Browsing Archive January, 2016

After the Champagne: Winter Doings of Past Met Champions

This offseason has just about had it all: a big trade, two free agent signings and the return of a trio of popular incumbents. A player wearing a Mets hat is going to the Hall of Fame. While transaction-wise, the Mets have had busier, splashier off seasons, unlike those other winters, they weren’t coming off a World Series berth. Was this year busier than normal for a World Series Mets team? How did previous Met front offices behave coming off previous trips to the fall classic? Here’s a hint: not very well.

Let’s take a look.

Winter 1969-1970

• Mets trade Amos Otis to Kansas City for Joe Foy
• Mets acquire Ray Sadecki and Dave Marshall for a pair of journeymen
• World Series hero JC Martin is traded to Chicago

Reaction: Ugh. The Otis trade would haunt the Mets for the next decade. As was outlined way back here, the Mets nearly swapped Otis and Nolan Ryan to Atlanta for Joe Torre the year before. Old-timers such as myself can recall the days when third base was a black hole for the franchise. Foy was another failed attempt to fill it and it cost them, although not as dearly as their next attempt would. Marshall logged three seasons for the Mets as a part time outfielder. Sadecki lasted five seasons before being traded for Torre in 1974.

Winter 1973-74
• Mets trade P Jim McAndrew to San Diego
• Mets sell the contract of P Buzz Capra to the Atlanta Braves

Reaction: If there ever was a time to re-tool, the winter after a veteran team goes 82-80 is it. However despite their pedestrian regular season record, the Mets had surprised everyone by getting to Game Seven of the 73 World Series (remember this was in the pre-wild card era). The brain trust decided instead to keep the team essentially intact. This proved to be the wrong decision, but they almost made an even bigger blunder. McAndrew’s career was over by this point, but Capra, finally able to get a regular turn in the rotation, had a spectacular season for the Braves in 1974. He led the NL in ERA. Injuries ruined his career from then on however.

Winter 1986-87
• Mets trade Kevin Mitchell and two other outfielders to San Diego for Kevin McReynolds and P Gene Walter
• World Series hero Ray Knight signs with Baltimore
• Mets trade catcher Ed Hearn to Kansas City for David Cone

Reaction: The hindsight on both trades is far different than the immediate reaction. Most pundits liked the McReynolds acquisition as Mitchell was seen as a utility player. The Cone trade, made right before spring training ended, was overshadowed by Doc Gooden’s entry into rehab. Many saw it as risky, since Hearn had proven to be a capable backup catcher. McReynolds, despite being a solid player, never quite lived up to his expectations, a situation made worse when Mitchell won the MVP for the Giants two years later. Cone had a remarkable career that included stops with both New York teams, which was spilt by a return trip to Kansas City and a stint in Toronto. Without Knight and Mitchell, the post-86 Mets lost some of their swagger. It showed.

Winter 2000-01
• Colorado signs P Mike Hampton (Mets draft David Wright with the compensation pick. Mets also lose SP Bobby Jones to the Padres.
• In one day (December 11), Mets sign Ps Kevin Appier and Steve Trachsel OF Tsuyoshi Shingo (from Japan) and trade Bubba Trammel to San Diego for P Donne Wall.
Endy Chavez is moved for the first time, to KC for a minor leaguer.

Reaction: This was the offseason the Mets passed on Alex Rodriguez, who really, really, really wanted to come here. Interesting to think how much different baseball history might have been for both the Mets and the Yanks if Fred had actually opened his wallet and paid the man. Trachsel hung around long enough to get lit up in Game 3 of the ill-fated 2006 NLCS against the Cardinals. Endy would return for one of the biggest moments in Mets history, although that memory will always be bittersweet.

Right now, Mets GM Sandy Alderson is riding a wave of popularity. Past transgressions are forgotten and even some of his harshest critics have praised his planning and his deal making. Soon comes the hard part: the start of the 2016 season and the task of taking the ultimate next step. With one exception, the Mets have never put together back-to-back playoff seasons. Now, it’s World Series or bust; a tall task for anyone.

