Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Mets May Not Contend, But At Least They’re Trying To Be Fan-Friendly

Some brilliant mind in the Mets’ hierarchy, or maybe a few, decided that if the Mets weren’t going to spend any money this year and even pretend to be contenders, they would have to appease their fans in a new and different way.

So, what we now have are the spend-nothing but exceedingly fan-friendly New York Mets. Mets’ Bloggers i.e. the voice of the Mets fan, have been invited to participate in conference calls and meetings just like the writers. And how many e-mails has each of us already received telling us everything Sandy Alderson and staff are up to ? They’ve devised this cute, but corny video message that you can personalize so it seems like Sandy is actually making a personal phone call to you with your name appearing on the screen. His message ? Support your New York Mets, buy season tickets, or at least a package.

Now frankly, I didn’t expect the Mets to be players for Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, or anyone else costing $100 million. I did however think that this brain trust would pluck some low-cost intriguing prospects, even if it meant dipping into the independent league pool, signing a player coming off a terrible year, but still healthy (Kevin Millwood ?) or bringing back a player from a foreign professional league as the Rangers did a year ago with Colby Lewis. Unfortunately, it seems to me that even the player acquisitions so far have been made more to appease the fans than because Alderson and company have spotted some potential that no one else could see. Examples ?

If you checked out the message boards on the various Mets blogs prior to the Rule 5 Draft, you’d have seen that the most popular choices for players that the Mets should pick were Brad Emaus and Pedro Beato. Emaus, fans reasoned, because he could play second base and Ricciardi should know him from Toronto. Beato, because the Mets had drafted him, failed to sign him and saw him go to Baltimore. So, who did the Mets draft ? Surprise. How much scouting did it take beyond reading fans’ comments ? So, of course, after the Mets drafted them, everybody who suggested them was happy ! Again, fan-friendly.

Now we have the latest acquisition, Dodgers’ utility infielder Ching-Lung Hu. Do you remember Alderson’s introductory press conference when a female reporter from a Chinese newspaper asked if the Mets were going to get some Chinese ballplayers ? Sure, we have enough Latino utility infielders - that was Omar’s doing, so let’s listen to Flushing’s Asian community and get a Chinese one.

I’m not giving up on the Mets’ future, either short or long-term, but so far, I’m unimpressed.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Johan Santana Saga

After their devastating collapse in 2007, it was apparent that the Mets needed to do something big to get an ace pitcher to lead the rotation. It soon became known that one of the best, Minnesota's Johan Santana, would be on the trading block because he was entering the final year of his contract and the Twins were unlikely to meet his deservedly astronomical salary demands.

Because the Mets were one of the few teams that could both afford and were probably willing to pay what it took to get Santana, Mets' fans and local writers speculated on what possible package the Mets could put together to offer for Santana. The first names that came to mind were Lastings Milledge, a talented young major league-ready outfielder, and Mike Pelfrey, a recently well-regarded potential staff ace who was disappointing in almost every chance the Mets gave him in 2007, with one exception, a dazzling win over the Braves that offered hope that he just might turn out to be good.

Milledge and Pelfrey probably wouldn't be enough so the names of almost every other player in the farm system who showed any potential was suggested by someone - Deolis Guerra, Hector Pellot, Francisco Pena, Mike Carp, etc. In the meantime, it seemed that the Twins were talking to both the RedSox and Yankees, who were able to offer some pretty good packages out of their farm system and probably be able to afford to throw a major leaguer or two into the deal as well.

Rumors were that the Mets wouldn't be a strong contender for Santana and should probably concentrate on one of the A's starters or maybe Baltimore's Erik Bedard. Then, out of nowhere the Mets traded Lastings Milledge to Washington for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider. Seemingly, the best chip they had to obtain an ace was dealt away for a part-time outfielder and light-hitting catcher. Then, word spread that the Mets had found few takers for Milledge and neither the A's or Twins wanted him as the key player in a package.

Another name came to the forefront - Carlos Gomez. The young outfielder was pushed to the big leagues because of multiple injuries to the Mets' outfielders in 2007 and showed himself to be a potentially electrifying talent with dazzling speed and centerfield skills. But his hitting was unrefined, and just how it would develop remained in question. Plus with Beltran a fixture in centerfield, and Reyes providing base stealing speed at the top of the lineup, Gomez's talents were a little redundant for the Mets' needs. I still didn't see Gomez as the key to a Santana deal and I proposed that the Mets offer him to Minnesota for a well-regarded young pitcher, Matt Garza. Soon after that, the Twins traded Garza for one of the best young hitters in the game, Delmon Young. Clearly, Gomez wasn't enough to get Garza.

