Browsing Archive January, 2009

Mets Get Bonds

The Mets began the offseason in full force, adding Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz to their bullpen in a matter of hours. Since then, though, there has been little excitement from the Mets’ camp … unless, of course, the likes of Tim Redding and Alex Cora make your heart race.

However, there is finally some news out of Flushing — the announcement of a big money deal that few fans saw coming.

Bonds.

That’s right, the Mets have attained more bonds from New York City to put toward the development of Citi Field. The city’s Industrial Development Agency on Friday approved additional public bond requests totaling $83M to help defray the cost of the team’s new $800M stadium.

Oh, did you think we were talking about some other bonds? Sorry …

The crosstown Yankees, meanwhile, were granted another $259 million in tax-exempt bonds and $111 million in taxable bonds. Yes, the Yanks get more, but then, their new Yankee Stadium cost about double that of Citi Field — a cool $1.5 billion.

Hmm … $83M of support for the Mets. Does this mean there’s now enough dough to make a 3-year, $75M bid for Manny?

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Andruw Jones Available

As expected, the Los Angeles Dodgers released Andruw Jones, arranging to pay his salary over the course of several years.

All along, it was expected that Jones would return to the Braves, as he always felt very comfortable in Atlanta and enjoyed playing for Bobby Cox. In fact, over the past few days Jones has been seen practicing with Chipper Jones and wearing a Braves cap at basketball games.

However, the Braves are not exactly welcoming him back with open arms — and may not offer him a contract at all.

The issue is simple — the Braves have a full 40-man roster stocked with an abundance of young talent. If they sign Jones to a MLB contract, they’d have to drop someone off — and that someone would likely be a strong prospect, who would be picked up by another team. Further, the Braves do not currently have a need for Jones, as they have an abundance of outfielders led by Jeff Francoeur and youngsters Josh Anderson and Brandon Jones. To make room, the Braves would likely have to either waive or trade someone like Gregor Blanco, Martin Prado, or Omar Infante. None of those players are stars, but all three showed offensive promise in 2008, are fairly young, versatile, and can do a lot of things a team needs from role players. Bobby Cox’s formula for success has always included the flexibility of such players — guys who may not be sluggers, but can execute all the “little things” and help the team in many other ways. Andruw Jones would have to have a great spring training to push one of those guys off the roster.

Because of the Braves’ lukewarm interest, Andruw Jones has to look for other options, and according to MLB.com:

Jones has told friends that he believes the Reds and Mets could make a push to acquire him. Both of these teams reportedly talked to the Dodgers about acquiring him via trade earlier this offseason.

Personally, I hope that’s true. Say what you want about Jones being finished, being a lazy fat pig, being finished, etc. etc. etc. Bottom line is this: the Mets are in DIRE need of a power hitting, righthanded-hitting corner outfielder. The current free agent market offers exactly one person to fit that description — Manny Ramirez — and all indications are that the Mets refuse to go that route. After Manny, the market drops considerably for a RH-hitting outfielder: Kevin Millar, Jacque Jones, Jay Payton, Emil Brown, and Jonny Gomes. That’s it, folks! Now you tell me — would you prefer to bring in one of those underwhelming possibilities, or take a $400,000 gamble on Andruw Jones?

Earlier this winter, I make the argument that the Mets should try to swap Castillo for Jones — such a deal would have had the Mets paying $15M for Jones (but also shedding $18M of Castillo’s contract). It would have been nice for the Mets to be $3M ahead and have Jones, but the same arguments apply for bringing him in on the MLB minimum salary — it’s a low-risk gamble that has the chance of paying off big.

Here’s my feeling: either Andruw Jones is going to hit again, or he’s not, and everything is based on him being healthy and regaining his confidence. If he has a promising, injury-free spring training, there’s a very good chance he’ll come back and hit 20-25 HR, with game-changing ability. He’s that kind of player, and there aren’t many around. If he looks awful in spring training, no biggie — you release him outright, and eat $400K. Jones is exactly the right fit for the penny-pinching Mets: he’ll come dirt cheap, he’ll be a one-year rental to keep LF warm for F-Mart, he has a RH bat, and he has extensive postseason success.

