Fourth Place Again, So Why Bother?

Some offseason, eh? So far, the Mets have overpaid (David Wright) and overplayed (R.A. Dickey). What happened to that roster overhaul that GM Sandy Alderson promised us at the end of last season? I’ll tell you what.

The Mets front office has given up. It would take a blizzard, not just a flurry, of moves for the Mets to get closer to the Nationals, Braves or Phillies in 2013 and the front office simply isn’t up to the task. Rather than infuriate ownership, this suits them just fine, as the Wilpons would rather not spend the money on mid-tier free agents just to add a few more meaningless wins to the season total. Both parties figure they can approximate the same results with Jamie Hoffman and Anthony Recker (he’s from Allentown!) that they could with say, Cody Ross or A.J.  Pierzynski. Instead, they’ll deploy a marketing strategy that positions the team as a bunch of likeable, scrappy guys, coupled with a few bona fide stars like Wright and Dickey and try to foist this off on you as a team on the rise. Plus, you really need to be at that All-Star Game don’t you? And next year, when they don’t make any moves, they’ll blame it on the lack of fan support.

You could argue that it is still early. You’d be wrong. There is a time for everything in baseball and this is the time to be making moves. Waiting until February or Spring Training means that all that is left are the Hoffmans and the Reckers. Anyway, this front office has a track record of untimely hibernations and except for one glorious day in 2011, has been unable to make a single move that has benefited the team. Since the new regime took over after the 2009 season, they have made four trades with other teams that involved players on both squads’ 25-man rosters. All of them failed. They have made two multi-year signings of free agents. They’ve failed as well. There have been roster dumps and contract extensions, but these have mainly been sideways moves, with the former not really removing much money and the latter only serving to preserve the status quo. The Wilpons get their rightful share of the blame for this mess, but now is the time to look at what the overrated brain trust has accomplished as well.

They say they have a plan, but the team is worse off now than it was at the end of the 2009 season. The Mets lack a single proven major league outfielder. None of their current catchers could start for another team, let alone make most rosters. Their bullpen, which killed them last year, remains vulnerable at its most crucial spot and is otherwise populated with unproven (there is that term again) arms. Their lineup lacks speed and aside from Wright, there is no power from the right side. Their left-handed power hitters are inconsistent. They are weak defensively, especially up the middle. The farm system, while stronger than it has been in a decade, is still at least half a season from sending any real help, and is years away from producing any of the positional players they need. Yes, the rotation is the Mets’ strongest point, but the team’s other weaknesses will likely waste many of the quality starts that this group is capable of making. This is not a team on the rise; it is one sinking further and further into irrelevancy.

Unless something radical happens, the Mets are well on their way to becoming the next Pittsburgh Pirates or Kansas City Royals: a perennial loser and some rich guy’s tax write off, but hey, they’ve got a nice ballpark. Too bad it’s mostly empty on game days, except for those few cranky old time fans who ramble on and on about a supposed golden age that happened a long time ago.

I miss Steve Phillips.

A Mets fan since 1971, Dan spent many summer nights of his childhood watching the Mets on WOR Channel Nine, which his Allentown, PA cable company carried. Dan was present at Game 7 of the 1986 World Series and the Todd Pratt Walkoff Game in 1999. He is also the proud owner of two Shea Stadium seats. Professionally, Dan is a Marketing Communications Coordinator. He is married, lives in Bethlehem PA and has a 10-year-old son who unfortunately roots for the Phillies.
  1. Dan B December 11, 2012 at 7:25 pm
    “Met’s Baseball! Come see RA Dickey lose 2-1 ever fifth day as David Wright gets pitched around every day! Plenty of tickets still available! This Thursday is our famous Catch an Inning promotion with a chance to sign a real MLB contract!”. Is it even mathematically possible to be eliminated from the playoffs on Dec. 12th?
  2. Crozier December 11, 2012 at 7:45 pm
    Your premise doesn’t add up. You don’t overpay Wright if you’ve given up; you trade him for prospects.

    Thing is, I don’t think they overpaid for Wright, given he’s proven he can play well in New York. As a decades-long fan, you know the significant risk of bringing established players to NY, only to see them fail. And the chance of getting a prospect or two who will match Wright’s contribution is minuscule. This is why I’d hate to see Dickey traded. It’s unimaginable that it would work out in the Mets’ favor.

