Friday, December 11, 2009

Quick Hits - 12/11/09

* What kind of blogger sits out the entire Winter Meetings without so much as a post?

* Mack says that Bengie Molina is going to be a Met today; Jack says that his soul is going to die a little if that happens. T-Bone swears that I told him some time ago that I would be all right with Molina on a one-year deal. I do not remember saying this, but I don't remember saying a lot of the things that come out of my mouth. Let me state for the record - Bengie Molina is not worth $6 million per year if the deal is one year, two years or 10 minutes long.

* Mets sign Clint Everts to a minor-league deal. Looking at his 2009 numbers and considering his pedigree, why did the Nationals even let him go?

* Loyal reader YD sends along this quote (although technically, I refer to him as MD): "The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don't play together, the club won't be worth a dime." - Babe Ruth.

Every time a Mets fan tells me that a team with David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana and Francisco Rodriguez can't possibly be THAT FAR away from being a playoff team, the Bambino's quote immediately leaps to mind.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Roster Move: Mets Sign Another Old Guy

Henry Blanco? Really? Who's next, Charles Johnson?

Look, Blanco's defensive skills may still be intact (he threw out 40 percent of base-stealers last year), and he may have also been a mentor to Geovany Soto during his breakout 2008 season. But there is just no rational explanation for doubling Blanco's salary after a season where he appeared in just 67 games and batted .232/.320/.382. If the Mets are going to give $1.5 million to the likes of Henry Blanco, then I don't want to hear another word about the Wilpons having financial concerns.

(Actually, this move signals everything I hate about the Mets right now - this organiation would rather give $1.5 million to a 37-year-old backup catcher then to pay over-slot for a first-round draft pick. It is the very definition of penny-wise and pound-foolish.)

This would seemingly signal the end of Omir Santos's career in New York - a move that I am hardly lamenting. Mets fans have a bad habit of thinking that a good three-week stretch from a player is an indicator of All-Star potential. Too many people drank the Kool-Aid with Santos, a career minor leaguer who would be lucky to bat over .200 if he gets 100 major league at-bats next season.

By the way, Mack from Mack's Mets points out that Chris Coste will be well received in Buffalo, which is where he's apparently ticketed to go now that Blanco is in the fold. He also predicts that Bengie Molina will be the next 35-and-over catcher signed by the Mets - a move that will push me into full-meltdown mode.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It Never Ends

Thanks, Jon Heyman.

If I need to tell you that signing a 35-year-old catcher who runs slower than I do and had a .285 OBP last year is a mistake, then you may have accidentally wandered over here from LOLCats. If the idea of spending $6 million on a "strong-armed" catcher that threw out only 23 percent of base-stealers in 2009 seems like a good one, than you may be Omar Minaya and/or his dog. (Only renowned noodle arms AJ Pierzynski and Jason Varitek allowed more runners to steal on them last year.)

But hey, the Giants didn't offer Molina arbitration, so the Mets can keep their second-round pick and toe the line on slot recommendations again next June!

Roster Moves: Mets Sign Old Guys

The first step in the rebuilding job is complete!

Alex Cora and Chris Coste have been brought into the fold and added to the 40-man roster, although Coste actually signed a minor-league deal last week. These moves, not surprisingly, were met mostly with derision in the Mets' blog kingdom. In a season where the Mets have so many holes to fill, you will forgive the fanbase by not being excited over a utility infielder and a second- or third-string catcher.

I have no problem with signing Coste - he hit reasonably well as a backup in Philadelphia for a few seasons, although the bottom dropped out of his offensive production when he was traded to the Astros last summer. I would've preferred the Mets make a run at Kelly Shoppach, who was traded to the Rays this week. That said, Tampa seems very unlikely to offer Dioner Navarro a contract now - I would love it if the Mets paired him with Santos and allowed Coste to mentor Josh Thole in Buffalo.

Cora is another story. It doesn't seem like a good idea to offer $2 million to a light-hitting backup infielder with a questionable glove and two damaged thumbs. Minaya's style as a general manager seems to include ranking the areas where he perceives the team has a need and then filling it as quickly as possible with the first available player who fits the bill. One can almost imagine Minaya scanning this list, seeing the phrase "utility infielder" and deciding that he needs to lock Cora up so he can move to the next task.

There are many problems with this approach, not the least of which is that Minaya rarely lets the market come to him. Was it really that important to lock down your utility infielder right now? Was the market for Cora so hot that Minaya stood to lose him if he wasn't offered a contract before December 1? Were there any younger, more athletic players in baseball who could've filled that role more cheaply?

Don't tell me that Cora's "leadership skills" were essential to a 70-win team that showed only a passing familiarity with how to play fundamental baseball, either. The Mets don't need leaders - they need good baseball players, and lots of them. Cora and Coste may play a supporting role, but they do not address what the Mets really need.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Another Strike Against Jack Morris

James Ronald and I have had a long-standing but good-natured feud over Jack Morris and his Hall of Fame qualifications. He always argues for Morris's inclusion; I always say that Morris should have to buy a ticket like the rest of us if he wants to get into the Hall of Fame.

I know all the arguments in favor of Morris - winningest pitcher of the 80s, clutch postseason performances, mystical ability to "pitch to the score" (since disproven here). I know my arguments against Morris - 3.90 career ERA, 186 career losses, no single season with an ERA below 3.00 despite fashioning a career in a pitcher-friendly era. There are a lot of pitchers like Morris in his era; they just weren't lucky enough to play for a team that handed him the ball in Game 7 of a World Series.

The amazing Joe Posnanski is not a believer in Morris's candidacy either. (He also supports Dan Quisenberry for the Hall of Fame, but that's a crusade for another day.) Posnanski has written about this before, but takes a different tactic here by comparing Morris to another one of his contemporaries - Dennis Martinez:

He is an interesting case to me because he is the first big league player from Nicaragua, he spread out his success over a very long career and, yes, when you add it all up he has a very similar case to Jack Morris, who is gaining Hall of Fame momentum.

Morris: 254-186, 3.90 ERA, 2,478 Ks, 1,390 walks, 1.296 WHIP, 28 shutouts, 105 ERA+.
Martinez: 245-193, 3.70 ERA, 2,149 Ks, 1,165 walks, 1.266 WHIP, 30 shutouts, 106 ERA+.

Morris pitched one of the great World Series games ever.
Martinez is one of 16 players since 1900 to have thrown a perfect game.

Morris led the league in wins twice, complete games once.
Martinez led the league in wins once, complete games twice, innings pitched once, shutouts once and ERA once.

Morris won 20 games three times and was selected to five All-Star Games.
Martinez never won 20, but he had three good years shortened by strikes and he was selected to four All-Star Games. And from age 32-40, he had a 129 ERA+ — Morris only once in his career managed a single season with an ERA of 129 or better.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Even More on Building the 2010 Mets - Starters

Notes about other starting pitchers in the Mets' organization who I haven't mentioned so far:

Jon Niese: Niese hasn't shown enough to be considered a lock for the fifth starter's spot, although I imagine the Mets will give lip service to the idea that he will be competing for the job next spring. That's fine - he will benefit from fronting the Buffalo Bisons' rotation in 2010. Niese is only 23 years old, so the Mets aren't exactly stunting his growth by asking him to stand tall in the International League first.

Nelson Figueroa: Figueroa has been jerked around by the Mets for two straight years now. I expect he'll be back for more punishment in 2010, unless there's a match with a team more likely to value his services. If Niese is the first man the Mets will call on to fill a hole in the rotation, than Figueroa is the second.

Tobi Stoner: Stoner isn't on the radar just yet, but he made 47 starts across three levels in 2008 and 2009 and had good numbers (3.59 ERA, 1.201 WHIP) to show for it. (Yes, he went 14-20 during that time, but if you're reading this blog than you already know not to measure pitchers strictly by their won-loss record.) Stoner's cameo in the Mets bullpen last September is not, as far as I know, a portent of things to come. He should be back in Buffalo next season, where another strong performance will surely gain Stoner a lot more attention.

Bobby Parnell: Back to the bullpen, unless Omar Minaya can sucker another general manager into giving up a competent baseball player. Think Brent Gaff, without the track record of minor-league success. To steal from The Usual Suspects: "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that Bobby Parnell was a major league pitcher."

Tim Redding: If he hasn't been non-tendered already, it can only be chalked up to Minaya's benevolence. At this point, why ruin Thanksgiving at the Redding home?

Pat Misch, Fernando Nieve, Lance Broadway: These guys might be considered for Buffalo's starting rotation in 2010, but they have no chance of making it in New York. I would be surprised if they are all still in the organization by the time Spring Training starts.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

More on Building the 2010 Mets - Starters

Mack writes (via the wonderful Mack's Mets): Does Ollie really have to come back?

Can't the Mets work out some kind of compensation deal with China and just add his cost to the debt already owed them?

Call me a sucker for left-handers who can't find the plate (I happen to be one myself!), but I think Ollie might be decent next year. I am really happy about his voluntary off-season regimen at that performance institute in Arizona. If they think of him as an SP4 and act accordingly in the trade/free agent market, the Mets might be pleasantly surprised this year.

Is it too late to non-tender John Maine, if the Mets sign, say, Lackey and Marquis?

The non-tender deadline is December 12. That gives Omar Minaya more than three weeks to acquire at least one starter and to explore the market for Maine and Mike Pelfrey. If the Mets have two new starters on December 11 and they can't trade Pelfrey, then I have to think Maine is a goner.

