Thursday, November 3, 2011
My Mets Recommendations -- Seriously
I know, I know: You think the Internet was juiced this season.
About the Mets. I joke about them a lot. I make no apologies for that. I hate them. I hate the Mets, and I hate Met fans, the Flushing Heathen.
But I also think it's a good thing for New York to have two good baseball teams, not just one.
So I'm going to get serious and make some recommendations for the Metropolitan Baseball Club of New York -- more specifically, for the father-and-son owners, Fred and Jeff Wilpon, and for general manager Sandy Alderson.
1. Keep the current management team. Alderson and field manager Terry Collins have had only 1 year in charge. That's too soon to judge a man in either position. Unless there is a medical or ethical calamity, you don't replace a manager or a GM after just one year (or less). Willie Randolph, Jerry Manuel, and GM Omar Minaya were all given fair chances to succeed or fail on merit -- in Minaya's case, a far more than fair chance.
2. Let Jose Reyes go. No, he's not "the face of the franchise" -- he's only half of it, along with David Wright. Furthermore, he's been so for 7 seasons now (starting in 2005), and what has he gotten you? One postseason appearance.
Yes, he won the National League batting title this season, the 1st Met ever to do so (in 50 seasons). He's led the NL in hits once, triples 4 times (including this season), and stolen bases 3 times (but also caught stealing twice), and is on pace to have over 2,600 hits in his career -- not a Hall of Fame-worthy number, but very good.
But he's also got a career OPS+ of 106 -- meaning he's been 6 percent better at getting on base and getting extra bases than the average major league hitter from 2003 onward. And that's counting his 143 this season, his previous high being 118. He'll be 29 years old next June 11 -- and a baseball player's prime is generally considered to be from age 26 to 29.
And while he averaged 158 games per year from '05 to '08, he's missed substantial portions of the last 3 seasons due to injury. And he's had attitude problems. He may get more mature than he is right now, but he's not going to get any better, and in fact is likely to decline due to wear-and-tear and injuries.
Let someone else overpay for Reyes. He made $11 million this season, and will want substantially more over a long-term contract. In terms of quantity and quality, the Mets have made some mistakes over the years, some of them doozies. But having $11 million extra to spend every season on 2 to 4 players gives them a better chance of having at least 1 of them work out well than if they spend it all on Reyes. In this case, better the devil you don't know than the devil you do.
3. Keep the young talent. First baseman Ike Davis and starting pitcher Jonathan Niese are 24. Outfielder-first baseman Lucas Duda and starting pitcher Dillon Gee are 25. Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner are 26. And David Wright is still just 28, and, unlike Reyes, could get better.
True, Davis, Duda and Murphy can't all play first base, but Duda has already been tried in left and right field, and perhaps Murphy can be moved to an outfield position. The Mets' current outfield setup is an increasingly useless Jason Bay (32) in left, a servicable but hardly productive Angel Pagan (29) in center, and Duda in right.
Getting rid of Bay -- especially conning a team in need of veteran talent that Bay's got it, and get them to take his contract -- especially if it means getting another starting pitcher, or, even better, getting a decent reliever, would be a big help, both in terms of money and age.
The starting rotation, presuming everyone is healthy, is as follows, with the ages they will be next season:
1. Johan Santana, 33
2. R.A. Dickey, 37
3. Mike Pelfrey, 28
4. Dillon Gee, 26
5. Jonathan Niese, 24
Extra starter/long man. Chris Capuano, 33
Due to injury, Santana has pitched just 366 innings in the last 3 seasons -- 167 in 2009, 199 in '10, and none at all this season. He will probably be ready to start the 2012 season. If he comes back at anything like he was in his last full season (2008, 16-7, 2.53 ERA, 166 ERA+, 1.148 WHIP), that alone would probably be a 10-game improvement for the Mets.
It would free Pelfrey from the need to be the Mets' big pitching hope, and also prevent them from relying so much on a knuckleballer, Dickey. I have Dickey listed as the Mets Number 2 simply because he was their most effective pitcher this season; ideally, presuming no acquisitions, it would be Santana/Pelfrey/Gee/Niese/Dickey. Having 3 good starters under age 30 for at least the next 2 seasons (by which point Pelfrey will be 30) will stabilize the rotation.
Which brings me to my next point:
4. Don't splash the cash. It's not just that the Mets, due to Fred Wilpon's stupid investment with fraud king Bernie Madoff, can't afford it; it's that it wouldn't help that much even if they could.
The National League Eastern Division isn't going to change much in the next 2 or 3 years. The Philadelphia Phillies will still be the prohibitive favorites. The Atlanta Braves, despite winning the Wild Card last season and having it but blowing it this season, aren't going to scare anyone. The Florida Marlins are mildly interesting but don't look like Playoff contenders.
And the Washington Nationals are exactly what they were when they arrived from Montreal in 2005: A team in rebuilding mode, although a team with Ryan Zimmerman at the plate and a healthy Stephen Strasburg on the mound every 5th day can't be totally written off -- then again, this sounds a lot like the Mets, with David Wright (third base, same position as Zimmerman) and Santana (albeit much older than Strasburg, but also with injury issues).
I can tolerate a team I root for making an effort to improve. If you tell me that you're sacrificing 2 or 3 bad years in order to build 5 to 10 good years, I'll take it -- and the Mets have already had 1 year of rebuilding, so they're much better off than they were a year ago.
