Monday, March 31, 2008

25-Man Roster Analysis, Part 2

Brian Schneider
Raul Casanova
Ramon Castro-DL

In yet another example of this organization's screwed-up priorities and abiding affinity for proven veterans, the guy who should be the #1 catcher is starting the season on the DL and will return as a backup.

Omar Minaya is under the impresion that Brian Schneider is good enough to be the starting catcher on a major league baseball team. He is mistaken. Schenider can't hit and his ability to control the running game has deteriorated over the past two seasons. He better call a damn good game every time out, otherwise he is one of the more useless players in MLB. Never has the failure of a team to complete a low-level free-agent signing led to such disatrous consequences.

Ramon Castro will still probably end up catching 50 to 60 games this season. He is a much better hitter than Schneider and at least equally adept at cutting down stolen bases, which still doesn't make him even one of the 20 best catchers in the league. Let's not go too crazy over Destro - he's not exactly the next Victor Martinez.

Raul Casanova is the type of guy I always end up with the blind pick at the trading deadline in my Strat-o-Matic. That is to say that Casanova is the type of player who sucks and will never make a positive impact on his team.

Carlos Delgado
Luis Castillo
David Wright
Jose Reyes
Damion Easley

No, I didn't forget anyone. The Mets have only five infielders on the roster right now - the consequences of selecting Brady Clark over Fernando Tatis for the final poisition player spot. To say this is a ridiculous state of affairs is an understatement; Damion Easley can't actually field any of the positions he's supposed to be backing up at and isn't much of a hitter to boot. Will anyone be surprised if he puts up a .220/.300/.370 line this season?

Anyway, Carlos Delgado is mercifully entering the final year of his contract - and the Mets are only on the hook for another $20 million! Delgado came to the Mets under the worst of circumstances; one year after spurning the Mets on the free agent market to sign with the Marlins, Florida wisely turned around and dealt him back to Flushing for three prospects. Delgado put up an OPS+ of 161 in his first and only season in Miami and was quite a bargain in the process, making only $4 million in the first season of the back-loaded contract.

Delgado has been underperforming his career numbers ever since being traded to New York and badly faltered last season. Mike Jacobs, one of the three players the Marlins received for, was only slightly worse offensively (103 OPS+ for Delgado, compared to 100 OPS+ for Jacobs) and did so for $14 million less. Simply put, the trade has been a disaster and is not likely to look better in 2008. At this point, the Mets just have to hope Delgado doesn't regress even further; a line of .265/.330/.460 with 25 homers would be acceptable, as long as Carlos can play 150 games.

Luis Castillo is 32 years old, his knees are shot, his speed is disappearing and he has absolutely no extra-base power. At this point, he is little more than a slap-hitting glove man - think Ozzie Smith's best seasons without the stolen base totals and the otherworldly defense. This is a player that most teams would know better than to give a long-term commitment to, especially if they have cheaper second base options in their system (see Gotay, Ruben). The Mets, of course, saw things differently.

This actually isn't a terrible deal. It only takes Castillo through his Age-35 season and he's pretty likely to put up a string of .290/.360/370 seasons through the length of the contract. He's still above average in the field and can probably sneak out 20 stolen bases. They're overpaying, to be sure, but the Mets had no other answers save Gotay and Castillo fits the role of the prototypical #2 hitter very well.

What can I say about David Wright that would provide you a new and unique perspective on him? He's a superstar, period. He's going to put up terrific offensive seasons for the next 10 to 15 years, will hopefully retire as a Met and may be the last person in franchise history to wear #5. High-end projections would include a 30-30 season and a .330/.425/.590 line; even worst-case scenarios would suggest 20 home runs and a .290/.375/.500 line.

Jose Reyes will either become a superstar, or he will become Juan Samuel. The ever-increasing walk rate (27 to 77 in just three seasons) is the most promising indicator that he will avoid the Samuel career path. He's never going to hit like Hanley Ramirez did in 2007, but Reyes' defense is light years ahead of Ramirez and his range is among the best in the game at his position, so a solid argument can be made in favor of Jose over Hanley. I think that he could put up a string of offensive seasons reminiscent of a late-1980s Rickey Henderson.

