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The Mets’ unfortunate history at 1B, LF, and RF in the aughts

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

For the decade of the 2000’s, the Mets were 815-803, good for a .504 winning percentage.  That’s strange, because for much of the decade the team was either really good (2000, 2006-2008) or really bad (2002-2004, 2009).  But even when they were good, the teams left Mets fans wanting more, they still felt like they were underachieving, thanks to some sort of fatal flaw that showed itself at the wrong time, thanks to faulty roster construction.

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The Mets never gave J.J. Putz a physical

Monday, February 1st, 2010

J.J. Putz signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Chicago White Sox this offseason.  His stint with the Mets will not go down as being particularly memorable.  He did not pitch particularly well when he was on the field, and spent the majority of the season on the disabled list.  It was speculated going back to late-April by Dave Cameron at Fangraphs that Putz did not look like himself, and pointed to evidence such as the loss of 2.5 MPH off of his fastball and a diminished strikeout rate.  When the Mets finally put Putz on the DL in June, I wrote:

[T]he team didn’t think then to investigate if Putz was truly injured, kept running him out there for a month, during which he gave the Mets several ineffective innings of relief, and only shut him down a few weeks ago for him to have surgery.  Dave Cameron is a baseball writer for a pretty good stats website; he is not a member of the Mets front office, and does not follow the team on a daily basis.  If he was able to figure out in late-April that something is wrong with JJ Putz, why did it take the team a full month for them to figure this out?

As it turns out, it didn’t take the Mets a full month to figure out that J.J. Putz was injured; they knew the entire time.  Putz gave an interview with Comcast Chicago that does not paint a pretty picture of the Mets’ front office.  The money quotes:

When the trade went down last year, I never really had a physical with the Mets. I had the bone spur (in the right elbow). It was discovered the previous year in Seattle, and it never got checked out by any other doctors until I got to spring training, and the spring training physical is kind of a formality. It was bugging me all through April, and in May I got an injection. It just got to the point where I couldn’t pitch. I couldn’t throw strikes, my velocity was way down…

…I knew that I wasn’t right. I wasn’t healthy. The toughest part was having to face the media and tell them that you feel fine, even though you know there’s something wrong and they don’t want you telling them that you’re banged up.

So according to the timeline being laid out here by Putz:

  • The Mariners’ doctors found a bone spur in Putz’s elbow during the 2008 season.
  • The Mets traded six players for J.J. Putz without conducting a physical of their own. I assume the Mets read the Mariners’ medical reports on Putz about the bone spur, though.
  • They checked out his elbow in spring training and discovered the bone spur for themselves.
  • They forced Putz to pitch through what I imagine is a very painful injury, while not allowing him to talk to the media about said injury.
  • Putz pitched terribly because, you know, having a healthy elbow is important to pitching.  In particular, his velocity and strikeouts were down.
  • Eventually, Putz went on the DL to have elbow surgery, never to pitch again for the Mets.  I cannot confirm this, but Omar Minaya probably called Putz a “pussy” afterwards.

I mean…in which of those steps do the Mets look good?  The part where they traded six players for Putz, Sean Green, and Jeremy Reed without making sure he was healthy?  The part where they discover the bone spur, make him pitch through it anyway, all while hiding it from the media?  The part where Omar Minaya called him a pussy?  OK, I made that up, but still, the other stuff is pretty bad.

There has been a lot said about the way the Mets’ medical staff handles injuries.  We got another glimpse of that a few weeks ago, with the Carlos Beltran debacle, and now J.J. Putz paints a pretty grim picture of the way this team handles injuries:  by sticking their fingers in their ears and pretending they didn’t happen.  This isn’t a total failure on the part of the medical staff; they have to share a pretty big part of the burden with the front office. 

The J.J. Putz trade and how it was handled is a fireable offense.  The Mets traded a good defensive outfielder, two relief pitchers of some value, a decent first base prospect (better than anything they will trot out at 1B in 2010, for sure), and two low-A minor leaguers, and all they currently have to show for it is one relief pitcher of some value, all because they never bothered to make sure the key part of the trade was healthy.  Hopefully this story gains some traction in the New York sports media and helps hasten the demise of Omar Minaya.  I’m disgusted with the way he is running this team, and it’s not getting any better.

