Browsing Archive February, 2011

Another Lawsuit for Mets

As if the Mets needed another lawsuit, it appears that the lawyer for a kosher hot dog vendor is suing the Mets for banning the sale of franks on Friday nights.

Oy vey!

I’m not sure why the Mets would prevent a concessionaire from selling, particularly in this case, where a glatt kosher company — who one would think would be adhering to and properly translating the edicts from a higher authority — seems OK with selling on the sabbath.

But I’m not jewish and don’t know the rules all that well. That said, if someone out there can post some feedback on why Kosher Sports, Inc., is in the wrong — or in the right — please share your knowledge in the comments.


Ian Desmond’s Errors No Big Deal

Since the Mets are playing the Nats today, I thought this article was appropriate: Dan Daly of the Washington Post did a boxscore-by-boxscore study of shortstop Ian Desmond’s errors, and found that they weren’t really that big of a deal.

Desmond has received a lot of flak for making 34 errors, but Daly discovered they only cost the Nats three games at most — and only one of those errors directly resulted in a loss.

In addition to this being apropos because of the Nats game, this information suggests that a poor defensive second baseman might not affect the Mets’ won-loss record this season. Maybe a hard-hitting second-sacker like Brad Emaus, Dan Murphy, or Justin Turner will win more games with the bat than they’ll lose with their iron gloves. Who knows? But this research on Desmond surely offers hope for the Dr. Strangegloves of the world.


Ollie: A Year Ago

Oliver Perez’s spring training debut was far from inspiring. According to reports, he never broke 84 MPH, his command was terrible, and he allowed four earned runs in two innings of work.

I had the game on the radio while in the car with my wife and when Ollie’s name was mentioned, Amy said, “why is he still on the team? I can understand giving people a second chance, but not four or five.”

I explained that the Mets gave him a crapload of money, and they were still holding out hope that he could earn some of it in the last year of his contract. Her response: “But if he wasn’t on the team, they’d be better, and if they were better, they might sell more tickets — so how does the money matter?”

I couldn’t argue.

Anyway, when we returned home I was in a nostalgic mood and decided to check out some posts from last February. With Ollie making his first appearance, I thought it fitting to re-hash a post I came across that quoted Sandy Koufax. It was the annual “Koufax PR Day”, when the legendary hurler worked with Mets pitchers in front of the cameras, and the “hope springs eternal” articles ran out as a result. Koufax’s instruction, it was hoped, would somehow turn pitchers such as John Maine and Oliver Perez into capable MLBers. I disagreed with some of Sandy’s statements, and didn’t think Maine or Perez would learn much from him.

As long as we’re being nostalgic, there were two other posts from last spring about Perez: a scathing analysis of one of his appearances in early March, another scathing analysis a few weeks later, and yet another scathing analysis a few days after that. Check those out and compare them to what’s going on with Ollie right now. As they say, “what a non-difference a year makes” … er, or something.

By the way, according to Andy Martino, Dan Warthen is giving Ollie until March 10th to prove he can be a starter. That’s not much time for Mr. Hyde. I’m not sure what exactly that means … if he’s not considered for the rotation, does that mean he’ll be cut, or he’ll get a shot at the bullpen? I guess we’ll find out in about 10 days.


Bryce To Bat For Nats

According to Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, phenom Bryce Harper will bat in this afternoon’s exhibition game against the Mets.

This is exciting, considering that Harper is the most-hyped teenage hitter since maybe Alex Rodriguez. All reports suggest that the kid has no chance of making the Nats’ opening day roster, but hey, you never know.

I remember reading about Bryce Harper being a “hired gun” or “ringer” for travel squads almost five years ago in a New York Times article; 13U and 14U amateur baseball teams going to major tournaments would pay his way to be their DH. At the time I thought, “huh, I wonder if this kid will still be this good by the time he can sign a pro contract? Will everyone else catch up? Will he burn out by then?”.

Clearly, he has not.

One thing that saddens me, of course, is that they’ve already moved Harper from behind the plate to the outfield. It’s amazing that whenever a young catcher shows the slightest bit of offensive potential, they move him to another position for fear that he’ll lose his right arm or break his neck from the demands of the position. Yet at the same time, there is constant shortage of catchers with offensive skills — and people can’t seem to figure out why. Duh!

