Francesa’s Mets Rant Was Preplanned And Absurd

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It took two losses to light the fire under Mike Francesa that exploded with a comical rant against the Mets? Two losses from 24 hours earlier when he had as guests both Mets’ manager Terry Collins and General Manager Sandy Alderson that led to this “passionate” and “angry” fit of screaming? Was this the playoffs? Did the Mets, playing the Rockies needing one win in four games to secure a spot in the playoffs, lose all four games?

No.

It was four games played by two also-ran teams that are looking ahead toward 2013. So why this faux outrage? And why didn’t Francesa address these concerns with the Mets braintrust when he had them on the show? Instead of screaming in their faces, he acted as he always does when Alderson is a guest: like a cowering Marine recruit or fresh out of law school attorney talking to a combat veteran and experienced, Ivy League-educated partner at his firm. He was servile and bottom line intimidated by Alderson because every word Alderson says to him is underscored with the unsaid, “You don’t know anything and you’re a baseball idiot.”

On a day when the Yankees lead in the American League East was cut to 2 ½ games by the onrushing Rays and after Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi had a public meltdown of his own telling a heckler in Chicago to “shut up,” Francesa decided (and it was preplanned despite any allusions to the contrary) to unleash with both barrels on the Mets organization.

I CAN SIT HERE AND TYPE IN ALL CAPS AND ACT ENRAGED AT THE LACK OF BASEBALL SENSE AND POST-ALL-STAR-BREAK TUMBLE THE METS HAVE TAKEN!!!! I CAN TRY TO ACCUMULATE LISTENERS, WEBHITS WITH MY SCREAMING!!!!

But what good does it do? It would be transparent and stupid, drawing attention for the wrong reasons with a short-term burst and no legitimacy.

Francesa, the same man who said for a month that manager Collins deserved a contract extension without bothering to check or have it checked what Collins’s contract situation was (the Mets exercised Collins’s 2013 option last September), now compares Collins to one of Francesa’s favorite targets from years gone by, former Jets’ coach Rich Kotite?

How’s that work? He went from deserving a guarantee of employment to the blackest mark on a Jets franchise that has blocks of black like a partially declassified government document?

Like the callers who wait on hold for an eternity for the opportunity to “discuss” sports with the “knowledgeable” hosts on any sport-talk show, there was plenty of shouting to “do something” with no viable suggestions of precisely what should be done. What would he like them to do? All he did was reference runs scored, their record since the break, ridicule the young pitchers without knowing one thing about them, and tear into Collins.

Where’s the solution?

Could he come up with one?

In the act, Francesa sounds like a fool on the verge of a stroke. What makes it worse is that it’s fake.

The one thing Mets fans and personnel don’t need to hear is how bad the team is from those who had predicted that this same roster was going to lose somewhere between 90 and 110 games. Those same people who were strangely silent when the Mets were playing solid baseball and were one of the surprise stories of the first half of the season. All of a sudden, those silent voices—Francesa, Joel Sherman, Michael Kay—are going to pop up like the weasels that they are and pick at the bones with ego-propping exhortations of how “right” they were. But where were they back then? Were they waiting for the bottom to drop out “knowing” this would happen or were they simply hoping it would to boost their own poorly-disguised agendas?

It’s easier for Francesa to sit by like the lonely girl at the school dance hoping someone will pay attention to him and, when no one does, to strip off all his clothes and cause a humiliating scene that people are going to talk about—and ridicule—in its aftermath than to intelligently retort what the GM himself said to him directly the day before.

Are the Mets supposed to spend money they don’t have in the middle of a rebuild to keep the media off their backs when it’s been known since Alderson took over that the entire organization from top-to-bottom needed a total reconstruction? Which players did he want? No answer is given.

He wants them to spend money as if that’s the end-all/be-all of formulating a winning team after having watched the Yankees of the 1980s toss money at the wall, change managers and general managers and placate the fans with name players in free agency and trades that did little more than speed their descent to the depths. Did spending money help the Red Sox this season? The Angels? The Marlins? The Tigers? The Phillies?