Last year, the Mets waited three months for their $16M investment in Carlos Delgado to pay off. Eventually, their patience was rewarded — handsomely. Without Delgado, the Mets might have finished in third place in 2008. Similarly, the Mets once gambled millions on Mo Vaughn, though that didn’t turn out quite so well. But it’s worth it for a team to take such risks when the upside is so great — Delgado, Vaughn, and Jones all had the skillset to be a monster for stretches at a time, to put a team on its back and carry them. The difference with Jones is, at 31, younger than either of them were (Vaughn was 34, Delgado 36), and won’t cost anywhere near the millions gambled on a comeback.

Unless the Mets reconsider their feelings about Manny Ramirez, or have some blockbuster trade in the works, picking up Andruw Jones is a no-brainer.

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Lineup Comparison: Phillies

Consider this: the “team to beat” is the Phillies, so the Mets’ focus should be on putting a team on the field that is better head-to-head. I don’t believe that the Mets’ pitching staff — even with the game shortened to seven innings — is head and shoulders above the Phillies’. Where the Mets have an advantage at the end of the game, the Phillies appear to be stronger through the first seven. So the separating factor between the two teams is more likely to come down to offense — an area where they were exact equals in 2008, tying for second in the NL with 799 runs apiece.

The question is, can each team score almost 800 runs again, and/or, will one team have an offensive edge?

Comparing the two lineups, it’s a close call. The Mets have Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, and most likely Luis Castillo occupying the first four spots in the lineup. The Phillies counter with a top four of Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard. We can argue which team is stronger leadoff through cleanup, but I tend to think that — even if Dan Murphy is the Mets’ #2 hitter — the teams are pretty close to equal. Similarly, the bottom of the orders are comparable — right now it looks like the Brian Schneider / Ramon Castro platoon hitting eighth vs. the Chris Coste / Carlos Ruiz tandem.

Where the edge will come, then, is in batting spots 5 through 7. It’s my cockamamie theory that the team strongest 5-7 will be the NL East champions in 2009.

Take a look at the comparison side by side:

Raul Ibanez | Carlos Delgado
Jayson Werth / Geoff Jenkins | Ryan Church
Pedro Feliz / Gregg Dobbs | Fernando Tatis / Daniel Murphy

The order above is interchangeable, but what I tried to do was pair up the combinations that most closely matched. Ibanez and Delgado are similar in that they’re both entering the twilights of their careers, but had strong enough finishes to their ’08 campaigns to provide optimism for ’09. I think this comparison, like the first four hitters, is a wash. I expect a dropoff from Ibanez due to the change in leagues and aging process, but CBP may artificially soften that downward trend. Delgado will still hit more homeruns, but Ibanez will swat more doubles and hit 25-30 points higher. In the end their runs and RBI totals should be close.

Where the Phillies really had an advantage last year was in the #6 and #7 holes, which featured any combination of Jayson Werth, Pedro Feliz, Greg Dobbs, and Geoff Jenkins. The Werth / Jenkins tandem last year combined for .260 AVG. /33 HR/96 RBI production. Feliz had his typical injury-riddled year, dotted with hot streaks and cold streaks, and Dobbs might have hit a little over his head at .301. None of those players are guaranteed to repeat their performances, mind you, but all of them have enough history to lead you to believe they’ll come close.

That said, I’m not sure Church can approach the production of Werth / Jenkins (or Werth on his own, if that’s how it shakes out). Looking at each’s skillset, Church and Werth may well put up close to equal numbers. But that will only happen if Werth’s 2008 was his ceiling, AND Church can significantly increase his ability to divert pitches over the wall.

Just as concerning, I don’t know that the Tatis / Murphy experiment is going to be head and shoulders above the Pedro Feliz / Greg Dobbs combination. If Feliz can stay healthy — which is a big if — he’ll hit his typical .250, and probably hit 20-22 homers. Dobbs may not hit .300 again, but his 9 HRs and 40 RBI in 226 ABs were a followup to 10 HR and 55 RBI in 324 ABs in 2007. In other words, there’s a decent shot that the 30-year-old Dobbs provides similar numbers in ’09. If so, that gives the Phillies a combined #7 hitter with a line somewhere in the neighborhood of a .270 AVG., 30 HR, and 100 RBI. Can Tatis and Murphy match that? Again, there would have to be either a status quo or decline on the Phillies’ duo, and a trend upward for the Mets. Not impossible, but another case of hopes and wishes.

