Jan 04

Citi Field Expensive; Mets Must Groom Future Fans

Eventually, the shine comes off newest houses, which is something the Mets are learning about Citi Field, which has never been the home the franchise had hoped.

Citi Field hasn’t given the Mets a home-field advantage both on the field and in the stands, with attendance gradually declining since it opened in 2009 at 38,941 per game.

Last season, the Mets drew 26,528, as they learned what the Blue Jays, White Sox and Orioles – teams that made up the first wave of the new stadium construction – found out. They’ll come if you build it, but they won’t come again if you don’t win.

They also learned that in Texas, Houston and Cleveland.

Fans are willing to pay for the novelty of a new stadium, but the real attraction is the product on the field, and in that regard the Mets have been a disappointment.

I started thinking of this after reading a report from sports marketing publisher Team Marketing Report, which noted the Fan Cost Index increased 2.3 percent last year to $212.46, with Citi Field the seventh most expensive at $229.68.

The index measures the cost of this odd shopping list: four average-priced tickets, two small draft beers, four small soft drinks, four (regular-sized) hot dogs, parking for one car, two programs and the two least expensive hats.

Baseball used to call itself “a bargain in comparison to other professional sports,’’ and it used to be true. Nothing is inexpensive anymore, including going to the movies.

Of course, a stadium in New York figures to be expensive (the Yankees are second at $337.20 and Fenway Park is an astronomical $350.78), and you can knock that price down by going on bargain nights, skipping the programs and hats.

However, the Mets don’t make it easy for the fan. For example, it would be nice if the Mets allowed you to bring your own food into the ballpark, but I don’t know of any team that allows it.

I understand the economics of it – the same principles explain player contracts – but the costs of the going to a baseball game is something the keepers of the sport should be more aware of in developing its future fan base.

Attendance has been up in recent years, but much of this can be attributed to new stadium construction, built for the large part with taxpayer funding.

However, the gravy train can’t last forever and the Mets must be aware of grooming the next generation of fans – and ticket buyers.

Nov 18

Alderson Defends Moving In Fences

We knew the New York Mets were moving in the fences. This afternoon we learned by how much. Common sense dictates moving in the fences benefits the hitters more than the pitchers, but speaking like any politician you’ve ever heard, GM Sandy Alderson says that’s not the case.

“These modifications are a refinement of previous changes made to the Citi Field fences and continue to be fair to both pitchers and hitters,’’ Alderson said. “A lot of analysis went into this decision. We believe these modifications will increase the number of home runs without adversely affecting our pitchers.’’

Of course, that’s impossible.

In its first three seasons, Citi Field measured 415 feet at its deepest point in right-center. In the last three years the wall was 390 feet. It will now be 380 feet.

Had the Mets played with these dimensions last season, they would have hit an additional 17 home runs while the opposition would have hit 10 more.

It is impossible to project those numbers because it doesn’t into account: 1) wind conditions, and 2) the game situation, which would dictate how hitters are pitched.

Making such a declaration means every fly ball hit last year at Citi Field would have to be analyzed, and quite frankly I don’t believe that was done.

Alderson said the goals in moving in the fences were two-fold: 1) making the more Mets more competitive at home, and 2) increasing offense, which he says increases the entertainment value of the Citi Field experience.

Then again, if the altered fences make the Mets more competitive, it stands to reason the opponents would also benefit. And, it’s not guaranteed the Mets will score most of those additional runs.

The Mets were out-homered by the opposition 71-59 last year at Citi Field. That’s 12 more. Now, if the Mets would have hit 17 more, that’s only a net of five more home runs. That’s less than one a month.

The bottom line is there’s no guarantee the both teams would benefit equally to the fences being moved in. However, one can only surmise if the opposition was 12 homers better than the Mets last season, they enter this year 12 homers better.

Also not being taken into consideration is that the Mets are building their team on young pitching. Why make things harder for them?

Nov 16

Murphy Staying; Could Be Last Season With Mets

One of the more interesting nuggets coming out of the GM meetings last week was Sandy Alderson’s statement the New York Mets aren’t interested in working on a contract extension with second baseman Daniel Murphy.

Alderson also said the Mets would be reluctant to trade Murphy. While both points are contradictory, they also make sense.

It is estimated Murphy will make $8.1 million this season in his walk year, a relatively high sum for a contact hitter with little power and only an average defender. Just how much is that worth?

Also, the Mets finished below .500 for the sixth straight season with Murphy. They can surely finish below .500 without him.

Alderson’s reasoning in avoiding the extension is unknowns Dilson Herrera and Wilmer Flores.  If either shows capable of playing second, especially Flores if a shortstop can be obtained, then Murphy would be an expensive third wheel and they’ll let him walk after next season.

As far as putting Murphy on the block, the Mets are pointing toward this season as one in which they’ll be competitive so they’ll to keep him, especially if Flores and/or Herrera don’t pan out or there is an injury.

It translates to at least one more season in Flushing for Murphy.

Nov 14

Mets Bracing For Innings Showdown With Harvey

It’s getting close to spring training because the topic of limiting innings for Matt Harvey is again a topic. GM Sandy Alderson indicated as such at the GM meetings this week in Phoenix and manager Terry Collins said so Thursday during a public appearance at a food pantry.

HARVEY: Caution, caution, caution. (AP)

HARVEY: Caution, caution, caution. (AP)

It’s a no-brainer with Harvey coming off Tommy John surgery. With Harvey’s return, the Mets are pointing toward 2015 as when they believe they will be competitive. The one thing they can’t afford is to lose Harvey.

