot streak in which he accrued a significant bankroll and then remained at the table repeatedly doubling and tripling down when it was clear that the early luck had deserted him, the Mets have squandered an 11-1 start to the season and are now under water at 27-28. To make matters worse, the cracks in the club’s foundation and worst case scenarios have become a reality. Had the season started like this with the catastrophic bullpen woes, a startling number of injuries, managerial gaffes, player underperformance and the same rampant dysfunction that has been a hallmark of the organization for much of its existence, then it might have been easier to accept it and move on. However, after tearing out of the gate and stirring hope in even the most pessimistic Mets observer, they have settled into the mediocrity most have come to expect.

It can be fixed if they accept what has gone wrong and finally – finally – take the necessary steps to make it right.

In the 2017-2018 offseason, the objective reality is that the Mets were one of the higher spending teams in terms of free agents. That’s if the acquisitions are assessed based on the money spent. Still, the signings were economical and market-related. Due to the barren free agent landscape in which so few teams were willing to spend big money and the heaviest hitters – the Yankees and Dodgers – staying predominately out of the fray to get below the luxury tax for 2019, the Mets got discounts on players who otherwise would have been out of their price range.

Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Anthony Swarzak, Jason Vargas – all were imported to fill holes. On paper, it made sense. Early in the season, it appeared that the club had spent wisely. As the season wore on and the injuries began, the same symptoms of the condition that has afflicted the club for that past decade recurred and they retreated to the “if this, then that” malaise with no margin for error. Until they tacitly decide to treat the condition rather than briefly arrest it so they can function for a day or two, nothing will change over the long term.

Manager Mickey Callaway was hired for multiple reasons – all of them solid. A respected pitching coach, he could work with the Mets pitchers and maximize them; having spent his career with experienced and well-regarded managers as a player (Mike Scioscia, Buck Showalter) and as a pitching coach (Terry Francona), he could not help but absorb the lessons they taught practically and theoretically; and as a younger man, he would more adept at understanding and implementing available advanced information than his predecessor Terry Collins was.

After that great start, the pitfalls of hiring a manager who has never managed before are showing. His inexperience has led to numerous strategic and verbal gaffes. He’s done things that are legitimately bizarre with the latest being the dueling press conferences where general manager Sandy Alderson focused on the positive and Callaway lamented the negative with each seemingly saying the opposite of what the other said. Not long after expressing his belief that team meetings were unnecessary, he called a team meeting. He appears frustrated and at times lost, haphazardly jumping from one tactic to the other hoping that he hits on one that works. If the Mets had a greater margin for error or a more proactive response to fixing issues, then they might be able to gloss over any flaws their new manager might have and needs to correct. But again, as has become customary, they don’t.

Mets fans do not want to hear about the Yankees. They do not want to be compared to them and they certainly don’t want to be told, “Well, the Yankees wouldn’t do it that way.” But there are times when the Mets should look at the way they Yankees operate, take notes and copy it. A prime example is how the Mets have defended and retained Mike Barwis as the senior advisor for strength and conditioning despite the litany of injuries from which the players continue to suffer.

No outsider can know how much Barwis’s methods have contributed to the Mets’ injuries. Every player has his own team of trainers and gurus, so to place the onus on one person is profoundly unfair. Regardless of fault, the overriding feeling that the Barwis program is problematic will not go away. The number of injuries – especially to players’ backs – that keep happening is a clear signal that the ongoing narrative must be interrupted. In 2007, when the Yankees were dealing with back and hamstring problems for their veteran players and they seemed to coincide with general manager Brian Cashman’s bizarre decision to hire a new strength and conditioning coordinator Marty Miller, a guy he’d found at a country club and had not worked in baseball for a decade, no one in power was overtly blaming Miller, but the Yankees acted anyway by firing him, swallowing his contract.

Whether the Mets think that Barwis is a problem or not, making a change for its own sake is neither capricious nor unfair.

The Mets have seemed satisfied with what they have and fail to go all-in to improve and ensure that they can at least contend should injuries and other stumbling blocks come up as they always do. The Astros gutted their team and accrued a litany of young, high-end talent. Once they felt they were ready to win, they started spending money and resources to buttress that young talent. The Mets have not done that to the nth degree as they could and should have.

This is not to imply that the Yankees and Astros never get it wrong, but they give themselves better coverage for being wrong because they’re willing to acknowledge those mistakes and move on from them while having the depth to handle it. It was the Astros who rushed to trade for Carlos Gomez when the Mets saw issues with his medicals as they backed out of a trade near the 2015 deadline. That trade cost the Astros Josh Hader, Domingo Santana and Brett Phillips. It was also the Astros who decided, just over a year later, that it was not going to get any better with Gomez and addition by subtraction was the best course of action. They released him.

Would the Mets have done that? Or would they have tried to squeeze every single ounce of whatever Gomez could have provided them to shun accepting that they screwed up and it was best to move on?

On May 22 of this year, the Mets marked the twenty-year anniversary of acquiring Mike Piazza from the Florida Marlins shortly after he was traded there from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Initially, when Piazza was on the trade block and it was only a matter of time before the Marlins moved him, the Mets declared that they were not interested before even getting involved with the negotiations. Then-general manager Steve Phillips went into a long diatribe about “chips,” how the Mets already had a catcher in Todd Hundley, and if they spent those chips to fill a hole they did not have, they would not have them available to fill a hole they did have.

