Friday, December 30, 2011

Good Night Sweet Prince


Melvin Mora retires

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2011-2012 Non-Tenders: Slim Pickings

A huge shout out to the estimable MLB Trade Rumors site for putting together the list of the 29 players non-tendered by their teams this offseason and who are now free agents.  In the past I have enjoyed putting together a comprehensive list of non-tenders and free agents who I thought would make sense for the Mets -- unfortunately, due to time, I will only be able to review a few this time around. 

Without further adieu, a reproduction of the entire list, and a highlight of the players I like:

Catchers (5)
     Chris Gimenez, Koyie Hill, Ronny Paulino, Eli Whiteside, Jason Jaramillo
 Second basemen (2)
     Jeff Keppinger, Will Rhymes
 Shortstops (1)
     Pedro Ciriaco
 Outfielders (5)
     Mike Baxter, Cole Garner, Jeremy Hermida, Luke Scott, Ryan Spilborghs
 Utility infielders (2)
     Brooks Conrad, Ryan Theriot
 Starting Pitchers (2)
     Jo-Jo Reyes, Joe Saunders
 Right-handed relievers (7)
     Fabio Castillo, Dan Cortes, Willie Eyre, Clay Hensley, Peter Moylan, Micah Owings, Andy Sonnanstine
 Left-handed relievers (5)
     Rich Hill, Hong-Chih Kuo, Aaron Laffey, Jose Mijares, Doug Slaten
The players that I select will be selected in light of what their projected cost might be and the needs of our squad.  For that reason, you won't see guys like Hong-Chih Kuo (too expensive), Joe Saunders (too expensive), Micah Owings (will likely return to current team), or Mike Baxter (just non-tendered him) on this list.

#1 - 2B Will Rhymes
Rhymes, aside from having a great name, is 28 years old and was non-tendered by Detroit this year after a disappointing season where he hit .235/.323/.271 in 99 at bats.  Rhymes is a very disciplined hitter -- he made contact on 92.6% of his swings in the majors -- and plays passable defense at second base (-3.6 UZR/150 in 600 innings).  

Rhymes is not going to light anyone's hair on fire, but he has hit .305 and .306 in Triple-A over the last two seasons, and posted an OPS of around 770.  In my book, he's worthy of bringing in as an non-roster invite to compete with Murphy at second base in light of the lack of other options (and don't say Jeff Keppinger to me, as his defense appears to be falling off a cliff and he's got no value if he isn't batting .320).

#2 - OF Jeremy Hermida
You know who this guy is.  And I say, why the hell not.  What happened to Jeremy Hermida is one of the great mysteries of modern times (along with Lastings Milledge, Elvis, and Pop Tarts) but even so he has been moderately valuable over the last few years.

Hermida has remained an average defender in right field for his career, and has posted excellent UZR's in his last two seasons in right (approximately +30 UZR/150 in a small sample of 275 innings).  Although he batted .190 in his last stint in the majors, he possesses a career 749 major league OPS and is only 27 years of age.  Given regular playing time in the minors for Cincinnati, Hermida put up a .319 average and 924 OPS.  

If Hermida can play good defense and hit .250, he'll definitely provide positive value, provided how tarnished his stock has become.  Hermida will likely latch on somewhere as a non-roster invite and make the major league minimum.  He is an adequate fifth outfielder option with some upside (I would start him every day in Triple-A).

#3 - RP Clay Hensley
I realize the Mets have added epic depth to their bullpen, but in terms of above non-tenders who they can afford who have a little upside, Hensley fits the bill.  Hensley, like the others, struggled last year, posting a 5.19 ERA and -0.1 WAR. 

However, Hensley is also the possessor of a 3.94 career ERA and is coming off a season where he posted a 2.16 ERA (2.87 FIP) for the Marlins in 2010.  His peripherals supported the performance, as Hensley struck out 9.24 batters per nine innings in his season-long dominant performance.

Hensley missed time with injury last season, but provided that he is healthy, would be a great addition for the Mets to keep or to trade at the deadline as I've heard so many suggest about our other bullpen acquisitions (though seriously people, this does not happen as often as you think).

#4 - SP Rich Hill
Hill had a breakthrough performance in 2007, striking out 183 batters and posting a WHIP of only 1.19.  Unfortunately for him, he's been derailed by injuries (bad) and forced to play for the Orioles (worse).

His last four seasons, Hill has pitched only 89 major league innings, and struggled in almost all of them and underwent Tommy John surgery in June of last year.  He still had the "stuff" the last two years before going down with injury, so he's an intriguing flier.  He won't contribute to the squad in 2012, but he may be worthy of a look for late next season or for 2013.

I Also Like...
Peter Moylan and Luke Scott, should the price be right.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Amazin Avenue: The Updated State of the Mets' 2012 Budget

Chris McShane over at Amazin Avenue did  us the solid of putting together a good chart of the Mets finances for the upcoming year.  I'd copy and paste it here, but I don't know how.  I'm going to try below. 

Pos. Player $ (Millions)
C Josh Thole 0.4
1B Ike Davis 0.4
2B Daniel Murphy 0.4
3B David Wright 15.3
SS Ruben Tejada 0.4
LF Jason Bay 18.1
CF Andres Torres 3.5
RF Lucas Duda 0.4
Bench Mike Nickeas 0.4
Bench Justin Turner 0.4
Bench

Bench

Bench

SP Johan Santana 24.0
SP R.A. Dickey 4.8
SP Jon Niese 0.5
SP Mike Pelfrey 5.9
SP Dillon Gee 0.4
RP Frank Francisco 6.0
RP Jon Rauch 3.5
RP Ramon Ramirez 2.5
RP Tim Byrdak 1.2
RP Manny Acosta 1.0
RP Bobby Parnell 0.4
RP D.J. Carrasco 1.2
Total
91.1

There are two things to take away from the above chart:

#1

Santana + Bay + Wright = $57.4 million
Rest of Roster = $43 million

A pretty sad state of affairs.--

One thing that I noticed, in all the hand-wringing about Jason Bay's salary, is how many people are claiming that they knew at the time that the Bay signing was terrible.  UH-WHAT?  I don't think so!  That was ONLY Fonzie Forever, while the rest of you Mets fans suspended disbelief.  Metsblog put together some internet reactions to Bay ... most were positive, if reluctantly so:
Ed Ryan from Mets Fever says, “Nice job, Omar.”

According to John, from Metstradamus, “This is a good move. In a vacuum, it’s a great move.”

On the other hand, while Mets Grrl likes Bay, she explains why her reaction was just, ‘ehhh.’

Mike Silva of NY Baseball Digest explains, “When it’s all said and done, the Mets needed Bay.”
Greg Prince of Faith and Fear in Flushing is happy to have Bay, but says, “Mind you, I’m not overwhelmed by his presence.  He’s not a franchise player, but he’s performed at a high level for quite a while now and he’s not in his early forties.”

In a post to Amazin Avenue, Dan Lewis asks if Bay will be the team’s best-hitting left fielder ever; also at Amazin Avenue, Sam Page explains why Bay is a ‘heck of a consolation prize.’
Matt Cerrone of Metsblog said "I like it, I don't love it." 

Only here did we say Jason Bay is a Colossal Mistake.  When you're right, you're right. 

#2
The Mets will be rolling with a payroll of between $91 and $100 million next season, meaning that they have trimmed almost $50 million of the payroll in one year.  There is unlikely to be further relief in the next few years, seeing as Santana, Bay, and Wright will most likely not go anywhere, but that's a tremendous cut.

How much of that is Madoff related?  You HAVE to think that if the Mets were in a normal state of finances right now, they they would have been able to simply reinvest that money into the team, don't you?

I wouldn't have run out and spent it all on Pujols, but my goodness, could you imagine?  Want to put some butts in the seats at Citifield next year?  How about this lineup (with Pujols at $25MM and Reyes at $15MM).

SS Reyes
2B Murphy
3B Wright
1B Pujols
RF Davis
LF Duda
CF Torres
C Thole
P Whoever

They would score a thousand runs (and yes, I realize Bay is not in the lineup). Bay and Santana come off the books in 2013, which would be offset by raises in our long term deals, but the lineup above is NO MORE EXPENSIVE than the payroll we've been running the last three seasons.

As we've been saying all along -- the money helps, but you've got to spend it wisely.


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:

THE OFFICIAL METS FAN SELF-IMMOLATION THREAD.

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?
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.  

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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.
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Follow Roger's tweets at @FonzieForever.
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Footnotes!

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.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Goodbye Scumbag Reyes


It was a long time coming: the transaction that would shine the spotlight on how bad the Mets' financial problems really are. Last night Jose Reyes signed a lot-of-years, lot-of-cash contract with the South Beach Talenthoarders, turning our memories of Jose Reyes dancing into a black-and-white, static set of images that engulf in flames as you hear the flick-flick-flick of the reel ending. Sandy Alderson's press conference after the news came out was essentially Sandy Alderson using all of his language skills to find new ways to say "We're broke. We're going to be broke for awhile. Get used to this. Blame Madoff" without flat out saying it. (To say such a thing overtly is to admit what every Mets fan either already knows or already knows but is still in denial about, the latter group the kind to listen to WFAN all day and complain about what they listened to on WFAN all night to the internet. You don't want to get them upset. Let them figure it out on their own.)

But it's true: The New York Metropolitans are going to be a mid-market major league baseball franchise for awhile. After all of this time of us purporting to be an underdog despite having one of the highest payrolls in baseball because we shared a city with that team from the Bronx, we really are now at a disadvantage.

Here are the silver linings: After coming up with what we know as Moneyball, Sandy Alderson will at least be comfortable working with limited financial resources; we don't have to be embarrassed when we complain about how terrible we have it in front of a Kansas City Royals fan; when we finish 72-90 it won't be disappointing.


As far as Mr. Reyes is concerned: I will miss him, of course. He isn't truly a scumbag. I mean, he absolutely IS a scumbag, but then again not really. He IS an assclown for leaving my favorite team after being so good and exciting for eight years. He COULD have signed a contract with the Mets and he would have been able to feed himself and his wife and children for the rest of his life. But, I can't begrudge someone for agreeing to be employed by an organization that wants to pay you more money for more years and can offer no winter whatsoever, if you so choose not to participate in it. And itt's not as if he is throwing away a guaranteed shot at a championship by leaving his old team and joining a team that has no shot, like a certain bearded individual who spells Jason like a douchebag.

Goodbye Jose. I'll miss you.

You rich scumbag.

Instant Reaction: Jose Reyes Signs with Marlins

I'll skip citing to official reports that the deal is done, as they are all over the internet right now.

Jose Reyes to the Marlins, six years, $106 million.  That's $17.6 million per year, likely backloaded somewhat.  A bargain for the Marlins?

I'd say yes.

Over the last six years, even with his injury-plagued 2009, Reyes was worth $118 million to the Mets, as per the calculations at Fangraphs.  The Fangraphs numbers are not bible, of course, and contain a number of assumptions, but are useful as a quick-and-dirty evaluation tool.

That said, in terms of on the field value alone, Reyes will -- provided he has a streak of health similar to his time with the Mets -- provide the Marlins with somewhere in the neighborhood of  what he is being paid.  He's 28 today, and will only be 34 at the end of the deal.

In addition to his on the field contribution, Reyes is an incredibly marketable player.  Curmudgeonly columnists and old-dudes asides, Reyes was undoubtedly the most beloved Met over the last two seasons, and arguably longer.  He resonates with young people, with minorities, with those who cherish speed and defense, and with those who are enamored with those who play the game with joy.  Namely -- all of us.

The Marlins got a bargain, and it will be interesting to see the reaction that Reyes garners when he returns.  If he sees success in South Florida, I imagine those that wanted him gone will attempt to paint a picture of a player who matured only after he left, but who would never have been a star in New York.  If he fails in his sojourn, they will congratulate themselves for identifying a player who would never have succeeded.

For those of us who know better, we are left only to wonder.  We know that Reyes, imperfect as his time in New York was, was nothing less than a superstar.  He is the Mets only batting champion, all time leader in runs scored, second in hits, first in steals, and fourth in total bases.  He did all this, as a shortstop no less, yet still left us as not much more than a pup.

This news is not unexpected, but it is no less sad.  As impartial as we are, and as much as I'd like to approach most transactions as an economist, we are all fans.  I'm sorry to see Jose go -- especially since at that price (or even a little more) it would have made sense to keep him.