Damion Easley should not be backing up all four infield positions on a Major League Baseball team. An injury to Delgado, Wright or Reyes would be extremely catastrophic as the Mets lack any semblance of a credible major leaguer to replace them.

Carlos Beltran
Ryan Church
Marlon Anderson
Endy Chavez
Angel Pagan
Brady Clark
Moises Alou-DL

Who knows how many games Moises Alou will play this season? He'll smack the cover off the ball whenever he's healthy, though, and if the Mets can keep him standing long enough to play October baseball, they will be extremely tough to beat in a playoff series. For now, Spring Training phenom Angel Pagan will man left field until Alou can return; he'll be ready for release by June 1, because he is a terrible baseball player.

Carlos Beltran has devolved from the five-tool talent we were promised in 2004 to something resembling Andruw Jones. He's a nice cleanup hitter and a terrific center fielder with the glove, but he's not a leader in the clubhouse and he's not worth $18.5 milion for each of the next four years.

As distraught as I am to lose Lastings Milledge, I like Ryan Church. He's a decent outfielder who can play all three positions and is a pretty good hitter to boot. If he can shore up his performance against lefties, Church has the potential to be a very good #6 hitter - I'm thinking Kevin McReynolds with a few more doubles and a few less home runs.

The Mets really should have a right-handed bat on the roster who can serve as a platoon partner for Church. Instead, the Mets have Pagan and Brady Clark. Sigh.

Endy Chavez is an excellent fifth outfielder, because like Church he plays all three outfield positions. Chavez, however, can steal 30 bases and excels in the field - the fact that he can't hit much is exposed whenever he gets extended playing time. Limit him to 250 at-bats and lots of appearances as a pinch runner/defensive replacement, and everyone will be happy.

Summing Up: The first four batters in the lineup (Reyes, Castillo, Wright and Beltran) can stake a claim for being the best quartet in the National League. Castillo is ultimately a below-average hitter, but fits the lineup well because Willie Randolph will only ask him to do the tasks associated with prototypical #2 hitters. (There's that phrase again; I'm going to be addressing it soon enough.)

Alou is still dangerous when healthy, but Delgado's reputation is more dangerous than his bat. Church and Schneider will round out the everyday lineup; Church will hit, Schneider will not. Moises really is the key to the offense, because when he's healthy he makes the Mets a very difficult lineup to contend with. Replace him with Chavez or Pagan and you've got the potential to get five straight outs every time Beltran completes his at-bat.

By the way, the sooner the Mets release Clark and sign a right-handed 3B/1B who can spell Delgado against lefties, the better.

25-Man Roster Analysis, Part 1

Opening Day is less than eight hours away, so I have to squeeze in the first half of my 25-man roster analysis between meetings and paperwork. I would really rather do a different type of player analysis, with a focus on how they ended up on the Mets and what role they play on the current squad, but for now, let's take a look at the pitching staff for the team that will take the field in Florida today.

Johan Santana
Pedro Martinez
Oliver Perez
John Maine
Mike Pelfrey
Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez-DL

A potentially dominant rotation and the single biggest determining factor whether or not this team wins 85 games or 100 games.

Santana has to be considered a Cy Young Award front-runner after dominanting the American League for the past five seasons. Other than some concerns about pitch selection, there's nothing not to like about the guy. Pencil him for continued success and the starting nod at the All-Star game.

Martinez is one of the 10 greatest starting pitchers in baseball history, but not enough attention is being to the fact that the surgery he's coming back from is known as a career-killer. You can count the number of pitchers who returned to their old form after rotator cuff surgery on one hand. The days of sub-2.00 ERAs and 0.950 WHIPs are long gone, but I'll be happy with 175 IP, a 4.00 ERA and a 1.300 WHIP. If anyone can do it, it's Pedro.

He's pitching the fourth game of the season, but John Maine will be the nominal #2 starter before the end of the year. Stolen from Baltimore two years ago in exchange for a MILF, Maine has been lights-out this spring and appears ready to step into the elite class of National League starters. In retrospect, perhaps this shouldn't be entirely surprising - Maine dominated the lower levels of the minor leagues before being rushed to the big club at 24. It took him an extra year to get it, which was one year too long in a dysfunctional organization like Baltimore. Bold prediction: 17 wins, a sub-3.25 ERA and a 1.200 WHIP. He's going to look very good in my Strat-o-Matic rotation next season!

