Oct 22

Would Boston’s Free-Agent Building Approach Benefit Mets?

Yesterday, I suggested what the New York Mets could learn from the St. Louis Cardinals in building their team. Today, let’s examine how the Red Sox were built and what the Mets can take from their approach.

The Cardinals’ philosophy of first building from within followed by judicious trades and free-agent signings has always been the traditional and preferred method.

Throwing millions and millions into the free-agent market is costly and risky. The Mets don’t have the resources of the Yankees or Dodgers to throw good money after bad.

ELLSBURY: Will he be too costly for Mets?

ELLSBURY: Will he be too costly for Mets?

There’s pressure to win in both markets, but there’s a greater intensity in Boston – and New York – while there’s a degree of patience in the Midwest. That explains in part why St. Louis has 17 homegrown players on its roster, while the Red Sox have ten.

There was a venomous culture in Boston last season as the Red Sox, burdened by several cumbersome contracts – similar to what the Mets faced when Sandy Alderson took over – and a few cancerous personalities in the clubhouse.

“Say, could you pass some fried chicken this way?’’

The Red Sox cleared nearly $200 million in salaries when they unloaded Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers midway through last year’s disastrous 69-93 summer under Bobby Valentine. They did so because even in a lost season the Red Sox were thinking about this summer. That’s something the Mets never fully explored when they had Jose Reyes and others to dangle.

The Red Sox were far quicker and more decisive than the Mets have been in ridding themselves of too costly and ineffective players, such as Oliver Perez, Ike Davis, Francisco Rodriguez and Luis Castillo to name a few of close to numerous bad deals since 2006, the last time the Mets saw October.

Rather than sink their savings into different long-term, costly signings, the Red Sox signed a handful of productive, yet cost-effective, players in: Shane Victorino (three years, $39 million); catcher David Ross (two years, $6.2 million); first baseman Mike Napoli (one year, $5 million); shortstop Stephen Drew (one year, $9.5 million); outfielder Jonny Gomes (two years, $10 million); and dynamite closer Koji Uehara (one year, $4.25 million plus option).

None bowl you over; collectively, they helped the Red Sox win 97 games.

Boston also extended by two years and $26 million the contract of its own free agent, designated hitter David Ortiz. They also avoided arbitration by offering Jacoby Ellsbury a one-year, $9-million deal. Some signings, such as pitcher Ryan Dempster’s two-year, $26.5 million deal, didn’t pan out. He’s now in middle relief and would be a starter for the Mets.

The Red Sox also hit it with trades, including pitcher Jake Peavy, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and and former Mets first-base prospect, Mike Carp.

Boston’s success in the free-agent and trade markets was overwhelmingly successful. Although Alderson said he could have the leeway to offer a $100-million contract to one player, he would be better off in taking Boston’s approach and attempt to patch several of the Mets’ many holes.

Alderson knows the success the Red Sox enjoyed is rare and shouldn’t be expected, especially since the Mets won’t offer similar deals. However, the idea of pursuing players with playoff success – Napoli and Victorino – is a sound way to augment their present composition of youth and few proven major leaguers.

The Mets are unsettled at first base, but are kidding themselves if they think they could get Napoli by offering a slight raise. Napoli was to get a three-year, $39-million deal, but that fell through when a degenerative hip condition was discovered. He’ll likely get his three years this winter.

As for Victorino, the Mets had their chance to sign him, but now it is too late. They must consider between Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz, what they might each cost, and their various baggage.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Red Sox attempt to retain Ellsbury, but there are already reports the Tigers are interested in either him or Choo, the latter who is reportedly seeking four years.

The Red Sox took a shotgun approach last winter, and still wound up with a $155-million payroll while hitting most of their targets. It worked because their scouts did their homework; they got lucky; and they already had a core to build around. The Red Sox were also forced to be aggressive last winter because of their restless and demanding fan base. Every year it is the same motivation for them and the Yankees.

The Mets’ fan base is already looking at 2015 when Matt Harvey returns. Few are expecting a contender next summer without him. The Mets also don’t have as good a core as Boston had and won’t come anywhere close to what the Red Sox spent, but could go as high as $100 million, maybe a little more.

Everybody in the division save the Miami Marlins will spend more. If the Mets are to emulate the Red Sox, they’ll have to dig deeper and that’s not something they’ll be inclined to do.

Feb 10

What To Make Of Schilling, Braun And A-Rod

There are several things I want to bring to the blog on a regular basis, something you can depend on. Beginning with a Sunday column centering on the main story of the week.

