Dec 30

Top Ten Mets’ Stories of 2011

Good afternoon all. Just got back from Ohio and visiting with my family over Christmas. There was time to reflect on the year, which, of course, includes the Mets’ third straight losing season.

The year was the first under the Sandy Alderson-Terry Collins regime, which was supposed to represent a change in the franchise’s culture and downward spiral.

It did not.

There were seemingly countless storylines that swirled around the Mets this summer, most underscored their dire frustration. The following are the top ten:

REYES: Mets' mess uglier than Marlins' uniforms.

1) THE MADOFF PONZI SCANDAL: Most everything the Mets did this season, and will likely do in the next few years has roots in the Wilpon’s financial mess caused by the Ponzi Scandal. The Mets have a mounting debt approaching $1 billion due in the next three years and which does not include what the courts might put them on the hook for in a Ponzi ruling. Standard & Poor’s downgraded the Mets’ financial status and there are no immediate signs of improvement.

2) JOSE REYES SIGNS WITH MIAMI: Reyes’ departure to the division rival Marlins personifies the Mets’ current financial plight. It was a no-brainer to let him go considering his salary demands and injury history, but not making an offer revealed how the Mets aren’t in position to compete. Most believed 2011 would be his last season with the Mets, and he departed in style with two trips to the disabled list and pulling himself out of the last game of the season to preserve his batting title.

3) METS RELEASE PEREZ AND CASTILLO: Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo represented the Omar Minaya Era in giving obscene contracts for little production. Their presence cast a pall over the 2010 Mets and the new regime finally cast them away. Sad getting rid of two malcontent underachievers represented one of the highlights of the season.

4) BELTRAN, RODRIGUEZ TRADED: The Mets overachieved much of the first half, but any hope of a competitive season ended when Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez were dealt to San Francisco and Milwaukee, respectively, in the official surrender of 2011. Few thought Alderson could unload their contracts, but doing so lightened the Mets’ financial burden – a little. Beltran and Rodriguez were to be the missing pieces to a championship, but instead personified the window slamming shut.

DAVIS: Another freak injury hits Mets.

5) IKE DAVIS INJURED: What looked to be a harmless ankle injury ended up a season-ender for Ike Davis and renewed criticism of the Mets’ medical staff. Reportedly, Davis will be ready for spring training, but we’ve heard that song before. Davis’ injury opened the door for Lucas Duda’s promotion to the major leagues, one of the season’s few bright spots.

6) DAVID WRIGHT’S FALL CONTINUES: Wright missed over two months with a back injury and his power numbers dropped to 14 homers and 61 RBI. Wright’s recent injury history and declining production, coupled with the Mets in a rebuilding mode, increases speculation he could be traded. But, those factors also mean what the Mets get in return isn’t what it would have been two years ago.

7) THE DAVID EINHORN MESS: The Mets financial problems appeared to ease at the tune of $200 million when David Einhorn was brought in as a minority owner, but that fell through. The Wilpons’ fallback plan is to sell $20-milion shares. So far, no takers.

8) JOHAN SANTANA A MEMORY: Despite the Mets’ projections he might be ready at any number of occasions, it never happened and his rehab included several setbacks. The Mets will go to spring training knowing only one thing about Santana – they’ll pay him $24 million next year.

9) BAY SIGNING A BUST: It has been two years and Bay has hit a combined 18 homers with 104 RBI. He did better than that in 2009 with Boston. There were dozens of reasons why the Mets shouldn’t have signed Bay two years and one day ago. I’m thinking there are close to 66 million now.

10) PELFREY REGRESSES: After winning 15 games in 2010, Mike Pelfrey won seven games last year and there are thoughts he might never become the pitcher expected of him. With Santana injured, Pelfrey went into the season the de facto ace but posted numbers not worthy of a No. 5 starter.

Nov 09

Three years away … at least.

Sandy Alderson was brought in here as a fixer, to clean up the mess created by the Wilpon’s financial mess and years of mismanagement on the GM level.

Since the Mets’ last World Series appearance in 2000, they have been about quick fixes. They never had a chance at Alex Rodriguez, which is just as well, but Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn were quick fix and gimmick signings. Ditto Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez. The thinking was that signing big names past their prime might create interest among a listless fan base and perhaps entice other players to come to New York.

Carlos Beltran said Martinez caught his attention, and for a brief window known as 2006, it appeared to work.

