Browsing Archive January, 2009

YAO : Mets Sign Mackowiak

No, the Mets did not sign Chinese giant Yao Ming. Though, if Ming can pitch, I might be behind such a deal.

Rather, the Mets signed Yet Another Outfielder, Rob Mackowiak (muh-KOE-vee-ack), most recently of the Washington Nationals.

There was a time that Mackowiak had some punch — he blasted 16 homeruns in 348 ABs in 2002, then 17 HRs in 491 ABs in 2004. Strangely enough, his power reduced significantly after turning 29 and after MLB started aggressively testing for PEDs. Before you jump to conclusions, I am not by any means suggesting that Mackowiak took PEDs; rather, I’m simply pointing out that he hasn’t hit well since passing the age that most players enjoy their physical prime (27-30).

Truth is, I’ve always been a fan of Mackowiak’s hustle, hard-nosed play, and team-first approach. He has played every position on the field without embarrassing himself except pitcher, shortstop, and catcher. He’s not a defensive asset at any position, but he’s a decent fill-in. At this point in his career, though, he probably shouldn’t be playing second base or centerfield; he’s more of a corner guy. You might consider him “Ty Wigginton Lite”.

If he doesn’t hit, he doesn’t have much value. While I like Mackowiak and would like to see him play for the big club, this is a strange acquisition. He’s a lefthanded hitter whose main value would be as a pinch-hitter, which adds him to a pile that includes Jeremy Reed, Marlon Anderson, Angel Pagan, Cory Sullivan, and Alex Cora. Of course, it’s a minor-league deal so no worries about him pushing someone more valuable off the 40-man roster. I like the idea of having him stocked in AAA …. but I would’ve preferred to have had him about four years ago.


Mets Sign Freddy Garcia

In an effort to bolster their starting rotation, the Mets have signed free-agent veteran pitcher Freddy Garcia to a one year, incentive-laden, minor-league contract and invited him to spring training.

Garcia had been rumored to join the Mets organization since last winter, and had been championed at this blog on several occasions. There is some concern about his shoulder “tightening” early in the winter league season, but he’s supposedly OK. Further, the Mets gave Garcia a minor-league deal, and thus aren’t on the hook for major bucks if he turns up lame.

I’ve always liked Garcia’s competitiveness. If he can regain at least 75% of his former skill set and remain healthy, he’ll be a fine addition to the back of the rotation.

A good acquisition, assuming that the Mets are still on the lookout for more starting pitching. Hopefully, this doesn’t remove them from the Ben Sheets sweepstakes.


Why the Mets Have No Money (and No Manny)

One of the more interesting conundrums in sports is how the New York Mets have less money to spend on ballplayers than their crosstown big brother, the New York Yankees. It boggles the mind further when you realize the Mets’ budget is below or comparable to teams in smaller markets, with tiny, 100-year-old stadiums such as the Red Sox and Cubs. A Major League club in the US’s richest and most populous metropolis, its own cable channel, three consecutive years of record-breaking ticket sales, and a brand new stadium should be more well off, shouldn’t it? A team with that kind of financial support shouldn’t be thinking twice about eating Luis Castillo’s salary, bringing in Manny Ramirez, or rolling the dice on Ben Sheets. Should they?

Let’s try and figure out where all the riches are going.

Ticket Sales

The Mets sold more than 3.5 million tickets in 2006, more than 3.85 tickets in 2007, and topped 4 million tickets in 2008 (fans also “enjoyed” significant ticket price increases in each of those years). We know this because the Mets’ publicity department published chest-pounding press releases notifying the world of these record-breaking milestones. The team wanted to be sure that everyone knew just how popular and successful the franchise had become. In fact, the ticket sales had reached such enormous heights that it became fiscally irresponsible to continuing supplying the demand. Despite the profits gained from ever-increasing ticket prices, it became “better business” to lower the supply, increase the demand, and therefore raise prices even higher — by building a newer, smaller stadium. Citi Field not only increases profits via the simplicity of supply/demand, but also creates many new, highly profitable revenue streams that weren’t possible in Shea Stadium. For example, the naming rights, the “mini mall” and food chain establishments, the luxury boxes, expanded retail space, and a host of other moneymaking options. Of course, all these profit-generating channels are being billed as a “better fan experience” and an ideal place to bring the “whole family”. Indeed, Citi Field should be a much more comfortable and enjoyable place to watch a ballgame — but you get what you pay for, and you will pay dearly for that enhanced experience.

