Why Brodie Van Wagenen might succeed as Mets GM

MLB, Uncategorized

Mets

As the Mets move toward the finish line in their search to replace Sandy Alderson as GM, reports are stating that Brodie Van Wagenen, Doug Melvin, Kim Ng and Chaim Bloom are receiving second interviews. It has been a ponderous process for the Mets with rumors, innuendo and the familiar mocking the club must endure as a matter of course.

The inevitable questions about control, inherited staff, financial parameters and how much influence Jeff Wilpon will have will continue regardless of whom the Mets hire.

A total outsider like Van Wagenen might be viewed as a blatant attempt on the part of the Mets to reinvent the wheel, but it does make some sense and could succeed.

Let’s look at why.

Understanding both sides.

Any good lawyer will know how to make the other side’s argument. As a longtime player agent and co-head of CAA Sports’ baseball division, Wagenen has relationships with every major-league team and its executives. When trying to maximize the value of contracts and endorsements for his clients, he also needs to understand what the other side is thinking. It’s a short step over the velvet rope from being seller to the buyer.

This is not someone who will be parachuting in with theories, demands and expectations without having the faintest clue as to what really happens in the trenches.

He played baseball at a relatively high level.

Van Wagenen played baseball at Stanford University (as a teammate of Astros manager AJ Hinch). He wasn’t great, but he was serviceable. Playing at a Division I school in the Pac-10 – especially a school like Stanford that does not provide academic breaks to its athletes – is notable.

Many front office staffers are inhabiting a persona based on their environment. Chewing dip and carrying around an empty bottle in which to spit the juice does not make one a peer of professional athletes. If anything, it invites eye-rolling and ridicule from those same professional athletes. Similarly, uttering the lingo of athletes and trying to be one of them is transparent and deservedly ridiculed.

No, he did not make it to the major-leagues. He didn’t even play professionally. But as a former player, he will have a well-rounded idea of what it’s like to play and run a ballgame on the field, limiting the reactive know-it-all responses and insecurity that is inherent from those who cannot say the same and find themselves in an undeserved position as a front office boss, top-tier executive, or well-compensated analyst.

Delegation.

It is highly unlikely that Van Wagenen will be in the middle of every single deal big and small and interfere with the heads of the baseball departments.

The best executives are the ones who hire or retain smart people and allow them to do their jobs. If Omar Minaya, John Ricco, et, al. are part of the deal and will not be replaced, Van Wagenen can accept that and let them work without looking over their shoulder, sowing discord, and making passive aggressive maneuvers and statements to undermine them.

Managing the owner.

For an organization like the Mets, with Wilpon insisting that he will be involved, it takes people skills that a player agent must have to nudge him in the right direction without him knowing he’s being nudged. The idea of autonomy is secondary to this peacekeeping nuance.

Younger GMs are looking for autonomy and control in part because it grants them at least three years of on-field results being irrelevant. That’s three years of job security and blamelessness. They’re heavy on data and short on interpersonal skills. That is not an issue with Van Wagenen who understands the numbers, but also knows how to persuade.

The tactics.

There are repeated demands that the Mets tear the entire structure of the organization down to its exoskeleton and start over. Is that wise? With Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Amed Rosario among others, the team is not destitute at the big-league level. In the minors, the farm system is better than it was given credit for in preseason assessments.

Certainly, when there is a barren farm system, bloated contracts and declining players, it makes perfect sense to gut it and start over. The Mets are not in that position and hiring Van Wagenen is not only a signal that the Mets are serious about contending quickly, but that the Wilpons are ready to give him some money to spend to make that a reality instead of a bait-and-switch to sell season ticket plans with the same digging through the bargain bin, crafting an “if everything goes right” roster and hoping that it somehow works out.

Salesmanship.

What is an agent if not a salesman?

To take the job, he will need to divest himself of any agent-related interests in the players, but the relationships will remain in place because he got his players paid and because most players will be smart enough to realize that he might turn around and go back to being an agent after his tenure with the Mets concludes. Other organizations will know it too.

***

At first glance, the mentioning of player agents running an organization sounds quirky for its own sake. In the case of the Mets and Van Wagenen, it’s a radical departure from what the Mets and the Wilpons have done in the past and, in the grand scheme, it isn’t such a terrible idea.

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The Mets’ embarrassment could spark real and necessary change

MLB, Uncategorized

Ricco

The Mets’ 4-2 loss to the Braves Thursday could be viewed as “another day, another loss” in a season of promise that devolved into a disaster at stunning speed, even for them. But with each passing day, it grows clearer that the solution to repair what ails the club cannot come from inside the organization. For the duration of Sandy Alderson’s tenure as general manager, assistant GM John Ricco was rightfully viewed as his heir apparent. He preceded Alderson with the organization and his private sector resume largely mimics Alderson’s when Alderson was plucked from a law firm that was representing the Athletics and, with no baseball operations experience, was named the club’s GM. Ricco is also an attorney and worked in the MLB commissioner’s office before joining the Mets.

The transition would have been relatively seamless and moved forward whenever Alderson decided to leave had the Mets not disintegrated in consecutive years as they did in 2017-18.

Alderson has left the club, ostensibly to treat his recurrence of cancer. Seated next to Jeff Wilpon at the press conference to announce that news, Alderson himself essentially said that if it were up to him, he’d fire himself for the club’s downfall following their 2015-16 postseason appearances. So, Alderson is out and not returning. In his stead, they have a tri-head GM of Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya. This is unworkable in the short and long term. With clubs looking to deal with the Mets not knowing whom they should call and how long it will take for them to reach a consensus, the team is in stasis. Since the Mets made their highest value targets – Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard – off-limits barring a loony offer, the changes they did make are cosmetic.

The biggest problem for the Mets has morphed from the appearance of disarray to actual disarray.