Then, Dan Haren, another of the Mets' targets was traded to Arizona for an imposing group of prospects that "experts" told us were far superior to anything the Mets might offer. Meanwhile, various Erik Bedard rumors, none of which seriously involved the Mets, began surfacing. It seemed that another potential target was going off the market.

We heard how the Mets were "close" to signing either Livan Hernandez or Kyle Lohse to fill the last spot in their rotation. There was apparently not going to be an ace coming to the Mets, just a seviceable innings-eater. Or so it seemed.

Then, talk of Santana got hot again. Apparently his agent wanted something to get done quickly after he rejected the Twins' "last best offer". We again heard the names of the Red Sox and Yankees bandied about. Which one woud cave in and toss in that additional player that would seal the deal ? Meanwhile, Omar Minaya and the Mets lurked in the background with their offer - Gomez, Phil Humber, Deolis Guerra, and Kevin Mulvey. With the Yankees and Red Sox not showing any great desire to increase or possibly even match what had been their best offers to that point, the Mets suddenly became a stronger possibility.

Now, the rumors said the Mets would have to toss in their very best prospect, Fernando Martinez, or perhaps a proven major leaguer like Ryan Church or Aaron Heilman to get the deal done. It looked like too much to give up and at the same time not enough to entice the Twins. I didn't think it was going to happen.

I recalled when the Mets traded away Tom Seaver in what to this day is still considered a disastrous trade for the Mets and yet at the time it seemed much better than what the Mets were offering for Santana. After all, the Mets got Pat Zachry, just off a Rookie of the Year season, Steve Henderson, one of the best hitters in AAA and considered major league ready, a potential starter at second or short named Doug Flynn, and a pretty good young power hitting prospect in Dan Norman. Did the Mets have anything comparable to offer for Santana ? I suggested that an equivalent deal might be John Maine, Gomez, Ruben Gotay, and since they didn't have anyone with Norman's credentials, maybe another young pitcher like Kevin Mulvey. I thought such a package would be appealing enough to make the deal, but the Mets absolutely could not afford to give up Maine. Yet, I thought ultimately they might do it and then sign someone like Livan or Lohse to fill Maine's spot.

As it turned out of course, the Mets didn't have to give up Maine, Martinez, Church, or Heilman. With the Yankees and Red Sox on the sidelines, Omar didn't have to sweeten his offer and Santana was a Met. Sure, they still had to sign him, but that was practically a foregone conclusion, because if it didn't get done, well I won't even speculate what kind of hit the Mets would have taken for that !


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Congratulations, Omar

Well, Omar Minaya waited out the Twins and got the prize he's been after all along, Johan Santana. The offer on the table for weeks turned out to be the one that was accepted without including Fernando Martinez, Ryan Church, Aaron Heilman, Jorge Sosa, or for that matter anyone who figured to help the Mets in 2008. Now, it's just a matter of working out a contract extension. It's hard to believe either side will hold firm on something that will sabotage the deal, but until the contract is signed, nothing can be taken for granted.

As far as what the Mets gave up, Deolis Guerra has the potential to become a star, but that's OK. Unless you expect him to become the best pitcher in the game, you have to agree to let him go in this kind of trade. As for Carlos Gomez, as I've said bfore, at his best, he duplicates/overlaps the skill of two Mets already signed long-term, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran, so he was expendable. Phil Humber and/or Kevin Mulvey could develop into middle of the rotation starters, or not. This was a deal the Mets had to make.

So, assuming Santana gets signed, does that put the Mets in position to win the division ? Well, they would have to be considered favorites. Still, I'd like to see an addition or two. A solid righthanded hitting outfielder to share time with Ryan Church or spell Moises Alou on occasion might be nice. And maybe another bullpen arm, in case Sanchez is not ready to open the season. But the outlook seems a lot brighter today. So, congratulations to Omar Minaya for standing his ground, putting forth his best offer, and not succumbing to pressure from the fans and media to throw another good player in to hasten the deal.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Old Time Mets - John Stearns

In the 1973 Amateur Draft, right after the Texas Rangers selected the highly regarded and ultimately ill-fated David Clyde with the first pick, the Phillies used the second selection to take catcher John Stearns out of the University of Colorado. The next two picks both turned out to be hall-of-famers, Robin Yount and Dave Winfield. Since Bob Boone was just starting what would turn out to be a long tenure as the Phillies' #1 catcher, it's a little hard to understand why they would have taken Stearns over Yount and Winfield. Stearns, of course, never achieved anything close to HOF level, but after being traded to the Mets, he had a pretty good career. He might have fit in even better with a contending team, but the Mets were awful during Stearns' entire tenure as catcher, while the Phillies with McGraw as bullpen ace and Boone as catcher were perennial contenders in the '70's and early '80's.

