Friday, July 24, 2009

Series Recap: Mets Lose Series to Nationals (How Embarrassing!)

Honestly, I can't seriously be expected to write about this, am I? If you can't win two out of three games from a team that entered this series with a 26-65 record ...

I'll write about this instead: Angst called me yesterday afternoon to remind me that the Mets were hosting the Rockies for a four-game series starting next Monday. They just happen to be the final four games before the July trading deadline, which Angst is looking at as a final chance for the Mets to prove that maybe they are still in the race.

We proceeded to scream at each other for the next hour, about the Mets' future, Alex Rodriguez's "clutchiness" and whether or not momentum and other such intangibles actually existed. Angst and I end up screaming at each other in fully half the conversations we have, so while this wasn't out of the ordinary, it certainly was more spirited than usual.

I appreciate Angst's optimism, but this team is done. The Mets are 10.5 games out of first place and 7.5 games out of the wild card, with eight teams to leap-frog before getting there. None of the stars are coming back anytime soon and the Mets have neither the talent in the minor-league system to import multiple replacements. (Although, to be fair to my friend Mack, the word is that the Mets also have no desire to trade some of the legitimate top-end talent he writes about on his blog.)

Angst is a believer, though. He's a dreamer, and I probably shouldn't be so quick to poke holes in his balloons when he's dreaming. He's a fan, first and foremost, and fans have to be optimistic about their team sometimes. General managers, however, do not have that luxury.

"Right now we do not envision (being sellers at the trade deadline)," the GM said. "We are still kind of trying to find out how we can improve this team, if we can improve it through trades."

I can only hope that this is just a foolish and short-sighted display of bravado by a man who knows better. The Met farm system is not deep, but it has a few players who can be legitimate major leaguers one day. If Omar Minaya trades even one of them for a player to bolster the 2009 cause, he will be doing this organization an greater disservice than he already has.

Put down the phone, Omar, unless the person on the other line is calling you to ask about Pedro Feliciano, Alex Cora, Fernando Tatis or Gary Sheffield.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Series Recap: Braves Take 3 of 4 From Mets

A new feature I'm adding to the blog are Series Recaps, where I talk about what happened in the previous series and how it may affect the Mets going into their next set of games. It's a simple way to keep myself writing every couple of days, which is my goal during the second half of this season. Over the winter, I have to think about how I want to structure this blog - suggestions from my few loyal readers will be appreciated.

Any sense of encouragement Mets fans may have had going into the All-Star Break had to have been tempered by the last four games in Turner Field. The Mets could manage only one win, on the strength of a gem from Johan Santana on Saturday. Santana has been a second-half superstar in recent years; I expect he is going to look a lot like Steve Carlton on the 1972 Phillies over the next two-plus months. Carlton went 27-10 on a team that won just 59 games that year.

The rest of the starting rotation is a disaster. Mike Pelfrey has regressed terribly and was tattooed again on Friday night. He'll finish the season in the rotation, but I can't help but notice that another can't-miss starting pitcher prospect in New York has suddenly found success in the bullpen. Oliver Perez and Livan Hernandez are living down to expectations, and Tim Redding's imminent release may have been put off by Fernando Nieve's hamstring injury on Sunday. Next in line: Jonathon Niese.

The Mets scored just nine runs in four games, a number that's no longer as surprising as it is depressing. Three games against the former Montreal Expos in the nation's capital this week should yield two wins, but that's nothing to get excited about.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Concession to Reality

The less said about last night's debacle, the better.

One of the dangers of MLB's current playoff system is that it gives too many teams a false sense of hope that they are just one winning streak away from playoff contention. Poorly-run franchises fail to identify the mediocrity of their on-field product and choose instead to make a quixotic run at a playoff berth.

Fans are just as guilty of this, of course. They mistakenly believe that, because they're only five games out in the division race or the wild card race, their favorite team is just a big bat or a power arm away from a playoff berth. The media outlets covering the team are in favor of anything that generates another day's news, so reporters often adopt the "voice of the fan" and put pressure on a team's general manager to make a deal.

So what happens? A general manager who (intentionally or otherwise) fails to make an honest assessment of his team chooses not to sell off spare parts at the trading deadline. Worse yet, he may actually sacrifice minor-league talent in the hopes of bolstering his team for an improbable playoff run.

