Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Heads Up!

Those who frequent this site have probably noticed that there hasn't been a new article posted in quite some time.  I wanted to note that while I may add new content to Rational (Sometimes) Mets Musings, the majority of my material can now be found at Rising Apple, which is part of the FanSided Network and is hosted by Sports Illustrated sites. 

I joined the staff at Rising Apple in August of 2012, and my articles can be found here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

An Open Letter to the Mets Organization

See that picture above?  That's me.  Not the angry looking guy on the left (that's my uncle), not the guy with the porn star mustache.  And not the kid who's clearly eating cake before he should be (my brother).  No, I'm the little guy on the shoulder of the guy with the porn star mustache (my father).  The night is October 27th, 1986.  It's my third birthday.  My cake is a Mets jersey, and the Mets are about to win the World Series.

Fast forward to today.  I just got home from work, and I'm exhausted. I'm sitting here almost at a complete loss for words.  I'm a die-hard of the die-hards.  Mets fan since birth, passed down from the roots of my Grandfather's Brooklyn Dodgers/Mets fandom.  When I was little, I used to secretly listen to Bob Murphy broadcast west coast games on my walkman while pretending to be asleep.  I mixed coffee grinds with gatorade in order to stay awake for the Playoffs in 1999.  I've stood by this team through it all.  The Mets are in my blood.  At this moment, though, I'm extraordinarily close to losing my mind over the state the franchise is in both on and off the field.  Instead of getting angry as the losses have mounted, I've found myself laughing maniacally like Jack Nicholson's joker as each miscue and missed opportunity contributes to a loss.  Frankly, I'm getting numb to it all.  I'm disappointed, disgusted, upset, and confused.

Before I go further, allow me to say the following:  Over the years, I've been more of an optimist when it comes to the Mets - and it's reflected in my writing.  I've tended to look at the bright side of things, while also trying to remain a realist.  However, I've never shied away from blasting the team, the front office, or Ownership when I thought it was necessary.  And recently, it's been necessary.  Sandy Alderson's lack of foresight has been inexcusable, the team's lack of execution and hustle has been an embarrassment, and the fact that the organization is attempting to make its loyal fans play the fool has brought me to this point.  I would never stop rooting for this team.  But if the Mets don't get their act together soon, many others will.

2006 was a dream season that wasn't destined to end with a Championship.  Both 2007 and 2008 ended in monumentally horrible fashion, but at least the team was in it in Game 162 each season.  2009 was an injury riddled nightmare.  2010, 2011, and 2012?  Those seasons are a different story.  The last three years have gone from bright to jet black as soon as the calendar turned to July.  This season's version?  They're attempting to have one of the worst second halves any team has ever had in its home ballpark.  They're currently 4-21 at Citi Field during the second half of the season, which includes two nauseating 0-6 homestands.  Their division rivals have more wins at Citi Field this half than the Mets do.  It's so appallingly bad that it's almost not believable.  I've witnessed it, though, so it's clearly happened.

I won't sit here and argue that the Mets have a roster that's Playoff caliber.  They don't.  Still, when a team goes 110 innings without scoring more than one run in an inning at home, I think it's fair to say that team has given up.  And when a team gives up, it's a slap in the face to the fans who allow them to make millions of dollars playing a children's game for a living.  It should make them want to crawl into a hole and cry.  Not only is it an indictment on the players, it's a poor reflection of Terry Collins, whose job it is to motivate them.  Clearly, the majority of this team isn't motivated.  Clearly, they don't give a damn about representing the New York Mets the right way.  I'm referring to the everyday players.  The ones who are out there night in and night out.  They've been a disgrace at the plate and in the field.  They've been idiotic and reckless on the bases, and forgotten how many outs there are while in the outfield.  It's been pathetic.

Most fans are either approaching, at, or past their breaking point.  They're disgusted that a team in the biggest market in the World has been operating like the Oakland Athletics.  They're puzzled as to why the highly touted front office has lacked foresight and done almost nothing creative in order to address this team's shortcomings.  And they're furious with the on-field performance.  The Mets have a built in excuse for the failure to spend recently.  The Madoff litigation was ongoing, and the Wilpon's were in dire straits.  Well, the litigation is over.  Loans have been paid back, losses have been reduced, and there's an enormous amount of money coming off the books after 2013.  After this season ends, so must the way this team has been operating financially.

The first order of business for the Mets has to be locking up both David Wright and R.A. Dickey to long-term contract extensions.  Come to them with fair market value offers.  Come to them with your plan for the future.  Show them that you genuinely need them here, and that they can be a huge part of something special.  If the Mets can't get that done (either because they refuse to pay or the players refuse to sign), both Wright and Dickey must be traded before the 2013 season begins.  Going into 2013 with Wright and Dickey unsigned would be an utter disaster.  To the imbeciles who run this franchise, it would be an attempt to attract fans to the games.  Know this, imbeciles: Your fans know better.  They know that if Wright and Dickey enter 2013 unsigned, they'll be gone after the season.  We see through your nonsense.  Sign them immediately, or trade them.  Letting them walk while getting nothing in return (as was the case with Jose Reyes) would be completely inexcusable.

Second, Sandy Alderson recently admitted that the time to evaluate the roster is over.  He noted that there has to be a major overhaul, mainly on the offensive side of things.  Here's a little guide to get Sandy started:  Non-tender Andres Torres.  Come to the realization that Lucas Duda is not a Major League caliber Outfielder. Understand that entering the 2013 season with Jason Bay on the roster is not an option.  Take into account the fact that Josh Thole has regressed offensively, and is afraid to block the plate when a runner is bearing down on him.  He has no future here.  Now, swapping those players out for another team's version of them isn't the answer.  Be creative for once.  Find a diamond in the rough.  Take on some salary from a team in need of relief in order to add talent.  Don't be afraid to make trades.  Alderson said that the offense needed to be overhauled, and he better be prepared to make that statement a reality.

Looking further ahead, the Mets have $40 million dollars coming off the books after next season (with Jason Bay and Johan Santana's contracts expiring).  The Wilpon's better be prepared to spend that money.  This isn't a request to hand out outlandish contracts.  It's not a plea to spend for the sake of spending.  It's a demand to invest in a team that millions of fans have been investing in.  We've supported you, so you damn well better be ready to support us.

If the Mets don't heed the above and act accordingly, instead continuing the complacency of the last three years, they won't have their network and new ballpark to fall back on for capital.  No one will be watching the games, and no one will be attending them.

I'm currently reading "To Seek a Newer World," by Robert F. Kennedy.  It's a book he wrote in 1967, just months before he was assassinated while seeking the Democratic nomination for President.  Although I've always been inspired by RFK, this book has taken my admiration of him to a whole new level.  He was not only a compassionate, brilliant, pragmatic man, but an incredible communicator and a great organizer.  The fate of a baseball team cannot be compared to the fate of a nation.  However, if the Mets continue to spit in the faces of their fans, and fail to correct the ills starting in October, the fans should take a page out of RFK's book, unite as one, and take a stand.  Before the rise of Twitter and other social media, organizing something that large scale would probably have been impossible.  Today, with sites such as Metsblog, The Mets Police, and The 7 Line, bringing this fanbase together in order to take our team back wouldn't be impossible.  Forcing the team to play one night in front of an empty ballpark and/or leading demonstrations outside of it would make our voices heard.  It would hopefully force those who have turned this team into a disgrace to either change their ways or sell.  That, however, is the worst case scenario.  It's what I do not want to happen.

So, Terry, Sandy, Jeff, and Fred: Fix this thing.  Fix it right, and fix it now.  Enough is enough.   



Friday, August 31, 2012

The Wright & Dickey Contract Conundrum

If they haven't already mapped out their plan regarding the futures of David Wright and R.A. Dickey, Sandy Alderson and Co. will have to quickly do so and spring into action once the 2013 season concludes.  Although the Mets hold contract options for both Dickey and Wright for next year, their long-term fates need to be decided between October and the end of March.  Simply exercising their options and letting the matter sit can't be the plan.  Here's why:

Both before and during this season, Wright and Dickey have been candid when asked whether or not they wanted to remain with the Mets.  At this point, it almost seems as if their answers are carbon copies.  They have emphatically stated that they want to remain with the Mets and be part of the long-term solution.  However, they've also indicated their strong desire to win and a need to know what the Mets' direction is before making a decision.  The pressing issue here, is the fact that both are unlikely to negotiate in-season next year.  Meaning, if the Mets are to extend them it has to be done this fall/winter.  I attended last Sunday's season ticket holder Q & A at Citi Field, and Sandy Alderson was quick and to the point when asked about the futures of Wright and Dickey.  He dodged tons of questions, but not that one.  Without hesitation, he noted that although the Mets hold options on both players, he's not comfortable going into next season without both of them locked up long-term.  He said that he "fully expects" Wright and Dickey to be Mets not only next year but for years to come.  I believe Alderson wants them to be here, and I believe the Mets have the payroll flexibility to make it happen.  A potential hurdle, though, could be convincing both Wright and Dickey to stay.

