Oct 12

Thoughts On A-Rod, Washington Nationals And Playoffs

This has been a compelling postseason and it is getting more intriguing with each day. At the start of the season I projected the Giants and Yankees to meet in the World Series, and that’s still in play.

The Yankees’ showing makes them hard to figure out, but one thing is for certain, and that’s things will never be the same for Alex Rodriguez and how he’ll respond to being benched for this afternoon’s game is anybody’s guess what it will do to that clubhouse over the next five years.

Rodriguez played the good soldier when Raul Ibanez pinch-hit for him and ended up homering – twice. He was the same last night when Eric Chavez batted for him. Both had to be blows to his fragile confidence and pride, but being benched is another animal.

Joe Girardi’s actions have stripped Rodriguez of his emotional armor in a far worse way than Joe Torre dropping in the batting order several years ago. Back then, Rodriguez was still a dominating player, but one going through a slump. Torre also had cache in managing four World Series champions.

However, Rodriguez, through the aging process, injuries and it has been suggested the residual effect of his admitted steroid use, is simply not the same player anymore. Whether is year is an aberration remains to be seen, but remember he’s 38 and what player gets better and more productive as he gets older. Other than, of course, one of baseball’s greatest cheaters, Barry Bonds?

And, the beauty of all this is the Yankees have him for five more years, in which they’ll pay him in excess of $100 million. It’s hindsight now, but they should have let him walk when they had the chance. Odds are there were no teams that would have given him Yankee money, but late owner George Steinbrenner ended up bidding against himself. With an increased luxury tax coming, the Yankees will be forced to reduce payroll and they might have a completely different look, and maybe one no so dominant.

If Rodriguez is indeed on the decline as it appears, having him get all that money for not producing will undoubtedly cause a strain among the players. How can it not?

However, Rodriguez was greedy and wanted every last time and the Yankees were smug and arrogant in their free-spending ways. They both got what they deserve.

Another impression about the postseason is the arrogance of the Washington Nationals. I like Davey Johnson, always have, but their GM Mike Rizzo is annoying. I couldn’t agree more with my colleague Joe DeCaro’s post this morning on Rizzo’s decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg. It was beyond arrogance for Rizzo to suggest the Nationals would be back many times to the postseason.

I covered the Orioles for ten years and I remember what Cal Ripken once told me. He appeared the 1983 World Series, and afterward said he thought he’d get back every year. Ripken didn’t play in another postseason game until 1996, a mere 13 years later. There is no guarantees in sports. The Nationals might never get here again during Strasburg’s career, regardless of how good it evolves. Then again, Strasburg has already had an arm injury. What if he has another and his career is cut short?

Above all, I have to wonder about the feelings among Strasburg’s teammates toward management. The pitcher is on record saying he wanted to pitch, so they can’t hold that against him. But, management is sending a bad message to the players. What if they never get here again? How will they feel about Rizzo’s decision?

Meanwhile, the Giants are an interesting story. As they were two years ago, they are pitching reliant. They got by Cincinnati without Tim Lincecum in the rotation, but they won’t be able to get away with that in the NLCS. Lincecum pitched brilliantly in relief, looking like his old self. This is a very good team that is flying under the radar.

Also in that position are the St. Louis Cardinals – they know what to do in October – and Detroit Tigers. The Cardinals could have the chance to defend their title without Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols, something few thought would be possible. The Tigers, meanwhile, have the game’s premier pitcher in Justin Verlander and one-two punch in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.

Cardinals vs. Tigers in a rematch? That wouldn’t be bad, either.

 

Oct 12

I Hope The Nationals Go Down In Flames For Shutting Down Strasburg

We never got a chance to discuss the pros and cons of the Washington Nationals shutting down their ace Stephen Strasburg who they opted not to include on their post season roster. It was a bold move to say the least by Nats GM Mike Rizzo, but was it the right call?

Bob Nightengale of USA Today asked some rival GM’s what their thoughts were, and not only did all of them call it a bad move, but there was a lot of resentment and anger in what they had to say.

After yesterday’s embarrassing 8-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Nats find themselves on the brink of elimination and trail 2-1 in the National League Division Series. But there was no pity for them from rival GM’s who all say the Nationals got what they deserve.

“If we don’t win the World Series, I don’t care who does,” one general manager told USA TODAY Sports, “as long as it’s not those guys.

“They don’t deserve to win it. Not after what they did.”

Said a National League GM: “I hope they go down in flames. I hope it takes another 79 years before they get back to the playoffs. That’s how strongly I feel about it.”

Wow, I guess people are willing to say anything as long as it’s done anonymously, I’d love to know who these GM’s were?

