Read about the trade deadline deals, the latest no-hitter, a 21-run outburst, and more in my weekly MLB recap for CBS Local.
There has been a lot of talk about a potential New York Mets fire sale. This intensified after Francisco Rodriguez was traded, with fans and writers suggesting Sandy Alderson would gut the roster in order to cut payroll and build for the future. While I certainly don’t think the Mets should or will be buyers at the July 31sttrade deadline, I realize a significant roster makeover is also unlikely.
Jose Reyes, shortstop
Reyes, another free agent after the season, will not get traded. If he were dealt, well, given that I know the location of Alderson’s suite I’d probably have to stay far away from Citi Field. In all seriousness, fans would make the Mets pay for dealing Reyes by not showing up for the meaningless games in August and September. Also, more importantly, Alderson has all but guaranteed Reyes will not be traded. Whether he is re-signed at the end of the season is another story.
David Wright, third baseman
Wright is owed $15 million next year and has a team option for $16 million in 2013. That team option only applies to the Mets, a fact that can’t be stressed enough when discussing Wright’s trade value. Any team that wants to deal for Wright realizes it will only get one full year out of him, while the Mets, if they keep him, will get two years. That makes him a lot more valuable to the Mets than to any other team. In other words, I see very little chance that Wright gets traded. (Note: Wright is currently on the disabled list and an interesting MLB rule states that players on the DL can not be traded.)
Mike Pelfrey, starting pitcher
Pelfrey is earning nearly $4 million this season, so the Mets were hoping for a lot better than a 5-9 record and 4.67 ERA from their Opening Day starter. Pelfrey is not a free agent until after the 2013 season, but his salary could increase through arbitration the next couple of seasons. Considering the Mets had to offer just $1.5 million to acquire Chris Capuano (8-8, 4.12 ERA), Pelfrey is not cheap. I just don’t see the Mets getting much in return for Big Pelf, making him an unlikely trade candidate.
|Beltran will be traded. Wright (back left) will not. Brian Schneider (back right) was once part of a deal for Lastings Milledge. (Credit: Keith Allison)|
Jonathon Niese, starting pitcher; Daniel Murphy, infielder; Bobby Parnell, relief pitcher; Ike Davis, first baseman
These players are valuable to other teams, but they are more valuable to the Mets because they are inexpensive. All of them make a figure close to the MLB minimum of $414,000 (Niese is the highest paid at $452,000). These players won’t be arbitration eligible until 2013, yet they are valuable contributors to the club right now (except Davis, who is on the DL).
Johan Santana, starting pitcher
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Santana, who is on the DL as he recovers from elbow surgery. Even if Santana were to return late this season and pitch well, do you think any team would take on $49.5 million for two years’ worth of a 33-year-old pitcher?
Jason Bay, left fielder
That leaves the “tweeners” like Jason Isringhausen and Tim Byrdak, who won’t cost a trade partner more than a low-level prospect (or a significant financial commitment). They have showed they can be of value to a contending team looking to bolster its bullpen down the stretch.
I’d have to agree that the trading of Rodriguez, Beltran, and Reyes would constitute a fire sale (despite involving just three players). I just don’t see it happening. K-Rod’s departure was necessary, everyone has seen the writing on the wall with Beltran since last year, and Reyes will not be traded. Alderson could plant an “Everything Must Go” sign in front of Citi Field and it wouldn’t make a difference.
Did you know the Mets are the third biggest road draw in baseball this season? At Citi Field, however, a ballpark that is in just its third season, only 67.7 percent of the tickets are sold on average for each game, 11th best in MLB.
In 2009, its debut season, Citi Field was a shiny new toy every New Yorker wanted to play with. Kids get bored with toys, though, and the same thing happened at Citi—last year brought a 15 percent drop in attendance and the downward trend continues this season.