You know the end result. Most of the time, that improbable run never materializes. The mediocre team finishes with a mediocre record and without a playoff spot. Except now, that team has either given up minor-league talent or failed to maximize value on players that had no future with the franchise.

The New York Mets are 42-47. They are in fourth place, 8.5 games behind the Phillies. They are seven games behind the Giants in the wild card race, with seven other teams to catch as well. They are without their first baseman, their shortstop, their center fielder, their #3 starter and their set-up man. None of those players are coming back anytime soon, and several will not play again this season, no matter what spin the front office tries to put on those injuries.

The New York Mets are not a playoff-caliber baseball club.

This is a lost season. It happens sometimes, even to big-market clubs. There are so many reasons why things have gone sour in 2009 - and if you think that injuries are the only problem then it's time to start looking a little more closely at how this franchise is being run.

With less than two weeks to the trading deadline, Omar Minaya simply must lay to rest any plans to add talent to his current roster in an attempt to make a playoff run. It will not work and will only further compromise the long-term future of the franchise.

Minaya has to take an honest look at his 25-man roster and decide which players will not be with the team in 2010. Then, he must offer those players to GMs around the league, especially GMs that lack the courage and the baseball acumen to admit that their team is not a winner and who will pay foolish prices for minor upgrades.

It makes for a boring August and September around these parts, but its the first step in restoring the health of an ailing franchise.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Roster Moves: Catching Up

The roster has been turned over quite a bit since I threw my hissy fit - let's go back and briefly recap how we've gotten to this point.

* John Maine and JJ Putz went on the disabled list. I'm worried about Maine; I get the feeling that his shoulder is just never going to fully rebound from last year's injury. Nieve replaced Maine initially and got off to a great start, but has faltered in his last three outings. Putz had elbow surgery and is supposed to come back in September, but I think it's far more likely that he's pitched his final game in a Mets uniform. His onerous 2010 option simply cannot be picked up.

* Oliver Perez has returned to the big club after his early-season exile, but doesn't look that much different. He is nominally the #3 starter and the runaway leader for the Mets' version of the Worst Contract on the Team award. Two more years of this guy?

* Tim Redding has been moved to the bullpen, while Pat Misch and Elmer Dessens have taken bullpen jobs as well. Ken Takahashi was sent to Buffalo. I can't imagine Misch or Dessens will be on the team much longer, but modern baseball has given advent to the 13-man pitching staff, God help us all.

* Ramon Castro was given away for nothing, but he wasn't worth much more than that anyway. Omir Santos has been getting regular time behind the plate - nobody seems to mind that he has a .301 OBP and is having trouble throwing out base-stealers.

* Alex Cora has come off the DL and gone into a huge slump. Is Jose Reyes ever coming back? Ramon Martinez and Wilson Valdez are down in Buffalo.

* Angel Berroa. It never ends.

* What else can I say about the Francouer deal? If the Mets non-tender him after the season, or convince some other patsy to take him on before non-tendering him, then I guess the deal won't be so bad. Carlos Beltran and Fernando Martinez are both on the DL - Beltran because of chronic organizational mismanagement and Martinez because he is injury-prone. Is there a worse outfield in the National League right now?

Johan Santana
Mike Pelfrey
Oliver Perez
Livan Hernandez
Fernando Nieve
John Maine - DL

Francisco Rodriguez (closer)
Brian Stokes
Bobby Parnell
Sean Green
Pedro Feliciano
Elmer Dessens
Pat Misch
Tim Redding
JJ Putz - DL

Brian Schneider
Omir Santos

Daniel Murphy
Luis Castillo
David Wright
Alex Cora
Fernando Tatis
Angel Berroa
Carlos Delgado - DL
Jose Reyes - DL

Gary Sheffield
Jeff Francouer
Jeremy Reed
Angel Pagan
Carlos Beltran - DL
Fernando Martinez - DL


Tessie, "'nuff said" McGreevey shouted
We're not here to mess around!
Boston, you know we love you madly
Hear the crowd roar to your sound!
Don't blame us if we ever doubt you
You know we couldn't live without you
Tessie, you are the only only only ...
- Dropkick Murphys

If you've ever seen the movie Fever Pitch (and I am not recommending that you do), you may remember this song from the closing credits of the movie. If you are one of my friends or cousins who have been talking up the Dropkick Murphys for years, you'll be disappointed to know that every time I hear this song, I think only of the final scene of Fever Pitch.