Technically, he was correct. Those Mets, though, were dull and lacked an identity. They were good enough to contend with the caveat that everything – including Hundley returning from reconstructive elbow surgery – was predicated on hitting the bullseye with their eyes closed. When they caved to public pressure and acquired Piazza, everything changed and the Mets became a legitimate player for all the big names – all from that one deal they didn’t really want to make. Not only that, after the 1998 season, Hundley the “chip” netted them Charles Johnson and Roger Cedeno from the Dodgers. Cedeno was a key component to the Mets 1999 NLCS club and was eventually traded as part of the package to get Mike Hampton which led to the 2000 pennant; Johnson was spun immediately to the Orioles for Armando Benitez, who was predominately very good for them as a setup man and closer.

Would the Alderson Mets do these things?

Alderson was hired for his deliberate nature and that he would not behave reactively or panic as other New York general managers have. That sensibility can also be problematic. Alderson is risk averse to the point of paralysis. The hedging nature stifles creativity and has prevented the Mets from rolling the dice on players who might be superfluous and create a logjam despite the knowledge that logjams can be worked out just as the 1998 Mets did with Piazza and Hundley.

Should it be that a New York-based team is never, ever in on the big names in free agency? The Mets are never considered as an option for the brightest stars because they will not go as far as they need to go to get them. We’re not talking about Bryce Harper here. But is there a reason that the Mets should not be in on Manny Machado? Machado was mentioned as an all-but guaranteed Yankee, but the Yankees do not really need Machado now or in 2019 and beyond. As they are already having buyer’s remorse on another player they did not need, Giancarlo Stanton, are they prepared to spend money just to spend it and it could be better utilized to fill their starting pitching holes?

Even if the Yankees do get in on Machado, so what? Should the Mets recede into the background because of competition for a date to the prom from the big, bullying brother? If they make themselves attractive and offer as much if not more, there’s zero justification for them to steer clear apart from conscious choice.

And if they want to push the shaky excuse of having a shortstop in Amed Rosario and a third baseman in Todd Frazier, no one wants to hear it. Like with Piazza and Hundley, they can figure it out. If Machado is willing to go shift back to third base, Frazier can be moved to first base or traded. If Machado wants to stay at shortstop, Rosario can be moved to second base or traded. These are sticking points only because the Mets make them sticking points.

On the trade front, it’s somewhat understandable that the Mets do not get involved in the biggest names simply because they do not have the cache of prospects to allow them to trade the few marketable ones they do have. But spending money? That should not be an issue.

Yet it still is. It’s irrelevant whether that is due to the residue of the Wilpons’ financial problems post-Bernie Madoff, because Alderson does not want to spend the money, or a combination of the two.

The only time the Mets have fully invested in pursuing the top notch free agents under the Wilpon ownership was when Omar Minaya convinced them that it was necessary to do so. Not only did he pursue the likes of Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, he proved it was not for show with Mets trying and failing, happy to come in second as if they deserved credit for it. Minaya pursued those players with a vengeance and got them. In doing so changed the image of the Mets as bystanders in the free agent market to an organization the best players would consider because they knew the Mets were serious.

The time for longwinded explanations and shrugging of the shoulders is over. It’s enough. Everyone seems to know it but them. Until that light comes on and they awaken from their slumber, they will be mocked for flaws of their own making not just because of their actions, but because of their inaction. The result is what we are seeing now. It’s not going to change unless they too say enough’s enough.

Sentiment cannot block the Mets’ necessary move with Jose Reyes

MLB, Uncategorized

Reyes

When the New York Mets’ list of players currently on the disabled list begins to trickle back to active duty, there will be a roster crunch that will finally give a large faction of Mets fans what they have been demanding in Jose Reyes being designated for assignment.

It is difficult to dispute the decision, if (when) it is made.

There is a catch-22 for Reyes and the club. He will not gain any consistency at the plate unless he plays regularly; there is nowhere for him to play regularly; nor has he given the club reason to find him at-bats. For players like Reyes – former All-Stars who have been the best player on their respective teams for essentially their entire lives – it is a difficult transition to adjust to a backup role and not know when or if they will get an opportunity to play. Some have adapted to it and some haven’t. In Mets history, two players who did so and did so well were Rusty Staub and Lee Mazzilli. Reyes has not. If he was hitting or retained the speed that made him such a dangerous weapon earlier in his career, then the Mets could swallow his shaky defense in exchange for expediency and what he does do.

He’s not, he hasn’t and the Mets can’t.

The .145/.203/.203 slash is bad enough. What is worse, however, is how overmatched he has looked at the plate. With the flamethrowers that every team trots out one after the other, Reyes’s lack of bat speed and that he will not get the playing time to get his timing down makes it cannibalistic for player and team.