Not going after big free agents now will probably mean a better shot at more cash being available later. Besides, look at the free agent crop. The biggest-name hitters are Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. The Mets, as I said, are stocked at 1st base. This is the NL, where there's no designated hitter. Where are they gonna put Pujols? Okay, he used to play left field. But where are they going to put the corpulent, inaptly-named Fielder?
As for the available pitchers, now that the Yankees have extended the contract of CC Sabathia, who's left? C.J. Wilson? Hardly an ace. Mark Buehrle? Still a really good pitcher, but he'll be 33 by Opening Day.
5. Find a closer. If big bucks need to be spent, before or after a trade, here's where you do it. Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez is gone, mainly because he'd become a liability on the field as well as off it. Right now, the Mets' 2 best relievers are Jason Isringhausen, once the future of the franchise but now 38 (39 next season), and Bobby Parnell (26 but with an ERA and WHIP much too high for a reliever).
The Mets haven't had a reliable bullpen since... since... think, Mike, think... uh, 1986? Remember, they'd already gotten rid of Jesse Orosco after 1987. In their 1998-2001 runs, their closer was Armando Benitez, who was like nitroglycerin: He could make the heart beat again, but he could also explode. In between, they had John Franco, but they had to get to him first. In 2006-08, it was Billy Wagner, who, in spite of nearly breaking Franco's career record for most saves by a lefthander (424 to 422), was actually worse in late-season and postseason games than Benitez (both for the Mets and for other teams).
Just as you have to have good starters to set up a good reliever, so too do you need a good reliever to make sure a good starter's work doesn't go to waste. And, let's not forget, Sandy Alderson was the Oakland Athletics GM who got Dennis Eckersley and, with then-manager Tony LaRussa, converted the once-great but troubled starter into the best reliever the game had yet seen (until Mariano Rivera). As opposed to Billy Beane, who never did get that elite closer for the A's (the best he could do was... Isringhausen! Who wasn't bad, but was no Mo or Eck), and that's as big a reason as any why "Moneyball" failed.
6. Stop trying to pander. The early Mets, like the erstwhile Dodgers and Giants before them, reached out to black and Hispanic ballplayers well before the Yankees did, and as a result got black and Hispanic fans to come out to Shea Stadium when they wouldn't go to the old Yankee Stadium, even though said Stadium was in a neighborhood with mostly nonwhite residents.
But Minaya's attempts to build "Los Mets" turned out to be like Will Rogers' assessment of Prohibition: "Prohibition is like Communism. It's a great idea, but it won't work." Bringing in Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Santana and K-Rod, and promoting the heck out of Reyes, may have increased the Hispanic attendance at Shea and then Citi Field. But those 6 guys all dealt with injuries, and even when healthy, Beltran, Delgado, K-Rod and Reyes were inconsistent.
There's talent out there. Some of it is white. Some of it is African-American. Some of it is Hispanic. Some of it is East Asian. There may even be, somewhere out there, a few South Asians who've turned away from their culture's love of cricket and are about to make their mark on baseball. Surely, there are enough of each group in New York, and especially in the Mets' home Borough of Queens, America's ultimate ethnic stewpot (not a melting pot, as has often been said), to bring in such fans.
But that's why the Mets, and other teams, have Heritage Nights. Irish, Italian, Polish, German (Oktoberfest), Greek, Latino (both Merengue Night and Fiesta Latina), Caribbean (more ex-colonies of Britain like Barbados, and France like Haiti, than those of Spain like Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic), Japanese, Korean, Taiwan (in place of "Chinese," I guess the Wilpons are McCarthyists), Indian and Pakistani -- though, as far as I know, not yet Arab -- all have been represented at Met home games, with ethnic music and dances being performed on the field in pregame ceremonies.
These communities see this, and they can see that you care. But there weren't hordes of Japanese fans coming to Shea to see Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Masato Yoshii. Yes, they came to Yankee Stadium to see Hideki Matsui, but there was a difference: Matsui was great. The old-time Giants manager John McGraw was always looking for a great Jewish player to bring in the immigrant New York Jews of the early 20th Century, and especially their American-born, assimilated kids. He never found one that was good enough. (Just his luck, by the time The Bronx's Hank Greenberg came along, not only was McGraw getting old, but he had Hall-of-Famer Bill Terry at first, and the Yankees couldn't take Greenberg, either, because they had Lou Gehrig. So Greenberg went to the Detroit Tigers.)
Seek out the best players. If that means, whites, fine. If it means blacks, fine. If it means Hispanics (and, these days, it usually means them more than anyone else), fine. If there is an Asian who is good enough to play in the majors and fills a Met need, go get him.
But don't go after a player simply because you think you might get his ethnic group to come out to the ballpark to cheer him on. After all, Mike Piazza could hit no matter what the ethnic makeup of the ballpark on a given day, but all the Italians in the Tri-State Area combined couldn't make him properly play the position of catcher.
These moves would probably help the Mets immediately, even if it doesn't result in a bid for the postseason in 2012, or even in 2013. But it will make them look like they know what they're doing, both on the field and in the front office. It will make them, in their 50th Anniversary season, look a lot less like the 1962 Mets than the 2009-11 (and September '07 and September '08) Mets did.