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 winterthe Twins are in good position as well, as baker reports… however, the Mets seem confident in their position too… (Matt Cerrone, MetsBlog)

Dollar Signs

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?

Now What?

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.

  1. Nick July 12, 2010 at 9:40 am
    I think its important to take this train of thought one stop further. The Mets aren’t simply misleading their fans to appear more organized or relevant, they’re doing so for financial gain.

    Interest in the team based on false news reports generates increases in ticket sales and SNY viewership. The Mets are lying to their fans so that they can make more $$$, plain and simple. Its a shitty way to treat your customers, and I wonder whether it borders on illegal business practice.

    Of course, Matt Cerrone can’t report this, since he’s an SNY employee, which is exactly why I stopped reading MetsBlog. Its not that I think he blatantly toes the party line, its that the conflict of interest ultimately gets in the way of good analysis and reporting.

  2. Kevin July 12, 2010 at 10:00 am
    Amen!! Personally, I think they should open up their books and show how the Madoff scandal hurt or helped them. Until that happens, the fans really have no idea if the team is misleading them just to stay afloat
  3. Mike July 12, 2010 at 10:09 am
    I still read Metsblog because I like Matt and occasionally see something that makes it all worth while. But I abandoned him as a legit source of inside Mets information when I realized he simply reports what he is fed, and is thus used by the FO as PR spin. Matt has been highly critical of the Mets in many areas, and I believe that blog is one the Mets pay very close attention to: for this reason it serves a purpose.

    Back to Lee, I could not have been happier for the Rangers. I think they are a lock to win their division now. Then they went and lost 4 in a row to Baltimore at home. Wow. It makes me remember that no big time acquisition that was supposed to lock things up for a franchise (Milwaukee/Sabathia, Houston/Johnson, Houston/Beltran) has ever really delivered that team a WS. I can’t name one. In the end I don’t like the idea of deadline deals because prices are really high while results are unpredictable. I’m fine going with the team as is, plus a mid level starter if one is brought in, because the price seems really high for a team that can’t afford to mortgage much just for ONE ring.

  4. Kevin July 12, 2010 at 10:14 am
    it’s not every year that the division and the league is so bad that one acquisition gives you a virtual lock on the postseason. the cards/phils/dodgers are weak this year. we gotta do something
  5. Joe July 12, 2010 at 2:19 pm
    Mike, any MLB GM not named Brian Cashman picks up a big name at the deadline with the idea that such a player will help his team get into the postseason. From there, if they make it to the WS it’s a crapshoot.

    That said, Houston’s acquisition of Beltran and Milwaukee’s pickup of Sabathia certainly helped their respective teams get into the playoffs. Ditto with Manny Ramirez with the Dodgers, Jason Bay with the Red Sox, Cliff Lee with the Phillies …. the list goes on and on.

    Look back at 2007 and 2008, when the Mets narrowly missed getting into the postseason — in both years they pretty much stood pat at the deadline while other clubs picked up extra pieces (Manny, Bay, Sabathia, etc.). While not all those teams got into the WS, many made it into the playoffs — and “you gotta be in it to win it”.

    One has to wonder “what if” the Mets acquired an extra piece or two in July 2007 and 2008 — considering how close they were to making it in to the postseason.

  6. Mike July 12, 2010 at 3:06 pm
    None of those teams won the WS. The only year “WS or bust” was the Mets motto should have been 2007 because of how 2006 ended. I think there is plenty of evidence that shows that teams not named the Yankees and Red Sox tend to fall off the map the year after going for broke with a big time trade at the deadline. None of those teams made it to the post season the next year. Manny and the Dodgers are different because he resigned, but don’t forget they got bounced yet again in the post season the following year. All these other teams I can think of don’t win it all and are not able to sustain success after the season. The Twins never make deals and they are in it every year. Considering how they are consistently linked to big names but never seem to do anything how are they much different from the Mets? The Mets were remarkably good from 2006-2008, but obviously fell just short both years. Does that have anything to do with the fact that the Mets did not trade guys like Pelfrey, Niese, Parnell, Davis, Tejada, etc back in 2007 and 2008? Probably, but would we be where we are now without these guys? No, not even close. As much as you hate the farm system it has been a big reason for the successes of the past few seasons. Sure it could be better and if it were then deal could be made without sacrificing the overall depth, but that is not the reality. So I don’t fault the FO for not going for broke when as a fan I care more about big picture than I do quick fixes.