There may never again be a time like the 1970s and early 80s, when MLB had a bunch of strong hitting catchers — like Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Thurman Munson, Ted Simmons, Gary Carter, Darrell Porter, Butch Wynegar, Gene Tenace, Manny Sanguillen, Bill Freehan, Lance Parrish, and others. Sure, there were still the light-hitting Jim Sundbergs, Glenn Borgmanns, and Steve Yeagers, but it seemed as though catchers who could hit remained behind the dish. The first young catcher I remember being moved by the logic of “extending his career” was Todd Zeile. I’m sure there were others before him, but for whatever reason his case sticks out. Zeile did go on to have a fairly successful, 16-year career, so I guess the move made sense. But Fisk, Simmons, and Carter (for example) all played even longer, despite spending most of their time in MLB as catchers. Yes, I know that Fisk and Simmons were used in the DH role frequently as they aged but the point is, staying behind the plate for most of their career didn’t prevent them from enjoying many years of MLB service. And other than Ray Fosse, I can’t think of one offensively gifted catcher who had his career cut short or hitting severely affected by donning the tools of ignorance. Further, in today’s game, where most of players slide around the catcher like sissies rather than try to upend the backstop in a play at the plate, there is less chance than ever of a catchers sustaining a major, career-threatening injury.

OK I’m off my soapbox. Enjoy watching a Bryce Harper at-bat today. Let’s hope he doesn’t injure himself running into an outfield wall or by having a fly ball bounce off his head.


Mets ST Game 1 vs. Braves: Quick Notes

Many of you may have seen the Mets first televised spring training game of 2011, played against the Braves on Saturday afternoon. These games don’t count for much, so I won’t go into detail about what happened, but there are things we can take away from them; here are notes regarding selected players.

Jenrry Mejia

Velocity looked good, and he mixed in some good downward-breaking curves, though his ability to command it was inconsistent. In fact his command overall was inconsistent on all pitches. His mechanics look fairly similar to what we saw last year — all over the place, inefficient, and dangerous, particularly when he overthrows. He’s out of control and without balance at the the knee lift, causing him to have to adjust his upper body balance which in turn causes him to open up his front side too early and fall over toward 1B. Strangely enough, it seems his mechanics go more out of whack from the stretch; usually it is the other way around because there are less moving parts compared to the windup. I wonder if it’s because he is rushing his motion with men on base?

Josh Thole
Thole struggled a bit behind the plate in the first inning with Mejia on the mound, with balls popping out of his glove and getting by. There are a few reasons to explain the issues. First, it was the first game of the spring, so there is going to be some nervousness and rust to shake off. Second, he might have been using a new glove — maybe not brand-new, but possibly new in terms of game use (i.e., the one he was breaking in last year for game use in ’11). Third, Mejia’s command was off, and it’s difficult to adjust to a pitcher who throws 92-95 MPH and isn’t hitting spots. Fourth, at least one time it appeared as though Mejia crossed him up; Thole looked like he was waiting for a pitch to break inside to a LH hitter — i.e., a cutter — but it stayed up and away and by the time Thole adjusted, the ball was moving too quickly and deflected off his glove. Finally, I still don’t like the way Thole sets up behind the plate, with his upper body leaning forward — it makes him vulnerable to being handcuffed by pitches that break late. More than half of MLB catchers use a similarly inefficient stance, but can make up for it with supreme athleticism and anticipating the flight of pitches. Thole might be athletic enough to get away with it too, but time will tell. I talk about this a bit more on a video chat with Kerel Cooper coming soon at OnTheBlack.

On the one wild pitch by Mejia that allowed a runner to score from third, Thole made the mistake of trying to catch the ball with his glove — as an infield might catch a ground ball — rather than keep his glove down to the ground and block the ball with his body. So when the ball took a wicked hop, it skipped off of his glove instead of getting absorbed by the chest protector. I’m not going to blame Thole, though — that was a very tough pitch to stop and it might have skipped past him even if he did execute proper blocking mechanics. But spring training is about the process, not necessarily the results.

Freddie Freeman
This kid was a one-man wrecking crew for the Braves. I know it’s only one game, and it’s spring training, but
wow, this young man can swing the bat. And he’s only 21 years old.

Pedro Beato
His mechanics look pretty good in that he stays on a straight line toward home plate and gets momentum going forward. Though, he doesn’t get his head and upper body low enough at and after the release, which is strange because he used to get his “nose to toes” in the past. As a result his release is a bit on the high side and he cuts off his arm deceleration. I wonder if he was just jacked up and over throwing? Otherwise his velocity looks good and he gets heavy sink, which led to a bunch of ground balls. His one mistake was hit over the fence — a high, flat fastball that got too much of the plate.

Luis Castillo
Luis looked smooth turning the DP, but has not regained any of the range he’s lost over the years. At the plate he was his usual underwhelming self.