The Mets are one of the most interesting teams in baseball because their starters have the potential to throw a shutout every night of the week. No one exemplifies this more than Oliver Perez, whose raw stuff rivals that of Santana or pre-injury Pedro. Unfortunately for Ollie, he still hasn't learned to consistently harness that stuff, making him a terrific candidate for most disappointing starter in the National League. Having Perez on a one-year deal at $6.5 million is fine for a big-market club with enough money to fill Scrooge McDuck's vault. As a #4 starter without a long-term contract, he's an absolute dream. But signing Oliver Perez to a 5-year, $75 million free agent deal (as he's been rumored to be looking for) would be disastrous. You can bank on 5 great starts and 5 terrible starts in 2008 - the consistency he shows in the other 20 will go a long way toward determining his future worth to the franchise.

Mike Pelfrey should be a reliever. He's going to get tattooed with the big club, sent to AAA by May 15 and will rot there until Minaya trades him for pennies on the dollar.

El Duque is starting the season on the DL because apparently bunions are the most debilitating baseball injury known to man. The graceful leg kick of yester-year is gone, replaced by a more pedestrian wind-up that will rob El Duque of some of his trademark abaility to hide the ball until the last possible second. The man is a joy to watch when he's on and, like Perez, perfectly suited for the role he will play as a #5 starter. Omar made a big boo-boo by guaranteeing a pitcher in his mid-40s a two-year deal after the 2006 season, but at this point it's not like El Duque is blocking the next Mets pitching phenom.

Summing Up: The single biggest joy of being a Mets fan is this starting rotation. Once Pelfrey is back in the French Quarter, every single start has the makings of something special. They will need to catch some breaks though. Don't worry about Santana and Maine - they'll win at least 30 games between them. But the key to sustained success will be Pedro and El Duque, who will have to stay healthy enough to make 50 regular-season starts and still be ready for October assignments. If they do that and Perez simply maintains his 2007 form, the Mets can hit the century mark in wins. Extended DL stints for the veterans, combined with a severe regression from Perez to 2004-2006 levels, will mean an 85-77 record and the end of Willie Randolph's managing career. At this point, I honestly don't know what I'm rooting for more.

Billy Wagner (closer)
Aaron Heilman
Pedro Feliciano
Matt Wise
Scott Schoenweis
Jorge Sosa
Joe Smith

Before I begin, let me state for the record that a seven-man bullpen is a ridiculous use of roster space and is completely unnecessary, even in today's ultra-specialized game. I'll write a separate entry about this topic down the road, but the seven reserve arms in the Mets' pen are keeping them from carrying even six infielders this season. I will respectfully suggest that every team in baseball can get more use out of a sixth infielder than they can out of a seventh reliever.

Billy Wagner is the closer - one of the few relievers in baseball who I firmly believe should be utilized ONLY with a lead of three runs or less in the ninth inning of a game. Wags is one of those guys who "needs to have a role" - remember that ninth-inning meltdown against the Yankees two years ago? Both his ERA and WHIP have increased from the 2005 season (the year before he signed with the Mets), always a cocnern for a reliever in his mid-30s. Wagner is also my least favorite Met on the team, mainly for this type of garbage. He didn't even have the balls to admit it was him at the time; it was only after Milledge was traded that he admitted to doing the deed. Here's hoping Lasto goes deep on you three times this season, Billy - and that he slaps hands with the hometown fans after each and every dinger.

Aaron Heilman is a victim of his success. He desperately wants another chance to be a starter but at this point, he's one of the more underrated set-up men in the game. A few unfortunately timed home runs tend to overshadow the fact that Heilman has pitched 229 highly effective innings out of the bullpen over the last three seasons - with a ERA of 3.14 and a 1.161 WHIP. You'd be hard=pressed to find another middle reliever in baseball with those kind of numbers over a three-year span. Sorry Aaron, you're just too good at your current job to let you go back to starting.