In order to get the Wright and Dickey contract extensions taken care of, Alderson needs to be quick and decisive.  He has to approach and present them with immediate offers.  Moreover, those offers have to be accopmanied by an explanation of the Mets' long-term motives.  What is Alderson's grand plan?  What will the payroll look like going forward?  How does Alderson plan to fill the roster inadequacies alongside Wright, Dickey, and the other holdovers?  These have to be contract offers wrapped up in a concise presentation of the type of organization these men will be playing for after those contracts are potentially signed. 

Just how does Sandy Alderson show Wright and Dickey that they should stay?  I doubt this year's final win total will matter much, but I'm sure it wouldn't hurt for the team to finish strong.  Alderson recently made a series of comments to Mike Francesa on WFAN, intimating that "evaluation time" is over.  He stressed the need for serious roster turnover, which will likely be accomplished through trades.  Alderson has to fill Wright and Dickey in on how he plans to improve the club, while stating that if 2013 isn't a year where the Mets are likely to contend, 2014 certainly will be.  If needed, ownership should step in and assure both players of the financial health of the franchise going forward. 

From 2011 to 2012, the Mets' payroll was slashed from $143 million to $95 million.  It was an enormous year to year reduction.  The drop was necessary because of the still ongoing Madoff litigation, and due to monetary losses the team had sustained.  Now that the litigation is over and things have calmed down, the payroll for 2013 is expected to remain about the same as it was in 2012, or potentially be slightly higher.  After next season, the Mets will have roughly $40 million coming off the books when Johan Santana and Jason Bay's contracts expire.  Even if you factor in potential raises to Wright and Dickey, the team should have a significant chunk of money to spend in free agency after 2013. 

After he was acquired via trade in1983, Keith Hernandez was counting the days until he'd be able to depart via free agency.  Once he saw what was on the horizon, though, his intentions quickly changed.  The rest is history.  Much like in 1983, there are lots of reasons to be optimistic about the future of the Mets.  Yes, the Mets will likely be coming off four consecutive losing seasons.  Still, strong teams are built with strong starting pitching.  And in Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, Matt Harvey, Collin McHugh, and soon Zack Wheeler, the Mets will have five young, cost effective, talented contributors - two of which have legitimate top of the rotation potential.  If R.A. Dickey is here, it makes the group that much stronger.  The state of the bullpen and offense is far more unsettled than that of the rotation, but the situation is far from dire.  Ruben Tejada, Ike Davis, and Daniel Murphy can all be contributors to a contending club.  It's clear, though, that the outfield has to be re-made.  The bullpen has a few solid contributors in Bobby Parnell and Josh Edgin, but it will have to be overhauled as well.

To me, Sandy Alderson has three options when it comes to handling the futures of David Wright and R.A. Dickey.  Option one is signing both long-term this winter.  Option two, if both reject contract extensions, is to trade both this winter.  Option three, would be to trade them during the 2013 season (the least appealing option).  Those are the only three options, due to the fact that the Mets can't afford to let Wright and Dickey walk for nothing.  And if they hit free agency, that's exactly what will happen.  However, if Fred Wilpon allows Sandy Alderson to do his job, option one should be the only scenario on the table for the Mets.

I'm of the opinion that the Mets' fanbase has been through such hell over the last four years, that letting Wright and Dickey go would be the last straw for many.  If Alderson decided that the right move was to deal both in an effort to acquire a host of young impact players, I suppose I'd be able to swallow it.  Still, I simply don't believe that would be the right course of action.  Wright will turn 30 in December, and is the face of the franchise.  He's expressed over and over his desire to stay.  His love of the team and the fans is unrivaled, and his work ethic is impeccable.  If the Mets sign him to a 6 year extension with a 7th year option, those last few years may turn out to be less than stellar.  However, there's no reason to expect a downturn from Wright any time soon.  As far as Dickey is concerned, he's not only become one of the best pitchers in the league, he's become a fan favorite because of the man he is off the field.  Like Wright, there's no reason to anticipate a precipitous decline from Dickey.  He'll be 38 next season, and while he throws a harder knuckle ball than most, his arm has been through much less stress than pretty much every other pitcher his age.  Both men should be part of the long-term solution.  They should be built around, not pawned off for other pieces who may turn out to be something of worth.

It makes zero sense for David Wright to stay with the Mets from 2004 to 2013, riding the highs and lows (but mostly lows) only to depart prior to the 2014 season - when the Mets should have both the talent and spending ability to contend.  As far as Dickey is concerned, the type of contract offer the Mets would need to present him with would likely be less than half of what they would have to guarantee to Wright (both in years and dollars).  These deals must get done. 

The Mets need to sign these two men long-term to bolster the future quality of the product on the field, and as a sign of stability and seriousness to their fanbase.  They need to do it to show that the worst is over, and that the team is again ready to rise from the ashes. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

I Yearn for Citi to Shake like Shea

Whenever my Father comes with my friends and I to Mets games, he opts to park in a $5 lot that's a 10 minute walk to the ballpark along Roosevelt Avenue.  He'll park there, meet us in McFadden's before the game, and we'll walk back with him after the game is over.  As we were walking along Roosevelt Avenue last Saturday night, after the Mets had been trounced by the Braves, I remembered that I had taken that same walk after the game on October 19th, 2006.  That night was of course Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS (seen in the picture above).  A night where I went straight from work to the ballpark, and sat in the Upper Deck between third base and left field while I waited for the game to start. 

As the stadium began to fill, a palpable buzz rose up.  In the moments before the game began, the scene had turned into a frenzy, a kind of madness even.  It was incredible.  It was deafening. People were screaming, jumping up and down, and waving towels (although I don't like the use of rally towels, preferring to let my hands generate noise, it was quite a sight on October 19th, 2006), all in anticipation of what we hoped would be the Mets winning the National League Pennant.  We all know how that game turned out.  Endy Chavez made the greatest catch I've ever seen, and I'm pretty sure I blacked out during the insanity that ensued afterwards - the hugging of strangers, screams of amazemenet, and feeling of the Upper Deck shaking - so badly, in fact, that my Father nearly left the section because he thought it was going to collapse.  I told him at the time that if it did, I'd go down with it.  The Upper Deck didn't collapse, Reyes' rope in the 9th didn't fall in, and Carlos Beltran was felled by a pitch no one could've hit.  After two more years of contention but ultimate disappointment, Shea Stadium met the wrecking ball.  And since then, save for the last out of Johan Santana's no hitter, Citi Field has felt empy - even when it's full.

Now, it's important to point out that I'm comparing extremes.  There were times at Shea during the summer of 2006 when I would be aggravated at the lack of fan noise.  However, I had a Saturday plan back then, and the lack of noise could be partly attributed to the many families who were in attendance.  Still, even though Shea Stadium was lacking in amenities and devoid of light in the concourses, it was a place where Mets fans felt united.  It was a place where you couldn't hear yourself think during big moments, when the crowd would engulf you. 

I love Citi Field itself.  I love how it looks, the wide open concourses, the seats being closer to the field, and much more.  However, I hate how it sounds.  The feeling of detachment between the fans and the game is disturbing.  I understand that Citi Field has been the home of a non-contending ballclub during the second half of each season since it opened.  However, that doesn't excuse fans from making absolutely no noise during the first haf of each of those seasons.  It doesn't excuse the fact that when I clap with two strikes, I feel like I'm doing something wrong.  It doesn't excuse the fact that when I stand up during a big moment, people around me look at me like I'm insane - their seering eyes demanding me to sit down. 

I suppose the indifference and silence at Citi Field is due to a multitude of reasons: People are content to hang out instead of focusing on the game, to walk around and BS with eachother.  Some are unhappy with ownership, and all are unhappy with how the last four seasons have spiraled downhill after the All-Star break.  Still, that doesn't make my feeling of detatchment when attending a Mets game acceptable.
I miss Shea Stadium.  I miss the Mets playing meaningful games in September and October.  Most of all, I miss the feeling of unity that used to wash over me every time I walked into Shea - whether it was as a 9 year old who watched Sid Fernandez from the Mezzanine in September of 1993, or as a 22 year old who was there for most of the Playoff games during October of 2006.  I miss being able to clap without feeling odd, or being able to stand without those around me wondering why.

No one knows when the Mets will play their next meaningful September and October games.  There could be a miracle this year, it could happen next year, or the year after.  I just hope that when those games roll around, it won't be noiseless indifference that fills Citi Field.  I hope that those in attendance realize the tradition that its fans are supposed to be upholding - the tradition of being a raucous, supportive home crowd.  A crowd that hangs on every pitch, and fills the ballpark with a palpable buzz. 

While I was taking that walk along Roosevelt avenue after the game last Saturday night, I realized something else.  I had more of an empty feeling that night than I did when I was taking the same walk in the rain sometime around 11:30 PM on October 19th, 2006,  minutes after the Mets' season had ended.  Back then I had been a part of an amazing experience, even though it ended in agony.  Last Saturday, I had simply been one of 25,000 people in an emotionless ballpark, experiencing nothing special at all.  I yearn for that to change, for Citi to erupt like Shea.  Whenever it is that the Mets finally break through, the fans of this team have to realize that it's us who have the power to do that.  That we need to stop walking around, get to our seats, and whip the place into a frenzy.           

