Archive: January 18th, 2008

Second Base Covered

Finally, the Mets agreed to terms with Jose Valentin, giving him a minor league contract and extending him an invitation to spring training.

Thank goodness … after Miguel Cairo signed with the Mariners, there was a very real, very scary possibility of the Mets beginning spring training with only six second basemen (not including Willie Randolph, who might have had to swap the comfy coach’s shoes for player’s spikes).

With Valentin wrapped up, the Mets’ second base depth is still looking precarious, but with a little luck, they should get through July — remember, they can always make a deadline deal if need be.

Here’s the current depth chart at the keystone:

1. Luis Castillo
2. Damion Easley
3. Marlon Anderson
4. Ruben Gotay
5. Jose Valentin
6. Anderson Hernandez
7. Fernando Tatis

Of course, Jose Reyes could play 2B in a pinch … and I imagine David Wright could slide over there if it was absolutely necessary. And there hasn’t been any word as to whether the Mets will bring back Jake “The Snake” Gautreau, who had another injury-riddled season in AAA last year.

We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief now, knowing second base is covered. I think we’re now all set to begin spring training — that WAS the last issue to resolve, wasn’t it?

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Big Prospect Trades By the Mets

With the possibility of the Mets making a 4- or 5-for-1 trade with the Twins for Johan Santana, I thought I’d look back at some of the big trades in the past where the Mets dumped a handful of prospects in return for one MLB player.

December 11, 2001 – Mets acquire Roberto Alomar and two minor leaguers for:
Matt Lawton, Alex Escobar, Jerrod Riggan, Billy Traber (PTBNL), Earl Snyder (PTBNL)

This was a major, major disaster of a deal when you consider that Alomar came into NYC as a scared rabbit and hit more like his father than the player who finished fourth in the AL MVP voting a month before the trade. While Lawton was expected to take over left field for the Indians, the keys to the deal were Escobar — who at the time was considered better than Lastings Milledge ever was — and recent first-round pick Traber, a 6’5″ lefty who might compare to today’s Mike Pelfrey. In addition, Riggan had shown promise in a 35-game stint in setup relief (think: Juan Padilla), and Snyder was no slouch himself — he played 1B, 3B, and OF, and was a consistent 20-25-HR power threat in the minors (compare to Mike Carp). In the end, though Alomar was a bust, so were all of the players sent to Cleveland.

May 22, 1998 – Mets acquire Mike Piazza for:
Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, Geoff Goetz

OK, the Mets didn’t exactly empty their minor league system for Piazza — no small feat in acquiring the best-hitting catcher of all-time. However, Wilson was the hottest commodity in Metsville — Milledge would be a good comparison — and LHP Yarnall was a fast-moving prospect
who eventually cracked Baseball America’s “top 50” in 2000 (compare: Kevin Mulvey, as a lefty). As it turned out, Piazza gave the Mets the best offensive production they’ll ever see from a backstop. On the other end, Goetz never made the majors, Yarnall never panned out either, and Wilson — other than 2000 and 2003 — had a disappointing career that failed to match the hype.

July 31, 1989 – Mets acquire Frank Viola for:
Rick Aguilera, David West, Kevin Tapani, and Tim Drummond

OK, this didn’t turn out so great. Viola pitched two and a half seasons for the Mets, winning 20 games in one of them, before becoming a free agent and leaving the organization. On the other hand, Aguilera went on to be a dominating closer for a decade and Tapani became a solid #2 or #3 starter, once winning 19 games. However, West, who was the key piece of the deal and at the time considered the best prospect in the package, was an absolute bust. Drummond pitched a total of 49 MLB games in mopup relief.

Dec. 11, 1986 – Mets Acquire Kevin McReynolds, Gene Walter, and Adam Ging for:
Shawn Abner, Stan Jefferson, Kevin Mitchell, Kevin Armstrong, and Kevin Brown

No, it wasn’t THAT Kevin Brown, but rather a AAAA / tweener with the same name. Walter and Ging were throw-ins; this deal was all about McReynolds, who performed well but did not live up to high expectations. Mitchell was the only one in the Mets’ part of the package who had any kind of MLB career, winning the NL MVP in 1989. At the time, Abner was considered the better prospect, having been a former first overall #1 pick and a supposed “5-tool player”. In addition, Jefferson was thought of so highly that the Padres immediately inserted him as their starting centerfielder … that didn’t last long. Armstrong did not reach the Majors; I think he was added to the deal simply because his first name was “Kevin”.

