Archive: October 3rd, 2007

Rethinking LoDuca

There were at least three more articles ready to go concerning the collapse of the Mets, but at this point who cares? It’s over. The subject has been saturated. Time to move on, and start looking ahead to 2008.

Let’s begin with Paul LoDuca.

When the Mets refused to discuss an extension with LoDuca in the spring, it was a red flag that the 2007 season might be his last as a Met. And while his spirited play was a breath of fresh air on an occasionally lifeless squad, his defense took another step backward and his offensive production dropped considerably compared to 2006.

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The RBI were up, but that was more a function of his being in the bottom half of the batting order, rather than in the #2 spot that he called home for most of 2006. Still, it was nice to see that production at the bottom of the order. And though nearly doubling his homerun output, it came at the expense of 21 less doubles. Bottom line was, he didn’t get the bat on the ball nearly as often in 2007 as he did in 2006 — and for a guy that doesn’t walk, that is a major problem when trying to get on base and score runs (i.e., start rallies).

Looking at LoDuca in a vacuum, it’s easy to say “let him test the free-agent waters, we’ll get someone else in here.” However, the pickings are slim; in fact, LoDuca may very well be the best value available on the market.

Herewith the list of potential free-agent catchers:

  • Jorge Posada
  • Ivan Rodriguez
  • Brad Ausmus
  • Jason Kendall
  • Mike Piazza
  • Damian Miller
  • Michael Barrett
  • Kelly Stinnett
  • Yorvit Torrealba
  • Josh Paul
  • Doug Mirabelli
  • Mike Lieberthal
  • Robert Fick
  • Rod Barajas
  • Paul Bako
  • Jason Larue
  • Todd Greene
  • Chad Moeller

That’s it folks. And the Tigers may or may not be picking up Pudge Rodriguez’s option — something the Mets will be watching closely, we presume. I don’t see Posada crossing town, and I don’t see Piazza returning. Barrett was a guy I once thought might be OK, but he can’t hit and he can’t catch and Lou Piniella says he can’t call a game either (he does have a good left hook, though). Ausmus will either re-sign with Houston or go back to San Diego (it’s simply what he does, for whatever reason). Lieberthal’s days as a regular are over. There’s been some talk about Torrealba, but he looks to me like a Paul LoDuca who strikes out twice as often. Who’s left, realistically? Rod Barajas? Jason Larue? I’m thinking … no.

Before you get on the “Ramon Castro should start” kick, here’s some news: Castro is a free-agent as well. And coming off back problems. Further, though you may not care, both Mike DiFelice and Sandy Alomar, Jr., are free birds as well. So in all likelihood, the Mets’ 40-man roster in November will be devoid of catchers. (Damn the Nats for rule-5-drafting Jesus Flores!)

Castro’s not a lock to return, despite his homerun heroics in limited duty. The Mets are concerned with his back, and may not be willing to pay the money he could get from another team — such as, an AL team that could use him as a backup catcher and DH. There is no one outside of 17-year-old Francisco Pena in the minors. There’s a very real possibility that the Mets will have to find a starting and backup catcher from outside the organization.

But unless a trade (or two) can be made, it may make the most sense to bring back LoDuca. The fans love his spirit, the team can use his leadership, and his numbers aren’t that bad compared to what’s available on the market. He’s proven that he can handle the New York media, and the various pressures that go with playing in the big city. The pitchers like pitching to him, and he handles the staff well. He’s a team player, and though he whines once in a while, he’s hardly a distraction. One must wonder who will take the pressure off David Wright — as far as speaking to the media — once LoDuca and Glavine are gone. That duty can’t be measured, nor ignored. It’s not like one of the Carloses will suddenly become the Mets’ spokesperson.