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Absurdity of Comparing the 1977 Mets to the 2012 Mets

This past Thursday, a man with a clear agenda penned an article likening the 2012 Mets to the 1977 Mets.  Not just regarding the on-field product (which is ridiculous enough by itself), but regarding all aspects surrounding the team: attendance, outside perception, minor league talent, near-term chances, and more.  Allow me to dissect and rebut Howard Megdal's article piece by piece, before tying it all up very nicely:
 Back then, as now, a group of popular players had just left: Tom Seaver, Tug McGraw; Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran.
 "Group" is defined as two or more, so Megdal is using the bare minimum number of players in order to refer to his aforementioned example as a group.  His first mistake is comparing Tug McGraw to Carlos Beltran.  Tug McGraw was one of the most beloved players in the history of the organization.  Carlos Beltran, as I've pointed out myself, should have been beloved, but wasn't.  He was loved by some fans, while most others' opinion of him fell somewhere between hate and indifference.  Carlos Beltran was traded because he was a pending free agent with a history of knee problems, who the Mets were not going to re-sign.  The move was accepted by most Mets fans, and netted the team Zack Wheeler - who is now viewed by most as one of the top two pitching prospects in all of baseball.  Megdal compared losing Seaver to losing Reyes.  There are two problems here.  The first is the fact that Seaver was the face of the franchise who led the Mets to a World Championship, a man who cried when he was traded.  Reyes, as dynamic as he was, should never be compared to Seaver.  Second, despite what many like to spew as fact, the Mets made an effort to retain Jose Reyes.  Sandy Alderson advised Reyes' agents that the Mets would be willing to guarantee a contract at 5 years totaling $80 million, with an easily attainable option that would've brought the total of the deal to 6 years totaling $100 million had Reyes stayed relatively healthy.  Reyes' agents told Alderson there was no way they would go for that, which is why no formal offer was made.  Reyes told the Marlins he'd leave if they offered him one more dollar than the Mets.  He left for Miami, didn't cry, and has since bitched and moaned that the Mets made no effort to keep him.
 The fans were frustrated, then and now, at an ownership group that wouldn't or couldn't spend enough money to keep the team from deteriorating. 
 Megdal is correct in his assertion that the fans are frustrated.  However, that doesn't make this 1977.  Had the Mets traded David Wright last month, before letting R.A. Dickey walk away at the end of the season instead of picking up his option, he'd have a point.  The first part didn't happen and the second part won't happen, so he has no point.  Ownership was unable to spend large dollars during the off-season because of pending litigation that has since come to a close.  The Mets are 55-60, in third place in the NL East.  Even with their recent tailspin, they've exceeded most expectations in what was seen as a year to evaluate the roster.  The team is still in a precarious spot, but nowhere near as precarious a spot as it was in prior to the Bernard Madoff situation being cleared up.  If the team lowers the payroll further, Megdal may have been proven partially right.  However, no one expects the payroll to drop again in 2013. Moreover, the team certainly isn't "deteriorating." Treading water is a more accurate description.  If they were deteriorating, as Megdal claims, they wouldn't be focusing most of their energy on signing David Wright to a contract extension during the off-season.  They'd be sizing up logical trade partners for July of 2013. 
 The 2012 Mets are playing at a 77-win pace, whereas their 1977 counterparts finished 64-98.
 34 games under .500 and eight games under .500?  Those are equivalent records, apparently.  Thanks for shedding light on that, Howard.
 But their rosters aren't dissimilar, statistically: Both teams had five everyday players worth at least one win above replacement player. The 1977 fivesome was Lenny Randle (4.0), John Stearns (3.2), Steve Henderson (2.5), John Milner (1.6) and Lee Mazzilli (1.0). The 2012 fivesome is David Wright (5.6), Daniel Murphy (1.8), Ruben Tejada (1.8), Scott Hairston (1.5) and Josh Thole (1.1).
Before going into a hysterical player by player comparison, realize this: In 1977, three Mets combined to lead the team in homers with 12 apiece.  The 2012 Mets have three players who have already comfortably exceeded that number with 47 games remaining.  In 1977, Steve Henderson led the team with 65 RBI's.  David Wright has already driven in 74 this season.  Now, my favorite individual comparison is Lenny Randle vs. David Wright (one which Megdal has claimed to not be outrageous).  Lenny Randle was a .257 lifetime hitter who finished his career with 27 home runs.  David Wright is a .302 lifetime hitter, who has hit 27 home runs or more four times in a single season.  Throw WAR at me, and throw comparative ages at me all you want.  You know what trumps both of those?  Traditional statistics and common sense.  The 2012 Mets aren't making the Playoffs (barring something incredible happening).  They do, however, have a solid core of players to build around in David Wright, Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis, Dillon Gee, R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey, Josh Edgin, and others.  The 1977 Mets had a core with far less promise than those mentioned above.
...young, talented Pat Zachry and Craig Swan (0.7 and 0.5, respectively), stood ready to play the parts of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler.  If that appears to sell Harvey and Wheeler short, consider that Zachry had been a huge prospect and was the center of the Seaver trade, while Swan went on to win an E.R.A. title. The median outcome for the two prospects can't be much different than what the Mets ultimately got from Zachry and Swan.
Above, we see Howard Megdal, who is not a professional scout or a time traveler, declaring that the "median outcome" of Matt Harvey (4 Major League starts) and Zack Wheeler (zero Major League starts) "can't be much different" than the eventual careers of Zachry and Swan.  He did go on to say in his next paragraph that Harvey and Wheeler could turn into Seaver and Koosman, but that was simply glossed over as being unlikely due to the fact that it doesn't fit his narrative.  Pat Zachry averaged a shade over five strikeouts per 9 innings during the course of his career.  Craig Swan averaged 4.9 K's per 9 innings during his career.  Now, both Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler could flame out immediately.  Both could become Hall of Famers.  There's really no reason to speculate on that, and there's no facts to predict what their professional careers will look like.  What is a fact is that Wheeler and Harvey both have much better pure stuff than Pat Zachry or Craig Swan ever had.  Mentioning that didn't fit Megdal's narrative, though.
But it is unclear that anything other than hope for the future separates the 2012 team from the 1977 team, which, for those who may not remember, went on to become a 66-96 1978 team and a 63-99 1979 team, before the Mets were sold to a new owner.
Yes, Howard, I know: you want the Wilpon's to sell the team.  I don't understand, though, how you can write with a straight face that "anything other than hope for the future" separates the 1977 Mets from the 2012 Mets.  Here's a few things that separate them:
  • The 1977 Mets drew 1.06 million fans, averaging 13,504 per game.  The 2012 Mets have already drawn 1.65 million fans (on pace for around 2.4 million for the season), while averaging 29,569 per game.
  •  The 1977 Mets traded the most popular player in franchise history during the season, while the 2012 Mets did the opposite in attempting to lock up David Wright long-term, only to be told that negotiations would have to wait until after the season.
  • The 1977 Mets played in Shea Stadium and were seen locally on WOR.  The 2012 Mets play at Citi Field, and can be seen locally on SNY, the television network they own.
  • The season after 1977 saw the Mets win 66 games.  Barring something unforeseen, the season after 2012 will see them win far more games than that, while the team hosts the All-Star game.  In addition, if the baseball writers do their job, it will also see Mike Piazza inducted into the Hall of Fame as the first position player to have a Mets cap on his plaque.  
The 1977 team spawned a mess that continued to spiral downhill from 1978 to 1983 with six more losing seasons, before the Mets finally turned it around in 1984.  The 2012 Mets may yet finish at .500.  And even if they don't, I don't think it can be adequately argued that anyone expects 2013-2018 to look anything like 1978 through 1983 did. 

Do the Mets have issues? Yes.  Do most fans wish the Wilpon's would sell? Probably.  However, comparing 1977 to 2012 is pure insanity, and does nothing but add more negative vibes to the ones that were thrown towards this team prior to the season, and the ones that have been hurled at them since their recent slide.  The Mets need a Catcher and three Outfielders for next year.  Talk about that.  They need Sandy Alderson and Co. to be more creative.  Talk about that.  The front office and fans need to get some clarity from Ownership regarding what the payroll will be going forward.  Talk about that.  Or you can choose to be positive and talk about R.A. Dickey potentially winning the Cy Young award, or David Wright's great year, Ruben Tejada's emergence as one of the better shortstops in the league, Terry Collins' leadership, or the rise of Matt Harvey.  But, please, don't use your own agenda to attempt to create a reality that is anything but.  It wastes our time and insults our intelligence.   

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


As the Mets' official 1967 Yearbook displays above, things could be a lot worse in Met land.  Before last night's game, I began to think of what I wanted out of the rest of the season.  Who I wanted to see succeed, the type of performances I wanted to see, where I wanted the team to end up.  As the game began, a record popped into my mind: 33-27.  The Mets would have to go 33-27 the rest of the way in order to finish the season above .500 at 82-80.  Although it seems the season has already slipped away, my body refused to drift off to sleep as last night's fiasco of a game twisted and turned to its eventual conclusion at around 2 AM Eastern time.  And when the game was over, a new record popped into my head: 32-27.

Regardless of what your feelings are regarding the team's inactivity before and during today's trade deadline - whether you hated, loved, or were indifferent to the lack of moves, the deadline has passed.  The Mets' chances to alter the roster drastically are gone.  Now, you can root for the team to completely tank in order to net a higher pick in next year's draft, or you  can root for them to succeed.  I'll be doing the latter.  A first half that was so full of promise has devolved rapidly, and the Mets find themselves at 50-53, nowhere near the position they were in when the first half drew to a close.

