Oct 06

Warthen survives coaching staff purge.

Since you can’t change all the players, you might as well change the coaching staff.

WARTHEN: The answer?


The Mets made a big deal of saying this year they’ve changed the culture of the franchise, but shouldn’t some of that credit go to the coaching staff?

If things were so improved, then how come only two coaches are staying on?

Only pitching coach Dan Warthen and hitting coach Dave Hudgens will remain in their current roles for 2012. Rising star Chip Hale, bench coach Ken Oberkfell, first base coach Mookie Wilson and bullpen coach Jon Debus are gone.

Stunning actually, considering how this team’s attitude had supposedly changed. Then again, did it really after watching Jose Reyes take his bow and leave?

Triple-A manager Tim Tueful is now the third base coach and his pitching coach at Buffalo, Ricky Bones, takes over as bullpen coach.

They’ll fill the bench coach and first base coach positions in the next few weeks. Wally Backman is not being considered for a major league job, but instead will take over for Teuful at Buffalo.

The Mets raved about Hale, so it makes you wonder why he didn’t get the bench job. Or, why he felt the need to leave.

The speculated answer as to the departures was a chemistry issue with Terry Collins. Hale was invited to stay in another capacity, but bolted for the bench job in Oakland. He obviously didn’t see a future here, or a co-existence with Collins.

Oberkfell, who managed on the Triple-A level for six years with the Mets, was not invited to stay. Sandy Alderson gave a song-and-dance about doing a nice job but needing somebody with a “different set of experiences,’’ clearly GM speak for a clash in personalities.

The only surprise is Warthen, who presided over one of the worst staffs and rotations in the majors. Perhaps he got a pass because of the injuries to Johan Santana and Jon Niese, and helped make Chris Capuano a positive reclamation project, but pitching is clearly an issue with this team.

Mike Pelfrey regressed tremendously and the Mets used 16 different relievers in the pen, few of them consistently effective. Bobby Parnell, whom the club envisions as its closer, has definite shortcomings. There isn’t a starter without a significant question next to his name.

Only one starter, Dillon Gee, had a winning record, and only R.A. Dickey had a sub-4.00 ERA among the starters. The staff walked 514 hitters this year, down from 545 the previous season. The Mets ranked ninth worst this season as opposed to seventh in 201o, so we’re not talking that great of an improvement.

Without question, pitching is the Mets’ main priority, and I wonder, with no influx of talent expected from the trade and free-agent markets, what makes Alderson think Warthen has the answers now after not having them since taking over for Rick Peterson in 2008?

Oct 05

My Question To Mets VP Dave Howard

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of participating in a conference call with Mets Executive Vice President of Business Operations, Dave Howard. I was joined by Matt Cerrone, Ed Marcus, Shannon Shark and other notable Mets bloggers. There’s a link to the entire transcript at the end of this post.

I knew going in that the call was basically to discuss the new dynamic pricing the Mets announced on Tuesday as well as the new rescaled ticket pricing which you can read about here. But my bigger concern was not so much about the lower ticket prices and all the perks for season ticket holders, as it was about getting attendance up again by putting a better product on the field.

I know that this concept is lost on many, but consumers in any industry want value for their dollars, especially their discretionary and entertainment dollars. All baseball fans, particularly in this market – the grandest and most storied of them all, want to see a competitive product. At minimum, you want a better than 50/50 chance that you will see the team win that day – in other words a better than .500 club. That’s the minimum most fans will accept.

I used to manage a big box store in New York that had 12 million dollars in annual sales, but was bleeding cash badly. When I accepted the transfer to the store, after a few weeks I gave our front office my overall assessment and action plan for making one of the top stores in gross sales in our region profitable again. Most of them were shocked when my top recommendation was to increase payroll 15%. I explained that we needed to have people on the floor offering better customer service and that their increased presence on the sales floor would have the cumulative benefit of increasing security and reducing shoplifting, which I concluded was very high based on previous years inventory shrinks. I was willing to risk my career that this strategy of increasing payroll would not fail and I emphasized to them not to look at it as simply escalating our already high expenses, but as making a very smart investment in one of the company’s most valuable assets. In one year the store was number one in the region in net profit and I was off to fix another problem store in New Jersey the following January, along with a fat bonus envelope and a 15% raise.

That same principle could be applied to the Mets. Yes, the Mets had an extraordinarily high payroll going into this season, that much is certain, but it might have been more prudent to spend a little more to make the team more competitive and thereby keeping the fans engaged for a full season instead of a half season. And of course, the season-long fan interest would have led to higher revenues and increased profit margins… And maybe lucking into a Wild Card… That was the basis for my question.

Joe D: My question is, last offseason you rolled out Amazin’ Mets Perks as an incentive to increase ticket sales only to see attendance drop a reported 8% from 2010.

I’m of the belief that the longer a team stays in contention, the more the fans will continue go to the park, support the team and buy tickets.

I would imagine that these new reduced ticket prices, the Amazin’ Perks programs, and all the free tickets that were given away this season cost the organization a very significant amount of money.

