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.
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When Will We Ever Learn? Wishful Thinking and Wilpon Finances Lead to Mets Stall

Well it had to happen sometime. Those blue and orange shades I’ve had on since August of 2015 have come off. Unless you’ve been totally immersed in the Rangers-Habs series or trying to figure out if the Jets will use or trade the number six pick, you’ve probably taken yours off as well; especially after the massive train wreck that occurred this past weekend at Citi Field. The Mets have stalled and no one it seems, knows how to re-start their motor.

Call it panic, but you’ve heard it here first: The Mets will miss the playoffs. I don’t believe them to be anything better than a third place team this year. Based on what I’ve seen so far, both Washington and Miami have better teams than the Mets. And as far as the Mets surpassing the Yankees in popularity in New York City? Bawhahahahahahahahaha.

When the season started, many people, including myself, figured the Mets to be a playoff team, and gave them a better than even chance to win the division. The Mets themselves believed it. Check out the comments coming from both the front office and the clubhouse before and during spring training. Less than 20 games into the season, a new reality has dawned.

When will we ever learn?

The Mets have two very good players: Yoenis Cespedes and Noah Syndergaard. It speaks volumes about the Mets player development system that both guys came from outside the organization. Syndergaard is the undisputable ace of the Mets pitching staff. More on that in a moment. Cespedes is the Mets best hitter. Now, name the second-best hitter on the team. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

That title goes to Asdrubal Cabrera. It’s not Jay Bruce. Don’t let two stellar games from Bruce fool you. Career-wise, Cabrera is the better hitter. I’d actually put Curtis Granderson ahead of Bruce. We can argue this point all day, the issue is that after Cespedes, the Mets offensive prowess falls off a cliff. Cabrera is good, but c’mon, I highly doubt he strikes much fear in the hearts of the opposition when he strides to the plate. They had the perfect compliment to Cespedes in their lineup, you just saw him this weekend. They knew how good he was becoming and they let him walk away anyway , all but telling us they had his successor in the system. Instead they traded this heir apparent to Cincinnati to get Bruce. The second action is unrelated to the first action, but letting Daniel Murphy walk away cost the Mets the NL East crown last year and is one of the biggest reasons they will miss the playoffs this year. And why? Because they thought they could get the same type of production for less money. They didn’t. Wishful thinking seems to have replaced solid planning.

They wished that David Wright would somehow heal and become a reasonable facsimile of his former self. Wrong. They wished that Jose Reyes at 33 still has something left and that his dismal stops in Toronto and Colorado were mirages. Wrong. They wished that Travis d’Arnaud, Lucas Duda, and Wilmer Flores would all somehow avoid the injury jinxes that have sidetracked their careers. Wrong. They wished Juan Lagares would finally learn to hit right handed pitching. Wrong (and he can’t hit lefties much either). About the only thing that has gone right, outside of Bruce’s hot start, is Michael Conforto. But in true Met fashion, they have been shoe-horning Conforto in the wrong spot in the lineup, both the batting order and on the field. A few oh-fers and watch what happens to the kid’s confidence. In fairness, almost everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong. But, you can’t tell me that any of this is totally unexpected, and should agree that to basically ignore the facts exposed by sabermetrics and medical reports is a very risky proposition. But don’t worry, they all said, even if all that falls apart, the Mets still have that great starting pitching.

When will we ever learn?

No doubt that Syndergaard is the larger-than-life, as-good-as-advertised ace of the rotation. Jacob deGrom is well-suited as the understudy. I like Jake, but I think his ceiling is #2 starter, the modern day comparison to the Miracle Mets Jerry Koosman or Jon Matlack (yes I know both were lefties) behind Tom Seaver; or if you prefer the late 80’s, he’s this era’s Ron Darling to Doc Gooden. Unfortunately, I have witnessed many, many, many outings by Koos, Matlack and Darling where they pitched just well enough, as the saying goes, to lose. That description fits deGrom’s last two outings pretty well, don’t you think? But what about the other three or four “aces” they were supposed to have?

A pair of major surgeries have all but extinguished Matt Harvey’s brilliance. He seems quiet and humbled, both on the mound and in front of cameras. Not saying all of this is a bad thing, but right now Matt is the #3 pitcher on just about any good staff, including this one. The wish (there’s that word again) is just that he stays healthy. So far, so good; but it is a long season. Steven Matz hasn’t stayed healthy, and reading between the lines of the comments made by the GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins, I think the organization is entirely disillusioned with Matz, just as they were with erstwhile ace and first major Alderson acquisition Zack Wheeler. The later is still on the comeback trail and the jury is most definitely out on him. He had a golden opportunity last night to re-establish his star and one swing from Murphy ended that. The starting pitching isn’t that all that deep and the bullpen is in disarray, partially due to Jeurys Familia’s suspension, partly due to Collins’ poor handling of the others, and partly due to the wishful thought that they might not be relied upon so much. They should have held on to Bartolo Colon.

That last thought brings us to the real problem: ownership. Yes the Mets payroll has risen, most of it organically via annual pay raises, but they did shell out big bucks for Cespedes, Bruce and Neil Walker. But to paraphrase and old saying: you can lift a person out of the poorhouse, but you can’t lift the poorhouse out of the person. While the Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs and Nationals do whatever it takes to win, whether it’s giving out big contracts to veterans or overpaying in prospects for needed pieces, the Mets still look for the way to save a buck. Re-think the roster with both Colon and Murphy still on it. How about the batting order with Adam Eaton at the top? It’s a compelling argument to hold on to young players. It looked great for example, when the Mets five starters combined were making less money than Mike Pelfrey. It looks far less smart when the team still lacks a true leadoff hitter (and any speed at all) lacks a true #3 hitter, lacks a true #5 hitter, and has no one reliable coming off the bench. The problem comes back the credibility issue–both with the front office and with ownership.

It now begins to clearly appear that the real reason for this youth movement is to depress payroll. The Mets have been lucky that Harvey, Syndergaard, deGrom, et. al, have some star power. Up to now, this brilliance has eclipsed the flaws in the team’s makeup. Baseball has a very cruel way of exposing every hidden weakness. This April has been all about the Mets getting exposed. There is a definite spending threshold for these guys and by all indications, it  falls below what it’s going to take to bring home the championship. All of this winter’s moves where made with an eye on future payrolls. That might be great from an accounting standpoint, but from a winning while the window is open standpoint, it really stinks.

Fortunately it is still April. There is plenty of baseball left. Cespedes is capable of putting the offense on his back. Conforto could settle into a niche. The walking wounded can heal. Maybe the Mets decide that the time is right for uber-prospects Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith to be promoted (both have played more minor league games and have had more at-bats than Conforto did at the time of his promotion). Maybe GMs of other teams decide to run up the white flag and Alderson is able to import some help. Maybe…

When will we ever learn?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our “Streaky” GM

Enjoying this hot streak? Living so close the Philadelphia, I sure am. Some silver-haired manager, I think it was either Tommy Lasorda or Whitey Herzog, once made a remark to the effect that you are never as good as you look when you are winning; nor are you as bad as you look when you are losing. The Met lineup, from top to bottom (and on the bench), is full of streaky hitters. After what seems like an interminable period of waving at outside breaking balls or popping weakly to corner infielders in foul ground, they will get white-hot, not only hitting homers in bunches, but also grounders that squirt through shifts or bloopers that fall in front of outfielders playing deep.

The most famous of these hot streaks was by one Daniel Thomas Murphy in the 2015 NLDS and NLCS. Unfortunately, he cooled off in the World Series (thanks Sports Illustrated), but all of his former teammates/current Mets are also guilty as charged. These up and down streaks have served the Mets well, at the end of the season many of the players end up with better than respectable power numbers and as the team’s PR shrills remind us on a daily basis, this Mets squad has made the postseason for consecutive years for only the second time in team history.

But, wanna know what Met has been on the biggest hot streak lately? Try GM Sandy Alderson. For years it seemed, he whiffed on his acquisitions, as you can read about that here. Then something happened. He made a few minor deals with Atlanta and Oakland in July of 2015. Those trades may have been the equivalent of taking extra BP. It was as if he flipped the switch and became the hottest GM on the planet. He had the incredible good luck of the Carlos Gomez deal falling through, which paved the way for his signature (to date) trade for Yoenis Cespedes. Yes was a costly trade, but Cespedes has emerged as this era’s Keith Hernandez or Mike Piazza. Like those two icons, the day Cespedes stepped onto the field wearing a Mets uniform, the team was elevated to true contender status.

Since then? Well, Alderson stole Addison Reed from the Diamondbacks (anybody remember that he claimed Mark Rzepczynski from the Padres a few hours before the Reed trade, only to have the Friars pull him back?) He let Murphy walk, which in retrospect was a bad move, but few of us minded at the time. He lost out on Ben Zobrist, but made a pair of good moves, getting Neil Walker for Jon Niese and signing Asdrubal Cabrerra to a very-team friendly deal. He correctly gauged the market for Cespedes not once, but twice. Antonio Bastardo was a mistake, but he was able to cut bait on him rather quickly. Nobody, including me, liked the Jay Bruce deal, but give Alderson credit: he stuck to his guns all winter in trade discussions. I’ll bet either Baltimore or the Giants would be very glad to re-open negotiations on that deal now. He has also been patient with Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas and as a result, along with Reed, the Mets have a solid late inning bullpen that is costing them less per year than what the Yankees are paying Aroldis Chapman.

Alderson hasn’t been perfect (see Murphy), but he has been right and probably more than a bit lucky a lot more in the past 18 months than he was in the previous 55 months as Mets GM. Not only that, but he stuck to his principles, not trading then under-the-radar prospects like Jacob deGrom or Robert Gsellman for veteran filler when the team was really tanking.

He’s hot right now. But even the great Frank Cashen, the architect of the last Mets World Championship went cold again. Cashen’s hot streak went from June of 1983 when he traded for Hernandez until December of 1986 when he traded Kevin Mitchell away. That marked the beginning of an ill-fated dismantling of a potential dynasty. For the record, Cashen’s hot streak lasted just about 40 months.

Here’s to another twenty-two good months from the current Mets GM.

 

 

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The Mets: What Will “All In” Look Like?

On paper, the Mets are a very deep team. They have an excess number of starting pitchers, multiple relief options and a bench so strong that several guys that could start for other teams might begin this season in the minors. They are also a battle-tested bunch, with everyone on the roster having been either through a playoff push or having gone deep into the post season. Their principal owner is now an elderly man who wants to win now and their GM (who is no spring chicken himself) has recently declared that the team is “all in” for the 2017 season.

That juicy remark has stirred the long-time cynical Mets fan within me. How well have other front office pronouncements such as “Meaningful Games In September,” “Payroll Flexibility,” and “90-win Season” played out? Hint: none of them bore much fruit.

So, how might “all in” look like this year? I normally hate answering a question with more questions, but here goes:

How Much Rope?  

What happens if/when David Wright proves he isn’t an everyday player anymore? Do the Mets attempt to maximize their investment in David, trotting him out day after day, even if he OPSes below .700, or do they relegate him to the bench in favor of a more productive options? It doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence that David’s top replacement is the equally brittle Jose Reyes. If both veterans struggle, do the Mets finally give Wilmer Flores a full-time job or T.J. Rivera an extended look? A long shot, but maybe they gamble that Gavin Cecchini can handle the position? Third base is one spot the Mets have plenty of in-house options for, should Plan A prove to be unworkable.

Let’s take the opposite track with Jay Bruce, whom I  believe the Mets really, really, really want to trade. I also fully expect the Mets to stash Michael Conforto  in Las Vegas, as all this talk about getting him reps in outfield during the regular season is transparently disingenuous. So, what happens if Bruce gets off to a fast start? What if by July he is hitting the way Xavier Nady did for them back in 2006? Do they trade Bruce while his value is high and bring up Conforto? Or do they ride Bruce out to the bitter end and let him walk as a Free Agent after the season? While Conforto could make the decision easier by hitting well in Vegas, the Mets might not have the stomach to trade a productive Jay Bruce in the middle of a pennant chase.

Next to Bruce, the most maligned Met these days in Travis d’Arnaud. Once considered the crown jewel of the R.A. Dickey trade, Travis’ inability to stay healthy, coupled with his poor production when on the field last year and the whispers of some poor pitch calling, made him persona non grata among the Mets faithful. The Mets went so far as to hire Glen Sherlock this offseason to provide some additional coaching for Travis. If he struggles again this year with poor play and nagging injuries, we will finally get the answer to how much time former top prospect pedigree buys you.

 

The Future is Now (Or Is It?)

So let’s say that as expected, the Mets and Washington are locked in mortal combat for NL East supremacy. Will the Mets mortgage a part of their future to avoid the risk of another do-or-die tussle against an all-world pitcher like the one they ran into in last year’s elimination game? Here in late February, it’s easy to say yes. But let’s fast forward a bit to the trade deadline. Several second division teams are contacting Alderson offering names like Pollack, Abreu, McCutchen or Dozier. Each of them have their eyes not on one of the Mets current crop of pitchers (I think the word is out on their untouchable status), but on the up and comers in the farm system. And for the sake of the discussion, both the veterans being offered and the prospects discussed are all healthy and productive. How far would Alderson go? I don’t think Amed Rosario is going anywhere unless its to shake Mike Trout lose from the Angels. But would he sacrifice say Dom Smith or Des Lindsay along with Thomas Szapucki to bring in that last big piece? Dream for a moment: what if the Angels do make Trout available? Does Alderson jump in?

A little more likely scenario is that a known-quantity, late-inning relief arm goes on the block in late July. Like most teams, the Mets will almost definitely need help in the ‘pen down the stretch. How much do they give up to get this as-of-yet undefined figure? Stay tuned.

 

Innings Limits Be Damned? 

Now it gets really dicey: how far do the Mets let Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom go this year? In pursuit of a divisional crown, do they let all of them exceed career highs for innings pitched? Many have blamed the extra work they took on in 2015 as the reason for their injuries the following year. But does “all in” mean they go for it this year, with the knowledge that some of these guys could be back on the shelf in 2018? What about Robert Gsellman? His max number of innings pitched in any season major or minors is 143. If as expected he is the 5th starter this year, he will likely exceed that number. And after two years of inactivity, do the Mets dare push Zack Wheeler past 125 innings, provided he is healthy and effective?

 

Funny what kind of firestorm a simple remark can start! I think this can be a fascinating and fun year. Let’s Go Mets!

 

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Would Wood Help?

This slow offseason has made the Baseball Network virtually unwatchable, but I was channel surfing the other day and stumbled on and then stuck with their Top Games of 2016 segment.

#9 on the list was a midsummer clash between the Cubs and Mariners that included an awkward-looking catch in leftfield by a Cubs reliever, whom manager Joe Maddon inserted there when the game seemed like a blowout loss. That “blowout loss” was later transformed into a Cubs win, which is  the real reason the game was featured on the show.

The less than nimble relief pitcher turned outfielder was one Travis Wood, who is currently (a) left handed and (b) an unsigned free agent. While statistically current/former Met Jerry Blevins is a better performer, I believe that Wood fits the profile of the kind of player that GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins like to target.

From the GM perspective, Wood can fill more than one role. He has 133 career starts, although none since the nine he started in 2015. His transformation to the bullpen began that year, as Maddon inserted him into 46 other games as a reliever. The results were mixed: his K/9 rate rose and his WHIP declined, but his BB/9 jumped by nearly a full walk per nine innings. In 2016 he appeared in a whopping 77 games (Terry’s kinda guy), his K/9 and WHIP ratios stayed the same, however so did his BB/9. He was a better “late and close” pitcher in 2016 than in less high-leverage situations, which is a good sign.

The Mets have claimed to have faith in the Joshes (Smoker and Edgin) to fill the lefty roles in the pen. They are penciling in another lefty, Steven Matz into their rotation. Edgin and Matz are definite injury concerns and Smoker, although showing flashes of brilliance at times down the stretch in 2016, is untested and had a earlier promising career derailed by injuries. Wood might be able to start the season in the pen, perhaps co-handling the 8th inning with someone like Hansel Robles until the expected suspension of Jeurys Familia ends. From there he could be available to “swing,” moving into the rotation if perhaps Matz can’t go, or sticking to the pen if the rotation stays healthy the whole year (yeah, right). He doesn’t really block Edgin or Smoker if either proves to be effective beyond a cameo role or two.

Former Met GM Steve Phillips once coined the phrase “payroll flexibility.” Alderson and Collins seem somewhat hooked on a lineup flexibility and the 2017 Mets appear to be  constructed around players that can handle multiple roles, especially off the bench. Travis Wood represents another example of that type of player, should the Mets be interested.

Plus, they could probably get him cheap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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