    I agree it’s a poorly run organization at present, but it’s in no danger of becoming the Pirates. This is another bad cycle like 1977-83, or 91-96. They’ll be a big market team again.

    • Joe Janish December 12, 2012 at 12:06 am
      Of course the Mets can still give up despite signing Wright to the long-term deal. The entire, singular point of Wright’s extension was to guarantee ticket sales and a modicum of interest in “the brand” for the next 6-7 years.

      This follows Bud Selig’s desire to follow the marketing model of NBA — having teams hitch their wagon to one personality. Not a coincidence that Alderson was installed as Mets GM by Selig; the Mets are Selig’s guinea pig in his grand experiment to prove that a big-market team can survive and financially succeed on a less-than-big-market budget. Consider the past two years and the next three to be the incubation period.

      • Crozier December 12, 2012 at 8:33 am
        Wright guarantees ticket sales? You’ve got to be joking. He’s a good player, very good. But no one’s going to shell out $150 to watch him play.

        I get that a crappy organization has turned you cynical, Joe, but people read you for analysis, not conspiratorial nonsense.

        • MikeT December 12, 2012 at 11:56 am
          You may not, but the average Joe will. They know names like Dickey and Wright and Santana. When they want to come to the ballpark a few times a year, these are the guys they know. Having Wright be Mr Met guarantees that people will at least know him and have a reason to come to the ballpark in even the worst years.

          I disagree that the Mets are throwing in the towel, but the value of Wright to the Mets cannot be understated. This was a very fair deal, too.

  3. Joe December 11, 2012 at 7:55 pm
    What exactly should they have done? The pickings were slim, multiple teams made moves that many here think the Mets shouldn’t have made even if they had the means and just doing something early got them in trouble last year.

    After 2009, the Mets did little other than overpay Bay for too many years. I didn’t like it then and don’t like it now. Beltran was out 1/2 the year with an injury. Their catching situation was about the same (I think they can manage to find another Blanco/Bajaras type).

    They had Reyes, yes, but other than that the IF was the same. Tejeda long term is no joke. Not seeing the downgrade in pitching — the relief corps was either the same or the same type. The exception would be the closer, but yeah, don’t expect playoffs, so spending money for a closer now is a bit silly. The farm system is better now so there is more potential for the future, and since yeah 2013 won’t be a great year, 1/2 year is okay, and serves some value as trade bait.

    The Mets for years were just good enough to hope but always flawed. With good starting pitching, some good position players and some farm, the team now can have a future, especially when Bay/Santana’s salary is off the table and provides over 40M of money for necessary parts, especially if Harvey and Wheeler provide cheap ace material. I don’t see the KC/Pittsburg 20 years of woe quite yet. But, the wah wah is duly noted.

    • Izzy December 12, 2012 at 9:39 am
      Joe. You can’t go by the words of posters on a team’s site. We, as fans almost always overvalue our own. Its up to the GM to have a staff that can make honest appraisals and wheel and deal. We have so many GMs. What do they so? Sleep, shop at the mall? And the pickings were slim? Look at all the talent that has moved this Winter. The cupboards were filled. All our GMs and all they can do is cash their paychecks.
    • MikeT December 12, 2012 at 11:58 am
      +1. A voice of reason on the MetsToday comments? I thought I was the only one.
  4. gmwannabees December 11, 2012 at 9:42 pm
    I agree with you Joe. This Mets era under the Alderson regime reminds me of the knicks under Donny Walsh. Walsh had a plan if fiscal responsibility, to get under the cap, and start fresh. Alderson is looking to do the same. UN this case the salary cap in basketball, is replaced by the Wilpons financial crisis. The Mets have their cornerstone in Wright.They traded for a potential ace, and developed another.If they keep Dickey, they have a bridge to the future staff.The front office now must be right in their search for future impact position players in the draft. To me that will be how we should judge Alderson. He must replenish, a blighted farm sustenance rebuild like Frank Cashen, and Joe Mcalvane did.
  5. gmwannabees December 11, 2012 at 10:02 pm
    It is also very obvious that Alderson is shocked to see the money mediocre free agents are getting. I agree with him. I would offer Cody Ross,a real pro of a player, and the right handed, versatile outfielder with pop, 2 years@$8million per. Compared to Victerino and some others, that would be a win for us
    • Joe Janish December 11, 2012 at 11:58 pm
      Alderson was shocked at the contracts doled out last winter as well. This is getting old. Oh, I mean, Alderson is getting old. Big contracts and crazy money being thrown around is becoming more and more common, and Alderson’s reaction is eerily similar to that of the reaction to free agency by Joe McDonald and the Payson ownership in the 1970s.

