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.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Role Reversal in LA

Bill Plaschke wrote about the Jonathan Broxton-George Sherrill job swap in today's LA Times. Here are some of the best quotes:

While Broxton wore a weary grimace afterward, he said he understood.

"We won, so it didn't matter," he said.

While Sherrill wore a shocked stare, he said he could also adjust.

"You try not to think about anything, you just go out there and pitch," he said.

I'd like to think that this is Plaschke taking creative liberties for the sake of his column, but I have to wonder. Relievers are so wedded to the notion of closer, set-up man and specialist that it wouldn't surprise me if Broxton and Sherrill were a little disoriented afterwards. That's what happens when reliever roles are defined by what inning it is and not by what reliever is most likely to get the outs you need.

After [Charlie] Haeger started the eighth inning by walking Sam Fuld, the heart of the Cubs' order was due up, and a right-hander was needed.

Milton Bradley, a switch-hitter, hits nearly 100 points worse against righties, while Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez hit right-handed.

Torre said Broxton was a better bet in that situation, so he was brought into the game, thrilling all those baseball thinkers who believe that a closer should pitch the most important inning of the game, not necessarily the last inning of the game.

Yes, I have to admit that I was a little thrilled watching the Game Tracker yesterday and seeing Broxton's name pop up in the eighth to replace Haeger. At that point, I thought Torre was going to push Broxton to give him a six-out save, another concept I believe strongly in. It turns out that Torre was playing more of a match-up game with his closer, but it still shows a willingness to engage in unconventional thinking for the good of the team.

I can't give Torre too much credit, though. Sherrill has been a closer in Baltimore before, which I'm sure that the manager took into consideration. Would Torre have been so willing to use Broxton in the eighth inning if his ninth-inning options did not include a reliever with closing experience? I have my doubts.

So how do they act now? What happens next?

More than any other player, relief pitchers hunger for defined roles. They set their minds to it. They base their routines on it.

This is particularly true for relatively inexperienced relievers such as Broxton and Sherrill, and even though Torre said the switch was temporary, you know they are both thinking about it this very minute ...

"I don't think it will be an issue," Torre said. "If somebody gets offended by pitching to the 3-4-5 hitters in the eighth inning, they're not the person I think they are."

Perfectly stated. How selfish would Broxton look if he started complaining about occasionally being used outside of his artifically conceived role? How weak-minded would he appear if, being used as something other than the modern closer, Broxton moaned about being used outside of his comfort zone?

Today's relievers hunger for defined roles for one reason and one reason only - the dollar signs that come attached to that role. Closers make more money than eighth-inning set-up men, who make more than seventh-inning set-up men, who make more than specialists. Relievers crave the usage hierarchy because the higher they go on the pecking chain, the closer they get to the almighty save.

Today's general managers will overpay for relievers based on how many saves they earn, even at the expense of WHIP, K/9 rates and other peripherals. (See Minaya, Omar.) Every team in baseball is on a quest to find the next Mariano Rivera and will overpay anyone whoever they think will bring similar results.

Guess what? The "next Mariano Rivera" doesn't exist! It's looking for the next Babe Ruth and expecting the guy to pitch AND play right field at a superb level. Rivera is a once-in-a-generation talent, whose greatness has eclipsed his competitors by leaps and bounds.

Instead of trying to find the next Rivera, baseball teams need to find a way to get the same results without resorting to the exact same method. If general managers suddenly started looking at, say, inherited runners stranded as a measure of quality in a relief pitcher, today's closers would suddenly start complaining about their roles. (I'm not advocating this, just using it as an example.)

If the save became seen as what it is - an antiquated statistic that tells you very little about a reliever's performance - every reliever in the league would suddenly begin lobbying to become a set-up man.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Readers Strike Back: Jeff Francouer and Remuneration

TW writes: Again, I ask since you ole'd right around it during your attack, should we non-tender (Jeff Francouer) and worry about 4 positions instead of 3 next year, when, we all know the Wilpon's are going to reign (sic) in the dollars spent?

The only reason I do not think the Mets should non-tender Jeff Francouer is that I don't think there is another better alternative, given the precarious financial situation. You correctly point out that the Mets already have to improve in an least three positions (although I'm willing to give Daniel Murphy another shot at first base next season) and that the Wilpons are extremely unlikely to spend $140 million again in 2010.