Vulnerable to sentiment, the Wilpons have allowed affection, affinity and outside voices to influence how they operate. In some cases, there was a baseball-related explanation for rehiring Omar Minaya to serve as an assistant to general manager Sandy Alderson to shore up what has been an objective problem with the organization: the lack of minor-league talent. In others, the club doled out severance contracts to the likes of John Franco and Al Leiter when they were well past their sell-by date and the club should have cut ties with them two years earlier than it did. They blocked Alderson from firing Terry Collins when he wanted to make a change. And they have haphazardly jumped from one organizational philosophy to another without a full commitment to any specific one so they can have the option of going in another direction if immediate dividends are not paid or they are too harshly criticized.

If personal affection is seeping into cold business decisions and they are reluctant to part ways with Reyes due to some semblance of sympathy, the Mets can look at the circumstances under which Reyes departed as a free agent after the 2011 season to give them solace to do what must be done.

He wanted to stay with the Mets. There’s no doubt about that. But he also wanted his $100 million contract. In the dueling loyalties between finances and emotions, 99.9 percent of the time, finances win. Had his heart been so set on remaining with the Mets, at some point in 2011, he could have gone to Alderson or straight to the Wilpons and said, “Look, I really don’t wanna leave. Let’s work something out.”

He didn’t.

He knew the club’s finances were a mess. Taking the step to sign for $75 million or whatever the sides hammered out would have prevented the nomadic travels to Miami, Toronto and Colorado before ending up back with the Mets when the Mets gave him a chance no other club was prepared to give him after his domestic incident with his wife. Framed in the business sense, the Mets have every right to cut ties with a player who is providing no benefit.

The roster and club needs provides a greater motivation to make the move. It’s ludicrous to believe that Jose Bautista will continue the hot start he’s enjoyed since joining the Mets, but he will certainly maintain the ability to walk, pose a power threat and an ability to play third base that Reyes does not have.

Eventually, the Mets will come to the inevitable conclusion that Reyes is ill-suited for this role; that if something happens to Amed Rosario, they will not be any worse if they shift Asdrubal Cabrera back to shortstop than they will be if they put Reyes out there; and that the expected July return of T.J. Rivera gives them another alternative whose place on the roster is more deserved than Reyes’s.

Once it is accepted that the minuscule reason for Reyes remaining on the roster is not worth the resistance to cutting him, then the DFA will come. With veterans of greater importance edging toward their return, the club will have no choice.

A stark reality about the 2018 Mets

MLB, Uncategorized

SyndergaardFor the Mets, as humiliating as Saturday’s 17-6 loss to the Brewers was, it’s more of a symptom than the actual illness. In the aftermath of the debacle, 30 percent of the way into the 2018 season, it’s abundantly clear that the Mets will have a good chance to win when Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard start; a reasonable chance when Steven Matz starts; and an “if this, then that” chance to win when Zack Wheeler and Jason Vargas start.

Fortunately for the Mets, the entire National League is about as mediocre as they have shown themselves to be. That is neither something to aspire to nor to be proud of, but once the sausage is on the grill, few are asking how it was made. As the season moves forward and it becomes clearer that they’ll need to make some significant changes to rise to the top of the wide open National League, they must accept that stark reality and act with a sense of urgency and a (painful) plan to move forward if it does not work.

What does that mean, you ask?

It means that the Mets must shun the pretense of “now and the future” and go all-in for 2018. For example, one of the few prospects of value the club has is Peter Alonso. If he is a must-have for a non-contending team that holds a card the Mets need and is open for business – Chris Archer, Kelvin Herrera, Michael Fulmer – then they must go for it now and throw the bomb to win while deGrom and Syndergaard are at or near the top of their games; while they (presumably) have Yoenis Cespedes back healthy(?); while Asdrubal Cabrera and Jeurys Familia are singing for their free agent suppers; and while Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman are successfully adapting to their extended innings as relievers.

If it works, great. If it doesn’t, this window the Mets very nearly burst through in 2015 and, to a point, in 2016, is closed and it’s time to move on with the preemptive decisions that competing clubs have made to proceed from popular and talented players for the greater good.

This differs from the reactive and silly demands that the Mets trade deGrom and Syndergaard during the season after they have lost seven out of 10 games in that it’s a viable and doable blueprint.

While fans are pushing for a change in the front office from general manager Sandy Alderson, the truth is that Alderson’s tenure with the club is ending sooner rather than later. The Wilpons will not fire him. He signed a contract extension of undisclosed length after 2017, but the increasing profile of assistant GM John Ricco and the rehiring of former GM Omar Minaya to be a special assistant make clear where this is headed. Once Alderson does depart, Ricco will take command as GM and be the objective leader who can handle the GM-speak, knows the contractual rules, is sabermetrically savvy and will implement the coldblooded maneuvers while Minaya does what he prefers in eyeball assessment and scouting.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is doing what needs to be done if the team goes all-in for 2018 and falls short. What that means is taking their most valuable assets – deGrom, Syndergaard, Cespedes and, to a lesser degree, Matz, and veteran guys they can get something for like Todd Frazier – and clean house to replenish the farm system and replace what they surrendered to go for it in 2018.

With deGrom emerging as a top five starter (or higher) in baseball and being under team control through 2020 and Syndergaard’s abilities and long-term team control through 2021, between them they should yield at least five blue-chip prospects as well as ancillary pieces.

Right there, they restart with long-term assets and money off the books to perhaps buy some players. If that includes trading top prospect Amed Rosario and signing Manny Machado – who’s a couple of months away from turning 26 and will still be in his prime when the Mets are ready to contend again – so be it.