On the bright side, the Mets are somewhat lucky in that they’re getting an in the trenches view of how Ricco would function as the fulltime GM. That trial run as the club spokesman and potential final decision maker is not helping his case to be given the job. With every press conference in which he serves as the organizational front man, he goes from “the guy whose voice we never heard” to “the guy whose voice we hope to never hear again.” It’s irrelevant whether he’s been a competent and evenhanded voice behind the scenes. He lacks the infectious personality that will automatically make it seem like he at least has a plan and believes in it and can get others to follow him. It’s clinical. He sounds like a doctor telling a patient that tests reveal a sexually transmitted disease. That is not going to work, especially in New York and specifically with the Mets.

Part of the search for the new GM goes beyond any blueprint he or she presents in an interview. It must be a person who can be sold to the fan base and media simply by mentioning the name. Listing potential names is generally a waste of time and more of a function of market research than anything else. Hiring a person who seems to check all the boxes and serves to placate the fans and media is not enough of a reason. Mickey Callaway has proven that.

Alderson is being blamed for the roster construction and the perceived dilapidation of the organization in general, but Ricco and Ricciardi were present and had a significant amount of sway for the entire time Alderson was there. Minaya was the GM who oversaw the rise and fall of the Mets from 2005-10. Can any one of the three make a case that he is the one who should be entrusted to fix this?

This goes beyond picking a new GM who is salable to the fans and has a background and clearly delineated plan. Because they have already stated their intention to contend in 2019, a new GM who might have wanted to trade away deGrom, Syndergaard and any other player of value to boost the farm system, clear some salary and reboot has already been told before interviewing that there will not be a rebuild. Right there, it puts a potential GM at a disadvantage as he will be walking in with parameters and residue from past failures rather than a clean slate.

Wilpon is another issue. He trusted Alderson enough to leave him alone as much as Wilpon leaves any of his underlings alone, but he had two decades of experience in the game from about every perspective a front office person can have. He’d earned the benefit of the doubt. While Ricco is liked within the organization, the first instinct Wilpon will have is to tighten his grip, not loosen it. Add in Ricco’s poor showing thus far as the team spokesman and it cannot work.

The beneficial aspect to the Mets slide toward what will be close to 100 losses is the urgency to act and willingness to change. It will spark the necessary action of hiring a veteran baseball man with experience and flexibility to adapt. Working the owner is part of the job. With none of the three current baseball men running the club capable of doing it, it is vital they find someone from outside – someone to be the baseball CEO; someone who knows what the hell he’s doing.

No replacing Yoenis Cespedes, so here’s another idea for the Mets

MLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Uncategorized

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Yoenis Cespedes, set to have surgery on both heels and expected to miss up to 10 months and perhaps more leaves the New York Mets in a predicament of how to replace his production. He has been riddled with injuries since signing his four-year, $110 million contract to remain with the Mets and the team’s fortunes have spiraled in direct proportion with his absences. When he’s played, they’ve been good; when he hasn’t played, they’ve been bad.

The positive aspect to the announcement is the end to the ambiguity. The Mets had functioned with a daily dread that even when he was deemed healthy, he was one step away from another injury that would keep him out for three months.

So, now they know.

Replacing him is a separate matter, especially considering the uncertainty in the front office with the departure of Sandy Alderson, the current tri-head GM of John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi, and the club’s unknown strategy and payroll going forward.

There are calls for the Mets to tear down the entire structure and rebuild, but such a position is absurd. Trading the likes of pending free agents Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Devin Mesoraco and Jerry Blevins is obvious. Players under team control through 2019 – Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores – should be moved if there is a sufficient return, albeit steeper than what they will get for those approaching free agency.

Regarding the idea of trading Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard, what sense does that make when there are three different people who are vying to get the top job and no set plan in place?

If the Mets are truly thinking about trading deGrom or Syndergaard, that is a decision that must be made by the new permanent head of baseball operations, whoever that is.

That brings us to how best to move forward if the Mets truly intend on competing in 2019.

Given the structure of the club being built around pitching and the opportunity to get younger, a spin from Alderson-led strategy of slow-footed, feast or famine players who played station to station and did little other than hit occasional home runs, the Mets have an opening to do something that has not been done full tilt since the Whitey Herzog St. Louis Cardinals of the 1980s: build a team based on speed and defense with the pitchers to back up that strategy.

The Mets have been notoriously slow in recent years. They have been lacking athleticism, devoid of versatility, and shoddy defensively.

The words “small ball” have been largely extinguished if not outright excommunicated from the game like they’re a toxic disease that only anti-vaccination fanatics fail to see the damage they can do, but with deGrom getting losses or no-decisions in 12 starts in which he pitched at least six innings and surrendered 3 or fewer earned runs, would the Mets not have been better-served to get runners on base in the early innings, push the envelope by stealing bases, bunt them along when appropriate, get a lead and force the other manager’s hand to make desperate moves because they cannot fall behind by one run?

This is contingent on starting pitching – something the Mets have in comparative abundance.

Some have indulged in delusional speculation that with the money the Mets will save via insurance payments for David Wright and now Cespedes, they should go big in this winter’s free agent market by pursuing Manny Machado and/or Bryce Harper. Hypothetically, if the Mets were willing to make that level of expenditure, why would players in demand like Machado or Harper want to join the Mets with the club’s reputation for disarray, dysfunction and injury?

More to the point, the type of players who would fit into the aggressive style of play are available should the club be willing to eschew the glossy signing and go for an actual planned construction with players who can do more than one thing.

Ian Kinsler may be 36 and struggling at the plate in 2018, but he remains a superlative defensive second baseman with speed to steal 15 to 20 bases and hit 20 home runs. He’s a free agent, won’t cost a draft pick, nor ask for a long-term contract.