Francouer has done better than I expected in New York - although five walks in 153 plate apearances is simply disgraceful. He's no special leader, either, or did he suddenly the discover the Fountain of Leadership when boarding the Delta Shuttle from Atlanta to New York? The Mets aren't going to be a good team next season anyway, so having Francouer in the lineup won't keep them out of the playoffs. They can bat him sixth, watch him put up another .270/.300/.400 campaign and hopefully non-tender him after next season.

TW writes: By the way, this is twice you used my material for your purposes, a third time will require payment.

Good luck collecting on that!

FOX And MLB Have A Negative Effect On My Quality Of Life

I didn't get to actually watch the Dodgers-Cubs game, of course. Nationally televised games on FOX are completely blacked out if the network chooses to show another game in your market.

So instead of having my choice between Dodgers-Cubs on FOX and Yankees-Red Sox on YES, I only got the local match-up on network TV because YES wasn't allowed to show the Yankees. It's a ridiculous way of doing business - not at all surprising, considering that the decision is being made by executives at FOX and MLB.

One can't reasonably expect a national television network to act in anything other than its own interests when putting together its programming schedule. FOX, of course, has only two gods - ratings and advertising dollars. The network's exclusivity deal steals games from the local cable affiliates and forces fans in baseball markets to watch teams they can watch every other day of the week - but that's not FOX's problem.

That's why, here in New York, I get eight Yankee games and eight Met games on Saturday afternoons in the summer. New York fans with cable TV already get to watch every single game that the Yankees and the Mets play. Believe me, it's no extra treat to get 16 of those games called by FOX's national broadcast teams.

There's a simple solution to all this. FOX can simply take the two or three games a week it broadcasts in its exclusive window and televise a game in every market involving teams they wouldn't usually have a chance to see. That means that, in markets that have one of the teams playing in those games, FOX offers the local game back to the local cable outlet (usually a FOX affliliate anyway) and televises one of the other games.

That way, the New York fan could've had a choice between two games today. FOX's ratings in New York would've been lower, but the baseball fan would've benefitted. Take a wild guess what is more important to Major League Baseball.

It is MLB that's more at fault here. In their quest to get every last dollar from the network television deal, the league office put profits ahead of fans and promoting the sport. Again, this is no surprise - MLB is the only professional sports league that still clings to blackout restrictions that govern which games can be broadcast in certain markets.

One of the best things about the new MLB Network has been the ability to watch out-of-market games without paying for the MLB Extra Innings package (which is only the biggest sports rip-off this side of Personal Seat Licenses.) It's a rare sensible move from the league office, one that you wish would eventually extend to how it does business with network partners.


Is Charlie Haeger the heir apparent to Tim Wakefield? I certainly hope so, because Major League Baseball is a better place when a knuckleballer is part of it.

Wakefield, now 43 years old, was the only pitcher in the league still featuring the knuckler before the Los Angeles Dodgers recalled Haeger earlier this month. Today was his second career start, a nationally televised game against the Chicago Cubs, and Haeger was magnificent.

The rookie scattered three hits over seven-plus innings and kept the Cubs off the scoreboard in what ended a 2-0 Dodgers victory. Haeger finished with 110 pitches - and as a true knuckleballer, you can bet at least 100 of them were his bread-and-butter pitch.

I was particularly impressed that Dodgers manager Joe Torre even let Haeger start the eighth inning, despite holding only a two-run lead and having already thrown 104 pitches. Knuckleballers, since they primarily throw one pitch and do not put signficant strain on their arm while doing so, should be able to pitch deeper into games than starters with a traditional repetoire.

I'm not sure if Torre realizes this, or if he merely lacks confidence in his middle relievers right now, but I choose to believe that the Dodgers manager is aware that he can leave Haeger in longer when his knuckleball is fluttering. Haeger, of course, repaid Torre's faith by promptly walking Sam Fuld to start the eighth and the manager immediately went to Jonathan Broxton to end the threat.

(And when did Broxton become a set-up man? Torre used George Sherrill to close out the game today. Very interesting ...)

Anyway, Haeger has shown more than enough in his last two starts to remain in the Dodgers' rotation for now. I am considering buying the MLB.TV package for the final month of the season just for the chance to watch him pitch.

Sadly, knuckleballers are a dying breed. Wakefield has relied on his knuckler for 17 years, and since he broke into the league no one else has had sustained success with the pitch. The knuckler is thrown by scrunching the second and third fingers higher up on the seams of the ball and pushing the ball toward home plate. Ideally, it is thrown with little or no spin, which makes the ball dip and dive unpredictably.

