Lastings Impression – the Latest Mets Problem Child

lastings-milledge-rickey

There’s an article by Jorge Castillo in NJ.com about Jordany Valdespin and his “complicated” clubhouse presence.

After reading it, I can’t help but recall Mets from the past who followed the beat of their own drum and — because of their passion / personality / immaturity / fill-in-the-quirk — didn’t quite fit in with their teammates.

Players such as Lastings Milledge, Carl Everett, Lenny Randle, Dave Kingman, and Jeff Kent — for example — have worn Mets uniforms for brief periods that felt longer due to varying issues of controversy tied directly to their “unique” personalities. Everyone is different, and it’s entirely possible for those “different” players to peacefully assimilate with their teammates and perform well on the field — IF the team and the environment allow it. Problems can arise, however, in big-media-market environments like New York City, and on losing teams; just ask Bobby Valentine or Josh Beckett. Though sometimes the individuality can be seen on the field, what it often comes down to is the player’s interaction with the media. There have been many quirky personalities throughout MLB history, but we only find out about the ones whose stories come out in the press (or from the result of an arrest).

Reading this quote from NJ.com, an eerie feeling of deja vu came over me, recalling the “know your place, rook!” sign placed on Lasting Milledge’s locker:

“Jordany’s a very good player and the sky’s the limit, but there’s definitely a flair and sometimes it’s too much,” said a Mets player, who was granted anonymity to speak freely about a teammate. “He needs to mature a little and hopefully he learns.”

Then there was this line, which was redolent of similar quotes about Carl Everett:

“There’s no denying his talent, but he’s someone who’s more in tune with himself than with the team at times,” another teammate said.

Now, I’m not saying Jordany Valdespin will start recording offensive rap songs or deny that dinosaurs ever existed. However, to see a story like this come out so early in a player’s career, before he’s really done anything, and knowing he’s swimming in the often-turbulent fish bowl of New York, playing for a team that is likely going to be less interesting on the field as the season progresses … well, it’s not what I’d say is an ideal recipe for the young man. This story came out mainly because there isn’t much else to talk about in Port St. Lucie right now — what happens in late July, if/when the Mets are out of contention, and again the beat writers are searching for stories and headlines? Valdespin might be the lightning rod, and — whether deserved or not — the result could be a public perception that becomes damaging to both the player and the organization.

What’s your thought? Do you think Valdespin’s off-field story could become bigger than his on-field performance? How good does he — or the Mets — have to perform to retract the growing perception that Valdespin is “too different” from his teammates? Can this story end well? Sound off in the comments.

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. Walnutz15 March 20, 2013 at 12:58 pm
    Funny, I was just having this same Milledge-Valdespin discussion last week.

    Through the years, it’s become an easy road to take with Met prospects, citing “oh, this guy sucks — he’ll never be anything, etc.”

    At the same time, though – it was pretty transparent that Lastings Milledge was flat-out immature and really, not well-liked.

    The whole “locked in the bus bathroom by his A-Ball teammates” thing, and of course, the ever popular “Know your place, Rook!”incident —- on top of:

    - the album he was working on, not even 5 minutes into being a big leaguer (BEND YA KNEEZ – lmao), and
    - the whole “Cal Ripken tour” down the RF line after his 1st HR off Benitez…….smh……

    The Nationals, Pirates, and ChiSox didn’t keep him around long either, post-Mets. So that’s that with regard to Lastings.

    I would have said Sayonara!! long before any of this, whether the return was Oswalt or Manny — but that’s neither here nor there in 2013.

    Conversely, I actually feel that a kid like Valdespin needs to become a Big Leaguer right out of camp.

    If he’s going to at all, then it should be right about now to see if he matures in any way, shape, or form — on a team that has very little in the way of expectation.

    It continues where he’s a dope? You send him along the Lastings route. (But I at least enjoy his potential now – particularly on a team completely devoid of anything remotely approaching speed.)

    Milledge was definitely a more complete prospect, and never got more than a season with any 1 Big League job…..and in a very easy Met clubhouse to assimilate to, playing winning ball at the time.

    Says alot about him.

    At least with Valdespin, it seems like he’s coachable – and on a team that’s going nowhere fast….you at least give it a whirl, IMHO.

    I have no delusions of grandeur, but am realistically expecting them to give him a shot to impress over an extended sample.

    They’d be stupid not to.

    • jason bay March 20, 2013 at 9:43 pm
      I wonder if any of the Braves veterans are so thin skinned when it comes to young players.

      Zeile had a problem with Timo sitting on the couch in the club house. Franco and Leiter had a problem with Kazmir. Spin and Milledge were publicly rebuked by their teammates. Anonymous quotes about Everett and Spin, Ordonez always being labeled immature in the papers.