There are many reasons for the decline but the economy and the team’s on-field success are the two biggest. I have a better idea of what the future holds for the Mets than I do for the economy, but it’s still just a guess. Independent of those two factors, though, the franchise is working to draw fans to Citi Field and make the experience positive—after all, even those within the organization don’t have full control over the economy and the standings.
As the Mets return to Queens tonight for a six-game homestand, there are certainly things the organization could improve upon.
The Team, The Team, The Team
More than anything, New Yorkers want to support a winner. If the Mets, who lost in excruciating fashion last night to fall one game below .500, can become a legitimate playoff contender, as they were in the last few years of Shea Stadium, fans will flock to the ballpark.
Ownership let fans know that the last few years were unacceptable when it fired manager Jerry Manuel and general manager Omar Minaya after last season. Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson have brought a measure of respect and accountability to the organization, though Mets fans are too smart to celebrate a regime that simply talks about “doing things the right way.”
A promising sign is how the Mets approached last week’s draft. Alderson said the Mets were prepared to spend over slot, meaning they’d sign players for more than the MLB-recommended amount. We won’t know for a couple of months if they followed through, but it would be a welcome change from the organization’s draft stinginess. In the past five drafts combined, the Mets have spent less than all but one team, according to Baseball America. Giving a couple of million bucks to Gary Matthews, Jr. but not to a potential future starting pitcher doesn’t make much sense.
Another area that could use improvement is player injuries. Owner Fred Wilpon said the Mets were “snakebitten,” and he was presumably thinking about the rash of injuries over the past few seasons. Yes, many of the injuries—especially to so many key players—can simply be attributed to bad luck. But I don’t see how the same trainers and the same doctors are still associated with the organization.
If the Mets medical staff can’t do a better job of preventing and/or rehabbing injuries, the organization could at least improve its communication to the media and public.* I can’t count how many times I’ve heard that a player will miss just one game, then two, then three, before finally being placed on the disabled list. Then, a day or two before his scheduled return, we learn about a setback. Hopefully the medical team can do a better job of diagnosing injuries, but the Mets can certainly do a better job of keeping their fans in the loop.
*Last year I saw a “Mets Organizational Decision-Making Flow Chart” on the internet. It was meant to be a joke, but it wasn’t far from the truth, as all injuries, minor or severe, eventually led to a stint on the DL, a setback, and eventually, a PR disaster.
One thing the Mets certainly have going for them is homegrown talent. Nobody in baseball is playing better than Jose Reyes right now; David Wright is hurt but one of the best third baseman in the game; younger guys like Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada, and Jonathon Niese have shown great potential.
The most important of these players is Reyes, a free agent after this season. It has gotten to the point where, beyond any ludicrous contract demands, the Mets must re-sign Reyes. For many fans, Reyes is the only reason they keep watching the team. Trading him would be a crippling mistake, and Mets fans can only hope Alderson has the foresight—and funds—to make the right decision.
The Mets lowered ticket prices by an average of 14 percent for this season. Single-game tickets are as cheap as $12 for certain games and can be purchased on StubHub, a Mets partner, for even less.
“We’ve had very aggressive ticket price reductions the last few years to help with the economic impact of the recession,” said Mets Vice President of Baseball Operations Dave Howard.
Field level seats are still more expensive than most would pay for a baseball game, something that happens 81 times a year, and 162 if you count the Yankees’ home games as well. In other words, nearly every night from April-September, a baseball fan in New York can see a game.
“Our competition in New York for the entrainment dollar is not just the Yankees,” Howard said. “You have to look at everything people can do from an entertainment standpoint because that segment of their income is finite and they have many options. We feel it runs everything from movies to Broadway to bowling and all the sports teams. We need to be compelling and be an event that people want to come to and have a high degree of confidence that they will have a great experience.”
|Citi Field had a lot more fans for its first game. (Credit: Metsfan84)|
The Mets are certainly a cheaper—if less successful—alternative to the Yankees, as well as most Broadways shows. But despite the Mets’ lower prices, a ballgame for a family is still expensive. Even with $12 tickets, one must consider parking, food, and drinks, a total sum generally over $100. The Mets have nothing comparable to the following package available for Colorado Rockies games: four tickets, parking, four food and drink vouchers, and a program for $59. It’s a different market in New York, sure, but that doesn’t mean families should be priced out.
