It is that time of year again: the usual Spring Training fluff pieces are in full flower. One of the more interesting quotes so far in this newborn season came from new Mets hitting coach Kevin Long, who predicts that Daniel Murphy could win the NL batting crown.
Murphy is certainly one of the more controversial characters to emerge in this post-Madoff era of Met history. Reminiscent of the types of debates mid-1990’s Mets fans had over Jeff Kent, there are few folks that are merely lukewarm on Murph. One side wants this home-grown, gritty, blue-collar All Star signed to a long-term extension. The other side would have traded him two off-seasons ago and wants him moved at least by the July 31 trade deadline, if not sooner.
If the last few seasons have shown us nothing else, they are stark reminders that baseball is a business and the players are merely depreciating assets. With an ownership as financially hamstrung as the Wilpons apparently are, proper control over these depreciating assets is a vital necessity for them in their quest to hang on to this franchise.
Let’s face it: that the Mets have held on to Murphy this long is entirely due to the fact that his salary is relatively low, vis-a-vis his production. That will change after this year, when Daniel is a first-time free agent and looking at a big payday.
So, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the Mets are hoping that Daniel has one of those last-year-of- my-contract career seasons. This may seem counterintuitive on the surface, but if you peel the layers back a bit, it makes perfect sense.
The Mets don’t want Murphy beyond 2015. They have what they perceive to be a perfectly suitable replacement in Dilson Herrera, who should be major league ready by the end of the season. What the Mets want is a huge season from Murph (think Jose Reyes 2011 huge). If he hits say .330 and bangs out 200 hits, there is no way he doesn’t become one of the top free agents in the next class. This works to the Mets advantage, as they can make him a Qualifying Offer, which he will likely turn down in search of a much larger payday. The Mets in turn get an extra first round draft pick, which right now looks like a better and cheaper alternative to any player(s)from other teams that have been linked to the Mets in a trade for Murphy.
There is precedence for this with Reyes. The Mets let him walk, much to the dismay of their fans, garnering two draft picks in return. Those picks have turned into Kevin Plawecki and Matt Reynolds. Both players are on the verge of breaking into the majors this year and are both (more so in Plawecki’s case) regarded as bona-fide prospects. It will make GM Sandy Alderson look pretty smart if he traded a depreciating asset like Reyes (who since moved on to another team) for two serviceable players on his 25-man roster during what he hopes is the year they return to postseason.
Speaking of trades, if Murphy does indeed have a career year this year, there is very little chance he is dealt at the trade deadline, unless the entire Mets season has otherwise gone down the dumper. If the team is even within hailing distance of a postseason berth, you can bank on another quiet deadline for Alderson.
Yep, just like they drew it up: Murph just has to stay healthy and hit the way Long thinks he can. (BTW-Peter Gammons called Long one of the best free agent signings of the offseason) The Mets will reap the benefits of an additional first-round pick, refreshing their farm system while some poor team pays Daniel for what he did for while with the Mets.
Or am I giving the Mets too much credit?
If recent history is any indication of future performance, and the past 43 years of history is indicative of anything, the Mets will have to beat the living daylights out of the Braves, Marlins, and Phillies to be a .500 team in 2015.
For sure, the first man down in Port St. Lucie wouldn’t be for at least another week, right? But no, even before the first official workout commenced, the Mets lost starting first baseman Lucas Duda.
If you had Wilmer Flores in the pool as the Mets Opening Day shortstop, get ready to collect. As incredible as it sounds, the Mets, a team hoping to vault into contention via their cache of young pitchers, are actually planning on starting the season with a previously-failed shortstop prospect manning this vital position; pointing to a small sample size (occurring in September no less) as the rationale for this move. It would be far better for them to just admit that they can’t afford a roster full of the caliber of players that a contender needs, a but honesty was an early casualty in the post-Madoff era.
I am rooting for Flores and I really want the Mets to go back to the playoffs. I don’t need to be right about this one. I will gladly suffer self-congratulatory remarks from a champagne-soaked Jeff Wilpon in the Mets clubhouse after an NLCS win rather than dealing with another losing season. But, after 40-plus years (gulp!) of Met fandom, I have been conditioned into expecting the worst. And I think we’re going to get it. The Mets have a long history of trying to shoehorn bad fits into their lineup, often with disastrous results. The Howard Johnson in centerfield experiment still gives me (and I suppose Hojo as well) nightmares. I have racked my brain trying to come up with a scenario for Flores that might have if not a happy ending, at least a less bad one. Then I remembered Keith Miller and the great 1990 Centerfield Experiment.
If anyone epitomized the term “nice little ballplayer,” it was Miller. He played all over the field and could run a little. On a team loaded with superstars, the blue collar Miller was a welcomed throw back. In 1990, the season after they traded both incumbent centerfielders, the Mets handed the center field job to Miller. The results where less than stellar. Miller didn’t field well enough to overcome his 250/350/404 slash line for the first month of the season. The Mets, picked by many to win the division where struggling (manager Davey Johnson would be fired 42 games into the season) and looked for upgrades. They found one in Daryl Boston, whom they picked up off waivers on April 30. Boston was soon inserted into centerfield and slashed 273/328/440 the rest of the way. One of my favorite Shea Stadium scoreboard witticisms was BOSTON POPS! on the marquee after an extra base hit from Daryl. Not a gold glover by any stretch, he was nevertheless defensively an improvement over Miller and overall, represented an upgrade for the Mets in center.
With a new manager and a new centerfielder, the Mets somewhat righted the ship. They won 91 games, four behind the division winning Pirates. There where only two NL divisions and no wildcard then, so they went home. This was the end of the great 1980’s Mets run and they wouldn’t have another winning season for seven years and not break the 90-win plateau until 1999. As for Miller, he was dealt after the 1991 season in the ill-fated Bret Saberhagen trade.
Flores reminds me somewhat of Miller: a decent bat and no real defensive position. Miller had “potential” written all over him until prolonged exposure to major league pitching revealed his limitations. I suspect the same will happen with Wilmer. BTW–Miller hit .373 for the 1987 Mets, higher than any average Flores has put up anywhere.
The Miller-to-Boston switch might be the best we can hope for at short this year. The Mets themselves have great expectations for this season and the noise will likely increase as Opening Day draws near. If the team and Flores stumble early, like Miller and the 90 Mets did, will GM Sandy Alderson finally bite the bullet and bring in a real shortstop? Perhaps he can finally convince Seattle to part with either Brad Miller or Chris Taylor. Or will he (dare I dream it?) trade for one of the Cub shortstops? These types of upgrades would make the contender talk much more realistic. Or was Terry Collins really serious the other day about an open competition between Wilmer and Ruben Tejada?
In the latest episode of The Fix, Angel Borrelli and I discuss the following: - How can a pitcher know the difference between "normal soreness" and a pain that requires medical ...READ MORE +