But the Mets haven’t gained any revenues from Citi Field yet … well, except for the $400M from Citibank, the rent deposits from the restaurants and retail stores, and the down payments from season ticket buyers. All the tickets sold in the last three years at Shea Stadium must have gone into the building of Citi Field. They must have drained that well dry, too, because the team needs another $83M in bonds. So we can guess that this Citi Field project won’t be helping to pay any salaries — yet.

Cable Company Revenues

Not every team in MLB has their own cable TV channel, but the ones that do are in a fantastic position to make MUCH more money than if they sold broadcasting rights to someone else. Unfortunately, a cable channel doesn’t simply generate revenue by virtue of existing — it has to produce shows that people want to watch.

When Mets games aren’t being broadcast, time has to be filled with something else. Whereas the YES Network, for example, produces high-quality, original programming such as Yankeeography and Center Stage. SNY, on the other hand, gives us Loudmouths, Wheelhouse, and Beer Money. You tell me which you’d rather watch. In fact, the one decent original program SNY had the rights to, and would have resonated with Mets fans, was unpromoted, buried in unusual time slots, and eventually pulled off the air by the producer (Playing for Peanuts).

Another interesting contrast between YES and SNY is this: SNY has brought nearly every personality on WFAN to the boob tube EXCEPT the most valuable and popular one — Mike Francesa. Love him or hate him, Francesa has the strongest sports radio listenership in the NY-Metro area (perhaps in all of the USA?). But the Yankees beat the Mets to the punch on getting him for YES. Please don’t explain that away via Francesa’s status as a Yankee fan — SNY’s motto is “all things NY sports”. In fact the SNY website features TWO Yankees blogs to only one for the Mets.

So although the Mets do indeed get to keep all of advertising dollars for games broadcast on their cable network, it’s up for debate as to whether they’re making much money from October to April.

Retail Sales and Licensing

Here the Yankees, once again, have a leg up on the Mets — but it’s not necessarily the Mets’ fault. When you have a history going back to the early 1900s, and rich with both Hall of Famers, you can sell a heckuva lot more jerseys and T-shirts emblazoned with player names — even if your official jersey doesn’t include player names!

In contrast, the Mets don’t have as much to sell when it comes to player-identifiable merchandise. While David Wright tees may outsell Derek Jeters, and “Seaver 41” throwback jerseys likely topple Ron Guidry’s “49”, the Mets can never compete with the Berras, Mantles, DiMaggios, Gehrigs, etc. — and that encompasses much more than shirts (i.e., memorabilia, photos, bobbleheads, etc.). So although the Mets do have the benefit of being in an area highly populated with baseball fans, and have a fairly loyal fan base, they simply don’t have the breadth of product opportunities to compete with the Bronx Bombers. And that’s BEFORE we begin discussing sales and licensing fees outside Metro-NY, and internationally.

Though, it can be argued that the Yankees have also done a much better job of creating opportunities since 1973 — when George Steinbrenner bought the club. By investing in the top players, and making winning a World Series their singular mission and measure of success, Steinbrenner resuscitated and invigorated a brand that could have fallen by the wayside. After all, how many people were buying Horace Clarke jerseys in 1968, or Fritz Peterson bobbleheads in the early 70s? The grand success of the Yankees in the 1990s turned Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius, and David Wells into cult heroes, and to this day you still see Yankee fans wearing T-shirts with those names on the back. Maybe this fact hits home: today, are you more likely to see someone wearing a David Cone Yankees tee, or a David Cone Mets tee? Which brings us to the next factor …

Marketing and Promotion

Over the past 30 years, the Yankees have done a much better job of marketing and promoting their players. More to the point, they’ve done a better job of delivering, by paying attention to their fans. Whereas the Mets make knee-jerk decisions based on the avoidance of criticism by their fans base, the Yankees cultivate a positive relationship with their fans. In the end, this means more fans going into their pockets and handing over ducats to their favorite team.

Time and again, the Yankees know exactly what to do, and the Mets are standing around wondering how best not to screw something up. Prime example: the simultaneous closings of Shea and Yankee Stadiums. The Mets had no idea how to give a proper send-off, and found themselves fumbling around at the last minute putting together an embarrassing, makeshift event because they waited to see what the Yankees were going to do. Of course, you can’t emulate in two weeks what likely took the Yankees a year of planning, and the timing could not have been any worse. What could have been a happy, enjoyable celebration turned out to be a PR nightmare — it was more like a melancholic funeral than Irish wake.