At least the Royals have a process to trust

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

After the Kansas City Royals traded for Yuniesky Betancourt (a trade more baffling than the Mets’ trade for Gary Matthews Jr, because the Royals actually gave up something of value for Betancourt), Royals’ GM Dayton Moore implored his fans to “trust the process.”  The folks over at the Royals Review blog gave that a sound thrashing at the time, and it has since become something of a meme to laugh at the Royals and their “process,” which has since produced signings like Jason Kendall for two years.  I’m not exactly sure what their process is, but needless to say, Royals fans do not seem to trust it very much.

If you look at the Mets, though, I’d struggle to find out what kind of process they seem to be following this year.  If you look at the moves they have made, it appears they saw their needs for 2010 as follows:

  • Backup catcher
  • Left field
  • The bullpen

While there have been rumors connecting them to every free agent starter that has been on the market this year, so far they have yet to seal the deal with even one of them.  Every day, another decent starter comes off the market. Given the tenuous nature of the Mets’ starting staff, which currently features four starters who failed to pitch a complete 2009 season and Fernando Nieve slotted into the #5 slot, this has fans understandably wondering what the hell is going on.  In the cases of John Lackey, Joel Piniero, Ben Sheets, Jason Marquis, Jon Garland, and Doug Davis, where there has been smoke, there has been no fire.  It’s not that the Mets didn’t need Jason Bay, or couldn’t use a restructured bullpen, or even a better backup catcher, these were all good moves in a vacuum.  The problem is that these moves have come off somewhat uninspired after how bad the 2009 season ended.

Thus, the recent reports that have surfaced regarding the Mets’ front office philosophy this offseason really shouldn’t be that surprising to anybody who has been following the team.  Really, this goes back even to last season, when the team was unable to concentrate on fixing more than one thing at a time, first adding Frankie Rodriguez and JJ Putz, before turning to re-signing Oliver Perez for the rotation, which ended their offseason before finding a way to dump Luis Castillo or improve their corner outfielders.  This is a front office that seemingly does not know how to multi-task, which is especially worrisome considering that this team has had many, many problems since Carlos Beltran struck out to end the 2006 NLCS.

I’m not going to pretend to be an insider who knows what’s going on in the Mets’ front office.  Truthfully, I have no idea.  But as an outsider, as a fan following the team on a day to day basis, I can tell something is wrong.  Last year, they were at least 1-2 moves short of a complete offseason.  This season, they look to be in even worse shape, with subpar players slotted in at catcher, first base and second base, and a starting rotation that looks paper-thin without a minimum of two decent signings, in a market where there simply aren’t two decent starting pitchers available.  Even if they sign John Smoltz (and the Cardinals are currently the favorite), are we certain that a rotation of Santana/Smoltz/Pelfrey/Perez/Maine will stay healthy enough to keep Fernando Nieve or Nelson Figueroa from having to make too many starts?

There needs to be some sort of deep organizational change in philosophy.  When the geniuses in talent evaluation identify Jeff Francoeur and Gary Matthews Jr, two outfielders who had combined for -2.0 WAR in 2008 and -0.8 WAR in 2009, as two players this team needs to acquire, we can safely assume that advanced statistical metrics are not used by this front office.  They should be.  Advanced metrics shouldn’t replace scouting, but they can surely supplement scouting and make it better.  Their talent evaluation could definitely use some improvement, if their record of player acquisitions is any indication.  Signing Jason Bay for his defense, when his defense has ranked among the worst defensive players in baseball over the past three years is a sign that the team needs to look more closely at how they are evaluating talent and where they might be falling short.

They need to know when to make one big move, and when to make a bunch of smaller moves.  They need to know when to cut ties with a sunk cost if it means improving the team.  They need to know that when a player is injured, it does not benefit the team for that player to continue to play through that injury.  They need to know that what some people consider good pitching is actually good defense, and how to properly evaluate the difference between the two.  They need to know that the amateur draft is an opportunity to replenish their farm system and improve the team’s future, not an opportunity to kiss Bud Selig’s ass.  While this isn’t completely necessary, it would also be nice to have press conferences that don’t degenerate into he said/she said arguments that only make the team’s front office executives look worse, which considering the results this team has produced, is saying something.

Basically, they need to have a better process.  I’m not saying anything I haven’t said a million times before.  Whether it’s Omar Minaya, John Ricco, Jeff Wilpon, or somebody else running baseball operations, they need to have a better plan.  Whatever they’re doing now isn’t working and hasn’t worked, and the sooner they realize it, the sooner they can actually benefit from their resources advantage in the National League, rather than having 2-3 contending years sandwiched around some miserable ones.  It’s not an impossible goal, but until those in charge realize they’re operating within a broken system, Mets fans will continue to be frustrated at the team’s results, and the primes of Wright, Reyes, Beltran, and Santana will continue to be wasted.