      Yeah, it’s crazy. But crazy is becoming the new normal.

  6. argonbunnies December 12, 2012 at 2:43 am
    It’s not any particular move or lack of move that irks me so much as the fact that a sense of A Plan has disappeared. Alderson talked a very, very good game when he first arrived, but his track record on following through has gotten worse and worse.

    During the final series of the 2012 season, he said flat out “we’ll work to re-sign Dickey as quickly as possible, starting the minute the season ends” and “we’ll be overhauling the roster via trades”. Was he just telling the media the first things that came to mind, or deliberately lying? I don’t think so. I think he simply didn’t anticipate the costs and opportunities ahead of him, so he formed a plan that wasn’t realistic. He meant what he said, but what he said was embarrassingly uninformed.

  7. Seth December 12, 2012 at 8:28 am
    I generally like this site and think Joe does good work, but I disagree completely with this piece. The fact is this management team came in with the organization still stuck paying the bloated contracts handed to them by Minaya and co. In 2011, Alderson’s first year on the job, he was stuck allocating half his payroll ($60M) to four players (Ollie, Castillo, Bay, Santana) who accounted for less than a single win. In 2012, Bay and Santana again accounted for about $40M of the payroll, which ownership brought down to $93M (I’m assuming you’re not blaming Alderson for the Madoff fiasco). So right off the bat, you’re looking at basically no opportunities to make any big moves those first two years.

    For this year, I’m not exactly sure what you’d like him to have done. Most of the analyses I’ve read suggest that the Wright contract was right about on the money, and potentially a bargain given the TV money that’s about to come into the game. If Zach Greinke is getting $25M per, I’m loving Wright at 17.5.
    In the meantime I wouldn’t have wanted the Mets to sign any of the top free agents to the contracts we’ve been seeing. If you want to see a contending team at Citi Field in 2013, I’ve got bad news for you–that’s almost certainly not happening. The Mets are not just a Cody Ross and AJ Pierzynski away from a ring. And thinking they are is the same sort of myopia that brought us the Jason Bays of the world in the first place. Ross would be useful at the right price, and he’s still an option. But I’m not sure why you would want to get in on a bidding war for a 36 year-old catcher coming off a year that was far better than anything he’s done in about ten years, unless you think AJ Pierzynski has the fountain of youth in his backyard.

    As for the complaint that the team lacks a plan, I’m not really sure why you’d think that. The plan is and has been to rebuild the system from the ground up, and to contend as much as possible without sacrificing the future. A farm system takes a lot longer than two years to rebuild. This front office is off to a good start though: Brandon Nimmo had a 778 OPS in the NYPL, a league in which the average pitcher was two years older than he was. Michael Fullmer put up a 2.74 ERA, with only 6 HR in 108 innings in Savannah (where the average hitter is half a year older than in the NYPL). Fullmer was named the #13 prospect in the Sally league by Baseball America. Nimmo joined Phillip Evans, Luis Mateo, and Hansel Robles on the NYPL top 20 (Hansel is from the Minaya era; the others are Alderson signings). Alderson’s team also traded half a season of Carlos Beltran for one of the best pitching prospects in the game.

    The desire to build the farm system also speaks to what to do with Dickey. Dickey’s 38, but knuckleballers don’t age like other pitchers, so there’s a pretty decent chance he can be part of the next generation of Mets to win. But if you can turn him into a stud middle infield prospect and maybe a solid outfielder for the future, you make that next generation even better. So it’s actually unclear right now whether the team is better off keeping Dickey or trading him–it depends entirely on what other teams are willing to offer. While I’d love the Mets to re-sign Dickey, it’s not like letting the process take another week or even another month means that Dickey’s request will go up. The Mets know what it would take to sign him, and they’re waiting to see if they get an offer comparable to what the Rays got from the Royals. Mike Olt’s not enough, but if they got an offer centered around Jurickson Profar or Elvis Andrus they’d probably take it. Meanwhile, Dickey’s not going to suddenly decide this week that he’s leaving forever just because the team is feeling out the market. So gathering information isn’t merely a justifiable move right now, I’d argue it’s the correct move.