In the grand scheme of things, might it have been better to simply invest an additional five-to-ten million in improving the roster so that we could’ve kept the season more relevant through September? Wouldn’t it have been more beneficial, and maybe profitable, to spend just a few more million at the front end in exchange for tens of millions more at the back end, even with the high payroll?

Dave Howard: Obviously, you can’t predict what’s going to happen before the season begins. Things played out as they did, Injuries played a significant role as well. If you looked how well Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy were performing, in particular, before their season-ending injuries. That’s something you can’t predict.

With regard to what we have done from a promotional standpoint, the Amazin’ Mets Perks program was intended to bring added value and benefits to our season ticket holders because they are so critical to the success of our business. We wanted to treat them sort of like we treat our major corporate sponsors, in a very special way, give them exclusive access, exclusive benefits. There was some cost there. I wouldn’t say the cost is extraordinary. The primary benefit of that program is, number one, to provide incentive to renew season tickets. That was effective, because we renewed last year at over 85%, which was a very good renewal given the performance of the team. From that standpoint, that was successful.

Obviously our payroll was high last year, at about $145 million. The value wasn’t there – we did have two players who were released in spring training in Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, we had Johan on the disabled list all year, so we didn’t get the full benefit of that high payroll. Again, I don’t think anyone can criticize our ownership for not supporting a high payroll. Perhaps you can criticize us for not spending the money wisely.

That’s where I’m very optimistic that Sandy Alderson and his team will be doing that much more effectively as we move forward. I think we have to balance everything and it’s very important for us to treat our fans, season ticket holders, and sponsors in a first-class way on the business side, and obviously baseball operations is charged with elevating the value of the team and getting appropriate value out of the money that we are spending on players.

* * * * * * *

I’m not sure that Mr. Howard grasped the totality of my point, but he did bring up some valuable points in his response and I thank him for the opportunity to engage him. Maybe someday we can both talk again so we can establish a clearer understanding of what I was trying to convey. By no means would I ever criticize the organization for not supporting a high payroll, in fact we may have the highest in the league if you tallied up the last ten years. His point on spending all that money more wisely is valid and of utmost importance, and may have avoided this quagmire we now find ourselves in.

Thanks to the guys at Amazin Avenue for transcribing the whole conference call which you can read here.

Oct 05

Mets gambling on dynamic pricing.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and that’s what the Mets are doing with their 2012 ticket plans.

Attendance was down for a third straight season in 2011, the fifth straight year they didn’t reach the playoffs.

With the team in a financially precarious situation, they have no alternative is this stressful economy but to lower costs of season tickets and single-game tickets.


The majority of Season Ticket Holders will pay less for their seats in 2012:

• 80% of seats will have a reduction of approximately 5% or greater

• 57% of seats will have a reduction of 10% or greater

• 35% will have a cut of 20% or more

• 18% will have a drop of 30% or more

• More than 15,000 seats will cost less than $25 per game.

The Mets are also offering incentives to those who renew by Nov. 7, which will probably be well before a decision is reached on Jose Reyes. Some of those incentives include price reductions in other seating categories and allow them to upgrade at no cost.

For the individual and not the cooperated entity, the team will introduce a limited number of full-season tickets at $12 a game.

For the economists in the bunch, the Mets will also introduce single-game tickets that will adjust in cost. If the Phillies are in and the demand is high, the price will drop. If it is the Nationals and both teams are out of it in September, the cost will dropt.

To protect its full-season ticket holders, the price would not drop below the full-season rates.

With attendance dropping and not wanting to compete with the secondary market, this his think-out-side-the-box for a franchise in need of a spark.


Oct 04

Quit the charade and say good-bye to Reyes.

If the Mets are to become the team hoped for them, general manager Sandy Alderson has some tough decisions to make in the coming months and years, and it begins with Jose Reyes.

REYES: Let him slide on out of here.

And, that decision is to say good-bye to Reyes now and quit the charade.

If history is an indicator this process will get drawn out by Reyes and his agents to drive up the bidding price the Mets already know they won’t meet.

The Mets know what their price is – Alderson calls it “our choking point,’’ – and it is no where the money offered Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, players who wilted this summer under the weight of their wallets.

Unless they are counting on a hometown discount from Reyes – which won’t happen – the Mets already know their shortstop is gone. For public relations purposes Alderson won’t say so, at least not before the Mets’ exclusive negotiating window opens five days after the World Series.

But, we know it is true and Alderson is posturing. We know the Mets will offer a credible offer in comparison to Reyes’ past performance, injury history and prospect he’ll break down long before his contract expires.

We also know Reyes is in it for the money and about himself – his self-serving act of backing out of the batting race at .337 tells you what you need to know – and he will jump at somebody else’s through-the-roof offer.

San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia (assuming Jimmy Rollins leaves) will be in need of a shortstop and have the money. San Francisco and Boston, particularly, are desperate to make splashes after their disappointing seasons.

The Mets won’t compete financially with them, and can’t compete with them as far as immediate postseason prospects are concerned.