Mets acquire Gary Matthews Jr for some stupid reason

Friday, January 22nd, 2010
The $50 million catch

The $50 million catch

Sometimes, when your favorite team makes a big transaction, it’s important not to overreact.  It’s easy to make a knee-jerk reaction that usually falls either north of “OMG THIS IS THE BEST TRADE EVAR, THE METS ARE GOING TO WIN THE WORLD SERIES!” and or south of “WTF I HATE MY TEAM WHY DO THEY INSIST ON HATING ME, WE WILL FINISH 20 GAMES BEHIND THE NATS!”  It’s important to try to fall somewhere in between, to try to keep a level head about this stuff, that rarely will any one move so drastically improve or so drastically ruin a team in one fell swoop.

 Then again, the Mets just acquired Gary Matthews Junior.
 
Sorry, I’m not seeing any upside here.

OH GLORIOUS DAY

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

After everything that went wrong last week (and be patient, I will have a take up on the site about that soon, it’s just been hectic of late), it’s been hard to find a silver lining.  Thanks to the San Francisco Giants, we have found one.  The Giants sign Bengie Molina for one year and $4.5 million, which means that the Mets will not be signing Bengie Molina.  Thank you, Brian Sabean, for being you and blocking poor Buster Posey.  And thank you, Omar Minaya, for once you have not made a soul-crushing decision that makes me hate life.  It might be because you are so utterly powerless that the Wilpons won’t let you do anything, but your inaction regarding Molina has ultimately helped this team.  Bring on the Henry Blanco/Josh Thole platoon.

It’s not about pitching, it’s about outscoring

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Upon hearing the news on Tuesday from Mike Francesa that the Mets and Jason Bay had reached terms on a contract, I texted a few friends about the news in case they hadn’t heard.  One of those friends was occasional Blue & Orange contributor Joe A Dig, who responded with the text, “Oh goody. The solution to none of our problems. Unless maybe he’s secretly a pitcher too.”

This has not been an uncommon reaction to the Bay signing, most of which has been somewhat muted.  Joe Janish from MetsToday tweeted something similar after the signing, and perennial nitwit John Harper buries the Mets for not acquiring John Lackey, even though the Red Sox gave Lackey more years and more guaranteed money than the Mets gave Bay, despite both being the same age, despite Lackey’s recent history of injury issues, despite Lackey being a pitcher and thus being more susceptible to injuries anyway, and despite Lackey’s downward trending peripherals.

Anyway, the point of this is not to defend the Bay deal.  It seems like a typical Omar Minaya deal, especially if it’s backloaded, in that it will be good in the short-term, potentially disastrous in the long-term, especially with the Mets’ salary commitments in 2012 (Santana at $24m, Bay at ~$19m, Wright’s $15m option, and of course, the bane of this blog’s existance, the Frankie $17.5m vesting option, giving the Mets a whopping $75.5 million in potential salary on the books for three seasons from now).  It’s more to discuss this idea that the Mets need to solely concentrate on pitching this offseason, because anybody that watched last year’s team would have to see that there was a lot more wrong with the 2009 Mets than starting pitching.

Last year, the Mets were 25th in the major leagues in runs scored, and 16th in runs allowed.  This does not mean to suggest that they were somehow “better” at preventing runs than they were at scoring them, because they were below average in both categories.  Plus, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are both scheduled to return in 2010, and hopefully both will be back as close to 100% as possible, which will help both run scoring and run prevention, since both are excellent all-around players.  Additionally, the Mets play most of their home games at Citi Field, and while we still don’t have enough evidence to say for certain, early returns are that Citi Field does play like a pitcher’s park, which will make the Mets’ runs scored ledger look worse and their runs allowed ledger look better than their true skill levels.

