Oct 31

Four Items On Van Wagenen’s Plate

New general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said there are 11 parts to his plans to remaking the Mets. He wouldn’t elaborate what they were, but it is believed he touched on one when he said he wanted Mickey Callaway to return as manager.

I’m speculating the following four are on his list:

Increase the Payroll: They should come in no higher than $160 million. Given the money they’ll save with David Wright’s retirement ($15 million for this summer) and what insurance will pick up with Yoenis Cespedes not likely to return before July, offset by raises earmarked for Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, and Brandon Nimmo and what the Mets might do in upgrading their bullpen, don’t expect them to splurge on free agents Manny Machado or Bryce Harper.

The Mets are expected to bring back second baseman Jeff McNeil to a raise and need to bring in a center fielder, a catcher and perhaps a first baseman, not to mention a significant reliever. Whether that reliever is top shelf or middle tier, it will cost.

Keep the Rotation Intact: The Mets entertained trading all of their starters last season, and are expected to keep them all this winter. DeGrom and Syndergaard will get hefty raises. Since they aren’t anticipated to do a bullpen game for the fifth slot, they’ll need a fifth starter. Is it Seth Lugo, Jason Vargas or Robert Gsellman, or somebody from the minors?

Van Wagenen will confer with Callaway, John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi this week to get a handle on the rotation. The rotation is potentially the team’s strength and the first four must be kept, but it will increase payroll.

Improving the Lineup: Don’t expect the Mets to dive deep into the free-agent or trade markets despite the optimism Van Wagenen and COO Jeff Wilpon portrayed. The Mets must upgrade at catcher and I don’t see them tendering a contract to Travis d’Arnaud. First base is a concern and decisions must be made on Peter Alonso or Dominic Smith, or will Van Wagenen fool around with Jay Bruce, Wilmer Flores or Todd Frazier? If the Mets are serious about winning now they must improve catcher and first base. They could have traded for Paul Goldschmidt from Arizona, but that boat sailed when they picked up his option yesterday. The radio call-in shows in New York were filled with callers chiming for Machado, but that would be a horrible mistake.

I was against signing Cespedes because the money would have been better spent on filling the numerous holes the Mets have and still do. Considering Machado is reportedly due twice as much as Cespedes, think of all the improvements the Mets could make.

Upgrade the Bullpen: Craig Kimbrel, Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Joe Kelly are the most enticing names in the market. Of course, all will want long-term, expensive contracts. Former GM Sandy Alderson failed to build a bullpen and consistently used the scrap-heap approach. Van Wagenen has to sign a name reliever, and that discounts the possibility of a reunion with Jeurys Familia. Rookies Tyler Bashlor and Drew Smith, and Lugo or Gsellman all pitched well last season at times.

They need to sign one of the four because they desperately need a closer. Bringing back Familia would be a step back. The Mets have plenty of inexperienced hard-throwing relievers, who didn’t distinguish themselves last summer. They have a half-dozen hard-throwers but need at least two or three to show something during spring training.

These four items say the Mets aren’t ready to win now. And, there are at least seven more issues to go.

 

Oct 30

Van Wagenen And Wilpon Gloss Over Conflict Of Interest Issue

Both former-agent and new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen and Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon glossed over the conflict-of-interest issue at today’s Citi Field press conference.

As a player agent for Creative Artists Agency, Van Wageman’s responsibility was to negotiate the most lucrative contract for his clients. As the 13th general manager in Mets’ history, his responsibility is to build a team, which isn’t always in the best interests of the players he’s worked for over the past 18 years.

It was one of the first questions asked this afternoon, and before Van Wagenen could answer, Wilpon interrupted and claimed he spoke with the Commissioner’s Office and Major League Players Association chief Tony Clark and said, ”we have provisions in Brodie’s contract to deal with any conflicts of interest.”

What those provisions are, neither Wilpon nor Van Wagenen would say. Van Wagenen, who, as expected, appeared polished and highly professional, said: ”The goals between players and management are more in line than people think.”