Better yet, I wonder how sandy Alderson would play this if he were in the same situation…

Lets assume “Hell Freezes Over”, “Pigs Fly”, and “Bears Didn’t Shit In The Woods”. Lets assume the Mets clinched a wild card spot next season. Lets further assume Alderson shut’s down an utterly dominating Zack Wheeler who was 17-2 with a 1.76 ERA  because he reached his innings limit. Would you be okay with that?

What really pissed other GM’s off was when Rizzo said no matter what happens, “We’ll be back, we’ll be doing this a couple more times.”

Nightengale said it was the quote “heard round the baseball world”, with general managers and executives making sure everyone saw it.

Who do they think they are, the Yankees? Are the Philadelphia Phillies going to defect from the NL East? Are the Atlanta Braves retiring with Chipper Jones?

What if the Nationals don’t get back during Strasburg’s stay in Washington? What if this is their best chance to ever get to the Series? How do you live with that?

We haven’t heard the last of this as Nightengale also warns that Nationals players, particularly veterans, have grumbled and might sound off more once they depart.

As for my thoughts on all of this?

I’m with that general manager who hopes they go down in flames. I hope they don’t see the post season for the rest of this century and that their drought will forever be known as “The Strasburg Curse”. I have very little tolerance for any general manager who takes competing, winning,  and especially the post season for granted. That’s why I’m always keeping both eyes on Alderson. Until he starts using words like “wild card”, “world series”, and “championships” as part of his regular vocabulary. Those are the only words that will grab my attention.

Oct 11

What Should Mets Learn From Playoff Teams?

So far, this has been a compelling playoffs with the possibility of all four series going to a deciding fifth game. Major League Baseball is thrilled, and hopefully this trend will continue in the League Championship Series and World Series.

That’s what baseball should be about.

Hopefully, the Mets are taking notes. Four of the teams in the playoffs – Oakland, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Washington – have payrolls less than the $100 million the Mets shelled out this year for the joy of finishing 14 games below .500.

Here’s what the playoff teams have that the Mets lack:

1) Pitching: Both starting and bullpen are vital to winning. Always has been, always will be. That’s why I get frustrated when I hear complaints about the Mets’ lack of power. Home runs are the great eraser and the Yankees proved that last night. But, they were in position to win because of pitching. Three games against the Orioles and their starters reached the eighth inning each time. Unheard of. All of the teams have solid pitching and a good bullpen. As I wrote earlier today, Baltimore’s Darren O’Day is making $1.35 million this year, so it can be done inexpensively. However, that requires an aggressive front office and superior scouting, two areas where the Mets need improvement.

2) Strong minor league base: It would be foolish to say each of these teams were built solely on their farm system. Detroit and the Yankees all acquired significant talent from the outside, but there is core home grown talent from all. Just look at Matt Wieters, Joey Votto, Matt Cain and Bryce Harper. I would have mentioned Stephen Strasburg, but the Nationals pulled him from the playoffs. It could bite them in the butt, and what if the Nationals never get back here? It is possible. That is why it was encouraging this summer when several times the Mets fielded a full home grown-lineup and why I am opposed conceptually to trading Ike Davis. The Mets have a home product who hit 32 homers this year. Those don’t come along often, and rarely for the Mets. Davis is a start, along with Jon Niese, Matt Harvey and Ruben Tejada, not to mention David Wright. Bolstering the farm system and improving the scouting are essential for long-term growth. Free-agent signings should be to complement what’s already there.

3) Strong catching: Wieters is clearly the catcher with the most upside in the group. Regardless of how Russell Martin has played in October, the idea of pursuing him is outlandish and it was a ridiculous idea in the first place. Obviously, a slow news day. Martin is too old and too expensive for a rebuilding team, and let’s not kid ourselves, that defines the Mets. I was initially optimistic about Josh Thole, but those feelings have waned. He’s not hit for average or power and his defense has regressed. And, let’s not blame R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball for it. Catching is an issue, but I don’t believe it is as high on the Mets’ priority list as adding outfielders and relievers.

4) Timely hitting: It doesn’t get more timely than what Raul Ibanez did last night. The Mets were clutch in the first half, but their hitting with runners in scoring position disappeared in the second half. It all fell on Wright after the All-Star break and he couldn’t handle the strain. Each of these teams has an offensive core, hitters that concern an opposing manager. After Wright, and at times Davis, who is frightening in the Mets’ lineup. Scott Hairston had a good season coming off the bench, as Ibanez did, but after hitting 20 homers for the first time he might be too expensive to bring back.