Of course, the Mets could remove all doubt by signing Manny Ramirez. However, all indications suggest that won’t happen. In fact, the Mets likely won’t sign either of the other two impact bats still available — Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu. Beyond those three, there might be a few veteran hitters who, with a little luck, could tip the lineups into the Mets’ favor — someone like Andruw Jones, Kevin Millar, Garret Anderson, Jonny Gomes, or Ken Griffey. Millar, in particular, would seem to be a nice fit, as he could spell both Delgado and Church, and/or be the platoon partner for Murphy in left, and provide a solid RH bat off the bench. But, Millar could be looking for a regular job elsewhere, and even if he is interested in wearing the orange and blue, Tony Bernazard still holds a grudge against him for crossing the picket line in 1994 (Bernazard was an important pencil-pusher for the MLBPA back then).

But in the end, none of the free agents appear to be on the Mets’ radar, and it’s hard to see a situation where the Mets can import one via trade. Their top trading chips for an MLB position player are Murphy, Jon Niese, and Fernando Martinez, and they’d probably have to trade at least two of those three to get back an impact bat. The chance of that happening is about as likely as Eric Byrnes arriving in return for Luis Castillo — slim and none.

In short, the Mets and Phillies, as currently constituted, appear to be equal again offensively. The Phillies are probably done making offseason moves. So, if the Mets can acquire one more big bat, it would give them an edge — at least, offensively.

Unfortunately, the Mets still have to make three or four moves to improve the pitching staff, and their “one thing at a time” approach suggests that bat may not make it by spring training.

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Bullpen is Not Done

Congratulations to Omar Minaya for shortening 2009 Mets games to seven innings. Indeed, the one-two punch of “K-Putz” has the potential to be the most effective since the Mariano Rivera – John Wetteland duo of 1996. However, there is still the matter of the innings one through seven.

The Mets didn’t get the innings-eating Derek Lowe to plug up the front end of their rotation, and as a result, it looks like another season of starters who struggle to get into, and through, the sixth inning. So even with K-Putz waiting to shut the door, Mets games will still be a crapshoot during the sixth and seventh frames. For one, Pedro Feliciano won’t suddenly evolve from his ideal role of LOOGY — been there, tried that, it didn’t work. Sean Green might be helpful, or he may be another Jon Adkins. Joe Smith is gone. Brian Stokes is back, but can he be as good through 65-70 games as he was in his two dozen appearances of last year? A couple of Rule 5 picks might have a chance to stick — Darren O’Day and Rocky Cherry. Connor Robertson — the guy the Mets received in return for Scott Schoeneweis — might be worse than Adkins. What all these names tell us most is, the sixth and the seventh innings are no more a slam dunk than they were last year.

Luckily, there is still time to rectify the situation. First, there are a number of intriguing free agent middle relievers looking for a new team. For example, Juan Cruz, Brandon Lyon, and Jason Isringhausen are unemployed. 2008 Mets Luis Ayala, Ricardo Rincon, and Matt Wise are waiting for an ST invite. Chad Cordero auditioned for a bunch of teams, and I’m stunned that Omar Minaya hasn’t locked him up yet. Most recently, the Red Sox DFA’d David Aardsma, a guy who I clamored for this time last year.

My favorites are Cordero, Rincon, Ayala, and Aardsma. Cordero because he’s a low-risk, high-reward type, with a strong competitive fire. I like Rincon because he’s just as good as any other available LOOGY, but will come at a fraction of the cost and will require only a one-year commitment. Ayala is another competitor who was misplaced as a setup man/closer last year, but would be perfect as a 6th/7th inning guy. Aardsma is a diamond in the rough, a late bloomer type in the mold of a Dan Wheeler.

Before you laugh about Aardsma’s 5.55 ERA last year, understand that he pitched 24 of his 47 games in Fenway Park, which can have a dramatic effect on a pitcher’s mentality, focus, and performance. Before you write him off, consider his numbers outside of Fenway Park — 23 IP, 15 H, 19 K, 13 BB, 2.25 ERA, 1.21 WHIP. Wow. That’s like, as good as Juan Cruz — and Aardsma did that in the AL East.

Obviously, the Mets’ biggest issue right now is located a #3 starter. But in the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to pick up a few more cans of paint for the bullpen wall. Cordero would be a nice calculated gamble, and any one of the others would provide ample depth. What the Mets have done for middle relief, to this point, is change the names — that’s not necessarily the same as improving. As we know, change by itself is not always better. Picking up one or two quality arms will complete the bullpen overhaul, and make the ENTIRE relief corps a team strength.