The way Reyes left the season finale was reminiscent of how LeBron James stripped off his Cleveland Cavaliers’ jersey before getting into the locker room. James was gone and the free-agent process was for show. It’s the same with Reyes and the Mets should make a take-it-or-leave-it proposal with a deadline and move on.

They don’t need to dance with Reyes; don’t need to let him hold all the cards.

Reyes can be a dynamic player when he wants to be, which he was at times during his walk year. No surprise there, is it?

Even so, Reyes missed 36 games with two stints on the disabled list. He hasn’t played a full season in the last three. In nine seasons, he’s played in at least 150 games just four times.

Reyes is a speed player, yet hasn’t stolen 50 bases in three years. He barely made an attempt when he came off the DL, and that was to stay healthy for the market. His career on-base percentage is .341, mediocre at best for a leadoff hitter with his projected production. He still strikes out more than he should, walks less than the prolific leadoff hitters, gives away too many at-bats and has lapses in the field and on the bases.

Reyes has always been more about potential than production, and you have to wonder if this year was all about the contract and he’ll regress again after he gets what he wants. Based on his history, it isn’t hard to project he’ll break down during this next contract, whether it be seven, six or five years, all which have been speculated and are all too excessive.

He should get no more than $85 million over four years, which will be denied. The Mets already have $55 million in salary commitments in 2012 to Johan Santana, David Wright and Jason Bay. Add $20 million for Reyes and you have $75 million of the Mets’ projected budget of $110 million tied into four players.

Never mind winning, you can’t compete with such an unbalanced payroll.

For all those Reyes apologists out there that say the Mets will be nothing without him, ask yourself where they are now. What have the Mets won with Reyes?

The Mets are five years removed from their last playoff appearance. They are a sub-.500 team over the last three seasons and have been below .500 in five of Reyes’ nine years with the team. Sure, he’s been injured much of those five years, but that’s not an argument for him as much as it is one that he’ll break down again.

Alderson does have some tough decisions to make, but come to think of it, keeping Reyes isn’t one of them.

It is time to say good-bye. Time to quit fooling around and start rebuilding this team for good.

Oct 03

Immediate Mets’ issues

There’s a sentiment the Mets over achieved this year, but that is more a case of lessened expectations. While their desired off-season budget will preclude much activity toward improvement, that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues needing to be addressed:

DECIDE ON JOSE REYES: Actually, they already have, but aren’t ready to reveal the numbers. For public relations purposes, the Mets don’t want to appear to be pushing Reyes out the door, but it is clear he is the first domino and every thing they do revolves around him. What the Mets can’t afford to do is get strung out dealing with Reyes ultimately to have him go elsewhere and have their other options get snapped up. From the direction they take on Reyes you’ll ascertain where the Mets are immediately headed. Should they determine they can live without Reyes – or need to live without him – they will be saying there’s considerably more rebuilding to be done. Bringing him back says they believe they are ready to compete, but it makes no sense to do so if they aren’t willing to spend in other areas.

THE COACHING STAFF: With manager Terry Collins’ contract extended, there’s the matter of his staff. Once again, pitching coach Dan Warthen’s future is suspect. Last year, Mike Pelfrey lobbied hard to retain Warthen, but considering his anemic performance, he won’t carry much weight this time around.

ADD TO THE ROTATION: Pelfrey regressed and surprise Dillon Gee was the only starter with a record over .500; four of the five had ERA’s of 4.40 or higher; and the staff had a composite 1.378 WHIP.  Jonathan Niese and Johan Santana have injury issues, and since there are no assurances, the Mets have little alternative but to bring back Pelfrey and Chris Capuano. There are some good names on the free agent market, notably C.J. Wilson, Rich Harden and Mark Buehrle, but they aren’t going to spend much, especially if they bring back Reyes. The Mets will likely fish from the pool where guys like Joel Pineiro, Jason Marquis and Freddy Garcia swim.

FIX THE BULLPEN: The Mets used 16 arms this summer and enter the offseason with a zero reliability factor in the pen. They’d like to see Bobby Parnell win the closer job, but he allowed 89 base runners in 59.1 innings pitched. That he strikes out over one batter an inning means he has the stuff, but his command of it is erratic.

ANGEL PAGAN: Pagan took a step back, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Mets don’t tender him a contract.  There are decent stopgap options in the outfield, such as Rick Ankiel, Nate McLouth and Ryan Ludwick, but again, I don’t see the Mets going in that direction. It would be good if they could plug in Fernando Martinez, but his injury history makes him unreliable.

SECOND BASE: Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips is the best available, but wants a lot and the Mets won’t  go there, especially if they bring back Reyes, because what would they do with Ruben Tejada? If Reyes goes, they could go with Tejada and Justin Turner as their double play combination.

If you’re getting the impression most of the Mets off-season tinkering will come from within and be of the middle-tier cost variety, you’re right. Sandy Alderson is already on record saying he sees a budget of around $110 million, which is $30 million less than this summer.

Figure with much of that $30 million differential was in the person of Oliver Perez, Carlos Beltran and Luis Castillo, then it isn’t hard to reason next summer won’t be much different than this one.