Billy Hamilton is available and despite his poor OPS, he’s a defensive stalwart in center field who, if turned loose, could easily steal 80 to 100 bases.

With Amed Rosario playing better and more aggressively, Brandon Nimmo’s skill at getting on base, the remaining potential in Michael Conforto, hackers like T.J. Rivera and Jeff McNeil who might not bring the precious walks that sabermetrics advocates pine for, but collect hits, would this type of team have a better chance at competing than the ones the Mets have put on the field in 2017-18?

When the club is slumping offensively and is not hitting home runs, what do they do to score? There’s no stopping speed; there’s no viable defense for the panic that ensues when there’s a runner on base who might steal at any moment and the team is aggressively forcing the action with hitting and running, exhibiting derring-do on the bases and showing fearlessness. In games where they’re not hitting or getting on base, their defense will be a contribution.

Since the Mets have failed in every other attempt to fill in and replace costly players who are hurt; with their annual strategies imploding as if that was their intent, how much worse could they be if they did something that hasn’t been done since the mid-1980s – and worked – with their most hated rival at the time that twice sabotaged the dominant Mets teams of Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry?

Those Cardinals ran wild on the bases, caught the ball, and won three pennants in six years. This is a preferable strategy to the Mets trading their cost-controlled faces deGrom or Syndergaard for “Random Prospects X, Y and Z” and the team couldn’t be any worse than it is now. They’d certainly be more interesting.

Keep subsidizing the Mets’ lies and ineptitude and the lies and ineptitude will continue

MLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Uncategorized

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For the record, when typing the word “lies”, I initially typed “liens” which, when discussing the New York Mets, could also be accurate.

There’s an unfounded and borderline delusional expectation that one day a light switch will turn from off to on and the Mets will understand that random jumping from one philosophy to another, doing just enough to maintain fan loyalty that tomorrow will be different, and a series of moderate changes are no longer sufficient to build a consistently thriving organization whose location in New York City should yield a commensurate bottom to top structure with competent management and proper funding.

The Mets operate on occasional success and point to it as validation of their haphazard strategy. They won the pennant in 2015 and a Wild Card spot in 2016 – isn’t that enough for you?

They spent big from 2005 to 2010 and almost won the 2006 pennant and would have won the World Series had they reached it. If there was the extra Wild Card in 2007 and 2008 as there is now, the Mets would have made the playoffs in both years.

Aren’t you happy with that?

Would’ve, might’ve, should’ve. There’s a time when these words are applicable, but not as a blueprint.

Winning teams that consistently succeed do not operate that way. There are standards. There’s structure. There’s a real blueprint crafted by professionals who can explain why they’re doing what they’re doing and take steps to bring it to fruition.

There are teams like the Mets who are sort of trying and there are teams that are legitimately trying. They’re not saying they plan to make improvements, they make improvements! Now, it’s possible that those improvements will not result in the desired end of a championship, but it cannot be said that they only tried when it was convenient for them and they were selling fans on a mythical product that only occasionally works with the fans (customers) continuing to buy it out of brand loyalty.

Are the Mets as cruel and dismissive of their fans as the media narrative seeks to purvey?

No.

They did spend money in this past offseason and the idea that the Wilpon family does not want to win is preposterous. They’re not operating in the Jeffrey Loria vacuum of profit above all else with nothing – the law, league rules, good taste – getting in their way. There is, however, an aspect of doing just enough to keep the fans coming back and then knowing – not hoping, knowing – that there will be a large faction of customers who will keep purchasing the product no matter what.

Is there a defense for the Mets with the ongoing drama and rumors regarding a potential Jeurys Familia trade? Until said trade is completed, there’s no fair judgment of it.

Is there a defense for the Yoenis Cespedes drama? The Mets were reluctant to trade for Cespedes because of his mercurial reputation and that he was a pending free agent. The trade won the Mets a pennant. Cespedes wanted to stay with the Mets and the Mets were again reluctant amid concerns that once he was paid, he would settle into a lackadaisical “I’ll play when I feel like it” attitude. They re-signed him to a mutually beneficial contract where he could opt out after one year. In 2016, he was an All-Star, a top-10 finisher in the MVP race, and a Silver Slugger award winner. Then he opted out and the Mets, with pressure from the fans and media, re-signed him to a contract worth $110 million. In the year-and-a-half since then, they’ve gotten 110 games played and the constant fear that he will tweak, pull or tear a muscle or claim to have an injury that he could potentially play through just because he feels like taking some time off and is annoyed about something when no one knows what.

Now that he’s back on the active roster and played one game after missing two months, hitting a home run and being that mid-lineup threat, he says he has calcification on his heels and will need surgery to fix it. The recovery time is eight-to-ten months.

The Mets are being whipped for this information when, with Cespedes, there’s a sense that the medical diagnoses are being revealed as they come out of his mouth and the club was completely unaware of this new sequence of events until they heard it for the first time when Cespedes said it.

Are they at fault? Partially for having a strength and conditioning coach who allows Cespedes to bear squat half a ton; and partially for enabling him; but Cespedes is at fault as well and the Mets’ fears of giving him a long-term contract have largely come true.

Despite the objective truth that most of the big free agents who would have filled Mets holes and signed elsewhere have been mediocre at best and terrible at worst; that the players the Mets signed have inexplicably all been disastrous, the fundamental flaws in the Mets structure are the root of the problem.

The Yankees and Dodgers can absorb mistakes because they have the money to do so and the willingness to admit it and swallow it – something the Mets should have and obviously through financial limitation, conscious choice or both – do not. But there are other issues that the Mets face and are based on borderline incompetence. The Yankees and Dodgers have the farm systems to trade prospects for upgrades or to recall those players and have them contribute. The Mets do not and there’s no excuse for it. Having a healthy organization goes beyond money and the willingness to spend it on upgrades at the major-league level; it means having a system that, at minimum, has players who can play competently and the decision makers have the ability to accurately judge them or sell them to other clubs.