Outside of free agency, I’m not sure there are any good fits worth trading for. Ramon Hernandez? Maybe. Contrary to reports, I don’t believe Victor Martinez can be pried away from the Indians — and if he is, the price is sure to be hefty. There’s been talk about Ronny Paulino of the Pirates, as well as Miguel Olivo of the Marlins, but I’m not sure either of them is an improvement over LoDuca. Gerald Laird is available now that Texas has Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but do you really think Laird is the answer? In New York? Maybe on the 1981 Mets, but not the 2008 version. Johnny Estrada is a possibility, but again, isn’t he essentially LoDuca? Why give up personnel for a guy when you can sign someone similar and give up nothing?

If there were a backstop out there who we could definitely say is a good fit, and could improve on LoDuca’s production, then fine — let Paulie go. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Barring a blockbuster deal, or an infatuation with Pudge Rodriguez, the odds of Paul LoDuca returning may be better than we originally thought.

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Response: Top-Step Celebrations

Over at MetsBlog, Matt Cerrone posts his opinion on the Top-Step Celebrations.

While I respect Matt immensely, his comparison of the 2007 Mets “exuberance” to the 1986 Mets “cockiness” couldn’t more off-base.

Yes, the ‘86 Mets were cocky, and colorful, but I don’t remember any dancing at home plate.

What I DO remember were a bunch of guys who played all-out, hard-nosed, tenacious baseball. Their competitive fire, will to win, and confidence were the energy behind their “flamboyance.”

In contrast, the energy behind the ‘07 Mets “exuberance” comes from what? The selfish need to showboat? Narcissism? Unexpended effort? Empty braggadocio guarding against the fear of failure?

Enthusiasm is great. Over-the-top, flagrant displays of emotion in the middle of a game is a symptom of a lack of self-control. As was pointed out by another MetsBlog reader, the dancing around at home plate after a homerun is akin to ” … guys in the NFL who do their asinine sack dances when their team is losing by 3 touchdowns in the 4th quarter. Like Jim Brown used to say: ‘act like you’ve been there before’.”

Matt Cerrone finished his post with:

… i actually believe this argument is not really about the Mets anyways…instead, i suspect it is a proxy fight between fans who are ‘old school,’ i.e., people who like the quaint pre-ESPN game from yesteryear – you know, like with Reggie Jackson and Rickey Henderson – against those who are ‘new school,’ i.e., fans, like me, who like a bit of flash and fun with their baseball…

He’s on to something here. I’m definitely of the “old school” variety, and have a hard time with all the flamboyance from these young whipper-snappers. However, I’m not understanding how his examples of the two biggest hot dogs of the 1970s and 1980s — Reggie Jackson and Rickey Henderson — fit into the argument. But as long as he brought up Reggie, I’ll have to say that Jackson’s bravado was probably the beginning of what’s become a rampant epidemic in all the major sports. First came Jackson admiring homeruns, simultaneously with his NFL counterpart Billy “White Shoes” Johnson doing touchdown dances. Soon after, nearly everyone in the NFL had their own touchdown spike or dance (remember the “Smurfs”?). Around the same time, the NBA built its entire image on singular hot dogging — using the slam dunk contest as a springboard (pardon the pun). Through the years we saw the emergence of trash talkers, “Neon Deion”, sack dances, slow homerun trots, and myriad other self-important spectacles. Cerrone calls it ” … a bit of flash and fun … ” but I call it selfish, ‘look at me’, self-centeredness that does little other than expose a person’s repressed fear, self-doubt, and starvation for attention.

Let’s get one thing straight: I LOVE to see Jose Reyes smiling, laughing, and enjoying the game. I love his enthusiasm on the field. But there’s a point where the excitement can be tempered — and controlled.

Players who get too high tend to get too low. The extremes may work in football, but not over a 162-game baseball season. Case in point: the Jose Reyes emotional rollercoaster was a fantastic ride in April, but not much fun in September. Don’t you think there could be some connection between his abysmal performance down the stretch and his emotional immaturity?