The funny thing is, the Mets had a pretty neat and fairly original idea of having former players take down numbers from the wall as the season winded down, but they couldn’t even get that right — otherwise, we would have seen Dwight Gooden help Lee Mazzilli take down #16, and Wally Backman in town to take down #6 (I think Daryl Boston got the call?).

The Mets may not have the longtime winning tradition of the Yankees, but there have been ample opportunities in the last 25 years to better promote and market their “brand” and their individual players — and to bring in (or hold on to) marketable individuals (i.e., A-Rod, Vlad Guerrero, and most recently, Manny Ramirez). However branding is difficult without identity, and that’s where the Mets are at a loss. They simply can’t decide who they are or what they stand for, and have no connection to their target audience — which is loyal but ultimately confused (is the team focused on “meaningful games in October” or concerned about going over budget? are they building for a championship now, or for the future?). In the long run it costs the Mets millions — a wishy washy brand attracts wishy washy (read: fickle) customers.

Bernie Madoff

The Wilpons claim the Ponzi scheme that took about $350M from Sterling Equities has no bearing on the Mets’ operations. But it sure is strange how the Mets’ hot stove season roared in like a lion and is leaving like a lamb. The Madoff debacle became public at the exact time Omar Minaya was in the middle of a hot streak in Las Vegas, picking up high-profile closers like a high roller at a craps table. Since then, there’s been a lot of talk about budget constraints, too-high salary demands, and waiting games. Could be a coincidence.

Bottom Line

In the end, yes, the Mets are based in New York City, own their own superstation, and have attracted a loyal and rabid fan base that numbers in the millions. But they haven’t been able to make the most of those advantages in terms of dollars. The fact they share the town with the tradition-rich Yankees is mostly an excuse — one need only look to the mid-1980s, when the Mets owned New York. It was their own fault they failed to keep the momentum, and the past 10-15 years in particular has been blotted with a series of head-scratching decisions and confusion about goals and identity. Maybe Citi Field will help change that, but the current state of the economy suggests otherwise.


Mets Sign an Outfielder

The Mets’ front office is really cooking with gas now! Hot off the heels of the Casey Fossum pickup, the team has now added Cory Sullivan to their outfield, signing the 29-year-old to a $600,000 contract that includes another $300,000 in incentives.

Obviously I can’t contain my excitement … especially when this signing comes so close after the Fossum deal. The Bisons are starting to look like a real AAA team — one that might actually provide competent support during the year in the event of injuries to players on the big club’s 25-man roster.

It does seem strange, though, that the Mets would scoop up another light-hitting, good fielding, centerfielder who hits from the left side. Endy Chavez was surplus last year, and the Mets already have Angel Pagan and Jeremy Reed signed to guaranteed MLB contracts, not to mention Marlon Anderson. Oh, and there’s Jason Cooper and Rule 5 (minor league phase) pick Carl Loadenthal, and the imminent arrival of Fernando Martinez. Considering that neither Carlos Beltran nor Ryan Church will ever be taken out of games for defensive purposes, all these Endy types are overkill, no? You can only put in one player at a time to play left field, after all.

FYI, Sullivan’s career: 355 games, 927 ABs, 8 HR, 78 RBI, 25 SB, .279 AVG., .330 OBP, .391 SLG. He does have the reputation of being a very good fielder, though the sabermetrics don’t necessarily support it.

The only way this signing makes sense is if it is a small part of something bigger brewing. For example, maybe the Mets are about to ship Ryan Church and Daniel Murphy to Colorado for Aaron Cook or Jeff Francis, and will then sign Adam Dunn and Manny Ramirez to play the corners — both of whom WOULD require late-inning defensive replacements. Pipe dream, I know, but dreams are about all we Mets have left at this point in the Hot Stove season.


Mets Sign Argenis Reyes, Tom Martin

Just in case Alex Cora breaks his leg, the Mets have signed Argenis Reyes as a backup plan. Reyes is expected to begin the season in AAA Buffalo.

Reyes flashed a decent glove, a lot of hustle, and not much else in his 49 games with the Mets in 2008. His most valuable asset — according to the SNY broadcast team — was his being “always in the middle of something.” High praise for a guy who hit .218 with a .259 OBP and .245 SLG (who knew it was mathematically possible to have a slugging percentage lower than your OBP?).