The first half featured brilliant starting pitching and timely hitting that was able to partially negate the horrendous bullpen.  After Johan Santana's ankle was stepped on, and Dillon Gee went down with a freak season ending blood clot, the matter was compounded when R.A. Dickey timed his only poor stretch of the season along with the aforementioned strokes of bad luck.  The Mets' bullpen is a disaster regardless, and the defense and offense have left a lot to be desired, but the Mets' fate was likely sealed when the starting pitching went from a strength to a weakness.

Coming into the season, I felt the team would hover around .500, and potentially reach the mid 80's in wins.   Miracles have happened, and I'm not completely writing the season off with 59 games left to play (as Mets fans have seen first hand, leads can evaporate rather quickly).  As the team is currently constituted, it doesn't appear as they're about to make a miracle run -which is why I'm asking for 32-27.  If the Mets go 32-27 the rest of the way, they'll finish at 82-80.  It would be their first winning season since 2008, and it would mean that they avoided what befell them over the last three seasons: a second half collapse.  The move the team has taken in the right direction would be reflected in their win total, and a positive second half would hopefully help to show David Wright that the team is close to being a legitimate contender, and in turn facilitate a long-term contract extension.

82-80 is not what you want to strive for year after year.  Still, if the Mets finish with that record, it will mean that they exceeded expectations - that the season as a whole was indisputably positive.  The Mets haven't been able to say that since 2006.  So, Mets, give us 32-27.  And if you can shove some more wins in there, all the better.

Friday, July 27, 2012

From Gooden to Harvey

Let's start with the following -  I am not comparing Matt Harvey to Dwight Gooden.  I repeat, I am not comparing Matt Harvey to Dwight Gooden.  However, here's what I believe to be an indisputable fact:  The Mets drafted and developed Gooden, who exploded into the Majors in 1984.  Last night in Arizona, Matt Harvey displayed the best pure stuff we've seen from a starting pitcher who was drafted, developed, and debuted with the Mets since the Doctor.  The previous sentence is both a knock on the Mets' scouting and development over the past 28 years, and an endorsement of Harvey's arsenal of pitches.  Had the Mets not foolishly traded Scott Kazmir in 2004, he would've come up and been the guy who had the best stuff since Dwight.  They dealt him, and it didn't happen.

Between 1985 and 2011, a plethora of Mets draftees went through the Minors and came up to the bigs.  Some had enormous expectations, some didn't.  Contrary to what some think, Sid Fernandez and David Cone were drafted by the Dodgers and Royals, respectively.  So, they don't count.  In the early 90's, Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson, and Jason Isringhausen were touted as "Generation K."  They'd come up together and bring the Mets back to respectability.  A combination of overuse in the minors, injuries, and in Isringhausen's case his temper, prevented any of them from reaching the Majors and displaying the talent behind the hype.  Bobby Jones came up in 1994 and became a  rotation mainstay, but he got by on guile.  Octavio Dotel had some moments in 1999, but his arsenal was still lacking a bit.  Mike Pelfrey was tinkered with before he came up in 2006, and never displayed the plus-plus fastball he was supposed to have.  Philip Humber got hurt, and despite throwing a perfect game for the White Sox, didn't do a thing for the Mets.  Jonathon Niese has very good stuff, but his fastball is tame compared to Harvey's.  Dillon Gee is a finesse pitcher.

So, if we span from 1984 to 2012, and are forced to name the two pitchers with the best pure stuff the Mets have drafted and developed before making their debut for the team?  It's Gooden 1, and  Harvey 2.  I'll now repeat a third time:  I'm not putting Matt Harvey on the level of Dwight Gooden.  Doc was a once in a generation talent who was almost impossibly good.  However, what we saw on the mound last night in Arizona was the best pitcher the Mets have produced since. 

Last night in Arizona, Matt Harvey took the ball and made us all open our eyes.  He may yet turn out the be the #2 type starter most scouts have projected him to be, but last night's stuff said otherwise.  His fastball sat mostly 93-96, touching 98 MPH.  He painted the black with it, ran it up, ran it in. His slider was at times filthy, coming in anywhere from the high 80's to 91 MPH.  His curve had a sharp, late break.  And he located it.  His change is still developing, but he wasn't afraid to use it.  He came right after the hitters, getting ahead in the count and then busting them in.  Imagine?  A starting pitcher the Mets developed who isn't afraid to throw inside.  While he was striking out 11 Diamondbacks and giving up only 3 hits and 0 runs over his 5.1 inning Major League debut, Harvey also displayed poise on the mound.  He was calm, he was decisive, and he worked quickly.  It was a thrill to watch.   

No one can state whether last night was a sign of how things will be for Harvey going forward.  What we do know, is that he has the stuff and makeup necessary to dominate.  And that's extremely exciting.  If he becomes a #2 type starter, fine.  But he clearly has the potential to be much more than that.  Even more exciting, is the fact that Zack Wheeler (according to every scout and observer) has better stuff than Matt Harvey.  According to Sandy Alderson, Wheeler won't see the Majors in 2012.  He should be in AAA in the coming weeks, which would make him a candidate to make the 2013 starting rotation out of Spring Training.

Any number of things may prevent Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler from reaching their full potential.  One of them has made it to the big leagues, while the other is extremely close.  For all the misfortune that's been heaped on this team, wouldn't it be rewarding if Harvey and Wheeler fulfilled the potential they clearly possess?  Last night, Matt Harvey showed that he has the stuff to do it.  Now, Mets fans are waiting on Wheeler.  Once the two of them are together in the rotation, all that's left to do is pray to the Baseball Gods.  To ask them to allow these two to become special, and turn the dreams of Mets fans into reality.   

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What's the Plan?

                                          From L to R: Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta, & J.P. Ricciardi

This afternoon, before the Mets fell to 1-11 in their last 12 games, in a sloppy mess of a ballgame to Washington, the Miami Marlins began their fire-sale.  In a season that's slipping further and further away from the Mets' grasp, fans can at least take some solace in the fact that Jose Reyes' dream destination has become a combustible and comical mess in less than 4 months.  Many saw this coming as soon as the Marlins opened up their wallets this winter (albeit not this quickly).  However, even though their current plan was borne out of a disaster of a season, at least the Marlins currently have a plan.  A plan for 2012 - which is to sell off pieces that they don't think fit and/or will soon be out of their price range, in an effort to make the team better in the long run.  What the hell is the Mets' plan?

When Sandy Alderson took over a few years ago, along with his top lieutenants Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi, great things were expected from them.  Unfortunately, the Madoff mess that lingered into Spring Training of this year severely limited their maneuverability.  Still, they made two astute moves last season.  The money saver was dealing Francisco Rodriguez, and assuring his albatross of an option wouldn't kick in for 2012.  The second, which appears to be an absolute gem, was dealing pending free agent Carlos Beltran to the Giants for Zack Wheeler.  Wheeler is now viewed by most as one of the top overall prospects in all of baseball, and is being lumped into the conversation with Dylan Bundy of the Orioles as the single best pitching prospect in the game.  Last summer, even with the Mets on the fringe of contention, Alderson and Co. knew they had to make those deals.  They made those deals because they were too good to pass up.  If they passed them up, they would've been doing so with the hope of the off chance the team somehow made it to the Postseason.  They knew their Playoff chances were microscopic, so they made the deals.

During the offseason after 2011, no one expected the Mets to be a potential destination for any of the top free agents on the market.  With the Madoff situation still hovering over the franchise, there simply wasn't any way the Mets were going to snag any of the upper crust guys (save for Jose Reyes, who could've stayed if he was willing to sign for 5 years and $80 million, with an easily attainable option that would've guaranteed him $100 million if he stayed relatively healthy).  For all the good Sandy Alderson did by jettisoning Francisco Rodriguez and importing Wheeler, he was equally bad this winter.  Instead of being creative in the trade market, he elected to spend the majority of his allocated cash on mediocre bullpen arms (Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch).  He didn't make a move for a backup catcher, content to have Mike Nickeas in that spot.  He knew his team was left-handed to a fault on the offensive end, yet did nothing to address the issue.  He kept Miguel Batista around, and refused to let go of him until the results reached the point of being stunningly bad.

Despite Alderson and Co's relative inactivity, the Mets surprised pretty much everyone by starting the year 46-39 (with players, it should be noted, who were mostly holdovers from the Omar Minaya regime).  Their record most likely would've been 50-35 or better if they had a mediocre bullpen.  Unfortunately for them, they had the worst bullpen in the Majors.  As I mentioned earlier this week, the Mets' brass may have decided once Dillon Gee went on the shelf, and once Johan Santana looked to be heading there, that they wouldn't deal any prospects of consequence for bullpen help.  In order for the Mets to have acquired a difference maker for the pen, they would've had to part with some actual prospects.  They weren't willing to do that.  Even moderate improvements to the pen would've likely staved off the current 1-11 free-fall, but the only improvement came internally in the form of Josh Edgin.