I've been a big fan of Pedro Feliciano ever since the Mets re-acquired him two years ago, but I have to admit I soured on him a bit in 2007. For a second straight year, the overall numbers were good, but Feliciano was less effective after the All-Star Break. He's another guy that Willie tends to misuse - typecast as a situational lefty despite holding right-handers to a .241 batting average over the last two seasons. Still, Heilman is clearly the top set-up guy and while Feliciano is more than equipped to handle the entire eighth inning, it would be better to use him in innings where he was assured at least one left-handed batter.

Matt Wise was a terrific under the radar signing by Minaya last off-season. This guy was shutting down everyone until accidentally fracturing the cheekbone of Pedro Lopez with an errant pitch on July 25. The league hit a mind-boggling .466 off Wise after that incident, most decidedly taking the shine off Wise's early numbers. Wise features an excellent changeup and a season of sharing a locker room with Johan Santana will hopefully make it even more devastating. As long as he's gotten over the emotional trauma of the beaning, I really like him as the fourth reliever in the pen and I think he's primed for a great campaign.

Memo to Omar Minaya - don't sign middle relievers to three-year deals. Memo to Willie Randolph - don't use lefty specialists against right-handers. It ain't rocket science, people.

Jorge Sosa should be in AAA or in the #5 starter role. Instead, he's the seventh reliever on a team that only needs six. There's no reason Schoenweis couldn't function as a lefty specialist AND the long man - you don't have to worry about striking out a tough left-handed batter in seventh inning if your team's already down by six runs in the second. But when it comes to roster construction, the lack of creativity shown by Willie and Omar never ceases to amaze. And so we have Sosa, one more mediocre arm at the back of the bullpen waiting for the call that may never come - all at the expense of the pinch-runner, the platoon partner or the defensive specialist far more likely to have a significant impact on the outcome of the game.

Joe Smith is the man benefitting the most from Randolph and Minaya's short-sightedness. He barely beat out Brian Stokes for the last spot in the bullpen and will have to replicate his early-season success in 2007 if he wants to stick with the big club this time around. The sidearmer has already been typecast as a righty specialist, but learning to shut down left-handers will be the key to long-term success.

Summing up: A good bullpen, on balance, even if it is too big. When Wagner isn't lecturing us all about playing the game right, he's still a Top 10 closer. Heilman is the best set-up man in baseball and Feliciano is a competent fill-in, with Wise lurking if Pedro needs to be re-calibrated into a lefty specialist. Schoenweis is here, for better or worse, but can be useful if used solely against tough-lefthanders and in mop-up duty. Joe Smith belongs in AAA, where he can work on getting out lefties - Sosa can do the long-man thing AND get out a tough righty in the sixth inning.

Roster Construction

I'll begin doing my breakdown of the 25-man roster tomorrow before the first pitch, but I have to point something out before I go to bed. The Mets inexplicably have more outfielders (6) than infielders (5) on the active roster. That means there are three backup outfielders and one backup infielder. This is an unintelligent way to construct a roster.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Stupid Decisions, Part 1

Welcome to the segment of my new blog that I like to call "Stupid Decisions." These segments will be dedicated to all the times the Mets do something stupid to piss me off, which invariably leads me to question how much longer I can remain a fan of this team.

I wrote about the dumb decision to release Ruben Gotay late last night and I had made my peace with it as best as I possibly could. So I get home from work today and just as I'm about to make some dinner when Joe calls me with the latest news: Gotay is going to be practicing his tomahawk chop this year.

Well, that's just terrific. It took the Braves less than 24 hours to swoop in and sign a guy who was actually in tears about the idea of having to leave the Mets, and to disprove the old adage that "you can't get something for nothing." The Mets didn't attempt to work out a deal with the Braves - hell, as far as I can tell they didn't attempt to work out a deal with any team in the league. They just let Gotay go, 72 hours before the final rosters were due, and ended up handing him to Atlanta for nothing.

Joe put it very well. "Jack," he asked me, "if any other team in the league had Ruben Gotay, and the Mets offered them Fernando Tatis in a trade, do you think they would do it? And we kept Tatis, and gave away Gotay!"

