The Mets dodged a bullet with George Springer

Noah Syndergaard and Michael ConfortoGeorge Springer is a terrific player and as a playoff-tested, right-handed slugger who plays a solid centerfield, he seemed to be the most coveted free agent for Mets fans. Alas, it was not meant to be, as the Blue Jays swooped in and snagged the former Astro All-Star for six years and $150 million.

The $25 million AAV is not far off what Springer was projected to get, but that extra year is tough to swallow. As this blogger has pointed out many times, centerfielders don’t age well. Sure, he’ll probably be good for another three years, but the back end of that contract could be ugly. At best, he’ll transition to a corner outfield position and still be able to slug 30 home runs per year. At worst? Well, remember Jacoby Ellsbury? How about Dexter Fowler? AJ Pollock? Lorenzo Cain? The list is long.

Back when the Mets signed Carlos Beltran to a then whopping seven-year, $119 million contract, he was just 27 years old. Springer turned 31 in September. There’s little question he will boost the Blue Jays offense for the next few years, but after that, his contract could be a problem. However, with most of their key players still in pre-arbitration years, the Blue Jays can afford to take on this gamble. The Mets cannot.

As Sandy Alderson and Steve Cohen have made clear, they want to build a sustainable winner. You simply don’t accomplish that by stockpiling expensive free agents.

The Mets have a nice core of young talent and some, like Pete Alonso, Dominic Smith, and Jeff McNeil, are still earning well below their market value as pre-arbitration players. However, many of our other key players, like Brandon Nimmo, J.D. Davis, and Seth Lugo, are seeing steady pay increases through arbitration. The biggest concern of course is that four of the main cogs on this team will hit free agency when this coming season ends – Francisco Lindor, Michael Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, and Marcus Stroman. That list also includes Steven Matz, Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances, but these guys are obviously less of a concern.

Now, if we were still owned by the Wilpons, we’d be bracing ourselves to lose three out of four of those players. But those cheapskates who let us wave good-bye to homegrown favorites like Jose Reyes and Zack Wheeler are thankfully out of the picture. A certain avuncular billionaire owner wants his fans to be happy. Now, realistically, we won’t be able to keep Lindor, Conforto, Syndergaard and Stroman. But in order to have a chance to bring back two or hopefully three of them and keep the band together for sustained winning, we’re going to have to keep our 2021 spending in check.

The trade for Lindor and Carlos Carrasco was our big move and it was enormous. That move alone puts us firmly in the playoff discussion. Bringing back Stroman and signing Brian McCann, Trevor May and Jose Martinez, plus trading for Joey Lucchesi, helps solidify the roster for the coming season. By most accounts, the Mets are still nearly $30 million below the soft salary cap. And, by most accounts, the Mets still have a few remaining roster holes that need plugging.

Without Springer, and hopefully not Trevor Bauer, the Mets don’t need to eat up that remaining space with one contract. Although Brad Hand is currently being courted by multiple teams, a lefty reliever who can close would give us the best bullpen we’ve had in many years. A gold glove centerfielder like Jackie Bradley Jr. would give us a really strong up-the-middle defense. And a gold glove second baseman like Kolton Wong would give us a fantastic infield with McNeil moving over to third. These three combined might make less than what Bauer is seeking.

A cheaper version of this – Justin Wilson, Kevin Pillar, and Jonathan Villar – would still round out the roster and leave wiggle room for a mid-season acquisition, not to mention the possibility of extending one or more of the walk year players. Flexibility is key, as keeping a good team intact.

Look at the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals as cautionary tales. Yes, they won World Series, but these teams were talked about as a sustained winners, if not potential dynasties. Fans in Boston and San Francisco can more easily swallow the downturn as they have three rings to show for it.

These days, the top players are seeking $30 million AAV contracts. Even if you can support a $200 million payroll, you really can’t have more than two or three of those guys on your team and hope to fill out a roster. This isn’t the NBA where two superstars can win you a title. You could literally have the three best players in baseball on your team – say Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Jacob deGrom – and still finish in last place if the rest of your team stinks. The Nationals have $100 million spoken for by the front of their rotation and had to bid adieu to Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon in successive off-seasons. Now their team consists of the three pitchers, a few young stars, and a whole lot of marginal players.

Of course MattyMets wants to see his team win it all for the first time since he was 14, but what he really wants is for the Mets to be like the Cardinals or Dodgers, who seem to be in the playoffs every year. Locking up guys like Conforto and Syndergaard is the best way to make that happen.

Sandy Alderson and the Mets’ payroll drop

Loyal reader Metsense recently posted this thought:

I feel sorry for Sandy Alderson. I believe, when he initially signed on, he thought of the Mets as Moneyball only with money. Imagine if he took the $142M payroll, lopped off the Perez and Castillo contracts and went into this winter with a $128M to spend. I think he would have done a few things differently to put his stamp on the franchise and we would be contending in 2012.