      This is not an environment that is conducive for young players to come up and perform. Not saying that there weren’t things that needed to be addressed but it seems to me that Met veterans are a little too protective of their fiefdom’s.

      • Joe Janish March 21, 2013 at 4:47 pm
        I think these situations occur in every MLB clubhouse at one time or another, but don’t get reported. In New York there are 3-5 times as many journalists covering the team than in most other cities, and everyone is fighting for a unique angle / scoop. The environment, as you suggest, is not conducive to any young players who veer even slightly from bland vanilla flavor.
    • randy March 21, 2013 at 2:02 pm
      If he’s got real talent, and shows it then we need him. A job Collins and Wright and some coaches and vets must take on Hey why no Greg Jeffreys mention……..wasn’t loved either/
      • jason bay March 21, 2013 at 4:25 pm
        Forgot him. Add him to the list.

        Met vets always seem to have a problem with the young guys.

  2. Reese Kaplan March 20, 2013 at 1:07 pm
    At only one point last season did Valdespin get a chance to start 3 consecutive games. He’s been buried deep in the back of Collins’ doghouse and despite his early offensive heroics was never given a fair shot behind such luminaries as Andres Torres, Vinny Rottino and Fred Lewis.

    Even this year when he’s leading everyone in offense in Spring Training he is only getting serious consideration to make the team due to injuries to Wright and Murphy.

    Everyone talks about the negative, but no one points out, for example, his dramatically better OBP this winter which suggests he’s taking criticism to heart and working to improve his game.

    Let’s say he’s hitting .280 when Murphy and/or Wright returns. Does that get him a seat on the bench or a ticket to Las Vegas? In this throwaway season it should give him a leg up to be at least the left handed half of an outfield platoon, but I’ll make a gentleman’s wager that it doesn’t happen. If not, then it’s clear Collins is more interested in being “the boss” than in winning games.

    • DaveSchneck March 20, 2013 at 3:28 pm
      This franchise is in desperate need of a lead-off hitter. Why not JV1? It looks to me like so far he has earned the job. If he combines the hitting with plate discipline, I’ll put up with some hot dogging, and his teammates should as well.
  3. Howard March 20, 2013 at 2:36 pm
    At least he is alive. For many years all we had were clones. Good foot soldiers who had no flamboyance tor swagger. Even when we had Jose evreryone tried to quiet him. He excited everyone. I say its about time we had a little life. It just shows he is alive. Aside from the fact he can hit the occasional long ball and God knows we don’t have many who can do that. So for my money you can keep your Justin Turner types the ones who do a serviceable job but offer nothing spectacular. I will take the firey guy.
  4. BklynCowpoke March 20, 2013 at 4:26 pm
    Can’t say I enjoy his showboating; hopefully maybe a presence like Johann Santana can put him on the right track; though Johann is having his own problems at present.
  5. Tommy2cat March 20, 2013 at 5:18 pm
    Dang! Valdespin could sure use an ally right now. All that I’ve noticed is a guy that brings his “A” game more often than not. He’s fearless…

    His teammates should cut him major slack right now, as he’s never been as animated as Reyes – he’s a bit more introverted but no less confident.

    Over time, he should calm down. In the meantime, his teammates also need to show some maturity, embrace him with his antics and make him part of the fabric and Met family.

    This guy can mutilate an opposing team’s All Star closer when it matters most – the game on the line. He should be valued and accepted. On the field, his game is praiseworthy. In the clubhouse, he will earn his teammates respect with time and patience.

  6. argonbunnies March 20, 2013 at 7:49 pm
    Milledge tore up AA at age 20 and was very good in AAA at 21, earning a call up while he was still very young and (IMO) forgivably immature. Whether all the fuss about his personality interfered with his play, I don’t think we’ll ever know. To me, the problem seemed to be declining bat speed and an inability to cover both sides of the plate.

    As for Valdespin, he has some upside, and that should be the #1 prized commodity on the 2013 Mets. Most teams would love an athletic 2B who can hit 15 HRs and steal 25 bags, even if he makes some errors and doesn’t walk enough. We need to maximize the value of our current assets, and that means giving Jordany every chance to succeed, and that means playing him every day.

    Every AB Valdespin loses to journeyman non-solution Marlon Byrd will strike me as an indictment of management’s ability to fully commit to the long-term plan. If the Mets brass really feels he just isn’t good enough to bother with, then trade him now while his stock is high.

  7. TexasGusCC March 21, 2013 at 12:11 am
    Folks, just last month Kevin Towers was in such a rush to trade away his best player before he left for vacation, he took the best package he could get after Upton nixed the Mariners offer. Such an urgency to get rid of him is why he signed Cody Ross to replace him before he even traded him, and then traded for Tony Campana also. It’s not just players.