The poor winter bullpen acquisitions and recent period of inactivity and indecisiveness isn't a complete indictment on the Alderson regime.  There have been good moves, and there have been bad moves, but it's impossible and unfair to judge a man and his staff after such a small period of time.  Still, it is fair to ask at this point if other than waiting for contracts to expire and prospects to develop, the 2012 Mets currently have a plan of any sort.  It was difficult to watch the inaction of the front office, and be subjected to meltdown after meltdown by this atrocity of a bullpen as the losses piled up.  It was insulting to watch Miguel Batista start games because Alderson simply refused to dig through the scrap heap for anyone who may have done better - just like he refused to replace Mike Nickeas with any other Catcher on the face of the Earth.  It's as if the Mets were happy to basically forfeit games.  And a team that's happy to forfeit games should ultimately be open to trading players who aren't part of the long-term solution, right?

According to Alderson, the Mets were "buyers" last week.  As of last night, they were "observers."  Alderson noted when asked that he was unlikely to deal players such as Scott Hairston and Tim Byrdak in order to bring back prospects.  He didn't elaborate as far as his reasoning was concerned - perhaps because there's no appropriate reason to hang onto players who aren't part of the long-term solution when the team appears to be heading nowhere.  Regardless of the Mets' current period of hellish play, they're not a lost cause.  They have talent, just not enough.  With a 2013 rotation that may include R.A. Dickey, Johan Santana, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Matt Harvey (with Zack Wheeler on the cusp), they have the arms to compete.  They also have a mess of a bullpen, a backup catcher who isn't an adequate Major Leaguer (with no viable long-term alternative close in the Minors), a Left Fielder who may very well be the worst player in all of baseball, and seemingly redundant players in Lucas Duda and Ike Davis.        

Last year, when the team realized their Postseason chances were slim, they made moves.  They were proactive.  In the process, they netted one of the top prospects in all of baseball in Zack Wheeler.  No one is expecting that type of return for a Scott Hairston or Tim Byrdak type, but I'm sure one of those players would net a prospect who could turn out to be better than whatever the hell the current incarnation of Jason Bay is, or be better than Mike Nickeas.  Or perhaps they could net a prospect that would help out next year in the bullpen, or be a backup at short, or help out anywhere else on the diamond.  Maybe they could entice a team to bite on Ike Davis or Lucas Duda, knowing full well that Duda can't play the outfield, and that his only other viable position is first base.  Perhaps the front office could think of dealing one of their top prospects who may be blocked at the big league level for a prospect from another team in the same predicament.  Unfortunately, it seems that the front office is content to sit on their hands.  To not buy, not sell, but observe.  Mets fans didn't expect a World Champion overnight, but what they did expect was a front office that did everything in its power to improve the team and move it in the right direction.  Right now, the front office appears to be asleep at the wheel while in neutral.  And that's simply unacceptable.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

46-39 Has Become 47-48. What to Do?

After entering the final day of the first half with a record of 46-39, the Mets have gone into a tailspin.  The reasons for the tailspin are numerous, and the ways in which they've lost games has been maddening.  There has been horrendous starting pitching, bad managing, a failure to come through with runners in scoring position (something the team excelled at for most of the season), and inaction by the front office over the last few weeks as far as addressing any of the above concerns.

Saturday, the Mets started Miguel Batista.  A move that was akin to a forfeit.  A move that was a slap in the face to the players who have been fighting all year, and to the fans who had to sit through the last act of the play that was the Miguel Batista show.  The fans knew Batista would pitch poorly, and so did the organization.  He did what everyone knew he would do, and is no longer part of the 25 man roster.  Today's game was far more painful than yesterday's, since the Mets should have won it easily.  Two key moments stick out:

The first:  With Kirk Nieuwenhuis on 2nd base and no one out in extra innings, the Mets elected to not bunt the winning run over to 3rd base.  Why did they elect against the bunt?  Because Mike Nickeas would be the batter in the spot that conceivably would've had Kirk at 3rd with one out.  The Mets have so little faith in Nickeas' ability to put a ball in play and end the game, that they decided against the conventional move.  Nickeas ended up batting with runners on 1st and 2nd and none out, and laid down a horrible bunt.  The Mets didn't score, the game went on.

The second:  With the bases loaded in the top of the 12th with two outs and two strikes on Matt Treanor, Ramon Ramirez threw a belt high fastball that was lined up the middle for the deciding hit.  No one should be giving up game winning hits to Matt Treanor, especially when you have him in a 1-2 hole.  Ramon Ramirez found a way to do it.  After Jason Bay struck out to end the game (how fitting), the Mets fell below the .500 mark for the first time in 2012.

Where do they go from here?  Before answering that question, the following must be pointed out:  Dillon Gee is most likely lost for the season after a blood clot was found in his pitching shoulder - a blood clot that resulted in surgery.  Johan Santana has landed on the disabled list with an injured ankle, and it's unknown how effective he'll be when he does return.  Terry Collins has done a terrible job with bullpen management.  Examples include bringing Tim Byrdak into a game to face consecutive right handed hitters, and his demented reliance on Miguel Batista in tight games.  The majority of the games over this 1-9 stretch have been close, and when bullpen management is poor during close losses, it ends up looking that much more glaring.  Again, Terry Collins has not been gifted with a solid bullpen.  But it's his job to manage what he has.

With that said, it's entirely possible that once Dillon Gee went down and Johan Santana began to falter, the front office simply decided it wasn't worth it to deal any of its valuable prospects for bullpen help or a bat for the bench.  They may have decided that the Mets' chances had shrunk significantly, and that the best bet would be to hang onto all of their potential 2013 contributors and ride this thing out.  And if that's the case, you really can't blame them.  Now that it's reached this point (5 games back of the 2nd Wild Card spot, down three fifths of their Opening Day rotation), the following should be the course of action:

-Jordany Valdespin needs to start every game where the Mets are opposed by a right hander.  Whether those starts come in left field or center field, they have to come.  If the Mets elect to give Daniel Murphy a day off, the starter at 2nd base should be Valdespin - not Ronny Cedeno.  You start Valdespin because he's clearly one of your best eight players, and because Valdespin playing every day should help the Mets to determine whether or not he should be in their plans for 2013 and beyond. 

-Daniel Murphy needs to start every day.  Terry Collins' lineups against lefties have gotten to the point of being comical.  Murphy is hitting .274 against lefties this year, and there's absolutely no reason for him to be on the bench against them...especially considering Ronny Cedeno is his replacement. 

-Mike Nickeas needs to be DFA'd.  As was pointed out earlier, Mike Nickeas is simply not a Major League Caliber hitter.  He's hitting .172 with a .245 OBP.  Whether it's for Lucas May or someone else off the scrap heap, it's time for Nickeas to be sent down.  Nice guy, awful player.

-Against right handed pitching, Kirk Nieuwenhuis needs to start over Andres Torres in Center Field.  Even with his rising strikeout total and recent slump, Nieuwenhuis may be a part of the Mets' long-term plans - whether it's as a platoon guy or something more.  Torres is not a part of the plan and is hitting .222 while playing sub-par defense.

There have been some positives during the hellish start to the second half:  In a bullpen that has been the worst in the Majors, Josh Edgin has come up and excelled.  Hopefully he can continue to be a solid contributor and become a key piece going forward.  Pedro Beato has shown flashes.  Daniel Murphy has been on fire.  David Wright has continued to be incredible.  Jonathon Niese has bounced back from a rough last start before the break, and is hopefully on his way to putting together his first truly successful complete season.    

Going forward, regardless of his rough start last night in Buffalo, Matt Harvey should be called up to make the start Thursday in Arizona.  No one expects Harvey to be terrific right away, or to not hit any rough patches.  However, he's clearly the best option.  And in a season that is turning in the wrong direction, Harvey can get some valuable Major League experience at the very least or be a potential contributor to a turnaround if things start to break right.  If Jenrry Mejia continues to improve in his relief appearances, he should be added to the pen in the near-term...as it seems the Mets see him as a relief arm.

A team most expected to be a non-contending last place club sits at 47-48 on July 22nd.  Fans who had no expectations are now angry at a team that's still exceeding them.  And that's their right.  Still, it's important to keep the big picture in view.  The big picture, is that even through this brutal stretch, the team has continued to show fight (unlike some of their recent incarnations).  During the 1-9 clip, everything that can go wrong has gone wrong.

2012 was seen as a rebuilding year,but it's the fans' right to hope for more.  Coming off two consecutive seasons of second half fades that followed solid first halves, it's imperative for the 2012 Mets to get this thing under control.  To show the fans that the team is indeed headed in the right direction.  If they catch fire, the Playoffs still aren't a far fetched possibility - not with 67 games left and a 5 game deficit.  However, the Mets don't have to catch fire and reach the Postseason in order to make 2012 a successful season that helps them springboard into 2013 - a season that could have Zack Wheeler in the rotation to open the year.  They simply need to gather themselves and not allow this slide to become a repeat of 2010 and 2011 (even though 2011 was negatively affected by the front office with an eye towards the future).  They need to get back on track, because attendance is driven by wins, and (for now) payroll is driven by attendance.  Therefore, regardless of how much promise this team has and how bright their future may be, wins and losses matter for them more than they do for most of the other clubs.       