This would have given Alderson around $30 million more to spend than he actually did have this offseason. He could have re-signed Jose Reyes. He could have chased one of the high-end pitchers like C.J. Wilson. Perhaps he would have sought a catcher and traded for Chris Iannetta. It’s even possible he would have gone for an established closer and bid for Jonathan Papelbon. The mix and match possibilities, while not quite limitless, are more than I want to get in right now.

But I want to focus on another possibility – What if Sandy Alderson knew exactly what the situation was going to be when he signed on?

Here’s what we know for sure:
Fred Wilpon and Bud Selig are friends
Selig encouraged Alderson to take the job
The former Marine Alderson is a take-no-grief kind of guy
From the very beginning, Alderson talked about getting the payroll down

Let’s look at the last two items. Pretend for a moment that you are Alderson. You’ve accomplished a ton in your career in the majors and you are held in high regard in almost all quarters. Are you really going to sit back and accept being lied to by Wilpon in this situation? If you took the Mets job because it was a chance to work with a Top 5 payroll wouldn’t you feel cheated when it turned out to be a middle of the pack payroll and nearly all of the money was already allocated to players on hand?

You have a sharp wit and an acerbic tongue and your only response is to go to Twitter a year later and make 142 character or fewer jokes?

Obviously I have no inside knowledge of the situation but this just doesn’t pass the smell test for me. I think Alderson knew exactly what he was getting into with the Mets and the reason he took the job was not to see what life was like on the other side of the fence with piles of cash, but rather because he knew how to survive on a shoestring budget. And he could get something (besides cash) in return for his efforts.

My thinking is that Alderson took the job as a favor to two people – Selig and Paul DePodesta. He helped Selig help his friend Wilpon and in the process sets himself up to be the next commissioner of baseball when Selig steps down. What better way to curry favor with the other MLB owners than to be a good solider and be the point man for an unprecedented payroll drop? And Alderson helps DePodesta by rehabilitating his image and establishing DePo to be his replacement when Alderson leaves the Mets.

Continue to play devil’s advocate with me. If you had to sell the fan base on an historic drop in payroll, how would you do it? Would you come right out and say, “We’re broke and we’re going to drop our payroll $50 million” or would you cut it in $10 million increments over a period of time, knowing full well that additional bad financial news would come out along the way to help sell the decrease?

Essentially, I think Wilpon told Selig how bad his short-term financial picture was and Selig told him he had just the guy to get him over the next couple of years when things would be at their worst. Alderson took the job knowing full well that payrolls under $100 million were on the immediate horizon. He does his best to position the Mets for the post-2013 landscape when most, if not all, of the big contracts come off the books.

While Alderson may not be the beneficiary of that payroll flexibility down the road, he sees to it that DePodesta (sub in J.P. Ricciard if you think he’s the more likely choice) is his replacement and gets to have the extra money to use on the major league roster. DePo, who got run out of town in Los Angeles despite doing a fine job, gets to show once again that he’s got the right stuff to be a successful GM in a big market.

If all of this is true, I do not begrudge Alderson for carrying water in this situation. But I still wish he hadn’t spent $3.5 million on Jon Rauch.

The 2012 Mets: Trusting Sandy Alderson

The two League Championship Series have just concluded and we’ll see a never-before matchup in the World Series. Texas-St. Louis offers a couple of fresh – and one most unlikely – faces on the national stage. This will be the first Series in recent memory in which both teams got there on the backs of their offense. “Pitching wins championships,” the hoary bromide goes, but neither team has shown that dominant, lock-down starting pitching which has been a hallmark of World Series winners past, save for Chris Carpenter’s performance against the Phillies – he said, hiding a giggle.

What does this have to do with the Mets and Sandy Alderson’s 2012 off-season plans? In a broad sense, this latest chink in the armor of “conventional wisdom” might bode well for whichever moves Alderson might make. If nothing else, it should take some of the pressure off. The recent Series and the popularity of the Moneyball film/book will allow for a lot of out-of-the-box thinking on several fronts, with a minimum of ridicule from all but the most entrenched troglodytes of the MSM. The Jose Reyes situation could go either way: in a decidedly un-scientific observation, there are equal numbers of Met fans who would keep him at all costs as would let him walk. That will be Alderson’s biggest decision of the off-season and after that, there are almost no bad moves Alderson can make, short of bringing back Jeff Francoeur, signing Mike Pelfrey to a 15-year extension or some other such ridicularity. He can cast a wide net and when something doesn’t work, he can cut bait quickly – as he showed a willingness to do this past season, with mulligans on Brad Emaus and Blaine Boyer. Beyond paying lip service to building up the system, the Alderson regime has actually taken steps to doing just that. It’s not the sexy way to build a team – we leave that to the guys across town, who, for all their regular season success this year, played a grand total of five more games than the Mets – but it is the most sustainable and cost-efficient. There are hardly any two more important words bandied about nowadays.

