Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Met Fan Self Immolation Thread: Part 2?

Years ago, over at the greatest baseball site in the history of the planet, Baseball Think Factory (please do not click and go there, because the masses will ruin it), there was something called:


It was posted the day that the Mets traded away Scott Kazmir -- the most highly lauded talent in the Mets farm system in almost a decade -- and a busload of other promising prospects for Victor Zambrano and Kris Benson, and did so in a season where any rational fan knew they had little to no chance of making the playoffs.

Educated fans, like the folks over at BBTF, were rightly enraged.  The day was dubbed by some to be Black Friday, and it was indeed a bad day for the franchise.  I remember where I was when I heard the news that Kazmir had been traded ... it was one of those tragic sports moments frozen in time.  But the day was July 30, 2004, and nobody had any idea of what was to come in the next few seasons.  It is hard to believe that in only eight short years, the Mets have had a) the Beltran strikeout against Wainwright in the 2006 NLCS, b) the 2007 Collapse, c) the 2008 Collapse, d) the K-Rod incident, e) the Bernie Madoff mess, and so many other misfortunes. 

I hope you like looking at this face.
I originally hoped today that I would be able to write a thoughtful piece about how, in light of the fact that we lost our beloved Jose Reyes, that trading David Wright for Hanley Ramirez might be a good idea for both the Mets and the Marlins.  But then some interesting news came out.

The Mets signed Jon Rauch today, reportedly for $3.5 million plus incentives.  Uh, interesting.

Then the Mets traded away Angel Pagan, one of my favorites, for Andres Torres and relief pitcher Ramon Ramirez.

Then, to (hopefully) complete their flurry of activity, the Mets have apparently signed reliever Frank Francisco to a contract for two years and $12 million.

So all in all, the Mets traded Pagan for Torres (a bad swap) and added three relievers today.  More importantly, they added approximately $9 million to their payroll for this season -- that's $9 million that could have been spent in any number of different ways.

Considering that the Mets decided that they could not match a six year, $102 million offer for Jose Reyes -- which amounts to only $17 million per year -- it is hard to know exactly what Sandy Alderson's plan is.  The Mets could have kept Reyes, a franchise player, but instead they chose Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, and eight million dollars.  And as you know, they did not even deign to make him an offer. 

Why let the beloved franchise player leave and sign replace him with known mediocrity?

Is it to win now?  Obviously not.
Is it to win later?  Well, what's the point of the short term relief pitcher signings?
Is it to give up on the next few years, and use these relievers as trade chips at the deadline?  If that was the plan, why didn't they trade Reyes last summer rather than letting him leave as a free agent and get almost nothing back in compensation?

All of this -- in conjunction with many of the other moves the Mets have made, both on and off the field over the last few seasons -- leads me inescapably to an unattractive conclusion.  None of these moves make sense in terms of the product that Mets fans will see on the field in 2012 or even 2013.  So what could be their motivation?

It all stinks.  It stinks and it leads me, against my will, to an inescapable conclusion.  Money.  Wilpon money.

You see, it's not that the owner of the Mets, Fred Wilpon, doesn't have the money to make any baseball move that he wants.  Regardless of what happens with Bernie Madoff, the Wilpons will be affluent beyond most of our wildest dreams.  But the Mets -- as an entity itself -- is bleeding money.  When Sandy Alderson had his press conference with reporters on Sunday night, he acknowledged the fact that the Madoff situation, regardless of the hand-wringing of so many fans, probably did not affect their decision to let Reyes go:
Q:  Absent Madoff, could you have played this differently?

A:  "Bernie Madoff and his specter are always referenced in these situations. I don't really think Madoff has that much to do with it. But when a team loses $70 million irrespective of Bernie Madoff or anyone else, that's probably a bigger factor in our approach to this season and the next couple than anything else."

Q:  Is $70 million loss for 2011 only?

A:  "Big losses. Let's put it that way."
Source:  Adam Rubin, ESPN

And that's the bottom line.  A team cannot be thinking about its on-field baseball fortunes when they, as a big-market team, let a player the caliber of Jose Reyes walk out the door without making him an offer, and then THE SAME WEEK goes out and signs two mediocre relief pitchers.  Relief pitchers who were on the waiver wire in my fantasy league all season long[1].

While both pitchers will be better in the National League next season than they were in the loaded American League East, the two of them combined will not help the Mets win more games than Jose Reyes would.  It provides the team some flexibility in the future, and it gives them eight million in cash on hand this year, but it makes them markedly worse[2].

It has to be money.  By letting Reyes go and signing two relievers, Sandy Alderson and company did one thing for sure:  they made next year's team more marketable, rather than less.  I realize that might be counterintuitive to fans like myself who loved Jose Reyes, but to the mainstream media and general fans, Jose Reyes was an oft-injured underachiever, and a constant reminder of a failed Mets era.

