R.A. Dickey On 60 Minutes

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R.A Dickey appeared in a great piece on 60 Minutes in which he discussed his life not just as a baseball player whose career has been enough to get him on 60 Minutes in the first place, but his personal life as well.

A year ago, Dickey released his autobiography in which he told the story of growing up in a broken home with an alcoholic mother; how he was was sexually abused by a female babysitter and then raped by a teenage boy; that his career was nearly destroyed by self-destructive behaviors, injuries and the quirk that he has no ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow making it a near-miracle that he’s able to pitch at all; and about his trade from the Mets to the Blue Jays. My review of his book can be read here and the interview plus extras are embedded above.

Essays, predictions, player analysis, under the radar fantasy picks, breakout candidates, contract status of all relevant personnel—GMs, managers, players—and anything else you could possibly want to know is in my new book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon.comSmashwordsBN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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The David Wright Contract Non-Story

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By now, most “experts” and observers predicted that the Mets: A) would have lost 100+ games; B) in bankruptcy court and ready to be auctioned off or sold; C) traded off any and all players who had value for the “future”.

Now because none of that happened, the goalposts are being moved again from how bad is this team was going to be and who was going to be the new owner, to repeated questions as to what they’re going to do after 2013 with David Wright and R.A. Dickey. Here’s the simple answer: we don’t know and nor do the “insiders”. Their collective agendas have gone from blatant to embarrassing.

The Mets have surpassed expectations, shown to have a better farm system than initially thought, and they won around 15-20 more games than the most dire projections said. Consequentially, something else has to be tossed into the ring to attack them. Rather than admit that this is a rebuild that is relatively on or close to schedule and that they’re better than anticipated, it’s evolved into cryptic suggestions straight out of a formulatic horror movie implying, “Yeah, they’re not that bad this year, but they still have money problems and won’t be able to sign Wright or Dickey.”

The Mets are the designated punching bag. Editors know this and take steps to have their reporters treat the team as such with an alarming and obvious redundancy that few admit exists. So it’s changed from the lack of money and poor attendance issues to Wright, Dickey, and how the Mets are going to improve for 2013 given their reportedly limited resources.

First, with Dickey, no one is saying he owes the Mets a heavy discount, but he does owe them a discount. The Mets were the one team that gave him a legitimate chance to use his knuckleball, develop it at the big league level, and they paid him relatively lucratively when they didn’t have to. If Dickey is going to practice what he preaches about spirituality and existentialism, then he can’t try to hold hostage the one team that gave him his opportunity.

With Wright, the question is asked again, and again, and again, and again as to whether he’s going to stay after 2013. As polite as he is, he answers as best he can while maintaining a necessary negotiating ambiguity, and doesn’t say he wants to stay or leave. How is he supposed to answer the question? He can’t win no matter what he says. If he says he wants to test free agency, that’s tantamount to demanding a trade because the Mets aren’t going to sit and wait to see if they can sign Wright knowing that someone is probably going to go crazy with a big money offer. If he says he wants to stay, period, he’d be under pressure to meet the front office at a reasonable number that would be agreeable to them and to him.

Wright’s reply in this piece by Adam Rubin on ESPN, “No idea,” is robotic and designed to make the question and questioner go away; that he’s tired of it and he’d like it to stop.

Wright’s not stupid and he’s been very careful during his time with the Mets in not criticizing anyone openly. He’s not controversial and the media isn’t going to get anything of use from him of the “pay me or trade me” variety. Therefore what he doesn’t say gets magnified and extrapolated into reading between nonexistent lines. Rather than taking Wright at face value when he says he’d like to stay and factoring in that he has a contract for 2013 and that with Jason Bay and Johan Santana coming off the books after next season the Mets will have the money available to sign him, it turns into a bout of uninformed, twisted speculation similar to the pre-settlement Madoff guarantees of bankruptcy and messy ownership change; the preseason projections of 100+ losses—both of which were completely wrong.

Here are the facts: Wright has a contract option with the Mets for 2013 at $16 million that is going to be exercised. He mentioned Jose Reyes in the linked piece as missing his friend and surprised that he left, but Wright, as smart as he is, can look at Reyes and what he’s now dealing with and understand that getting paid his $100+ million may not be all it was cracked up to be as Reyes is trapped in a far more dysfunctional circumstance with the Marlins than he ever saw with the Mets and is facing the reality of being traded next year to a location he may not like because he didn’t get a no-trade clause as part of that contract.

Teams that have spent recklessly and have the large payrolls as a result of it are, by and large, disappointing in 2012 with limited flexibility for the future. The Yankees are fighting for their division and with their own newly stated financial limits, may not have the money available to sign Wright. The Red Sox have a third baseman in Will Middlebrooks. The Phillies are old and on the downslide. The Angels are on the verge of missing the playoffs and badly miscalculated how important cohesion on and off the field had been. The Rangers have a third baseman, Adrian Beltre.