The question is this: will New York fans be patient with this? With this team, that’s the key ingredient. Ownership – such as it is – has shown themselves to have rabbit-ears when it comes to “the will of the fans.” If public perception turns against the admittedly slow-going process, there is a chance that the Wilpons may cashier Alderson and bring on a more malleable personality to steer the ship, even if they’re being pushed out the door. This, of course, would be the ultimate spiteful act and final proof that Jeff Wilpon is no more than a spoiled brat who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.

So it’s up to us fans to trust the process. If mid-season 2011 is any indication, the attitude shift and the clubhouse fumigation begun with Terry Collins’ hiring and continuing with the installation of Bob Geren as bench coach, the process is well under way and should bear fruit sooner, rather than later.

I, personally, have no other choice.

Mets Will Have An Impact On The Wild Card Race After All

They’ve infuriated me. They’ve puzzled me. At times, they’ve even bored me. They can follow sparkling play with utter ineptitude – in the space of a heartbeat. They’ve gone through such violent “mood swings” this year, that you can’t even chalk it up to “Well, that’s baseball…”

Vin Scully has said many times that winning never feels as good as losing feels bad. This year, the Mets have embodied that. The stretch in the summer where we fans allowed ourselves to believe in this year’s edition seems a foggy bygone. August hit us in the back of the head with a sledgehammer and all I could see was desolation row. They hit their usual seventeen-games-left doldrum – 2-6 so far, if you’re scoring at home – same as it’s been since aught-five. Let’s face it: it would take a minor miracle to get these guys over .500.

And yet, the 2011 Mets keep pulling me back. A series like the one just concluded in Atlanta makes me go all old-Michael-Corleone on them. Coming off a six-game losing streak, incurring the stifled wrath of their famously hot-headed skipper and heading into their own personal nether region, the Mets showed us again that this bunch will not be pigeon-holed. The question for this week is, who will they help, if not themselves? These three with the Cards could derail the St. Louis express and hand the playoffs to the hated Braves – please retire, already, Chipper – or propel the Redbirds right past them. It’ll be a little strange to have the final three with the Phillies mean less than zero at this late date — and why on earth are they closing against the Reds?

Meanwhile, the questions for the off-season remain: how much cash will Sandy Alderson have to work with? How different will the 2012 roster be versus 2011? How much ground will the Mets be able to make up on the Phillies/Braves/Cards? Sadly, the answer to all three will probably be “not much.” But that won’t take away from the job Terry Collins did in clearing the air that room and the shrewd moves Alderson made in the middle of the year.

That’s baseball. As Dick Young told Roger Kahn in The Boys Of Summer, “Don’t be so damn sure.”

Mets’ Ownership Situation Makes Forecasting That Much More Difficult

Over my last couple of pieces, I’ve tried to get a pulse on what the Mets’ 2012 season might look like. It’d be easier to predict tomorrow night’s lottery numbers.

It’s always a tricky thing to try and guess what will happen down the line. The best anyone can do to predict the future is a best hypothesis, based on what’s happened in the past. Track record, you might call it. It isn’t the most reliable way plan out the next few months/years/decades, yet, we all try to gauge the time ahead. This is especially true if you follow – or work inside of, or write about – major league baseball.

This exercise in trying to get a handle on what’s gonna happen next is almost baseball’s stock-in-trade. It permeates just about every facet of the game, from the action on the field to the entire raison d’etre of scouts and GMs and it’s what’s mainly responsible for the rise of advanced statistics – sabermetrics, if you will. It’s what every off-season is built upon – and what makes it fun most of the time. The seasoned baseball watcher often finds himself or herself navigating a thicket of “if/then” statements: “IF the pitcher throws a curveball here, THEN the hitter will swing and miss more times than not.” “IF this kid fills out a little more physically, THEN he might have a decent career.” “IF we hand out this mega-contract, THEN we may be hamstrung financially.”

When it comes to the Mets, that last one is the rub.

While watching the team’s ownership fall all over itself — “The Wilpon Follies” – from this vantage point since January, your intrepid columnist sees only a spaghetti tangle of “if/thens” between now – elimination day, yet again – and next April. I can only look ahead with a pair of foggy spectacles to try and piece together a game plan for the off-season. The reason for this is quite possibly the biggest “if/then” of all: IF the Wilpons are out of money, THEN they’ll have to sell the team. The “if” half of the statement is something we’ll never know for sure until the situation reaches its denoument, and until that happens, we won’t know if Sandy Alderson has the wherewithal to retain the services of Jose Reyes, hand out mega-dollars to Prince Fielder, acquire Matt Kemp or bring in a stud starting pitcher. When trying to make any kind of prediction, one must start with a rundown of the facts at hand: resources, liabilities, etc. When it comes to the Wilpons, we on the outside may never get even to that point. We’ve been overwhelmed by a torrent of double-talk – and not the charming, Casey Stengel kind, either – public blundering and obfuscation. They have succeeded in throwing fans and pundits alike off their scent.