    Think of it this way. Dickey’s asking for $13M/yr and the Mets are currently offering $10M/yr. The Mets would like to find out the best offer they can get from other teams. Signing Dickey now means forgoing the opportunity to do that, and taking the risk of leaving a really good offer on the table. So basically, the Mets are asking Dickey to pay $6M to get them to make that tradeoff. It’s a steep price, but they can ask it because they have the leverage. And if there aren’t any offers out there that are worth it, the Mets can almost certainly decide next week that they’re willing to pay $13M/yr and get the deal done. Right now, they’re negotiating from a position of strength. There’s no reason to give that up just because the fans are impatient.

    Lastly, to say “the team is worse off now than it was at the end of the 2009 season” is just silly. The major league roster right now is worse off because that team had the best SS and the best CF in team history, neither of whom look like such great bets for 2013 and beyond. Meanwhile, after the 2009 season, the Mets didn’t have a single prospect in BA’s top 50 (Mejia was the highest, at 56). Coming into this year, Wheeler and Harvey were both in the top 50. After the 2009 season, the Mets had 9 players in BA’s league Top 20s (two of whom were Ike Davis). This year, They had 12, at much stronger spots than in ’09 (see below). So, will the 2013 Mets be better than the 2010 Mets? Maybe, maybe not. We’ll see how things shake out. But right now there’s every reason to believe the Mets in 2015 and beyond will be a lot better than either one. And that’s pretty much according to plan.

    2009 BA Top 20 Prospects by League
    IL 2 (Fernando #12, Niese #16)
    EL 1 (Ike #13)
    FSL 3 (Mejia #7, Ike #9, Niewy #13)
    SAL 1 (Flores #10)
    NYPL 1 (Jim Fuller, #20)
    Appy 1 (Puello #9)

    2012 BA Top 20 Prospects by League
    IL 3 (Harvey #1, Familia #14, Mejia #17)
    EL 1 (Wheeler #2)
    FSL 1 (Flores #19)
    SAL 2 (Fullmer #13, Tapia #18)
    NYPL 4 (Mateo #5, Nimmo #11, Robles #12, Evans #18)
    Appy 1 (Cecchini #12)