In addition, the team brought back another former Met, LHP Tom Martin. Martin would have been a great addition six years ago, when he had a career year with the Dodgers and had a 3.53 ERA in 80 appearances. He pitched in Flushing in 2001 and posted an eye-popping 10.06 ERA in 14 games. Hopefully he can improve upon that in his next go-around with the club.

Interestingly, Martin — who turns 38 in May — was released by LA during spring training last year and pitched five innings for the Long Island Ducks, striking out six. From my point of view, it’s a so-so signing — more paint on the wall.

Hopefully the signing of Martin will not block the return of Ricardo Rincon, who did an admirable job in 8 appearances last September.


Mets Add Casey Fossum

casey_fossum.jpgAccording to the Buffalo News, the Mets have signed Casey Fossum to a minor league contract. It wasn’t reported, but it’s expected that the lefthanded Cherry Hill, NJ native will be invited to spring training.

The Mets also signed Buffalo Bisons fan favorite Jason Cooper, a 28-year-old, lefthanded-hitting outfielder with little chance of making the big club but who has strong ties to the Buffalo community. Cooper, a career .255 hitter in the minors with 99 homeruns in seven seasons, is the Bisons’ all-time leader in games played with 410.

Fossum, who turned 31 on January 6th, has been derailed by injuries and ineffectiveness. At one time in his youth, Fossum was the crown jewel of the Red Sox farm system, an “untouchable” who eventually became the centerpiece of the trade that sent Curt Schilling from Arizona to Boston. Battling through several injuries to his shoulder, elbow, and back, Fossum has bounced from one organization to the next, never quite fulfilling his early promise. He sports three curveballs, one slower than the next (including the “Fossum Flip”) — think of Pedro and El Duque’s sleepy hooks in terms of speed and bit, except coming from the left side. His fastball rides in the high 80s, and he also throws a mediocre change-up and an occasional slider.

With a career 5.47 ERA and 1.51 WHIP, “The Blade” is holding on to his career by a thread, and would probably be working at the Modells in the Cherry Hill Mall by now if he weren’t lefthanded. He’s failed as a starter, a long reliever, short reliever, and LOOGY. Still, I’m pleased by this move, as the Mets need all the arms they can find. Put him in AAA and let’s see what happens — you never know.


Can the Mets Make a Deal?

It’s less than a month before spring training, and the Mets still need a frontline, #2 / #3 type starter; middle relief help; starting rotation depth; and a legitimate left fielder (who ideally bats with power from the right side). They also have a question at second base and might have interest in upgrading the catching position — though those issues are not nearly as dire as the others.

If you hear it from Omar Minaya, however, the only question is the starting pitching. Whether he’s lying through his teeth or not is up for debate, but his public opinion is that the middle relief will be handled by one of the rule 5 picks and Sean Green; the starting pitching depth is covered by Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell; and he’s very comfortable with Fernando Tatis and Dan Murphy in left field.

The reality is that, if he truly believes what he says, then the Mets are likely to finish in third … or fourth place. The Phillies, Braves, and Marlins all will be competitive in ’09, and the Mets as currently assembled do not look head and shoulders above any of them. They could tip the scales their way with the acquisition of a big bat and a solid starter, and there’s still time to do so.

However, it appears that neither of those acquisitions will come through free agency. It’s interesting to see the media and fans clamoring for the return of Oliver Perez — only months ago, many of these same people couldn’t see the inconsistent Ollie flee fast enough. That said, the idea that Perez is the “frontline” starter the Mets need is somewhat amusing. But hey, he’s the best left of a sorry lot, and if the Mets can re-sign him, then that one hole is filled.

But if they don’t, what is their recourse? The latest rumor suggests that Ben Sheets is the answer. Sheets does have frontline skills, but would the Mets want to add another health risk to a rotation filled with question marks? The next-best option after Sheets is Jon Garland, who is a nice innings-eater but at best a #4.

Conversely, the big bat the Mets need has been staring them in the face all winter: Manny Ramirez. For whatever reason, though, they continue to resist making an offer to the best righthanded hitter in the universe. After Manny, no options exist; the only other righthanded-hitting outfielders of consequence are Andruw Jones, Jay Payton, Jonny Gomes, and Kevin Millar (though, Moises Alou has not yet officially retired). Like Manny, the Mets have shown no interest in any of these players.

Maybe the Mets sign one of the aforementioned starters. But if they don’t go after Manny — and that appears to be a foregone conclusion — where will they find that righthanded bat for left field? Certainly not from the farm system — the only position player close to MLB ready is Nick Evans, who was overmatched in his short stint last year. A trade would have to be made.