That seems to be the only thing they’ve been successful at lately.

A look back at Sandy Alderson’s first year as GM

Last October immediately after the end of the season the Mets fired general manager Omar Minaya. Before Halloween, they hired Sandy Alderson to take his place. With almost a complete baseball season under his belt, let’s take a look back and see how Alderson has done. Here are his major moves, excluding the 2011 Draft, separated into four grades.

Top of the Class (A Grade) – Trading Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler

Here Alderson traded two-plus months of a 34-year old with bad knees, a big contract and a unique clause preventing his club from offering arbitration into a top pitching prospect. Wheeler came with one obvious flaw – an extremely elevated walk rate. However, he switched back to the motion that he used in high school and in six games with the Mets, Wheeler allowed just 5 BB and had 31 Ks in 27 IP. He’s in the discussion for the club’s top overall prospect and should be no worse than third on every Mets’ prospect list heading into next season.

Decent to Strong Moves (B Grades) – Picked up option on Jose Reyes; Hired Terry Collins; Signed Ronnie Paulino, Willie Harris, Scott Hairston, Taylor Buchholz, Chris Capuano, Tim Byrdak, Jason Isringhausen, Dale Thayer, Mike Baxter and Miguel Batista; Drafted Pedro Beato; Traded Francisco Rodriguez for two PTBNL.

The Reyes move was the main salary commitment made by Alderson. You can argue it was a no-brainer to pick up the option and/or you can point out that he missed the chance to sign him to a long-term contract before he hit the open market. Just picking up the option is probably what most GMs would have done. Reyes has enjoyed a super season while healthy and now the challenge for Alderson is to keep him with the Mets for 2012 and beyond.

The Rodriguez move was very nice in that it got the Mets out from the vesting option and the 2012 buyout. If that was the only consideration, this would be an A Grade move. But Alderson allowed Collins to use Rodriguez in a way in which his option would vest if he pitched the entire year with the Mets. I think for that this transaction has to be knocked down in value. The option handcuffed Alderson but he further painted himself into the corner by allowing Rodriguez to pick up non-save chance Games Finished.

Collins has done a fine job in his first season with the Mets. I just don’t think it’s an A-level performance. Also, in areas where it’s questionable who had the final decision between manager and GM, I think future moves made by Alderson shows who was responsible. And it appears to me that some of these bad choices, to be detailed later, should be assigned to Collins.

Alderson assembled a better bench than Minaya ever did. Willie Harris and his 86 OPS+ might not seem like a B-level move, but when you consider the Mets have carried guys like Jesus Feliciano (54 OPS+) and Frank Catalanotto (8 OPS+) as OF reserves, that’s a major upgrade. And several of these guys were signed to minor league deals and contributed throughout the season.

The Somewhat Defensible Moves (C Grade) – Drafted Brad Emaus; Traded for Chin-lung Hu; Signed Chris Young and D.J. Carrasco

The Mets wanted to upgrade second base so they took a flier on Emaus, a good-hit, poor-field prospect. This was a decent enough idea but forcing him into the starting lineup seemed unnecessary and for that I blame Collins. When we factor in that Alderson reacted so soon in getting rid of Emaus, that says to me that carrying him on the roster was not the GM’s idea. In hindsight, it would have been much better if Daniel Murphy could have gotten more defensive reps at second base in Spring Training.

After wasting $2 million and 495 PA on Alex Cora, the Mets needed a cheap backup middle infielder and in December Alderson traded veteran minor leaguer Mike Antonini to the Dodgers for Hu. It seemed like a good idea at the time, especially as Hu would be making the major league minimum. But Hu never got untracked offensively for the Mets. That he lasted until mid-May indicates to me that Alderson was more responsible for his continued presence than Collins.

I would have given you any odds you asked for and wagered that Young would not make it through the year healthy. I don’t think Alderson expected him to last the entire year, either, but I bet he thought he would give more than the 24 IP that he did. The Mets had to shop in the bargain basement this offseason and look for guys coming off injury. It worked with Capuano and it didn’t with Young. I just felt like there was no reason to expect Young to be healthy for 100 or more innings. The only thing keeping this from a D-level grade is that he pitched so well in his four starts.

At the time of the signing, I liked the Carrasco move. Even three weeks ago, I put it in the defensible category. However, in his last seven appearances, Carrasco has allowed 11 R and 17 H in 9 IP and now has a 5.40 ERA and 1.578 WHIP for the season. He came to the Mets with a reputation as a ground ball pitcher who kept the ball in the park. But his 1.24 GB/FB ratio is the lowest of his career and his 12.7 HR/FB ratio is his highest since 2004. In his last seven games, Carrasco has surrendered more fly balls (13) and line drives (14) than ground balls (12). It’s just been painful to watch and the Mets are on the hook for next year with Carrasco, too.