I didn't expand enough on this plan in the original post. Simply put, here's how I would fill out the starting rotation for next season, in the order of I would do it:

1) Sign Rich Harden or Erik Bedard (preferably Harden) to a one-year deal with a club option.
2) Sign Jason Marquis or Joel Pineiro to a two-year deal with a club option. I have no preference between the two - I just want the player who accepts the most reasonable deal. If Minaya's hand is forced, he may have to offer three guaranteed years. That is fine, as long as he wrangles a very club-friendly option year to the contract.
3) Explore the trade market for Mike Pelfrey. He has more trade value than Maine and a lot of teams would take a chance on a former #1 pick making only $500K next season. If a good deal can be struck, ship Pelfrey away and install Maine in the rotation.
4) Explore the trade market for Maine. Get any reasonable return you can for him.
5) Non-tender Maine, if Steps 3 and 4 are unsuccessful.

SP1 - Santana
SP2 - Marquis/Pineiro
SP3 - Harden/Bedard
SP4 - Perez
SP5 - Maine/Pelfrey

Building the 2010 Mets: Starters

With three intriguing position players ready to debut at Triple A-Buffalo next year (Ike Davis, Josh Thole, Fernando Martinez), the Mets can afford to concentrate their financial resources on starting pitching this off-season.

Johan Santana, Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey will almost certainly make up three-fifths of the Mets starting rotation in 2010. The need for a consistent #2 starter to complement Santana is obvious, but with two gaping holes in the rotation the Mets might be better served by skipping the likes of John Lackey or Randy Wolf and focusing on using that money to get two starters.

Santana has been a legitimate ace in his first two seasons in New York, although elbow trouble at the end of last season has become the proverbial elephant in the room. No one wants to acknowledge the possibility that Santana's days as a stopper are over, despite four guaranteed years and nearly $100 million left on his contract. His 2009 numbers, while certainly solid, do not suggest that he can still be counted among the best pitchers in the National League. No matter - put him at the top of the rotation and (like so many other player personnel decisions from this front office) cross your fingers and hope for the best.

Oliver Perez was, somewhat predictably, horrible in 2009. Although the depths to which he sank may have been unexpected, there was an almost palpable sense that Perez was not going to live up to his free agent contract. He is untradable at this point, so the Mets will have to simply pencil him in as a mid-rotation option and (again) hope that he finds himself. Reports that he is involved in an off-season conditioning program are encouraging, especially since Ollie is not exactly renowned for his dedication to his craft.

Thanks to a quirk in the major league contract he signed with the Mets when he was drafted, Pelfrey is actually taking a pay cut this season. Reports vary on how much less he will be making, but Pelfrey will be paid a fifth starter's salary in 2010. That's exactly what he deserves these days - Pelfrey looks more like a busted prospect than a future star who cannot be counted on for even a league-average performance.


The Mets do not have a pitcher in their farm system who is ready to step into the rotation before the 2012 season at the earliest. There is no one to be blocked, and therefore no reason not to sign or trade for two starters with contracts that will extend over the next two seasons.

Since I do not think that two blue-chip starters are attainable this off-season, the Mets will have to take some short-term risks. John Maine is a wild card right now - if the Mets cannot swap him for another non-tender candidate, they will have to think seriously about whether or not it will even be worth offering him a 2010 contract. If they end up spending $15 million-plus on Lackey or a package of free agent starters, the Mets may have no choice but to keep Maine and hope that he or Perez steps up to be a #3 starter. I am tired of hoping.

That said, I am actually confident that Maine will outperform Pelfrey next year, so a bold move would be to trade Pelfrey and his very reasonable contract to a team looking to dump an "overpriced" starter. Indeed, it might be the only chance the Mets have of getting a decent starter on the trade market.

Trading for a starter will be very difficult. The Mets need to hold onto the precious few prospects they have, and even those young players may not be enough to acquire someone of substance. Forget about Roy Halladay - there is no way on God's green earth that the Mets have the horses to pry him away from the Blue Jays. Unless the Mets can move someone like Luis Castillo to take on a starter owed a lot of guaranteed money, I don't see how they can address their needs in their trade market.

If that proves to be the case, the free agent market will be the only alternative. I am never a fan of signing multiple free agents, but this is a rare season where it may make sense. The Mets have a protected first-round pick, so they can afford to sign one of the two Type A free agents (John Lackey and Randy Wolf) without giving that pick up.

Lackey is the only free agent who is a legitimate #2 starter when healthy, but Tim Marchman quite correctly points out that his injury history and the mileage on his arm do not suggest a starter who can be counted on to pitch regularly in the future. I would pass. Wolf was dominant in 2009, but that performance just screams "contract year." Some poor team is going to regret giving a multi-year contract to Wolf; I can only hope that it will not be the Mets.

The Type B free agent market has a few starters who are worth looking at, provided they can be signed for a reasonable length of time and annual rate. Rich Harden has the best raw talent of any free agent, with risk/reward potential so high that he is worth a one-year deal with a club option at a comparatively high price. He CANNOT be counted on as a second starter, even if he gets paid like one; Harden needs to be slotted in as a #5 and used judiciously this season.

Otherwise, Joel Pineiro is the best of a mediocre lot - he has become the type of groundball machine that Pelfrey should be by now. Jason Marquis claims to want to come to New York; will he come here for two years and $13 million? Erik Bedard has made only 30 starts in the last two seasons, but like Harden his risk/reward potential is worth a one-year flier if Pineiro or Marquis go elsewhere.

Best case scenario: The Mets sign Harden or Bedard to a one-year deal with a club option, who gives them 30 dominant starts and finally puts his injury history to rest. They also guess right on either Pineiro or Marquis and he performs well over the next two or three seasons. Perez uses his time in Arizona to finally realize his potential and becomes the best #3 starter in the league. Maine or Pelfrey succeeds as a fifth starter - the other one leaves town quietly.

Worst case scenario: The Mets dedicate too many years and too much money to Lackey or Wolf. They keep Maine, Pelfrey and Perez to round out the rotation and none of them are healthy or effective. They go into 2011 with their top two starters signed for three more years at financial rates far beyond their return, to go along with one more year of Bad Ollie and the same two holes in the rotation they have right now.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Targeting Non-Tender Candidates

There's a new market inefficiency waiting to be exploited by astute major league general managers - non-tender candidates.

Non-tendering is a term used when an arbitration-eligible player is not offered a contract for the upcoming season. That player, in effect, becomes a free agent and can sign with any club. This offseason may see an explosion in non-tendered players, which would flood the free agent market with young veterans who may still have something to offer.

Three such players switched teams last week - the Royals sent Mark Teahen to the White Sox, the Marlins sent Jeremy Hermida to the Red Sox and the Brewers sent JJ Hardy to the Twins. The White Sox may have slightly overpaid for Teahen, but Boston and Minnesota have filled holes while giving up relatively little in the process.

Teahen, Hermida and Hardy were all considered solid young prospects just a few years ago, but each have failed to live up to expectations so far. Hardy has had the best career so far - he hit 50 home runs as a shortstop in 2007 and 2008 combined and developed a reputation as a sure-handed fielder. Unfortunately for Hardy, he struggled mightily in 2009 and was even sent to the minors in August (a move that some saw as an attempt by Milwaukee to delay his ability to become a free agent).

Teahen and Hermida have not been as successful as Hardy, but are intriguing players nevertheless. A natural third baseman, Kansas City has jerked Teahen all over the diamond in the last few years and his offensive production has suffered as a result. Hermida has failed to build on on a promising 2007 season in which he hit 18 home runs and put up a .296/.369/.501 line at the age of 23.

Once the season ended, all three men were at risk of being released by their former team if they weren't traded first. Why would these clubs want to give up on young, moderately-priced talent so quickly? The answer lies in the arbitration process.

A quick explanation: baseball players are bound to their original team for up to six major league seasons before they can become free agents. The club can unilaterally set the player's salary for the first three seasons he is in the majors. For the next three seasons, the player and club can attempt to negotiate a deal that is considered fair by both sides. If no agreement can be reached, the club retains the player's rights but the salary is set by an independent arbitrator.

Each side submits a salary recommendation and the arbitrator decides to accept the player's proposal or the club's proposal. In general, the previous year's salary and the salary of players with similar skill sets are strongly considered when it comes time for the arbitrator to make his decision.

Suddenly, the rumblings about the arbitration process have gotten louder and clubs appear less willing to pay $4 or $5 million a year to players whose production may be easily replaced with cheaper talent. In one sense, that suggests an increased business acumen - I also suspect that it's more a matter of mid-market and small-market teams trying to control payroll.

As a result, players like Teahen, Hermida and Hardy - who in the past never would've been non-tendered - are suddenly in danger of losing their jobs. General managers are taking a harder look at arbitration-eligible players and wondering if they are headaches better passed on to another club, even if the players gotten in return pale in comparison.

In any event, a new undervalued commodity has developed. Big-market clubs - like the New York Mets - should be looking to snap up arbitration-eligible players who may not always be good enough to start, but are still young enough to salvage a respectable career. Why not take a chance on former prospects who haven't quite panned out yet, especially when the commitment is minimal and the price is still reasonable?

Hardy is a natural shortstop, so obviously he would not have made sense for a team still committed to Jose Reyes at that position. However, Teahen and Hermida would've made for terrific reserve options on a team that simply must stop stocking their bench with over-the-hill free agents.