But what do the Mets have available for a trade? Their organization is so low on valuable chips, it took four minor leaguers, three MLBers, and help from the Indians to obtain J.J. Putz. In order to make a trade for an impact bat, the Mets would likely need to orchestrate a similarly complex deal, or create another hole to fill.

Naturally, the Mets won’t be trading Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Mike Pelfrey, nor Johan Santana. You can probably add Carlos Delgado to that mix, and it’s hard to believe they’d swap away John Maine — he’s needed for the rotation and his injury puts his stock at an all-time low. No one wants Luis Castillo, so forget about that idea. Ryan Church might have some value, but because of his headaches, his greatest value may be to the Mets. Pedro Feliciano also might draw interest, but then the Mets are without a steady lefty in the bullpen. At times this winter, there’s been talk of moving Brian Schneider, perhaps to the Red Sox but 1) will he be enough to bring back an offensive force, and 2) if so, where do they find a new starting catcher? Would free agent Ivan Rodriguez be an option? The Mets would need to move fairly quickly to swap Schneider and still have time to sign Pudge.

Looking around MLB, there isn’t an abundance of available outfielders that fit the Mets’ needs. Righthanded hitters with some punch have become a rarity — which is why the Phillies were forced to add LH-hitting Raul Ibanez to their already lefty-heavy lineup. A quick look around turns up the names Eric Byrnes, Austin Kearns, Jose Guillen, Marcus Thames, Xavier Nady, and Gary Matthews, Jr., as players who might be available. Not exactly an awe-inspiring group, and yet most of them are probably unattainable in return for what the Mets have for trading chips. It might make sense to spin a youngster like Evans for a proven hitter stuck in AAA — someone like Matt Murton — or to take a chance on a guy who once showed promise, such as Gomes. But that doesn’t really upgrade the current situation of uncertainty in the outfield — rather, it muddles it further. There are only so many at-bats available in spring training to offer the likes of Tatis, Murphy, Evans, Jeremy Reed, Angel Pagan, Marlon Anderson, and whomever else is invited to ST.

Bottom line — unless their thinking changes in regard to the free agent pool, the Mets are likely to enter spring training with similar personnel as they have today. But of course, anything can happen.


Mets Consider Ben Sheets, Andy Pettitte

According to David Lennon of Newsday, the Mets are considering Ben Sheets and Andy Pettitte to fill out their starting rotation.

Per Lennon:

For his part, Minaya has played it cool, suggesting that he has other options if Perez falls through. Two of the most intriguing names still available are Ben Sheets and Andy Pettitte, with the Mets only recently showing interest in the former Brewers ace. A person familiar with the situation said yesterday that Sheets is now being discussed, but it’s unclear what the parameters of such a deal would be.

In other words, Sheets and Pettite are fallback options in the event Oliver Perez can’t be signed. Why? Why not sign Sheets or Pettitte IN ADDITION TO continuing negotiations with Perez? Why do the Mets seem focused on having “just enough” when every other playoff-bound team is stockpiling starting pitchers? (The Cubs, for example, just added LHP Garrett Olson to their stable of arms.)

First off, I’m not putting any stock into the Andy Pettitte talk. Sure, I’d love to see him in a Mets uniform, but it smells to me to be a negotiation ploy on Pettitte’s part — not unlike Jorge Posada’s insincere overtures of a year ago. With talk of the Yankees dropping their $10M offer, Pettitte is desperate for leverage, and the possibility of becoming a Met is too much for the Bronx faithful to bear. Fleeing for a faraway location such as Houston or LA is not as devastating as seeing Pettitte in a Mets cap on the back page of the tabloids every fifth day — the Yankees would overpay for no reason other than to appease their fan base.

That the Mets are considering Sheets is great news, as he has big-game skills (whether he can execute in big games, unfortunately, is another story). But, Sheets is certainly not the type of pitcher that the Mets can rely on to make 30+ starts and provide 190-200 innings. He’s an ideal gamble to fill out the back end — much the way the Red Sox are counting on Brad Penny. If they sign Sheets, the Mets are still short one pitcher for the front end. There are too many existing question marks — the health of Johan Santana and John Maine, the readiness of Jon Niese or Bobby Parnell — to bring in another question mark to fill a hole.

Again, I love the idea of Sheets — so long as the Mets don’t stop there. Bring in Sheets, AND Perez, AND Freddy Garcia or Pedro Martinez too. To make the postseason, a team needs both quantity and quality comprising the starting rotation pool.