Nov. 13, 1985 – Mets Acquire Bob Ojeda and three minor leaguers for:
Calvin Schiraldi, Wes Gardner, John Christensen, and La Schelle Tarver

While you couldn’t compare this trade to a potential Johan Santana deal, when it was made most felt the Mets had overpaid and made a mistake in giving up so many good young prospects. Gardner had saved 18 and 20 games for Tidewater the previous two seasons and many felt he was ready to become an MLB closer, but was blocked by the McDowell – Orosco tandem in Flushing. Schiraldi was a fast-tracker with electric stuff, who had gone 14-3 at AA and 3-1 with a 1.15 ERA before skipping to the bigs in 1984 as a 22-year-old (as a comparison, imagine if Pelfrey dominated like that, what his value might be). Tarver was one of many, many speedy, athletic outfielders in the Mets’ system at the time blocked by Mookie and Lenny Dykstra. He was coming off consecutive .300+ average, 35-steal seasons in AAA and seemingly just needed an opportunity with an MLB club in need of a centerfielder (consider him an advanced Carlos Gomez, minus the power potential). Christensen was a AAAA guy, and by 1985 was too old to be a prospect (think: Ben Johnson).

As it turned out, Ojeda was exactly what the Mets needed, and Schiraldi was also exactly what the Mets needed (meaning, the right guy to pitch against them during Game Six of the 1986 WS). Gardner turned out to be a journeyman mopup reliever, Christensen did nothing, and Tarver played in 13 big league games. Schiraldi was the best of the group, but after a promising 1986 half-season, never fulfilled that early promise, jumping from team to team and between starting and relieving. His last MLB season was 1991 — at age 29. In contrast, Ojeda kept receiving big league paychecks through 1994.

Conclusion

It’s probably not fair to compare the Mets’ prospects of yesteryear to the handful of trading chips they currently have … but it’s a long winter and what else do we have to argue about?

If the past can tell us anything about the future, then these deals suggest that the Mets might be on to something by emptying their coffers for Johan Santana. Personally, I’m still against trading away too many prospects at this point in time, but looking over all the above, it’s hard to argue against the idea. Of the 21 players sent away, the only ones who had decent MLB careers were Kevin Mitchell, Kevin Tapani, Rick Aguilera, and Preston Wilson. Again, it’s not fair to compare across eras, but going strictly by the numbers, it would appear that the odds are in the Mets’ favor in a 5-for-1 or 4-for-1 trade.

Thoughts? Did I miss any blockbusters that might be representative?

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Mets Tops in NL Salary

At least they finished first in something — the New York Mets topped the National League in average player salary with $4.5 millon, according to figures released by MLB.

The Yankees, of course, led all of MLB for the 100th year in a row, with a $7.47M per diem. The Red Sox, surprisingly (not) came in second at $5.46M. The Dodgers were right behind the Mets at $3.99M.

In contrast, the cellar dwellers of the NL East — the Marlins and Nationals — each paid $1.29M per player.

Overall, MLB salaries were up by 4.6%, with the average closing in on $3M — $2.84M to be exact. These big paychecks no doubt are tied to MLB’s $6 Billion in revenue (projected to reach $6.5B in 2008).

Time to lace up the old spikes and give it another whirl …

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Robin Ventura’s New Ankle

For those who recall the “greatest infield ever”, you should know the name Robin Ventura. Ventura was a major part of the Mets’ success in 1999 and 2000, stroking big clutch hits and flashing gold glove defense at third base. He was a hard-nosed, get-dirty player in the mold of Ray Knight — a sound all-around ballplayer and leader on the field.

Ventura’s career was cut short — though, he did put in 16 seasons — due to a severe ankle injury suffered in a spring training game in 1997 while playing for the White Sox. He slid hard into home plate — yeah, he was one of those guys who went all-out even in ST — and his foot was mangled when it ran into catcher Bill Hasselman. Ventura suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his ankle, and missed over 100 games that season. Though he eventually returned to the field, he suffered continuously with extreme pain in the ankle, regularly getting cortisone shots for the remainder of his career.

The pain grew so great that it forced his retirement in 2004, but leaving the field did nothing to alleviate the problem. Before long, he required a cane to walk around. He had three choices: live the rest of his life in pain, have his ankle fused (and have limited use of it), or get someone else’s ankle.

He picked option three.

Twenty-six months ago, Ventura underwent ankle transplant surgery. A piece of bone harvested from a cadaver was inserted into his right ankle by Dr. William Bugbee, a San Diego-based surgeon who had performed the unusual surgery some 250 times. The procedure involves an incision from the lower shin to the top of the foot and requires removal of a rectangular-shaped portion of the damaged bone, about one inch long, and some cartilage. A piece of bone from a cadaver, shaped to the precise size and shape of the rectangular hole, is inserted and fastened to the bones using four screws.

