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.

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