5) Home field advantage: So far, it hasn’t helped San Francisco and Cincinnati, but nonetheless each of the teams in the postseason had a winning record at home. The Mets can’t ever be a serious contender until they learn to use Citi Field as an advantage. I understand the Catch-22, that part of that advantage is having people in the stands. The Mets need to improve the first four before this will take root. When Citi Field opened the Mets were vocal in saying they would build around pitching and defense, so naturally the first thing they did was sign Jason Bay. That’s the final lesson I hope the Mets learn …

6) Have a plan: Where are the Mets headed? If they don’t bring back Wright and Dickey, then it is back to square one. The team is operating as if they have no money and that’s a discouraging sign. GM Sandy Alderson said the team had the resources to add at the trade deadline, but waited until the team had fallen out of contention before deciding it was too late. On one hand, the Mets are singing the praises of their young pitching, but on the other it is exploring trading Davis, and could not bring back Wright or Dickey. What gives?

 

 

Oct 11

Former Mets Shining In Playoffs; Beltran, Pagan and O’Day Playing Well

The Mets’ fear in releasing Jason Bay is he would suddenly find it somewhere else. They had the same trepidation with Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo.

Watching these playoffs, it is easy to see their thinking, but that doesn’t mean it is justified.

Outfielders Carlos Beltran and Angel Pagan, and reliever Darren O’Day all distinguished themselves yesterday, and wouldn’t you know it, those are all holes for the Mets.

Angel Pagan had a huge day in the leadoff slot – another Mets’ hole – with two hits, two walks, two runs and two RBI in three at-bats. The homer was to lead off the game to get the Giants rolling so could live another day.

I don’t know what the Giants’ plans are for Pagan, but he certainly played better for them than Andres Torres did for the Mets. Pagan was an inconsistent player here and often let his concentration wander on the bases and on defense. Maybe he wasn’t ready, but he was definitely old enough where he shouldn’t have been making rookie mistakes. Perhaps the Mets weren’t patient with him.

I hoped it would work out when the Mets moved him to center and shifted Beltran to right, but Pagan never took the way he did the preceding year when he played when Beltran was injured.

Beltran, who homered twice in Game 2, had two more hits yesterday as the Cardinals took a 2-1 games lead over Washington. Beltran, who shines in the postseason, is hitting .417 in the series. And this, is after coming off a superb season.

Belran was injured at the end of his stay with the Mets, but when healthy produced. He moved without a hitch to right field and he played hurt. What else could the Mets want from him? Oh yeah, they wanted him to do it for half the price.

The Mets paved the way for Beltran’s exit with the flap over his knee surgery. After that, there was no way he was staying. Especially considering their financial situation.

O’Day appeared in four games for the 2009 Mets, but was released when they couldn’t find a spot for him on the roster. Mike Pelfrey was ailing at the time, but balked at going on the disabled list. He couldn’t make a start and the Mets had to bring somebody up to replace him  for a turn. That meant somebody had to go and it was O’Day.

Rather than exerting his authority and judgment, Omar Minaya gave in to Pelfrey and it cost the Mets. O’Day was quickly signed by Texas and became a bullpen stalwart that season and he was terrific for the Orioles this season with a 7-1 record, 2.28 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. Plus, he only made $1.35 million this year.

O’Day put the Yankees down in order last night.

Wouldn’t you know it? The game was decided by Raul Ibanez’s two homers. Ibanez was a player the Mets wouldn’t consider after he left Philadelphia. An outfield plug and power bat off the bench? Nah, that wouldn’t fit in Citi Field.

There are plenty of others with ties to the Mets this October, including Endy Chavez – did I mention the Mets need outfield help? – and coach Chip Hale and manager Bob Melvin in Oakland, and, of course, Davey Johnson in Washington.

There’s always an explanation for why somebody doesn’t work out for a team, and Beltran, Pagan and O’Day all left for different reasons.

But, were they good reasons?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oct 10

Top 10 Disappointments From The Mets 2012 Season

On Monday, me and John Delcos brought you the Top 10 Positives from the Mets 2012 season, and as promised here are our Top 10 Disappointments from the 2012 season in no particular order…

Doing Nothing At Trade Deadline

Kevin Burkhardt said the players looked at the front office’s inaction at the trade deadline as a “kick in the teeth”. The team had begun to slide after losing their closer, their ace and a very effective Dillon Gee as they headed into the break. Up until deadline day, including the day before, Alderson kept telling the media that the Mets were buyers although nothing was done in June or July. On the day of the deadline, Alderson showed up to Citi Field with Jersey Shore’s Snooki. While Snooki took pictures with the players at one end of the dugout before the game, Sandy Alderson was at the other end announcing that the Mets were not buyers because of their poor recent performance. “How can I justify being a buyer in light of how poorly this team is playing?” When reporters quickly caught up with Terry Collins and told him the news, his response was “You’re kidding me right?” – Joe D.

The Poison Bullpen

After spending nearly all of their available resources and making the bullpen their number one priority last Winter, the results are in and the much ballyhooed bullpen overhaul proved to be a colossal failure. The Mets’ pen ranked last in the majors in just about every statistical measure, and their 4.75 ERA was the worst mark in the last two decades for the Mets. The sad part is that the biggest failure, Frank Francisco, will be back at a cost of $6.5 million in 2013. That’s a lot of cash for a team that will only have about $5 million to spend after raises this offseason. – Joe D.