That unpredictability is exactly why so few pitchers throw knuckleballs today. Sometimes, the pitch simply does not dip or dive and insteads floats right down the middle at about 70 miles an hour. Those pitches usually end up about 420 feet from home plate. It's a risk to throw a knuckleball, and in this increasingly risk-averse society the pitch may not have much of a future.

Charlie Haeger may be the knuckleball's last hope. That alone is enough of a reason to root for his success.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Readers Strike Back

TW writes: The way a team gets people interested in watching them in times like these is to play your kids, ready or not. I know that starts arbitration clocks and what not but this is a franchise that shouldn't worry about spending money, considering most of the guys they bring up will be traded before their arbitration comes up.

As far as Francouer, he has reverted to career totals, more RBI, more strikeouts. His leadership and defensive skills are apparent and batting in seventh in a healthy order he will be fine for us. Or would you rather have to sign a pitcher, a left fielder a first baseman AND a right fielder? Even if times were good, financially, that would be a tall order. Lackey, a top tier left fielder and hope Murphy matures into a .280avg/.450 slu hitter by march or Ike Davis kills it in spring and totally blows projections aside. Let's not rid ourselves of another piece because you don't believe in intangibles.

You know who believes in intangibles? Tim McCarver.

Intangibles, by their very definition, do not exist. An intangible is something that cannot be quantified. That's like saying I bring intangibles to the basketball court when we play instead of talent or hustle. In the end, it's better to have talent and hustle.

EVERYBODY has intangibles, when you get right down to it. But people put so much stock in their own perception of intangibles that they are shocked when someone sees things differently. You talk of Francouer's "leadership skills" being "apparent." Based on what? Has this team suddenly risen from the depths of its misery and made a headlong charge at the Phillies? Are they running faster and jumping higher? Do they appear to be any more of a professional baseball team then they did the day Frenchy graced us with his presence?

No, Francouer is being hailed as a leader because he's a white guy who smiles when he talks to the media. Every single "leader" in baseball has those two attributes except for Derek Jeter - and he's still half-white. Seriously, name me all the black and Latino "leaders" in baseball. You can probably count them on one hand - because influential baseball writers are almost invariably middle-aged white guys who tend to see leadership reflecting in a person that looks more like themselves.

The part that I didn't get to, but which you brought up for me, is the idea of "playing the kids" instead of Sheffield. I wanted to write about that as well, because in most situations it does make more sense to play the kids instead. The problem is, the Mets don't have any kids to play. Buffalo and Binghamton are the two worst minor league teams in baseball, so they're not exactly teeming with young talent. Here are the active outfielders on those two rosters today:

Chip Ambres
Jason Dubois
Nick Evans
Jesus Feliciano
Josh Petersen
Emanuel Garcia
Caleb Stewart
DJ Wabick

Which of those guys is going to attract more interest than Gary Sheffield?

Why Bother Trading Sheffield?

You can count me in the minority on the Gary Sheffield saga that has been brewing over the last 24 hours. I see no reason for Omar Minaya to trade Sheffield unless the Mets are going to get a decent prospect in return.

This seems counter-intuitive, but then the Mets are in a unique situation with Sheffield. They are only paying him the major-league minimum of $400,000 this season, so he certainly isn't too expensive to keep for another six weeks. With David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado all on the disabled list, Sheffield is the best hitter left in the Mets' lineup.

Gary Sheffield has the most name recognition, the cheapest contract and is arguably the most productive offensive player on the Mets right now. The 2009 season may be over in terms of a playoff chase, but the franchise still needs to sell tickets and attract viewers until October 4.

Who is more likely to do that - Gary Sheffield or a C-level prospect that will probably never make it beyond the Double-A level?

Because that's all the Mets can reasonably expect from a waiver deal involving Sheffield. They can only trade with the team that selected Sheffield on waivers (Jon Heyman is saying that it was the Giants), so it's not like they can shop offers and take the best one. San Francisco GM Brian Sabean was setting the market for Sheffield, and all Minaya could do was hope that Sabean wanted his man badly enough that he would trade something of value for him.

This apparently did not come to pass - although no names on the Giants' side have been bandied about, so we still do not know for sure. There was no reason to let Sheffield go for nothing at that point; even if he's not going to be part of the future, there is still six weeks left of baseball to play in 2009. Sheffield's participation in those games is worth more than a non-prospect at St. Lucie or Binghamton.

