Cliff Lee and The Great Pretenders
Now that Cliff Lee is wearing a Texas Rangers uniform, it is becoming clear that the Mets were never a serious contender in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes:
The Mets were never seriously involved in trade discussions for Cliff Lee, a person familiar with the situation said Friday, and the primary reason was the Mariners’ request that they include Ike Davis in any package for the former Cy Young Award winner. (David Lennon, Newsday)
We’ve been saying the same thing all along. Everyone we spoke to that had any knowledge of the situation felt that the Mets were never going to land Cliff Lee because Davis and Niese were considered off-limits since they are already major contributors to the big league club. Beyond that – and despite their insistence to the contrary – the Mets didn’t have the prospects or the cash. They weren’t even close and they knew it all along.
The Great Pretenders
So why did the Mets pretend they had a shot? There really is no tactical advantage to be gained from faking it when every other MLB team knows you are not a serious contender for a trade target. Do you think the Cubs were going to drop their asking price for Ted Lilly because they were worried the Mets would land Cliff Lee instead? Yeah, right… The Cubs knew the Mets had no shot at Lee.
Yet, the fanbase believed the Mets had a shot all along. Throughout the Lee saga, the Mets were happy to be considered ‘in the hunt’ for the prized southpaw because it kept fans believing that there was a chance they would wake up one morning and find out their team was a serious World Series contender. So the Mets milked the misperception of the situation by their fans for everything it was worth.
Here’s what they were telling Matt Cerrone of MetsBlog back on June 24:
…like i said yesterday, i’ve heard from people close to the Mets who say they are capable of matching any offer on seattle’s table, because no team is going to overpay to get this guy… the question is, will that work for the Mariners… or, will they be better off just keeping him, seeing if they can turn it around this season, then getting draft picks as compensation for when he leaves to sign with a new team this winter… the Twins are in good position as well, as baker reports… however, the Mets seem confident in their position too… (Matt Cerrone, MetsBlog)
During this time, reports surfaced that the Mets were in dire financial straits and would be unable to take on additional payroll before the trading deadline:
“Many observers say the Mets could use a star pitcher for a pennant run, but getting that player would entail piling up more payroll and operating losses. One of the team’s debt covenants states that payroll cannot increase, sources said.” (Josh Kosman, NY Post, July 4, 2010)
Predictably, the team dismissed these reports as unfounded. And they did it very cleverly – rather than issue an official statement, they leaked the news through anonymous sources to several outlets:
…however, i have been told by several people – be it in the organization or out, in New York or around the league – that the Mets have shown no sign of being a team unable to add payroll… in the case of one person connected to the team, he said their approach this summer will be about making the roster better, while protecting the future…
…i’ve heard from other reporters as well, all of whom were told something similar…
(Matt Cerrone, MetsBlog, July 7, 2010)
How was Matt Cerrone supposed to react? He had to report the news and he did – like he always does and that’s why MetsBlog is regarded as a great source for breaking Mets news. Other sources also reported that the NY Post report was incorrect. We were told that the Mets could and would add payroll during the season, but with one caveat… they would add payroll only if it was “within reason.” Of course, “within reason” can’t be quantified – much like “meaningful games in September” – so it could provide perfect cover if the team doesn’t add payroll. Rather than admitting to a lack of money or an adequate farm system, it could be chalked up to being “reasonable.”
However, the “within reason” excuse is already coming apart at the seams. ESPN’s Buster Olney is reporting that the Mets may not be able to add payroll this season:
The perception within the Mets’ front office today is that that team won’t be able to take on dollars before the deadline. (Buster Olney on Twitter, July 9, 2010)
Well, that pretty much confirms that the initial NY Post story was true – or at least the part about being unable to add payroll.
What’s the Plan?
It is important to note that this isn’t about Cliff Lee. There are plenty of other options that could help the Mets reach the postseason – Oswalt, Lilly and Haren come immediately to mind. The point is, the Mets did nothing to correct reports that they were pursuing Lee – in fact, they actively promoted the idea that they were engaged in trade negotiations.
Now that Lee is in Texas, it feels like we are being setup again. During Saturday’s Fox telecast, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Mets have started to sour on Ted Lilly. The new trade target appears to be Jake Westbrook. At that point, why even bother?
Instead of admitting the Mets were not going to seriously pursue Cliff Lee, we got rumors, denials, anonymous sources and, in the end, it seems like the team’s only “plan” was to feed misinformation to respectable news sources, just to string us along for a few more weeks of believing the team would acquire a top pitcher.
Maybe they didn’t want to admit what is now obvious because it would embarrass the franchise, but I believe such an admission would have been better than what we have now – the appearance of a bumbling front office that doesn’t seem to have a coherent plan.
The Mets may not have the prospects or the money required to improve the team for the pennant race.
But they have one hell of a PR spin machine.