So let's recap: our hated division rivals just filled one of the last holes on their roster by grabbing a 25-year-old infielder who can play three positions and who just came off a season where he nearly hit .300 - all at the expense of the Mets! Bold prediction: Gotay and Lastings Milledge combine for 10 home runs against the Mets in 2008.

Roster Move: Bye Bye Gotay

The Mets put Ruben Gotay on waivers yesterday, a decision that’s drawing a predictable level of condemnation in some circles. I don’t like the decision either, though, and I think it’s indicative of Omar Minaya’s short-sightedness in the area of roster construction.

Gotay’s being squeezed out of a position because of Minaya’s foolish decisions to bring back Damion Easley and Marlon Anderson, even though neither one is a good fit for the 2008 roster. Easley is 38, coming off a broken ankle and although he appeared at five positions last season (mostly at second base), he didn’t play the field particularly well at any of them. Anderson is only 34 and, like Easley, can’t play a lick of defense. He’s turning into a latter-day Manny Mota, which is nice, but National League managers can no longer afford to allow a pinch-hitting specialist to take up a roster space. You have the 12-man bullpen to thank for that – a topic which I’ll be tackling down the road.

The Anderson deal is especially galling, because Minaya actually gave him the Julio Franco treatment and locked him up for 2009 as well. At least Easley can – and probably will – be released by the time August rolls around. Marlon will be gumming up the works next year as well.

Now all that said, let’s not kid ourselves about Gotay’s future. He showed some signs of being a productive MLB second baseman last season, but I don’t think he’ll ever be anything more than a lower-echelon starter or a solid-hitting backup. He’s not a great fielder and although he can hit a little, nothing about his track record makes me think that Ruben has the ability to hit .300 or smack 20 home runs over a full season. I’d still much rather have the guy we traded for Gotay in the first place, who may finally be getting a chance to play with the Reds this season. I am convinced that Keppinger simply needs to get 450 at-bats this year and he will put up a .315/.360/.430 line.

Still, I was struck by Gotay’s energy level last season and liked the fact that it looked like he was having fun playing the game. Maybe it’s naive of me to still value that in a ballplayer, but it’s one of the few “intangibles” I actually believe in. I think most baseball fans have a natural affinity for guys with a certain style and flair – unless they happen to be black, in which case they’ll simply be chastised by the holier-than-thou white guys in media circles about “playing the game right.”

If Minaya had played his cards right, his position players could’ve stacked up like this:

Castro - DL
backup catcher who will be sent to AAA when Castro returns


Alou - DL
Pagan/Clark/generic right-handed fifth outfielder

I know a lot of people aren’t too happy about Tatis, and the chances of him being an abject failure and earning his release by June 1 is nearly 100 percent, but I actually don’t mind this move coming out of Spring Training. He’ll back up Wright at third base and can platoon with Delgado at first against some left-handers. He’s fits the exact profile of what this roster needs right now – although Minaya needs to begin scouting the league to find a similar player to replace Tatis with if and when he proves to be a washout.

Instead, the Mets will likely break camp with a roster looking something like this:

Castro - DL
backup catcher who will be sent to AAA when Castro returns


Alou - DL
Pagan/Clark/generic right-handed sixth outfielder who will be sent down or released once Alou comes off the DL, thereby depriving Ryan Church of a sorely-needed platoon partner.

Easley is a downgrade from Gotay both with the bat and in the field, while Anderson robs the Mets of the chance to platoon in right field while having no actual position to speak of. His new nickname will be “Albatross.”

The set-up probably costs the Mets a game or two in the standings when all is said and done, the kind of thing that sometimes comes into play over a 162-game season. The real concern is 2009 and beyond, especially if Gotay goes on to have a few cheap and reasonably productive years before his 30th birthday.

Minaya can minimize his latest roster folly if he can find a way to trade Gotay for Matt Murton, who is inexplicably about to be sent to AAA by the Cubs. The Cubs might be interested, since they've been chasing a second baseman all winter with no luck. Murton would be the perfect fit for the Mets – he can start in left until Alou comes back and then shift into a platoon with Church in right field while waiting for Moises’s next injury. He’s a good young hitter who had success as a regular in 2006, with a minor-league record that suggests he has the potential to take the left field job from Alou in 2009.