There are no more in-betweens. Choose.

Accepting mediocrity as a matter of circumstance, presenting the excuse that the Mets are in the same boat as everyone else and hoping that everything breaks perfectly as it did in 2015 is over. Mets fans have a few rare seasons they can point to as peaks: 2015, 2006, 2000, 1999, 1984-1986, 1973 and 1969. What built the two World Series winners in 1969 and 1986 was homegrown talent, savvy trades, patience and some extremely good luck. They can jam their arm into the window as it slams shut in 2018 to try one last time to get through it. It will be painful, but one way or the other, they’ll need to get treatment after the fact if it fails. If it succeeds, it was worth the pain. Regardless, how much more agonizing can it be than what they’ll inevitably be forced to deal with if they stand pat, end up with a season result that hinges on the flaws of the rest of the National League, and stand by haplessly if they choose to remain as is?

So, you wanna trade Jacob deGrom, huh?

MLB, Uncategorized

degrom

Without bothering to link the offending article by the non-credible, click-seeking source, the concept of the New York Mets trading their most valuable assets Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard brought Mets fans back to the brink of the usual civil war, fighting one another as to the direction of the franchise and how it should proceed.

There’s a fine line between clickbait and a legitimate Rx based on the circumstances. That, however, is secondary to an evenhanded assessment of the idea of a reboot and to start by trading deGrom. Without saying whether they should pull the trigger on such a decision and when, there are certain foundational factors that must be in place if they do decide to head in that direction.

If you would like to or are grudgingly willing to trade deGrom, you need to accept the following realities:

  • No half-assing it.

If you’re pulling the trigger on dealing deGrom, there’s no accepting the nonsense of an unemployed and unemployable blogger saying the team “might as well listen” just to see what’s offered and decide from there. With the Mets being so cognizant and reactive to public perception, once it leaks that they gauged the market for deGrom, then they have to trade him. There’s no “let’s see.” It’s either move him or don’t with full commitment. Listening to offers is an admission that the product is available for sale. There’s no checking in, nor is there due diligence just to get a sense of what’s out there. It’s akin to a married guy (or girl) starting a Tinder account to see how many swipes he or she gets. The mere act of checking means there’s interest in following through.

Since it’s the Mets, the fallout from it becoming known that they were taking offers on deGrom would be so fierce that they would either need to pull him back from the market and do their familiar bit of clumsy damage control or admit they’re restarting and trade him.

And none of that refusing to trade him to the Yankees just because it’s the Yankees. Right there, holding to that line takes out one of the teams with the most glaring need for a pitcher of deGrom’s stature and the deep farm system to overpay to get it done. The best offer gets the player, period.

  • Sandy Alderson cannot be the one to make the move(s).

There have been situations where an interim or outgoing GM has been entrusted to oversee a housecleaning and has acquitted himself professionally, leaving his successor with a solid core from the trades he made. Jerry Dipoto with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Omar Minaya with the San Diego Padres, and Dave Dombrowski with the Detroit Tigers are just three examples of that.

Alderson is the one who made the trade to get Syndergaard in the first place when he was in the low-minors and was a secondary piece to the true object of their desires in the R.A. Dickey trade, Travis d’Arnaud. Alderson would know the names of the minor leaguers who would constitute an acceptable return on a housecleaning. There’s no doubt that he would acquit himself professionally and have the organization’s best interests at heart even if he won’t be around to bear the fruits of the trades.

But at age 70 with his tenure as Mets GM likely coming to an end in the not-too-distant future, it should fall on his likely replacement, John Ricco, to take the reins. Ricco has been with the Mets for 12 years. He’s the obvious heir apparent to Alderson. He has the business acumen and the intelligence to understand the coldblooded sabermetric components necessary to run an organization today. Since the Mets rehired Omar Minaya as an assistant to Alderson and Ricco was Minaya’s assistant when the Mets were at their title-contending heights during the Minaya regime, the two can easily work together with their roles reversed.

Minaya, a baseball rat, is more comfortable scouting and eyeball analyzing without needing to go through the daily grind of dealing with the media and falling all over his words when the time comes to be a disciplinarian and handle crisis control. Ricco is perfectly suited to that. He’ll know the stats and the projections for the players the Mets will receive and Minaya can use his scouting acument to either believe the numbers or say, “Forget the numbers, this kid can’t play.”

Alderson’s hiring deviated from the Wilpons’ history of insular “Mets blood only” front office personnel. At the time, it seemed that hiring Alderson was a precondition for Bud Selig to sign off on them retaining ownership as they sorted out the Bernie Madoff mess. Alderson was a competent and unflappable caretaker to ensure that the organization weathered the financial storm. Now, since he won’t be there three to five years from the time of the trades and will not be overtly invested in their outcome, he should not be the one to make the calls.

  • No tanking, but no sentiment either; and the Wilpons must spend.

If they’re trading deGrom and Syndergaard, then it makes zero sense to put up the pretense of moderate respectability in the near term as they did in the first four years of Alderson’s tenure.