Teahen could've challenged for the first base job in the spring and served as a competent alternative to David Wright on those rare occasions when the workhorse needed a day off. Hermida can play either corner outfield position and could've challenged Jeff Francouer in right field. Both are left-handed and both are better pinch-hitting options than Alex Cora, who the Mets might re-sign this winter.

Was Omar Minaya ever in talks with Kansas City and Florida for Teahen or Hermida? If not, he missed out on an opportunity to strengthen his bench with two young, versatile players who still have time to make something of themselves. On a team with so many holes to fill, Minaya can't afford to miss out on too many of these opportunities.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Building the 2010 New York Mets

I still plan on doing an in-depth analysis of the Mets' 40-man roster, but I want to set that up with a more general look at the five main components of the big club - starting pitching, relief pitching, catching, infield and outfield. The Mets need help in all five of these areas before Opening Day, but it's highly unlikely that they will be able to address everything this winter.

The truth is, building the 2010 Mets is really about laying the foundation for the 2011 Mets. Right now, it appears that the Mets need one or two starters, one or two relievers, a catcher, a first baseman and at least one corner outfielder to seriously challenge the Phillies in 2010. Omar Minaya isn't going to find seven free agents to fill those holes, and the Mets simply don't have the chips to make more than one good trade to improve the on-field product.

I just don't think that this Mets team has it in them to be competitive next season. Minaya's job may depend on a successful 2010, and I fear that the players he pursues will reflect that, but the franchise would be better off if Minaya was patient and looked at roster reconstruction as a two-year process.

There is not one minor leaguer ready to be a league-average player next season, but intriguing bats like Josh Thole, Ike Davis and Fernando Martinez will benefit immensely from a full season in Triple-A. If Thole, Davis and Martinez pass the test at Buffalo, the Mets will have three promising, low-cost options in their starting lineup for 2011.

For that reason, the Mets need to be wary of committing to multi-year deals with a catcher and a first baseman, and simply cannot sign Jeff Francouer to a long-term extension. There are internal options at first base, and Minaya can offer one-year, incentive laden deals to a veteran catcher and left fielder that won’t block Thole and Martinez.

Daniel Murphy and Chris Carter can battle it out for the first base job in 2010; they will make less than $1 million combined and would allow Minaya to pursue a free agent starter or to take on a big contract elsewhere. If neither has a breakout season, both can be pushed aside for Davis (if he’s successful) or for an established star in 2011.

Francouer, meanwhile, hit just well enough that he’s worth another look in 2010 as the starting right fielder. He is incredibly overrated offensively by Mets fans and he will probably revert back to his uninspiring career norms next season, but Francouer is young enough and good enough defensively that he will do little to no harm batting seventh and playing on a one-year deal.

Will Minaya resist the temptation to indiscriminately spend all those Wilpon bucks that apparently weren’t lost in the Bernie Madoff scandal? I seriously doubt it. Met fans can only hope that Minaya doesn’t do any more damage to the franchise in his quest to save his job.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Organizational Philosophies

It’s easy to forget that the New York Yankees are world champions today in large part because they didn’t make the playoffs last season.

The Yankees finished third in the AL East in 2008, behind the upstart Tampa Bay Rays and their arch-rival Boston Red Sox. They weren’t a bad team – 89 wins in a division featuring the league champions and the wild card winner is nothing to be ashamed of. The 2008 team simply wasn’t good enough by the franchise’s lofty standards.

It was the first time since the doomed 1994 season that the Yankees stayed home in October – and they didn’t take it lightly.

The Yankees went out and bought the two best pitchers on the market – CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett – and paid them a combined $30.5 million to pitch for them in 2009. Sabathia is an ace in every sense of the world; durable, effective and he can pitch on three days’ rest without crawling into the fetal position in fright. Burnett is more inconsistent, but has an electric fastball/breaking ball combination that can dominate any lineup in baseball when his stuff is working.

Not content with shoring up their starting rotation, the Yankees also went out and bought the best position player on the market – first baseman Mark Teixeira. They also traded spare parts for outfielder Nick Swisher, who fell out of favor with the White Sox after a .219/.332/.410 line two seasons into a five-year, $26.75 million deal. Swisher was hurt by an absurdly low .249 BABIP, which suggested he was due to rebound in 2009. That’s exactly what happened; Swisher put up an .249/.371/.498 line with 29 home runs and has proven to be a good fit on the field and in the clubhouse.

Sabathia, Teixeira and Swisher all have something in common besides their hefty price tag – they are all under the age of 30, which suggests that each player in still the prime of his career. Burnett is 32 and a veteran of 11 major league seasons; he was the grand old man of the Yankees' free agent class. Only Swisher could be considered a “risk” coming off a bad season – the other three were stars in 2008 and there was no reason to believe they would regress any time soon.

This very long lead-in has a specific purpose – to compare how the Yankees responded to missing the playoffs in 2008 with the road the Mets chose to go down instead. The Yankees used their natural financial advantages to fill all of their holes and to create a championship-caliber ballclub. The Mets, on the other hand, superficially patched some of their holes and blatantly ignored others, choosing to rely on hopes and dreams instead of reality.

The starting rotation in 2008 remained unchanged, except for the addition of Livan Hernandez in the fifth spot. Hernandez was actually better than expected; he was merely medicore instead of being outright dreadful. Oliver Perez was re-signed to a three-year deal above the market rate and promptly tanked. Mike Pelfrey was penciled in for a breakout campaign over 2009, even though there was no clear reason to explain why he pitched more effectively in the second half of 2008. John Maine was brought back and it was assumed he would resemble the 2007 model more than the 2008 model. Both Pelfrey and Maine failed to live up to expectations.

The starting lineup remained virtually unchanged as well. The only difference was that Daniel Murphy was handed the left fielder’s job despite having played in only one game above Double-A to that point and having been an infielder for his entire minor-league career.

The graveyards of baseball history are littered with the bones of hot-shot young rookies who make a name for themselves on 200 at-bats only to fade into obscurity afterwards. The Mets chose to believe that Murphy would buck that trend, and passed on the opportunity to give players like Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu below-market deals so that Murphy could be a starter. Murphy ended the season as the Mets' starting first baseman, putting up Darin Erstad-like numbers at a position where one expects to have a competent hitter.

No, when the time came to build the 2009 Mets, Omar Minaya went the myopic route and declared that the bullpen was the only need to be addressed. The first step was signing Francisco Rodriguez to a multi-year deal to be their closer. This was the Mets' big free agent splash, despite several years of declining peripherals that suggested that K-Rod's best years may be behind him.

He responded in kind, putting up the highest ERA, WHIP and walk rate in his eight-year career. That wasn't all - Rodriguez also had the lowest K/9 rate he's ever had since making the major leagues. On top of it all, he is signed for another two years, with an easily-obtainable option based on games finished that would balloon his salary to $17.5 million in 2012. The idea of paying any closer not named Mariano Rivera that much money to finish games is absurd to the point of hysteria.

Minaya then traded two relievers, a utility outfielder and four minor-leaguers to bring back … two relievers and a utility outfielder. Sean Green and Joe Smith cancelled each other out, just as Jeremy Reed and Endy Chavez did. The deal, then, was essentially Aaron Heilman and four-minor leaguers for JJ Putz, a former closer coming off an arm injury and ineffectiveness the season before.

The temptation to compare the Putz deal to the Swisher deal is obvious, until you realize that the Yankees had a clear reason to expect Swisher to rebound – an unsustainable BABIP that would improve Swisher’s numbers if he simply regressed to the norm. The Mets had no objective reason to believe that Putz’s injuries and ineffectiveness in 2009 would simply cease to be a factor and that he would return to his previously dominant form.

As we know now, Putz was a $5 million bust, contributing just 29.3 innings with a 5.22 ERA and a 1.636 WHIP. He has an $8.6 million option for 2010; the Mets would have to be clinically insane to pick that option up. Meanwhile, here's a look at the minor leaguers they traded:

Mike Carp (23): a .315/.415/.463 line in a cup of coffee with the Seattle Mariners; a .271/.372/.446 line and 15 home runs with Triple-A Tacoma
Ezequiel Carrera (22): a .337/.441/.416 line and 27 stolen bases with Double-A West Tennessee
Jason Vargas (26): a 3-6 record with a 4.91 ERA and a 1.331 WHIP for the Mariners; a 4-3 record with a 3.14 ERA and a 1.219 WHIP for Triple-A Tacoma
Makiel Cleto (20): an 0-4 record with a 5.54 ERA and a 1.923 WHIP in the low minors

The pitchers haven't done much (although Cleto is young enough to bounce back), but the Mets certainly could use bats like Carp and Carrera in a minor-league system that is painfully thin at the upper levels.

The Yankees are world champions today because they didn’t make the playoffs in 2008 and reacted decisively. The Mets are also-rans because they didn’t make the playoffs in 2008 and refused to react decisively. Instead, the Mets acted as though they were merely a few tweaks away from being world champions.

On a day where it’s tough enough just to be a Mets fan, knowing that the difference between the two organizational philosophies led to such disparate results makes it that much more difficult to root for them.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

No, Really ... Who Am I Rooting For?

DJ emailed me earlier today and and asked me that tried-and-true hypothetical question - gun to my head, who am I rooting for in this World Series? I answered her back eloquently (she even told me so!) and I meant to transcribe to the blog, but got caught up with other things.

As I was watching Game 1, Rockstar sent me a text with his thoughts:

Me? I go phillies.
1) You beat me out, ya better go take it.
2) National league ball.
3) Underdogs.

That's all I got

Great minds think alike. Here's what I told DJ hours before Rockstar's text.