Taylor Buchholz
Buchholz showed he has a sharp 12-6 curve, and his mechanics are fairly efficient in that he has good balance through most of his motion. From a distance, and with a very quick look at him from the chest up, he sort of resembles Aaron Heilman (facial features, not mechanics).

Mike Nickeas
I like Mike’s footwork behind the plate and his quick release on throws to second. I don’t love the way he drops to a knee upon receipt of nearly every pitch; that is partly related to the Thole’s aforementioned issue with leaning forward in the stance, but also is attributed to not being familiar with the movement of a pitcher’s pitches. Otherwise, he looks relaxed, comfortable, and confident back there. At the plate, though, he looked a bit overmatched.

Zach Lutz

This young man does not get cheated on his swings; he kind of reminds me of Mike Hessman in that way. However, there was a situation where the Mets had a man on third and less than two out, and all Zach needed to do was get the bat on the ball. He had a 3-0 count and was given a meatball but he took it for strike one. Since it was ST and the Mets needed a run, I’d be surprised if he didn’t have the green light there. Eventually, Lutz struck out taking two huge hacks at tougher pitches. Not great situational hitting; I’d have preferred to see him cut down his swing a bit and either lift or stroke that 3-0 pitch into the outfield to get the run home.


Mets Borrowed 25 Million from MLB

Honestly, I thought we could go a week without another off-field bombshell … but unfortunately, the latest news that the New York Mets borrowed money from the MLB coffers as recently as December cannot be ignored.

Major League Baseball provided $25 million to the owners of the Mets as they struggled to deal with a cash shortfall last fall and a looming lawsuit seeking hundreds of millions of dollars for victims of Bernard L. Madoff’s vast Ponzi scheme, according to two people briefed on the arrangement.

The direct intervention of Commissioner Bud Selig to help sustain the operations of the franchise — confirmed by the Mets on Friday — is perhaps the most striking evidence yet of the financial distress that for many months has plagued the team’s owners, Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz.

So it’s not bad enough that the Mets are in the middle of the Madoff scandal — they’re also in dire financial straits. Hmm … dire straits … money for nothing … oh me and my silly puns …

Seriously, this information would explain the Mets’ sudden need to obsess over payroll, after years of spending freely. You can talk all you want about the payroll budget being too high and it not being necessary to field a winning team, but that was never the point. The point was that the Mets, over the past few years, repeatedly claimed that the payroll was flexible, and in fact said there was still room after signing Jason Bay last winter. That tune changed swiftly this past fall.

The Mets have exhausted baseball’s standard bank line of credit, tens of millions of dollars that Mr. Selig and the sport’s owners make available to teams for a variety of reasons in the course of a year. The owners also have more than $400 million in debt on the team. Thus, the additional money provided by Mr. Selig — done in secret last November — might have been crucial in keeping the club functioning.

Is it a coincidence that the Mets took this “secret loan” from Selig at around the same time Sandy Alderson — who was recommended by Selig — was named the Mets GM?

By the way, Fred Wilpon is not denying that there was a loan — but the rest of MLB didn’t know about it until recently:

“We said in October that we expected to have a short-term liquidity issue. To address this, we did receive a loan from Major League Baseball in November. Beyond that, we will not discuss the matter any further.”

One team executive in baseball said that the Mets had not yet repaid the loan, and that Mr. Selig had informed baseball’s executive committee of the loan only last month.

Sooo … the Mets owe some $400M to banks for various debts and another $25M to MLB. That said, selling a 25% stake in the team — about $200M or so — isn’t going to cover even HALF of their total debt. It appears that the Wilpons will need to sell a much more substantial piece of the team. Add in the fact that it also appears that the team currently has trouble getting money via traditional avenues and you realize that the Wilpons have very little leverage in making a sale.

“The fact that the loan is coming from baseball would be a jarring event because, as with the Texas Rangers, the league is effectively a lender of last resort,” said Marc Ganis, a sports industry consultant. “It would indicate the team cannot get loans from normal commercial sources, which could be taken as a sign of very significant problems.”

There’s one more fly in the ointment that isn’t going to please the banks and won’t help the Mets’ line of credit:

Baseball, in involving itself with struggling franchises, enjoys a powerful status. In the event of a bankruptcy, it gets its loans repaid first — ahead of banks, and perhaps even Mr. Picard, the Madoff trustee.

I would imagine that a baseball team is similar to any other privately funded business, in that its ability to acquire loans and have “good credit” is critical to keeping things going and in future success — particularly in distressed economic times, when revenues are lower. These factors certainly play into a prospective buyer’s decision process as well as at the negotiating table during a purchase. Which would explain why there has been so little interest in finding buyers for the team.