I really love that scene. I love watching the Red Sox fans celebrating their team's World Series win and the pure joy in the faces of people with the burden of their baseball team's historic futility finally relieved.

And that's why I'm coming back.

For years now, I've often joked that I will cry like a woman on the day that the New York Mets finally win the World Series. It's not a joke, of course. I know full well that I will be so overwhelmed with joy that I will have no control over my emotions. No other sporting event in my life, with the possible exception of an NCAA championship for the Redmen, will ever mean so much or will feel so good.

I've invested nearly a quarter-century in the Mets. I was only nine when they won the World Series in 1986; my father had to wake me up and pull me out of bed so I could see the last three outs of that game.

My teens and my 20s passed with only one World Series appearance, during a wonderful season that will always leave such a bitter taste in my mouth. It's sad, because my passion for and my investment in the Mets was much greater then, and the joy I would feel watching them win a championship would be many times more visceral than it would be now.

All I want is a chance to celebrate. All I want is a chance to feel that joy.

And that's why I'm coming back.

I'm coming back with a chip on my shoulder and without a kind word for nearly every facet of this organization. I'm coming back despite fully expecting a 78-84 finish and despite fully expecting no repercussions for the general manager or the manager. I'm coming back with hope and a prayer that the Wilpons, perhaps more financially crippled by the Bernie Madoff scandal then any of us really know, will be forced to sell the team to a smart, savvy owner who will restructure the entire organization.

And that's why I'm coming back. Because I got nowhere else to go.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Long, Slow Road Back

Look, I'm coming back.

Christine is right; try as I might, I just can't kick the habit of being a Mets fan. It's a part of who I am. It's a bond that cements a lot of my friendships. It's been a part of my life for 25 years, and I just can't bring myself to give it up.

The problem is, I simply cannot root for this organization right now. Rany Jazayerli's comments about another stupid baseball trade this week are appropriate here:

"Eight years ago this July, the day the Royals traded Jermaine Dye for Neifi Perez, I came on Kevin Kietzman’s show and the first words out of my mouth were, 'I have never been more embarrassed to be a Royals fan than I am right now.'

I wouldn’t say I feel as embarrassed at this very moment as I did that day. But in every other way, this moment is perhaps the lowest point I have ever reached as a Royals fan. I have never been more disheartened than I am right now. I have never been more disillusioned as than I am right now. I have never been more angry than I am right now ...

(a lot of Yuniesky Bentancourt trade analysis that you do not care about)

And frankly, I’m not sure if I can take it any more. I’ve been a die-hard fan for 20 years now, and I’m not closer to seeing my allegiance rewarded today than I was 20 years ago."

That's exactly how I feel about the Mets today. I find myself diagreeing with just about everything this organization does, from the top down. This is going to sound arrogant, but I can't think of a softer way to say it - I know too much about baseball not to be fed up with the Mets right now.

I'm not a casual baseball fan; I spend at least two or three hours a day devouring whatever information I can about every team and player in this league, as well as the past, present and future of the game. I've been playing in Strat-o-Matic baseball leagues since I was a kid, which teaches you more about the game than non-players can ever imagine.

It's fair to say that I'm obsessed with baseball, and that obsession has helped me to develop my beliefs and opinions about player development, baseball strategy, roster construction - even less obvious things like the marketing and promotion of a franchise. I wish I was more knowledgable about weightier matters, but this is my passion and this is what I know best.

I have neither the time nor the patience to detail every area in which I find myself at odds with this franchise, so I will simply say that the only two bonds I still have to the Mets are history and geographical considerations.

It turns out that those are the strongest bonds of all.

But let me be clear - I'm rooting for this team to fail in 2009. Failure will bring humiliation - the only thing the Wilpons fear more than losing money. That humiliation, perhaps, will bring the change so sorely needed.