    • Izzy December 12, 2012 at 9:43 am
      Incredible logic Seth. You tell us we’ll be good by 2014. That’s funny. When the lordship became GM he said we’d be good by 2012. Then 2012 rolled around and we told we’d be good by 2014. Now you are on the leading edge, niot even waiting to 2014 to announce that lo and behold we will be good by 2015. Casey is turning over in his grave. Cause its not Amazin. Its absolutely pathetic. But most Met fans will cheer because if Wilpon won’t spend, either will we. Enjoy the empty confines of Citi morgue forever it see,s!
    • NormE December 12, 2012 at 10:45 pm
      Seth, here’s the problem I have with your well-crafted post:
      The Mets as presently constituted are fielding three outfielders and a catcher who are not MLB caliber starting players. The other four position starters have only one player making big bucks. Yet, the team can’t cough up money for a Michael Bourn or other such player who would make them more competitive? But, the team is charging big bucks to attend the game and park your car and pay exorbitant money at the concession stands.
      If your team is in true rebuilding mode they should say so—and give the fans a break in their prices. But, they are
      asking fans to cough up more money each year while not
      making an honest attempt to field a competitive team. As of this moment the 2013 Mets look no better than the 2012 version. Yes, the starting pitching, if no trades are pulled off, is pretty good—-but where else can we boast of a first rate product?
      Many of us are frustrated by the Wilpons unwillingness/inability to field a competitive product and by a front office which gives us disingenuous platitudes.
  8. Dan Capwell December 12, 2012 at 9:42 am
    Seth:
    Thanks for the in-depth post, this is the type of reaction to our labor of love (writing about the Mets) that we hope to generate here at Mets Today.
    With all due respect, I think you are only looking at half of the equation. For openers, Brooklyn, Savannah and St. Lucie are a long way from the major leagues. Go back to the 2009 list you supplied. Fernando—gone. Jim Fuller—who he? Puello—unprotected and undrafted in the Rule V draft. I’ll give you Niese and Ike and am glad they are Mets, but neither Nieuwenhuis nor Mejia, in my estimation, have yet to establish themselves as credible big leaguers. The point is that three years later, the value of 5 out of 7 players on the 2009 list are murky at best. This is what always happens with prospects–I am old enough to remember when Randy Tate was going to be the next big Met prospect. IMHO opinion, “prospect” status doesn’t really mean much until the AA level, when the player has been given a full season or two against some stiffer competition. Until that, most of these rankings are based on either an insignificant statistical sample and/or where in the draft the player was picked (see Nimmo and Cecchini).
    Two things that I think the Mets could have added to the lineup for 2013 are speed and some right handed power. All three of our main division rivals have added speed to their lineups, without sacrificing any major prospects. None of them have exorbitant salaries. Where is Sandy on these deals? I agree whole heartedly on no more Jason Bay type deals but isn’t there some middle ground between Cody Ross and Jamie Hoffman? That three team deal with Cleveland, the Reds and Arizona was the type of action I hoped we would be getting in on, but seems to be beyond Sandy Alderson’s ability to consummate.
    Although I disagree, you make a fair point on 2009. Instead, ask yourself is the team better now than at this time last year? At best that answer is “about the same.” There may be some improvement with Harvey and Niese, but overall, this is still a fourth place team. After three years that is just unacceptable.
  9. Kanehl December 12, 2012 at 6:20 pm
    I don’t see what any GM can do to make the Mets competitive in 2013. At this point, we have 4 strong starters (if Gee comes back healthy and Harvey is for real), 4 starting position players of MLB caliber (we need 2 starting OFs and a catcher), a bullpen whose ceiling is “league average”, and no bench. We only have 2 high value trading prospects (Wheeler and Harvey) and we’d be nuts to trade either. Our only other high trade bait is Dickey (but only if we can get at least one true “difference maker”) and Niese (and I’d be much more reluctant to trade him). From what I can tell, the Wilpons will make no more than $12 to $15 million availabel for FAs this year, but other than a fill-in starting OF like Ross or Swsiher, who would you spend $ on in this FA class? Other than bad bets on relievers (as a group, always a crap shoot) and, arguably the Pagan trade (although let’s see what he does over his 4 year contract before we call that one), what mistakes have the Adlerson gorup made? And let’s not forget his magic of dumping K-Rod’s contract and turning the last 3 months of Carlos Beltran into Wheeler.

    We have an embarassingly thin roster and no everday player in the minors anywhere near the MLB. Of course we’re all frustrated with how bad and boring this team is, but “hurry and sign someone” is a large part of what got us into this hole. I don’t see much choice but to endure 2013, hope that Wheeler and Harvey develop into #1 zand #2 starters by 2015 and sign some strategic FAs in the stronger 2014 and 2015 classes.

  10. Joe December 13, 2012 at 8:09 pm
    ” ask yourself is the team better now than at this time last year”

    In what sense? Bay is gone and the team received a bit of salary flexibility. Wright is signed and the team received a bit of salary flexibility. The farm is a bit closer. The starting pitching looks a bit better with Matt Harvey starting well, Niese showing something and Dickey winning a Cy Young.

    The team gave you a no hitter, a Cy Young winner and a decent first half. But, who cares, you know? They are just a bunch of losers. The team is closer to getting old wood out (another piece is gone). So, yes, the team looks better than it did in the beginning of ’12.

    There is a BIG question mark as to R.A. Dickey. There is talk of a 50/50 chance he will be traded. If he does, and something significant comes back, it changes things significantly. This includes if a real OF comes back.

    Yes, they are 4th place team, but we are talking about five games or so before you get close to playoff races. We didn’t expect that in ’13. A couple more pieces, the pieces that can be paid with Santana and Bay money alone, can bring the team there. Who thought the Mets had a shot at the playoffs in ’13? A third place team (the Phils in ’12) would have a shot. So, what does that tell us?

  11. Dan Capwell December 14, 2012 at 7:12 am
    And has Dickey been traded yet? I know everyone is now thinking “Angels,” but until it happens I stick by my original premise that Sandy Co. just can’t get it done.