All of this, of course, is based on the presumption that Jerry Manuel will stop pulling starting outfielders out of a hat and settle on a semi-regular rotation for the rest of the season. It shouldn't be so difficult - Sheffield should be getting the majority of starts in left field, Jeff Francouer should play every game until the end of the season in right field* and the job of playing center field and backing up Sheffield once or twice a week in left field should fall to Angel Pagan, Jeremy Reed and Cory Sullivan.

* This is not because I believe that Jeff Francouer is a good baseball player and should be the starting right fielder for the Mets in 2010. Nothing I've seen from Francouer since the Mets acquired him has changed my initial opinion of him, and I can only hope that he will simply revert to career norms before the end of the season so that Minaya does not offer him a three-year guaranteed deal to buy out his arbitration years.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Penny Pinching

Yesterday's post praising the Mets for going beyond slot recommendations for Steven Matz may have been premature. It turns out that the Mets spent the least money on draft picks in the first ten rounds of any team in baseball - a sure sign that they are still not flexing their financial muscles nearly enough.

The Mets spent nearly $1.9 million to sign seven of the nine players they drafted between rounds 1 and 10. Their total spending came in just under the Texas Rangers to clinch the bottom spot in the table and represents more than $9 million less than what the Washington Nationals spent.

Now, simply looking at the overall amount of money spent somewhat skews the picture against the Mets. They signed only seven players which, along with the Rays and the Rangers, were the lowest total of any team. The Baseball America article also notes that overall draft spending won't be available for several weeks, so that list may present a different picture.

For me, though, the money quote was this:

"Jim Callis, Baseball America’s executive editor and an expert on the draft, says the Mets have been less than bold in the draft ever since they signed Mike Pelfrey for $5.3 million with a $3.5 million signing bonus in 2005.

'To say they are not aggressive in the draft isn’t adequate,' Callis said. 'They are nothing close to aggressive.' ”

What has sapped the Mets' aggression since drafting Pelfrey? That pick culminated a four-year period where the Mets drafted Scott Kazmir, Lastings Milledge and Philip Humber. Kazmir and Milledge both fell to the Mets because of signability concerns (although dubious concerns about Milledge's make-up played a role as well). Humber was generally considered the best player available at the spot, although I'm sure the Mets would draft Jered Weaver, Billy Butler or Philip Hughes if they could do it over again.

Kazmir, Milledge and Humber have all since been traded by the Mets - the first two for pennies on the dollar and Humber as part of the Johan Santana deal. They have all played in the major leagues; Kazmir and Milledge have been successful at the MLB level, although both are struggling badly this year. Pelfrey is still with the Mets, although 2009 has brought concerns that his ceiling is that of a #4 starter, not the #2 starter fans thought they were seeing emerge last summer.

Nevertheless, drafting aggressively in the first round yielded four major leaguers in four years for the Mets. This is important, considering those drafts produced only five other major leaguers (Matt Lindstrom, Brian Bannister, Carlos Muniz, Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell).

The Mets have drafted terribly even when they were being "aggressive" between 2002 and 2005. If, as Callis asserts, there has been a shift in thinking since then, take a look at the results:

Buffalo Bisons (AAA): 48-72, worst record in the International League
Binghamton Mets (AA): 46-73, worst record in the Eastern League

The Bisons and the B-Mets play at the two highest levels of minor-league baseball and a case can be made that each are the worst team at their respective levels. It is a direct result of poor drafting and, more recently, a reluctance to use natural financial advantages to the benefit of the minor league system.

Would pursuing a more aggressive draft strategy in the last four years have yielded better results? Let's put it this way - could it have made things any worse?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Get While The Gettin' Is Good

Steven Matz is the property of the New York Mets today, foregoing a college scholarship to sign a minor league deal that including a signing bonus of nearly $900,000. Mets fans should be excited today; although the bonus was lower than what Matz was reportedly demanding, it was still beyond the commissioner's office recommendation for a second-round pick.

The amateur draft, as currently consitituted, has begun tilting the playing field toward large-market clubs like the Mets. I expect that shift will be corrected in the next collective bargaining agreement, but for now high-revenue clubs should be increasing their spending on the amateur draft. The ability to give out higher bonuses means the ability to sign high-level talent that the cheaper and more cowardly teams pass on because of "signability concerns."

The Mets are risking the wrath of the commissioner's office by signing Matz; ownership should expect an angry phone call or email from one of Bud Selig's minions in the coming weeks. Who cares? MLB cannot punish teams in any way for ignoring slot recommendations, so a few hurt feelings is a small price to pay for improving your franchise.