It is a shame, but the week leading up to the start of spring training was dominated by stories of PEDs. It will never end. There will always be somebody wanting to gain an edge. There will always be cheating. Is it human nature? Yeah, I think so, sadly.

First, Alex Rodriguez. Is anybody really surprised to hear he’s in trouble again? It’s bad enough to be linked again to PEDs, but to come out and say MLB and the Yankees are out to get him? Why not leave well enough alone?

He already hired a big-time lawyer, so he should let his mouthpiece do the talking for him. Sure, the Yankees will try to void his contract, but the MLB Players Association will make it a costly fight. It’s not my money, but if I ran the Yankees I’d go for it, just to send a message.

Rodriguez was not suspended after his admission, so if he’s suspended this time it will be for only 50 games. Bud Selig needs to take that step.

The decision the Yankees must make is whether they believe Rodriguez will ever be healthy enough to be a viable player again. If they decide no, then they might has well try to buy him out or release him outright rather than have him be a distraction for the next five years.

Either way, it could cost them $114 million. And, no way will Rodriguez retire and walk away from that money.

Ryan Braun is proving to be a disappointment and somebody not to be trusted. Yes, he got off on a technicality, but I’m not buying his reasoning his named popped up in the Florida case because he was getting information for his defense. If you’re Braun, you have access to the best lawyers and medical advise available. Why wouldn’t you seek help from a professional instead of going to a shady clinic in a strip mall, one with a checkered history with MLB? If nothing else, wouldn’t the Players Association give him that advice.

Finally, there’s Curt Schilling, who can be a blowhard at times. Including this one. To come out and accuse a member of the Red Sox staff of suggesting he use PEDs while standing in the middle of a crowded clubhouse is absurd.

Although Schilling didn’t mention any names – only that they were no longer with the organization – didn’t mean it couldn’t be figured out who he was talking about. It is highly unlikely, that in a crowded clubhouse, with media access that this would happen. If such a suggestion were made, it would be in private.

 

Oct 01

Mets’ Collapse In 2007 More Than Lost Season

Little did anybody know it at the time, but the Mets’ historic and stunning collapse at the end of the 2007 season, blowing a seven-game lead with 17 to play was more than just a horrific finish.

After all, they went on to blow a late-season lead in 2008, also.

The collapses began a spiral effect of costly decisions that brought to light the Mets’ financial crisis. The Ponzi scandal, no doubt, had a huge impact regardless of the club’s comments that the baseball operations weren’t also severely influenced.

One bad decision lead to another costly mistake and we find ourselves with another losing season, another lost summer, and the very real prospect of them losing both David Wright and R.A. Dickey.

Wright told ESPN’s Adam Rubin over the weekend he could see it ending with him and the Mets. When Rubin asked Wright following the Chipper Jones’ ceremony if he could see himself playing his entire career with the same team.

Wright knew it was possible when the Mets didn’t retain Jose Reyes. For years we heard the All-Star left side of their infield, and although there’s a plausible explanation for the shortstop’s departure, it was a thanks-I-needed-that slap in the face for Wright.

“I always thought Jose would be back, that it was just a lot to do about nothing,” Wright said. “We’ve known each other since 2001. You’re talking about playing around or with each other for 11 years. Yeah, of course it opens your eyes. It makes you realize in a lot of ways there is an ugly business side to this — whether it’s from the player’s perspective or the team’s perspective.”

Wright is arguably the premier position player in club history, but there are no assurances, especially considering the past.

The following are some of the most critical decisions that put the Mets in position where they had to cut $50 million in payroll this season to make them a mid-level franchise in the country’s biggest market.

1) JOHAN SANTANA: Yes, he threw the franchise’s first no-hitter this year and has had other special moments, but the fact remains they were bidding against themselves in dealing with the Twins. Minnesota’s asking price was steep, which forced Boston and the Yankees to pull out. I don’t care about the handful of prospects as they’ve amounted to little, but the trade was contingent on signing Santana to an extension and the Mets drastically overpaid to the point where they’ve received precious little the last few years and are put in a weak position for this offseason. Santana has been frequently injured during his tenure with the Mets and there’s no guarantee about next year.

In addition, the for the amount of money Santana is getting, the Mets could have filled numerous holes, including the rotation and bullpen.

2) FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ: When Rodriguez’s own team, the Angels, want him back that should have been a red flag. Rodriguez saved his fair share of games, but paid him an extraordinary amount considering there were no other bidders. They should have taken a harder line approach in their negotiations.