    One last thing, however foolish the last time the Mets went for it was 2004 and they lost Kazmir. A guy who would have very likely helped the Mets greatly in 2006 and beyond. Maybe they would have made the WS in 2006, and the playoffs in 2007 and 2008 with him. So while yes 2004 was so stupid it hardly applies because the Mets were never really in it, but if you make a deal now and you lose a part that could help you in two or three years then I think that is a greater sin than coming up short in a year where you just did not have enough from the start.

  7. Kevin July 12, 2010 at 4:18 pm
    mike – you think the mets “went for it” in 2004? went for what? zambrano was HORRIBLE. i’ve never even heard that the kazmir/zambrano deal was made for a pennant run. it was just a stupid deal and the result of the same mismanagement that we see now. The common denominator is jeff wilpon. you have a defeatist attitude if you think the mets shouldnt: a.) try to win the WS this year and b.) be in contention every year. we are a major market team that is managed like an office supplies company.
  8. gary s. July 12, 2010 at 4:21 pm
    good stuff from all .. the management of this team borders on the criminal.I’m sure the front office is feverishly working on important things as i write my comments.For instance, how much can we raise parking for the 2011 season and the price of a shake shack burger..OH THE PAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  9. Mike July 12, 2010 at 4:25 pm
    Kevin, in 2004 they absolutely thought they were in it. I was using that as an example of why these kinds of decisions are usually bad. Heck in 1998 they got Piazza and couldn’t get into the playoffs. Yes they resigned him which goes back to my Manny point. Making a move for Lee would have been great, but only if they locked him up. I believe history shows these moves do not work out in the end so why do it? Stick with what we have, continue success every year and put together a championship ball club, from roster spot number 1-40 and beyond, in the offseason.

    I’m no defeatist when I believe the Mets are playoff team as currently assembled. Foolish, maybe (probably), but I am no defeatist. I just always want to think long term because as a fan I want to win every year, not just one year.

  10. Kevin July 12, 2010 at 5:04 pm
    mike – when have the mets ever thought long term in the last 10 years? the front office is horrible but the league is crap. if they dont try to win the ws this year, then when?

    i would love to know what you do for a living just to understand where you get this mindset. no offense, but i can’t see how you could run a business thinking like that

  11. wohjr July 12, 2010 at 6:05 pm
    accepting losing so you can be dwright’s bat boy on mets today is defeatist in my book
  12. gary s. July 12, 2010 at 6:19 pm
    i have to agree with can u be a fan of this team and think that there is a long term plan in place.Especially after the jennry mejia fiasco and watching reyes play hurt again and make things worse.the sad part is the front office appears unable to have a short term or long term plan in place.other than the rotunda, that is ,,
  13. Micalpalyn July 12, 2010 at 7:11 pm
    -Once upon a time there was steve phillips: if steve Phillips was still here Cliff Lee would be a Met …for Fmart, Jenry, pagan AND Ike.

    -Post steve phillips effect; everytime theMets want to do deal they MUST include the top 3 prospects. Sorry not for Cliff Lee.

    – I’m all for trading but the Mets realistically have problems. Maine is ‘out for the year’ and non-tendered after (roster spot), Ollie is another roster spot. We want a pitcher but at what cost? Omar would have to release Ollie…then give up 3 prospects for anyone worth having.

    -Again, I’d trade JM. Then realistically Frenchie or Beltran. Cpt Kirk is doing a number at AA and Duda at AAA. So there is OF depth, plus Carter can get more PT.
    Also that plan gets the Mets $$$ to use to sign said pitcher.

  14. Mike July 12, 2010 at 9:22 pm
    Kevin I am a software engineer at Boeing. I’ve worked on the International Space Station and just last week moved to work on the Apache Simulation trainer. I don’t run a business but I am pretty damn smart.

    I don’t see the Mets having a plan, and I never implied as much. I just like when they do things that happen to be best for the organization long term. Whether it is on purpose, by accident, or because of the wrong reasons (like money).

  15. KDAD July 12, 2010 at 9:26 pm
    Mike- Man it is funny how you blast Matt C and his blog. I read both but to tell you the truth Metsblog has more updates eveyday, does not put itself in its own ‘link dump’, does not ask for you to buy stuff so it can cover its running costs and lastly if I had to choose an affiliate it would be SNY and not ESPN. (sorry Joe)

    With that being said- The mets have every right to make people ‘think’ they are in the running for CL. One thing I enjoy about reading these blogs is what the general population has to say. NOBODY really would have wanted to give up Davis or Niese, let alone both of them. In fact most of the info coming out was for Mejia and Pagan and Thole. Also ifwe all believed that everyone was saying that we had no prospects we never would have picked up JS. The thing about this team is simply this…We are better, we are healthy and the best of all we are mostly homegrown with position players and that my friends is something to root for!!