In fairness, those years were about getting out from under the onerous contracts of Jason Bay, Johan Santana, et, al. as well as cleaning up from the fetid wreckage of the Madoff disaster. Since the club appears to be, in part, beyond its financial woes, it can’t stop at trading deGrom and Syndergaard. It must extend to anyone and anything that can yield a significant return of youngsters who are under long-term team control or are close to big league ready. That includes dealing Michael Conforto, Steven Matz, Jeurys Familia, Jerry Blevins and anyone who has any value whatsoever to make a quick turnaround with the organization spending money on the big free agent class of 2018-19 and possibly some of the prospects they accrue in trades to turn the team around fast with younger, cheaper and more athletic players.

***

With the doom and gloom surrounding the Mets, it’s easy to forget that this same team started the season off at 13-2 and hit a rough stretch in which they have been one of the worst teams in baseball. They’re still above .500 – one of the benefits to a hot start – and it’s too soon to tell whether the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are for real and if the Washington Nationals have righted their ship. The National League is relatively parity-laden, so the Wild Card spots will be available should the Mets not jump back into contention for the division title.

The idea of trading deGrom and/or Syndergaard is the typical extreme reaction for a few weeks of bad play, but if they do eventually decide to do it, they must leap in with both feet or not even bother. Otherwise it makes zero sense and they’re better off just staying where they are and seeing what happens as the season moves along.

The real issue with Matt Harvey’s partying

MLB, Uncategorized

Matt Harvey Screenshot

Ninety-nine percent of you have no idea what professional athletes are doing with their downtime. 99 percent of the remaining 1 percent who do know keep quiet about it because otherwise they would not be able to do their jobs while serving as daily media members regularly around the players; doing their jobs as teammates, coaches and managers who need the players to contribute; owners who pay and hope to profit from them; and those – gossip columnists, public relations people, agents, handlers, cohorts, greenflies and flunkies – whose main function is to facilitate whatever the client wants.

Some athletes, like the Mets’ Matt Harvey, enjoy the nightlife. Some like playing golf. Others prefer to stay in their hotel room or at the ballpark playing Xbox. Still others bring their families with them everywhere they go and prefer as normal a life as possible given the circumstances.

With the size of their paychecks, their age and that they have so much free time on their hands, it’s unavoidable that players will try and find things to do. There’s nothing wrong with that…until the public perceives it as affecting their performance. Yoenis Cespedes’s golf addiction has been viewed as a negative. When R.A. Dickey told his intriguing life story, his sudden burst of fame and loquaciousness grated on some in the Mets organization. When Gary Gaetti became a born again Christian, his transformation from foul-mouthed team leader to evangelical was portrayed as the cause of a fissure in the Twins clubhouse.

This has gone on forever.

Stoked by a media which bases much of its reporting and response as a reverberation to public reaction, intentionally or not, it feeds the fire. If it’s viewed as a problem, it’s a problem even if it’s not the problem.

Harvey’s nocturnal activities have been under scrutiny since his big league arrival in 2012 when he was a relatively unknown and unhyped former first-round draft pick of the prior Mets front office regime led by Omar Minaya. Handsome, swaggering and incredibly talented, Harvey’s production on the field and his natural magnetism led to him quickly being adopted by the tabloids as an heir apparent to their aging former player of choice, the Yankees’ Derek Jeter. As his stature on the field grew, so too did his nighttime exploits. He was celebrated for it.

And it was irrelevant because he was coming through on the field and showed the potential to be the next on and off-field star, more Joe Namath than Jeter.

Since 2016, his career has plummeted faster than it skyrocketed. Blame is allocated in multiple places with the latest being his penchant for late nights and poor optics. Harvey’s reported trip to Los Angeles to go to a nightclub while the Mets were playing in San Diego is another line in Harvey’s long list of “what are you doing?” moments not because he was partying, but because he’s pitching terribly, has lost his job as a starting pitcher, and is heading toward free agency as a reclamation project rather than a superstar acquisition.

The club shrugged off the trip to L.A. in part because it really doesn’t sound like a big deal and in part because what’s the difference? How much worse can he pitch? It’s difficult to envision his on-field struggles stemming from going out and having a few drinks the night before a game when the game isn’t set to start until the next night. It’s just that he’s not very good right now. If he was, the partying would be “Matt being Matt” circa 2015 and not “Matt parties as his career sinks.”

As organizations seek to turn their clubs into corporate structures with chains-of-command, orders being issued from the top down and carried out without question, the fundamental flaw that can never be excised from their version of an ideal structure is that the key employees – the players – are indispensable and paid multiple millions more than the decision makers.

The owner is not replaceable in a conventional sense because the property belongs to him or her until it is sold and they sign the checks.

Some interchangeable front office person, regardless of how good at the job, can be replaced with few noticing the departure over the long term. There are thousands of them using the same formulas. That goes for Billy Beane, Theo Epstein, Andrew Friedman, Sandy Alderson or anyone else. So there’s nothing they can do about a player choosing to stay out all night because they’re making too much money, have guaranteed contracts and are under no obligation to follow orders…until they cannot perform as they did before. But for five or six pitchers, the vintage 2013 Harvey was not replaceable.

The Mets sound as if they know he’s not part of their long-term future and it’s becoming increasingly evident that their season no longer hinges on him. If he gets to the point where the distractions outweigh any possible usefulness, he’ll be gone before the season is over and they won’t miss him.