The December 3,1974 trade that involved Stearns and Tug McGraw was an interesting one. McGraw had some shoulder trouble during the 1974 season, and the Mets had some doubt whether he would return to form. So, trading McGraw along with two nondescript outfielders for Stearns, one of the best young catching prospects in the game, Del Unser, an experienced centerfielder and well-regarded leadoff hitter, and Mac Scarce, a lefty specialist who looked like a cinch to win a spot in the bullpen seemed almost like a no-brainer.

Stearns wasn't quite ready for big league duty, but by 1977, he became the team's number one catcher and despite a string of injuries, was good enough to represent the Mets in the All-Star game 4 times. Stearns was solid all-around with exceptional speed for a catcher being his trademark, but he never really became a big star and certainly wasn't in the class of Yount or Winfield. Also, Stearns was injury-prone leading to a lot of missed time and ultimately a shortened career, and in retrospect, his numbers weren't all that good, although they were better than what most of his teammates produced.

Stearns will be remembered as a hard-nosed, hustling player on some terrible Mets teams. Unser and Scarce were both disappointing, so the trade will ultimately be remembered as McGraw for Stearns, so Stearns was in effect, "replacing" a true Mets' hero and one of the game's great personalities, and it was kind of unfair to put that onus on him.

John Stearns later served as a coach and minor league manager with the Mets. He is still managing in the minor leagues, and who knows, may yet become a big league manager. Like so many young players who came to the Mets in trades, the fans had high hopes for him which were never quite fulfilled, but Stearns was solid and did put in a few good years with the team.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Mets Trades Of The Past - Dumping The Heroes of '69

The 1969 Miracle Mets inspired dozens of books and for those of us who were Mets fans then, they represented an iconic team that will live in our memory forever. What made them so special was that pitching aside, they were primarily a very ordinary team of journeymen, disappointments, and discarded veterans who came together for one great and totally unexpected season. I can assume that nearly every Mets fan has at one time or another seen the video of this series and the amazing catches made by Tommie Agee, a talented outfielder and Ron Swoboda, who was regarded as a less than adequate one.

Now, no one plays forever (with the possible exception of Satchel Paige and Julio Franco), but it seemed to me that both Agee and Swoboda should have ben effective players for a few more years, and while I'm not one to say that someone should be untradeable, I remember how disheartened I was when both Swoboda and Agee were traded away. Had they brought back legitimate young prospects (several years later, a seemingly fading Jerry Koosman did bring back Jesse Orosco), it might have softened the blow, but I remember how hard I tried to justify the players the Mets received in exchange, knowing all along that they weren't very good.

Prior to the 1971 season, at the age of 26, Ron Swoboda, at one time the shining hope for a legitimate power hitter in the Mets lineup was traded along with minor league infielder Rich Hacker to the Montreal Expos, for of all people, Don Hahn. Now the fact is that Swoboda never got any better after leaving the Mets, but at the time, despite the fact that he wasn't living up to the potential everyone thought he had since he first burst on the scene, this looked like an incredibly awful dumping of a still young player who was clearly a fan favorite. His contribution to the 1969 Miracle team keeps his name alive, but that aside, yes, he was clearly a major disappointment. But to trade him for Hahn, a good outfielder with zero power, and little hope of being anything more than a defensive replacement was a real downer. And plus, it was the Mets who had to throw in a player to make the deal. The fact is that the trade did little to help either team, but at the time, it seemed utterly ridiculous from a Met fan's point of view.

A couple of years later, Agee, for no reason I could figure out, had seemingly lost his centerfield job to a combination of 40-year old Willie Mays and the aforementioned Don Hahn. The Mets traded him to Houston for the uninspiring pair of outfielder Rich Chiles and pitcher Buddy Harris. Now, Agee had a poor year in 1972, but he was still barely 30 years old, and it wasn't like the Mets had someone like Amos Otis ready to replace him. They had Mays, Hahn, and maybe Dave Schneck. The Mets, no doubt, would have been better off keeping Otis and trading Agee after the 1969 season, but that was all water under the bridge. So, when I heard the deal, I kept trying to convince myself that maybe this guy Chiles was really going to be a star. Both Chiles and Harris had some impressive seasons in the minors, but had been busts when given a shot in the majors.