I’m not saying that Jose’s overindulgence in homerun celebrations was the reason the Mets lost 76 games this year — that’s a myopic and incorrect analysis. However, his occasional over-excitement — and the Mets’ tolerance of it — is both a symptom of Reyes’ emotional imbalance and a first step toward Willie Randolph losing complete control of the team (if Jose can do it, then Lastings can do it; if those two can do it, then … etc.). With proper guidance, I believe Reyes can learn when too much is too much, and also learn to be more levelheaded emotionally. He doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to be the boring, workmanlike drone that Randolph was during his 18-year MLB career, but he can benefit by not getting SO high and later dropping SO low.

Or the Mets can live and die riding the Reyes rollercoaster — hoping the highs outnumber the lows over the course of a season. Assuming, of course, that we buy into the idea that “as Reyes goes, so go the Mets”.

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Lastings’ Disappointment

Nearly lost in the sea of post-mortem articles covering the collapse was this Daily News article, headlined,


“Lastings Milledge Expresses Disappointment Over Collapse”

My response, to quote the great Miles Davis: “So What?”

From the article, we find out that Lastings Milledge is — not surprisingly, based on the headline — disappointed that the Mets didn’t make it into the postseason. Here’s a quote:

“As a team, we’re disappointed a little bit,” Milledge said Sunday after the Mets’ season ended.”

First of all, I had no idea Milledge was a spokesman for the team. Though I suppose the morgue-like clubhouse didn’t house many yappers after the atrocious game 162.

Secondly, that was the last sentence that did not include the pronoun “I”.

At MetsToday, we’ve been hard on Lastings … and received quite a bit of flak for it. However, it’s not ending anytime soon. His “improvement” in behavior in 2007 was a step in the right direction, but hardly the leap that was necessary for a “future star” playing under the heat of the New York limelight. Yeah, yeah, he has the right to produce rap albums and sing misogynistic lyrics on them as well. He’s misunderstood, representative of the youth of America. I get it. His outbursts on the field — the taunting of opponents, the dancing, the mouthing off with umpires, and the temper tantrums are products of his “enthusiasm” and “exuberance”. Yeah, I get that too. His sometimes abrasive cockiness is the “mark of a confident ballplayer”. Believe it or not, I get that as well. I also get the fact that he has immense skills — specifically, lightning hands that drive the bat through the zone and swat fierce line drives.

And with that complete package (or is it “baggage”?) that is Lastings, we get: a .272 batting average, 7 HRs, 29 RBI, in 59 games and 184 at-bats. Over a 150-game, 600-AB season, that translates to around 23 dingers, 90 RBI, and the same .272 average. Not bad. The RBI look good. It’s better production than Shawn Green. Are the numbers worth the complete “package”?

There are some who believe Milledge will one day approach the production of Gary Sheffield, who has similarly quick hands in the batter’s box. The quick hands, of course, are not the only parallel drawn between the two.

However, there’s one thing about Sheffield that Milledge has yet to show: hustle over a 162-game season. Milledge hustles all right — when it suits him. Such as, when he’s trying to make the team out of spring training. Or trying to stretch a double into a triple. Or looking to score from second on a hard-hit single. Most of the time, he hustles. Unfortunately, not all of the time.

Add “lazy” and “unfocused” to the list of complaints against Milledge — be they fair or not. He’s been caught — on camera — jogging down to first on easy ground balls. Taking his time in getting to balls hit over his head. Standing on second base because he didn’t know there were two outs. Jawing at umpires over balls and strikes, and then swinging at balls over his head. Missing the cutoff man.

Cut him some slack, the apologists cry. He’s just a kid.

So was Carl Everett. And Milton Bradley. And Sheffield, for that matter.

Next year, Lastings Milledge turns 23 years old. Though it will be his third year in a Major League uniform, in many ways he’s still a “baby”. Will we continue to treat him like one? Will we continue to look the other way when he makes a mistake? Will we glaze over the immature actions, and accept them as the cost of doing business with a man-child who can blast the ball over the fence? If so, at what point — or what age — do we begin to make him responsible for his actions, and ask him to respect both the game and his opponents? At what age does a selfish youth become a veteran malcontent?