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White Sox Sign Bartolo Colon

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Chicago White Sox have signed Bartolo Colon to a one-year contract.

Nice pickup by the ChiSox, who simply needed an extra guy to vie for a back-end rotation spot. They add Colon to the competition for the #5 slot and as insurance behind Jose Contreras, who is coming off an injury.

Personally, I would have liked to have seen the Mets bring in Colon, despite his physical similarity to Shamu. Despite his weight issues — which no doubt have contributed to his health issues — when he’s on the mound, he’s a tough competitor and knows how to win. In fact I would be happy if the Mets brought in four or five guys of Colon’s caliber to compete for the last two spots in the starting rotation. The more the merrier, and to me it’s better to take chances on pitchers who have succeeded in the past (Colon, Pedro Martinez, Freddy Garcia, etc.) than guys who have never been more than mediocre (i.e., Tim Redding). But hey, what do I know?

One good thing for the Mets about this signing: it likely means that Freddy Garcia is off Chicago’s radar. The question, of course, is whether the Mets will roll the dice on Garcia, or let yet another starting pitcher with postseason experience elude their grasp.

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Barry Bonds May Skate

So the latest news in the federal case against Barry Bonds is that Tetrahydrogestrinone, aka “THG” aka “The Clear”, was not technically a steroid when Bonds was on the stand in front of the Grand Jury.

There’s a full report on how this technicality may be Barroid’s get out of jail free card over at Yahoo. As you’ll read there, the gist of it is that, during the time that Bonds was giving his Grand Jury testimony in December 2003, THG was not categorized as a steroid by the Justice Department. In fact, the Justice Department didn’t recognize THG as such until 2005.

This technicality may allow Bonds to walk away unscathed, because if the letter of the law is specifically followed, Bonds may not have lied when he said that he didn’t knowingly take steroids — because when he said that, the Justice Department had not yet defined THG as a steroid.

What a crock.

This technicality doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. First of all, the FDA officially banned THG in October 2003 — why it wasn’t categorized by the Justice Department at that time is anybody’s guess. Most likely, it had something to do with the processing of paperwork. In other words, red tape. And as all law-abiding tax payers know, the federal government needs to generate massive amounts of paid man-hours to substantiate sucking our paychecks dry. A two-year delay between the FDA banning a substance and the Justice Department recognizing the ban sounds about right.

But more to the point is the spirit of the law. Technically, yes, the written law did not include THG. But that was only because the law was ignorant of THG’s existence. The entire reason for THG — and dozens of other “designer steroids” — is that they are undetectable BECAUSE THEY ARE AS YET UNKNOWN.

Bottom line is this: a steroid is a steroid is a steroid is a steroid. If you take an unprescribed drug for the purpose of significantly and unnaturally increasing your hormone production, then you are cheating. If you are taking a drug that has not been approved by the FDA, then you are breaking the law. Just because the drug in question is a recently invented strain that no urine test can identify, because the test makers have no idea of its existence, doesn’t make it legal. All it makes you is a rotten scoundrel who happens to have enough money and the right connections to stay ahead of the good guys.

So although Bonds may not have “technically” been lying when he said he wasn’t taking “steroids”, he was still breaking the law by ingesting a controlled substance that had not been cleared (pardon the pun) by the FDA. Does it make sense to anyone that he avoids punishment because Jeff Novitsky asked him if he “took steroids”, rather than asking “did you take a hormone-increasing drug banned by the FDA?” It doesn’t, of course, yet there’s a darn good chance that such a technicality allows him to walk away scot-free.

I know, I know — this has nothing to do with the Mets. But the issue of steroids and PEDs in baseball is a big pebble in my shoe, and I can’t help but comment on garbage such as this. And this news came to me about ten hours after I had to listen to Seth Everett on XM spout about how Mark McGwire would have his HOF vote because McGwire had never been officially found guilty of taking steroids (McGwire’s admission to taking Andro apparently doesn’t count). Every time someone gets away with cheating, or is rewarded for it, it simultaneously harms both the people who are playing by the rules and the game itself. In essence, a HOF vote for Mark McGwire is another way of telling Dale Murphy, Don Mattingly, and Will Clark (and countless others) that they were shnooks for staying on the straight and narrow. You’re telling the world that the concepts of “competitive sport” and “sportsmanship” mean nothing.

