Archive for March, 2011
Around February, I started sketching out what would become my lovingly ripped-off version of That Bootleg Guy’s 3rd Annual 30 A’s In 30 Days feature. If you recall last season, I blatantly stole this format for my 2010 Mets Preview; which featured such gems as “[Jason Bay will have] 100+ RBI and 25+ HR. No one admits to ever having wanted Matt Holliday.”, “[Angel Pagan] will single-handedly cost the Mets at least one game during his two-month tenure as a starter.”, and “15 wins or better from a healthy Oliver Perez this year.” In my defense, most of the predictions I made were spot-on… they’re just not nearly as funny. About a week in to outlining players, the Mets’ brass started… well… talking. The more I started listening, the more I started hearing “rebuilding year” between the lines. You know the words… “a lot of old contracts on the book” and “can’t really add payroll.” What I was hearing without them saying was this: due to an unfortunate series of events affecting the team’s ownership, their continued insistence that those events wouldn’t affect baseball operations was a blatant lie. The team’s ownership — despite a 65% ownership stake in a cable TV channel that makes $15 million/month — would be cutting payroll. To forgive me some math, $15,000,000 x 12 x 0.65 = $117,000,000. On top of that, the Mets pull in $20M/year in naming rights for Citi Field. To put that in perspective, the NFL television deal the media is currently enraged about is “only” worth $82,000,000 per team per year. The Mets nearly double AN NFL TEAM’s television revenue and they started by telling fans “we’ll get ‘em next year.”
As the pre-season continued, more information has been leaking about the Mets’ owners’ financial shape. The most damning being the admission of a $25 million loan from Major League Baseball. At the very least, this explained a couple things. First, it explained their decision to fire their general manager because their on-field manager was an atrocity that cost the team 10-15 games (more on this later). Second, it explained why Sandy Alderson was scraped out of obscurity to run the team. Alderson, friend of Bud Selig and guy who they sent to clean up baseball operations in the Dominican Republic, was sent to the Mets to be The Wolf and protect the franchise’s value. As his back-up, the team hired JP Riccardi who is responsible for 1) the single worst contract in baseball (not rescinded until he performs like last year a second time) 2) another of the top ten worst contracts in baseball and 3) letting the best pitcher in baseball leave for nothing when the team was out of contention with a zero-percent chance to re-sign. That’s our braintrust.
I may have even been OK with this change in regime if I believed for a moment it was warranted. It wasn’t. I watched probably 140 of the Mets’ 162 games last season and Jerry Manuel might have been the single worst manager I ever had the displeasure of watching. I have repeatedly stated that Manuel, at minimum, cost the team 10 wins last season and, with research, I could find fifteen. Some examples:
- Bottom of the 9th, Rod Barajas walks. Manuel does not pinch run for him even though he has 2 catchers on the bench. The next batter pulls a ball in to the gap and Barajas can only make 3rd on the play. Manuel then inexplicably pinch runs for Barajas at 3rd.
- Despite the fact that Gary Matthews Jr had lost the ability to hit Major League Pitching, Manuel continues to start him for most of April, despite the fact Angel Pagan is tearing the seams off the ball every time he gets to the plate.
- A 3-7 record in extra inning games on the road, fueled largely by the fact that Manuel never got the memo that scoring one run on the road does not, in fact, end the game.
The above doesn’t even include his chronic ability to go out for a mound visit, listen to the fact that his starter’s “still got it”, declare “he deserves a chance to finish it”, only to see the next batter hit a ball 500 feet. Nor his inability to recognize when his players need a day off and force one on them whether despite objections. Nor the fact he ran out of players not once, but twice in a nine inning game. Nor the fact that he let Jose Reyes die in the 3 slot for 20 games to the tune of .207/.253/.280, which was about 12-games after we could have officially declared the experiment a failure. Nor the fact he let Carlos Beltran destroy rallies in the 3-hole after you know, having not faced major league pitching in a year. Given all of that, a different manager with a better grasp on important things like “strategy” and “knowing your players” could have easily swung their 65-68 record at August’s end to 75-58. At that point, the team doesn’t have to play out a lame duck September. Who knows.
On the other side, here’s what we know about Omar Minaya. He had a cataclysmic run of injuries following the 2006 near miss. In 2007, Billy Wagner’s back gave out and led to a bullpen-by-committee during the cataclysmic 17 game stretch that cost them the division. I believe this was the first time I used: “the closer is the most overrated position in baseball until you don’t have one.” In 2008, Wagner was again lost and a combination of Luis Ayala, Aaron Heilman, and Scott Shoenweiss were closing games. In 2009, it was the single worst stretch of injuries I’ve ever seen in a baseball season. Last year, well, one might wonder how a team with an aggregate 3.73 ERA was under .500. Could it have something to do with a manager criminally mismanaging a line-up? Probably. Here’s what else we know about Omar Minaya. Since Frank Cashen’s 1980s team disbanded, the Mets have been in contention exactly twice. The Subway Series team in 2000 which featured Minaya as the assistant GM. And the 2005-present team which was in consistent contention when not being struck by terrible luck with injuries.