The Clunker (D Grade) – Signed Blaine Boyer

I want to give the Boyer signing an F, I really do. There was nothing in his track record to get excited about and Alderson went against his stated word of evaluating pitchers on their entire track record and not just Spring Training stats when picking the Opening Day roster. This is another one I put at the feet of Collins, as Alderson wasted no time getting rid of Boyer, as he DFA’d him on April 12th. The quick trigger on his release, and the fact the Mets did not lose Manny Acosta to accommodate Boyer, are the only things that keep this from an F.

*****

It’s too soon to pass ultimate judgment on Alderson for his first year because so much will depend upon how Wheeler and the 2011 Draft pans out. Alderson swung for the fences with first-round pick Brandon Nimmo and if he reaches his upside than I have no doubt that Mets fans will look back at Alderson’s first year as a smashing success.

When grading things like this, you always have to keep in mind your feelings when the move was executed in addition to how it looks after the fact. At the time, it seemed like Carrasco would be an excellent middle reliever but I don’t think anyone feels that way now. Still, it grades higher than the Boyer move because it made sense when the deal was done.

Who’s On Your Wish List For 2012, Mets’ Fans?

Last week, I posed the question “Who will the 2012 Mets be?” barring any major additions or subtractions on the player personnel side. Well, now let’s make those additions and/or subtractions. When I say “let’s,” I mean just that: I’ll throw out my opinions as to who should be brought in, and then I’ll throw it out to you, gentle reader, to praise me for my sagacity or berate me for being a hopeless fanboy lunkhead. Of course, by all means add comments on who you’d like Santa Alderson to bring you this Christmas. Sandy has already shown that of all the Mets’ GMs throughout their history, he’s McGuyver. Alderson has an uncanny ability to make a quality acquisition out of sawdust, chewing gum and bailing wire. I think most fans trust him to do that, so let’s have some fun. Just a couple of ground rules: (1) Please keep things realistic. Let’s stay out of the realm of “Trade Jason Bay and DJ Carrasco for Jose Bautista…and have Toronto throw in a pitching prospect.” (2) For the helluvit, let’s pretend Bernie Madoff had never been born and ownership – whoever it is — has all the money it needs to improve the club this offseason.

With those in mind, here goes…

Let’s take the opposite tack as last week: let’s assume the injury bug is still buzzing around the Citi Field hive and Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy and Johan Santana are shelved for the major part of Mayan Doomsday. That would leave gaping holes at first base, half the projected second base platoon and in the starting rotation.

Let’s solve the first base issue with one quick stroke of the pen: sign Milwaukee’s free agent first sacker Prince Fielder. For once, I’ll go along with the MSM conventional thinking that there’s no way the Brewers will be able to pay both Ryan Braun – and his 15 years’ worth of indentured servitude – and Fielder. There has been a lot of talk about this, especially on MetsBlog and in this perfect world we’re creating, he’d take some Flushing cash to play out his career under the bright lights.

For second, I’d want Alderson to move Heaven and Earth to pry Brandon Phillips away from the Reds. I don’t know how, or what it would take, but this is a labor of lust, right?

As for the rotation, I’m hoping Matt Garza can be had from the Cubbies, who are undergoing a front-office overhaul of their own. I’m hoping they’d be looking to shed some payroll and let Garza go quickly.

I know positions are fairly set in the outfield, but the Mets need to go younger and get better production out of the left side. I’d love to replace Jason Bay fairly cheaply and somehow get either Logan Morrison from the Marlins or Adam Jones from Baltimore. If I have a choice, I’d prefer Morrison, who, it would seem, has the personality – the right mix of tough and goofy – to handle the New York cauldron. It’s just that mix that has vexed the Florida front office all year. He would be a lot of fun around these parts.

As we all know, the bullpen has been a shambles this year, so let’s bring home Heath Bell and have done with it. The Padres have all but made it known they won’t sign him as a free agent and I think some fence-mending money might make it attractive to bring Act II to Queens.

So here’s the opening day lineup for your 2012 NL Champions:

1. Jose Reyes SS
2. Brandon Phillips 2B
3. David Wright 3B
4. Prince Fielder 1B
5. Lucas Duda RF
6. Logan Morrison LF
7. Angel Pagan CF
8. Josh Thole/Ronny Paulino C
9. Matt Garza P
Heath Bell will come in and close out the win.

Hey, a man can dream, can’t he?

Author’s Note: The news of the failure of the Wilpons and David Einhorn to reach an agreement came down as this was being written. You may do with that piece of information what you will…

The New York Mets: It’s Gotta Get Better, Right?

There’s a lot going on in Met-land lately, but I’m finding myself hard pressed to pay attention.

There’s talk of new uniforms next year…again! If it’s to be a ditching of the tired, oh-so-90’s “Mets In Black” look, I say “Hear! Hear!” I could go through the rest of my life with only the home cream-and-pinstripes and the grey roadies. I could even deal with the royal blue tops — sported by Los Mets a couple of weeks ago – sprinkled in here and there. Maybe the alternate jerseys from a couple of years ago with the ginormous “NY” on the breasts could make an appearance as well.