The more interesting negotiations took place in the nation's capital, where the former Montreal Expos finally signed San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg to a four-year, $15 million deal. The negotiations went down to the final minutes, but the Nationals got their man and Strasburg got the richest deal in the amateur draft's history.

Everyone is professing to be happy with the deal, of course, but if you scratch the surface it would seem to me that Strasburg should be the only one smiling. He's a multimillionaire today, based on three years of dominance in the Mountain West Conference. He could blow out his arm tomorrow and be financially set for life.

The Nationals are taking on an enormous financial risk - there's no guarantee that Strasburg will be an effective major league pitcher, no matter how good he was in college. Washington is one of the many teams in baseball that simply cannot paper over a $15 million bust - a fact not lost on most owners.

Stasburg's agent Scott Boras exploits the inefficiencies of the amateur draft system as well as anybody, but he understands that his commission would've been a lot larger today if his client was on the open market. It would be bad for baseball, of course - imagine the Yankees having already signed Strasburg and any other first-round pick they so desired! - but Boras's job is getting his clients (and himself) paid, not competitive balance.

The MLB Players Association can't be too happy either. Strasburg will be a member of their club soon enough, but the MLBPA has greater obligations to its current membership. In a year where veterans like Frank Thomas, Jon Lieber and Jim Edmonds couldn't get a job in baseball, it has to rankle union membership that a college kid who hasn't even thrown a pitch in the minor leagues has gotten a four-year deal at nearly $4 million per year.

Like I said earlier, I expect the next CBA negotiations will keenly focus on the amateur draft, since the system is only rewarding high school and college players who are still a long way from The Show.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Looking For Fights In All The Wrong Places

The talk today is not about another home run given up by Francisco Rodriguez, and how the multi-year contract he was given in the off-season is being to look mighty worrisome. It's not about the grit that the Mets' Quadruple-A lineup showed in scoring three runs in the eighth to temporarily tie the score in what eventually became a 5-4 loss.

No, the talk today is apparently about how many ways the New York Mets - and presumably their fans - can desecrate the bloody and beaten corpse of Matt Cain.

Cain is a marked man today, for having the temerity to lose the handle on his fastball in a 0-0 game in the fourth inning with a man on first and nobody out. Mets fans at the game, momentarily stunned into silence by the sight of their last remaining superstar face down and motionless beside home plate, began to roar their disapproval for Cain as it became clear that Wright was going to leave the field under his own power.

Cain certainly did not help matters with a saucy tip of the cap to the Mets fans has he departed to boos in the eighth inning, with the Mets in the early stages of a game-tying rally. And Wright's beaning surely was a scary sight, especially from my vantage point in Promenade 516 Row 16.

Angst and I, sitting together at a baseball game for the first time this season, heard the sound of the ball cracking Wright's helmet even from the top of the stadium. Since we were so far away from the action, all we could see was Wright lying completely motionless; we could not see any of the subtle movements that TV viewers saw just moments after the beaning.

But that doesn't mean that Matt Cain tried to hurt David Wright yesterday.

He threw an inside fastball that veered too far inside and ended up richocheting off of Wright's head. It was ugly and it was scary, but it was not an invitation to violence. Mets fans have no reason to revile him today - Wright's beaning was an unfortunate accident that can happen within a game that can never fully correct for simple human error.

Cain was not trying to hit Wright; the Giants are actually in a playoff race and can ill afford to give games away to bottom feeders like the Mets. There's no history between Wright and Cain or Wright and the Giants, so intentionally hitting the batter in that spot means nothing more than another baserunner in what was shaping up as a tight, low-scoring game.

It's a sad commentary on society today that baseball fans have become so bloodthirsty for violence that they expect batters who have been hit by a pitch to attack the opposing pitcher and to start a brawl in the middle of a sporting event.

Wright, of course, was so incapacitated that there was never any thought that he was going to charge the mound on Cain. However, reading my favorite Mets blogs this morning and remembering various conversations I've had over the past 24 hours, I find myself puzzled and saddened by the lust for mayhem on the diamond so many people seem to have.

Charging the mound is stupid, plain and simple. Baseball players are generally not fighters, and the whole thing often disintegrates to amateurish slap fights and tackle fests that do nothing but make the combatants look childish. The batter is always suspended and sometimes the pitcher as well, which does nothing but hamstring their respective teams. On occasion a player also ends up seriously injured, making the whole spectacle even more costly and ridiculous.