How so, Van Wagenen wouldn’t elaborate, leading to speculation there’s still believed to be a cobra-mongoose relationship between the two sides.

This summer, Van Wagenen said the Mets should sign his top client Jacob deGrom to a long-term extension and reiterated that today: “I believe Jacob deGrom is an incredible talent and I hope to keep him for a long time.”

As deGrom’s agent, the pitcher undoubtedly shared highly confidential information with his agent, such as how long he plans to say; what he would sign for; his problems with management and manager Mickey Callaway; issues with his teammates; and issues with playing in New York, all which the player wouldn’t want Mets management and ownership to know.

However, Van Wagenen is now part of Mets’ management, and since he can’t un-hear something, what will he do now?

Oct 16

Mets’ GM Search Hitting On No Cyclinders

Fred and Jeff Wilpon have promised autonomy in the past to GM candidates in the past, but it never materialized. They are saying they are offering it this time, but aren’t close to making a decision on a new hire and their dismal season ended just under three weeks ago.

Several reported candidates have even refused interviews because they don’t believe the hype coming out of Queens.

The whole process is dysfunctional. How so? The trio who shared the GM position last year after Sandy Alderson left – John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi – aren’t candidates, but are in the interview process.

I still haven’t figured out how that works.

Jeff Wilpon gummed up the process even further by saying he wants to retain manager Mickey Callaway. Would any candidate who really wants the job be willing to go against his new boss?

Not likely.

Ricciardi and Minaya are suggesting candidates to the Wilpons, but would they really endorse somebody who will want to get rid of them?

Not likely, on that one, too.

The gap between two candidates, 35-year-old Tampa Bay senior VP of baseball operations Chaim Bloom and Milwaukee’s 66-year-old advisor Doug Melvin, is wider than the 31 years that separate them.

What candidates are going to be attracted by the Mets saying they don’t want to spend in the free-agent market, have no pieces to trade, and are seemingly ambivalent in analytics?

Not many, to be sure.

It was a long summer and figures to be a long winter.

Oct 01

Missing David Wright

WRIGHT: Says goodbye. (AP)

                                     WRIGHT: Says goodbye. (AP)

It was a special night for a special player and an even better person.

David Wright’s eyes welled up and his voice cracked as he tried to fight back tears as he addressed the Citi Field crowd there to honor him. It was a very human thing to do, which is why they filled the park one last time Saturday night to thank the man who was a better person then ballplayer, and was one of them.

”You had my back from day one,” Wright told the crowd who was there for the fireworks and cheer him because the Mets stopped playing meaningful baseball in May.

”You guys welcomed me, a 21-year-old kid from Virginia. You welcomed me as a New Yorker.”

Mets fans loved him and Wright loved them in return, and he did so by staying when others would have left, by always playing hard, by representing himself and his team with class and dignity, and by treating people with respect.

All the things fans want from their heroes Wright gave them, whether it was signing autographs, visiting children in hospitals, or posing for pictures. And, above all else, wanting to be a Met.

”I’ve always tried to picture myself in the stands or picture a kid watching me play for the first time in the stands, and tried to play the game the right way,” Wright said. ”I think that I’ve always treated the game that way. If there’s a kid in the stands that is looking for a player to try to emulate like I used to as a young kid, I wanted to be that player.”

Wright was never a ”look at me” player on the field, or a ”don’t bother me” personality off it. I spent a lot of time with Wright when I covered the Mets, and my best conversations with him weren’t always about baseball.

It was late in the summer of 2006 and the Mets had just clinched the NL East. His face was wet from sweat and champagne and he puffed on a cigar as he leaned against the rail in front of the Mets dugout. I remember asking him about the upcoming playoffs, and he said, ”I don’t know. I just want to enjoy this for now.”