So, here’s hoping for a re-run of this article next January with some additional (and happier) content.


The Century Mark?

Baseball is a funny game.

Less than two years ago, I wrote this post that predicted the end of the NY Mets franchise. Now incredibly, I am beginning to wonder how they could possibly not win 100 games in 2016.

The team has sandwiched a memorable post season between a Trade Deadline for the Ages and an Offseason for the Ages, the results being a team that, on paper at least, is probably better than last year’s World Series team and, the argument could be made, as deep as those teams that won 408 games between 1985 and 1988. Yes, I went there.

So, as the rest of Bethlehem hunkers down during Winter Storm Jonas (when did they start naming snowstorms?) my thoughts are turning to blue skies, green grass, milder weather and 100 regular season wins. There is much to support this notion. While I have been on an optimistic bent since the beginning of last year, I’ll wager that the events of the last 72 or so hours have propelled more than just my optimism. Expect this to be merely the first in a series of posts/articles with the same sentiment. There are plenty of good reasons why.

The 2016 Mets will begin Spring Training with perhaps 23 spots on the OD roster sown up. That’s nothing new, but unlike the not too distant past when the likely roster included names like Baxter, Gee, Nickeas, Quintanilla or Bautista, a collection of AAAA roster filler complimented by washed up (although we didn’t know it) names like Bay or Santana or Byrdak, this team has names that not only have a bright future, but a present that looks really good as well. The recent signings of Antonio Bastardo and most importantly, Yoenis Cespedes means that players such as Travis d’Arnaud, Michael Conforto and Hansel Robles aren’t being asked to fill shoes that might still be too big for them. The result is a long, deep lineup, a bench that includes several major leaguers (a drastic departure from even 6 months ago) and a reliable bullpen that should protect the leads the starters give them. Check out Bastardo’s numbers against Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman. And just in case, there are a few soon-to-be major league ready players in AAA that can either fill a temporary gap, or be traded for help.

And…it appears that at least a half dozen National League teams are already packing it in. The Mets have 19 games against Altanta and Philadelphia, seven against the Brewers and the Rockies and six against Cincinnati. They get the AL Central this year, so in addition to the Royals, they get the Tigers and the White Sox, although he former may be much improved. They feasted on bad teams and bad pitching last year and appear poised to do more damage again this year. Plus, there must be something dreadfully wrong in that National’s clubhouse.

Maybe it’s the record snowfall or the cabin fever, but I can’t believe I just typed those last five paragraphs! Like the rest of the Mets Today staff, I tend to take an iconoclastic view of the team’s doings, so I probably shouldn’t be shocked if this team stumbles and ends up as just another disappointment. Injuries, especially to young arms, would definitely short circuit this expected romp to the division title. Miami could get Cy Young and MVP seasons from Fernandez and Giancarlo; or maybe Daniel Murphy helps Harper and Jonathan Papelbon find religion and the Nats Kumbaya their way to the NL East crown.

Because after all,baseball is a funny game.


Happy New Year–Mets 2016 NL East Champs

Finally, the offseason that I envisioned when Sandy Alderson first took over as GM: a lot of smallish moves that incrementally improved the team, while positioning them for the sustained success that Alderson mentioned when he first came on board. If the Twitter-verse and the Blogosphere are any indication however, my opinion is in the definite minority. I guess some fans would rather that they spend a quarter billion dollars on a 30-year old pitcher or a give superstar slugger bucks to a right fielder known more for his defense–and then shift him to center.

And I know, it’s that World Series thingy that the Mets did last October that this offseason pales in comparison to. Still I like the trade for Neil Walker and the free agent signings of Asrubal Cabrera and Alejandro de Aza. I am happy they resigned Jerry Blevins and Bartolo Colon. I think this is just about enough to make the 2016 Mets the first team in their history to successfully defend an Eastern Division crown. Too soon to predict what will happen in the playoffs, but the first order of business is getting there.