One last quote from that NYT article:

According to one person briefed on baseball’s involvement with the troubles of the Mets, the club has faced cash shortfall issues for at least a year.

If that’s true, it suggest that the team is having trouble generating revenue even after opening one of the newest, most expensive, fully featured ballparks in the largest market in the country. Again, not a piece of info that attracts potential buyers.

This team is in deep financial doo-doo, independent of the Madoff suit. And things won’t change until new ownership takes over the team.


Offseason Changes: Phillies

In: Cliff Lee

Out: Jayson Werth, Jamie Moyer, Greg Dobbs, Mike Sweeney, Chad Durbin

The biggest news of the offseason in Philly, of course, was the acquisition of Cliff Lee and the departure of Jayson Werth. Not much else changed about the Philadelphia roster, and that could be considered a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.

On the one hand, by signing Lee the Phillies have assembled the best four starters on one club since … well, since maybe forever. It’s all on paper, though — it will remain to be seen whether Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels stay healthy and take 32 starts each. If they do, and they perform reasonably as well as expected, it will be a long year for NL hitters.

However, will the Phils score enough runs now that Werth is gone? Rookie Domonic Brown is supposed to be up to the task of replacing Werth — in a platoon role with Ben Francisco — but it’s hard to imagine the youngster posting a .900+ OPS in his first year. I’m a little surprised that GM Ruben Amaro didn’t acquire a veteran bat to guard against Brown flopping and/or further decline by Raul Ibanez — though, it probably makes more sense to see what happens in the first few months of the season, and make a deal if necessary before the trading deadline.

In addition to the big gain and big loss of the winter, the Phillies made a few under-the-radar moves, signing a few intriguing players to minor-league deals with invites to spring training. Specifically, Jeff Larish, a power-hitting corner infielder who was a top prospect for the Tigers not long ago. Larish has never been given ample opportunity to prove himself at the big-league level, and may now be a “AAAA” player. He hit 20 HR in 334 AAA at-bats last year, posting a .910 OPS, so he has some pop — he could grow into the old Greg Dobbs role of pinch-hitting and filling in at 3B. The Phils also signed outfielders Brandon Moss and Delwyn Young, as well as second basemen Pete Orr and Josh Barfield — all of whom have MLB experience. I’ve always liked Young and found Barfield interesting — though they likely would have had a better chance of making the Mets rather than the Phils.

Finally, the Phillies signed LHP Dan Meyer, who had a breakout year with the Marlins in ’09 but missed most of last year due to a sword-swallowing accident … er, check that, wrong Dan Meyer … I mean, a serious calf injury. In all seriousness, the NJ native was impressive in ’09, and if he can regain that form in 2011, the Phillies may have obtained one of the best bargains of the offseason.


11 People Who Won’t Own the Mets

With the Wilpons in hot water over this Ponzi scheme litigation, and looking to sell off a “portion” of the team, several suitors have either come forward or been suggested as possible future owners of the Mets.

Let’s take a quick look at some people who won’t be buying in.

1. Mike Bloomberg
Being owner of the Mets would make it kind of inappropriate and uncomfortable to attend Yankees games.

2. Carlos Slim Helu
The billionaire from Mexico is too disgraced and offended by the presence of fellow countryman Oliver Perez.

3. George Steinbrenner
First off, he’s dead. Second, Bud Selig would never allow Steinbrenner to buy the Mets with the sole intention of moving them to International League.

4. Charley O. Finley
He’s dead too, but more importantly, between the animal rights activists and the New York City Board of Health, there’s no way a donkey would be allowed set hoof in Citi Field.

5. Donald Trump
Bud Selig would never let him into his private “boys club”, for fear that Trump would find a way to fire him.

6. Bernie Madoff
As Bernardo Provenzano can tell you, it’s not impossible to run a business from behind bars. Unfortunately, Bernie was going to use the money he “made” via his Ponzi scheme to fund the purchase. Ironic!

7. Sir Richard Branson
MLB would never allow him to rename the team to “New York Virgins”.

8. Lorne Michaels
SNL is already inundated with enough bad jokes.

9. Jerry Seinfeld
Because the Mets are just not funny … they’re sad.

10. Lenny Dykstra
He would’ve been a frontrunner three years ago. Unfortunately, his financial empire was about as solid as Madoff’s funds.

11. Warren Buffet
Buffet got where he is today by investing in solid, well-run businesses that show the potential to profit and succeed in the future. Need I say more?

Coming soon: people who COULD own the Mets!