And now, Ventura is walking — pain-free.

“When they first told me about what they’d be doing and showed me a picture. … yeah, it was, ‘Eeuuuw. I’m not sure this is what I’m looking for — someone else’s bone,'” Ventura said. “My kids don’t get near my foot even now. But I don’t even think about it now. I’m just happy it works.”

More encouraging, it appears that the surgery was a complete success, and Ventura will remain pain-free for the rest of his life … though it’s doubtful he’ll try a comeback anytime soon.

“They said [the transplant] can last one week or for the rest of my life. I’m past one week, so that’s good. And it doesn’t hurt … at all. The beauty of it is that I was never really gifted in that area [with speed], so it hasn’t slowed me down a bit.”

Although I vaguely remember Ventura having some issues with his ankle while with the Mets, he never let on that it was that bad. He was such a gamer, he probably didn’t want anyone to know about it or to appear as a whiner. Glad to find out that he can have a normal life after having such a problem — he was always the type of guy one can feel good about rooting for. I wish him well.

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Acquisition Roundup

We did a half-month report on player movement just a few days ago, but with spring training commencement so close, teams are in a mad rush to sign free-agents and send out ST invites.

A few slightly interesting pickups in the past couple days …

Astros invite Runelvys Hernandez to spring training

Runelvys was beginning to resemble Elvis — meaning, the “fat” Elvis we saw in the mid-1970s just before The King’s death. Hernandez was once mildly promising, while serving as the Royals “ace” and Opening Day pitcher in 2003. However, he demolished his elbow that year and underwent Tommy John surgery, and hasn’t been the same since. After ballooning to Bartolo Colon proportions, the Royals cut him loose and the Red Sox kept him around AAA until the end last May — at which point an opt-out clause kicked in because he wasn’t on the MLB roster. He did fairly well, albeit as a 5-inning starter, posting a 3.06 ERA in 7 starts. The Yankees picked him up for 6 AAA starts, and he continued to perform well with a 3.56 ERA. However, the Yankees released him and he caught on with the Pirates and did poorly — 8.47 ERA in four starts. For the Astros, Hernandez is a fair risk as he has an outside chance to win the 5th starter spot. Although I wouldn’t have minded seeing the Mets take a flyer on him, my guess is the NY spotlight is not the ideal place for him to continue his comeback.

Mariners invite Arthur Rhodes and Chris Reitsma to spring training.

Two veteran relievers with similar issues — Reitsma coming back from an ulnar nerve injury and Rhodes returning from TJ surgery. Both have some experience as closers, and have shown success as setup men. On minor league deals, these are no-brainer risks for the M’s, especially considering that both are expected to begin the season in AAA. If the Mariners didn’t already have strong ties to these individuals, they might have been considered by the Mets for AAA / mid-season depth.

Cubs sign Jon Lieber

Damn. On the bright side, the Mets may have the chance to overpay in a trade for Jason Marquis.

Rangers sign Jason Jennings

This makes a lot of sense for both parties, though I was hoping the Mets would have held interest in the righthander. A one-year, $4M contract is all it took, and perhaps Jennings gave the Rangers something of a hometown discount (he grew up in Mesquite, TX and attended Baylor U.). I feel strongly that Jennings will return healthy, but again, NYC was not the right place for him to recover. Let him have a good comeback season and the Mets will get a chance to sign him to a bloated 4-year deal during the winter of 2008-2009 — to pitch once every five days and play first base the other four.

Marlins sign Mark Hendrickson

Damn again. Hendrickson could have slid right in to the Aaron Sele role — except, he would have been more valuable as a LOOGY and spot starter. He received an MLB contract from the Fish, and perhaps wasn’t worth such a guarantee from the Mets.

Cubs invite J.D. Closser to spring training

It wasn’t long ago that Closser was considered a future All-Star. The switch-hitting catcher was a “can’t miss” hitter when anointed as the starting backstop for the Rockies in 2005, but struggled with the bat and found himself back in the minors. He had a terrible year at both levels in 2007, after being a solid .290 hitter with power throughout his minor league career. There’s either a confidence problem or a PED issue here, and if it’s the former and it can be overcome, then the Cubs might have a decent bench guy. In addition to catching, he can play the infield corner positions and some outfield. If he can ever hit again, he’s an ideal 25th man and late-inning pinch hitter.

Meantime, the Mets continue their course of surreptitious, covert operation. In an effort to keep the rest of MLB guessing, they are not revealing any of their ST invites, other than those sent to Jose Valentin, Fernando Tatis, and a handful of guys no one has ever heard of.

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