That does not happen in Queens.

The media is complicit in the narrative and it garners the desired reaction from already angry fans who need little prodding to respond like a Pavlovian dog. The Mets’ financial situation has been the catalyst for a vast proportion of the expectation that money above all else will be the determinative factor in how a trade like the one they are struggling to complete with Familia plays out. So, it’s easy to rile up the fans when one of the tri-headed GMs, John Ricco, says the Mets are willing to eat money on contracts to get a better return and then that story is flipped upside down as the Mets are negotiating that trade. Saying that they plan to spin terrible 2017 and 2018 seasons around quickly is one thing, taking the steps to do it is another.

Beat writers, insiders and columnists have been spending their time with ludicrous ideas of a Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard trade to the Yankees when even they know it is not going to happen. They seem to get valid information just seconds before it is announced by the club and cannot be trusted any more than “FAKE TWITTER ACCOUNT X PURPORTING TO BE AN INSIDER”.

They too should be ignored.

The fans are the key. The ones who keep buying the product and then complaining about what they bought are making the basic error in how to get a better product: Stop buying it when it’s not good and wait until it is good.

Don’t buy tickets.

Don’t go to games even if the tickets are free.

Don’t buy memorabilia.

Don’t call sports talk radio discussing the team.

Don’t take part in any activity related to the team.

This is simple economics and business. If the entity would like to continue earning a profit and the customers are no longer buying what is being sold, the entity needs to change so the customer will again feel confident enough to spend money on it.

Until that happens, the Mets will keep going as they have with ownership dropping occasional crumbs dropped to loyal fans amid the belief that it will keep them quiet and buying for a few years. And the owners have been right. Once they’re wrong and the fans do not keep swallowing the storyline, subsidizing the lies and ineptitude, things will change. Not before then.

Mets trade candidates: Will they stay or will they go?

MLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Uncategorized

Syndergaard

With Manny Machado the first star name to be traded with just shy of two weeks before the non-waiver trade deadline, let’s look at the New York Mets trade candidates, who will stay and who will go.

WILL BE MOVED

Jeurys Familia

It is a certainty that Familia will be traded. Even if the Mets have an eye on re-signing him, it makes zero sense to retain him for the remainder of this season. They are not making the qualifying offer for a closer so they cannot even make the “draft pick” argument to retain him. They’re not crawling back into playoff contention. There’s no point in keeping him.

Like almost every closer in baseball today, Familia is occasionally shaky. He loses the strike zone and is prone to the longball. However, he does have a predominately successful postseason resume and his fastball is reaching the upper-90s again. There should be a good return for Familia of perhaps two top 10 prospects from an interested organization.

Asdrubal Cabrera

Cabrera will also be traded. Another player who would not receive a qualifying offer from the Mets, he is having a “sing for his supper” season with 17 homers, and an .824 OPS as he heads toward offseason free agency. He has remained on the field for the entire season and would be a solid addition to a contender as a second or third baseman. With that pending free agency, he would not complain about being shifted back to third, opening the door for multiple teams.

They’re not getting a giant return for Cabrera, but a reasonable expectation would be mimicking the Curtis Granderson for Jacob Rhame deal from 2017. Rhame has struggled, but has a promising arm.

Jerry Blevins

Blevins has been miscast as a pure lefty specialist by manager Mickey Callaway. As he too heads for free agency and with a proven track record as a dependable reliever despite his poor results in 2018, the Mets will still not get much for him – a low-level minor leaguer probably outside of a club’s top 15 prospects – but teams will have interest and he will be sent to the middle of a pennant race. Perhaps a landing spot is back where he began his major-league career in Oakland with the surprising Athletics.

MIGHT BE MOVED

Zack Wheeler

The Mets are in a difficult spot with Wheeler. Although his injury history and penchant for losing the strike zone are problematic, he has hit a groove under Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland that is clearly giving the organization pause before dealing him when he finally appears to have figured it out.

The offers on the table for him should predicate their next move. If it is a return that surpasses a potential 2020 draft pick from a rejected qualifying offer when he hits free agency after 2019, they should pull the trigger. Short of that, maybe they’re better-served to retain him and hope his evolution is legitimate.

Wilmer Flores

Flores is a free agent after 2019 and it’s difficult to discern whether he’s playing first base regularly because the club is showcasing him or that they have seen more than enough of Dominic Smith to realize that Smith is not the answer and Flores should be playing ahead of him regardless of Smith’s status as a first-round draft pick, service time and trade considerations.

Flores has two positions: first base or DH. With the talk that the DH may be coming to the National League sooner rather than later and Flores’s still untapped 30-home run power and history of late-game heroics, unless it’s an offer too good to refuse, the Mets should hold onto him.

Devin Mesoraco

Mesoraco has acquitted himself well since joining the Mets in exchange for Matt Harvey. Teams might be interested in him via trade. There is an argument that since so many entities insist that based on the numbers Kevin Plawecki is a serviceable starting catcher, the Mets should open the door to play Plawecki every day for the remainder of the season to get a better gauge on him by moving Mesoraco.

A free agent at the end of the season, there is no qualifying offer attached to him – not that the Mets would offer it anyway – so he’ll get a job for 2019. Given the sorry state of the catching market, he could end up back with the Mets. The return would be light, so it makes little sense to trade him.

Jose Bautista

Bautista has rejuvenated himself sufficiently with the home runs, walks and defensive versatility that the Mets could get a middling prospect for him. If that is the case, they need to pull the trigger and likely will.

99.9% WILL NOT BE TRADED

Jacob deGrom

Much of the chatter comes from agenda-driven media outlets and from deGrom’s own representatives.