    • joe July 12, 2010 at 11:25 pm
      KDAD – no need to be sorry. It’s not your fault that you are Jeff Wilpon’s dad. But why “KDAD” and not “JDAD” or “JWDAD”?

      Sorry if asking people to buy a book to help support the site offended you. For some reason the web hosting company is not in the business of providing charity to a Mets fan. And unfortunately this site’s writers aren’t on anyone’s payroll.

      And you prefer SNY as an affiliate to ESPN? Why? Because ESPN might actually allow their blogs to think freely and post w/o influence from a controlling interest?

      As for linking to ourselves in the link dumps … MetsToday is a TRENDSETTER! All the hot blogs will be following in our footsteps in no time, I’m sure of it.

      Enjoy the Kool-Aid. But understand it’s filled with high-fructose corn syrup, so therefore will never quench your thirst, but make you perpetually more thirsty.

  16. gary516 July 12, 2010 at 10:07 pm
    Matt is a shill & KDAD is drinking the Mets Kool Aid.
  17. daveyjohnsonsstache July 12, 2010 at 10:14 pm
    Wow KDAD. I never comment on the Mets blogs that I read but that comment is out of line. Matt Cerrone is a full-time employee of the Wilpons so his running costs are covered and he has plenty of free time to post updates. I still check MetsBlog often but the content is middle-of-the-road vanilla “reporting” for fanboys like yourself.
  18. Kevin July 12, 2010 at 10:23 pm
    Mike- Sounds like a pretty sweet gig. I never doubted your intelligence. I was just baffled how you could make such a strong defense of trying not to win the ws. I think your logic is all backwards, but you do a pretty solid job of attempting to justify it. You should go work for the Mets front office! They’re biggest problem is they make their crappy performance look even worse because they can’t even explain their flawed logic!
  19. KDAD July 12, 2010 at 10:57 pm
    Wah Wah… I drink the kool aid because I love the Mets and make the effort to follow them and what they do. Does it pain me to see the FO do what they do? umm yeah. However I am just speaking my rebuttle of what another poster wrote. Every poster has an opinion as to what the Mets should do. As to what I think, well how about not going 2-4 against teams that the Phils go 5-1. The point is that I love my team and always will. I look for info all over the place. Here is the only place where I see other posters rag on about other blogs…
    • Mike July 13, 2010 at 9:19 am
      It’s all good KDAD. I just don’t know why you went after my comments after I defended both Metsblog and Metsminorleagueblog (and Toby Hyde specifically) in other posts. Joe himself has defended Matt Cerrone in response to something I’ve said in the past. I don’t think this is a Metsblog vs the world argument here.

      Kevin, thanks yeah so far its a little boring but I just started last week so it might be a little while before I get going here. St Louis stinks BTW, you can tell Keith I said that too 😛

      But as for my “backwards logic,” I realized two seasons ago that the real problems with the Mets rested in their lack of player development and that constantly trading away youth for veterans does not a consistent organization make. So when I rally for the Mets to hold their ground and try to win with what they have, and not go for it all this year, it’s because I want this team to win the division every year, not just one year. I am still waiting for just one example of a team trading for a big name mid season and having it result in a ring. Show me that and I will concede that maybe going for Lee was the right thing to do. Until then I will continue to root for sustained success and not a one shot deal. I’d rather the Mets be competitive every year than to win just once. Again, if you gave me the option of 90% chance to win the WS but 20% chance after that for the next 4 years, or a consistent 60-70% chance every year for 5 years, I’d pick the 60-70% every time.