We let the immaturity of Jose Reyes slide by when he was 23 — and upon turning 24, it’s not so cute anymore. Yes, Jose’s issues were very different from Lastings’ but nonetheless they were there, and they were excused as the innocence of youth. Now they’re being examined as possible flaws.

The head of Mets management — Omar Minaya — is confident that the immaturity of Milledge, Reyes, and other youngsters on the Mets will work itself out. They’ll mature as they age, simply by hanging around as time passes — like a bottle of fine wine. If that’s the case, I hope these kids are bottles of Grand Cru Burgundy, rather than Gallo Hearty Burgundy.

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Glavine Likely to Bail

Tom Glavine as an Atlanta BraveWell, at least we now know why Tom Glavine wasn’t nearly as broken up as the rest of us after singlehandedly eliminating the Mets’ last chance at the postseason.

Tommy wasn’t “devastated” because, it appears, he can’t get out of town fast enough. Most likely, it didn’t help that some of his teammates seemed indifferent about winning and losing back in June (that one postgame interview with Tommy, when he pitched well but suffered a tough loss, and in the background players were joking and laughing, couldn’t have sat well).

From an article entitled “Glavine Most Likely Done with Mets” on SI.com :

“I know if I decide to become a full-fledged free agent, I’d have a lot of interest from a lot of teams…Atlanta is home. The hardest thing for me in New York is playing and being away from home. I’ve played in New York for five years now. If you break it down, I’ve been away from my home for four years now. I’m at the point where my wife and kids are making sacrifices for me.”

“I have five days at the end of our season to accept or decline [the option],” Glavine said from his Alpharetta, Ga., home. “Most likely, I’ll decline it.”

That’s great, Tom, just great. Don’t let the door hit your backside on the way out, OK?

Most likely, Glavine will pass on the guaranteed $13M player option he earned by pitching 160 innings this season, and take the same (or less) money from the Braves. Let’s face it, he wanted to go back to Atlanta last year, but the Braves were too stingy to pony up the dough (ironically, they tried to dump Tim Hudson to make it work). This year, though, it’s already been made official that Andruw Jones will be off the books, so there’s suddenly a windfall of money. So Glavine can go back to his “home” (didn’t he grow up in New England?) and play golf with his best buddy John Smoltz next year.

Personally, although I loved watching Glavine, in my mind he’s worn out his welcome — and it began with his indecision of last November. His two postseason gems of 2006 have been erased by his final three abysmal starts of 2007 — most notably, of course, the torturous Game 162.

On the one hand, it’s good that it appears Glavine will be making his decision sooner rather than later. His hemming and hawing last November, waiting for the Braves to offer him a contract, was more than annoying, and it froze the Mets’ offseason dealing for the weeks leading up to the winter meetings. This time around, the Mets will know of his plans immediately — purportedly by Friday — and can then move on with their revamp of the pitching staff.

On the other hand, Glavine will join a rotation that already includes Tim Hudson and John Smoltz. If the Braves had Glavine this year, the Mets might have finished in THIRD place, not second. Whether Glavine can continue the magic that got him through the first 31 starts of 2007, or if his last three are more indicative of his 2008, remains to be seen. Even at his worst, you’d have to think that Glavine will make another 30-33 starts, and find a way to win at least ten games.

Also annoying will be the outpouring of emotion when Glavine makes his return to the Braves — we’ll have to hear all about the lovefest from the Atlanta media for weeks on end, I’m sure. Hopefully we won’t have to read too many quotes like “I never wanted to leave” and “I never felt comfortable in New York” and “Atlanta fans are the best”.

Assuming Tom Glavine does indeed return to the Braves for a final season, I offer him one piece of advice: leave your family in Atlanta when you make your first trip to New York. It’s not going to be pretty.

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