3) JASON BAY: Next year is it for Bay, whose contract, injury history and lack of production make him non-tradable. What’s worse, is the Mets were moving into a new ballpark at the time and stated they were building their team around pitching and defense.  At the time, pitching was the overriding need. Again, a red flag should have been when the Red Sox were so willing to let him go. The Mets have received virtually nothing for the $66 million they’ll pay Bay.

4) OLIVER PEREZ: Speaking of red flags, shouldn’t it have been a tip off when nobody else seriously flirted with him in his free agent season? Instead, the Mets signed him long term and by the end he had lost his fastball and became a clubhouse pariah when he refused a demotion to work on his mechanics.

5) LUIS CASTILLO: I could see bringing him back, but for four years? Seriously, what was Omar Minaya thinking? Castillo was already on a downhill slide, which was only accelerated by injuries. His contract, along with Perez’s, symbolized the Minaya regime.

There were more, of course, multi-year deals to Moises Alou, Orlando Hernandez, Julio Franco and Guillermo Mota, but those five, for the magnitude of dollars and not properly evaluating the market did serious damage to this franchise which might not be over.

After 2006 and 2007, the Mets didn’t properly evaluate their team. They thought they were better than they really were.

 

 

 

Sep 17

Mets’ Fade Makes One Yearn For A Pennant Race

Every morning I take a glance at the standings and the pennant races. There’s nothing like the drama and intensity of a pennant race. It is the essence of the sport.

For the record, this morning the Mets are 14 games under .500 and 23 games behind the Nationals with a schedule that could plummet them to 20 below.

So much for a pennant race involving the Mets. Even the collapses of 2007 and 2008 gave those Septembers more meaning than this excruciating month. Of course the remaining schedule is of importance to the Phillies, Pirates and Braves, all in wild card contention. There are six games left with the hated Marlins in the battle to stay out of last place.

Major League Baseball added a second wild card in the hope of creating spice and interest in more cities. So far, it has worked in both leagues.

Sort of.

In the American League there are eight teams – including the three division leaders – that could end up with a wild-card berth. In the AL East there is a dogfight between the Yankees, Orioles and Rays. But, what kind of fight is it really if all three were to qualify for the playoffs? Mathematically it could happen.

In the National League, seven teams are in serious wild-card contention with all three division leaders having comfortable margins.

For all the drama – is it really manufactured drama? – in the wild-card races I think of perhaps the greatest pennant race in history, that being 1967 in the American League when five of the then 10 teams in the league were alive in September, but only one would survive.

For much of that tumultuous summer, the Red Sox, White Sox, Twins, Tigers and Angels were all packed at the top. The Angels were the first to drop out, then with over a week remaining the White Sox’s woeful offense finally wore down their marvelous pitching staff led by Gary Peters and Joel Horlen.

I remember it vividly because I spent that summer in New England and started following the Red Sox on the radio at night. My Indians, of course, were like the present day Mets and well on the outside.

The Red Sox, Twins and Tigers were alive heading into the final weekend. Carl Yastrzemski’s Sox and Harmon Killebrew’s Twins would eliminate one of those teams. All three were alive the final day. Boston eliminated the Twins early, then had to wait until the Tigers lost the second game of a double-header before clinching.

There have been many great pennant races, but for the amount of teams involved, that one had the most.

It’s not the same intensity when so many are involved for a play-in game.

If the old, no-division format were in place today, the Nationals and Reds would be having a great race, with the Braves and Giants on the fade.

The American League would have a spicier race with the Rangers, Athletics, Yankees and Orioles within five games of each other. That combination would give 1967 a run for its money.

Perhaps, because I was a kid and was just developing my passion for baseball

the 1967 race stands out. But nearly four decades later, it is still special reading about it.It is one for the ages.

Sep 04

Red Sox Doing Valentine Wrong

Whether you like him or not, you have to admit Bobby Valentine is getting a raw deal in Boston. Big deal owner John Henry said Valentine’s job is safe through this season. If ownership really wanted to send a message to that dysfunctional clubhouse the Red Sox need to extend Valentine’s deal through at least next year.

Management put Valentine in an impossible position when the hired him by giving him that toxic clubhouse. The Red Sox helped themselves with that trade, getting rid of over $200 million is salary and clubhouse cancer Josh Beckett.

With all their payroll flexibility, they can add several good pieces and Valentine should get the chance to work with them. It would be unfair to sack him. It is even more unfair to let him twist in the wind. If there’s any chance he won’t be back, they should do it now.

But, if they did, it would be giving in the inmates for the second straight year.