Barring teams making financial maneuvers to free up money through trades or getting Wright to agree to move to first base, the one place he could possibly go right now is the Dodgers.

Unless a team offers 2-3 top, big league-ready prospects, the Mets aren’t trading him this winter, so these ridiculous notions of saying “goodbye” are crafted fiction to—guess what?—bash the Mets!! If he’s traded, the only way it happens is if the Mets are far out of contention in July of 2013, and they haven’t signed him to an extension, and if he quietly asks out. With the way surprising teams like the A’s and Orioles have improved, it can’t be said that the Mets aren’t going to contend in 2013.

Here are the real questions to ask and the actual answers:

Is Wright going to be traded this winter? No.

Could the Mets offer a viable extension and will Wright sign it? Yes.

Will it happen? Maybe.

Does he want to stay? Presumably.

Is it a story now? Not unless members of the media and their editors are trying to make it one in an effort to feed the monster and tear apart the Mets. It’s a plot with no substance to achieve desired results. If it’s not Wright, it will be something else in the ever-expanding circle without end.

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The Mets Acquired Kelly Shoppach Because…

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

The Mets acquired Kelly Shoppach because:

  • He was available now

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

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

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

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

Sherman posted the following on Twitter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Courageous Anonymity

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This item from MLB Trade Rumors caught my eye:

A National League talent evaluator thinks the Mets should give some thought to trading R.A. Dickey while his value is skyhigh.  The Mets don’t have the money to make the deadline upgrades that they need, so they could instead continue with their three- or four-year plan by making the right-hander available.

An anonymous NL talent evaluator suggests that the Mets should think about trading one of the best stories in baseball; a pitcher who has overcome tremendous odds, injuries, a genetic deformity, sexual abuse as a child and bounced from team-to-team learning an almost-impossible pitch to master; wrote a book and has become a gate attraction everywhere he goes; and is on track to start the All-Star game.

Is that about right?

This is the problem with anonymity; with the suggestions of those who aren’t in a position of power to make any maneuvers; with those who are commenting about complex terms and teams they don’t work for with cut-and-dried simplicity.

Let’s just say the Mets follow this advice. What are they going to get for Dickey that would make it worth the public relations hit? Dickey is 37 and is signed for 2013 at a ridiculously cheap rate of $5 million. Knuckleballers last far longer than conventional pitchers and even if Dickey can’t keep up his current pace (and he can’t), there’s reason to believe that he could be an 180-215 inning pitcher until he’s 42-years-old. That’s five years away.

Are the Mets going to get a package that would replicate that? What would the fans think?

Dickey has become a symbol to Mets fans not because he’s come from the scrapheap to burgeoning star at a late age, but because he never gave up and kept pushing and pushing through endless adversity while refusing to surrender his dream and belief in himself to persevere and make it when few thought he would; when few were willing to give him a chance as anything other than a desperate afterthought or Triple A insurance.

Amid all the suffering endured by Mets’ fans, there’s hope that things are going to get better; that the team will win; that they’re on the right track.

That mirrors Dickey and his life.

Would any return on a Dickey trade be enough even if they get functional big league players ready to contribute in 2013-2015?

It’s very easy for someone to say that teams should do “this” or “that” when not in a position of power to make those decisions. But running a club isn’t about finding players and crafting a roster alone. It’s not a computer or a stat sheet or a game of fantasy baseball. A baseball team is a product. The customer must be kept happy. Mets’ fans have accepted that the team is in the midst of a rebuild and that rebuild is going far better than expected. Trading Dickey would unravel much of the goodwill they’ve accrued and alienate a segment of the fanbase—a fanbase that doesn’t need a nudge to spend their time and money elsewhere.

It reminds me of the caller to Mike Francesa’s show that said he would, in no uncertain terms, tell Jorge Posada that because the left-handed pitcher on the mound was worse against lefties than righties that the switch-hitting Posada was going to bat left-handed against him.

Ignoring that Posada is a borderline Hall of Famer and that this would be considered an insult for a manager, coach or teammate to make such a demand let alone some guy who’d never picked up a baseball and equated understanding out-of-context numbers with an expertise to do such a thing, but Posada’s irascible demeanor and quick trigger temper would make it dangerous to this would-be executive.

He’s going to “tell” Posada to do this?

He’d better be able to take a punch or wear a protective cup under his khakis.

I don’t know who this “evaluator” that thinks the Mets should consider trading Dickey is (if the person even exists), but my evaluation of your evaluation isn’t hidden by anonymity. Here it is: You don’t know anything and wouldn’t have the nerve to put into action that which you advocate if you were in a position to do so. It’s time for you to re-evaluate because your evaluations are ridiculous on and off the field.

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