In one breath he says something to the tune of “nobody knows with bullpens,” and in the next, he wants them to spend money on said bullpen. They did that and it hasn’t worked. Did he want Heath Bell? Jonathan Papelbon? Rafael Soriano was essentially useless to the Yankees until Mariano Rivera got hurt, now everyone’s in love with Soriano because he’s doing a job that he can do, a job that the Yankees only gave him because their designated replacement for Rivera, David Robertson, got hurt and looked like he needed to rush to the toilet when he was pitching the ninth inning instead of the eighth.

I didn’t hear one predictably negative word from Francesa about David Wright while Wright was carrying the team and playing like an MVP candidate in the first half, but now Wright’s not Evan Longoria; he’s not a player that can carry a team; he’s not a “superstar”. But why didn’t he say it then? Was he waiting until the inevitable slump?

Francesa doesn’t know the plan of Alderson, but when this primal scream started, did Francesa have a plan behind the shouting? If so, he’s got it hidden as well as he accuses the Mets of hiding their plan. The Mets do have a plan and it’s obvious, albeit unpopular: wait until the expensive contracts expire; wait until the financial circumstances of the Wilpons improve; take the lumps; and spend for 2014. They won’t say it, but it is what it is. It’s a rebuild. That’s what happens in a rebuild, like it or not.

If Francesa were an actual inside baseball person and walked into the clubhouse like a raving lunatic, he’d be ostracized similarly to former Mets’ employee Tony Bernazard who was fired due to his decision to do exactly what Francesa did yesterday with a bunch of minor leaguers.

It was embarrassing, but would be acceptable if he simply came up with a viable solution!

But he didn’t.

Instead, he referenced sore spots in New York sports and said things that would twist the knife to anyone who was the object of said vitriol by saying the words, “Rich Kotite”.

It’s indicative of the Francesa mentality that the replacement for Kotite was Francesa’s friend Bill Parcells and upon the hiring of Parcells the Jets went from clueless to Francesa’s team to the point that he wore a Jets pullover during his show.

The Jets are back to being on his hit list. Their GM Mike Tannenbaum worked with Parcells and the reference of “Mr. T” has gone from a term of endearment to a clean curse. Coach Rex Ryan has brought on much of the animosity himself with his blatantly arrogant, bloviating statements of perceived greatness that doesn’t exist on or off the field. In fact, Rex Ryan’s team is taking the mirror image of his father Buddy Ryan’s teams as they had a short burst of success after the new coach took charge with the lax discipline and player love for the coach, and is now coming undone as a direct result of the reasons that the players wanted to play for the Ryans. Francesa will turn his attention to them soon. Judging from their disarray, the Jets are well on the way to a truly disappointing season, one in which the rest of football would see as a piled on comeuppance worse than what they got from the Giants’ Super Bowl victory.

It grates Francesa that Alderson won’t kowtow to him and calmly, coolly answers his questions with logic and intelligence rather than stammering and return fire. The Jets steer clear of Francesa’s show for the most part. That Alderson isn’t going to hide or act capriciously to take the heat off of his organization or his bosses and make a desperate mistake that Omar Minaya’s operation made with signing Jason Bay or that the Red Sox, Phillies, Tigers, Yankees and Angels made in tossing money at their problems feeds into Francesa’s feelings of inadequacy because he can’t bully this new Mets regime with his spewing and attempts to foment a revolution among the fanbase.

If the Mets hire a “Francesa-approved” manager (since Collins has lost said approval), would he then refrain from this type of hate speech? Or if the players—and it’s the players, not the manager—aren’t good enough to compete, would they be on the burner?