Minaya, of course, will completely miss the boat on this one as well.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


In the beginning, I was actually a Yankees fan.

Well now, that's not necessarily true. But the first baseball game I ever went to was at Yankee Stadium, with the Broad Channel Athletic Club sometime during the 1983 season. The first game I actually remember being at was on September 30, 1984, when my dad and my Uncle Paul took me to watch the final game of the season against the Tigers.

Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield were going head to head for the batting title - I remember that an awful lot of people around me seemed to be rooting for Donnie Baseball and against Mr. May. I also remember being confused as to why a .340 hitter was being booed in his own park on the final day of the season, but I've come to learn that Yankee fans are renowned for booing their own players for less than intelligent reasons. Mickey Mantle used to be booed for not being Joe Dimaggio; Alex Rodriguez gets booed for not being Derek Jeter.

In 1984, when I was seven years old, I suppose I rooted for both the Mets and the Yankees. And why not? Both teams were winning and I was too young to really understand the concept of team loyalty. But by the time the 1985 season ended, I was most definitely a Mets fan. The few baseball fans on my mother's side of the family rooted for the Mets and kids tend to follow the example of the adults around them. My grandfather rooted for the Mets because he used to root for the Brooklyn Dodgers and kept his allegiance to the National League; my aunts rooted for the Mets because they had a crush on fellow Brooklynite Lee Mazzilli.

Gary Carter had a lot to do with it as well; The Kid was the final piece of the puzzle for a team that needed to a strong hand to guide its tantalizing young pitchers. My father, who would never be confused for a serious baseball fan, liked Gary Carter because he hustled and played the game hard. For a seven-year-old boy who looked upon his father as something of a mythical figure - albeit a slightly flawed one for his disinterest in organized sports - that was more than enough for me. A Carter poster ended up on my bedroom wall (the same one that I would see in the back room of the Blarney Stone on 32nd Street years later) and I had officially cast my lot with this team.

23 years later, I wonder how much different my life would've turned out if someone had bought me a Mattingly poster instead.

Today, the blue and orange of the New York Mets runs through my veins, but I've been giving serious consideration to a permanent blood transfusion. I despise the manager, I distrust the general manager and I openly hate quite a few players on the team. (Billy Wagner, I'm looking directly at you!)

It's the same organization that has traded Scott Kazmir and Lastings Milledge in the last three years - a pattern of trading budding stars for overrated talent that has dogged this franchise since its inception. Nolan Ryan, Ken Singleton, Amos Otis, Kevin Mitchell, Jeff Kent, Jason Isringhausen - read this article to see just how historically bad the Mets have been in this department.

I hate Shea Stadium, even though I know I'll miss it a little when it's gone. The new stadium will be nice, I'm sure, but it's also 12,000 seats smaller that Shea - a scam to charge more per ticket - and was built on the tax dollars of everyday New Yorkers while billionaires like the Wilpons enjoy more corporate welfare. Plus, Citi Field is being superficially modeled after Ebbets Field, and I hate everything relating to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

So why do I do it? Why do I put myself through this, year after year? Maybe it's a bad habit. Maybe it's an addiction. Maybe I just like singing "Meet the Mets" so much that I can't bear the thought of turning my back on that song. Maybe I'll find the answer here.

Make no mistake - I'm writing this blog for me, not for you. The goal here is for me to finally get some of the impotent rage I have toward this team off my chest and to share my ideas for a brighter future, not only for the Mets but also for the sport of baseball. It takes a certain amount of narcissism to think that your written words have the power to sway opinion and engender loyalty to your thoughts and ideas - I have that narcissism in spades.

Not everything I write here will be so whimsical - I want to do a lot of analysis as well. Posts will be made at my leisure and will reflect my state of thinking at the time. I claim no hidden insight into the world of baseball or into this organization - I'm just one man with a lot of ideas and a forum to express them. I hope you'll contribute as well; what you have to say is important and germane to any attempts at changing this team and the game for the better.

Somewhere along the line, maybe I’ll even stop hating the New York Mets and come back to loving them again.