None other than Michael Kay came up with a Twitter-based poll with shocking results straight out of North Korea or the MAGA/Fox News wing of the Republican party that Mets fans would be fine with trading deGrom to the crosstown Yankees.

Columnists are pushing the idea under the pretense that the Mets can immediately replenish their farm system with a bounty of prospects. While true, it’s also a storyline that generates a lot of web hits, shares and retweets. Just because this is a fact does not mean they should do it.

For his part, deGrom expressed his desire to remain with the Mets, but his agent created a controversy over the All-Star break saying that if the Mets are not willing to sign him to a contract extension now, perhaps they should trade him.

It’s all noise. The Mets are under no obligation to trade him because deGrom has no bargaining power. He’s not a free agent until after 2020. If he says, “Trade me.” The Mets can say, “No.”

And that’s the end of that.

Financially, deGrom would certainly like the security of a $100 million deal or more, but he’ll get $12 million to $15 million in arbitration for 2019. For someone like deGrom, it’s unlikely that he’s a guy who wastes his money frivolously; nor is he Curt Schilling believing that he’s going to be a billionaire with cockamamie schemes.

If the Mets are planning on hiring an outsider as GM, it makes no sense to trade deGrom before knowing what the new GM’s plan is. A caveat is that the question of what the prospective GM wants to do with deGrom et, al. will be asked during the interview process. If the GM wants to trade deGrom and Jeff Wilpon doesn’t, that person is not getting the job. Ultimately, it’s up to ownership. Based on that, they will not want to trade a good soldier who brings fans to the park and is one of baseball’s best pitchers.

The only scenario in which deGrom will be traded is if there is a deal on the table that is so lucrative that the team making the trade will be savaged for it. It’s certainly possible, however unlikely.

Noah Syndergaard

Most of the same factors that apply to deGrom also apply to Syndergaard. That said, there is a slightly better chance that Syndergaard is moved than deGrom. The return would be nearly identical because Syndergaard’s injury history and that he’s not having the all-world year deGrom is will be mitigated by him being four years younger and having an extra year of team control. Syndergaard has expressed his desire to stay just as deGrom has, but Syndergaard’s position sounds more like “this is what I’m supposed to say” than the squeaky-clean deGrom. Syndergaard has more of an edge to him.

Regarding both pitchers, if the Mets are truly intent on doing a quick spin and contending in 2019, then they need to retain deGrom and Syndergaard. Presumably, they know that.

Steven Matz/Seth Lugo/Robert Gsellman

All three would bring back a good return, but it makes precious little sense to trade them when there has been a stated intent to contend in 2019 and they’re part of the solution, not part of the problem.

The Mets must trade Zack Wheeler before the MLB trade deadline

MLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Uncategorized

Zack Wheeler

It’s easy to become hypnotized by Zack Wheeler’s arm and paralyzed by the fear that just as he appears to figure out how to harness his gifts and seems to be healthy, the New York Mets are debating whether to trade him or not.

There should be no debate. The Mets not only should trade Wheeler before the approaching MLB trade deadline, but they must trade Wheeler. Here’s why:

  • He’s only locked in as a Met through 2019.

Wheeler is under team control for one more season after this one. Given the poor state of pitching in general across the major leagues, should he remain injury-free and be little more than serviceable, that should be worth at least $30 million in the current climate. Despite reports that the Mets are in a stronger financial situation than they’ve been in years – believe it or don’t – the approaching trade/sign decisions on Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard take precedence over Wheeler.

Beyond his arm and the perception that he might have put the puzzle pieces together, a major factor of why Wheeler is so attractive as a trade chip is that he is not a rental and whichever team trades for him will have him for another year at a reasonable price.

His current salary is $1.9 million. A guesstimate of his 2019 arbitration award with his 2018 production should come in at around $4 million. Sure, the argument could be made that the Mets could use that themselves, but with them unlikely to sign him long-term and their status as a contender for 2019 hinging on issues that go far beyond the 150 innings Wheeler might give them in a reasonable scenario, it’s better to maximize his value when it’s at its highest.

  • Barring a miraculous jump, that value will never be higher to the Mets.

Had the Mets traded Wheeler at any point preceding this one, they would have received very little in return. Since he’s pitched far better than his basic statistics indicate in 2018, has regularly gone beyond 100 pitches and provided six innings-plus in 13 of his 18 starts and has been consistently effective, this goes beyond eye-popping velocity and secondary stuff including a new and impressive split-finger. His control has drastically improved; his mechanics are cleaner and more easily repeatable; and he’s taken the ball every fifth day without the multiple maladies that negatively impacted his early career.

Clearly, manager Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland have had a good influence on Wheeler. That he’s healthy right now makes it of greater importance that they think about this logically and are not hindered by “what if?” Wheeler has always been a “what if?” A few months does not eliminate that the answer was rarely positive until now and it remains speculative.

  • He can return after 2019 when the Mets have a better idea of what they are.

Wheeler has been adamant in his desire to stay and, unlike most players, it sounds genuine. He had called Sandy Alderson in 2015 and told him he wanted to stay when he was part of the original trade for Jay Bruce – one year before the Mets acquired Bruce. Alderson said it did influence him.

But this is about current need and pure business. If Wheeler continues his upswing and truly likes being a Met, there’s the looming free agency a year-and-a-half from now. He can return.

The state of the Mets is more pressing in this process than Wheeler himself. Their farm system is weak and they do not yet have a permanent general manager to replace Alderson. They are not contenders and are preparing a selloff of their pending free agents. They are debating what to do with deGrom and Syndergaard. Wheeler is several levels down from those two and is not as franchise-altering should they trade him and it turn out to be a mistake.

Without a permanent GM and a known blueprint as to where the organization is headed – retool or rebuild – nothing major will be done unless a team make a so-called Herschel Walker offer where the question goes beyond the Mets having traded one or both of their aces but to, “They got that much?!?” and openly fleeced the other party.