Minaya was never treated in this way because everyone liked him and, occasionally, felt sorry for him as it was so easy to get him flustered and repetitive due to his desire to be everyone’s friend and his difficulties with the intricacies of the English language. Francesa wasn’t Minaya’s friend. It was another tactic to have his voice heard and, perhaps, listened to in a reactive fashion. “Francesa’s on our case and getting the fans after us, so we’d better do something.” It’s a blatant and transparent altering of strategy that Alderson, with his Marine training and legal background, is going to see right through and roundly ignore.

The Mets themselves were surprised by their early season vault into contention. They knew that the team was going to have a hard time competing unless Johan Santana came back strong; unless Wright had an MVP season; unless R.A. Dickey was a solid, mid-rotation starter; unless the young players Ruben Tejada, Josh Thole, Daniel Murphy and Ike Davis stepped forward; and unless the revamped bullpen performed. It just so happened that in the first half of the season, much of that (aside from the bullpen) and more happened. Suddenly the Mets were a feel-good story who couldn’t be criticized specifically because they were operating under constraints of a rebuild and the lack of money available to buy players—players who would’ve done more harm than good in the long-term had they bought them.

Once the players came back to earth, injuries mounted and hot streaks ended, the team came undone. But how can anyone scream about it when nothing was expected in the first place? That they played as well as they did given the difficulty of the National League East and the hindrances and negativity surrounding the club is a minor miracle.

This is an explanation of why the team’s come apart as it has. It’s not yelling and screaming. It’s just fact. Facts are what Francesa was unable to coherently provide yesterday. The session was designed to exert his will on the franchise when they don’t care what he says and don’t think much of his baseball-intelligence to begin with. In the past, the Mets played defense with Francesa; now they just treat him as a North Korea-style agitator that has to be paid attention to in a “watch him” sort of way, but has limited weapons to deploy and doesn’t want to push too far because if Alderson truly decides to tell Francesa what he thinks of him, he’ll be left publicly cowering instead of validating the still deniable underlying fear he has of the Mets’ GM.

If Alderson fires back, Francesa won’t have a response because yesterday’s bellowing was the one weapon he has left. It was noisy and little else.

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Omar’s Players

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The talk of the Mets in recent weeks has centered around their twin aces Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey. Santana pitched a no-hitter two weeks ago tomorrow and Dickey just had a team record scoreless innings streak ended in the ninth inning of last night’s 1-hit masterpiece against the Rays.

The Mets, who most observers (including me) had losing over 90 games, have been examined with a new set of questions wondering whether they’re real contenders and if they’re going to be buyers at the trading deadline.

We don’t know yet. They’ve surprised so far and with their plate discipline and opportunistic play. With the aforementioned Santana and Dickey pitching like this, there’s no reason to think they’re going to completely collapse to the depths of their negative expectations.

One thing that’s glossed over amid the eye-opening resilience and positive vibe hovering around the team is that the majority of the good work they’ve done has been because of players that former GM Omar Minaya brought into the organization.

Minaya was called one of the worst GMs in baseball during the waning days of his tenure—an assertion that is based on indistinguishable parameters. It’s ridiculous. He had his strengths and weaknesses as a GM. In today’s game he would have to be in the right circumstances to get another chance as a GM because he’s great when making a big trade or signing a big star, drinking in the accolades at a flashbulb-popping press conference with his big smile and expensive, tailored suit. He’s fine when he’s charming people one-on-one who take his frequent English malaprops as a part of his charm. But when things went wrong he turned from the toast of the town to just plain toast.

As an assistant (now with the Padres) he’s a valuable voice to have around and has always been a sound judge of tools and talent. He has a great rapport with and understanding of young Latin players.

The players on the team now that have helped the Mets to their 34-29 record were almost exclusively acquired under Minaya’s watch.

Santana arrived via trade. Dickey was a veteran signing with a fluky pitch signed as an afterthought—but it was the Mets and Minaya who signed him. Jonathon Niese, Lucas Duda, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Bobby Parnell, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ruben Tejada, Dillon Gee, Josh Thole and Justin Turner were all brought in by people working under Minaya.