There are murmurs that the outfield walls might have kinder, gentler dimensions commencing in 2012 as well. There’s only so much that can be done, here: there’s an awful lot of concrete to be dealt with. I’d be in favor of lowering Great Wall of Flushing (thank you, Howie Rose!) from sixteen feet high to a more humane eight. I’d also welcome abolition of the cursed “Mo Zone,” where homers go to die. It’s interesting that the park was seemingly built with Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes in mind, neither of whom – possibly – would enjoy its fruits past 2011.

This is all well and good. Those deck chairs on this Titanic will be in perfect position. This is the definition of window dressing, designed to take our minds off a most depressing present. Yes, I have faith in Sandy Alderson. He’s saying all the right things and it looks like he and his squad are making all the right moves. We out here in the fan base are drooling over the prospect of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler becoming the new Seaver/Koosman and Brandon Nimmo launching balls over the erstwhile Mo Zone. And yes, I like what Terry Collins is doing in that room. I know the win tally is worse than Jerry Manuel’s final, fitful kicks last season, but Collins is doing what he was brought in here to do: fumigate the clubhouse. When he was hired back in November, I mentioned that this was most likely a tenting operation, designed to exterminate the funk emanating from Roosevelt Avenue. He seems to have done that. There are signs on the field – despite the stagnant win total – that this franchise is closer than we think to ascending to contention. The only game in this losing skein that was truly putrid was last night’s (8/22). They’ve been in almost every game they’ve played this year, and I think that says a lot about character, something that to the naked eye was absent from June 2007 through last year.

No. My concern is that all this window dressing we’re seeing right now is meant to distract us from the fact the old, fetid ownership is still in place and will remain so through the end of the 2011 season – and most likely beyond. I know there’s an Einhorn waiting in the wings, but the process is maddeningly slow and we have to watch the Wilponian dog-and-pony parade before anything of substance will shift. I have a fear that the longer Fred and Jeff Wilpon hang around, the greater the chance that all the good work of Alderson and co. will be undone by desperation and stupidity up in the tower.

But boy, did those Los Mets uniforms look good…

Will David Einhorn Save The Mets?

It would appear the endgame is nigh for Fred and Jeff Wilpon.

The judges are convening – even as we speak – and the fate of the ownership seems a fait accompli: the Wilpons will be forced to sell their chunk of the Mets in order to pay off mammoth debts on Madoff victims, SNY-TV, and Citi Field. For all I know, they may also have a 90-day invoice to the caterers for the post-game clubhouse spread. In short, it would take several massive miracles for Fred, Jeff and Uncle Saul Katz to retain a significant portion of the franchise. With a little help from their friends in the MLB hierarchy, they’ll be able to make their exit as gracefully and with as much dignity as possible, considering the NYC media cauldron and 24-hour news cycle.

Enter David Einhorn, the new, chosen, designated, legal partner in the ownership group. At first flush, he would seem the perfect fit to swoop in and take control. He’s in his early-40’s, he’s a Long Island local, he has been a roaring success in fairly arcane financial ventures – how he makes his money is certainly over my head – and he’s a baseball fan. Sound familiar? This is strikingly similar to the resume Fred Wilpon himself brought to the table 31 years ago, when he and Nelson Doubleday took the reins from a diffident and disinterested Payson family. Fred was young, dynamic and aggressive in terms of building the Mets’ brand, first by hiring Frank Cashen as GM and slowly, prudently discarding the pinchpenny ways of the prior regime. That ownership was just the breath of fresh air this franchise needed.

30 years on, this ownership is once again in desperate need of fumigation. The front-office put in place during these final fitful months of Wilponic hegemony has given David Einhorn the head start Fred never had. Think of it as Fred, Jeff & Saul’s going-away gift to us fans. If Einhorn will stay out of Sandy Alderson and co.’s way, keep his mouth shut and just keep signing the checks, that would be the most satisfactory answer to the question posed in the title. I’d love to see him be a kind of Steinbrenner-with-an-internal-filter: a burning passion to win without being an ass about it. My guess is that that’s how he will start out. I think it will result in at least a few pennants and a World Series title or two. But time, as we know, brings out many changes and shifts in personality and actions. It’s quite possible that Einhorn could eventually become a latter-day Jeff – nosing around the clubhouse, circumventing the plans of the GM and his lieutenants, getting chummy with and seeking policy input from players.

Were that to happen, the longtime, sadly cynical Met fan such as I would only be able to shake his head and look forward to better times. We’re used to that by now.

Did Alderson strike a wrong note with Carrasco signing?

The stage was set perfectly for D.J. Carrasco Saturday night. Carrasco, who entered the game unscored upon in his last six outings, was called into action early after Mike Pelfrey had to leave the game after getting hit by a line drive. The Mets were up 4-2 with no outs and a runner on first in the bottom of the fifth. All Carrasco had to do was get out of the inning with the lead and he would be in line for an easy vulture win.