  • He’s healthy.

Wheeler’s Tommy John surgery was more complex than most and was a case study that the procedure is not guaranteed to succeed in the customary time frame, if it succeeds at all.  After missing two full seasons with the surgery and its aftermath, how far he’s come is notable. That said, it cannot be ignored that he finally got back on the mound in 2017 and missed time with biceps tendinitis and arm fatigue.

Almost all pitchers are one pitch, one move, one step away from a long stint on the disabled list. Wheeler has a documented history of it. While he’s making his starts and providing length, it’s better to maximize that than retain him hoping it’s not a mirage.

***

These same arguments can be spun around to make the case to retain him. However, judging by the Mets’ needs and the current circumstances, it makes zero sense to hold onto him based on a few months when he’s been with the organization for seven years and this is the first since 2014 where he can be trusted to take the ball every fifth day with solid results. Much of that was due to injury, but it was also because there were times when he seemed to have zero clue where the ball was going once it left his hand and his durability was nonexistent.

It’s always a scary thought to trade that type of talent, especially for prospects. When considering all the variables, the wise decision is to move him and do it soon.

The Mets, their next GM, Random Name X and Random Reporter Y

MLB, Uncategorized

Mets

As random columns and blog postings speculate as to the next general manager of the New York Mets, writers are conjuring names from front offices of other clubs with no context, no inside information as to what the Mets are thinking, and no willingness to use the only genuine way to predict what they will do: history.

They’re pulling names out of their asses based on pure fantasy and selfish agendas. To make matters worse, they fail to look beyond the hot trends of the moment – baseball outsiders, high-end degrees, innovative statistical analysis and ingenuity – and take that first, crucial step by checking to see that the puzzle piece either fits seamlessly or can be altered slightly to kindasorta fit enough to make it work.

To elucidate exactly how clueless the media is in general, one need only look at the timeline of former Seattle Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik and disproven story of how he went from an inspired hire and scouting and stats “hybrid” who had made his way up through the ranks as an old-school, eyeball scout and slowly learned the value of sabermetrics not just to understand them, but to aggressively implement them.

None other than one of the worst columnists in baseball today if not in baseball history overall, Joel Sherman, wrote a Mets-bashing column lamenting that the club had “missed out” on Zduriencik, calling him a “truly Amazin’ exec” in part for that combined knowledge in scouting and stats and in part because he had worked for the Mets in the early-1990s and knew the terrain.

Sherman is one of the “experts” who has and will offer his ideas as to the next Mets GM. In fact, he personifies the widespread nonsense of the entire endeavor.

In a whistleblower-type move, former Mariners scout Tony Blengino revealed the truth after the Mariners fired him by saying that it was he who completed Zduriencik’s application package and that the idea of Zduriencik understanding stats was a ruse.

It was pure payback, it was ill-advised and Blengino was caught in the backdraft of his vengeful revelations, but it served a purpose in that it showed how little the media really knows beyond what they’re told and how their opinions form based on their own insipid and ill-informed interpretations as to what’s really happening inside organizations.

As much as outsiders present their case of how organizations should be run, the reality of how they are run is far different and is adherent to the whims of ownership. If it is an owner who is willing to recede into the background, absorb criticism based on having delegated so much authority to an underling, and accept that it might not work for the foreseeable future if it works at all, then the act of putting all the chips on one philosophy can succeed.

It’s not easy. To imply that other GMs have that all-encompassing power is ridiculous. Not even Bill Belichick is immune to interference and overrule from Bob Kraft.

Regarding the Mets, it’s not about who the Wilpons should hire based on that randomness. It’s about who they will hire.

If you really believe the Mets will pick any one of the names suggested – Chaim Bloom, Kevin Goldstein, David Stearns, Tim Naehring – and give them the same carte blanche that not even Sandy Alderson received, you’re parachuting in with zero understanding of the Mets or are insinuating your own ludicrous beliefs on a situation where they hold no sway.

If the new GM walks in to Jeff Wilpon’s office and says, “I have a trade offer where we’ll send Jacob deGrom to the Yankees and Noah Syndergaard to the Phillies for a combination of nine prospects…” it’s won’t fly no matter how significant the return is, where the prospects rank on various lists, or how smart it seems in the moment.

As alluring as the prospect of a new age GM is, the Mets are not going down that road. With that in mind, wouldn’t it be preferable to have someone the Wilpons trust so they don’t feel obligated to scrutinize every move that is made? Someone they know or at least has a history to give that person some wiggle room?

“Random Name X” from “Inept Reporter Y’s Ass” is not cutting it and it’s not going to happen.

The Mets tri-headed interim GM and how it might go

MLB, Uncategorized

RicciardiRiccominaya

Sandy Alderson’s decision to step away from his role as New York Mets general manager has left the organization with a tri-headed replacement in the form of his assistants John Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya. With the organization in its familiar position of disarray tinged with predictable disappointment, the remainder of the 2018 season will be dedicated not just to assessing the product on the field, but in the front office as well.

Presumably, the Mets will have a more extensive search once the season is over.

There are a few things to remember here. First, the Wilpons are insular and do not like hiring outsiders. Alderson was an exception and they seemingly had not choice. He quickly became part of the Mets “family”.

Second, the organization is attentive if not outright vulnerable to fan anger, media entreaties and, most importantly, ticket sales.

Third, any executive who walks in thinking he or she will be the final say authority and operate without oversight from ownership will be hit in the gut with a figurative sledgehammer the first time an acceptable trade offer is made for a player the Wilpons don’t want to move and who they believe sells those tickets.