However, the Mets let their bullpen unravel after that season and in 2007 came the collapse. Things have been in a downward spiral since. Good money was thrown away after bad and the expensive acquisitions of of Johan Santana, Jason Bay and Francisco Rodriguez came at the expense of building a young, talented core.

All were thought, to some degree, as being the missing piece, but in hindsight, there were just too many of those missing pieces. They did create, however, some excitement and anticipation. They created an illusion of progress.

The Mets’ payroll continued to spiral out of control without procuring the necessary talented. The team did not draft or trade well, and coupled with injuries and poor performance, they are staring at rock bottom.

Alderson was brought in at the urging of Commissioner Bud Selig to fix the mess – which explains why MLB is in no hurry to get back its $25 million loan – and it starts with the shedding of payroll.

A team often gets rid of its expensive pieces before it prepares itself for sale, and it is not out of the question that this is a possibility despite the Mets’ public cries to the contrary. We will never know if the Wilpons decide to sell until after the Ponzi mess created by Bernie Madoff passes. (I wonder who will play Fred and Jeff Wilpon in the movie).

One of those expensive pieces is Jose Reyes and another is David Wright. I see no hope of retaining Reyes, but I also see why Alderson is sticking to the pretext of being competitive and eventually make an offer.

There’s no way Alderson will publicly kiss Reyes good-bye while the team is trying to sell season tickets for next year. To give up on 2012 before Thanksgiving is bad business.

Realistically, without Reyes – assuming a healthy version – and the probability of not having Santana, along with their horrid pitching staff, there’s no realistic expectations of the Mets competing for at least another three years.

Hopefully, in three years the Mets’ finances will be resolved, and they will be without the burdensome contracts of Bay and Santana. In that time span perhaps Reyes will have broken down and the Mets could gleam some vindication with that prospect. Wright could also be gone. Maybe some of those young pitchers in the minors will pan out.

All that is a lot to hope for.

Can anybody really say what the Mets might look like by then? The Mets will still be here by then, but how many of you will have the same passion for them?

To think they will be anything representative before then is being naive.

 

 

Nov 05

Will there ever be a new culture?

We heard a lot about the Mets’ culture changing when Sandy Alderson was hired as GM and Terry Collins as manager. The atmosphere changed t0 a degree, but the Mets’ talent level remained roughly the same with once again, the pitching faltered and took the team down with it.

Looking back on the season there were three significant story lines outside of the newness of the front office and manager. The first half when the Mets found themselves over .500, the swirling question was whether, or when, they would deal Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez.

When the pitching went south it was about the thinness of the rotation and weak bullpen, highlighted by not having a closer, who was in Milwaukee because the team feared Rodriguez’s option.

The season was played against the backdrop of the Mets not being able to re-sign Jose Reyes because they wouldn’t want to – or don’t have – the resources to retain the All-Star shortstop.

All three were about money and the Wilpon’s legal and financial troubles because of the Madoff Ponzi scandal. The Wilpons received positive news in the courts that would reduce the damages, but those damages would still be significant. And, it doesn’t help that the team has a $25 million debt to Major League Baseball.

You can change the manager, general manager and upper management and that could change the culture somewhat, but real change begins with ownership and that hasn’t changed. With the budget always an overriding issue, we can never expect things to really change and Mets being an elite franchise.

Nov 04

Reyes’ departure could deter future FA signings for Mets.

It is easy to recognize what losing Jose Reyes might mean to the Mets on the field: they would be without an impact leadoff hitter, steal threat and solid defensive shortstop.

I’m on record as saying the Mets won’t be able to retain him and shouldn’t get reeled in on a long-term deal. In signing Reyes long-term, the Mets are subject to the very real chance he’ll break down physically and won’t be able to duplicate last season’s walk-year production.

I still feel that way, but there is another way to interpret the potential of losing Reyes, and that is in future free-agent markets. It is something the Mets should strongly consider.

If the Mets let one of their cornerstones depart, how would free-agents in the 2012 markets and beyond interpret that decision? If the Mets cant’s hold on to one of their own, how would they treat a newcomer? And, considering the Mets’ recent history of handling injured players (Ryan Church and Carlos Beltran), what could they be thinking about Reyes the past three years, especially since it is well known Jerry Manuel rushed him back two years ago?