Yes, its the worst match-up for a Mets fan and I'm not happy for either team. But maintaining a rooting interest in this World Series isn't going to be difficult at all. Who am I rooting for?
the Phillies.
No contest, really. I almost always root for the National League in the World Series because I am a National League guy. The Mets, as the product of the first expansion, don't have "historical rivals" like the original 16 franchises do. Therefore, the Phillies aren't exactly bitter rivals - you'd be hard pressed to find another five-year period in Met history where both teams didn't suck.
And what have the Phillies really done to the Mets anyway? Am I supposed to be mad that they won the NL East by playing like men down the stretch in 2007 and 2008 while the Mets played like little girls? Nope. That's all on the Mets.
So when I get home tonight after the gym - yes, I'm going to the gym first - I'm sitting down with a cold beer and putting on my Cliff Lee jersey. Go Phils!!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Who Am I Rooting For?

That's a question that I've been asked several times in the last few days. With the Yankees and the Phillies kicking off the World Series on Wednesday night, friends and family have been keen to find out how I will manage my emotions for the next week to 10 days.

Do I root for the Yankees, by virtue of the fact that they represent New York and that they will be trying to derail a bitter rival's quest for back-to-back championships? Do I root for the Phillies, who by winning the Series would shut the mouths of the legions of "diehard" Yankee fans that have suddenly re-appeared this year?

My answer so far has been that I will simply be rooting for a meteor to strike Yankee Stadium right before the first pitch of Game 1 is thrown. My real answer is a lot more complex.

In a perverse way, I am actually glad that the Yankees and Phillies are their respective league champions. It's a nightmare scenario for Mets fans, of course, but it is also a nightmare scenario for ownership and management. The Wilpons seem to react only to shame and embarrassment, and watching the Mets' crosstown rivals do battle with the three-time NL East champions allows those feelings to cut even more deeply.

Fred Wilpon is still more interested in enjoying his debilitating Jackie Robinson/Brooklyn Dodgers fetish than he is with satisfying his own franchise's fanbase. Jeff Wilpon is still too obsessed trying to convince himself that he isn't the product of blatant and outright nepotism to hire the best management people available and to let them work free from his interference.

The result? The fanbase is disgusted and demoralized, baseball operations are a mess from top to bottom and the Mets are a 70-win team that inexplicably thinks that it's just a few bad breaks away from being a 95-win team. Meanwhile, the Yankees and the Phillies - two organizations that are run better than the Mets in every single facet imaginable - are squaring off for a championship.

The Wilpons deserve this, even if Mets fans do not.

So I am rooting for a thrilling seven-game series, one that captivates the imagination of the nation and vaults both the Yankees and the Phillies into the national spotlight, cementing their status as the two iconic teams of their respective leagues. I don't even care who wins. I just want it to be crystal clear to every baseball fan, even two people as remarkably dense as Fred and Jeff Wilpon, just how irrelevant the Mets have become in comparison.

From there, I am rooting for change.

I am rooting for the 2009 World Series to mark the turning point in the historical timeline of the New York Mets. If the Mets first took the field as a member of the National League in 1962, let that season become known as 47 B.A. (before The Awakening). Let the year 2010 become 1 A.A. - the year in which this franchise began the rebuilding process in earnest and laid the foundation for becoming the most intelligently-run sports franchise in American sports history.

It can be done. The Mets have a beautiful new stadium that, with several important design tweaks, can become a monstrous revenue generator that the fanbase can actually be proud of. The Mets have a television station that can showcase their product on a daily basis and inspire a new generation of fans to declare their loyalty to the Orange and Blue.

The Mets have financial resources unmatched by anyone except the Yankees - and the potential revenues of both franchises are a lot closer than either the Wilpons or the Mets fans would like to admit. If it is true that the Mets have in fact made a small profit from the Madoff schemes, then money truly is no longer an object.

From that foundation, the structure can be built. Ownership can ask a simple question - "who are the New York Mets?" - and relentlessly go about the task of answering that question in a way that will make this franchise perennial championship contenders.

Older baseball fans remember "The Dodger Way" and "The Oriole Way." It was the blueprint of an organization that dictated how a professional ballplayer should look and act from the moment he signed a minor-league contract to the day he left the organization. It is time to create "The Met Way" - and for that to mean something other than being an injury-prone and overpaid underachiever who is as trained in the science of baseball fundamentals as he is in the science of quantum physics.

Mets fans, turn on your televisions on Wednesday night. Enjoy a terrific matchup between two great teams and two great starting pitchers (CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee). Do it again for Game 2 and Game 3 and for every game thereafter. Enjoy the game of baseball played at its highest level.

And then, when it is over, regardless of who wins and who loses, turn your eyes to Fred and Jeff Wilpon. Ask them, in whatever fashion you can, these very simple questions.

When are you going to stop tearing at the very fabric of this organization and trying to stitch it back together with temporary and insufficient patches? When are you going to put your gigantic egos aside and contribute more of the only thing that a baseball owner should ever contribute to the operation of a franchise - money? When are you going to realize that you are an active and ongoing detriment to the good fortune of this organization and that you are driving away an entire generation of Mets fans in the process?

When are you going to turn the New York Mets into winners - just like the Yankees and the Phillies are?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Alfredo Aceves

I love the way that Yankees manager Joe Girardi has used reliever Alfredo Aceves this season. On a team with three great bullpen options already, Girardi showed a great deal of faith in Aceves and was rewarded handsomely for doing so.

Aceves made only 42 relief appearances in 2009, yet pitched over 80 innings in relief. In 15 of those appearances, Aceves recorded seven or more outs (pitching 2.1 innings or more). Such usage is practically unheard of in modern baseball, which stacks bullpens with specialists and role players who are rarely asked to earn more than three outs at a time.

Why is this a big deal? First and foremost, Aceves was effective. He won 10 games and finished with a 1.024 WHIP - a wildly successful year for a relief pitcher. What Aceves's usage suggests, however, may be far more important than the results during the 2009 regular season. It is a reminder that relievers can be effective in longer stints, given the proper rest between appearances.

Instead of handing the sixth, seventh and eighth innings of a game to three different pitchers with varying degrees of effectiveness, a reliever like Aceves can bridge the mythical gap to the closer all by himself. A team that features a traditional closer and multiple relievers with the ability to pitch two or three innings in a single appearance can concentrate the majority of relief innings pitched in its best options. This would reduce a manager's reliance not only on specialists, but also on the fifth and sixth-best options in the bullpen.

It's simple, really - the more you use your best relievers, the better your team will be.

There is another perspective to consider, of course. Why was the fourth-best reliever in the Yankees' bullpen used like the best relief aces from the 1970s, and each of the better options Girardi had were used in more traditional roles?

Mariano Rivera is unquestionably a better reliever than Aceves, although considering his age and the mileage on his arm, I understand why Girardi would be reluctant to use him over extended periods of time. Phil Coke is a lefthander whose splits suggest that he would be exposed over longer appearances. (He held southpaws to a .195/.218/.366 line, while righties posted a more successful .227/.346/.432 line.)

There's no excuse, however, for not using Philip Hughes in a similar fashion as Aceves. Hughes has been a starter for most of his professional career, so there's no reason to believe that he could not handle an extended workload in a single appearance. Instead of annointing Hughes the "set-up man," the Yankees would've been better served by using Aceves and Highes in the same fashion. Anytime from the sixth inning on in a close game, Girardi could've called on either man to pitch multiple innings in the hopes that Rivera could be used to shut the door.

For his part, Hughes could've made fewer appearances, but pitched more innings. The back of the bullpen - guys like David Robertson and Brian Bruney - could've made fewer appearances and pitched in less important situations.

The Yankees won 103 games this season, so there's not too much to quibble with, but the margin of error is much smaller in the playoffs. If the Angels win the ALCS because of successful at-bats against the likes of Robertson and Bruney, Girardi will have the entire off-season to wonder if traditional thinking did his team in.

God Save Us All

"Discipline is training which makes punishment unnecessary." - Carolina Military Institute

I lack the discipline required to manage a solid and consistently updated blog. This is an unfortunate truth that I have had difficulty admitting to myself. I spend too much time in front of a computer at my day job, which makes me reluctant to get back in front of a computer when I get home and focus enough to put together a well-written and coherent post on a regular or even a semi-regular basis.

Here are a couple of quick hits that I hope to expand upon at some point, but honestly do not know if I ever will:

* LCS picks - Angels in 6 and Dodgers in 7.
* If Peter Gammons is to be believed - and I have no reason to believe that he shouldn't be - Jeff Wilpon is the de facto general manager of the New York Mets. What a frightening concept.

I'm still going to try to do a more detailed preview of the two league championship series, which I think are both going to be wonderfully entertaining affairs. I'm also sticking to the script I laid out earlier in the month for the off-season. I just hope things slow down enough here that I can write a little more frequently.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Playoff Predictions: Phillies vs. Rockies


Prediction: Phillies in 5.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Playoff Predictions: Cardinals vs. Dodgers

The American League boasts three evenly matched playoff teams that, if they suddenly jumped ship to the Senior Circuit, would run roughshod over the competition. The National League has four evenly matched teams, one of whom will survive a two-round playoff gauntlet and will immediately be tabbed as an underdog in the World Series.

The Dodgers are a more well-rounded team, but the Cardinals boast three starters that give them a puncher's chance in any series they play. Chris Carpenter came back from two injury-plagued years to claim the mantle of best starter in the National League. He is the ace of the St. Louis staff, but is capably backed up by emerging star Adam Wainwright and reclamation project Joel Pineiro. The front three in the rotation combined for a 51-24 record; they hold the key to St. Louis's postseason fortunes.