The unwritten code of the game is that someone on the Giants had to expect retaliation from a Met pitcher. (By the way, I wish someone would write this code down one day, so we could all marvel at its stupidity and myopia. Every moronic and ill-advised rationale for nonsensical behavior on the baseball field inevitably harkens bask to this "unwritten code.")

Johan Santana wasn't going to intentionally put a runner on base with a 1-0 lead, but once the Giants scored three runs in the top of the sixth inning, the stage was set. Santana intentionally threw behind Pablo Sandoval to lead off the seventh, and Sandoval was spared only because of an awkward fall that somehow allowed his body to miss the flight path of the ball. No easy feat, for a man whose rotundity as earned him the nickname "Kung Fu Panda."

We all know what happened next - a long home run from Sandoval gave the Giants a 4-1 lead and left Santana with egg on his face. He successfully plunked the next batter, Bengie Molina, and retired for the day to cheers not entirely befitting of his performance.

I wonder - how many fans left the stadium at that point, disappointed not only in the Mets but also that the price of admission did not provide them a bench-clearing brawl for their enjoyment?

Friday, August 14, 2009

No Respect!

So I've sent the link to this site to something in the range of 30 times over the last year. For some reason, I can't seem to crack their blog roll. Perhaps it is because Metsblog gets an enormous amount of traffic (averaging nearly 90,000 hits a day this week) and I get virtually none - approximately 11 hits a day this week. I need him far more than he needs me!

Today, to add insult to injury, Metsblog linked to my short piece on Steven Matz yesterday. Of course, they linked to the excerpt from Mack's Mets and credited Mack with the piece! Actually, I have to consider this a sign of progress - hopefully Metsblog will take notice of PO and CJ's existence and add me to the reading list. Being on that list would certainly increase my visibility.

(IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: No knocks here on Matt Cerrone, who has clearly set the standard for success with Mets blogs. Metsblog links the Mack's Mets version of my piece, and even the second-hand exposure increased traffic here over 1,500 percent! Matt, if you're reading this, thanks for sending your readers my way!)

I also have to thank Mack again for being kind enough to allow me to link and contribute to his blog - Mack's Mets has been responsible for directing quite a few new readers my way. If you are a Mets fan and you aren't visiting his site every day, you are missing out on consistently terrific and informative pieces about the big club and the minor-league system.

The Future Of Daniel Murphy

Daniel Murphy's numbers since moving to first base on May 20: .237/.295/.353 with 4 home runs in 232 at-bats.

Those are not the numbers of a major league first baseman.

I like Murphy, and I'm glad that he's gotten an extensive shot to play first base this summer, but it looks like the experiment has failed. This is not all Murphy's fault, of course - he has almost completely skipped Triple-A ball and probably should've spent the entire 2009 season in Buffalo. Had he failed in left field there and made the transition to first base in the International League, I'd feel a lot better about going into 2010 with him penciled in at first in New York.

For the past few months, I've been saying that the Mets should nevertheless give the first base job to Murphy in 2010 and give him a final opportunity to be a starter at this level. Now, I'm not so sure. If an established first baseman can be had for $4 or $5 million on a one-year deal next season (I'm looking at you, Adam Laroche), he may be the better option for a team that could be forgiven for losing faith in Murphy.

The Mets do not need to sign a first baseman to a long-term deal - and hopefully they will not. Ike Davis has shown potential across two levels this season (.293/.377/.503 with 16 home runs in 392 at-bats). He'll start 2010 in Buffalo and, if he succeeds there, could be the Mets' first baseman on Opening Day 2011.

Murphy may only have six more weeks to give the Mets a sign that he can be the .300/.380/.450 hitter some people think he can be. Now would be a good time to go on a late-season tear similar to what he did in 2008.

EDIT: Dammit, Mets Today beat me to the punch, and it was good enough to be linked at Baseball Think Factory. Click the link and read the article - it's like what I said, but better and more comprehensive.

More On The Pirates

TW writes: For a team that hasn't had a winner since the early 90's, how is it possible they are just now getting to rebuilding their minor leagues? Better yet, when will they have a major league team worth talking about?

The fallacy of the small market team not being able to function in baseball is akin to WMDs in Iraq. The Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers etc have been paying payroll for teams like the Pirates since the last lockout.

All the "lambasting" about Wilson, Sanchez, and Adam Laroche are we forgetting that they kept the good Laroche!