“Certainly we might skip him here and there once in a while, just to save him,’’ Collins told reporters. “That will all be explained to him and there’ll be arguments and he’ll throw a tantrum in the office but it’s all part of the job because he wants to pitch and he wants to win.’’

Yeah, yeah, yeah. That sounds good. Sounds heroic. Sounds inspiring. Sounds like a lot of nonsense.

If Harvey can’t understand the Mets’ reasoning for limiting, then he’s not as bright as he has been portrayed. Then again, pitching smarts and off-the-field smarts are two different things.

Don’t get me wrong, I like what Harvey brings to the table, but he can’t bring anything if he’s hurt. He’s already been a thorn to Alderson and Collins for how he handled his rehab and insistence of wanting to spend more time in New York instead of Florida.

He made a big deal about wanting to be with his teammates, yet went to Yankee Stadium to watch Derek Jeter. Nobody connected with the Mets says anything negative about Harvey for fear of alienating him.

Never mind that, my take is Harvey tweaking the Mets’ brass and Alderson’s often testy relationship with the pitcher’s agent, Scott Boras, says he’s a goner once he becomes a free agent.

Of course, that’s a bridge Alderson has to jump off of later. For now, it’s now to cut the innings.

The best way is to tell Harvey during spring training and making sure he understands this isn’t negotiable.

There are six months in a baseball season, so missing one start a month shouldn’t be hard to figure out. Assuming six innings a start, that’s 36 innings saved. They might also consider missing more time in April when the weather is still cold and there’s a greater chance of hurting his arm. Then, there are shaving innings in blowouts, one way or another. Put a cap on his starts at seven innings.

This shouldn’t be hard to figure out for Alderson and Collins. As for Harvey, he has to realize he’s not in charge. With only 12 major league victories, he’s hardly in position to be calling the shots.

 

Nov 12

Dissecting The Cuddyer Signing

Michael Cuddyer said all the right things about coming to the New York Mets. He spoke of how the Mets were a team on the cusp; about playing with longtime friend David Wright; and the excitement of playing in New York.

For good measure, he mentioned how he imagined how a packed Citi Field could be when he referenced the 2013 All-Star Game.

Got you going, didn’t it?

Then he ruined the illusion by saying “it always isn’t about the money.’’

But, I’ve been covering this sport a long time, and you’ve been following the Mets a long time. What we both know, is that when it comes to the Mets, money is right there at the top. Money is always the key factor.

The Cuddyer signing tells us a lot about the Mets and their financial situation. It also raises a lot of questions, which I’ll attempt to answer:

Q: Why wouldn’t Cuddyer accept the Rockies’ $15.3 million qualifying offer and go the free-agent route again?

A: That’s his risk. He wanted two and the Rockies were offering one. There was no guarantee Cuddyer would get a second year from anyone. When he gave the Mets a deadline to give him two years or he’d take the qualifying offer, “it gave us pause,’’ said GM Sandy Alderson.

The Mets had things to consider, such as other free-agent outfield options, which would have cost more. Or, trade options, but they had few chips to play and are unwilling to include their young pitching. Or, going from within, which they didn’t have the confidence in doing. And, there was the matter of losing the draft pick, which they didn’t want to do.

The most palatable option was giving Cuddyer two years.

Q: The breakdown is the first year for $8.5 million and the second year for $12.5 million. What does that mean?

A: In giving up their first-round pick – the 15th overall selection – the Mets also save themselves $2.5 million. Given that, the Mets will have filled their outfield hole for $6 million this year, which is $1.25 less than they blew on Chris Young last year. They don’t get their pick, but that player is at least three years down the road anyway. A lot can change in that time. With the $2.5 million they save by not having the draft pick gives them a little more flexibility.

Q: Won’t the Mets feel a pinch in 2016 for the $12.5 million they’d pay Cuddyer?

A: They could, but not if they make the strides they expect. Their gamble is they’ll improve enough in 2015 and experience an attendance spike. That will pay in part for Cuddyer. Of course, that means they’ll have to win this year, or at least “play meaningful games in September.’’ But, if none of this happens by July 2016 and Cuddyer is productive, he shouldn’t be hard to trade.

Q: Was this done to appease Wright?

A: That probably factored into it, but I wouldn’t say that was their first priority.

Q: What does signing Cuddyer say about their bench and minor league system?

A: For one, is tells me they likely won’t bring back Eric Young. It also speaks to their diminishing confidence in Matt den Dekker and Kirk Nieuwenhuis as a fulltime player. The Mets stunted their development last year and that figures to be the same this year.

Q: The Mets kept saying they wanted power, but Cuddyer has hit only 80 homers over the past five years (16 average) and only ten in an injury shortened 2014. Does this fill that need?

A: No. Cuddyer isn’t strictly a pull hitter, which is just as well because the fences aren’t coming in next year. Presumably, he uses the whole field, which is the best way. Cuddyer has only one 30-homer season despite playing his career in the Coors Field and the Metrodome. He’s only had one 100-RBI season as well.

Q: Were there other options?

A: Sure, but nobody screamed out as a “must have’’ talent. Michael Morse, Ryan Ludwick, Nate Schierholtz, Nick Markakis and Josh Willingham were all available this fall, but would have either been too expensive; would stay with their original teams; or not graded as high as Cuddyer.

Q: Where will Cuddyer play?

A: Probably right field, with Curtis Granderson moving over to left field.

Q: Bottom line this for me: Does Cuddyer put the Mets over the top?

A: By no stretch of the imagination. The Mets have questions concerning shortstop; the offensive returns of Wright and Granderson; whether Lucas Duda can do it again; the development of Zack Wheeler and return from surgery by Matt Harvey. If all that happens and Cuddyer can return to his 2013 form when he won the NL batting title.