This has nothing to do with his off-field life.

The odds are that Harvey’s partying is no worse now than it was when he started the 2013 All-Star Game. It’s a perceived problem because he’s no longer an All-Star; he’s figuratively carrying a mop out to the bullpen every day until he shows he deserves another chance at the starting rotation or he’s trustworthy enough as a reliever to be used in key situations and not when the Mets are far behind or far ahead.

It’s a natural human inclination to be nosy. In a culture in which everything is posted on social media, there’s a blatant or hidden agenda for everything, and failures make for more interesting viewing than successes, Harvey is a sideshow — one that will be canceled when it wears out its welcome. He is largely to blame for the attention he receives not because he makes the wrong decisions – who can say what’s right or wrong? – but because the same people who propped him up and turned him into the Dark Knight, lauding him for his style and female companions, are turning on him. None of it was because they liked or disliked him. It was because he was interesting.

In this Kardashian-infested world where talent is secondary to the ability to grab attention and no one admits to watching or paying attention to any of it simultaneous to knowing every single aspect about their lives, salaciousness sells. The shifting of the Harvey narrative does not emanate from a condescending disapproval of his lifestyle, but from his results on the field. When the Mets say it’s not a big deal, they’re not talking in terms of disciplining him or straightening him out. It’s because it doesn’t matter anymore.

The Mets have 3 viable options with Matt Harvey

MLB

Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey’s mechanics are a mess and his confidence is shot. This sounds like a recurring theme because it is a recurring theme.

After another objectively terrible outing against the Braves in Atlanta – six innings, eight hits, six earned runs – Harvey was defiant to the mere suggestion that he might be headed to the bullpen.

Short of that, it’s a mystery as to what else they can do with him. This is the third consecutive year in which the results are identical despite injury excuses, changes, tweaks, new voices, new training tactics and other attempts to recreate some semblance of what he was from 2012 to 2015. It’s not working. Unlike past years, the Mets have major league arms to replace him and are no longer kowtowing to him and his agent Scott Boras. It’s either produce or…what? That’s the question.

It’s silly to say that Harvey is “done” when he can still hit the mid-90s with his fastball. To say that he’s done with the Mets as an effective and useful pitcher is not. Repairing him will take time and work that the Mets, in their current construction, do not have.

The idea of the minor leagues has been floated, but given Harvey’s veteran status and that his approval would be needed for him to be sent down, that will not happen.

As things stand now, the Mets have three alternatives:

1) Give Harvey another start.

2) Send him to the bullpen.

3) Come up with a phantom injury (hamstring tweak; tired arm), disable him while they figure out where to go next, and save him the embarrassment of a demotion.

One thing is certain: if this team has any serious aspirations for 2018, they can’t keep putting this version of Harvey out on the mound.

This is where the situation grows complicated. In the immediate aftermath of Thursday night’s game, Harvey’s insistence that he’s a starting pitcher sounded more plaintive than confident. With manager Mickey Callaway saying that the club is unsure as to whether Harvey will make his next start, this can quickly spiral into a familiar fight between player and club with the main difference being that Harvey’s leverage is gone. If he reverts to the same diva-like behaviors he exhibited in his heyday – behaviors the Mets had no choice but to grit their teeth and accept – and he refuses a move to the bullpen, won’t go to the minors and is openly challenging the new manager and pitching coach, then they must get him out of the clubhouse.

Harvey and agent Scott Boras are smart enough to realize that this situation goes beyond his remaining time with the Mets. He’s auditioning for a job with another team in 2019. Whereas as recently as 2016, he and Boras were expecting a nine-figure bidding war for his free agent services, he’s now staring into the abyss of a one-year contract rife with incentives or even a minor-league contract. With that being the case, the overwhelming likelihood is that Harvey will publicly backtrack on his “I’m a starter” rhetoric, be a team player and say he’ll do whatever is best for the team.

But what’s best for the team? That’s what they’re trying to figure out and there’s no easy answer…if there is one at all.

Adrian Gonzalez fools those who pushed for his release

MLB, Uncategorized

 

Adrian Gonzalez

The fundamental idea behind sabermetrics is to come to objective assessments about players. For a great many who promote themselves as “experts” based on their command of stats, there remains a reactive – and admirably natural, albeit unadmitted – response when players are not performing. Such was the case with Adrian Gonzalez throughout spring training with the New York Mets. After his grand slam Sunday night in Washington and now that Gonzalez has performed reasonably well both offensively and defensively in the admittedly very early going of the regular season, there is no longer the demand that the Mets release him and do something different (Jay Bruce, Wilmer Flores, Dominic Smith) at the position.

On one level, it was fully understandable for there to be so visceral a response to Gonzalez’s weak spring. He batted .207 in 58 at-bats with 1 home run and 2 doubles. He looked old and slow. Were he fighting for a job, he would certainly have lost.

But he wasn’t fighting for a job. That’s the key point.

