Browsing Archive November, 2008

Mets Moving Past Lowe?

According to John Harper of the Daily News, the Mets did not expect there to be so much demand for Derek Lowe, and that they’re moving on to cheaper options. From the article:

The Mets aren’t conceding anything yet, but privately they admit they didn’t expect Lowe to be in such high demand, and they worry that with the Yankees and Red Sox in the hunt, they may have to lower their sights for a starting pitcher.

Huh. First of all, how could the Mets underestimate the value of a veteran sinkerballer who hasn’t missed a start in seven years, and won 106 games during that span? Further, how could they think Lowe wouldn’t be heavily courted, considering that 29 MLB teams can’t afford C.C. Sabathia? Unlike A.J. Burnett and Ben Sheets, Lowe is a sure thing. He may be older than those two oft-injured fireballers, but not by much. People tend to forget that Burnett will be 32 next year, and Sheets is entering his thirties. Further, in the combined 18 years of MLB between Burnett and Sheets, you can only find one season of more than 13 wins. In contrast, Lowe has AVERAGED 15 wins per season since he became a full-time starter.

I find it hard to believe that the Mets have been blindsided by the demand for Lowe. What’s more believable is that they’re not comfortable offering Lowe — nor any other pitcher — more than three years. This would be an acceptable stance if the Mets were gushing with near-ready pitching prospects in their farm system. Unfortunately, after Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell, they don’t have anyone who projects to be better than a fourth or fifth starter within the next three years. That’s a fact. And there are enough scouts who aren’t sold on Niese and Parnell, either. So the Mets won’t be able to fill their rotation needs from within the organization for at least a few years. Further, the 2010 free agent class is filled with injury-prone starters (Rich Harden, Jason Schmidt, Mark Mulder, Eric Bedard), with the top starters being John Lackey and Brett Myers. Looking ahead a year, Lackey might command a 5-year, $80M contract. Will the Mets pay that premium?

Harper also suggests that it would take Ryan Church to pry away Edwin Jackson from the Rays — I agree. It makes me laugh when people suggest that the Mets can get one of the Rays’ young starters in return for Aaron Heilman. Sure, Jackson has been inconsistent and Andy Sonnanstine appears to have ordinary stuff, but they both won 13+ games in the AL East and are only 25 years old. You don’t get talent like that in return for a 30-year-old middle reliever with a 5+ ERA. More to the point, the Rays don’t need arms, they need bats. They have a sudden surplus of pitching, and are looking to deal from that strength to find a corner outfielder with some pop.

If in fact the Red Sox or Yankees (or some other team) sign Lowe, the Mets may have to go the trade route to fill their starting rotation. If the price is too high or too risky for Lowe, then the cost for A.J. Burnett has to be way out of the Mets’ league. From all reports, there’s no interest in getting into the Sabathia bidding, and I don’t see the Mets going after Sheets, who at this point is riskier than Burnett. The next-best starter available is Jon Garland, who despite a high win total gets hit hard — opposing batters hit .303 against him last year — and probably isn’t worth the many millions he’ll get on the open market. After Garland, the quality drops off significantly — the next tier is Braden Looper, Randy Wolf, and Livan Hernandez.

Oh, and of course there is Oliver Perez — who is starting to look a lot more appealing than when the offseason began.


Rafael Furcal’s Offers

Various media outlets are reporting that the Oakland Athletics have offered Rafael Furcal a 4-year, $48M contract — and, that the Mets have also made him a “tempting” offer.

However, Susan Slusser at the San Francisco Chronicle had this to say:

Los Angeles papers have picked up on a report in El Caribe that the A’s have offered free-agent shortstop Rafael Furcal a four-year, $48 million deal that could be as much as $50 million with incentives.

A well-placed A’s source tells me this is “untrue.”

How untrue? Hard to say. That could just mean a million or two either way, or it could mean it’s way off the mark.

Personally, I also find it hard to believe that the A’s made a four-year offer, considering Furcal’s chronic back issues. Though, it may be possible that the four years are not guaranteed, but rather tied to games played. Furcal is a fine talent, and when healthy that kind of commitment is plausible — but he’s not so outstanding that he’s worth a four-year risk.

Now, what about this Mets rumor? It’s coming from the same source that Slusser says is suspect. But the Mets have been after Furcal before — they talked to him about playing second base the last time he was on the free agent market.