The first step is a change in basic thinking on the part of ownership. Until Jeff Wilpon gets it through his thick head that he has only ascended to his perch in life thanks to Daddy's ability to sell real estate, the Mets may never be able to put it all together. Little Jeffy sets the tone for the entire franchise right now - no thought should be more frightening to a Mets fan than that.

After Jeff Wilpon, Omar Minaya is the biggest culprit in this team's malaise - he built the team that infamously folded at the end of the last two seasons. He has to go and his replacement needs to be a man whose baseball knowledge is matched by his willingness to take risks, defy conventional baseball wisdom and stand up to ownership. Minaya has none of these qualities - and that is why he fails.

Jerry Manuel is less of a malignant presence to the Mets' fortunes, but his inability or indifference to fundamental baseball has helped create a sad, sloppy team that gives away games at a shocking rate. He is less deserving of a pink slip than Minaya is, but the simple truth is that Manuel simply isn't special enough to retain beyond this year.

Forget about the rash of injuries this season - the on-field product is the result of a flawed business plan that dates back to the Frank Cashen era and permeates every aspect of the franchise. The ownership consistently puts its trust in yes-men and not in the most competent baseball people money can buy.

The result? Poor drafting, questionable free-agent signings and a lack of vision in both the general manager's and the manager's office. It also results in a medical staff that is the butt of jokes nationally, that has consistently proven itself unable to keep players healthy or to properly diagnose injuries when they occur.

All that said, I'm still coming back. I took a break from my weekly column at Flushing University, because I think the site deserves better than what I've been giving them this season. I still visit every day and will probably start contributing to the message boards after the All-Star Break, to ease my way back into long-form writing.

The next step - changing the layout to reflect the true nature of this blog, even as I continue to root for a Los Angeles Dodgers championship in 2009. In the meantime, let me introduce you to some opinions about your newest Met, Jeff Francouer. At least he can be non-tendered after the season...

Baseball Think Factory's Transaction Oracle

"Ryan Church is a better baseball player than Jeff Francoeur. Ryan Church is overwhelmingly likely to always be a better player than Jeff Francoeur ... Ryan Church upgrades the Braves outfield. Ryan Church increases the chances that the Braves will win the NL East in any season that the team plays Ryan Church at the expense of Jeff Francoeur.

Jeff Francoeur downgrades the Mets outfield. Jeff Francoeur increases the chance that the Mets will not win the NL East in any season that the team plays Jeff Francoeur at the expense of Ryan Church ...

If you made a trade this one-sided with your little brother as a child, you parents would instantly negate the trade and send you to your room. It's like giving your little brother an empty can of Fanta for his Boba Fett."

Tim Marchman's Blog
"A couple of days on, I'm still not sure just what to make of the Mets' trade for Jeff Francoeur, a player so bad his name alone has literally been a running joke among savvy fans for a couple of years now ...

Much like the Chicago Cubs, though not quite so much, the Mets are less a ballclub than a mechanism for teaching children that life is all about frustration and failure. By deciding that possibly the worst regular in the majors was worth having on their team, the Mets have done their bit to preserve their status as such a mechanism, and this valuable social function is far more important than anything they might do along the lines of living up to their potential, playing baseball that doesn't make you want to hack off digits with a butter knife, etc."

The Hardball Times
"Look, everyone knew Jeff Francouer needed a change of scenery. But this? No one should have even remotely considered giving up anything of value—like Ryan Church—for Francouer. Heck, Francouer was highly likely to be non-tendered after the season ...

The Mets' perspective? I may not like the trade for them this season, but I can definitely appreciate it if the Mets are looking to the future: He's 25 years old and has a history of hitting the ball out of the park. Carlos Delgado isn't getting younger and the team is wrecked by injuries. The Mets have an offensive black hole at second base. Church may be a good complementary outfielder, but for the Mets to win in the future, they needed to take the risk for an All-Star outfielder.

The only problem with this is that Omar Minaya is another general manager who doesn't deserve to be but unfortunately will be for a few more years, a la Dayton Moore. The depth he's (not) built, the job he did in Montreal that is killing the ex-Expos to this day... Mets fans might want to hope for a second-half collapse even worse than the first two just to get Minaya out of there.

Of course, if they did, the Wilpons would probably just turn back to Steve Phillips."