Instead, Carrasco hit a batter and then surrendered a first-pitch HR to Ryan Roberts so instead of a victory, Carrasco ended up taking the loss. It was the latest setback in what can only be described as a disappointing season for the veteran righty, who signed a two-year deal with the Mets in the offseason. In the three previous years, Carrasco posted a combined 9-3 record and a 3.77 ERA with 157 Ks in 210.1 IP. Last night’s defeat dropped his record to the Mets to 1-3 with a 4.86 ERA.

So, what’s gone wrong with Carrasco?

His velocity is down a not-insignificant amount, falling from 90.8 last year with Arizona to 89.1 this year in New York. But Carrasco relies less on his fastball than most pitchers, throwing it just 33.6 percent of the time according to FanGraphs. And their Pitch Type Values show his fastball as being an above-average pitch.

Instead, the problem seems to be with his cutter and curve ball. In 2010, those two offering were Carrasco’s best pitches. This year they’ve both been horrible. Only better results with his slider have helped this year from being even worse than it has been for the 34-year old, as it has a 5.98 runs above average per 100 pitches mark.

Last night Carrasco gave up a homer on his slider.

If you ever wondered what a hanging slider looked like, the following graph should give you a pretty good idea. This image comes courtesy of Dan Brooks’ PitchFX site and I think it’s fair to say that this one caught a little too much of the plate.

Sometimes you get beat and there’s certainly no shame in allowing a HR to Roberts, who has hit 16 homers this year. But the rate at which Carrasco has been getting beat is alarming and it’s enough to ask if he should be on the team next year, even with a guaranteed contract. Carrasco has already been sent to the minors this year, something not expected by anyone in the organization when he signed his free agent contract.

Sandy Alderson has done a very nice job in his first season as GM but one black mark in his book has been the Carrasco signing. It’s easy to look back with 20-20 vision and criticize this move, but few, if any, were complaining when he signed the deal. Relievers pitch limited innings and wacky results can and do happen in the small sample of a single season of a bullpen arm.

But let’s look at Carrasco’s peripherals.

K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 K% BB% GB/FB
2008 6/98 3.26 2.14 0.47 19.0 8.9 1.83
2009 5.98 2.80 2.14 0.48 15.3 7.2 1.43
2010 7.47 3.91 1.91 0.57 19.7 10.3 1.50
2011 5.35 3.41 1.57 1.46 13.9 8.9 1.27
Career 5.78 3.71 1.56 0.79 14.8 9.5 1.71

His strikeouts are down, his K/BB are down and his HR rate is through the roof. That last point gets magnified when we see that Carrasco is allowing more fly balls this season than at any point in his career. Sure, we can say that he’s been unlucky with a 13.6 HR/FB rate, but as last night’s hanging slider implies – maybe it’s not all bad luck.

Before his trip to the minors, Carrasco allowed 19 FB compared to 14 GB. Since his return, those numbers are 25 and 42, respectively. Since he’s done better with getting grounders, let’s see how he’s done since his return versus his career numbers.

K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 GB/FB
Since Return 5.47 2.73 2.00 1.03 1.68
Career 5.78 3.71 1.56 0.79 1.71

The strikeouts are down, but we see his K/BB numbers are better than his career marks and right in line with what he’s done the past three seasons. His GB/FB numbers beat what he’s posted the past two years and are right in line with his lifetime numbers. It all comes down to the gopher balls. And even there he has a 12.0 HR/FB rate since the recall, elevated for Carrasco but not far off from what we would expect.

As frustrating as last night was, Carrasco has essentially been the pitcher we should have expected when he joined the Mets. At least he’s been that guy since his return from the minors. While his overall numbers this year do not look good, lately he has been the pitcher Alderson thought he was signing and there’s no reason at this point to not consider him part of the 2012 bullpen.

Mets Then & Now: Steve Henderson and Angel Pagan

I’ve been a Met fan for as long as I can remember. I could say since 1967, but I was two-years-old and don’t really remember much. I could have been swayed to the Yankees at the time, since when people would ask me who my favorite baseball player was and I would reflexively answer “Mickey Mantle”: he was the only player whose name I knew. But my Dad was a Met fan, so he and 1969 made sure that didn’t take. I’m eternally grateful for that, but that’s one of the great “What ifs?” of my life. In any case, I was for sure a Met fan by the time I got to my first game in 1973.

That’s kind of a long way to go just to say that I’ve seen a lot of men wear the orange-and-blue (and sometimes black). With that in mind, I’m starting a new – at least occasional — series here at the ol’ 360, “Mets Then & Now.” I’ll be looking back at Met teams of yesteryear – the great and the horrid – and comparing and contrasting individuals (mostly) or entire squads (sometimes) with the modern day counterpart, if not equivalent. To me, it’s not always a matter of hard statistics, but also of perception. This is where the fan in me will come out – player A of today reminds me a lot of player B from 1962-2010. This may or may not be backed up by fWAR or OPS+.