Losing Back-to-Back Series to the Cubs

On June 3, Jon Niese beat the Cardinals to lift the Mets to a season-high eight games over .500. With the Mets playing well and a growing sense of optimism, the Mets couldn’t build on that and at the end of the first half lost consecutive series to the Cubs. To be a contender, a team must beat up on the weak, and that’s the Cubs. Instead of closing the first half on an up note, the Mets lost two of three at home to Chicago in the first-half finale and closed with a sour taste. They would never recover, and lost 11 of 12 coming out of the break and the season was over. – John D.

Excruciating Loss To The Nationals

There was no shortage of disappointing losses this summer, the most gut-wrenching coming July 17 at Washington, 5-4, in 10 innings. Down 2-0 entering the eight, the Mets took the lead on Jordany Valdespin’s three-run pinch homer only to see Bobby Parnell cough up the lead in the bottom of the inning. The Mets regained the lead, 4-3 in the tenth, but Bryce Harper tied it with a triple off Tim Byrdak and scored the game-winning run on Pedro Beato’s wild pitch. Only the Mets. – John D.

The Rotation Disintegrates

The rotation was loaded with questions going into the season, but they quickly lost Mike Pelfrey, who was having a good start reminiscent of how he pitched in 2010. Then Dillon Gee complained of numbness and artery damage was discovered in his shoulder. Finally, Johan Santana went on the DL in July with a sprained ankle, and finally was shut down in late August with a back injury. If not for R.A. Dickey’s remarkable season and Niese taking a step, they would have finished 20-plus games under .500. – John D.

Did They Quit On Terry Collins?

The players denied they quit on manager Terry Collins, but the mere fact he alluded to it gave us that perception. And, perception has a way of becoming reality. There was a disturbing lack of fundamentals in the second half, too many wasted at-bats and absolutely no clutch hitting. The starting pitching, bolstered by innings from Matt Harvey and Chris Young, didn’t pitch poorly, but the bullpen was atrocious. Quit is a strong word, but they couldn’t have played worse if they tried. – John D.

Jason Bay Continues His Slide

In his three seasons with the Mets, Jason Bay has hit 26 homers with 124 RBI. The Mets were hoping he’d average that when they signed him to a four-year, $66-million contract. This year he hit .165 with eight homers, 20 RBI. Miguel Cabrera had months like that this summer. He also contributed a .237 on-base percentage and a .299 slugging percentage. Next season will be Bay’s last with the Mets. Even if he were to have a monster year, the Mets will say good-bye. – John D.

Duda Takes Giant Step Backwards

Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins can continue to rave about Lucas Duda all they want, but the truth is that nobody regressed more in 2012 than Duda. As he enters next season at 27, he has a lot to prove after falling from a slash of .292/.370/.492 in 2011 to a slash of .239/.329/.339 this season. He struck out in more than 25% of his at-bats and as Keith Hernandez pointed out several times in September, Duda had not changed his stance or approach at the plate one bit after he returned from a stint in the minors. But Duda is very cheap and under team control for five more years and the Mets have no other options, so the praise for Duda will continue, but it’s best that you temper your expectations and not buy into the hype. – Joe D.

Outfield Of Screams

Everyone including me loves to rail against the obscene lack of production from the bullpen this season, but leave some of your outrage for the Mets outfield – who accounted for the most woeful production in the majors. Jason Bay (.165 AVG), Andres Torres (.230 AVG) and Lucas Duda (.239 AVG) combined for a .280 On-Base and a .649 OPS. Scott Hairston kept things from being even worse, but with a 2-3 year deal in his future at considerably more money, nobody expects that he will be back. This was one of the worst outfields the Mets have put on the field in over a generation. There’s no help on the way from the minors unless you’re interested in watching some K-New and V-Spin reruns. – Joe D.

Catch The Fever?

Another area of concern is behind the plate where starting catcher Josh Thole was expected to have a breakthrough season after a somewhat sold season in 2011. It never happened and what’s worse, Thole regressed so badly that it may have cost him his job and possibly even a spot on the roster. Mets catchers as a whole ranked in the bottom two in every defensive measure, but hardly made up for it with their bats. Thole batted .234, Mike Nickeas batted .174 until they finally shipped him back to the minors, and newcomer Kelly Shoppach was hardly an improvement batting .203 and striking out in an incredible one-third of his at-bats. – Joe D.

Did we miss anything? I think we pretty much covered the entire gamut.

Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta, J.P. Ricciardi and Terry Collins are led by Fred and Jeff Wilpon as they board the Bat Copter, destination unknown.