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Terry and the Pen

As bad as the Mets' bullpen has been in 2012 (statistically the worst in all of baseball), Terry Collins' management of the pieces in the pen has been equally horrendous.  And when you combine mediocre personnel and inept management, losses like last night and tonight are what you get.  Just looking at the last two games:

Case 1:  Last night, after the Mets took the lead in the Top of the 10th, Terry Collins elected to bring in Tim Byrdak, a lefty specialist, to pitch to two consecutive righties.  Byrdak's numbers are stark: His BAA vs. left handed hitters is .140.  His BAA vs. right handed hitters is .269.  What happened when Byrdak came in? An immediate leadoff hit and a bunt that put the tying run in scoring position - and an eventual loss.  Pedro Beato should've started the inning, with Byrdak ready to face Harper (last night's result not-withstanding).  The fact that he didn't is mind boggling.

Case 2:  Tonight, after the Mets cut the deficit to 2-1 in the Top of the 7th, Terry Collins elected to bring Miguel Batista into the game.  Miguel Batista, who has a 1.74 WHIP this season.  Miguel Batista, by far the worst pitcher on the entire staff.  What makes using Batista there absurd is the fact that Pedro Beato, Ramon Ramirez, and Jon Rauch were all available.  Now, Beato, Ramirez, and Rauch aren't sure things to succeed.  But Miguel Batista is as close is it gets as a sure bet to fail.  And fail he did, giving up three consecutive ropes (one that was caught), to put runners on 1st and 2nd with 2 out.  Instead of bringing in Josh Edgin to face the lefty, Collins elected to stay with Batista, who promptly gave up a 2 run double off the wall.  That 2 run double was the difference as the Mets lost again, 4 to 3.

To repeat.  The bullpen isn't good.  It's not even close to good.  Sandy Alderson has yet to address it, which is borderline criminal.  Terry Collins has yet to learn from his repeated mistakes, which is simply unacceptable.  If Terry Collins manages the bullpen properly the last two nights, the Mets likely have two wins to show for it.  He didn't manage properly, and the Mets now sit at 46-45 instead of 48-43. 

Mets Fandom: Impossible to take a Break

Allow me to preface this piece with the following: I consider myself to be in the upper tier of die-hard Mets fans.  By the time I was 3 (Game 7 of the 1986 World Series), I could name the entire team (it's on video).  After the Mets won the World Series, I met Keith Hernandez and asked him to kiss my mother.  He politely declined.  I forced my father to bring me to games in September of 1993.  Before the dawn of the internet, I would show up at Shea at 2 AM in the middle of February and stand on line for 8 hours in order to purchase tickets for Opening Day and the Subway Series.  In 1999, when the Mets were set to play their first Playoff game I'd be old enough to completely enjoy, the start time was 11PM.  What'd I do to make sure I didn't fall asleep?  I mixed coffee grinds with gatorade and drank up.  I've been a partial plan holder for 12 years.  I watch every game. 

After Jordany Valdespin hit the go-ahead 3 run homer in the 9th, I told one of my friends that if the Mets blew the game, the season would be over.  I knew that wasn't technically true, but that's what it felt like.  And after Parnell blew the save when he was a strike away from closing it out, only to see the Mets re-take the lead and blow it again (with Tim Byrdak inexplicably on the mound to face two righties to start the 10th), I was left in stunned disbelief.  The fact that it ended on a wild pitch with the Mets again one strike away from at least having a chance to win?  That cemented the fact that last night's loss was the worst one I've witnessed since 2008.  The Mets were awful in 2009, faded quickly in 2010, and sold at the ASB in 2011.  Therefore, the 2012 squad was the first one since 2008 that had a legitimate shot at the Postseason entering the 2nd half.  In that late September game in 2008, Daniel Murphy tripled with the game tied to start the bottom of the 9th or 10th (don't recall).  All the Mets had to do was get a ball to the outfield and the game was over.  They didn't.  They lost.  And at that point, it felt like the season was over.  

The minutes after that game in 2008 were the last time I vowed to give myself a break from the Mets.  To not watch the next game or two, not listen to them on the radio, not follow them on the internet.  What ended up happening?  I went to nearly every game down the stretch, and nearly broke my hand punching a door at Shea after the Mets lost another late September crusher - the Phil Humber game.  The one where the Mets were up 5-0 and ended up losing.

After last night's horror show, I decided for the first time since 2008 that I wouldn't watch/listen to/follow the next game...that I wanted to take a break.  When I woke up this morning, the thought of not watching tonight's game was still in my mind.  By the time I was on the way to work, though, my irresistible instinct and eventual action was to text my friends to attempt to gather them to watch the game, as it now seems that if the Mets don't turn it around immediately, they're screwed.  Why is it impossible to ignore this team, even for one game?

When I was in high school and would argue with my girlfriend, I was able to control myself and stubbornly ignore her.  I would stupidly refuse to be the first one to call and apologize.  I could take a break from them for a day or two, knowing that I would in turn be preventing myself from getting laid. Yet, it's impossible to take a break from the Mets.  There's something seriously wrong with that.  Let's delve deeper.  Sex is absolutely tremendous, and the feeling of Orgasm is the single greatest feeling your body ever has - it obviously feels better than watching a Mets game.  Drinking numbs you and enhances social situations, and drugs expand your mind.  But none of those things lead you to jump up and down like a madman screaming unintelligible nonsense, while at the same time hugging your friends and/or strangers (we're excluding hypothetical threesomes and orgies while on Acid or Magic Mushrooms).

An epic Mets moment makes you go wild.  The feeling of exhilaration lasts long after, and therein lies the problem.  That's why they're impossible to quit - even for a matter of a day or two.  The fact that my brain won't even allow me the option is a bit insane.  Then again, so is being a Mets fan. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Lost Weekend

Like every team, the Mets wanted to come out of the All-Star break strong.  It didn't happen.  Before the season, nearly every member of the media wrote the Mets off.  They were going to be a last place team.  There were a handful of times during the first half when the Mets appeared to be heading back to and perhaps under the .500 mark.  That didn't happen.  Now, with a maddening three game sweep at the hands of the Braves at Turner Field behind them, the media is salivating yet again.  Joel Sherman penned an article today basically saying that the fat lady was singing:

Now, these Mets are 0-3 in 2012 after a second-half-opening series that as bellwethers go was akin to seeing the iceberg from aboard the Titanic.
It'd be somewhat understandable to liken a three game sweep to a sure to sink ship, had the Mets been non-competitive in those three games.  If they'd failed to score any runs.  If they'd failed to fight back when they were down.  However, that's not what happened over the weekend in Atlanta.  They showed the same fight they have all year, but came out on the losing end.  What happened was a confluence of at times strange events that led to three losses, with the most alarming thing being the fact that Chris Young, RA Dickey, and Johan Santana each gave up 5 runs or more.  While discussing the ugly lines of the Mets' starters, realize the Mets countered by battering both Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson (the Braves won the games, so no one is worried about those two).  If you think the Mets' starters ERA will be 5.50 for the duration of the second half, you'd be correct in writing the team off after three second half games.  If you don't believe that to be in the cards, consider the following:

Chris Young laid an egg Friday night, the Mets fought back to make it 5-4, failed to capitalize on a bases loaded situation in the middle of the game, and eventually lost.  Tough game.  Johan Santana saw three absolutely absurd calls go against him in the 5th inning of a scoreless game (two of which would've resulted in strike 3 and a scoreless inning), and the Braves scored each one of their runs in that frame.  Runs that wouldn't have scored if CB Bucknor was a competent umpire.  Still, the Mets' bats were flat so who knows if they would've won.  The game the Mets should've had was Saturday.

RA Dickey didn't have his best stuff, and was victimized by another Andres Torres misplay (why he's still getting time in Center Field, I have no idea) and some more interesting umpiring that led to an ugly final line.  Even so, the Mets fought back and took a 7-5 lead into the bottom of the 8th inning.  I'm not sure why Bobby Parnell was summoned for a five out save when Pedro Beato was doing fine, but whatever.  After Parnell entered and recorded a strikeout, he gave up three consecutive hits.  Let me preface what I'm about to say with this:  Yes, hits are hits.  I'm not discounting anything the Braves did.  Still, each of the three hits were grounders through the infield.  The first one was the most clean, back through the box.  The next one was slapped past Ike Davis, who was holding the runner on at 1st base.  The one that gave the Braves the lead was hit an inch out of Ronny Cedeno's reach...a ball Ruben Tejada may have fielded if he wasn't incomprehensibly double switched out of the game.  If one of the first two grounders are fielded, the Mets likely win the game.  If the third one is fielded, they may have won.  And if they had won Saturday in Atlanta, none of the "fat lady singing" pieces would've been written.  So, the difference between "the Mets are OK" and "the Mets are doomed" is basically three seeing eye singles.

Now, it is certainly normal to be concerned at the moment.  The starting rotation has slipped, the bullpen continues to be a crap-shoot, and the offense has been hit and miss.  Still, this team has fought back in every game it's been down, and has gotten up off the mat after every difficult loss and after every trying stretch.  They made it through what most were sure would bring them crashing down to Earth (the string of games against Playoff contenders in June), and are now staring at a similar stretch (9 games against Washington and Los Angeles, followed by an 11 game West Coast swing).  The Mets have gone from 0.5 games back of the second Wild Card to 3.5 games back, and that's scary.  It's put them in a precarious spot. 