Since 1993, the Pirates have done everything small-market franchises shouldn't do. The most egregious mistake has been consistently chasing 81 wins a year instead of respecting the importance of a minor-league talent pipeline and truly committing to one serious rebuilding process. Instead, they've consistently signed or traded for mediocre talent to exorbitant contracts in that quixotic quest for .500.

That's why the hand-wringing over Wilson, Sanchez, Laroche, etc. was overblown. All three were free agents after the season. The club held $8 million-plus options on both Wilson and Sanchez, a price tag far beyond their worth. Laroche was making $7 million this year and the Pirates could be forgiven for thinking he was not going to accept a significant reduction in salary at the onset of free agency.

It would be sheer lunacy for any franchise, regardless of available cash flow, to commit more than $20 million in 2010 salary to those three players. That could've represented as much as 40 percent of the total Pirate payroll next year.

For big-market clubs like the Mets, overpaying for mediocrity simply guarantees more mediocrity. For small-market clubs like the Pirates, overpaying mediocrity leads to 65-win seasons.

Andy Laroche, in his first full season, has a .253/.331/.372 line with 5 home runs in 109 games. I like Laroche and still think he can become a good third baseman at the major league level, but he needs to have a bigger year in 2010. Otherwise, the sound of Pedro Alvarez's footsteps will become very loud indeed.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Good Things From Pittsburgh

By the way, guess which franchise is blithely ignoring slot recommendations and locking up signability picks by forking over huge signing bonuses? The Pittsburgh Pirates, who dropped over $3 million in signing bonuses for fourth-rounder Zach Dodson, sixth-rounder Zack Von Rosenberg, seventh-rounder Trent Stevenson and eighth-rounder Colton Cain.

All four young men were high school pitchers with college scholarships waiting for them - instead, each will go directly into a Pirates' minor-league system that's been steadily rebuilding itself over the last 13 months.

It's easy to debate the wisdom of spending so much money on bonuses for high school pitchers, but the Pirates are making a very bold statement with these signings. First, a franchise run by former MLB draft czar Frank Coonelly is thumbing its nose at the very recommendations its president helped to craft. If the small-market Pirates can ignore the slots, what excuse do big-market teams like the Mets have for toeing the line?

Perhaps more importantly, the franchise that was lambasted for trading away mediocrities such as Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and Adam Laroche this season is very clearly redirecting that money into the amateur draft. Who is more likely to be part of the next good Pirates team - Jack Wilson or one of the four young pitchers signed with the money Pittsburgh saved by trading him?

Ignoring Slot Recommendations

The 2009 Amateur Draft took place only two months ago, but the deadline for signing players who were selected in that draft is drawing near. Adam Rubin of the Daily News wrote this week that the Mets are optimistic about signing their top draft pick, Long Island high schooler Steven Matz, before he accepts an athletic scholarship to pitch at Coastal Carolina in the fall.

The August 17 deadline is less than a week away, but the Mets have known what it will take to sign Matz for quite some time. The Ward Melville left-hander hasn't been shy about expressing his expectations for a signing bonus - it will cost the Mets a cool $1.1 million to get Matz to forego his college career.

Signing Matz would represent somewhat of a departure from the Mets' approach to the amateur draft in the last few years. Matz, a second-round pick in 2009, is asking for a signing bonus nearly twice as much as what MLB told its teams to pay for players selected at that point in the draft. The Mets, for some strange reason, have been reluctant to offer signing bonus beyond the slot recommendations of the commissioner's office.

In fact, the Mets have had a bad habit of strictly adhering to these slot recommendations - a major no-no for a big-market club. There are no repercussions for paying out signing bonuses beyond MLB's recommendations, for starters. A slotting system was not included in the current collective bargaining agreement and therefore MLB has no recourse to punish teams that ignore their recommendations.

Small-market teams and timid large-market teams have nevertheless been reluctant to draft a player whose financial expectations are perceived to be excessive by MLB. Bolder franchises have seen right through this charade and have drafted players who slipped in the draft not because of their talent level but because of the bonuses they command.

Detroit's selection of Rick Porcello in the first round of the 2007 draft is a classic example of this phenomenon. The Tigers were only able to draft him because they were the first team on the board willing to meet Porcello's price tag. The result? Porcello is already in the majors at the tender age of 20 and has all the makings of a future star.

Franchises willing to commit $3 to $5 million more in bonuses can greatly improve the quality of their draft simply by targeting players whose bonus demands go beyond slot recommendations. If the Mets meet Matz's demands, it would be a positive sign that the front office has come to the realization that the demands of the commissioner's office to adhere to slot recommendations are toothless.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Six Starters?