Los Angeles had the best team ERA in the National League, but the pitching staff is in flux. Hiroki Kuroda will miss the Division Series with various ailments, paving the way for a Game 3 start from punching bag Vincente Padilla. Chad Billingsley has fallen apart since mid-June, but he should be on the mound for Game 4. The Dodgers really need Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw to win the first two games of the series, and then will hope that they can steal a win in St. Louis.

The Dodgers may have the best lineup in the National League, but manager Joe Torre has to shuffle the lineup to get Rafael Furcal out of the leadoff spot. Torre has written Furcal's name at the top of his lineup card 105 times this season, which means he has batted his eighth or ninth worst hitter at the top of the lineup each and every time he has done so. The Dodgers can no longer afford to make this mistake, especially in a short series.

Other than Furcal and Russell Martin, who is inexplicably regressing at age 26, the Dodgers have solid, professional hitters at every other spot on the diamond. Manny Ramirez still inspires fear, even if he has not been the same since returning from his drug suspension. Andre Ethier may be the best hitter on the team, even if Matt Kemp still has the biggest upside. Kemp still hasn't completely solved right-handers yet; expect Carpenter, Wainwright and Pineiro to control him throughout this series.

The Cardinals have Albert Pujols, of course, which means they have the best hitter in baseball in their lineup. Matt Holliday was rejuvenated after a mid-summer trade from Oakland, and he put up a .353/.419/.604 line as a Cardinal. It makes for a devastating combo, but St. Louis simply doesn't have anyone else in the lineup to be feared. Ryan Ludwick started hitting after July 1, but even then only put up an .802 OPS. Yadier Molina had a career year offensively, and still finished with a .383 SLG.

To make matters worse, the Cardinals have struggled against left-handers this season - and they will be facing southpaws Wolf and Kershaw in the first two games of this series. They will absolutely need to beat one of the lefties in L.A. to win this series. I just can't see a scenario where the Cardinals come back to Dodger Stadium in Game 5 and beat a rested Wolf or Kershaw. I also can't see a scenario where the Cardinals lose a game at home against Padilla and Billingsley.

Prediction: Cardinals in 4.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Playoff Predictions: Red Sox vs. Angels

This matchup is the perfect argument against a Best-of-5 series. I want to see two terrific teams like this playing a full series to determine the winner, and a race to three wins always feels somewhat artificial to me. What you have are two very evenly matched teams that, if they were in the National League, would have over 100 wins and would be prohibitive World Series favorites. I give the edge to the Angels, though, mostly because I believe they are the most dangerous team in baseball right now.

The acquisition of Scott Kazmir in late August may wind up bringing the Angels their second championship of the decade. Kazmir struggled early in the season before spending a month on the disabled list, but put up a 6-5 record with a 3.63 ERA and a 1.181 WHIP since returning to action at the end of June. He joins John Lackey, Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders in the Angels' playoff rotation, which for my money is the best foursome in the American League.

The Angels can hit too - eight of their nine regulars are hitting .285 or better. There isn't a lot of power (only Kendry Morales has more than 30 home runs), but every single player in that lineup is a threat with a bat in their hand. The Angels like to run (third in the American League in stolen bases) - and Boston catchers Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez will be hard-pressed to keep the Halos from running wild. Keep a close eye on second baseman Howie Kendrick, who has put up a .348/.391/.524 line since June 1; I'm predicting that this postseason will be Kendrick's coming-out party.

This team's one weakness is its bullpen. Brian Fuentes has not had a good year, despite notching 48 saves. He nearly lost his job earlier this month to Kevin Jepsen, and manager Mike Scioscia is smart enough not to blow a playoff series by playing the "proven veteran" card.

Boston, meanwhile, will put up a tremendous fight. Staff ace Josh Beckett has a 6.02 ERA and a 1.429 WHIP in his last nine starts, but his postseason track record suggests that he will put it all together when the lights are brightest. He has been surpassed by Jon Lester as the titular staff ace, and the Red Sox have a number of intriguing options (Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Paul Byrd chief among them) to fill out the postseason rotation. Buchholz has already been tapped as the third starter; manager Terry Francona may not trust Matsuzaka or Byrd enough to give them a start in this series.

The Sox have a better bullpen, even though closer Jonathan Papelbon has had an off-year. They do have a live young arm in Daniel Bard, who could play an important role in October. Throw veterans like Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, Hideki Okajima and Ramon Ramirez into the mix, and don't be surprised if Francona asks his relievers for four innings of shutdown ball at least once in this series.

Boston has a terrific lineup as well, with a starting nine that compares favorably with the Angels. The key may be David Ortiz, who has 28 home runs this season but has struggled otherwise. If he can find a way to channel his former greatness for three weeks, the Sox could win their third championship in six years.

Both teams can hit, but I believe in the Angels' pitching more than I believe in the Red Sox. This series will go the distance, but the Angels will win Game 5 in front of their home fans and will advance to meet the Yankees in the ALCS.

Prediction: Angels in 5

EDIT: An anonymous reader kindly pointed out that Justin Masterson was traded to Cleveland in the Victor Martinez deal, so he obviously won't be on the postseason roster. I think I confused Masterson with Michael Bowden, another hard-throwing youngster who isn't quite as advanced as Masterson and is unlikely to make the Sox's playoff bullpen.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Playoff Predictions: Yankees vs. Tigers/Twins

The Tigers lead the Twins by one game with two to go, so the American League Central championship is still up for grabs. The winner will face the Yankees, baseball's only 100-game winner. Neither team has a chance.

The Yankees, after eight years without a championship, have assembled a starting lineup good enough to slug them into the Promised Land. Melky Cabrera (.273/.336/.418 with 13 HRs) is the closest thing to a weak spot in the lineup; every other position player has an OPS+ of at least 122. Gopherball-prone starters simply will not survive three turns through the Yankees' lineup, not with seven regulars boasting at least 20 home runs.

The pitching is a little less stellar - the only hope that a team has of beating the Yankees in a short series is to bludgeon them to death. CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.37 ERA, 1.104 WHIP) is the ace of the staff, but has a 7.92 ERA in five postseason starts. AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte boast WHIPs north of 1.35 in 2009; good lineups have the potential to send both to the showers before the end of the fifth inning. Can Joba Chamberlain be an effective fourth starter - or will the Yankees have to pull him after 3 innings to "pwotect his widdle arm?"

The bullpen is unheralded, but still effective. Mariano Rivera remains a nonpareil; Phil Hughes has done a wonderful job setting him up. The middle relievers are relatively unknown, but surprisingly good. Prospective conquerors would do well to knock the starters out quickly and not to put the game in the hands of the bullpen.

It is amazing that the Twins are still in this race, considering the relatively mediocre roster that Minnesota began the season with and the injuries they've suffered from since. Only Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn have made 30 starts for the Twins, and only Baker (15-9, 4.18 ERA, 1.186 WHIP) has pitched well. Things got so bad in the rotation that Minnesota had to import Carl Pavano from the Indians to help down the stretch. Admit it - you want to see Carl Pavano walk to the mound to pitch a playoff game in Yankee Stadium, don't you?

The Twins' offense is carried by MVP candidate Joe Mauer (.367/.442/.593 with 28 home runs), who is putting up offensive numbers that put even Mike Piazza's best seasons to the test. Only Mike Cuddyer and Jason Kubel are legitimate major league hitters outside of Mauer; the Twins will be without former American League MVP Justin Morneau for the rest of the season.

The Tigers have a better chance against the Yankees, but only if they can set their rotation up to pitch Justin Verlander in Games 1 and 5. Verlander is scheduled to pitch the final game of the season, but if the Tigers can win on Saturday they can save him for the opener of the Yankee series.

Verlander, after a hiccup in 2008, has become the true ace he was predicted to be. The league leader in strikeouts with 264, Verlander also boasts an 18-9 record with a 3.45 ERA and a 1.179 WHIP. He can go nine against any lineup, even one as powerful as the Yankees, which is a good idea considering the sorry state of the Tigers' bullpen.

The key to a Yankees-Tigers series will be starters Edwin Jackson and Rick Porcello. Each have had breakout seasons, but neither are playoff-tested and Jackson in particular has faded badly in the second half. If each had to pitch twice against the Yankees (as they would in a seven-hgame series), Detriot wouldn't have a prayer. But because both have the potential to put up seven innings of one-run ball against any team in baseball, the Tigers could make a short series interesting. No team in baseball wants to face Justin Verlander on full rest in the deciding game of a playoff series.

Predictions: Yankees in 3 (if they play the Twins); Yankees in 4 (if they play the Tigers)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sifting Through the Wreckage

September is a very difficult month for student conduct administrators, and this has been my most difficult September in five years. Even if the entire Mets organization hadn't disintegrated into something resembling a cruel joke, I still wouldn't have been updating much here.