But if there’s any truth to the 4-year / $48M offer — or, if there’s a chance that anyone is willing to give Furcal four guaranteed years, I’d imagine that the Mets are out of the bidding. If they go four years for a second baseman over the age of 30 (again), it will be for Orlando Hudson — who has a better chance of remaining healthy, won’t need to transition from another position, and has the kind of media-friendly personality the Mets need in their clubhouse.


Why is Casey Blake NOT on the Radar?

According to various sources, the Minnesota Twins are ready to make an offer to Casey Blake, a free-agent infielder / outfielder whom Joe Torre credited on many occasions as being nearly as important to the Dodgers’ entrance into the postseason as Manny Ramirez.

The question is, where are the Mets on Blake and why does it appear they have no interest whatsoever?

Supposedly, the Mets are looking to change / improve their clubhouse, and looking to add more “gamers”. There aren’t too many available, and Blake is one of the few to be had. He is a winner and supposedly a great clubhouse guy with leadership qualities. Further, Blake is a righthanded-hitting slugger who hits well in the clutch (.310 with RISP) and can play a variety of positions — 1B, 3B, and OF. Doesn’t Blake fit the description of exactly what what the Mets needl?

Apparently not, since there hasn’t been an inkling of buzz from Flushing.

Now, I don’t think Blake is worth the 3-year deal he’s seeking, but two years is not out of the question. This is a guy who has hit in the neighborhood of .280 / 20 HR / 80 RBI for the last five years, and can play both corner outfield spots and first base. With Fernando Martinez on the horizon, the Mets aren’t looking for a long-term, full-time outfielder. Blake is an ideal player to keep LF warm for F-Mart, and/or platoon with Ryan Church, Dan Murphy, and Carlos Delgado, while also giving David Wright a breather now and then. In other words, another Fernando Tatis, but with a more reliable track record. As much as I love Tatis, I’m not counting on a repeat performance of 2008. Remove July and Tatis’ 2008 season is fairly unremarkable — and about in line with what Damion Easley produced. I like the idea of Tatis taking Easley’s job as supersub / utilityman, and don’t think he’s going to provide the kind of power and run production needed from left field. Blake, on the other hand, has proven he can be a solid and productive #6 / #7, either as a part-time player or as a regular.


Rally for Recovery

Beginning this week, an eBay auction will be running, with the proceeds going to the “Rally for Recovery“, a charity to benefit former MLBer Ricky Stone, who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor this past August.

Stone — a friend of Nelson Figueroa — pitched out of the bullpen for the Astros, Padres, and Reds from 2001-2005, retired for a year, then started a comeback in 2007. He got into 5 games with the Reds in ’07, was to pitch in Taiwan in ’08, but tore his hamstring after two months in the country, ending his season. Upon returning to the US, he was planning to give pitching lessons, but was struck with a seizure and diagnosed with a brain tumor. Most of the tumor was removed, but it was identified as anaplastic oligodendroglioma — which is both rare and malignant. As a result, Stone will require chemotheraphy.

Further, Stone has a wife and two young children — and no insurance. The seizure occurred just before his wife Tracey was to begin a teaching job that would have provided health insurance. You can read the full story of the Stones here.

The eBay auction consists mainly of memorabilia — items such as game-worn jerseys, signed baseballs, etc. All of the items have been authenticated by Herman Darvick, who is an authenticity expert, a close friend of the Nelson Figueroa family, and an occasional commenter on MetsToday. Some of you may remember “HDarvick” educating us on Figgy’s international success after I made a snarky joke in regard to Nelson’s invitation to spring training. In the end, it was Darvick who got the last laugh, and me eating humble pie.

Anyway, the auction is slated to begin tonight (Sunday, 11/23). Items will be listed in random order for two hours beginning at 9:00 pm EST tonight, with the last item being posted at 11:00 pm EST. The auction will end in 7 days on Sunday night, November 30th, 9:00 to 11:00 pm EST. Beginning at 9:00 pm, go here to bid.

You don’t have to bid on anything to help the Stones — click here for information on making a straight donation.

This week is about giving thanks, right? Well one way to give thanks is to actually give. So give the auction a gander and consider helping out a family in need.


Royals Shopping Guillen

Jon Heyman is quite the busy bee today. He also dropped this bombshell: the Kansas City Royals are “quietly” shopping outfielder Jose Guillen.

First of all, it can’t be that quiet because we’ve been hearing about it since early October. Secondly, how is this a scoop when, again, we’ve been hearing about KC looking to dump Guillen since early October?

Maybe it’s not a “legitimate” rumor until Heyman reports it.