Maybe we’re already there. If so, it’s a sad day in American “sports”.

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Mets Sign Alex Cora

According to Mets.com, the Mets have agreed to terms with Alex Cora.

Well I guess that’s it — the offseason roster makeover is complete!

Cora should step right in to left field and provide the Mets with the much-needed power bat they need to …. oh, wait a minute ….

Last I checked, Alex Cora was a light-hitting middle infielder with a good glove and a good attitude. The kind of guy who is a capable middle infielder and can play a few other positions in a pinch without embarrassing himself (he’s played one career game each at 1B and LF, and has played 16 at 3B). On an American League team, he is an ideal backup / late-inning defensive replacement second baseman / shortstop for a team that has offensive-minded middle infielders. He’s also a good guy to have around in the event of an injury, as he can play competently for stretches at a time.

In other words, he’s Damion Easley, except that he has zero power, not as strong a bat overall, is a lefthanded hitter, and a better fielder. Oh wait, so maybe he compares more closely to Argenis Reyes or Anderson Hernandez … except he’s not a switch-hitter. And he costs at least four times more.

In short, I’m not sure about the logic behind this signing. With a roster comprised of a dozen pitchers, bench spots are precious, and need to be filled by people who can play both sides of the game — offense and defense. Cora doesn’t have much of a bat, and is only an average baserunner. I’m assuming he can bunt. He does have a career .264 average as a pinch-hitter, which is pretty good. However, as a lefthanded hitter, he strangely has a much better average against lefthanded pitchers — not righthanders — and we know that Jerry Manuel will either not notice this fact or ignore it, and use him exclusively against righthanded pitchers.

Speculation is that Cora would push Luis Castillo, and possibly take over second base eventually. Hmm … so, the Mets won’t go after Orlando Hudson because they don’t want to eat Castillo’s contract, but it will be OK to bench Castillo (and, effectively, eat his contract) to play a mediocre talent such as Cora at the position? More to the point, does this mean that the Mets find Cora to be a better low-cost alternative for second base insurance than, say, David Eckstein?

I don’t mean to bash Cora — I actually believe he’s a solid all-around ballplayer. Nothing special, but solid. He’s not unlike Miguel Cairo. A good guy to have on the team, if you can afford the luxury. And that’s where I have a problem. The Mets supposedly don’t have the money to spend on a top-flight pitcher such as Derek Lowe, but they have no problem spending an unnecessary $2M for a veteran utilityman that is not necessarily an upgrade over a player who would cost the league minimum (such as Argenis Reyes, Alex Cintron, Angel Berroa, Chris Burke, or Ramon Martinez). This is my point: if you are willing to spend $2M for a utility infielder, why in the world aren’t you spending it on someone like Nomar Garciaparra, Mark Loretta, or Ray Durham — in other words, a guy who you know can give you an offensive boost? Because last I checked, the Mets don’t need a defensive replacement for Jose Reyes nor David Wright — and I’m not seeing Castillo leaving games because of his defense, either. (Loretta, by the way, signed for $1.25M, and would have been a much more interesting option to platoon with / push Castillo).

Overspend for a substitute player of which there is a surplus of talent, but underspend for starting pitching. Not exactly the trend followed by championship ballclubs.

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Braves Make High Offer to Lowe

According to various sources, the Atlanta Braves have offered Derek Lowe a 4-year, $60M contract.

Seems just a tad bit higher than the 3/35 that “wasn’t offered” by the Mets.

Further speculation is that Oliver Perez was offered three years and $30M by the Mets (or, maybe they didn’t — one never knows), and that there are no other teams in bidding.

If that’s true, then the Mets look like geniuses. Though I like Lowe’s consistency, if the Mets can lock up Ollie for half the price, then it makes a lot more sense to “settle” for the inconsistent lefty. It boggles the mind, though, that there isn’t anyone else out there at least kicking the tires on Perez. It’s not like 27-year-old lefties with his stuff and the ability to handle NY, grow on trees.

From Ollie’s perspective, it’s a lot less than he was looking for, but he’ll have an opportunity to cash out with a CC-like contract three years from now — if he puts together the kind of seasons we all think he can. Three years from now, there’s a good chance the economy will be better, and he’ll be only 30.

Of course, if the Mets are able to get Perez so “cheaply”, I would assume that means they have enough money to go after a bat. A big bat. Manny’s bat.

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