Earl Weaver, the legendary Baltimore Orioles manager and co-author of Weaver on Strategy, had a simple explanation when asked why he preferred to use a four-man starting rotation in an era where more teams were beginning to use five starters. Weaver's Seventh Law was this - "It's easier to find four good starters than five."

This is still true today, of course, although there isn't a manager in baseball who would dare try out a four-man starting rotation again. I don't think we'll ever see a return to the days where Weaver's Seventh Law held sway, but I do believe that baseball teams would be better served by running their starters out in a "five-day" rotation, rather than a "five-man" rotation.

A five-day rotation is comprised of four starters, each of whom always start on four days' rest, and a fifth starter who acts as swing man between the rotation and the bullpen. When he's needed to fill out the rotation, he does so. When there's an off-day, he gets skipped in the rotation and works out of the bullpen for a week or so.

We'll talk more about this in the future, but today I want to focus on something I saw on Metsblog:

"Santana is tied with Cardinals RHP Adam Wainwright for the most wins in the National League (13); he’s 11th in ERA (3.00); and seventh in strikeouts with 138 in 153 innings pitched.

…i wonder if the
Mets will start to rest him, maybe pitching him every six days or even skipping a start… i mean, what’s the point in having johan throw 220 innings this season, when he can get rest that might save him down the road, next season and beyond…"

Normally, I would never advocate for a six-man rotation, but the 2009 Mets seem like the optimal team to try it out. The season is over, for starters. The Mets are 10 games out of first place and nine games out of a wild card spot with 51 games to go. I think even the most cockeyed optimist would have to admit that it's all over.

Loosening the reins and trying out one more starter is only going to make a difference in draft positioning, and taking two or three meaningless starts away from Santana may make him a little fresher in 2010. Mike Pelfrey may benefit from a little extra rest as well, especially if you believe that the Verducci Effect theory holds water.

Since the Mets have no one in Buffalo deserving of a recall, the Mets can alternate the sixth spot between Tim Redding and Nelson Figueroa down the stretch. Both are singing for their 2010 supper and would surely appreciate four or five starts to show off for other teams. Actually, I would shelve the Bobby Parnell Experiment until September 1, when a few more relievers can be added to the roster to cover his future three-inning starts.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Yesterday I had the good fortune of catching up with The Narrowback over many pints at the John Street Bar and Grill. He and I can still talk for hours, and that's before baseball ever makes it to the forefront. We talked about so many baseball-related topics - strategy, New York baseball past and present, roster construction, player comparisons of all shapes and sizes. If I had a tape recorder running, it would've given me a month of material for this blog - and none of it would've been about the New York Mets.

Because let's face it - this isn't working right now.

Blogs are supposed to be a labor of love. For too long now, Productive Outs and Crackerjack has been nothing more than hard labor. Even now, I struggle to find the words to express how I'm feeling and why, in my heart, I know this blog cannot survive without making some changes.

So I am going to take this blog in a new direction, in the hopes that I'll be able to capture some of the spark that got me writing again in the first place. Baseball will always be the focus of this blog, but it is time to move away from exclusively covering the Mets and expanding into all facets of the game.

The Mets are still my favorite team, and my readers are going to get more coverage of New York's National League franchise than anything else. I will also continue contributing at Mack's Mets for as long as Mack will have me - anything I write about the Mets or about the minor leagues will also be offered to his site.

But it's time to write about some other things too. The best writing, I've always thought, is something like two people sitting in a room, one sharing a story with the other. There's an intimacy in the use of simple language to convey thoughts and ideas, and the ability to do so in a clear and compelling manner is a rare and wonderful gift.

So that's what I'm going to do. This blog will be a collection of my thoughts and ideas, not only about the New York Mets but also about anything and everything concerning the great game of baseball. For example, I've been following the Pittsburgh Pirates much more closely in the last few weeks, because I've never seen a team so completely commit to a rebuilding effort.

And make no mistake - what's going on in Pittsburgh is not business as usual. Pirates GM Neal Huntington is not dumping salary for the sake of keeping down the payroll. He is ruthlessly purging the Pirates of the mediocrity they have wallowed in for 17 years - and perhaps finally setting the stage for a legitimately bright future.

There's so much more to writing about baseball than chronicling the misfortunes of the traveling circus known as the New York Mets. That's what I'm going to do. I have some ideas to share with you - I hope you'll get something out of them.