It’s a fact.

In response to the credit I’m giving Minaya, you can expect it to be said that the scouts and developmental people were the ones who handled the young players; that Dickey was blind luck; that if Minaya was still the GM, none of the young players would be with the Mets now because they would’ve been traded for expensive veterans or not given a legitimate chance; that his faults don’t outweigh whatever positives can be mustered. It will brought up that he also signed Jason Bay and botched the firing of Willie Randolph; that he allowed Tony Bernazard to run roughshod over the club and over people; that he doesn’t have the linguistic skills to be a GM in today’s atmosphere of the rock star GM and political spinmaster who has to respond to questions with deftness and ambiguity.

It’s all true.

But I’m of the belief that if you get the blame you also get the credit. By that criteria, Minaya deserves to receive credit for this Mets team because it was put together, mostly, by him and his staff.

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Let’s See How Things Go…

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If that sounds ominous, that’s because it is.

It’s something you say to someone you’re interested in for a short-term relationship that’s 50/50 (at best) of evolving into something lasting.

I get this sense with the Marlins contract with Jose Reyes.

It breaks down like this via Cots Baseball Contracts:

12:$10M, 13:$10M, 14:$16M, 15:$22M, 16:$22M, 17:$22M, 18:$22M club option

Do you see what I see?

The Marlins are paying him a fraction of what the contract is worth over the next two years when they’re likely to get the best production from Reyes at age 29-30; then the salary jumps significantly to $16 million, then to $22 million for three straight years.

This is eerily similar to the backloaded contract they gave to Carlos Delgado in the winter of 2004-2005.

The Marlins only paid Delgado $4 million in 2005.

They didn’t win and without a no-trade clause, Delgado was traded to the Mets—the team he’d spurned as a free agent the prior winter—and said negative things (there should be a club for this) about the way he was approached by Mets assistant Tony Bernazard.

The Mets were on the hook for the remaining guarantee of $41 million after the Marlins kicked in $7 million in the trade.

Another typical “business expense” for the Marlins and Jeffrey Loria.

If Reyes is as naive and desperate to feel wanted as Bob Klapisch implies in his ripping the Mets for letting Reyes leave, then he might truly believe that the Marlins decision to backload the contract similarly is financially motivated, but so they can sign other players and not because they’re going to, oh I dunno, trade him as soon as he starts making $20+ million.

But that’s not naiveté. That’s stupidity. And Reyes isn’t stupid. He wanted guaranteed money and he got it. Accepting the absence of a no-trade clause was part of the contract and he’s going to get paid; after the details of the deal came out, it became clear that in addition to wanting to get paid, Reyes doesn’t care by whom.

And unless the Marlins win big and draw fans to that new ballpark, he’s going to be plying his trade elsewhere by 2014 at the earliest.

Clearly, he’s not bothered by that fact.

If Reyes wanted to feel wanted, the addendum with the Marlins should be “for now” because he has no idea whether he’s going to be in Miami for the long-term.

The Marlins are actually taking a risk here as well because if Reyes gets hurt, they won’t be able to give him away with that contract.

Don’t think this is a great contract for either side. Because it’s not.

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The Mets Have To Get Better Players

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It’s unfair to compare the rebuilding Mets under a first year front office that’s diametrically opposed to the previous one and the Phillies who are in the midst of a run of excellence they haven’t enjoyed since the late 1970s-early 1980s, but it’s instructive to look at the two teams to understand why the Phillies are where they are and what the Mets need to do to get there.

Let’s take a look.

Draft, scout and develop.

The Phillies have benefited from a strong farm system in a multitude of ways. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Vance Worley and Carlos Ruiz all came up through the Phillies organization; Shane Victorino was found in the Rule 5 Draft; Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence were acquired in trades because the Phillies had prospects other clubs coveted; Raul Ibanez, Cliff Lee and Placido Polanco were signed as free agents; and even Wilson Valdez, a journeyman castoff from the Mets, has been a valuable utilityman standing in at various times for the injured Utley, Polanco and Rollins.