Well, Chiles had maybe 3 hits for the Mets before they dumped him and Harris never even played for the team. It turns out Agee WAS just about done, and he didn't even last a full season with the Astros, but that hardly softened the blow for Met fans.
Remember at the time of these trades, most Mets fans thought that Agee and Swoboda were still pretty good and in Swoboda's case, still young enough to get better. As it turned out, the Mets might have been right about them, but to me, these trades really hurt at the time.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

You Gotta Have A Catcher - Part 1

In the 1961 expansion draft, the Mets made Hobie Landrith, a journeyman catcher, their very first pick. Why Landrith rather than someone who could be considered a prospect? Manager Casey Stengel had a simple explanation - "You gotta have a catcher or you're gonna have a lotta passed balls".

Throughout their history, the Mets have done an absolutely awful job of drafting catchers - Steve Chilcott, Butch Benton, Rich Bengston and John Gibbons were first-round busts. Admittedly, catching is probably the most difficult position to draft for. With the exception of Todd Hundley, the best homegrown Mets' catchers were Mike Fitzgerald, Ron Hodges, Duffy Dyer, Alex Trevino, and Vance Wilson, not the most impressive group. Yet the Mets managed to have an almost unbroken string of quality catchers that they acquired in trades.

In the winter of 1965, the Mets traded a mediocre pitcher by the name of Tom Parsons to Houston for a young catcher named Jerry Grote. The Astros felt they already had their long-term catcher in John Bateman who was a far better hitter than Grote who projected as no more than a backup. But Grote became the heart and soul of the Mets and was the regular catcher for the better part of the next 11 seasons.

When it became obvious that none of the farm system products were ready to take over, the Mets engineered a trade for the very highly-regarded Phillies prospect, John Stearns, who had been the #2 choice in the 1974 amateur draft, after David Clyde and just before future Hall Of Famers Robin Yount and Dave Winfield. Getting Stearns required giving up Tug McGraw and it can be argued that Stearns never really lived up to his potential, but he still filled the Mets' first-string catching job for the next 6 years.

Faced with the prospect of Mike Fitzgerald and Ronn Reynolds as their catching corps, the Mets dealt a package of players headed by Hubie Brooks, and including Fitzgerald for perennial all-star Gary Carter. Gary had 4 solid years for the Mets from 1985 to 1988. The Mets were contenders each year and probably should have won at least one more championship.

After getting by with the likes of Barry Lyons, Mackey Sasser, and Rick Cerone for the next few years, the Mets had their one and only homegrown star catcher, Todd Hundley, take over the regular job in 1992. He held on to the job, setting home run records in the process, for the next 6 years, until he was injured and the Mets once again needed a catcher.

In 1998, the Mets, probably spurred on by public opinion, dealt for Mike Piazza, who the Dodgers had traded to the Marlins and was made available almost immediately for the best offer. The Mets surrendered Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, and Geoff Goetz in return and reaped the benefits of Piazza for the next 8 seasons before allowing him to leave when it was clear he was becoming a liability behind the plate and couldn't make the move to first base.

THe new #1 catcher was to be Paul LoDuca who was acquired in a trade with the Marlins in exchange for a couple of prospects. Ramon Castro was signed as a free agent prior to the 2005 season. Together, the 2 have provided a solid tandem, but now they are both free to go and the Mets once again need to make a move.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Different Kind of Trade Talk

This is the time of year that everybody proposes trades. Now that there are so many blog writers that allow for instant feedback in the form of fan comments, it's interesting to note that the same trade proposal usually gets back at least one comment that it would be a terrible deal for the Mets and another that says the other team would never do it in a million years.

Among the very best deals ever made by the Mets, you'd have to rank the trades of Robert Person to Toronto in exchange for John Olerud and of course, the Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey for Keith Hernandez deals right near the top. I actually remember back in 1983 when somebody in my office suggested the Mets offer Neil Allen and "a couple of prospects" for Keith Hernandez only to be immediately shot down and laughed at. And who would have thought the Mets could have obtained one of the best hitters in the American League who was also a gold-glove first baseman in exchange for a AAA pitcher wo had already been through 3 organizations and didn't figure prominently in the Mets' plans ?

Sometimes there are circumstances that go beyond mere statistics that affect a player's value. In Hernandez' case, it was a perceived casual attitude and innuendoes of drug use. As far as Olerud, it was a matter of Toronto wanting more power from the first base position and Olerud's average having slipped to the point where the Jays felt he was on the decline. Whether or not there was some kind of personality clash between Olerud and Cito Gaston was never reported, but possibly the quiet, stoic Olerud was not one of the manager's favorites. Who knows ?

These trades worked out spectacularly well for the Mets, but that is not really my point here. I am just trying to show how what looked like one-sided trades on paper did, in fact, turn out to be just that. And yet, they WERE made. So, don't slough off reports packaging some Mets' prospects for a #1 pitcher or all-star caliber catcher. No doubt some team will make a steal of a deal on this winter's trade market. Met fans can only hope the Mets are that team.