Players talk, believe me, and the Mets don’t have a stellar reputation among the MLB Players Association. Sure, there will be players toward the end of their careers and who have been injured that would be willing to take the Mets’ money, but any impact players will undoubtedly have second thoughts. As it is, if Reyes leaves, David Wright could be next out the door. He has more than hinted as such.

Let’s face it, the Mets can never compete with the Yankees in dollars for free agents, and they can not in terms of tradition or a winning reputation. The last prime time player they signed of significance was Beltran, and even at the end agent Scott Boras tried a last attempt with the Yankees. There is a belief Beltran chose the Mets because they are less in the limelight than the Yankees.

Citi Field isn’t the magnet for free-agents the team might have hoped, but we have to believe that is more to do with the Wilpon’s financial situation than anything else, including the stadium’s cavernous dimensions.

Alderson said the team wouldn’t “punt” in 2012, but it doesn’t forecast to a busy winter. And, the team is at least two years from being a legitimate contender. It could be even longer if their financial situation persists, if prospects Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler don’t pan out. and Wright leaves. The Wilpons have gotten better news on that front, but are not in the clear. And, there are never any guarantees when it comes to prospects.

The Mets flirted with .500 this season when Reyes was healthy, and there’s reason to believe they could take a step if their pitching improved. There’s also no reason to believe the Mets will spend in that direction.

I don’t know where the Mets are going to be should Reyes leave, or where they would be if he stays and their pitching doesn’t get better. But, if he leaves and the Mets don’t throw significant money in improving that staff, the future doesn’t look good and there will be fewer mercenaries willing to help.

 

Oct 18

On the eve of the Series …. Alderson knew what he was getting into.

The drive to Ohio is long and tedious, much like a New York Mets summer the past three years. Went back home to visit my father, who was hospitalized, and apologize for the lapse in posts.

My mind was on other things.

I am anxious for the World Series to start, and I would like to see the Cardinals because that would complete one of the great comebacks in baseball history. The Cardinals have what it takes to complete history.

Either way, if the Rangers won, that would also be a compelling story, especially for Mets fans who still have a fondness for Nolan Ryan.

The Cardinals have the best pitcher and player in the Series in Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols, plus the extra game at home. Both teams are sizzling at the right time.

In looking at the two teams, it is easy to see what separates them from the Mets, and, of course, you have to wonder how far our boys are away.

Both teams have a stud hitter in Pujols and Josh Hamilton, reliable starters in Carpenter and CJ Wilson, good bullpens and support throughout the batter orders.

The Mets have David Wright and Mike Pelfrey, holes in the order and are shambles in the bullpen and rotation. If everybody in the NL East stands pat, and you know they won’t, at best the Mets are fourth in the division.

Bringing back Jose Reyes won’t change that, either. So, it was interesting to read the ESPN report of Chip Hale’s assessment, and that of some NL scouts, on Ruben Tejada’s development.

One scout said Tejada is ready to play and the best decision for the Mets would be to plug him in, let Reyes go and spend the money patching their numerous pitching holes.

I’ve been saying that since the trade deadline.

It’s not that I dislike Reyes. To the contrary, he’s been one of my favorite Mets to deal with, but realistically, he has limitations and the team has other priorities. If Tejada was a lost cause, it might be different, but there is promise there.

The Cardinals and Rangers wouldn’t be here without Pujols and Hamilton, respectively. Reyes, and also Wright, don’t carry the same weight with the Mets.

At one time, Reyes and Wright represented the Mets’ core, but times have changed. The team has lost key complementary pieces while both players have declined and have had health issues.

Sandy Alderson was brought in here to rebuild this franchise, and it is becoming clearer that both Reyes and Wright or no longer cornerstones. Too bad, but that is the reality.

Another reality, is Alderson knew the guidelines when he took the job. Not much got by Alderson, if anything, when he was working in the commissioner’s office. He got the job on the strong recommendation of Bud Selig, so he had a strong sense of the Wilpon’s financial issues.

When he came here he said it would take time, rebuilding wouldn’t come over night and the Mets’ culture had to change. That would include handing out massive contracts.

That is why I would be shocked if Reyes was brought back, wouldn’t be surprised if Wright isn’t dealt, and why the team would love to cut ties with Johan Santana and Jason Bay.

We knew 2011 and 2012 would be written off, and we wouldn’t have a clearer idea of the future until 2013 at the earliest.