  20. gary s. July 13, 2010 at 12:04 am
    enough with the fantasy of winning only with players from the minor league system.U guys are clueless.4 of the best players on the 86 champs were knight, hojo, keith and carter.all 4 were traded for.Please snap out of it already.
  21. Metsblog Sux July 13, 2010 at 8:18 am
    Terrible website, complete with awful write-ups and opinions.
  22. Jeff July 13, 2010 at 11:47 am
    First off, how do we know the Mets weren’t in it? It was only Cerrone who was reporting that the Mets were in on the bidding….Rosenthal, Olney, MLBtraderumors–all these suggested the Mets were in the conversation. Do you really think Omar didn’t call? Didn’t make an offer? Didn’t up the offer? The point is ultimately that you can’t say the Mets didn’t try just because the trade didn’t happen. By all appearances, the bidding went through the roof over the last few days before the move happened. Smoak and Montero were top-5 offensive prospects, by consensus, and even the Twins package (Ramos and Hicks) was better than anything the Mets could offer without hurting the big league roster. Can you blame them for not having prospects like the ones mentioned here? Sure. But prospects aren’t just for trading–Niese and Davis have been big-time contributors for the team, obviously, and keeping costs low at those positions allows the Mets to do other stuff.
    As for “the Mets have no money,” the f*&king Rangers traded for Lee. He’s making very little money the rest of this year, comparatively. The Rangers don’t even have an owner. The Mets could’ve found the money. Let’s not forget that they have the 3rd highest payroll in baseball & shelled out for Bay in the offseason.
    Other than Reyes & Wright, who are obviously big pieces to inherit, the rest of the team has been put together by this front office. Could they have done better? Sure. But the team’s been in contention for a playoff spot every year except last year. They aren’t incompetent. I get a little tired of the sky-is-falling attitude from Mets fans. I mean, they are in it this year, and if it weren’t for the injuries, that might have been true going back to 2005.
    • loge mezzanine July 13, 2010 at 2:47 pm
      If you think the Mets front office isn’t incompetent, you have a perception problem. As for them having a chance at Lee, I based the entire post off of reports that indicated that the Mets had no shot and they knew it. If I recall, MLBTR reported yesterday that the top prospect offered by the Mets was Fernando Martinez.

      Cerrone reported the Mets were in it because that’s what the Mets were telling everyone. Hindsight proves it wasn’t true. Some might call that a “lie.” Some might call it “Let’s go Mets, I don’t care about reality!”

      • Jeff July 13, 2010 at 4:07 pm
        Sherman’s quote and Morosi’s quote and the lack of anything happening does not mean the team did not make a sincere and concerted effort to get Lee. They were rumored for weeks from places that do their best to substantiate rumors. Were they ever close? We don’t know. This guy thought so at one point:

        Let’s take your suggestion seriously–that the Mets claimed to be in on Lee in order to look like they had a plan, in order to string us along, and so on. Why would any rational person living in New York think that? Omar’s made some mistakes, but he’s not dumb–he knows he’s got an angry fanbase, one that feels it’s been disappointed. What indicates, beyond frustrated speculation, that they it was ALL a tease? Was NONE of it true?

        Furthermore, we should remember that the last big trade the Mets made for a pitcher came when Omar completely surprised the field. What if this was the plan again? As much as I would like Lee, 3 months of him isn’t worth 10 more years of Davis and Niese. If Omar could pull it off for lesser prospects, then the rental is more palatable. Should we blame him if he only offered Martinez when he got Santana for Carlos Gomez and a bucket of baseballs?

        So again, the fact that they didn’t make the trade doesn’t “prove” that they weren’t in it, just that they didn’t do it. The frustration seems a little over the top, considering the Mets are still 8 games over .500 and 1 game back in the wildcard. So I don’t have a perception problem–I have a different perception than you. I see a management team that’s produced a pretty good product four out of the last five years, and last year the Mets looked decent until all the injuries.

        • loge mezzanine July 13, 2010 at 4:46 pm
          I’ll leave it at this: we have sources close to the Mets that confirm the team was never serious about Cliff Lee. Whether their intention was to mislead, I cannot say for sure. But I am confident that the team never intended to make a serious offer and I trust MetsBlog enough to know that Matt (and other reporters too) were merely reporting information from the team, indicating the team had strong interest in Lee and a desire to acquire him. The team’s non-involvement in serious trade talks has since been backed up by reports from Buster Olney and MLBTR.

          Again, it’s all laid out in the article. You can believe what you want.

  23. Jeff July 13, 2010 at 11:51 am
    And as for cooling on Lilly, see
    Let me quote it, in case you don’t want to go over–
    “Lilly is comimg off of a huge 2009 where he posted a 3.65 FIP and 3.98 xFIP, good for 3.7 WAR. His K and BB rates, however, have been disturbingly poor this season, as his K/BB went from 4.19 last year to 2.71 this year. But for teams that aren’t looking too deeply at those numbers, Lilly’s 4.08 ERA may be appealing. Teams will envision him as a 3-4 starter in a good rotation, when really he’s just not pitching well right now. If the Cubs could pry away outfield prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis from the Mets, it would be a steal.”
    So do we complain if they get him or if they don’t?