While the Wilpons are being criticized for the above issues as well as Jeff Wilpon’s statement interpreted as him asserting his power as having final say authority, it’s important to realize that he’s the owner and every operations head must answer to ownership. Bill Belichick, Theo Epstein, Billy Beane, Brian Cashman, Andrew Friedman, Jeff Luhnow, Gregg Popovich – all of them – must get approval before pulling the trigger. Some are accorded more leeway and freedom than others, but there’s no absolute power granted to what is, for all intents and purposes, a high-level employee who is still an employee.

This must all be factored in.

As for the three voices who will be running the Mets, there is an endless series of questions that need to be asked such as who do opposing teams call with a proposal? Who makes the assessments and how? Will there be a window for other executives to call GM 2 and GM 3 if GM 1 doesn’t give the answer they want? The foundation for paralysis is vast, but this is the Mets, so things might not be all that much different than they were before apart from Alderson not being there to willingly bear the brunt of that dysfunction.

John Ricco began his baseball career with the commissioner’s office and joined the Mets in 2004. His career trajectory somewhat mimics Alderson’s in that he was an outsider who came into baseball and to the Mets almost by accident. He has familiarity with the numbers and the intelligence to understand and deploy them without reverting to them as a crutch. There’s no ego where he’ll ensure that everyone is aware that he’s in charge and garner credit even for that which was lucky or was someone else’s idea.

In the negative sense, when teams make a change from one boss to another, the succession of number two to number one often fails. Perhaps Ricco is too similar to Alderson in temperament and personality to be the change the club needs.

If the Mets do not hire an outsider, Ricco is the heir apparent but will be more of a front man and calming voice to assess the situation and make a rational decision. He’s well-spoken and has the lawyerly skills to say something without saying anything and that, more than most other attributes, is how the GM job is done today.

J.P. Ricciardi was a minor-league player for the Mets and his relationship with Beane extended to working in the Oakland A’s front office before he was plucked from his role as a middling executive to become the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays. His time with the Blue Jays was tumultuous not for deals he made or didn’t make, but for his complete lack of a filter when speaking to the media, fans and even the players. He had public disagreements with Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Adam Dunn and Shea Hillenbrand to name a few. To his credit, when he’s asked a question, he’s giving an answer and it’s certainly not in the GM double-speak that is designed to say absolutely nothing. For someone listed at 5’8”, he’s fearless. It’s easy to envision him getting into a traffic dispute with someone the size of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, shoving him and saying, “Hey man, you wanna go? Let’s go!!!” Of course, he’d get killed. And that’s the problem.

His “say whatever comes to mind” style and pugnacious nature as baseball boss didn’t work in Toronto and it’s not going to work in New York.

Omar Minaya does not seem to want to be a GM again. When he was rehired to be an assistant to Alderson in spring training – supposedly by Fred Wilpon himself – there was an over-the-top reaction as if the Mets were usurping and undermining the baseball operations staff with an unwanted interloper. That might have been true if Minaya was that type of person who is interested in himself and triangulating his position to gain power any way he can get it.

He’s not that guy.

Minaya is a very nice man with a keen scouting eye. He loves the Mets organization and has been loyal to the Wilpons for years. His time as GM from late 2004 through 2010 was notable for the rapid rebuild from laughingstock to a club on the verge of a World Series win two years later. Then, his short-term strategies of buying stars degenerated into desperation to patch together a deteriorating foundation. Some of the trades he made – for Carlos Delgado, Duaner Sanchez and John Maine – were outright heists. Like a European football (soccer) manager, he buys stars.

Ironically, Minaya’s best Mets teams were ahead of their time in having a lineup filled with guys who hit the ball out of the park; a strong defense; a mediocre starting rotation; and a deep and diverse bullpen. This is how most top-level clubs are built today. Because he falls into the category of old-school and doesn’t have reams of stats detailing why he’s making the moves he does and is not a relentless self-promoter, he does not get the credit for building a team that the stat guys would admire and laud had it been built by one of “them” because he’s decidedly not one of them. Therefore, it lacks the purity they seek in a sabermetrically-constructed club.

Regardless of where the Mets go after the season, there are major issues to addressed in the short term. While Alderson would most certainly have had the nerve to trade Jacob deGrom and/or Noah Syndergaard if it got to that point, the Wilpons okayed it and a deal too good to refuse was on the table, the current structure makes it implausible that such deals will take place. The same holds true for potentially valuable disappointments Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith. No giant housecleaning deals will be made in-season and they’re not gutting the club down to its exoskeleton after the season. Expect pending free agents Jeurys Familia, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jerry Blevins to be on the move. Apart from that, this season will be dedicated to looking at their young players, making judgments, deciding who stays and who goes and leaving it to the next GM whether that’s someone who’s with the organization now or not.

The Mets’ “remarkable achievement” and the clear and unclear future

MLB, Uncategorized

Syndergaard

Not only will the New York Mets not play well enough to get back into some semblance of contention to prevent the organization from a midseason sell-off, but the way they’re losing makes clear that they’re on the way to a 66-96 season. That’s a remarkable achievement for a team that started the season at 11-1 and was 17-9 after 26 games.

By accepting this, it becomes easier to speculate on how the club will move forward. As stubborn and insular as he is, Fred Wilpon is not stupid. When the team is under siege and, more importantly, the fans don’t just stop coming to the games but stop paying attention to the team completely, is when he acts.

In 2004 when the club was stagnant, boring and in disarray, he hired Omar Minaya as the new club GM and opened the checkbook letting Minaya buy players to bring the team back into the public consciousness.

In 2010, one year after the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme decimated the Wilpon family finances, Sandy Alderson was hired to replace Minaya in part because the club needed a steady hand who could withstand the onslaught for basically accepting that the team was not overtly trying to contend and in part because he would keep a tight rein on the club’s depleted coffers.