“We don’t prohibit people from bringing in sandwiches and bottles of water into the stadium if they’d like to save some money,” Howard said. “We’ve always attracted families and we want to provide a good value for their money.”
The Mets certainly provide good value to those fans willing to make a more hefty investment and become season ticket holders. From offseason receptions with the players to opportunities to do everything from taking batting practice at Citi Field to singing the national anthem before a game, season ticket holders are certainly treated well. I’ve joked that if attendance continues to decline they’ll let a lucky season ticket holder throw out the actual first pitch of every game.
The New World Class Home of Amazin’
Empty seats and a disappointing team don’t change the fact that Citi Field is a beautiful ballpark. I’m the biggest Shea apologist you’ll find, but that’s mostly because of the memories I have there. Once the Mets start winning at Citi, I’m sure I’ll come to love it as well, as it certainly has more to offer than Shea.
“We operate Citi Field with an emphasis on treating people with respect in a friendly and safe environment,” Howard said. “Certainly we want the team to win, but we are most encouraged when we receive testimonials from people who have had a great time and they are raving about the staff.”
Fans who show up early for a game can take cuts in a batting cage just outside the stadium, snap photos in front of the old apple from Shea, or visit the Mets museum. Once inside the park, the most popular destination is beyond center field, where Shake Shack, a dunk tank, a tee-ball field, and other food and entertainment options are located. Unlike at Shea, fans can walk around the stadium’s field level and still stay engaged in the game, as the concourse is open air and provides sight lines to the field.*
*The ONLY downside to the open air architecture is that you lose that “wow” moment you had at Shea, that moment when you walked through the narrow passageway from the concessions area to your seat, when suddenly all you saw was an explosion of green. I spoke about this with Mr. Howard and have discussed it with other fans as well. That moment is the most vivid memory many fans have of stadiums like Shea (and the old Yankee Stadium), and you lose that at Citi. Of course the trade-off—being able to see the field when you visit the concessions—is certainly worth it.
When Citi opened, Wilpon drew criticism for the fact that the Jackie Robinson rotunda was too Dodgers-centric and the stadium as a whole didn’t pay much homage to, you know, the team that actually plays there. Wilpon has since admitted that was a mistake, and has worked to correct it by adding the museum, banners of Mets players, and naming the walkway beyond the outfield wall the Shea Bridge.
It’s hard to find something to complain about, other than, of course, the team itself.
And that is why Citi Field can sometimes feel like a “grave yard” according to Mets starter Mike Pelfrey, who made his debut in 2006. “You can feel when there’s an excitement and an energy in the crowd and when there’s not,” Pelfrey said after a home game earlier this season in which the announced attendance was 30,000 but the actual count was probably 10,000 less. “You definitely notice it if it’s down and as a player you don’t welcome that. You want the sold out crowd. You want it to be jam packed because it makes the game even more fun.”
Pelfrey added that even 20,000 New Yorkers can make their presence known because of the city’s passion for sports. “But it’s not the same as if there were 45,000,” he said.
This problem has a lot more to do with the first two items—the team’s performance and the economy—than Citi Field itself. I have little doubt that if the Mets find themselves in a pennant race Citi could shake like Shea once did (figuratively, if not literally).
An abridged version of this article appeared in the June 8, 2011 issue of amNewYork, a daily newspaper distributed in New York City.
It’s an all-New York edition of “Three Strikes,” as I cover Joba Chamberlain’s season-ending injury, Omar Minaya’s stamp on the 2011 New York Mets, and the Mets’ lackluster offensive history.