Guess we can reopen the unrealistic Luis Castillo – for – Jose Guillen conjecture ….


Schneider, Castro Available

According to Jon Heyman, the Mets are open to trading catchers Brian Schneider and Ramon Castro.

To which my reply is, who cares?

I do not doubt the Mets are open to trading either — or both — of those players. And I’m sure that Heyman’s information is reliable and legitimate. But again, why would anyone in MLB care that Schneider and Castro are available? What kind of value do they have?

Castro is a solid backup catcher who would probably benefit by moving to the American League, where in a DH role his powerful bat can be used more often. But his mobility gets worse every year, and even in a backup role has difficulty staying healthy. Those factors, along with his age (33 by Opening Day) and price tag ($2.5M), may scare away potential suitors. Still, finding a backup backstop who can hit like Castro are hard to come by, so perhaps a team would be willing to trade a AA pitcher for him.

Similarly, Brian Schneider is not getting younger — he’ll turn 32 next Wednesday — and there are scouts who think his defensive skills are eroding. If that’s true, Schneider doesn’t have much value at all — he certainly doesn’t scare anyone with his bat. His offensive output — particularly in terms of extra-base hits — was reminiscent of Rey Ordonez. As a former catcher myself, I love Schneider, and do believe he’s solid defensively, but unfortunately, at this stage of his career, I’m not sure he’s the game-changer behind the plate that he used to be. I would not be disappointed in the least if he returned to the Mets in 2009, and I don’t know what the Mets would get in return for him.

If the Dodgers follow through with the idea of transitioning Russell Martin to third base, then they might be interested in one of the Mets’ catchers. The Red Sox could be in the market, if they choose not to bring back Jason Varitek, but I’d think they’re after someone younger and with more offensive potential, such as Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The Yankees might need a backup plan to Jorge Posada, and there are a few other teams actively seeking help behind the dish. Perhaps the Tigers would like a catcher so that Brandon Inge can remain a super utilityman.

In my opinion, the Mets will look to move a catcher only after acquiring one. There were rumors about Ivan Rodriguez wanting to sign with the Mets, and others that the Mets were trying to pry Bengie Molina away from the Giants. The Orioles have Ramon Hernandez on a permanent trading block, so he’s always a possibility. Any of the three would be an upgrade over Schneider, and/or could be an ideal platoon partner.

That’s the idea that makes the most sense to me — moving Schneider into more of a platoon role, and teaming him with a similarly highly skilled, veteran catcher who also needs frequent breathers. As much as I love Ramon Castro, I don’t see him getting through a full season without an injury — otherwise he’s the perfect fit.

We’ll see what the market bears. If the Mets can pick up a decent starting pitcher or middle reliever, it’s worth dealing one of their backstops. Looking around the roster, there aren’t many other areas of surplus from which to trade.


Castillo Wants Second Chance

Through Joel Sherman’s column at the New York Post today, it has been learned that Luis Castillo wants a second chance to earn his keep and win over the fans of Flushing. (Hat tip to Isuzudude!) From the article:

His agents were so concerned that he had become unviable in New York that Seth Levinson, Sam Levinson, Keith Miller and Peter Pedalino called him into an October meeting in their Brooklyn Heights office to begin plotting an exit strategy. Except during the four-hour meeting, the agents were shocked to learn their client did not want a fresh start elsewhere.

Further, Castillo met personally with Omar Minaya to request that the team keep him through the winter.

“He wanted to let the front office know that he was disappointed in how the year went, and promise to do everything he could to get in shape and be the kind of player he had been for 10 years,” Minaya said.

Now, we know that every offseason breeds plenty of aging ballplayers who talk about getting in shape and making a comeback, returning strong, etc. (Bret Boone, anyone?). But usually, it is a free agent on the market who is spouting off through their agent in an attempt to create some demand for his services. We’ve heard the story before, right?

But in this case, we have a player who has no financial motive to redeem himself — Luis Castillo is getting his $18M no matter what. Further, we have a man who is doing the unthinkable — he’s ASKING for an opportunity to win over New York fans who would prefer to see him underneath the Shea Stadium rubble. Rational, sensitive, intelligent people do not plead for this scenario — they flee from it. It’s not a secret that the Mets are trying to move the veteran second baseman out of New York, in part because the fans want him gone.

“As New Yorkers, we all know that when the fans latch on to a scapegoat, they don’t let go until their prey is dead,” Seth Levinson (Castillo’s agent) said. “Louie absolutely understands that the climb to the top of the second-chance mountain will be long and difficult.”

The fact that Luis is manning up to his awful 2008, and begging for the impossible challenge of turning legions of boo-birds into supporters, is either remarkably stupid or incredibly brave. Maybe it’s both.

Already, Castillo has shed some of the extra pounds he was carrying since last spring, and is taking advantage of the resources available to him to get in shape.

The Mets’ head trainer, Ray Ramirez, has been overseeing Castillo’s offseason regimen.

“[So far] his weight, body fat and in all things you would want to see, Mr. Castillo is doing well,” Minaya said.

In addition, Castillo plans to play winter ball for the first time in years, as a means of re-finding his hitting stroke and formerly Gold-Glove defense.

Whether this new attitude and commitment to excellence results in an All-Star campaign is anyone’s guess. Regardless of how driven Castillo is, he can’t reverse the aging process (not legally, anyway) and his knees will never be the same. And there’s still a very good chance that he won’t have his “comeback year” in the orange and blue — certainly the Mets will try to trade him, after they address the more glaring needs on the pitching staff. But it is commendable to hear that Luis Castillo is determined to the opposite of what would seem to be the best plan, and prove to both himself and the New York fans that he can still play baseball at the highest level, and do it well.

Good luck, Luis. It sure would be nice to have one less question mark in 2009.


Heilman Still Wants to Start

For the fourth straight offseason, Aaron Heilman has expressed his desire to be a starting pitcher.

This annual proclamation gives every Heilman hater out there another reason to despise Aaron — citing his “selfishness” and suggesting that “he should just be happy to be in the big leagues”, yadda yadda yadda. Whatever … there’s no point in arguing with the emotional lunatics. It would be easier to turn a Barack-blinded liberal into a George Bush supporter.

We won’t again go into the many, many, many reasons it makes sense to move Aaron into the rotation — just refer to this post and this page for the arguments. Notice I stated “move Aaron” rather than “give Aaron a chance”. This isn’t ONLY about Heilman wanting to be a starter — it’s about addressing the Mets’ current needs and using their available talent pool to fill spots. Speaking of, let’s focus on the latest thought-provoking explanation given by Omar Minaya to keep Aaron Heilman in the bullpen:

“We talked and he expressed himself,” Minaya said. “He told me that he’d like the opportunity to start. But my job is to make sure I do what’s in the best interest of the team, and we still see him in the bullpen.”

Huh. So, the fact that Jerry Manuel did everything in his power NOT to use Heilman in the final weeks of the season suggests that Aaron will be a key component of next year’s bullpen? How? Why? If Heilman continues to be such a valuable bullpen arm, why in the world are the Mets going after K-Rod and Brian Fuentes? Why not just name Heilman the closer and be done with it?

The Mets’ most dire needs right now, in this order, are: 1. starting pitcher; 2. closer; 3. starting pitcher; 4. starting pitcher. Those are four huge holes to fill, and the Mets are already behind the eight-ball regarding starters by not getting into the C.C. Sabathia bidding. Before they blink they’ll see not only C.C. but also Derek Lowe and A.J. Burnett off the market. “The best interest of the team” is filling those four holes. If all the closer eggs are going into the K-Rod basket, then doesn’t it make sense to move Heilman into one of the open starter roles?

Even more laughable is the scoop from Jon Heyman, who reported on SNY’s Mets Hot Stove that the Mets are “protecting” Heilman by keeping him in the bullpen. I’m not going to blame Heyman for that nonsense, as he’s simply the messenger reiterating what “insiders” have told him. Heyman tells us that the Mets are concerned about Heilman’s delivery, in particular the “high back elbow” motion that is similar to Mark Prior’s, and points to that specifically as a reason not to allow Aaron to pitch more than 100 innings in a season.

There is so much wrong with this “report”, I don’t know where to begin! Let’s start by reminding everyone that these “insiders” of the Mets organization are the same geniuses who recommended they trade Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano because Kazmir was going to blow his elbow out (huh … funny how things work out).

I will admit, as a pitching coach, that Heilman’s mechanics are complicated and have flaws — and the “high elbow” is something to be concerned about. But, it’s not nearly as big a problem as Heyman suggests. Don’t take it from me, though, use your own judgment. The argument is based on the fact that Heilman throws like Prior, and Prior had a major arm injury. Well, based on that logic, one would have to also believe that Greg Maddux will one day blow out his arm, because he throws with a low back elbow in the same manner as Pedro Martinez, and Pedro blew out his arm. Of course, that makes no sense. For every guy throwing like Prior who eventually injured his shoulder, there are two dozen guys who throw “correctly” and eventually injured himself.

In other words, everyone is different. Yes, Mark Prior suffered arm injuries, and it can be ascertained that at least part of the problem was due to his “high back elbow”, or what some term “inverted W”. But there have been many pitchers with this same arm action who DID NOT suffer a serious arm injury, the most obvious example being Don Drysdale. Yes, Drysdale’s career was over at age 32, but he managed to average somewhere in the neighborhood of 250+ innings per season through a dozen years before breaking down. Maybe Heilman will blow out his arm just like Drysdale did, and maybe it won’t happen until after he throws 3300 innings. No one can know for sure (again, everyone is different).

As a side note, I would like to point out that Mark Prior’s mechanics were once touted as “perfect” by Tom House, who is widely acknowledged as one of the best pitching coaches in baseball history when it comes to mechanics. In fact, Prior’s motion was gushed over and cited as an example of ideal mechanics in Will Carroll’s “Saving the Pitcher”. I point this out not because I agree with House (I don’t) or believe he’s as smart as everyone says (he’s not), but rather to illustrate just how subjective pitching mechanics can be. There are a ton of theories out there suggesting what’s “right”, but no one really knows for sure — no matter how many hours of video are studied, and no matter how many pitches are counted. What was believed to be “correct” today may be proved “incorrect” tomorrow, and vice-versa.

However, Heilman’s arm action is definitely not something I would teach, mainly because it is wasted motion and I like efficiency. It’s true that whipping the elbow up high before bringing it around could possibly lead to a dangerous load on the shoulder. But, there are a LOT of things in a pitching motion that can put undue stress on the shoulder — the most common one being over-rotating and opening up the front side too early. John Maine and Oliver Perez are two of the most blatant offenders of over-rotation — the ironic thing is, there are Major League coaches who TEACH this technique!

But the point is this: Maine and Perez have flawed, potentially damaging mechanics. But neither left the rotation … why are the Mets “protecting” Heilman and not Maine or Perez? If the Mets are going to allow Maine to continue to pitch with his flawed mechanics, will they also move him to the bullpen, as “protection”?

What’s much more concerning is that the Mets think there is a point in terms of accumulated innings that will cause Heilman’s arm to fall off. If they really believe this, I’m extremely curious how they arrived at this “magic number”. Did they pick it out of a hat? Do they simply like to apply the number 100 to all limits for pitchers? Certainly there is no scientific basis, because there haven’t been any studies done specifically on pitchers who throw like Aaron Heilman. If Drysdale is an indicator, then Heilman should be able to handle 300 innings a season for quite a while before hurting himself. John Smoltz does the “inverted W” thing and he had many 200+ inning seasons. Interestingly, Smoltz had four surgeries on his elbow before this most recent one on his shoulder — so it can be suggested that his motion didn’t do anything to his shoulder until he got into his 40s. Oh, and strangely enough, Jeremy Bonderman also went down due to and ELBOW injury — not shoulder — despite the fact that he, also, has a “high back elbow” motion similar to Aaron Heilman’s. Bonderman threw 175+ innings four years in a row.

What I find most hilarious about the idea of the Mets “protecting” Heilman by keeping him in the bullpen is that, in reality, they’re doing the exact opposite — they’re destroying him! There is not, and has not been, any indication in the past five years (at least) that the Mets follow any kind of system or protocol when it comes to the bullpen — not in as far as frequency of use, pitch counts, or “ups and readies” (i.e., warming up in the bullpen). Under each manager going back to Art Howe, the relievers were used recklessly, with no care or thought given to the preservation of individual arms. Instead, every game was managed like it was the seventh game of the World Series, with no thought given to tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or two months from now. Pitching on back-to-back days was a rule rather than an exception, particularly if a pitcher was “hot”.

It boggles the mind, some of the blasphemies that come out of the Mets organization. How in the world can pitching sporadically and without limits as a reliever be “safer” than the regimented structure a starting pitcher follows? Particularly when you rarely allow your starters to throw more than 100 pitches in an outing?

What this comes down to is the Mets showing Aaron who is boss. One of the many chefs in the kitchen doesn’t like the idea of Heilman telling them he wants to start, and as a result, the Mets will never fill one of their gaping holes in the rotation with the former #1 draft pick from Notre Dame. That’s the only explanation that makes sense — the rest of these excuses are exactly that, excuses.