The Mets team that will take the field next year will be worse, but they will a) have less reminders of the painful recent Mets past and b) will blow less saves.  That's a strategy that will likely bring more fans to the stadium in 2012 -- a season which will be bleak and terrible, no matter what moves they made this offseason.

Don't believe it?  Well you should -- because something like this just happened recently.

I'll wait, I'm sure you are calling (718) 507-TIXX right now.
In 2003 the Mets were not a good team, and they played the majority of the year with a roster that was downright unlikeable.  Roberto Alomar, Armando Benitez, Mo Vaughn, and Jeromy Burnitz, to name a few.  All of them underperformed on the field, and all of them were inexorably tied to GM Steve Phillips and the disappointment that followed after the Mets failed to follow up on their 2000 World Series run.  That season, in 2003, the Mets won 66 games and drew a paltry 2.1 million fans -- the lowest figure since 1997.

The next year, the Mets had jettisoned all of those players, and took to the field with fresh faces that the fans loved.  Jose Reyes and David Wright electrified the lineup.  There was reason to believe, thanks in part to Scott Kazmir, that the Mets farm system provided hope for the future.  That lovable team, with a bullpen anchored by Braden Looper's sparking 2.70 ERA drew over 2.3 million fans to the ballpark -- almost 170,000 more paying fans -- but only won five more games than its predecessor.  Not exactly the trend you would expect from a team mired in its third consecutive losing season.[3]

I'm not going to engage in the use of hyperbole, or drastic and emotional language to describe what my favorite baseball team just did.  In the past few days I've heard the loss of Reyes described in more dramatic and colorful ways than I had even imagined, and we knew this day was coming for a while.

The problem is that the franchise appears to be run by an entity that cares more about the bottom line than it does about the product on the field -- and only cares about the players when they equate to wins and tickets.  What was the ultimate failing of Steve Phillips?  After rescuing the team from mediocrity with a series of wildly successful trades and signings, along with strong stewardship of the farm system, he ultimately sank the team with costly free agent contracts.  What was the ultimate failing of Omar Minaya?  After rescuing the team from mediocrity with a series of wildly successful trades and signings, along with strong stewardship of the farm system, he ultimately sank the team with costly free agent contracts.  Both GM's -- though completely panned by fans and media alike today -- experienced great success at one point.  Both steered a team back from the brink, but appeared to be stricken with the same madness before they were run out of town.

Who do you think was more responsible for the Scott Kazmir trade?  The same GM who stole Mike Piazza and Mike Hampton for a bag of magic beans, lifted Robin Ventura from the scrap heap, and watched Edgardo Alfonzo become a star?  Or the owner who had just seen attendance soar to almost record highs?

Who do you think was more responsible for Francisco Rodriguez and Jason Bay?  The same General Manager who stole Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana for pennies on the dollar, lifted players like Jose Valentin from the scrap heap, and watched David Wright and Jose Reyes become stars? 

Obviously, from where we sit, there is no telling for sure.  But there has been only one thing about this organization that has remained consistent since 2002.

None of these transactions, taken alone, truly justify a Met Fan Immolation Thread: Part 2.  But Mets fans are faced with a very difficult reality -- the loss of hope.  Every team, unless you are the Yankees, has to rebuild, to a certain extent, some time.  But facts are facts, and we as a franchise just lost our best and most marketable player, to a division rival, over nothing more than money.  Rebuilding will take a long time if it is something that merely will happen by coincidence, and finance, and not something which is the result of ownership's commitment to a plan, and to winning, and to doing it regardless of how many fair-weather fans come out to the stadium in a given year.

It's sad that Jose Reyes is gone.  The even sadder thing, for the franchise, is who remains.  

Brian Mangan is an attorney who lives in New York.  He is a lifelong Mets fan and a former (and hopefully future) Mets season ticket holder.

Follow Roger's tweets at @FonzieForever.


True story.
[1] For the uninitiated, Rauch and Francisco were both on the Toronto Blue Jays last season.  Rauch posted a 4.85 ERA with a career ERA of 3.82.  Francisco had an ERA around his career average of 3.72, and is best known for throwing a chair at a fan while with the Rangers. 

[2] Remember, also, that contracts are often backloaded.  There is no reason that, if the payroll number was set at a certain amount, that the Reyes contract could not have been backloaded so that he earned around $10 million this season rather than his average of $17 million over the life of his current contract.

[3] The Fan Cost Index, which is nifty, gives you the total price for a family of four to go to a ballgame provided they have a modest day (four hot dogs, only two beers, etc.).  For 2011, the FCI for a family of four seeing a Mets game was $241.74.  That number, adjusted for 170,000 additional fans coming to the ballpark, amounts to just over $10 million.

No comments: