Why Not All Three?

Will the Mets make a Yankee-like splash?

According to the latest buzz, Mets GM Omar Minaya has been in talks with superagent Scott Boras over the last few days, supposedly discussing one or all of Boras’ top free agent clients Derek Lowe, Manny Ramirez, and Oliver Perez. Reports inidicate that the Mets are most interested in Lowe, with secondary interest in Perez, and either mild or no interest in Ramirez.

My challenge to Omar and the Wilpons is this: why not sign all three?

As of today, the Mets have two healthy Major League-caliber starting pitchers on their roster — Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey. That’s a great start, but there are at least three other spots to be filled — unless the Mets plan to pray for rain the other three days. Yes, John Maine is still on the team, but no one can be certain that he’ll return 100% from shoulder surgery, and even if he does, we’re not sure which Maine we’ll see — the one who seemed on the verge of Cy Young candidacy in 2007, or the one who more resembled Steve Trachsel in 2008. I don’t think it’s a great plan to count on him coming back and being at his 2007 form.

Unfortunately, this is the Mets’ MO. We saw it last year, when they assured us that Orlando Hernandez and Pedro Martinez would come back from their various injuries and be stalwarts in the ’08 rotation. For those who paid attention, Pedro was lackluster in 20 starts, and El Duque never left Port St. Lucie. Similarly, the Mets counted on Duaner Sanchez to be 100% (he wasn’t) and also planned on Moises Alou giving the team at least 100-120 games. The Mets also banked on Luis Castillo coming back from multiple knee surgeries and re-emerging as the top-of-the order hitter and gold glover he was in Miami.

This is what bothers me most — every year, the Mets assemble their team with just enough names to fill the roster, with little or no backup plans in place if their hopes and wishes are unfulfilled. Meanwhile, teams that ultimately make it to the postseason are loaded with surplus in the spring, knowing that they’ll need the extra help over the grind of a 162-game season.

Take the Phillies, for example, who currently have four set starters in their rotation, and FIVE legitimate MLBers competing for the fifth spot. That’s right, they have five guys going for their last spot in the rotation, while the Mets have yet to muster more than three for their entire rotation (sorry folks, I’m not counting Jon Niese — he’s a decent-looking kid but realistically an unknown entity at this point).

The starting rotation will still be a question mark if the Mets sign either Derek Lowe or Oliver Perez. However, it will not be a question at all if they sign BOTH. For those who are worried that Niese will be “stunted” if the Mets begin the season with five starters, I can guarantee that he will still get at least 10-12 starts — probably more — in such a situation. Few pitchers make all 32-34 of their starts per season, and in fact, the 2003 Seattle Mariners are the only team in recent memory to go an entire 162 games without a pitcher missing a start. Things happen over the course of a season — injuries, illnesses, suspensions — so it always makes sense to have “too many” starters than not enough. Consider this: last year, Nelson Figueroa, Claudio Vargas, Brian Stokes, Brandon Knight, Tony Armas, and Niese combined to make 17 “spot” starts. It was not an unusual year — or don’t you remember the days of Brian Lawrence, Chan Ho Park, Jeremi Gonzalez, Dave Williams, and Jose Lima?

If the Mets do the right thing, and sign BOTH Lowe and Perez, they won’t have the best rotation in the NL, but they’ll have enough solid starting pitching to make a run for the playoffs. Signing one or the other, and then crossing their fingers on a second-rate starter such as Randy Wolf or Tim Redding, is defeatist. It might be different if the Mets were an offensive juggernaut — as they were in 2006 — but despite their high run total of ’08, their lineup is flawed. Once again, it’s hopes and wishes filling many of the positions.

For example, the Mets are moving into 2009 on the assumption that Daniel Murphy will continue to hit over .300 and that Fernando Tatis will have six months that resemble last July. Looking at things objectively, it’s fair to say that both players will hit around .270, and combine for somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-15 homers and 80 RBI. Can the Mets afford that kind of production from left field, when they expect to get next to no offense from the catching and second base positions? Again, it’s hopes and prayers that Brian Schneider will hit more like he did in the last two months of the season than he did in the first four, and that Luis Castillo will return to being an on-base machine. In addition, it seems the Mets are taking for granted that Ryan Church will return 100% and hit all year like he did last April. Headaches or no headaches, for those who follow the numbers, Church’s performance in ’08 was exactly in line with his career averages. We’d like to believe he’ll be the MVP candidate he looked like in April and May, but is that really fair?

If the Mets sign Manny Ramirez, however, their offense will have zero question marks. With Manny in the middle, it won’t matter whether Luis Castillo is the second baseman … heck, they’d be fine with Mario Mendoza playing the position. Similarly, it won’t matter if Brian Schneider hits his usual punchless .250, or if Church regresses, or if Carlos Delgado starts the season like he did last year — Manny makes up for all that. Further, having the greatest righthanded hitter of our generation in the lineup takes all the pressure off Carlos Beltran — and we’ve seen how he can flourish when surrounded by stars.

Most importantly, Manny is the exact opposite of what the Mets have symbolized in the last two seasons — he rises to the occasion. Whereas the Mets have become laughingstock choke artists, Manny is the ultimate clutch player, the go-to guy in the most pressure-filled situations. Imagine what might have happened in the last week of 2008 — or 2007, for that matter — if Manny Ramirez were a Met. Never mind the nonsense of Manny being a cancer in the clubhouse, or the “Manny being Manny” tendencies. Sure, he may not mentally show up for 20-30 games, but he’ll still be better than everyone else on the planet for the other 130. And, remarkably, Manny’s been on winning teams that went to the postseason in every city he’s played — despite all his bad qualities. What would you rather have? A distracting force who carries you into the postseason, or a group of aw-shucks perfect citizens who break your heart at the end of every September?

Of course, the Mets would never sign Manny, and they’d never sign both Lowe and Perez, so this article is moot. In fact, there’s a decent chance the Mets don’t sign ANY of the three. After all, they’ve already addressed the the issue that was most obvious in the court of public opinion — the bullpen — so they can go into the 2009 season pretending that they’ve addressed their “major holes”. Indeed, the additions of K-Rod and J.J. Putz are enough to fool most Mets fans into believing that the front office is making an effort to make amends for the last two late-season collapses. However, the rest of us who are paying attention know better — they may have shortened the game by two innings, but there are still seven frames the Mets have to play every day. Looks to me like a third consecutive year of a team that — with some luck and bull-whipping — is just good enough to compete for five months and two weeks, but not quite equipped to finish out the string.

You can prove me wrong, Fred and Jeff. After selling four million tickets, running your own cable TV station, and moving into a brand-new stadium, it’s hard to believe — despite Bernie Madoff — that you don’t have the wherewithal to pull it off, especially in a free agent market that has driven prices to affordable levels. But do you have the chutzpah?

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. isuzudude January 8, 2009 at 11:13 am
    The question is not IF the Mets have the money, because they do. The question is, do they want to spend it? History has indictaed that answer to be no. And even with 2 consecutive September collapses in the books and a fanbase dying to make the playoffs again, the answer is most likely still no. Speculate all you want about why the answer is no. But the bottom line is that baseball is a business, and if the Wilpons don’t want to spend the dough to get their team in the mix of a world series, then so be it. Then it depends on what kind of fan you are. Do you appreciate teams that don’t purge themselves on high-priced athletes and stick to your team’s decisions no matter how bizarre, or do you demand your team to spend every last penny seeking (aka “buying”) a championship team, regardless of what personalities are being brought in or dollar figures the team is doling out? I gotta imagine that if you are the latter, then your best solution is to be a Yankee fan. But be forewarned that they have won just as many championships are the Mets since 2001, despite being far more liberal with their payroll.

    If the issue truly is moot, but it still gets under your skin that ownership doesn’t spend their money to your liking, perhaps a more appropriate post should deal with finding new ownership for our favorite team. If the Wilpons are too frugal, then why don’t we lobby for the Steinbrennar’s to purchase the Mets? What a monopoly that would be!

  2. joe January 8, 2009 at 11:49 am
    ‘dude, here’s the thing: I’ve been a Mets fan a long time, and as such always appreciated the “build from within” strategy as opposed to the “buy a winner” strategy. I loved the teams that were built with home-grown talent, such as the Seavers and the Matlacks and the Koosmans of the 70s, and the ones in the 80s that were built around Strawberry, Gooden, etc. I can remember rooting hard for guys like Kelvin Chapman and Charlie Puleo, and feeling strange when the Mets went out and signed people like George Foster.

    And as I’ve stated before, I would have been 100% behind the Mets if they had taken a different route back in 2004. I didn’t need to see them sign Pedro and Beltran; I was completely fine with suffering through a few tough years while waiting for Reyes and Wright to develop, then seeing the Mets pick up a few extra pieces via trade or FA when it was time — similar to when they brought in Gary Carter prior to 1985.

    But ever since signing Pedro, the Mets gave the appearance of being a team like the Yankees — one relying almost exclusively on “ready now” talent, and regularly mortgaging the future for veteran stars. It’s not my choice, but it’s the path the Wilpons and Minaya have taken, so what can I do?

    The frustrating thing, though, is that they continually get “just enough” talent to sell tickets, and not enough to seal the deal. Even in 2006, the Mets were damn lucky to get career years out of Jose Valentin, Paul LoDuca, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and every man in the bullpen — not to mention squeezing 15 wins out of Steve Trachsel.

    When Omar Minaya came on board in 2004, the Mets had plenty of talent down on the farm that was within 2-3 years of MLB-ready. Nearly all of it was traded away for “now”, and five years later we have a system that has next to nothing in terms of talent, save for a dozen 17-21-year-old who are more projection than anything. Their drafting has been terrible since ’04, and we’re still waiting for one of these Latin American superstars to deliver on their expectations.

    If the Mets’ big splash of the winter was dealing away a few of the over-30 veterans in return for a bunch of bright prospects, and the Mets made a public commitment to youth, I wouldn’t be nearly as critical. But they continue to pretend to be New York “high rollers” — only to walk away from the table when the stakes get too high.

    All I ask for is a commitment one way or the other. It’s too late to go with youth, and they’re too cheap to complete the roster with quality veterans. As a fan I feel like I’m in baseball purgatory.

  3. isuzudude January 8, 2009 at 2:51 pm
    Well said, and I agree. From a fan’s perspective, the last 2 years (or the last 22, depending on your level of satisfaction) have been disappointing and unfulfilling, all while ticket prices keep increasing and the team continues to be tabbed as contenders. However, from ownership’s perspective, they are and have been walking the fine line of being competitive but not over-spending their “budget” to do so. In a nutshell, as you allude, they are just competitve enough to keep us hanging around and buying tickets, but not competitive enough to win a championship or make the playoffs with any level of consistency. Yet, they continue to rake in the big bucks and continue to be mentioned in everyone’s preseason playoff predicitions. And whereas we see a futile franchise who teases us with a few big free agent signings and winning records, they may see themselves as the most successful franchise around – one that is making tons of money but not needing to re-invest that much of it to appease the masses and hang around the NL playoff picture. Such is life as a Met fan. There’s no lack of complacancy from the fans, but the same cannot be said for ownership. But whereas we equate success with wins and rings, perhaps they equate it with big bottom lines and record ticket sales. And their model of success is to spend just enough on talent to get the team to the doorstep, but not enough to open the door.

    That being said, I still could never be a Yankee fan. Even though the Mets aggravate me to no end sometimes, the thought of being a Yankee fan repulses me. And much of that has to do with how they recklessly spend their money.

  4. wohjr January 9, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    I have no reason to doubt you on this, but as particularly pertains to this year, do you think the Madoff situation might have a larger impact than the Mets pursuit of free agents than the Wilpons are letting on? I could easily see them as not wanting to publicly acknowledge losing their shirt to Ponzi-man extraordinaire. Aside from Fred’s comments when the whole story broke, have we heard anything that would tend to confirm or repudiate their representations that the losses were “not that bad’ and “won’t affect baseball operations”? I mean, they were in pretty hard on the whole K-rod & Putz situations but nary a peep since then aside from their extra low ball offer to dlowe (who is my least favorite of the three, btw).

    I just can’t see ownership’s personal dislike of Manny being the sole factor in the Mets not pursuing him. It makes TOO MUCH sense to sign him… the guy is an absolute beast whatever one thinks about Manny being Manny (personally I think it is hysterical and I love it!)

  5. wohjr January 9, 2009 at 2:02 pm
    **”,,, larger impact ON the Mets pursuit of free agents than the Wilpons are letting on”

    Proofreading is my friend, but sometimes I forget

  6. joe January 9, 2009 at 2:39 pm
    wohjr – the Madoff situation is indeed a factor to consider. Sterling Equities supposedly lost around $300M as a result of the Ponzi scheme. However, I would assume — possibly incorrectly — that with a company as diverse and obnoxiously wealthy as SE, the failure of one section of the business shouldn’t have a significant impact on other areas. Since I’m not much of a business man, I could be way off base, but my thinking is that SE would operate different areas of their organization as separate entities, with the parent company earning profits as each sector succeeded, but shielding the other sectors from losses.

    For example, if Sterling builds and sells an office tower for $500M, thats profit for the shareholders/principals, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Mets suddenly have enough money to sign CC Sabathia. I would think that the Mets (and SNY, for that matter) would operate independently, with separate budgets and P/L sheets.

    If there’s a veteran business man out there to help me out here, please weigh in. (Fred or Jeff W., or Saul Katz, if you’re reading, we’d love an explanation!)

  7. wohjr January 9, 2009 at 5:05 pm
    Agreed on the Sterling bit… but as so often is the case a lot of these guys had personal funds above and beyond with Bernie. The guy was just THAT smooth! I thought I had read something that suggested that there was some actual personal liability included on the Wilpons part. I can easily see that there would be a wall between Sterling and Mets Payroll, but Fred’s personal stash versus payroll? I’ll see if I can find this thing I’m talking about
  8. joe January 9, 2009 at 5:24 pm
    AHHHHHH …… so now we’re talking about Fred having less cash come his way …. well that’s another story altogether!

    I seem to remember a New York team back in the 70s, whose owner would dip into his own pocket to improve the quality of his team …. Stein-something or other …. times were tough back then, as there were US soldiers fighting a senseless war in a faraway land, there was an oil crisis, a president everyone hated was on the way out, the economy was tanking … but this owner was committed to excellence, and confident in the long-term success of his franchise, to the point where he felt it was worth investing his own money into it. Hmmm …. wonder whatever happened to that team?