    And, what did the Mets get for Greg Jefferies from the Royals?

  8. Izzy March 21, 2013 at 7:40 am
    The Met clubhouse, like the GM and the manager, are living in a past era. You read stoires about kids on other teams and the veterans embrace them, take them under their wing, work with them, make them feel welcome. you read stories about Harpoer in Dc. He beats to a very unique drummer and Davey Johnson and because of him their team leaders like Zimmerman embrace him. They could have ripped the clubhouse apart because he was getting all the publicity. Instead they enjoyed it. In New York we keep hearing how Wright is going to be the Captain. Why? What’s he doing to make Valdespin part of the team? Who is taking him on as a friend and making him part of the team. I guess the GM is a zombie and the message is clear. You be perfect little yes men and papa Freddy will take care opf you. You be different and we will destror you. As for the guy implying Milledge left DC and Pitt quickly because of attitude, if you check and do some research you’d find he matured greatly in Pittsbugh. He didn’t have the talent. In Queen you better be a zombie because talent doesn’t count.
    • Walnutz15 March 21, 2013 at 8:10 am
      Yes….Milledge’s MLB career didn’t last because he sucked in comparison to all the hype he was afforded by the very same organization that was all too willing to cast him off.

      All the surrounding junk compounded it – and I do plenty of research – thank you very much Izzy – never had anyone even remotely regretting their decisions to move him.

      Ask the Nats – and they’ll tell you that his only defender there in DC was Manny Acta. They ripped not only his play, but his personality —- showing up late to meetings, practices, etc.

      Essentially – the same kind of stuff we were seeing already 5 minutes into his Met career (the HR crap, and talking smack back to his manager on-camera during a game his rookie season) — don’t give me that.

      In the end, there was nothing in the way of power from his bat – and he played forgettable defense….again, stark contrast from the guy who was being hyped up 10 ways to Sunday by Omar Minaya.

      I totally agree otherwise. Choir boys win you nothing; and if anything – contribute to problems when attempting to bring in actual talent, that might not “conform” to their boring ways.

      The Mets need to do a much better job of assimilating this into their search for winning players.

      P.S. – Speaking of Wright as Captain. Who CAN’T see the Mets tacking on a cheesey, gaudy “C” onto his jersey – simply because they’ll have some new merchandise to hock?

      Gross.

    • Joe Janish March 21, 2013 at 4:54 pm
      Hmm … I have a problem with comparing Valdespin to Harper (or Jose Reyes, as another commenter did earlier in this thread).

      Harper is a once-in-a-generation talent, and though he’s cocky, he a) backs it up; and b) it hasn’t caused him to be thrown off of teams.

      The way some people are discussing Valdespin here, it’s as if he’s coming off a 20-HR, .300 AVG MLB season. The kid is having a good spring (something Blastings Thrilledge did as well) and that’s great, but it’s not necessarily an indication of stardom when the real games begin.

      I’d like to wait a bit and see what happens with ‘spin from April forward before passing judgment.

      And BTW, I’ve met both LMillz and Harper, and know people who work with them very closely on business deals — they couldn’t be more different in terms of respecting others and integrity. Without getting into details, I’ll just say that Harper has so far proven to be a first-class individual who balances his on-field cockiness with a dose of humility in his off-field dealings.

  9. Kanehl March 21, 2013 at 1:15 pm
    If the “veterans” (on this year’s team, that means guys clinging to the end of a mediocre roster) don’t like his attitude, then outplay him and he’ll be sent down. If he’s producing, then shut up and try to match his performance. Dirupting this clubhouse seems like a good thing.
    • Joe Janish March 21, 2013 at 5:08 pm
      Agreed, though I don’t know Valdespin has the potential to be a disruption — that, to me, is probably overblown. If anything, he seems to be detached, which isn’t necessarily disruptive.

      Vince Coleman was disruptive, Rickey Henderson was detached. Rickey’s detachment didn’t really disrupt / bother anyone else, except for maybe that card game with Bobby Bo.

  10. Yoko Ono March 23, 2013 at 2:00 pm
    As a die-hard Mets fan, I hope I am wrong but I just don’t think Spin (or MDD) is going to be any good because his pitch selection is absolutely atrocious – just awful.

    Very few guys can walk 5% of the time, strike out 25% of the time, and be any productive major leaguers.

    Jose Reyes was one of the few players I’ve seen who really made a dramatic shift from swinging at everything to being quite discriminating at the plate.

    Again, I hope I’m wrong but I think all of these discussions about Spin’s attitude will be out as relevant as the discussions about Milledge’s attitude from a few years ago…because I don’t envision Spin playing for the Mets (and maybe not even in the majors) very long.

    But hopefully I am wrong.