Still, it’s hard to argue that the Mets needed another good position player.  After Wright, Beltran, and Reyes, there is a steep drop in talent present in the lineup.  Assuming the Mets eventually sign Bengie Molina (an unfortuante inevitability), the rest of the Mets lineup will likely consist of Molina, Daniel Murphy, Luis Castillo, and Jeff Francoeur, and if the Mets hadn’t signed Bay, they likely would have started Angel Pagan in RF.  These are simply not players capable of playing competitive baseball.  Their deficencies range from an inability to get on base (Molina, Francoeur, Murphy), a lack of power (Castillo, Murphy, Pagan), and poor defensive skills (Castillo).  That is too many flaws surrounding the core.   I mean, Angel Pagan was clearly the best of these players in 2009, ironic considering he’s the player most likely to become a bench player in 2010, as the Mets set out to prove that Jeff Francoeur’s 956 plate appearances with the Braves from 2008 to 2009 was the sample size fluke, not his 308 Mets plate appearances.

While Bay brings his own defensive inabilities to the team, there’s no doubting the potent combination of power and on-base skills he immediately adds to the Mets lineup.  Considering that the Carlos Delgado of 2008 is gone, and likely never coming back, this team is going to need that sort of bat if they are to return to their 2008 levels of production, where they finished the year tied for eighth in baseball in runs scored.  He’s not the great all-around player that Beltran, Wright, and Reyes are, or even that Matt Holliday is, but it’s also likely that Bay becomes the best hitter on the team the second his contract is official.  Considering the Mets’ unfortunate history at the corner outfield spot dating back to late 90’s, he’s not a terrible player to acquire, especially since the Mets’ focus right now should be to win now, with Beltran’s contract set to expire soon and Wright and Reyes soon to become expensive.

The Mets focus shouldn’t be confined to simply focusing on hitting and pitching.  It should be on finding the most efficient way to outscore the competition.  Granted, signing Jason Bay doesn’t necessarily achieve that, but neither does simply signing John Lackey.  Pitching doesn’t win championships by itself, but putting together the best combination of hitting and pitching together does.  Look at the last three World Series champions.  The 2009 Yankees finished first in runs scored, 14th in runs allowed, and second in run differential.  The 2008 Phillies also weren’t a pure pitching team; they were 5th in runs allowed and tied for 8th with the Mets in runs scored, good for the third best run differential in the majors.  The 2007 Red Sox followed a similar path, ranking 4th in runs scored and first in runs allowed to put together the best run differential in baseball.  Run prevention is obviously important, but all of these teams could score some runs, too.  None finished lower than third in baseball in run differential, and that’s with the randomness of the baseball postseason working against them.

I’m not saying that the Mets don’t need a starting pitcher.  While I like Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese more than most, the team obviously can’t go into 2010 and expect John Maine to be healthy enough to last an entire season when recent history shows that he probably can’t, and the team can’t rely on Oliver Perez to be good.  But there are still plenty of good starting pitchers available.  Ben Sheets is still on the market, as is Joel Piniero, Doug Davis, Jon Garland, and a bunch of other rotation filler guys.  Guys like Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, and other starters making way too much money for their current teams are also available for a minimal prospect cost.  There are plenty of ways for the Mets to upgrade their pitching, to say nothing of improving their middle infield defense by dumping Castillo for Orlando Hudson or Adam Kennedy, who would make Pelfrey look a whole lot better than he was in 2009. 

The Mets can, and likely will, address their run prevention in the upcoming weeks.  It remains to be seen if their offense will score enough runs, as even with the addition of Bay, the Mets are likely to have three OBP ciphers at the low end of their lineup in Murphy, Francoeuer, and Molina, which will hurt their ability to score runs.  Still, having Bay can only help this team’s run scoring in 2010, and that is an area where the team was lacking in 2010.  Even if the team does eventually resign Carlos Delgado, they can’t expect the Delgado of 2008 to return, so adding another bat like Bay’s to the lineup will only benefit the team next year.  Adding Bay helps the Mets improve their ability to outscore the competition, at least in the short-term, and for that, the move was a decent one.

Blue & Orange Hot Stove Huddle – A modest success!

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Thanks to all that were able to come out last night for Blue and Orange Hot Stove Huddle.  I had a great time meeting a lot of the bloggers I’ve read and respected over the years, and a good time was had by all.  The panels were all fun and interesting, and I can only hope that I wasn’t too incoherent while speaking during mine.  Next time, I will try to keep my Newcastle count under 5 before speaking.  Special thanks to Ken Davidoff for making it out and adding an air of legitimacy to the festivities, even as I was childishly calling out his colleagues for no good reason.

Please read and support all of the bloggers who were able to make it out last night, they are all excellent and should be part of your daily reading!  If they aren’t part of your RSS Reader, get them in there!

(OK, so the Iron Sheik wasn’t really there, but Will and I are trying very, very hard to get him for the next Blue and Orange get together.  Stay tuned!)