The Mets have some players from their system with promise. Jonathon Niese, Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada and Bobby Parnell all have potential. They also developed Jose Reyes and David Wright. but others have failed for one reason or another. Fernando Martinez can’t stay healthy; Josh Thole isn’t going to hit enough; Ike Davis is hurt. The Mets didn’t have the prospects to trade for veterans as the Phillies did and their rampant dysfunction in recent years made them an unappealing destination for players with choices. Players will want to go where a team appears to have its house in order or will pay them more money than anyone else. That’s essentially how the Mets got Jason Bay, Francisco Rodriguez and Johan Santana. While the Phillies have gotten production from their free agents, the Mets haven’t.

Role players should be role players.

When talking about Phillies utilityman Valdez, it’s instructive to look at the Valdez-type players the Mets have and see that they’re playing more frequently than would be optimal for a good team.

Justin Turner, Scott Hairston, Dillon Gee, Jason Isringhausen, Pedro Beato—all have use on a limited basis—but the Mets are utilizing them as regular, key players. When limited players are playing almost every day, they’re going to be exposed for what they are; and when 4-5 of them are playing every single day, it’s going to catch up; that’s what’s happening to the Mets.

They’re not a good enough team and they don’t have enough good players. The only reason they’ve stayed as close to .500 as they have is because the rest of baseball is so laden with parity that no one can tell which teams should be bad and which should be atrocious.

Play the game correctly.

It was laughable when, in the waning days of the 2010 season, Utley took Tejada out on a play at second base and the Mets reacted like a bunch of Southern women at a church social, indignant that such a thing would occur. There was talk of retaliation and the team taking a different approach to plays on the bases and at the plate.

Different approach? How about playing the game correctly without it being a response?

It was about time the Mets decided to stop being so nice to their opponents and let them have it when the opportunity arose. Following Utley’s take-out of Tejada, Carlos Beltran slid hard toward Utley and, in typical Mets fashion, missed him completely.

Had Utley been knocked into left field, he wouldn’t have said a word about it because he’s old-school, keeps his mouth shut and plays the game the right way.

You want to send a message? When Utley blocks second base with his knee as an opponent is stealing second, drive your spikes so hard into his leg so to break the skin. You don’t like him standing so close to the plate, dawdling and messing with the pitchers’ heads? Hit him in the back.

It’s called doing something about it other than yapping.

This is playing the game the way it should be played and is one of the reasons the Phillies are where they are and the Mets are where they are.

Be aggressive, smart and lucky.

This isn’t to imply that the Phillies do everything correctly because GM Ruben Amaro Jr, has made some horrible gaffes and silly free agent signings in his time as GM; it’s been glossed over by the way the team has played and that he rectified the bigger mistakes by trading for Oswalt a year ago and getting Lee back via free agency last winter; but those two deals stemmed from the fact that both Oswalt and Lee were willing to join the Phillies because the Phillies were contenders and in an atmosphere the players wanted to be a part of. Neither Oswalt nor Lee wanted to join the Mets because the team was in such disarray and the club’s reputation has taken a brutal beating due to the off-field mishaps and lawsuits surrounding team ownership.

But the Phillies weren’t exactly the bastion of cohesion until they started winning. In fact, they were a joke for 14 years from 1994 through most of 2007 before the Mets collapse and Phillies rise.

These things change quickly. The Mets have a new drafting style, a top-down chain of command that won’t be usurped as it was with Tony Bernazard running roughshod over the organization, a plan of attack and a GM able to express himself coherently—all of this gives them every chance to turn things around within the next three years.

All they have to do is adhere to the principles elucidated above.

They have to be a more than a little lucky.

They have to get better players and not use roster-filler on a daily basis in key roles.

It’s that simple. And that difficult.

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