Even at age 36, given his history as a former superstar player and that he cost the league minimum of $545,000 after his release by the Atlanta Braves, multiple teams were interested in him. Like a marketable free agent, the key for the player is what is best for him personally. Gonzalez was marketable for different reasons than a top-tier free agent would be, but he still held certain cards that allowed him the freedom to choose where he wanted to go based on the key factor at this juncture in his career: playing time. The Mets offered it without him needing to earn his way onto the roster. If that was not the case, he would not have signed with the Mets, relegating completely irrelevant his spring training performance and how rickety he looked.

Gonzalez’s spring training was not about getting hits and earning his way onto the roster or into the lineup. A “hands” hitter who relies on his reactions and his discerning eye at the plate, Gonzalez was simply getting his timing down and preparing his body and bad back for the grind of the long season. He was not trying to make a team. While it might be reasonable to think that a player who is well past his prime – regardless of how great he was during that prime – could contribute nothing of note after that ghastly spring training performance and how terrible he looked, it should not be forgotten that Gonzalez was very good as recently as two seasons ago and his 2017 season was sabotaged by that bad back.

He has not been vintage Gonzalez, but his .805 OPS, patience at the plate and solid defense are still in place. Should he be unable to maintain that or get hurt, the Mets have numerous options to replace him, so they can maximize his production for as long as it lasts and figure something else out as the season moves along.

It was preposterous to think he was “done” and the Mets should release him when the options they had were also rife with questions. Gonzalez serves as a prime example of the fundamental flaw of armchair expertise: there are unknowns such as what the player was told when he signed and what he was doing with his at-bats during the spring.

Had he not been given the clear promises that he would get every opportunity to play based on his regular season performance, he would not have signed with the Mets in the first place. The team is currently benefiting in a way they would not have had they adhered to the ignorant calls to release him in the spring. It may not last, but considering his cost, any contribution he makes is worth it.

Are the Mets really blackballing Wally Backman?

MiLB, MLB, Uncategorized

backman-picWally Backman is asserting that the New York Mets in general and general manager Sandy Alderson in particular have blackballed him in an effort to prevent him from getting another job with a major league organization, something he has yet to do in any capacity since he left the Mets in September. With that the case, Backman accepted a position to manage Monclova in the Mexican League this season.

Backman alleges that he has inside information from a friend in the Major League Baseball commissioner’s office who informed him of what Alderson is doing. In addition, he disputes the “resigned” narrative that was presented at the time of his departure even though it was he who stated that he walked away.

Backman also claims that Jeff Wilpon “betrayed” him. This ignores the reality that it was Wilpon who essentially forced Alderson to accept Backman as a minor league manager for his entire tenure as GM. Had Alderson been granted his wishes from the start, Backman would not have played an upfront role in the organization, particularly not as the steward to the team’s best young players.

While Alderson is an easy scapegoat, what seems to have happened is that Backman, understandably, had grown weary of languishing in Triple A and wanted to be moved up to Terry Collins’s coaching staff and the Mets refused. Had the Mets been willing to do that, it would have happened after the 2015 season when bench coach Bob Geren departed for the same job with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Instead, Alderson chose Dick Scott. Again, after 2016 with Tim Teufel being removed from the coaching staff, the Mets selected Glenn Sherlock to serve as third base coach and catching coach.

There was no opening for Backman and one was not forthcoming. Yet his decision to leave was done in a typical Backman fit of pique without understanding that it was not the Mets holding him back, but holding him up by giving him a job when no one else would have. There’s no doubt that Backman is an intense competitor, a good and wizened baseball mind, and fearless enough that he might be exactly what a team in the need of a kick start could use. But there’s a reason no one will hire him whether it’s his past, his reputation as a loose cannon, or something else. This has nothing to do with the team that did give him a job, the Mets.

Is it possible that Alderson is bad-mouthing Backman to prevent him from getting a job with the implication that a successful run from Backman with another organization and a chance at managing in the big leagues could end up embarrassing the Mets?

Anything is possible. However, a better question to ask is whether it’s likely. The answer is no.

In what is expected to be his final season as the everyday GM before retiring, moving to a senior role, or doing something else entirely, Alderson certainly has better things to do at age 69 than to orchestrate a whisper campaign against Backman, whom he clearly considers a non-entity. The likelier scenario is that the other MLB teams know Backman’s history and there are behind-the-scenes reasons for which he’s not getting hired. If asked for a recommendation, Alderson’s not going to give him one. As a professional, Alderson would presumably give the positives and negatives of Backman and leave it there without going to the energy-sapping lengths to overtly interfere with a job offer from another team.

What this appears to be is Backman leaving the Mets and thinking his work with the organization for six years and his on-field success was sufficient to cover up the warts before gauging the job market and if he was a candidate for any open position in MLB or the affiliated minors. Since his on-field baseball credentials are good enough to get a job, his inability to do so creates the image that there’s something up, true or not.

With his statements against Alderson and the Mets, he didn’t do himself any favors. Like most of the problems Backman has had in his attempts to manage in the big leagues, they’re predominately of his own making and the blackball explanation is another diversionary tactic that few will, and should, believe.

Terry Collins sounds like he’s had enough

MLB

Before he was fired as the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Paul DePodesta was preparing to hire Terry Collins as the new Dodgers manager to replace Jim Tracy. Tracy and DePodesta were never on the same page either philosophically or personally and the veteran manager Collins was DePodesta’s first choice as Tracy’s replacement. That plan was upended when DePodesta was also fired. So it was no surprise that when Sandy Alderson took over as the GM of the New York Mets after the 2010 season and brought DePodesta in as his assistant that Collins – already working for the Mets as their minor league coordinator – was at the top of the list to become the team’s new manager.