Things are finally starting to slow down now, so I'm hopeful that I can get back to writing on a more regular basis. The off-season plan is simple:

* Playoff Previews for each round
* A look at each player on the Mets' 40-man roster and their performance in 2009
* A series of articles loosely collected together and called "The Blueprint" - a look at how I would like to see a major league baseball franchise being run

I'll continue doing Roster Moves, of course, since I am expecting a lot of player movement this off-season. I can only hope that there will be another general manager making the moves, but I am resigned to three more years of Omar Minaya and one more year of Jerry Manuel. The future of this franchise looks very, very bleak right now.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Question For You

Is Bobby Parnell a major league pitcher?
I don't think so. He has failed as a starter (1-5 with a 7.93 ERA and a 1.899 WHIP in eight starts). He has failed a reliever (2-3 with a 3.74 ERA and a 1.599 WHIP in 54 appearances). He hasn't put up a good season in the minor leagues since he was 20 years old and pitching in Brooklyn. He has one pitch - a 95-plus fastball without enough movement - and has still not developed a secondary pitch.

To the Parnell fans out there, what have you seen in this guy that makes you think he will ever be an effective major league pitcher?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Roster Moves: September Call-Ups

September call-ups are the only thing worth watching for when your team is nearly 20 games out of first place. The Mets have only called up two players so far, in part since David Wright and Carlos Beltran have come off the disabled list since the month began. Of course, when you have the worst team in both the International League and the Eastern League, your minor league system isn't exactly brimming with major-league ready talent.

Josh Thole is the guy getting most of the attention, after a terrific season at Binghamton during which he put up a .328/.395/.422 line as a catcher. This is the second straight season in which he's posted a good batting average and shown patience at the plate - which in my book means it is time to start considering him a prospect.

He has started four games so far, all against right-handers, because Jerry Manuel inexplicably thinks that Thole needs to be protected from left-handed pitchers. Jesus Christ, why start turning a 22-year-old into a platoon player from the moment he hits the major leagues? Why not let Thole show whether or not he can hit left-handed pitching?

Thole isn't the next Matt Wieters by any stretch - he has just eight home runs in over 400 minor-league games and there are questions about his defense and throwing arm. That's fine; Thole needs to spend 2010 in Buffalo anyway. The Mets cannot make the same mistake they made with Daniel Murphy - it would be foolish and short-sighted to let Thole start next season with the big club.

We are talking about the Mets, of course, so Omar Minaya will probably annoint him the starting catcher on November 1 and fail to sign the one-year stopgap that the team needs instead.

The other call-up is Tobi Stoner, a guy I've kept an eye on for a few years. He dominated as a starter for Brooklyn in 2006 and has shown steady improvement across multiple levels over the past three seasons. Mack thinks that Stoner's future may be as a long reliever, and I like to defer to Mack when it comes to Mets' minor leaguers. He's not ready for the big leagues yet, either, but that's OK - he's another player who needs to be a Bison next season.

Mike Pelfrey
Bobby Parnell
Pat Misch
Tim Redding
Nelson Figueroa
Johan Santana - DL
Oliver Perez - DL
John Maine - DL
Jon Niese - DL
Fernando Nieve - DL

Francisco Rodriguez (closer)
Pedro Feliciano
Brian Stokes
Sean Green
Ken Takahashi
Elmer Dessens
Lance Broadway
Tobi Stoner
JJ Putz - DL

Josh Thole
Brian Schneider
Omir Santos

Daniel Murphy
Luis Castillo
David Wright
Fernando Tatis
Anderson Hernandez
Wilson Valdez
Carlos Delgado - DL
Jose Reyes - DL
Alex Cora - DL
Ramon Martinez - DL

Gary Sheffield
Angel Pagan
Jeff Francouer
Nick Evans
Cory Sullivan
Jeremy Reed
Carlos Beltran
Fernando Martinez - DL

Friday, September 11, 2009

RBI Totals Tell Very Little

I'm resigned to the fact that Jeff Francouer is going to be the Mets' right fielder in 2010, but I don't have to like it.

Yes, he has six hits in his last eight at-bats and his batting average as a Met has moved over .300. He still has just 12 home runs in 510 at-bats on the season, and another year is going to go by where Francouer's supposed power stroke still hasn't manifested itself. His next 30-home run season will still be his first. There's no point in even going into his inability to take a walk - in all Francouer is doomed to be a bad #7 hitter for the rest of his career.

People still pay attention to RBI totals, and Francouer does have 33 in 55 games as a Met. But, as Yahoo's Jeff Passan points out, that doesn't mean much either:

Jeff Francouer has split time this year with the offensively challenged Braves and Mets, yet has the fifth most at-bats with RISP (157). Francoeur's RISP plate appearances are lower because he’s walked just 10 times. His average is puny: .248 with only two homers, but still good for 53 RBIs.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Readers Strike Back: L Millz

Angst writes: you just love that racial boogeyman don't ya? Can't believe I gotta side with the Wilpons but when your fledgling star sings bitch, ho and nigga on a rap album and you wanna sell a product to parents and children, they;re not racist, they're business men. F*** this moral safe house where everyone does it so he should be excused.

(I edited out that bad word beginning with F, because nobody should use bad words.)

I know you live in a fantasy world where racism ended 20 years ago, but the rest of us don't live there. To deny that the elements of racism exist is to turn a blind eye to a problem that will never go away. I ask you: are those dirty words really that big of a deal? I mean, if David Wright sang in a punk band and released a cover of "It's So Easy" by Guns N' Roses, would he have gotten the same treatment as Milledge?

Angst responds: I don't live in a fantasy world, of course racism exists. but yours is a perceived racism, a convenient excuse to lay blame. This is the organization that gave New York its first and second black managers and has poured millions of dollars into non-white players. When David Wright fronts a punk cover band you let me know. David though never angered his teammates and showed up the opponent, he didn't have to be investigated prior to draft for statutory rape and Wright don't show up an hour before game time. When the organization has to answer as to why one of their players records a song celebrating guns, drug use, and the objectification of woman, its a fast ticket out of town. I'm not the censorship police, but he gave management enough justification to trade him. To scream racism is narrow minded. Save your outrage for honest to God bigotry.

Like most people, you have to get your facts straight about Milledge.

* If I leave a handwritten note at your garage that says "Joe Falzarano molests collies," it doesn't mean you should be branded as someone who was investigated for bestiality. Therefore, perhaps you shouldn't be so quick to brand Milledge as someone investigated "prior to the draft for statutory rape" based on such incredibly flimsy evidence.

He was the target of an anonymous and ultimately unfounded accusation - an unsigned handwritten note that suggested he was receiving sexual favors from 13-year-old students at his high school. As that witch-hunt played out, Milledge (who was 17 at the time) eventually admitted to having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend. That's it. Read the story here.

Think of the term "statutory rape" and what it implies. Then realize what Lastings Milledge actually did and realize how inappropriate it is to apply that term to it. Google "Genarlow Wilson" to find out what can happen to black teenagers from the South who hook up with girls two years younger than them. Luckily for Lastings, he is from Florida and not Georgia, and didn't end up in jail for the heinous crime of getting some before the age of 18.

By the way, isn't it funny how you never hear of a white athlete getting caught up in a "scandal" like this? I guess white kids never have sex before the age of 18, and even then it only happens with other 18-year olds. Oh wait, I might be accused of conjuring up the racial boogeyman again instead of saving my outrage for honest to God bigotry. I'll be curious to see which category the Wilson case will fall into in your eyes.

* Milledge exchanged high-fives with fans when he returned to his position after hitting his first major league home run to tie the game with two outs in the bottom of the tenth inning. He didn't show anyone up - he shared the enjoyment of a memorable moment on the baseball field with some of the paying customers. This is supposed to be indicative of a negative character issue? Where does this outrage over the perceived "showing up" of an opponent even come from? Who, exactly, decided that ignoring the fans during the game is considered a sign of good character, while engaging with them in the moment is a sign of bad character?

* Professional baseball is a job. Do you show up at your job two or three hours early each day so you can get better at it? Or do you show up on time, do your work and go home? I know you aren't pulling daily 11-hour shifts so you can become the best worker in your garage. Why, then, does Lastings Milledge have to show up early at this job?

Milledge's comments from the linked article: "You know, there's always a thing where, 'Oh, rookies have to be here 2-1/2 or three hours before stretch.' No. I'm not gonna be here three hours before stretch. If you're here and you get your work in, it shouldn't matter how early you're at the field. You know what you need to do. That's fine. You don't have to be at the park three, four hours before the park if you don't want. You don't see nobody clocking in three or four hours before they have to show up to work. So, I mean, some people feel like they have to get here to read the newspaper or do crossword puzzles or get their mind ready. I feel like I come to the park, I have 45 minutes of stuff I have to do to get prepared for practice and get ready for the game. Five minutes might be watching videos. Fifteen minutes might be going in the cage. And then getting whatever other work I need."

* On the rare occasions when you're late for work, does your boss single you out, publicly embarrass you and question your commitment to your job? Do your co-workers use your lateness as an opportunity to advance a negative agenda about you? Lastings Milledge's former co-workers did. You are continuing to do so.

* Milledge didn't record a song about guns, drug use, and the objectification of women, as you baselessly claim. He produced a song on his personal rap label for a childhood friend named Manny D called "Bend Ya' Knees." And yes, on that track he used language that he should have his mouth washed out with soap for. But there wasn't one lyric in that song that glorified guns and drug use. It doesn't excuse the objectification, but it's one more example of how, with Lastings Milledge, his critics are always willing to play fast and loose with the truth in an attempt to denigrate his charcater.

So let's review. Lastings Milledge had sex with his girlfriend as a teenager. He slapped hands with ecstatic fans after hitting his first major league home run. He goes to work on time instead of a few hours early. He said some bad words on his friend's rap album. "Character" issues like this have been used to paint him as a brooding malcontent, if not an outright thug.