Minaya was fired, largely, because beat writers didn’t like him and the Wilpons listen to WFAN. As a recovering WFAN listener, I gathered three chief complaints. First, Luis Castillos’ contract. Often held up as the pinnacle of Minaya’s ignorance, Castillo’s 4-year, $24M contract has been labeled an albatross and something that, this season, was a sink on the Mets’ ability to sign other players. Over the period where the Mets were paying Castillo $6M/year, they spent $417 million on players. Castillo’s money accounts for 4% of the payroll. This 4% was for a fairly good defensive 2B with a light-hitting bat whose usual job was to get Jose Reyes to second base while sucking up 10-pitches per at-bat out of the two-hole. Stop it. Second, Oliver Perez’s contract. Yes, it was bad. It was also market rate at the time for a left-handed pitcher who could hit 90 on the gun. Ollie proceeded to get worse, refused to go to the minors, and ate a roster slot (and lots of pie) for two months. Although, I continue to wonder whose fault this really is. Want to know the ultimate difference between the Mets and the Yankees? When Carl Pavano was a trainwreck in the Bronx, he was put on the DL and never came back. The may have had Kei Igawa murdered. The Mets refused to eat Ollie’s contract and, instead, took a roster slot away from the team. Ultimately, I’m asked to believe the Wilpon’s story that Minaya never proposed cutting Ollie and swallowing his salary? I don’t. History tells me the Wilpons don’t eat bad contracts. Even when they’re getting $140M before turning on the lights. Minaya missed on Ollie’s contract. Show me a GM who hasn’t missed on a contract and I’ll show you a rich GM. Third, an over-reliance on older players. Largely, this comes from Minaya’s habit of having one over-the-hill player to sit on the bench and be a mentor. One can take or leave that strategy. It doesn’t bother me much largely because his older, mentory players have performed. This is something we don’t like mentioning when we talk about Minaya’s staff. He’s really, really good at finding efficient, low-cost players that everyone else has passed up. R.A. Dickey, Fernando Tatis, Jose Valentin, Angel Pagan, pre-concussed Ryan Church, and Hisanori Takahashi to name a few. But let’s forget those guys and just remember that he once overpaid Luis Castillo for a full 4% of payroll.
And Sandy Alderson’s first move as General Manager? To hire Terry Collins as manager. Terry Collins who has been at the helm of the Astros for an epic collapse and lost his players so badly he had to resign mid-season. Twice. Once in Japan. Japanese people don’t even boo at wrestling matches. Sounds like exactly the type of manager the Mets needed. A guy who hasn’t ever successfully managed a team while there were other better brand name managers available.
So, where does that leave the team this year? Ultimately, pretty much the same place they were last year. If they stay healthy (somewhat unlikely given that Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana will start the season on the DL) the team that Omar Minaya built last year is good. The top of their line-up is solid. Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, and Jason Bay is a solid top five. Ike Davis and Josh Thole were solid rookies last season who need to avoid a sophomore slump. Daniel Murphy, who lost all of last season to injuries, will finally be able to try and save the Mets from their long nightmare that was Luis Castillo’s good defense and decent hitting.
The Mets problem, largely, will be their pitching. Without Johan Santana, they have no true ace. Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese have the difficult task of trying to match last season’s great work. R.A. Dickey… well… let’s just say I’ll be stunned if he does this year what he did last year. While watching Dickey’s performance last year was fun, I don’t have any faith he’ll do it again. The bottom two slots of the Mets’ rotation will be made up of whomever they can find. The last two most likely candidates will probably be some combination of Chris Young, Chris Capuano, and Boof Bonser. I’d also imagine we’ll see prospect Dillon Gee sooner rather than later.
The Mets are about the same team they were last year with, hopefully, a better manager. I would not be surprised to see an eight-game upswing. I expect a big year from Reyes and a bounceback year from a Jason Bay who now understands the ballpark canyon. Carlos Beltran will likely get on the field if he has to be wheeled out on a gurney. As for the pitchers, the most infuriating part of the offseason was the fact the Mets let pitchers sign elsewhere without putting up a fight. They desperately needed to sign another premium pitcher because of Johan’s injury. They didn’t, which really just leaves a dim hope the Mariners do not want to pay the final 3-years/$60M on King Felix’s contract. Of course, if that were the case, the Mets wouldn’t make the trade because they’re just a scrappy, small market team trying to get by in the unfair, unbalanced world of major league baseball. They can’t afford premium pieces with their scant $140M/year minimum revenue before we even mention their 2.5 million attendance at an average ticket price of $35.
And, I’ll make this guarantee now. Should the Mets’ decide at the end of this season that Jose Reyes is too rich for their blood and try to sell me Ruben Tejada as the shortstop of the future — I’m out. I’ll start watching MLS games.
Over/Under (77.5): Over. 89-83, 2nd place, NL East. Sandy Alderson gets credit for Omar Minaya’s team.