Which brings us to the two mentioned in the title.


A quick glimpse of Baseball-Reference.com tells me that these two players are nothing alike statistically. Steve Henderson would hit you more than a few home runs and steal you a couple of bases a year. Angel Pagan will steal you more than a few bases and hit you a couple of home runs a year. Henderson was a so-so defensive left fielder and Pagan is an occasionally brilliant centerfielder. Henderson finished second to future Hall-Of-Famer Andre Dawson for the 1977 Rookie Of The Year award; Pagan appeared on nobody’s ballot his first year.

And yet…

They look and play an awful lot alike to this untrained eye. The will both get a big hit when it’s needed – in Henderson’s case, a legendary one – and they can both make the surprising defensive play. They both have shown a disturbing propensity to lose their respective “baseball instincts” in the field and on the bases at the wrong time, but their overall games could both be considered exciting and entertaining. And, they both represent something to the franchise: the trying present and the promising future. Both players are fine as starters for a team going nowhere and could be valuable spare parts for a contender.

After four years, Henderson was dispatched to Chicago in exchange for the less-than-triumphant return of Dave Kingman, and while that was ultimately unsuccessful in result, the process was a good one. That trade was the first major splash of the Frank Cashen era – the first attempt to win back fans who had defected after the Midnight Massacre, ironically enough the night Steve Henderson arrived.

One can’t help but wonder if Angel Pagan will face a similar end to his Met days as Sandy Alderson upgrades the current squadron with a sensible process as well.

Collins’ performance makes fans forget about Backman

We had a poll on the site earlier this week which asked: “Knowing what we know now, who do you want managing the 2011 Mets?” There were four choices – Wally Backman, Terry Collins, Davey Johnson and Other. I expected that the crowd would have a majority for Collins but I thought Backman would have a strong showing and Johnson would get more than a few votes, too.

Here’s how the results broke down:

Backman – 5%
Collins – 80%
Johnson – 10%
Other – 5%

Now, it should be pointed out that this is not a scientific/random poll and that it is possible to vote more than once. However, it seems unlikely that Collins inspires so much passion in Mets fans that his supporters would feel the need to vote multiple times in a meaningless online poll.

Instead, I just think this is a fairly accurate snapshot of how the fan base feels on this matter. Collins has been better than what we expected, has dealt with numerous injuries and other issues and fans feel like he has played his hand pretty well.

Meanwhile, Backman is managing at Double-A Binghamton and has not exactly torched the league. The B-Mets have a 46-67 record and are in last place in the Eastern Division. The team is not totally devoid of talent, as it has the third-leading hitter in the loop (Josh Satin) and also the 11th (Jordany Valdespin). On the pitching side, Binghamton has Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia, two of the system’s top prospects.

The minors are more than simple wins and losses. Perhaps Backman is doing a fine job teaching players various fundamentals that they will need to succeed at higher levels. It’s very possible that his players have made improvements that will help them get to the majors. I don’t know. But the one thing we do have that we can judge him on, his record, is not impressive at all.

It’s possible that if the B-Mets were performing better that Backman would have more support to be the team’s manager in the majors. But, for whatever reason, the support that Backman had among fans has pretty much evaporated. I don’t think anyone would doubt that if we polled Mets fans after Jerry Manuel was let go, that Backman would have been the favorite.

There were reports back in June that the Marlins were interested in Backman, possibly to be their manager in the 2012 season. Jack McKeon has the job now, but few expect the 80-year old to be the team’s manager next year. The news raised eyebrows, but few Mets fans were bemoaning the possible loss of Backman to a division rival.

Again, I think this speaks volumes about the job that Collins has done. But I also think it speaks loudly about how the Mets handled Backman during the interview process. Sandy Alderson praised Backman the entire way, had him in the process until the very end and once the decision to name Collins was made, Alderson gave Backman the plum assignment of managing the team’s Double-A affiliate.

Considering that Backman was managing in short-season ball in 2010, it was a very nice promotion. He could have promoted him to St. Lucie, which normally would be a nice assignment for a guy from rookie ball, but that would have left him piloting the affiliate the furthest away from New York and the one that draws the fewest people to the ball park. Instead, Alderson gave him a much more high-profile gig.

If Backman did well in Double-A, Alderson could promote him to Triple-A for 2012 and have him ready to take over for Collins in 2013. And if Backman did anything to embarrass himself or the organization – well let’s just say there’s a few miles, literally and figuratively, between NYC and Binghamton.

Instead, Backman is in the middle. He hasn’t set the world on fire at Double-A, but he hasn’t burned any bridges, either. He could still be in line for a promotion and still be the front-runner to one day replace Collins.

It’s just that now, Alderson holds all of the power and he will promote Backman to manager on his timetable, not that of the former star of the 1986 World Series team or that of the fans who initially longed for him to get the job.