We talked for a few more minutes before one of his teammates walked up and sprayed more champagne. The next year, the Mets blew a seven-game lead with 17 games remaining. Wright hit over .340 during that stretch, but was the go-to guy for the media covering the team. He was asked about manager Willie Randolph’s future and he was clear who was to blame: ”This was on the players.”

It didn’t matter the issue, Wright was always there for a quote, and he didn’t hold back. He had no sympathy for players who cheated with performance-enhancing drugs. Whether the Mets won or lost, and they did a lot of losing, Wright was always accessible.

When the Mets swept Chicago in the 2015 playoffs and the Cubs gave him the third base bag, I needed a quote and he answered my text. He was always good that way. When Mets public relations Shannon Forde passed away, I went to the memorial service at Citi Field and was surprised that Wright had flown up from spring training to give a eulogy.

On second thought, no, I wasn’t.

Wright never did anything to embarrass himself or the Mets, and was deeply hurt in 2011 when owner Fred Wilpon told a national magazine Wright was ”not a superstar.”

He felt slighted, again a very human emotion.

Even so, because Wright wanted to retire a Met, he re-signed with them in 2012 for an eight-year, $138-million extension and will be paid through 2020.

There are some cynics who foolishly said Wright hung on for the money and the Mets’ Citi Field party last night was a sham, for them to sell a few more tickets before getting on to the business of hiring a new general manager and starting over once again, this time without the face of their franchise.

They’ll do so because Wright’s body betrayed him.

In late-April, 2011, Wright was injured attempting to make a diving tag at third base. He remained in the game and as was his nature, he kept playing through the pain. He played for nearly a month before finally getting an MRI that revealed a stress fracture in his lower back.

He returned from the disabled list in late-July, 2011, played that year’s final 63 games. Over the next two seasons, he ended up on the disabled list multiple times with shoulder and hamstring issues.

In early-2015, Wright reinjured his hamstring sliding into second base, and during that time was diagnosed with lumbar spinal stenosis, which causes intense muscle and nerve pain in the lower back and legs due to a narrowing of the spinal column.

He returned to return in time to give the Mets two moments to remember on the field and a demonstration of his value in the clubhouse. In his first game back off the disabled list, Wright hit a monstrous homer in Philadelphia. He also homered in the World Series.

However, there might not have been a World Series had Wright not lectured Matt Harvey on focusing on what was important. Harvey, who was coming off surgery, suggested through his agent, Scott Boras, that he should shut it down for the season to protect his arm.

Wright told Harvey the pitcher’s indecision had become a distraction and October opportunities are rare; he was the Mets’ captain and was demonstrating the leadership the team wasn’t getting from general manager Sandy Alderson or manager Terry Collins.

Wright demonstrated more leadership during a spring training game that spring in Port St. Lucie. Wright entered the clubhouse to get something from his locker when he spotted Noah Syndergaard sitting alone at a table with a plate of food.

Incensed, Wright told the rookie he should be in the dugout with his teammates watching the game, asking questions, learning things. While Wright was talking, Bobby Parnell picked up Syndergaard’s plate and dumped it in the trash.

”The winning attitude,” Syndergaard said of what he learned about the incident. ”That is something David talked to me about when the whole situation went down. It taught me how to be a student of the game a little bit more. You go out [to the bench] to try to learn something new. You don’t need to be inside eating lunch. Something could be happening that you could potentially learn from.”

In both cases, Wright didn’t bring up either incident and downplayed his role.

Jacob deGrom said it isn’t even close, but Wright, ”is the best teammate I’ve ever been around.”

The only problem is Wright hasn’t been around.

In early-2016, after only 134 at-bats, Wright sustained a herniated disc in his neck that required season-ending surgery. While rehabbing, Wright was diagnosed with a right shoulder impingement. Later that summer, Wright underwent rotator cuff surgery and all of 2017 was lost.