Extra special thanks to Will, first for putting this whole thing together, and then moderating and keeping the event going smoothly throughout the night.  In the wrong hands, something like this could have gotten out of control, as Mets fans and bloggers alike were trying to proactively drown their sorrows for what could be another disappointing season in 2010, but he kept things going quite well and knew when to tell the drunken idiots on the panel to move on.  Okay, so there was only one drunken idiot he was trying to get to move on, and it was me, but still, great job.  Here’s hoping we can do another one of these sometime in the future!

Blue and Orange Hot Stove Huddle!

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Date Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Venue: River
Address: 500 West 43rd St (at 10th Avenue) – New York, NY
Time: 7pm -10pm
Web Site: riverhellskitchen.com
http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=211215271512&index=1

Will has put together a great panel of guests, which will include Ted Berg from TedQuarters.net, SNY.tv, and MetsBlog.com, James Kannengieser and Sam Page from Amazin Avenue, Joe Janish from Mets Today, and a host of others that I am probably forgetting.  It should be a good time.  There will be alcohol available, in order to drink yourselves to forget how bad 2009 truly was, and how bad 2010 will likely be.

About season ticket renewals and Jason Bay

Monday, December 14th, 2009

After a week where the Mets generally made little news at the Winter Meetings, to the degree that signing minor leaguer Mike Hessman actually became a notable Mets headline, Omar Minaya and company finally made a headline on the last day of the meetings when it was reported that the Mets had made an offer for free agent outfielder Jason Bay.  This being the Mets, where no move they make can be taken at face-value, it was immediately speculated by Joel Sherman and Craig Calcaterra, among others, that the Mets had made Bay an offer primarily because of lagging season ticket renewals, and a lack of buzz in general for a Mets team that, so far, had only signed a slew of backup catchers and no-skill utility players.

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Billy Wagner signs with the Braves

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009
Billy Wagner, in happier days.

Billy Wagner, in happier days.

I won’t be the first to mention this, nor will I be the last, but the Billy Wagner situation just highlights the lack of foresight in the Mets front office.  Back in August, Wagner looked like a good bet to be worth Type A compensation in free agency, should he sign with another ballclub.  That means if Wagner signed with another team as a free agent, his former team would be entitled to a first round draft pick (or lower, depending on a number of factors) plus a compensation pick between the first and second rounds.  At the very least, the Mets would pick up a compensation pick for losing Wagner, which would make the blow of losing their second rounder by signing a Type A free agent (such as Matt Holliday) a little easier to take.

Instead, the Mets traded Wags to the Red Sox for Chris Carter and Eddie Lora.  At best, Carter projects to be a Daniel Murphy-type with maybe a little more power, a fringe-average regular with no real position.  He’s even left-handed, so they can’t platoon Carter with Murphy at first base.  As a 20 year old in the Rookie League, Eddie Lora did not distinguish himself in any way, and would seem to be an unlikely bet to ever play a single game in the major leagues.  They also saved $3.2 million, chump change for a New York based sports team.

In return for Carter, Lora, and $3.2 million, the Red Sox got Wagner for six weeks, where he produced an excellent (for such a short time period) 0.4 WAR, worth approximately $1.9 million in value to the Red Sox, and now two high draft picks.  In essence, the Red Sox spent $1.3 million to buy two draft picks, at least one of which should be in the top 50, and if the Braves fail to sign another Type A free agent, one of those picks would be in the top 20.  That would mean they could sign potentially two Type A free agents and still pick higher in the first and second rounds than they were originally scheduled, and that doesn’t even include receiving compensation if Jason Bay were to sign elsewhere.

These are the types of moves the Mets should be making.  They should be willing to take the risk of Wagner coming back if he accepted arbitration, which he wouldn’t have.  He made quite clear his desire to close next year, as he had tried to force the Red Sox to not offer him arbitration and wanted assurance that his option year would not be picked up by the Sox, as he did not want to set up for Jonathan Papelbon.  This was essentially two free picks, and for a team that is often criticized (sometimes unfairly) for ignoring their minor league system, the return value could have been huge for the team.

Instead, they settled for a little bit of payroll relief and two minor leaguers unlikely to ever become stars.  You can’t even compare the Mets to the Red Sox anymore, because the two teams are playing completely different games.  It’s situations like this that just so clearly demonstrate that teams like the Red Sox are playing chess while the Mets are playing peek-a-boo.