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 Manager in the Bulk Materials Handling industry. He lives in Bethlehem PA with his wife and son, neither of whom fully get his obsession with the Mets.
Browsing All Posts By Dan Capwell

The Case For Keeping Jay Bruce

So everyday and sometimes several times a day, I visit or refresh MLB Trade Rumors to see if the Mets have moved Jay Bruce. Apparently, I’m not alone. Take yer 30-homers elsewhere ya big palooka, we want our boy Conforto playin’ right.

But, will the past prove to be prologue?

In 1975, the Mets had a hot rookie outfielder named Mike Vail, who burst on to the scene, highlighted by a 23 game hit streak, which was the best ever for a rookie up to then. He finished the year with a slash line of 302/339/420. The fans and apparently the FO were ecstatic enough about this guy, to the point where they deemed folk hero  Rusty Staub and his team-record 105 RBI’s expendable and traded him to Detroit that offseason to clear an outfield spot  for Vail.

Then, in a foreshadowing of Bobby O’s hedge trimmers and Duaner Sanchez’ cab ride, Vail hurt himself playing basketball during the winter, and began the ’76 season on the DL. He just never got untracked after that. He went on to have a semi-productive, but essentially unremarkable big league career, playing for half a dozen other teams. Only his immediate family, close friends, former teammates and Met geeks like me remember him as a big leaguer. Staub also played another 10 years, outhitting Vail and staying productive, albeit in a limited role, into his 40s. He is fondly remembered both here and in Montreal for his swagger and his style, and he threw out the first pitch at one of the 2015 home WS games. While Vail and his replacements struggled in 1976 (the last good Mets year for the next eight), Staub hit 299/386/433 for The Tigers that year, with a 4.5 WAR.

So….fast forward to January of 2017. The Mets have another prized young ouftielder named Michael Conforto, who broke into baseball at age 22 (one year younger than Vail) in 2015, wowing everyone with his offensive prowess.   Like Vail, he suffered an injury that essentially ruined his sophomore year, although by all accounts Conforto’s was baseball-related. Also like Vail, Conforto faces an early career crossroads in his third season. No one can determine if he is the next Moises Alou or the next Domonic Brown.

There is no guarantee that Conforto bounces back. Absent those assurances, doesn’t it make sense that the Mets hold on to Bruce, at least through Spring Training? Bruce will turn 30 right around Opening Day (Staub was 31 when the Mets traded him).  Could Bruce put together a season reminiscent of Staub’s 1976 campaign? Of course he could. He’s done it before. Think about the impact those types of numbers could have on the Mets attack and on the NL East. A right-left-right-left batting order of  Yoenis Cespedes, Bruce, Neil Walker and Lucas Duda could approach 90 homers and wear out a lot of pitching staffs.

Maybe Conforto is really that good. I hope so. Maybe Mets GM Sandy Alderson can get a good return for Bruce in the next few weeks, something that will shore up the bullpen or add some speed to the lineup. But if all he can fetch in return are some low-A ball flamethrowers and partial salary relief, isn’t he better off holding on to Bruce and setting up a loser leaves town competition in right field this spring between Bruce and Conforto? I don’t fully buy the idea that the Mets haven’t added any relief help because they’re pinching pennies. As of today, there are a glut of relievers still out on the market, meaning a passel of teams are suddenly cash-strapped or the majority of them have determined that the harvest has yet to ripen and the time for handing out contracts for all but the most elite of relievers hasn’t occurred yet.

Why make a bad deal, be it signing a pitcher like Mike Dunn to a incredible contract or trading Bruce and his power for scrubs? Answers to this question can be posted below.

 

 

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The Mets: Contract Year Pushes Coming?

Happy New Year everyone. Here’s a little something to ponder as you take down the decorations and re-start that fitness program: the end of the holidays means we are halfway through baseball’s offseason. In a little over six weeks, the 18-wheelers will be rolling out of Queens towards Port St. Lucie, carrying both equipment and the hopes and dreams of many Mets fans. I think there is genuine reason for hope in 2017 and not all of it resting on the health of starting pitchers.

As it stands today, the 2017 Mets will enter the season with seven players including  Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce, Neil Walker, Lucas Duda, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes and Addison Reed all in the final years of their current major league contracts. Now I understand that Bruce could be traded and that they have an option on Cabrera, but they are not committed to any of these players beyond 2017.  And, with the exception of Reed and possibly Reyes, they have highly-rated prospects either on the 25-man roster now or knocking on the door ready to take their places.

Depending on how you look at it, GM Sandy Alderson has either done a good job in positioning the Mets to jettison some more expensive contracts, replacing them with cheaper and just as productive players at the same time that his starting pitchers (and his closer) will begin to cost more money—OR he has set them up for an unsustainable run back to the World Series, as several of those aforementioned seven will have great seasons as they put on an extra “push” for a new contract.

Is that last statement just some type of urban legend that has grown up among baseball fans? Maybe there is a way to find out.

I am not a sabermatican nor do I play one on this blog. Plus to keep this readable, I focused on Wins Above Replacement or WAR, a stat that I must confess I don’t fully understand but does make sense to most otherwise serious baseball observers such as myself. And to keep this as current as possible, I picked those free agents that got a 3 year or longer deal after the 2014 season. My post, my rules!

So, true or false, do players tend to produce better results in their walk years? Let’s take a look at the Class of 2014:

Nick Markakis: Nick was a near replacement-level player for Baltimore in 2013 with a 0.1 WAR. He followed that up in 2014 with a 2.0 WAR and got himself a four-year deal with Atlanta, which was a surprise, as the Braves also began a rebuilding process the same offseason. Verdict: TRUE

Nelson Cruz: Yes that Nelson Cruz, a former Mets farmhand. He posted a 4.6 WAR, also for Baltimore in 2014, his best ever, converting that one-year pillow deal with the O’s into a nearly $60M deal with the Mariners. To his credit he has kept hitting, but 2014 has been his best season to date. Verdict: TRUE

Chase Headley: Never much of a fan of his, and not just because he is the first counterpoint to my argument. He WAR’d 1.4 with the Padres in only 77 games in 2014, which was way down for him from his previous campaigns. The fact that it was the Yankees who signed him only slightly mitigates my theory. Verdict: FALSE (with an asterisk because he was injured in ’14)

Jon Lester: OK this one doesn’t really count in that unless his arm fell off Lester was going to get his money anyway. He had a weird 2014, bouncing between Boston (2.7 WAR) and Oakland (1.9 WAR). While statistically 2014 was a down year for him, he still finished fourth in the AL Cy Young voting and had a champion in Chicago named Theo Epstein who immediately signed him to a four year deal for the eventual World Champions. Verdict: FALSE

Victor Martinez: This one could go the other way, but Victor missed all of 2012 with a torn ACL. He started off slow in 2013, but rebounded the second half of that season. He then tore up opposing pitching in 2014 to the tune of a career-best 5.4 WAR. This convinced Detroit to resign him to a long term deal. He hasn’t come close to that kind of production since. Let the buyer beware. Verdict: TRUE (even though his hot streak began in 2013) 

Pablo Sandoval: Speaking of caveat emptor, the Red Sox have really taken a bath on this guy. After a 3.4 WAR with the Giants in 2014, the Sox gave him a big deal and the lovable, rolly-poly “Panda” has done a Jason Bay on them. They should have looked at his 2012 and 2013 stats a bit more closely and not what he did during a contract year. Like Martinez, there isn’t much chance he will turn in around. Verdict: TRUE

Andrew Miller: Now we come to a pair of relief pitchers. After a somewhat lackluster career, Miller began to achieve his potential, just in time for a big contract. He posted an at the time career-best WAR of 0.9 in 2014, getting him a big contract from the Yanks. Miller’s best days were still ahead of him as this past offseason would prove. However for the sake of this argument the verdict is TRUE

David Robertson: Hey, aren’t the Mets interested in this guy? He followed up a good (2.9 WAR) 2013 with the Yanks with a poor-ish (1.2 WAR) 2014 in the Bronx. They let him go, pursuing Miller instead. The White Sox grabbed Robertson and now are by most accounts trying to trade him. Cleveland aside, that 2017 AL Central could be a dumpster fire. Verdict: FALSE (and I hate relief pitchers)

Ervin Santana: Speaking of dislike, this guy has never been one of my favorites. His appearance is somewhat off-putting and while he is generally a bad pitcher, it seems the Mets run into him at the wrong time when he is pitching well and he gives them fits. Remember his seven shut out innings against them last September in that must win game against the Twins? (That was the Granderson two homers in extras game BTW). He had a decent 2013 but could only get a pillow deal with Atlanta for one year in 2014. He was bad that year, but the penny-pinching Twins somehow gave him a three year deal anyway. Screw him. Verdict: FALSE

Melky Cabrera: Eww. And people actually wanted the Mets to sign this cheater. Remember when he was tearing it up in 2012 for the Giants and then the secret to his success was revealed? He got suspended for 50 games. That didn’t stop the Blue Jays from giving him a two year deal after the 2012 season. He was bad in Year One and (surprise) much, much better in Year Two. This fooled the White Sox into giving him a three-year deal that they no doubt regret now. Can we get the Mets moved to the AL Central? Verdict: TRUE

Max Scherzer: This one is False, but only because Scherzer “dropped” from a 6.7 WAR in 2013 to a 6.0 WAR in 2014. Max is a great pitcher. Unfortunately, he is also a Washington National.

So that’s 11 players and 6 Trues or 55%. Does this mean that the 2017 Mets can depend on better than career norm years from four of their seven pending free agents? Maybe its more likely that one or two of them will, but just how good will they be? Could Lucas Duda hit like Nelson Cruz did in 2014, slashing his way to a 271/334/525, 40-homer season? That would go a long way towards returning the Mets to the post season. Maybe Grandy pulls a Victor Martinez-like 30+homer, 974 OPS season out of his hat. Those types of performances can be franchise altering, for both the team that benefits from the performance and the team that pays for it in subsequent years.

The point is (I think) is that a big year from an unlikely source is not impossible, especially  considering the extra motivation these players have to turn this type of performance into unimaginable riches. But, would those riches come from the Mets? Our would they be content to sip champagne with them after a deep post season run and then let them go? It makes for interesting conversations during an otherwise dreary part of the year, so please, sound off below.

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It Was 20 Years Ago Today: Joe McIlvaine’s Best Deal Ever

December 20, 1996: The New York Mets trade RHP Robert Person to the Toronto Blue Jays for 1B John Olerud.

What I remember most about this announcement was that it was the first  trade news that I ever got via the Internet. it came over a clipping service that the company I worked for at the time subscribed to. I had added the phrase “New York Mets” to a search string weeks before, and was online when this story broke.  I also remember being very puzzled and upset about this move, but in hindsight, it turned out to be the best move in Joe McIlvaine’s otherwise mostly awful tenure as GM of the Mets.

I fully acknowledged that the 1996 Mets had a lot of holes, but I didn’t think first base was one of them. The team had hit rock bottom in 1993, but had rebounded somewhat in the strike shortened years of 1994 and 1995. Under McIlvaine, they had shed the contracts of Bobby Bonilla, Vince Coleman and Bret Saberhagen and had an inspiring crop of prospects ready, or so it seemed then,  to bring back the glory days to Shea. A strong finish in 1995 had many of us thinking the squad was about to take the next step in 1996.

The hard-throwing Person was one of a quartet of starting pitchers that had already propelled the Mets Double A team to the Eastern League championship. The now infamous other three quarters of that star-crossed rotation, Bill Pulshipher, Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson, were all touted as the Mets homegrown answer to the stellar Atlanta Braves rotation. Speaking of homegrown, the Mets also had the wonderfully-named Butch Huskey as their incumbent first baseman. Huskey had slashed a not-unimpressive 278/319/435 the year before. A genuinely decent and quiet young man, Butch seemed the perfect antidote to the toxicity of the now-departed veterans.

Much to the my dismay the Mets stumbled badly in 1996, throwing massive amounts of sand into the gears of this prospect-driven Mets renaissance that myself and many others had envisioned.

On the surface Olerud looked like another step backwards, a declining veteran with a big contract. Weren’t the Mets trying to get away from this type of player? He had a stellar 1993, winning the AL batting crown, but had steadily declined since then. He had one year left on his contract and the Blue Jays chipped in 80% of it. The deal had to be approved by the commissioner’s office because of the large amount of money changing hands. Remember, this was 1996; five million dollars certainly ain’t what it used to be!

This trade and Olerud’s tenure as a Met are frequently overlooked, which is a shame, because both were absolutely fabulous. Olerud slashed 294/400/489 in 1997 and drove in 102 runs. He signed a two year extension at the end of 1997, but instead of becoming complacent, he got better. He slashed 354/447/551 in 1998, that average breaking Cleon Jones’ 1969 Mets record for highest individual batting average in a single season. His fielding was impeccable, he was credited as the anchor man in the 1998-99 “Best Infield Ever” that  included Edgardo Alfonzo, Rey Ordonez and Robin Ventura. He played all 162 games of the 1999 season and while his numbers tailed off slightly, he was a mainstay both offensively and defensively, as the Mets returned to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. They faced off against the Braves in the 1999 NLCS and his Game Four homer keyed a furious Mets comeback that unfortunately fell short  three games later in Turnerland.

Overall he slashed 315/425/501 in his three years here, the best stint of his career, even considering the big years he had in Toronto. Despite his success, he departed for his hometown of Seattle after the 1999 season. He enjoyed three more strong years in the Pacific Northwest before a farewell tour that included productive stops with the Yankees and Boston. In retrospect, the Mets should have pushed harder to keep him as they could have used his bat in the 2000 Subway Series and in their failed defense of the NL crown the next year.

It’s probably not too much of a stretch to think that had he stayed in New York, he might merit serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. As it stands, he is now largely ignored when the great hitters of the 1990’s are discussed.

Person went on to have a decent, if unremarkable career. He would go 46-37 for Toronto and the Phillies. For a long time he had more innings pitched, more wins and more strikeouts and any of his more highly-touted Binghamton Mets Generation K pitching rotation mates. Eventually and mainly by staging a comeback in 2011, Isringhausen caught up and passed him in those categories. Don’t get me wrong, Isringhausen definitely had the better career.

One more thing about this trade: it happened weeks after the Winter Meetings and wouldn’t be the last time that the Mets would strike a deal later on the winter. In fact, McIlvaine’s successor Steve Phillips added the pair of pitchers the Mets needed (Al Leiter in 1998 and Mike Hampton in 1999) to return to the post-season in deals made later in the winter (February and December 23rd) respectively than this one. Sometimes, patience can pay off, as it did for the Mets in all three of these post-Winter Meetings trades.

Something to ponder while we sit and wait for any trade or free agent signing news this time around. Happy Holidays, everyone.

 

 

 

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News Flash…

…the Mets contingent has just arrived at the Winter Meetings!

Seriously, I wasn’t really expecting a whole lot from them, but as was the case during the 2012, 2013 and 2014 Winter Meetings, they came, they talked and they left empty-handed. Met fans that were fat and happy last December after a World Series berth are far less content this December, so this development has Mets bloggers, boardies and WFAN callers (yes they still exist) back in 2014 mode.

I’ll admit to feeling more than just a twinge of jealousy with some of the big deals being announced, while the biggest Mets news this week is that Tim Tebow won’t get an invite to their major league spring training camp. But, I think that spending $80-plus million for a closer on the wrong side of thirty or trading three top prospects for a good, but not great player (and then planning to play him in a different position) is a far worse development than telling a fan base ravenous for some player move news that diner has been delayed. Those Stupid Idiots on the Baseball Network and their 24/7 coverage aren’t helping either.

Let’s not forget that prior to the Winter Meetings, the Mets bagged Yoenis Cespedes, who had been ranked by many observers as the top player in this year’s Free Agent class. They retained the services of Neil Walker, who was a relatively unsung hero during the dog days of last summer and who’s presence in the lineup makes a world of difference. They also held onto seven young and cheap starting pitchers, uber-prospect Amed Rosario, and the ever-popular and still very useful Curtis Granderson.

They must have missed my article on Michael Conforto. Even worse than that, this week we all bumped our heads on the glass ceiling that is the Mets payroll budget. I get it that this is the Wilpon’s money (or most of it is) and that the current level of payroll is more money than any of us will ever see in our lifetimes. But this team is close, very close, and the right addition or two could make a huge difference.

I have read some speculation that Sandy Alderson’s recent comments are his subtle way of poking the Wilpons publically into loosening the purse strings some more. I agree. Alderson knows these guys and until proven otherwise, I believe he knows what he is doing.

Stay tuned and keep the faith.

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The Curious Case of Michael Conforto

Michael Conforto

Kudos to Sandy Alderson and the Wilpons on retaining the services of one Yoenis Cespedes. At “only” $110 million for four years, the deal has a chance to not be too terrible, or at least only terrible for a season or so. While Cespedes isn’t the ideal major league player, he fits with the Mets well.

Like perhaps many of you, I felt a shudder run through me when I read about the potential for Cespedes to pull in a 6 or 7 year deal, with an upwards of $150 million price tag. So, good job by the Mets to get this done at a rate that won’t leave Cespedes a baseball pauper (and may allow him to get one more lucrative contract before he retires), but doesn’t hamstring the team’s finances in the process. The fact that the deal was done before the calendar flips to December also gives the Mets the bulk of the remaining off-season to fill the other issues with their roster.

That however is where it gets tricky. The Mets still have a few holes to fill and they most likely will need to fill them in exchange for assets they already possess. In the past, Alderson has steadfastly refused to part with any of his young pitching (at least during the winter), so it is unlikely that he does so again this year. Injuries to several of those pitchers has more than likely lowered their value, making it even less probable that Alderson deals one of them.

Jay Bruce is probably a lock to be moved and soon, but I would be utterly shocked if The Mets received anything in return that resembled a missing piece to their 2017 puzzle, especially if they want their trading partner to pick up all of Bruce’s remaining salary. Curtis Granderson may garner some interest, but can you really see them trading away baseball’s 2016 Man of The Year? Me neither.

Which brings us to Mr. Conforto. Taken with the 10th pick of the June 2014 draft, he zoomed through the Mets system and was playing left field in the majors barely 13 months later. In fact, when the Mets dealt for Cespedes less than a week after Conforto’s arrival, they kept Conforto in left and moved Cespedes to center. Michael enjoyed a solid rookie season, slashing 270/335/506. He tailed off a bit in the NLDS and NLCS, but carried himself well in the World Series, hitting pair of homers. He began 2016 as the starting leftfielder (Cespedes stayed in center), but after a hot April, he just seemed to lose it. He hit .173 from May 1 on with a .255 OBP and was twice sent to AAA Las Vegas. The Mets left him off the roster for the Wild Card Game.

Hard to pinpoint exactly what happened, but the optics indicate a vulnerability to inside sliders, which was all he got a steady diet of from late April on. Those pitches don’t break in the hot, dry desert air the way they do at the major league level, he so while he put up video-game like numbers back in Vegas, he just struggled again upon his return to New York. It wasn’t exactly doing him any good to send him down, but they really had no other choice.

Conforto is a left fielder, pure and simple. He doesn’t run all that well and his throwing arm isn’t anything extraordinary. If he doesn’t hit, he isn’t even a replacement-level player. Last year, he didn’t hit. And with Cespedes locked up in left field until 2020, Conforto doesn’t really have a place to play. The Mets could stand an upgrade in center field, probably behind the plate and most definitely in late inning relief. Their lineup lacks speed. Could a trade of Conforto help fill at least two of those holes? If I’m Alderson, I’d be exploring that possibility.

On the plus side, Conforto is still young and has a great pedigree, both as a top draft pick as well as being the son of two elite athletes. He honed his craft at Oregon State, in a program that has produced over two dozen major league players. He has had some success at the major league level, and represents (on paper at least) a left-handed source of power, an desirable commodity that is in short supply right now. He also has five more seasons of team control. There is still a lot to like about him. Both the Mets and any potential trading partners will need to gamble on the veracity of his pedigree and 2015 performance vs. the reality that was his 2016 campaign. It could be a very interesting situation. A package of Conforto, one of the Mets surplus middle infielders and a lower-level arm might net a big fish in return.

Also, it wouldn’t be a Capwell Mets Today post without a little Mets history: back in the early 1970’s the Mets had a young outfielder whom they had drafted in 1967 and who was also (relative for that time) rushed to the big leagues. After a promising rookie campaign, he took a step backwards in his sophomore season, although his fall was not as dramatic as Conforto’s. That offseason, the Mets packaged him with other prospects in a big trade with the Montreal Expos for an established slugger. That young outfielder was named Ken Singleton and over the next 13 years he would average 282/388/436, and be named to three All Star teams. While his old team was floundering, he flourished away from Shea, finishing third in AL MVP voting in 1977 and then second in 1979 (The Expos traded him to Baltimore a year after getting him). The 1973 Mets were a win-now team and Rusty Staub, the player they got for Singleton and Co., did help them get to the World Series. So much time has passed since that it is difficult to gauge which was the better deal, the 1973 pennant or Singleton’s career, although in fairness, Singleton out-hit Staub in 1973. That deal, along with the rise of both Amos Otis and Nolan Ryan, also former Met farmhands, made the then nascent Mets fan me a “systems guy,” a strong proponent of building a team from within. 40-plus years later, I am more of a “win now” guy, probably due to the passage of time. On the flip side of the argument is Hubie Brooks, whom the Mets also traded after his sophomore season in a package for another Expos slugger. Even though Hubie would outhit the player the Mets acquired him for from the point of the trade until both had retired, this move proved to be the final piece in the Mets quest for a World Championship. The player the Mets got in return was Gary Carter.

So for me, it boils down to this: I favor a trade of Conforto if the return makes the team demonstrably better in 2017. If not, I guess I can live with Conforto in right and a Granderson/Juan Lagares platoon in center. I really hate the idea of playing Conforto in center. I am not too crazy about him in right either, but if he can rediscover his stroke, any defensive gaffs could probably be overlooked.

So what about you? Trade Conforto or keep him? Prefer him in center or in right? Remember Ken Singleton? Sound off below.

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If Hillary Clinton Were A Baseball Team….

…she’d be the 2007 New York Mets!

Remember the 2007 Mets? They sure had a lot of assets. Five All-Stars on their roster, including at least one future Hall of Famer. Power galore up and down their batting order and plenty of money to spend, thanks to an ownership flush with cash from their pal Bernie Madoff. They were heavy favorites to win it all, having won 97 games the year before and coming within one strike of a World Series berth. Presumably hungry over this near miss, they roared out to an early lead in the National League East. Some serious handicaps were ignored as well as the gathering storm just down I-95 in Philadelphia. In the bright and breezy days of late spring and early summer they glided through the season, not taking their opponents lightly, but no doubt thinking in their heart of hearts that this upstart Phillies team would peter out and that they would be in the winner’s circle at the end. Signs of trouble abounded but were dismissed.

Instead, disaster struck, the engines misfired and the pressure mounted. Unaccustomed and perhaps somewhat unprepared to making rapid and effective responses, they made some poor decisions and watched in panic as their big lead shrunk to single digits. The desperately eyed the calendar, hoping that time would run out on their opponents before their lead was entirely eradicated. It wasn’t to be, the Phillies caught them on the last week of the season. Then to add insult to injury, the Milwaukee Brewers elbowed them out of the playoffs entirely the season’s last day. I lived through all of this (just barely).

Remember Hillary Clinton? She sure had a lot of assets. Lots of passionate, loyal supporters, an experienced and politically savvy staff, a cozy relationship with many opinion-makers and a flush treasury. She was a heavy favorite to win it all, having come somewhat close back in 2008. Staked to a big lead early on, Clinton’s campaign and her supporters hoped that her more serious handicaps could be overcome by her not inconsiderable political assets. In the bright and breezy days of late spring and early summer, she glided through the process, not taking her opponent lightly, but no doubt thinking in their heart of hearts that this upstart blowhard would play out and that she would be in the winner’s circle at the end. Signs of trouble abounded but where ignored.

Instead, disaster struck, the engines misfired and the pressure mounted. Unaccustomed and perhaps somewhat unprepared to making rapid and effective responses, she made some poor decisions and watched in panic as her big lead shrunk to single digits. She desperately eyed the calendar, hoping that time would run out on her opponent before her lead was entirely eradicated. It wasn’t to be, the Donald caught her in the polls on the last week of the season. Then came last night. I still can’t believe it.

Who says baseball doesn’t imitate life? Or maybe its the other way around.

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1974: That Post-Championship Season–A Harbinger of Things to Come?

So, when the smoke clears from this year’s World Series, the Mets will have taken one step closer to an infamous distinction. The conclusion of the Fall Classic will vault the Mets into the top five of teams with the longest wait in between world championships. Along with the 2016 Series’ loser, you will have Pittsburgh (1979), Baltimore (1983), Detroit (1984) and then the Mets (1986) in the top five of teams still waiting for the next hoist of the trophy. While I believe the Mets have a legit shot at returning to and finally winning the World Series in 2017, their pathway back isn’t clear, at least from this vantage point.

I read and heard about several comparisons during the 2016 team’s six-week hot streak to a similar streak the 1973 Mets went on. Both teams were effectively buried by early August, only to rally around several returning injured players, some unlikely effective starters and a red hot bullpen; riding said combo all the way to the post season. A poor managerial decision (1973) and a flat slider (2016) doomed both endeavors before they reached the ultimate goal. One of the beauties/curses of baseball is that there is always next year. The 1974 team was built on the premise that the winning version of the previous year’s squad was the true team. A 71-91 record proved that theory to be wrong. I believe that Mets GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins could make the same assumption about the 2017 team, based on their own predilections of what a 25-man roster should look like.

The Anderson regime began with his pronouncement that he was opposed to lengthy second generation contracts that awarded players for what they did for previous teams. To his credit, he has mainly stuck to that premise, the only real departure being the contract he gave David Wright. While we all applauded Alderson’s early stance on these types of deals, I do wonder how happy any of us would be to see a lineup like this on Opening Day:

1. Curtis Granderson, cf
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, ss
3. Yoenis Cespedes, lf
4. Lucas Duda, 1b
5. Neil Walker, 2b
6. Jay Bruce, rf
7. David Wright, 3b
8. Travis d’Arnaud, c

That lineup depends on Alderson completing two of his top orders of business in the offseason, securing Cespedes and getting Walker to take the Qualifying Offer. But look at that lineup again. With the exception of Wright and Cespedes, there are six players with one-year deals, which has to be attractive to both Alderson and his bosses the Wilpons. Alderson’s track record reveals his commitment to power, which in theory at least, this lineup has in abundance. Plus, there is the half-myth of improved performances when playing for next year’s contract. It sets up the rest of the roster as well. Juan Lagares becomes the late inning defensive replacement, Brandon Nimmo takes over the Alexandro DeAza role and Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes act as super utility men, playing all over the infield (and perhaps in the case of Jose some outfield). From Collins’ standpoint, he gets his beloved left-right-left march through the batting order and he also gets to tinker with Reyes and Flores.

I am not condoning this lineup idea (at least not entirely) but I can see this as a distinct possibility. More on this shortly.

At first glance, it is appears that the reason the 1974 Mets didn’t repeat was their poor offense. That is partially true. They scored 40 less runs in ’74 than in the previous year and their slash line comparison from 1973 (246/315/358) to 1974 (235/311/329) does show a decline. But it was the bullpen and overall the failure of the pitching staff to maximize the paltry offensive production that they did get that sunk the 1974 Mets. They blew 40 leads in 1974 and won only 17 of the 53 one run games they played in (their 1973 counterparts won 31 one run games). One needs look no further than one Frank Edwin McGraw for the main culprit in the demise. The 1973 hero had a terrible 1974, with only three saves in 38 appearances, pitching to a 1.44 WHIP and a poor walk-to-strikeout ratio. In an early example of how historically inept the Mets medical staff has been, a cyst on his should was misdiagnosed and he was shipped off to the Phillies after the ’74 season. The cyst was removed,McGraw returned to form and soon, to the World Series with the Phils.

All of that personal angst aside, the Mets received solid bullpen work in 2016 from Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed. The latter has my vote for the 2016 Mets’ MVP. But for a variety of reasons, mainly overuse, I wonder just how much the Mets can and should depend on either pitcher. They need a substantial reinforcement here. Maybe not the Kenley Jansen fantasy that someone wrote about recently, but perhaps something along the lines of a Tyler Thornburg or a Brand Hand, although the former could cost the Mets dearly. They could bring back either Jerry Blevins or Fernando Salas (or both), but neither of them are probably suited for constant and multiple late inning appearances. The other likely options Josh Smoker, Hansel Robles and Josh Edgin, should not be considered for post-7th inning duty. And I wouldn’t be so fast to project any of the starting pitchers for a late inning role either.

I am not buying the line about the Mets having an excess of starting pitching. I think Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom will be fine at the top of the rotation, but from there it gets a little dicey. I wouldn’t count on both Steven Matz and Matt Harvey being 100% by the end of Spring Training. Harvey’s injury is serious and Matz seems to be always nicked up. Pencil in one of them for the #3 spot and hope. A lot of noise has been made about a return engagement for Bartolo Colon. We’ll take it at face value for now, at least until big Bart starts asking for a multi-year deal. Right now, my #5 starter is Robert Gsellman. Talk about a guy who came out of the woodwork. I realize this is Mets Today, but Gsellman passes the eye test, IMO. I am less sanguine about his running buddy Seth Lugo. Lugo’s peripherals and his minor league numbers are somewhat off-putting. Maybe Lugo’s curve lands him a spot in the bullpen. The final piece of the puzzle is Zack Wheeler, who not having thrown a pitch in a big league game in two years, probably needs to spend some time in AAA Las Vegas first.

It all starts with Cespedes. Like him or not, he is the lynchpin to the offseason. After a disastrous sophomore season, the Mets should be eyeing a long stint in Vegas for Michael Conforto. If Cespedes departs, his slot in the field goes to Conforto. With Cespedes, Duda and Bruce become second-tier sluggers, and in the case of Bruce, a potential trade candidate should the right offer occur. Otherwise, they become more vital components, which is a very disturbing thought. With Cespedes, they probably can pass on Walker if he refuses the QO, relying instead on Reyes, Wilmer and September hero TJ Rivera at second. Without Cespedes, they may need to gamble on a big deal with Walker, probably not daring to hope that the Reyes-Wilmer-TJR troika can produce a serviceable performance at second and pick up the power slack. Without Cespedes, they might not have the pieces they need to secure that lockdown reliever.

On the flip side, maybe change is good. Cespedes departs, the Mets pass on Walker and trade Bruce. They get a little faster, a little younger and a little less reliant on the 3-run homer. Maybe the pitching stays healthy and the bullpen stays solid and Daniel Murphy comes back to earth. Standing pat didn’t work in 1974. Maybe it won’t work in 2017 either. Like I said, it’s hard to see from this vantage point. What do you see from yours?

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The Last Mortgage Payment?

Just about anyone who has been a Met fan for more than six seconds has seen the clip. Mookie Wilson’s dribbler tying up Bill Buckner behind the first base bag and then rolling into the grass in right field. Meanwhile, Ray Knight rounds third and scores the winning run –barely beating third base coach Bud Harrelson to the plate. The Mets improbably win Game Six of the 1986 World Series. Two nights later they finish off the Red Sox and capture their second and to date their last, world championship. I know, I was there.

Let’s go back to that fateful Saturday night at old Shea. The Mets trail the Red Sox three games to two and have watched in disbelief as the Sox plated a pair of runs in the top of the 10th inning. The Mets had romped through the 1986 season, winning 108 games, survived a tough Houston Astros challenge in the NLCS and where heavily favored to beat the then still-cursed Red Sox in the Fall Classic. October 1986 was to be culmination of a five-year process that started with the franchise as the laughing stock of baseball and culminated with this superb season. That all seemed lost on October 25 with the Mets down two runs in the 10th and with their first two batters making outs. Everyone knows what happened next.

The improbability of that comeback has been dissected over and over since then. So why not again? In this version, the ghost of Casey Stengel, a kind of baseball version of Dickens’ Jacob Marley, appeared to owner Fred Wilpon and GM Frank Cashen before the bottom of the 10th and told them he could get it fixed, but it would cost’em. Maybe he told Fred the swap was for his first born son (that would be Jeff), but Fred, ever the canny real estate negotiator, instead settled on a 30-year mortgage. The document was quickly drawn up and signed. In a twinkling the Ol’ Perfessor vanished and the ball went between Buckner’s legs.

Then the 30-year payment plan began.

There has been Dwight Gooden’s drug rehab, Terry Pendleton’s homer, Mike Scioscia’s homer, Lenny Dykstra for Juan Samuel, Bobby Bonilla, Jeff Torborg, the rape scandal, the Worst Team Money Could Buy, Dwight Gooden’s second drug rehab (and subsequent rebirth in the Bronx), the Generation K fiasco, the Kenny Rogers walk, the 2000 Subway Series, the Beltran Strikeout, two collapses, Jeff running the team, Jerry Manuel, Jason Bay, a Ponzi scheme, Lucas Duda’s errant throw and finally Conor Gillaspie. Maybe Fred should have agreed to Stengel’s first offer.

This month marks the 30th anniversary of that fateful night.

In my mind, the Mets enter the offseason with two burning objectives. The first is to ascertain that Yoenis Cespedes stays a Met. He is this era’s Daryl Strawberry or Mike Piazza; the centerpiece of the batting order around which everything else hangs. I get the sense that everyone in the Met hierarchy from Jeff all the way down to the lowliest clubhouse attendant, understands Cespedes’ importance to the team. Unlike the acrimony that surrounded Strawberry’s 1990 departure, both Cespedes and the Mets seem to appreciate each other. I am somewhat confident that he will be back next year.

The other task is to trade and replace Jeurys Familia. Yeah he’s saved over 90 games in the past two years, but he has coughed up some doozies, last year’s World Series and this week’s Wild Card game being chief among them. He has now twice choked in the clutch, an unforgivable sin anywhere, but especially here. Given the recent haul teams like the Yankees, Phillies and Braves have gotten for their closers in the past few years, I’m betting the Mets could find similar gold for Familia. As to the new closer, Addison Reed could be one alternative, as could one of these suddenly surplus rotation arms. They could pick up a veteran for a stopgap. A bit more improbable, but not entirely impossible would be last year’s #1 draft pick Justin Dunn. He was Boston College’s closer, so the experience isn’t entirely new to him.

The Mets should enter 2017 deeper and more experienced than any Met team that I can remember. Thanks to some unlikely late-season heroics, they have an apparent surplus of capable players and can assemble a 25-man roster of players that can handle playing in New York. By most accounts, they still have a few more good pieces on the way as well. They have a manager, who love him or hate him, has proven equal to the challenge of a pennant chase and a front office that while making a few missteps here and there, has been willing and able to add the necessary components. The Mets window of contention is still open.

It’s been 30 years, so maybe the mortgage on the 1986 championship has finally been paid in full. For all our sakes, let’s hope so.

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