There were whispers Wright would never play again, but he wasn’t ready to call it a career. He was determined to play again, to have his daughters, two-year-old Olivia Shea and four-month-old Madison see him play, even if they didn’t know what they were seeing.

Wright could explain it to them later.

Before the weekend, Wright said: ”As a young player … you think you can play forever. For me, unfortunately, my body is not allowing it to happen.”

However, the Mets wanted to give Wright one more moment in the sun. Overanxious, Wright swung at the first pitch and grounded out to third in a pinch-hitting appearance Friday night.

Last night was choreographed.

When the Mets took the field, Wright ran out to third base, but his teammates stayed behind. Next, Jose Reyes ran out to shortstop and the two embraced. Suddenly, it was 2006 again, and the two teammates who were supposed to play together for decades were back in their twenties.

Wright, who needs two hours of stretching and exercises just to get ready to play, reached his goal of starting one more game. Few players leave the game on their own terms, and Wright didn’t, either.

”I am at peace with the work I’ve put in,” Wright said. ”I’m not at peace with the results. I want to keep playing.”

Wright finished with a .296 average, 242 homers, 970 RBI, .376 on-base percentage and .867 OPS. He is unquestionably the greatest player to begin and end his career with the Mets. His career was on a Hall of Fame trajectory before the injuries, but Wright never lamented his misfortune. He never made excuses. He just kept working harder.

He didn’t want to go out that way, but he didn’t beg for this weekend. He earned this weekend.

“If you’re not a person like David Wright is, you don’t get to get honored like this,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “These guys are going to play baseball for a small part of their lives, and then they have to be human beings the rest of it. They should all look up to David in that regard.”

And, Wright knew what he meant to the Mets.

“It’s been a long road to get to that goal, but the love and the support I’ve received from inside the organization, outside the organization has been first class, and words can’t express the gratitude I have for everybody,” Wright said. “I said it when I was a younger player and I’ll say it again: I truly bleed orange and blue, and throughout this process, the love and the support and the respect from inside and outside the organization have meant the world to me. Thank you to everybody involved, and you’ll never have any idea how much it means to me.”

If you have any sense of compassion, all you had to do is look into Wright’s red eyes as he held the microphone and addressed the crowd, even the cynics.

His words choking back the tears, Wright said: ”To the fans, words can’t express my gratitude and appreciation for always having my back. You’ve accepted me as one of your own, and that right there is a tremendous honor.

“This is love. I can’t say anything else. This is love.”

Aug 13

Mets Could Explore Six-Man Rotation

The idea of the Mets going to a six-man rotation has been brought up before and again is an issue. But, everybody needs to be in on it. Using Jacob deGrom on his normal rest so he can squeeze in a couple more starts to boost his chances to win a Cy Young Award.

DeGrom deserves the chance considering how well he’s pitched, but if the Mets are serious about this they have to do it the right way: Pick your six pitchers and stick with them.

The worst thing about a six-man rotation is it would mean less starts each for deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. That would also mean fewer innings pitched, which theoretically would keep them fresher for longer. Currently, the target number of starts is 34; it would mean 27 starts in a six-man rotation.

A rotation of deGrom, Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Corey Oswalt and Jason Vargas would include two left-handers to keep things balanced. Ideally, I would separate deGrom and Syndergaard as to give more balance in the rotation regarding innings eaters to avoid taxing the bullpen.

“We want to see [Oswalt] pitch Saturday and then sit down and really see exactly what we want to do with all of our players after that,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “Especially since we want to monitor guys like [Noah] Syndergaard and Wheeler, a six-man rotation might make sense at some point.”

Callaway is thinking about keeping his pitchers fresh for this season, but what about next season?

The game is always evolving, and with the investment teams have with these pitchers a six-man rotation could be invaluable in keeping them healthy. For this to really work, the pitchers have to be told at the end of the season that is the plan for 2019 and give them a chance to buy in.

It then has to be implemented in spring training with no deviation.

Of course, for this to work they have to pitch well.