Now, in 2018, as the Alderson regime has run its course, they may have made a ghastly mistake with manager Mickey Callaway who – full disclosure – I enthusiastically encouraged the club to hire when Joe Girardi’s status was still unknown, and the team is old, slow and indifferent, it’s inevitable that Wilpon will act. Taking a mulligan for the apparent mistake with Callaway, my hope is that he goes for the lightning strike by prying Billy Beane away from the Oakland Athletics to be the new president of baseball operations.

First, however, the short-term decisions will be entrusted to Alderson. Like other executives whose status was in question at the time of the trade deadline, Alderson will follow the lead of Jerry Dipoto when he was the interim GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2010 and Dave Dombrowski shortly before he was dismissed by the Detroit Tigers in 2015 and make deals that are in the best interests of the organization before departing or receding into a consultant’s role.

Since the team is not getting back into contention, the next step is to determine which players to keep and which need to go. Some are easy; some are not.

The biggest fish

Obviously, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard will fetch the biggest hauls on the trade market and the Mets have implied that rather than simply saying “no” as they have in the past when other teams call and inquire about them, they will see what those interested parties have to say.

Of course, that does not mean a trade of one or both is likely. The reasons they’re so in demand in a possible trade are the same reasons why the Mets should consider retaining and building around them. DeGrom is under team control for two more seasons after this one; Syndergaard for three.

With the way deGrom is pitching and that he and he alone might make the difference between a team winning the World Series or missing the playoffs entirely is enough of a carrot to entice that team to overpay in terms of a cacophony of blue-chip prospects that is too massive for the Mets to turn down.

Syndergaard is currently out with a finger injury and, as the only one of the Mets’ current starting rotation who has not had Tommy John surgery or is dealing with a tear in the elbow as Seth Lugo is and pitching through, the threat of his elbow giving out is a looming concern. For a pitcher who throws as hard as Syndergaard does and who has missed time in both 2017 and 2018 with a variety of injuries, the clear preference – if the Mets do trade one of them – is to move him. He won’t yield as much as deGrom, but he still brings back a lot.

Immovable objects

Media members and fans who pressured the Mets to retain Yoenis Cespedes cannot lament that choice now. The organization had its concerns that once Cespedes got his money, his motivation would dissipate commensurately. He was mercurial and had injuries to several parts of his body before he got to the Mets, so there could be a combination of factors involved in his current status.

It is pointless and unfair to question how hurt a player truly is. What is unquestioned, however, is that he cannot be counted on to be that key figure in the everyday lineup. He has a full no-trade clause. If he were healthy and productive, there would certainly be teams who would take him off the Mets’ hands for the remaining two-and-a-half years on his contract. Even if it was for a limited return, simply getting that contract off the books allows the Mets to reallocate that cash to help them retool.

This is purely speculative and useless. He’s hurt and is not returning anytime soon. He’s going nowhere.

There were voices who hated the Jay Bruce signing. Those same voices – claiming to be Mets fans – are seemingly taking a bizarre, cannibalistic joy in having been “right”. Bruce has been horrific and was always a limited player, but in the past he could be counted on for consistent power numbers. That has not been the case and it was recently revealed that he is dealing with a hip injury that has been an issue since March. Bruce tacitly refuses to use that as an excuse, but when a player who has posted the annual numbers that Bruce has and does nearly nothing in his return to the Mets, clearly the hip is the main reason for that. No team is taking his contract.

It’s doubtful any club will make a worthwhile offer for Todd Frazier or Anthony Swarzak, so they might as well hang onto them.

There’s no point in discussing Jason Vargas.

Pending free agents

Although Jeurys Familia has had some high-profile blown saves and hiccups in the postseason, he was still very good in the 2015 postseason and the run up to it. He is mostly reliable as a reliever, has that playoff experience and, as a pending free agent, would not complain about being a setup man for the remainder of the season. The Mets will not get a Gleyber Torres as the crosstown Yankees did when they traded their closer, Aroldis Chapman, to the Chicago Cubs in 2016, but if Familia shows he is healthy and effective, they can acquire some useful youngsters for him. 99.9999 percent, he will be traded.

Asdrubal Cabrera is having a big free agent year. His ability to play second base and third base – plus shortstop in a pinch – his big offensive year and that he’s a switch-hitter will make him attractive. They can repeat the type of trade they made in dealing Curtis Granderson and getting a good, raw arm in Jacob Rhame.

Jerry Blevins will be moved and they’ll get a low-level minor leaguer.

Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista and Devin Mesoraco will remain to fill out the roster for the rest of the season. In Reyes’s case, it will presumably be for a photo-op if David Wright can get back on the field so they can play one last game at third base and shortstop together, whatever that’s worth.

Potentially valuable chips

Should Wilmer Flores be traded, do not expect the same tears of sadness he shed in 2015 when he was almost traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. By now, Flores wants the chance to play regularly and that is not happening with the Mets. If he went to the American League to DH, it would be better for him and the Mets could get a prospect.

It would be easy for the Mets to be hypnotized by Zack Wheeler’s recent run of success amid a fastball that is reaching levels of velocity that it had not since before his Tommy John surgery, but that would be a mistake. Wheeler is injury-prone and inconsistent, capable of being unhittable one day and then not having the faintest idea where the ball is going once it leaves his hand the next. He has one year of team control after this one. Another team will likely be similarly hypnotized by Wheeler’s potential and make an offer that the Mets should accept.

Steven Matz is notoriously injury-prone and, although he’s been solid of late and is under team control through 2021, he is a “make a good offer” arm where he’s not on the block and is not as much of a get as deGrom or Syndergaard, but still has value to get two or three good pieces back.

***

Despite Alderson’s wait-and-see attitude, he sees where this is headed. A housecleaning is coming. It will start on the field and, given how badly the front office moves have turned out in recent history, will extend to the executive suite as well. Until then, waiting and hoping for the best in the trades is a preferable alternative to suffering and disappointment in a hopeless cause.

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.