The Mets need bullpen help, and it appears as if Josh Edgin will be a positive addition.  You'd expect the team to make an acquisition from outside the organization to fortify the pen a bit more.  And if Jenrry Mejia can get his act together, he'd be another intriguing internal option.  Mike Baxter recently played his first rehab game, and is probably about 10 days away from returning.  As I'm typing this, Matt Harvey has exited the game after 6 2/3 innings of 3 hit, 1 run ball for Buffalo in what is likely his last AAA start before being called up to face the Dodgers at Citi Field on Saturday.  

The 2012 Mets are a young, likeable team.  Instead of seeing retreads called up in times of need, we're seeing homegrown talent with upside (see Jordany Valdespin, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Josh Edgin, and soon Matt Harvey).  There have been lots of comparisons between 2012 and 1984 - a year where the Mets started to right the ship, but couldn't quite get over the hump.  If that's the end result of this season, so be it.  However, this team has responded each time it's been knocked down.  There's absolutely no reason to write them off this quickly.  The Mets simply need to come out against the Nationals beginning Tuesday night and get back to work.  They need to respond to adversity once again.   

Thursday, July 12, 2012

As the 2nd Half Begins

As the second part of the season begins tonight in Atlanta, I'm reminded of a throwaway line from one of the articles Adam Rubin penned before the season.  In it, he said that with the 2nd Wild Card being added for the 2012 season, the Mets could theoretically finish in 3rd place in the National League East and make the Playoffs.  He was obviously being tongue in cheek when he wrote it.  And being that Rubin is the gold standard when it comes to Mets beat writers (and in the top percent of all of those who cover baseball), his little sentence from months back goes to show you what most people felt about the Mets coming into this season.

Maybe it was blind optimism, or an at the time misguided belief, but there were a host of fans (myself included) who expected more out of this team.  Expecting the 2012 Mets to make the Playoffs may not have been what I had on my mind when the first pitch was thrown by Johan at chilly Citi Field in early April.  I expected them to compete, though.  I expected them to play their asses off.  I expected them to surprise.  So far, they've done all of the above.  Coming out of the All-Star break, they sit at 46-40, and in third place.  Yet, being in third place in the NL East means they're one half game out of a Playoff spot.

The All-Star break wasn't without incident for the Mets, as they found out that Dillon Gee will have to undergo what will most likely turn out to be season ending surgery on his pitching shoulder.  The blood clot he had wasn't minor (as was the case with Bobby Parnell last year and Tom Glavine a few years ago).  For Gee, it was much more serious.  And because of that, the Mets are a starter down.  The health of Gee is the most important issue here.  Thankfully, he appears to be out of the woods.  Sandy Alderson said the Sunday before the break that a "convergence of events" might force the Mets' hand regarding Matt Harvey, who's currently pitching quite well in AAA for the Bisons.  Before it was known that Gee would likely be out for the season, the Mets intimated that Miguel Batista (a person who has no business on the team in any capacity, let alone starting games in July with the team in contention), would likely be the short term fill in for Gee.

With it now known that Gee is likely lost for the remainder of the regular season, it's time to turn to Harvey.  If Chris Young is good to go on regular rest his next turn through the rotation, Harvey wouldn't be needed until July 21st.  That would give him another start in AAA, and some time to exhale before potentially making his Major League debut against the Dodgers at Citi Field on the 21st.  No one is expecting Matt Harvey to be a savior.  But the Mets don't need a savior.  They need someone who has quality stuff, and the potential to give them quality innings.  Chris Schwinden has shown that he possesses neither quality.  Jeremy Hefner doesn't appear to be an option, and it would be cost prohibitive for the Mets to acquire a quality arm from outside the organization.  Therefore, the choice seems to be between Batista and Harvey.  And it really shouldn't be a difficult one.  Toby Hyde, who does a tremendous job at Metsminorleagueblog.com, thinks it's time for Harvey to be called up.  As Toby points out, Harvey has flaws.  He won't be perfect or refined from the get-go.  Again, though, he likely gives the Mets a better chance to win than Miguel Batista.  And, unlike Batista, he's part of the team's future.  This wouldn't be a matter of the Mets rushing a prospect to the detriment of his development.  Harvey is basically ready.  He's simply marinating, waiting to be unleashed.

The Mets have a legitimate shot to make the Playoffs.  Let's say that again:  The Mets have a legitimate shot to make the Playoffs, and they're not doing it with smoke in mirrors.  Unlike the eventual sub .500 teases that were the 2010 and 2011 squads,  they have a rotation that's above average, led by Cy Young favorite R.A. Dickey, Johan Santana, and an emerging Jon Niese - whose ERA is finally starting to match his peripherals.  They have an offense - led by MVP candidate David Wright - that's 8th in the Majors in runs and 9th in OBP, making it one that certainly has the ingredients to continue to contend.  The bullpen issues have been addressed somewhat with the promotions of Pedro Beato and Josh Edgin, and will likely be fortified in the coming weeks with the return of Frank Francisco and an acquisition from outside the organization.

Towards the end of the first half of the season,  Citi Field started to feel a little bit like Shea used to (although the new place doesn't shake, unfortunately).  The fans began to make more noise than they had been, started to rise in unison as they so often did at Shea.  It started to feel like the fans once again expected the team to come through each inning, and hold on in the end.  It all began on the night the fans had been anticipating for the better part of four seasons: the first signature moment at Citi Field.  That moment came on June 1st when Johan Santana completed the first no-hitter in the history of the franchise.  That night, Citi Field finally sounded like home.  Mets fans make a different noise than any other fans during times of triumph and celebration.  The crowd noise starts and eventually becomes a loud murmur...the murmur reaches a crescendo, and then becomes a roar.  At the time of exhilaration, the roar raises several octaves and becomes an explosive shriek.  Listen to the buildup before the last strike of the 1986 World Series and the moment after Marty Barret swings and misses, and then listen to the buildup before the last strike of Johan's no-no and the moment after David Freese swings and misses.  The sound is the same.

Mets fans want to make that sound a few more times this season.  The Mets, like every other team in Major League Baseball, have flaws.  They also have a Manager who seems to have the ear of each one of his players, a third baseman determined to have the best year of his career, and a starting rotation that's on a bit of a mission.  Starting tonight in Atlanta, the Mets take the first step towards trying to turn their very solid first half performance into a Postseason berth.  And my tongue isn't in my cheek as I say that.   



Monday, July 9, 2012

Those Awful San Francisco Giants

I was born in 1983, so there have only been a handful of teams I've despised:  The Yankees, Braves, Phillies (from 2005 on), and Marlins (in 2007, 2008, and starting anew this year).  I was too young to despise the Cardinals in the mid to late 80's, still too young to despise the Pirates around 1990.  Well, mark today down as the day I officially began to despise the San Francisco Giants and their fans.   

The seed was planted in late 2009, when Matt Cain drilled David Wright in the head with a pitch.  I was in attendance at that game, and was disgusted and infuriated when Cain tipped his cap as he left the field.  It was a classless and horrible thing to do, and may have simply been the reaction of a confused kid who didn't know how to react to the vitriol he was receiving.  Still, it left a bitter taste in the mouth of every Mets fan.

Fast forward to July of 2012.  David Wright, having one of the most dominant years of any player in baseball, is a surefire bet to start the All-Star Game at third base.  R.A. Dickey, having one of the most dominant years a pitcher has had in the last few decades, is a near lock to be the starting pitcher in the All-Star game.  However, the San Francisco Giants fans had other ideas.  They decided that over the last 48 hours of voting, they'd stuff the ballot box for every single Giants player.  As a result, Brandon Belt nearly beat out Joey Votto, and Freddy Sanchez (who has yet to appear in a game this year), finished fourth among all the second base candidates.

The Giants fans did succeed, however, in costing Carlos Ruiz his rightful starting nod in order to get Buster Posey in as the starting Catcher.  And in a much more egregious display, voted so often that Pablo Sandoval (who was trailing David Wright by 450,000 votes two days prior) edged out David Wright for the starting nod at third base by over 1.5 million votes.  David Wright, who entered the break hitting .351 with 11 homers and 59 RBI's.  David Wright, who is one of three legitimate MVP candidates in the National League (along with Andrew McCutchen and Joey Votto) is a reserve on the All-Star team.  He's a reserve because the Giants fans decided to stuff the ballot box.

It's pretty clear that the voting system for the All-Star game needs to be fixed.  Fans have the right to vote for whomever they want, but that doesn't make their actions any less pathetic.  This year, the only Met I voted for was David Wright.  He was the only Met I voted for because I felt he was the only one who deserved it.  I hate the Yankees, but I still voted for Robinson Cano.  Because he's an All-Star.  A deserving All-Star.  It's a shame the fans of the Giants didn't respect the game and the players enough to vote accordingly.

As I woke up this morning, the David Wright/Pablo Sandoval fiasco was in the past.  It was a real shame, but there was nothing we could do about it.  I was certain that R.A. Dickey would be named the starter for the National League, especially after Yadier Molina had pulled out of the game due to personal reasons.  Tony LaRussa's prior excuse had been that he might hold R.A. back so he could pitch to Yadier, who he felt was best equipped to handle the knuckler.  Without Yadier Molina in the game, the only catchers were Buster Posey and Carlos Ruiz.