But if I think that some of this silliness might have something to do with Milledge being black, I'm being narrow-minded.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

L-Millz: Prelude

He's hitting cleanup for the Pittsburgh Pirates these days, but that says more about the quality of the Pirate lineup than it does about the quality of the player. But Lastings Milledge is raking right now, and the Pirates are benefitting from looking past the silly things that have been whispered and written about him during his brief professional career.

Milledge was acquired by Pittsburgh at the end of June, rescued from a Washington Nationals organization that decided seven games in 2009 said more about the player than 138 games did a season before. Washington badly mishandled Milledge in 2009 - they tried to change his approach at the plate before the season started and banished him to Triple-A when he didn't take to it quickly enough.

Things got worse from there - Milledge broke his hand while in Syracuse, which washed away most of the first half of the season. He was only beginning to make his way back when the Pirates traded Nyger Morgan to Washington for him as part of a four-player deal. Now Morgan's season is over, ironically from a broken hand, and it is Milledge who looks like a budding star again.

Milledge had two more hits for the Pirates last night, and has a .328/.378/.448 line with Pittsburgh in 32 games. The power still isn't there yet - Milledge has just eight doubles and two home runs in 155 plate appearances this season. If he isn't going to hit 25 home runs a season (and at this point it looks like he's going to be more of a 10-to 20-homer type), Milledge is going to need to hit 30 or 40 doubles a year to still be a regular at this level.

He seems to have settled in as Pittsburgh's left fielder, however, and should be the Opening Day starter in 2010. Perhaps a full season without being bad-mouthed and jerked around by his organization will finally allow Milledge to reach his full potential.

His minor-league track record suggests future stardom - he hit well at every level of the Mets organization despite being young for most of the leagues he was in. There is still work to be done - Milledge is not a good baserunner, nor a particularly good fielder. These are things that can be taught, or at least improved upon, if someone is willing to work with him.

I've written a lot about Milledge before, because I think he got a raw deal in New York. I think that raw deal was largely a product of overreaction to Milledge's real or perceived maturity issues. I also think that race had something to do with it; too much was written about cornrows and saying bad words in hip-hop tracks to make me think otherwise.

I still believe in Lastings Milledge, and I still believe that he's going to be a star in this league for years to come. As the 2009 Mets stumble to the finish line in this lost and disatrous season, I'd feel a lot better about the future if they had someone like Lastings Milledge to play left field in 2010.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Readers Strike Back: American League MVP

DJ writes (via Facebook): Hello Mr Flynn- I agree with you analysis of Joe Mauer's year and I agree that with no major shift in numbers in September that he should get it. The Yankees have played like such a team that it is okay if we dont get the MVP, we'll have the Cy YOUNG and a 27th WORLD SERIES ring- that will have to do.

The Yankees signed Zack Greinke? He leads the American League in ERA, Adjusted ERA+, complete games, shutouts and WHIP (among qualified pitchers). He's also third in innings pitched and second in strikeouts.

CC Sabathia has been very good, and he's leading the league in wins and innings pitched, but Greinke has simply been better. Zack is also making over $10 million less in 2009 ...

Angst writes: Hard to argue against Mauer, but would Texas be where Texas is without Michael Young? He's about to go on the 15 day DL, we're about to find out...

Michael Young has had a terrific season and did so after moving to third base to accommodate Elvis Andrus. He deserves more consideration than he's getting.

Sarcastic Bastard writes: Hands down Mauer gets the nod ... he has been nothing short of unbelievable at the most demanding position in baseball ... Greinke would have probably 18 wins by now if he didn't play for a minor league team ... so he gets the Cy ... despite being a Yankee fan, I have to laugh at the yearly notion that the Yankees are the home to the MVP ... as if it is our right to hoard every piece of hardware because we are the Mighty Pinstripers ......

it's almost as laughable as the Red Sox trying to complain that the Yankees are an Evil Empire that can buy many players on the Red Sox of 2004 and 2007 were home grown?

moving could argue that Tex didn't really start going until A-Rod came off the who really is the more valuable one? and until Jeter stops being a near defensive liability he won't get my blessing for the MVP ... if he does win one, it'll strictly be for his career numbers...not because he is the linchpin to the Yankees offense ...

It pains me to say it, but Jeter has a legitimate claim to MVP. SS is the second most demanding defensive position and the metrics indicate he has been much better defensively this year. Throw in a .333/.399/.480 line with 17 homers and 23 steals, and he belongs in the conversation much more than Teixeira.

DJ retorts: You Met fans are irrational ... Sabathia will get the cy young-mauer will get MVP and that arguement about texeria is bs-you could say that about any 3 and 4 hitter combinaion in baseball history - Tex still has to hit the freaking ball!

We may be irrational, but it doesn't mean we are wrong!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The American League MVP Race

Let me start this by saying that the American League Most Valuable Player this season has to be Joe Mauer. When you get a .367/.434/.611 line from your catcher - who just happens to have 26 home runs to boot - there really should be no debate.

This is no different that the arguments I would have with people who didn't realize just how good of a hitter Mike Piazza was in his prime - putting up sterling offensive numbers at such a punishing defensive position is exceedingly difficult to do. Piazza was robbed of the MVP in 1997, and you could make a very good case that he should have won in 1995 and 1996 as well.

I've found it amusing then, that there has been any push to consider Mark Teixeira as an MVP candidate over Mauer. Teixeira has had a very good year, although his offensive numbers are slightly down from his previous two campaigns. He has not had a season anywhere near as good as Mauer's, however, and it's not a stretch to say that he hasn't even been the best first baseman in the American League.

Player A: .281/.380/.541 with 32 home runs, 101 RBIs and 67 extra-base hits in 590 plate appearances.
Player B: .314/.358/.597 with 30 home runs, 94 RBIs and 69 extra-base hits in 506 plate appearances.

Player A, of course, is Teixeira. Player B is Kendry Morales, the California Angels' first baseman. Morales, a Cuban defector in his first full season as a starter, is outshining Teixeira in most mainstream offensive categories - although you wouldn't know it if you only read the New York newspapers.

Teixeira has a reputation as an outstanding defensive first baseman, even though Fangraphs has him with a -1.1 UZR this season. (That's not bad, by the way; I don't fully understand Ultimate Zone Rating but it seems to be a preferred defensive statistic among people who are serious about analyzing defensive performance.) Morales, meanwhile, is at 2.7 UZR, which suggests he has been better than Tex in 2009.

There is a school of thought that the MVP has to be from one of the best teams in the league, if not the best team. Personally, I would like to expel every student in that school and burn the building to the ground. But even if you gave that line of thinking some credence, Morales stands with Teixeira, considering both of their teams are on the way to a division title.

It's natural that hometown sportswriters end up pushing hometown guys for major awards. Their readers - who are generally fans of the team that the sportswriter is writing about - want to believe that their guy is the best and that everyone else in the league is a bum. That's where "Teixeira for MVP" stories are born; I suspect that the voters will get it right in November.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Readers Strike Back:

Rod writes (via Facebook): Well done...but I would argue that if every owner was more like King George the competitive balance would be restored...George is the only owner willing to take a loss on the budget sheet in exchange for a win in October...George isn't close to being the wealthiest owner...he just cares more about his franchise than he does about his profit margin...

from Poz himself...

Steinbrenner punished himself too. He poured his baseball profits back into the ballclub, sometimes foolishly, sometimes recklessly, but always with the unmistakable intent of winning championships and glorifying the New York Yankees (and if he got a little credit along the way, well, why not?).

Finally, a reader striking back other than TW! What Rod says is almost completely true, save for the fact that we'll never really know if George would've been willing to lose money on the Yankees in a given season if it meant winning a championship. That's because Yankee profits became so enormous after the cable rights deal with MSG in 1988 that Steinbrenner could've routinely plugged another $50 million or so into the payroll any given season and still not taken a loss.

It's easy to forget this, but the Yankees didn't really start outspending everybody until after the strike. It's no coincidence that the team started winning again once the MSG checks began being cashed. Suddenly the Yankees had the money for the biggest free agents, the most expensive international prospects and a minor-league system that spared no expense. Conventional wisdom likes to attibute the onset of the current success cycle to the genius of Gene Michael, with an assist to Steinbrenner bucks, but in reality the "business acumen" of Charles Dolan had as much to do with it as anything.

The payroll disaprity didn't actually manifest itself until George got another taste of the World Series in 1996 - and then tasted the bitterness of defeat in 1997. At that point, the Yankees had the twin financial advantages of the MSG deal and an illegally negotiated apparel deal with Adidas. From that point forward, no one in baseball was going to financially compete with the Bronx Bombers.

Roster Moves: Oh. My. God.

Presented without further comment, the current version of your 2009 New York Mets:

Mike Pelfrey
Bobby Parnell
Pat Misch
Tim Redding
Nelson Figueroa
Johan Santana - DL
Oliver Perez - DL
John Maine - DL
Jon Niese - DL
Fernando Nieve - DL

Francisco Rodriguez (closer)
Pedro Feliciano
Brian Stokes
Sean Green
Ken Takahashi
Elmer Dessens
Lance Broadway
JJ Putz - DL

Brian Schneider
Omir Santos

Daniel Murphy
Luis Castillo
Fernando Tatis
Anderson Hernandez
Wilson Valdez
Carlos Delgado - DL
David Wright - DL
Jose Reyes - DL
Alex Cora - DL
Ramon Martinez - DL

Gary Sheffield
Angel Pagan
Jeff Francouer
Nick Evans
Cory Sullivan
Jeremy Reed
Carlos Beltran - DL
Fernando Martinez - DL

Winning Conventionally

I'll talk more about this in the off-season, with a series of posts about conventional wisdom in baseball. However, Joe Posnanski nicely summed up my feelings with his Sunday post about the Royals:

"I’ve often said that what frustrates me most about the Royals is their refusal to be unconventional in any way — and the Royals CANNOT WIN conventionally. They just can’t. It’s simple mathematics."