Collins would be able to stand a drawn out rebuild, keep the team in line off the field, and work in tandem with the front office without having to be treated as the functionary that the people in the Mets front office want their manager to be. Resistance to the plan is the bane to the existence of front offices that think like the Mets. It’s been evident with the Chicago Cubs as Theo Epstein is now on his third manager since taking over as team president. It was clear with Alderson himself when he pushed Bruce Bochy out the door as the San Diego Padres manager in favor of the cheaper and more pliable Bud Black. Bochy is on his way to the Hall of Fame with three World Series wins in the last five years as manager of the San Francisco Giants. Black, the epitome of mediocrity as a manager and a holdover with the Padres who’s somehow survived four regimes, may be on the verge of finally losing his job.

Collins has a superior resume to Black, but he too may be rattling his cage to the degree that Alderson finally pulls the lever and opens the trap door. It’s even possible that Alderson has his eye on the Padres situation with an idea that it will be Black replacing Collins.

The reasoning behind Alderson wanting to get rid of Bochy was in line with his belief system of what the manager should be. Bochy was resistant to the stat-based tactics that Alderson’s front office prefers and he understandably chafed at the interference and audacious interlopers who had never been in uniform or picked up a baseball, but felt they were qualified to make suggestions to someone who’s been in baseball for his entire working life as a player, coach and manager. In addition, Alderson didn’t want to pay Bochy what he was making at the time. Rather than fire him, he simply let him interview for other jobs. It was a mutual parting of the ways with everyone getting what they wanted.

Most managers have a survivalist instinct. In today’s game, part of that is following orders from GMs and their assistants when, in years past, they could tell their “bosses” to get the hell out of their office and get away with it. That won’t fly today.

Collins, while an old-school baseball man whose roots and sensibilities are similar to those of his former boss with the Pittsburgh Pirates Jim Leyland and Leyland’s longtime buddy (and Alderson’s former manager with the Oakland Athletics) Tony La Russa, was willing to implement the new metrics into his strategies. Whether he did this because he knew he had to to get the job or because he really believes in them is in dispute. Regardless, the cage rattling is something that bears watching as the Mets move forward into the summer with an injury-plagued roster and a clear shot to steal a division title with the reeling Washington Nationals betraying no resemblance to the prohibitive favorites they were prior to the season.

Collins was faced with a choice and for a long time he bowed to expediency. Knowing that this is more than likely his last chance to manage a big league team, he took the meddling with a shrug and did as he was told. He accepted that he was going to be saddled with relatively short-term contracts and, in 2015, the status as a lame duck. He tolerated the open statement on the part of his GM that he was on the verge of being fired in 2014.

But now, as the team is half on the verge of being quite good and half on the verge of suffering another second half spiral because of a lack of hitting, injuries and a failure to secure competent reinforcements, Collins is showing the “enough of this” attitude having reached his breaking point and no longer cares about the consequences. His attitude is that of knowing he’s probably going to get fired unless there’s a deep playoff run and he’s letting that seep out in his statements to the media and a clear disconnect between what he says and what the front office does.

Whereas he was once accommodating with the media and tamped down on the intensity that got him ousted as the manager of the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the feistiness is returning with Collins openly telling the media that they don’t know what they’re talking about and that he’s been doing this job longer than they’ve been alive. Collins made his displeasure with the current state of his roster known in a telling chat with John Smoltz that Collins himself related. The latest is that Collins stated that the Mets brief foray into using a six-man rotation was over after one turn and one poor start from Dillon Gee, only to see his proclamation undone by Alderson with Gee slated to start against the Braves on Sunday.

This situation is such that the manager took the job with a promised payoff years down the road. He would have an opportunity – one that he was not going to get anywhere else – to redeem himself. But like most “just wait” scenarios, the promises or allusions to promises do not appear to be written in ink on the blueprint. How much castration is he supposed to take? At what point does he say that he’s not going to go out as a baseball man with the entire world thinking that he was a faceless puppet or, worse, an incompetent?

The Mets front office is making their manager look like a fool by undermining him at every opportunity. With the new way in which baseball managers are treated, the majority of teams will never allow a manager to have the power that a Joe Torre, LaRussa, Whitey Herzog or Lou Piniella demanded and received. If that is unsaid and there’s still a façade of importance in the manager’s office, then it’s possible to get away with the front office dictating the on-field decisions. If, however, there’s so open a disdain for the manager that something he said a week before is suddenly undone with a total disregard for his perception in and out of the clubhouse, then what’s the point of keeping him?

Collins has been a good soldier hoping for that last shot. Now it’s becoming abundantly clear that there is a yawning chasm between himself and his bosses and it’s incrementally coming out in public undertones of displeasure. By mid-summer, if this continues, Collins might just dare Alderson to fire him. And Alderson will. Professionally, it won’t benefit Collins to do this, but at the very least he’ll salvage a portion of his baseball man self-respect because he’d reached his limit and did what he had to do to retain some sense of dignity.