So, in no particular order, here’s why I think they will indeed “get there.” This is Part One, Part Two will appear soon.

The starting pitching will be better. A BIG caveat: a season-ending injury to any one of the Mets four young starters and all bets are off. Last year, Mets starters tossed 1,080 innings. Jon Niese and Dillon Gee accounted for 215 of those, nearly one-fifth. The duo pitched to a combined 1.45 WHIP,  surrendering 122 runs, while losing 13 games. Those innings will be covered this year by a combination of Steven Matz, Colon and most likely Rafael Montero and Zack Wheeler. Those four, on paper at least, represent an major upgrade over Niese and Gee. For argument’s sake, lets increase the amount of innings projected by Mets starters in 2016 to 1,100. Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom should once again reach 190 each. Let’s bump Noah Syndergaard and Matz both upwards, to 180 and 150 respectively. That’s a big jump for Matz, as injuries limited his workload last year.  So, project 710 innings pitched from the Mets Big Four.

Colon pitched 194.2 innings last year. The plan is for him to keep the fifth spot warm until Wheeler comes back, but I can see him making several spot starts after Zack returns, either for him or for one of the other arms. Dial Bart’s starting workload down to 175. Let’s only give Wheeler 125 as his wildness prior to surgery was a key factor in limiting his innings. Now we’re at 1,010. That leaves 90 or so innings to Montero or Logan Verrett or someone like Seth Lugo or Sean Gilmartin, much less than the 215 innings entrusted last year to Niese and Gee.

Young regulars can get better. Next to the health of the four young guns, the three/four spots in the order are the biggest issue for the Mets. Curtis Granderson unexpectedly re-invented himself into an effective leadoff hitter last year. In doing so, he relieved the Mets of a long standing hole in their lineup with a player already on the roster.   Ideally, Michael Conforto and Travis d’Arnaud are ready to step up as middle of the order types. Should that occur, it means that they have solved their biggest offseason problem with in-house options. I believe the whispers about Travis taking reps at first base this spring is a clear indication that the Mets are leaning/hoping this way. If (and this is a big if) those two can successfully take the next step together, manager Terry Collins can wrap the rest of a solid, if unspectacular lineup around them and even use the left/right setup we saw during the stretch last year and into the post season.

The Middle Infield is better. I may feel different about him 40 or so games into the season, but right now, I love the Walker addition. He is a definite improvement over Daniel Murphy, a full win share (2.4 vs. 1.4) to be exact. Less exact is that he is playing for a contract this year, which evidence suggests serves as a further motivator on the field. FWIW, Pirates fans in my acquaintance hate this trade. I am less enthused about Cabrera, but he should be a league average, reliable shortstop (again an improvement over last year). This move had to be made as both incumbent Met shortstops suffered broken leg bones this past fall. Both Walker and Cabrera are switch-hitters and reportedly can play other positions, but that’s another story for another post.

The division didn’t improve. The Miami Marlins are probably the most improved team in the division so far with a return to health from Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez. Too bad for them, the rest of their starting pitching is poor. The Nationals remain the biggest threat, but they continue to show signs of being the most dysfunctional team in the division. The really remind me of the post-86 Mets, talented yes, but unable to ever put it all together. Can they expect another season like 2015 out of Bryce Harper? I hate the idea of Daniel Murphy wearing their uniform, but I don’t think Murph is a difference-maker. The Phillies and the Braves appear to be in full rebuild mode. Winning the division is never easy, but the Mets appear to be the most solid of the five teams. And unlike their 2000 NL Champion counterparts these Mets don’t have a dynasty in the same division.

Quietly the Mets have left two roster spots still open. I’m still waiting on two more moves before I publish the rest of this post, but I feel that the described four developments alone put us in a good spot to be watching Met games to at least mid-October and hopefully beyond.

So, how was your first day back at work?