I need to learn more about Game Theory, since I have only a rudimentary understanding of something that may have great benefit on my leisurely pursuits. But Poz's statement falls in line with my limited understanding of a basic postulate - you can't beat someone by playing "their game" if they play it better than you or have more resources than you.

The biggest mistake that small-market teams make is playing by the book. When the Yankees spent $200 million every year, and the Royals spend $50 million a year, who is generally going to come out on top? Well, if the Royals approach the task of winning the exact same way that the Yankees do, they're going to get smoked in the long run.

But if the Royals take the Moneyball theory of exploiting market inefficiencies, and then expand the theory to include exploration of alterative means of roster contruction, player usage and in-game strategy, they put themselves in a position to win.

Oakland's failure to win a World Series in this decade was not a failure of Moneyball's central premise. The failure to expand its application beyond player acquisition is what has doomed the A's. (That and the small sample sizes created by a playoff series, of course.)

Oakland still has a fifth starter. They still have a closer. They still have seven relievers - some of whom are specialists. The manager, Bob Geren, still sacrifices on occasion. His lineups are constructed in ways that do not maximize the skills of the nine players in the lineup card. The general manager, Billy Beane, oversees an organization that stresses uniform pitch counts and innings-pitched limits. Pitchers with unique motions or batters with distinct stances are scrutinized and sometimes compelled to find more conventional styles.

It's not their fault - the A's are trying to do it by the book. So is every other team in baseball, even the ones who cannot win consistently while doing it. It's not just about payroll - it's about the lack of vision to see new ways of doing things and a lack of courage to step outside the box.

That, more than anything, is what keeps the Yankees and a few other teams consistently ahead of the pack. Those teams are richer, but they aren't any smarter. But as long as the rest of the league tilts at windmills and tries to play the game the exact same way as the big boys, they are going to fail.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Piscano's Brother-in-Law: You gotta lay down the law, otherwise they're gonna make a fool out of you.
Artie Piscano: They're not gonna make a fool out of me. I write it all down in this book. Every f****** nickel, it goes down right here. Receipts, bills, everything's here.
Piscano's Mother: Hey, oh, ah! What's the matter with you? Since when do you talk like that?
Artie Piscano: I'm sorry. Nance gives me trouble, and I'll tell him, screw around with those suitcases and I'll take the eyes out of his freakin' head.
Piscano's Mother: Again!
Artie Piscano: I didn't curse, I said 'freakin head'.

- Casino

My mother reads this blog, so I'm going to try to refrain from using any more profanity in this post. Still, I can't help but saying that the first thing I thought of when I read this last night was "what a (expletive deleted) move!"

There is no way on God's green earth that the Yankees have any legitimate interest in Chris Carter. Mark Teixeira is signed to play first base for the next 200 years, and the Yankees are not going to hand the DH job to a 27-year-old career minor leaguer, not with as much as $40 million coming off their payroll next season.

No, the Yankees claimed Carter on waivers yesterday for one reason only - to stick it to the Red Sox and the Mets. It's been an open secret that Carter was one of the two players going to the Mets in the Billy Wagner deal earlier this week, and Carter was almost certain to see time at first base in September.

For Carter, his development stalls even further - the Red Sox are too loaded at first base and DH to give Carter more than 10 at-bats in September and he certainly won't be on their postseason roster. The Mets won't get a chance to see what he can do for them and his chances of winning a starting job next season just took a hit. It still will not surprise me in the least to see a Carter/Daniel Murphy battle for the first base job in 2010, with Ike Davis as the dark horse in the race.

Also, since the Yankees spitefully claimed Carter on waivers, he will have to remain on Boston's 40-man roster for the rest of the season. It was speculated that the move was done to keep the Red Sox from adding an extra pitcher like Paul Byrd to their roster before September 1, whch would make that pitcher postseason eligible.

Whatever. If the Yankees are afraid that their $220-million train will be derailed by the likes of Paul Byrd, then they have bigger problems to deal with.

The front offices of the Mets and the Red Sox should not let this go so easily. If the Yankees want to play games with the August waiver process, then the Mets and the Sox can do the same. Next August, each team should make a point of claiming every single player on the Yankees' 40-man roster when they tumble through waivers. It will completely block the Yankees' ability to make a trade involving any of those players, and will send a message that the Carter shenanigans were not appreciated.

Artie Piscano: Right now, the way I feel, I'll hit the two of them in the head with a f****** shovel.
Piscano's Mother: All right, take it easy now, take it easy.
Artie Piscano: Mom, I'm sorry, they're beatin' me left and right. Ma, I'm sorry. I'm all upset.
Piscano's Mother (tapping the counter): I know, but that's enough ... You'll get a heart attack like that.
Artie Piscano: You know, I - I'm too upset right now. And - An end has to be put to this.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Chris Carter Era Begins

The minor-league operation features the two worst teams at the Triple-A and the Double-A levels. Blue-chip prospects are scarce; even potentially useful major league players are few and far between.

The future is bleak, Mets fans. Yesterday's trade of Billy Wagner to the Boston Red Sox hasn't made it any brighter.

Wagner had to go, of course, for all the reasons I stated earlier in the week. The two minor-leaguers that the Mets got in return, however - believed to be Chris Carter and a player to be named later - are unlikely to blossom into stars.

The Mets could've gotten a better haul for their former closer, but chose not to take on any of the money still owed to Wagner. It was a salary dump, plain and simple, and you get the feeling that the Mets would've taken a tub of New England clam chowder if it meant that they didn't have to pay Wagner one more cent.

It's a simple correlation - the more of Wagner's salary that the Mets were willing to pay, the better package of prospects they would've received in return. That's not to say that the Mets would have gotten back Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard if they paid all of Wagner's salary, but they would've done better than a package featuring a 26-year-old designated hitter who has been buried in Triple-A for four seasons now.

I believe that Carter still falls into the "potentially useful major leaguer" category. His bat is not the problem; the fact that his best defensive position is to the right of the water cooler is what's holding him back.

Nevertheless, Carter will surely see time at first base in September for the Mets and I wouldn't be surprised if he's in the mix for the first-base job in 2010. There's still some hope for him (think of Ty Wigginton's last three seasons), but it's a telling sign that Carter was very far down on the Red Sox's organizational depth chart.

Yesterday's trade was not about making the New York Mets a better baseball team down the road. It was strictly about saving money right now. One can only hope that this is not another sign that the Madoff scandal will negatively affect the club's financial bottom line in the future.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Will It Be "Bye Bye Billy?"

Last week, I wrote that I was fine with Omar Minaya's decision to keep Gary Sheffield with the Mets for the rest of the season. Billy Wagner, though, is a different story.

Wagner's tenure with the New York Mets must end before the waiver period expires on him tomorrow. He has no future with the team, not with Francisco Rodriguez signed to a multi-year deal and locked in as the Mets' closer. He is not going to be happy as a set-up man - no matter what some fans want to believe - and the Mets aren't going to pay a set-up man $8 million anyway. (Yes, that means JJ Putz won't be with the Mets in 2010, either).

The Boston Red Sox helped out by claiming Wagner on waivers last week, paving the way for his departure. Even if a trade cannot be struck by tomorrow, the Mets can simply let Wagner go to Boston without compensation, saving themselves money for the rest of the year and avoiding the $1 million buyout fee of Wagner's contract in the off-season.

The ideal route for the Mets to go would be to broker a deal with Boston for a decent prospct, but it appears that Wagner himself might be standing in the way.

Wagner has a no-trade clause in his contract, which means he can veto any deal the Mets and the Red Sox try to strike. Ken Rosenthal is reporting that Wagner's agent Bean Stringfellow is asking the Sox to guarantee that they won't pick up the $8 million option on Wagner's contract for next season. Stringfellow is also asking Boston not to offer Wagner arbitration when he becomes a free agent; doing so would likely force Wagner's new team to forfeit draft picks to the Red Sox upon signing the new contract.

Boston, quite reasonably, is balking at the request. It's doubtful that they would want to pick up Wagner's option anyway; the Mets will surely decline it if he remains with the team. However, if Wagner is terrific in September and October, the Red Sox may decide they want to exercise the option, if for no other reason then to use him as a trade chip.

If Wagner is declared a Type A free agent, Stringfellow is also asking the Red Sox to voluntarily forfeit two high draft picks so that Wagner's new team won't lose out on them. At some point, Boston General Manager Theo Epstein has to wonder if it's worth picking up $3.5 million in salary and/or trading a prospect to the Mets for a player that is insisting to be allowed to leave at the end of the season without any compensation to the Red Sox.

Minaya is in the uneviable position of trying to author a trade while also trying to convince Wagner to waive his no-trade clause. The one thing he simply cannot do is pull Wagner back if a deal cannot be struck; payroll relief is reason enough to part ways even if the Mets cannot bring back a prospect in return.

With rumors swirling that the Mets' payroll is going to be slashed going into 2010, the way Minaya handles the Wagner situation will be an insight into the club's finanical future. Letting Wagner go without compensation would be the right thing to do, but it will also indicate that the Mets are in a more precarious financial position then they've been letting on.