Josh Thole had offered to call Buster Posey to give advice on how to catch R.A. Dickey.  Earlier in the week, Posey seemed to be on board.  Today, after the announcement from Tony LaRussa that Matt Cain, not R.A. Dickey would be the starter for the National League, the real reason why began to slowly seep out from the writers on Twitter.  There was a report that Buster Posey went to Tony LaRussa and told him he'd be uncomfortable catching R.A. Dickey.  Whether or not that's accurate, according to Peter Gammons, the Giants stepped in in order to make sure Dickey didn't start the game.  Later, on the MLB Network, Gammons was again adamant that Giants officials had contacted LaRussa and/or made their feelings known in order to make sure that Posey wouldn't have to catch R.A. Dickey.

Let's recap, shall we?

The Giants fans stuffed the ballot box and in turn cost two players (Carlos Ruiz and David Wright) what should've been their starting slots in the All-Star game tomorrow in Kansas City.

The player who beat out Ruiz (Buster Posey) because of those ridiculous Giants fans, first said that he'd be fine catching R.A. Dickey, but is now "thankful" he doesn't have to.  Meanwhile, Ruiz, has been given an enormous Catcher's mitt, is practicing with R.A., and is taking it all in stride. 

The Giants officials themselves stepped in, knowing full well that two of their All-Star game starters (Posey and Sandoval) were voted in over two more deserving players (Ruiz and Wright) in order to ensure that R.A. Dickey, the current best pitcher in the game and the story of the first half of the 2012 season, would not be able to start the game almost everyone believed he should start.  And because they stepped in and made sure R.A. Dickey would not be the starter (which would've subjected poor Buster Posey to having to catch a knuckle ball), they were rewarded by having another one of their players named as a starter - this time Matt Cain, who will take the mound in the bottom of the 1st inning.  The Giants officials should've kept their mouth's shut.  And if they had, R.A. Dickey would've likely been given the honor he so deserved.

Fortunately, most of us recognize the value of R.A. Dickey the man, and the brilliance of what R.A. Dickey the pitcher has become.  It's a shame Major League Baseball allowed Tony LaRussa to come back after retirement, and stood by and allowed the Giants to step in and make sure they deprived R.A. Dickey of what will most likely be his only chance to start the All-Star game.  Because of all that, I will now add the Giants to the list that includes the Yankees, Braves, Phillies, and Marlins.  You're now despised.  And with the Mets and Giants both set to enter the second half of the year with 46-40 records, both 0.5 game out of a Playoff spot, it would be great revenge to settle this on the field in early October in a one game Wild Card Playoff.  If that came to be, no one would be able to keep R.A. Dickey off the mound.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What Could've Been, and What is

Before the Mets' 2012 season began, the team was covered as the factual coming of the fictional 1989 Cleveland Indians as depicted in the movie "Major League."  Not only did they have no chance to compete on the field or draw fans to the ballpark, they were broke.  Here's what's happened since:

The cloud created by the Bernard Madoff situation has been lifted.  Instead of facing the possibility of having to pay close to $1 Billion, the Mets settled the lawsuit for $162 Million, a fraction of which they'll actually have to pay.  The problem the team had attracting outside investors resolved itself.  The team that was broke was suddenly broke no more (if not exactly flush with cash).  They flexed their new-found financial stability by almost immediately handing Jonathon Niese a five year contract extension, buying out a few of his arbitration years in a low-risk, potentially high-reward maneuver.

The team that many in the media had speculated would trade David Wright around this year's All-Star break (even though that made zero sense considering Wright would've been able to void his 2013 option had he been dealt - making him much less valuable to interested clubs), is now seen as likely to re-sign Wright to a long-term deal - likely this offseason.

The fan revolt that was supposed to leave Citi Field deserted has simply not happened.  Through the weekend, the Mets were currently averaging 29,300 fans per game, compared to an average of 30,108 in 2011.  And with school now out and the team in contention, one would expect the average attendance to rise if the team continues to play the style of ball they've been displaying thus far.  Before the season began, Keith Law of ESPN penned an article citing the likelihood of when the most crestfallen Major League clubs would realistically be able to next contend.  He opined that the Mets' next shot at contending would be in 2016.  Well, it's June 27th, 2012 and the Mets are contending.  They're 40-36, one game out of a Wild Card spot in the National League, four games behind Washington for first place in the National League East.

The team has showed tons of resilience so far this season, and unlike their faux flirtation with contention early in 2010 and 2011, it appears this team has staying power due to the strength of its starting rotation.  Aside from #5 starter Dillon Gee, who currently has a 4.42 ERA, the other members of the rotation have ERA's between 2.31 and 3.55. Chris Young's results have come in a small sample size, but for RA Dickey, Johan Santana, and Jonathon Niese, their impressive ERA's match up with their strong peripherals.  If one of the starting pitchers were to go down, we've probably reached the point in the season where the call-up would be prospect Matt Harvey (and not a conveyor belt of Chris Schwinden clones), who's worked lately on refining his offspeed pitches in Buffalo and appears to be just about ready to contribute at the big league level.  The organization's other top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler has dominated for AA Binghamton for the most part, and appears to be nearing a promotion to AAA - allowing us to peer over a horizon at what could potentially be a tremendous starting rotation in the near future.  Aside from Bobby Parnell, Tim Byrdak, and at times Frank Francisco, the bullpen has been a mess.  It's the one area the team has to improve in the coming weeks (whether it's via trade, call-ups, role changes, or a combination of the three).

If the season ended today (and it doesn't, but we have nothing to go by but the results so far), it could be argued that the Mets would have:

-The Manager of the Year in Terry Collins, who has completely transformed the way the team goes about its business since taking the helm - implementing "the Mets way" as heralded by Sandy Alderson and the rest of the front office.  Since shorting out during stints Managing in Houston and Anaheim, Collins has changed as a person and as a Manager, and is exhibiting a mixture of assertiveness, honesty, and tenacity that has his club in the thick of the Playoff race.

-The Cy Young Award winner in RA Dickey, who has come from the depths of hell (both personally and baseball wise) and emerged as one of the best pitchers in baseball.  With a knuckler he can somehow control and throw at a velocity no one has ever seen from a knuckle ball pitcher, Dickey currently sits at 11-1, with a 2.31 ERA, 106 K's, a .196 BAA, and a WHIP of 0.91.

-The MVP in David Wright, who's currently hitting .357 with a .449 OBP.  Wright is on pace to finish the season with 53 Doubles, 102 Runs Scored, 200 Hits, 100 RBI's, and 17 Homers.

Along with the above trifecta, the rest of the team has the Mets sitting firmly in both the Wild Card race and the race for the National League East title.  The Marlins, with all of their offseason spending, sit at 34-40, losers of 17 of their last 20.  Heath Bell has been a disaster (as his declining K's per 9 foretold), Carlos Zambrano has begun his yearly implosion, Ozzie Guillen is still an imbecile, and Jose Reyes is having an underwhelming first season in Miami.  The Phillies (36-40) are a mess.  Roy Halladay is out for a few more months, the offense is so bad that Cliff Lee is winless, and Charlie Manuel has begun to openly question their effort.  Chase Utley is returning, but with the same degenerative knees that have derailed his career.  The Braves have been up and down this season, but just took an enormous hit after learning that Brandon Beachy (who was sporting an ERA of 2.00) has been lost for the season due to Tommy John Surgery.  That leaves us with the Nationals, who have been good so far, but whose offense is putrid (23rd in the Majors in Batting Average, 25th in OBP, and 27th in Runs Scored).  The biggest question surrounding the Nats, though, is the strict 160 inning limit they've set for their ace Stephen Strasburg.  He has already thrown 90 innings, leaving him with 70 more in the tank.  Strasburg is averaging 6 innings per start, and if the Nats actually shut him down at the 160 inning mark, his season would be over after about 12 more starts. 

Regardless of who ends up at the top of the National League East, the Mets have proven that they should be able to stay in the thick of things through September.  Due in large part to the addition of the 2nd Wild Card, and the lack of any real standout teams in the National League, the Mets could conceivably finish the year in 3rd place in the National League East and still find themselves in the Playoffs.  On Monday, the Mets emerged from their toughest stretch of the season (22 consecutive games against teams that would be in the Playoffs if the season ended today) with a record of 11-11.  After the conclusion of today's 3 game series against the Cubs (the ugliness of the first two games not-withstanding), they find themselves firmly in contention.

The team has shown their fans and Management that they have what it takes to stay in the race.  In the coming weeks, it's on the front office to step up make improvements to the bullpen, which will hopefully give the club the boost it needs.  The front office should under no circumstances entertain trading any of their top prospects for immediate help in the pen.  However, dealing redundant prospects and/or taking on a bit of money from a team in exchange for a quality pen arm are two potential routes they can take in acquiring relief help.

It's an exciting time to be a Mets fan.  That refrain was uttered by a smattering of fans before the season began, and has begun to reach the lips of many others as the 2012 season nears the halfway mark.  The 4-0 start that was mocked has become a 40-36 start that, while not eye-popping or incredible, is a large enough sample to take this team seriously.