Joba Rules, Not Meant to be Broken
Joba Chamberlain never felt a “pop;” he didn’t leave the pitcher’s mound in pain fearing his season was over. But the 25-year-old New York Yankees relief pitcher will undergo Tommy John surgery today for a torn ligament in his right elbow. The news broke last week and came as a shock to Chamberlain and many baseball fans aware of the “Joba Rules.”
“Joba Rules” were restrictions put in place to prevent Chamberlain from getting injured or wearing out his arm early in his career. As a promising prospect, the Yankees were extra cautious with Chamberlain, initially not allowing him to pitch on consecutive days (and making him rest an extra day for every extra inning he pitched).
The Yanks could never make up their minds on whether they viewed Chamberlain as a starter or reliever, but they certainly valued him as an important piece of their pitching staff for years to come.
Of course all of that extra care didn’t do much good, unless you believe that Chamberlain would’ve been injured earlier had the Yanks not coddled him. The point is: injuries can happen at any time. The Washington Nationals tried to protect Stephen Strasburg but it didn’t work, as Strasburg needed Tommy John surgery after just 12 starts last season.
In football or basketball, whenever a player gets hurt in the final minutes of a lopsided contest the fans cry that he shouldn’t have been in the game. This is true to a certain extent—more so in football—but a player could get hurt in the first quarter, or in practice, also.
Teams should not be reckless with their usage of players, particularly young pitchers, but a baseball diamond can’t be baby-proofed. Once a player steps on the field you just have to hope for the best.
Omar Minaya’s 2011 New York Mets
Andy Martino of the New York Daily News recently pointed out the influence of former Mets’ general manager Omar Minaya on this year’s Mets team. Minaya was in charge from 2005-2010, when the Mets acquired Justin Turner, a potential Rookie of the Year candidate; Daniel Murphy (hitting .300); Ruben Tejada, who is hitting .310 and playing an excellent second base; Dillon Gee, who is 7-0; promising young left-handed starter Jonathon Niese; injured slugger Ike Davis; and R.A. Dickey, a steadying force in the rotation. There are others of course, but those are some of the unheralded signings Minaya was responsible for.
|I know from experience that Omar Minaya did not like to be looked at while he was the Mets’ GM. (Credit: Wknight94)|
Acquiring under-the-radar players was never Minaya’s problem. While in Montreal and later with New York, Minaya had an eye for talent. He was great at signing the Endy Chavezes and Jose Valentins of the world. It was when he was given a blank check by Mets ownership that he showed his weaknesses.
The Red Sox and Yankees spend a lot, but they still aim to spend wisely. Minaya was like a kid in a candy store once he was given seemingly unlimited financial resources, signing one high-priced free agent after another.
Obviously this was never going to happen, but it’s too bad Minaya couldn’t be kept on as a scout of some sort. This is how I felt when Michigan fired Rich Rodriguez as its football coach—it was too bad he couldn’t stay on as the offensive coordinator.
Mets Lackluster Offensive History
Among the all-time Mets offensive records, shortstop Jose Reyes ranks fifth in plate appearances, second in hits, and first in runs scored, triples, and stolen bases. It’s very impressive considering Reyes just celebrated his 28th birthday and hasn’t even played 1,000 games yet.
Reyes’s partner on the left side of the infield, David Wright, is also 28. He ranks seventh in plate appearances, sixth in stolen bases, fourth in home runs and hits, second in runs, and first in doubles.
This speaks to the amazing production of these young stars, but also the unimpressive offensive history of the franchise. Of the seven franchises that started closest to the Mets (all within seven years), all except the San Diego Padres have had more offensive production (the Mets and Padres are also the only two franchises without a no-hitter).
The chart below shows seven franchises, the year of their inaugural season, their career leader in plate appearances (and, in parentheses, the number of players with at least 6,000 plate appearances), their career leader in hits (in parentheses, players with at least 1,000 hits), and their leader in home runs (in parentheses, players with at least 200 home runs).
|Team*||Inaugural Season||Plate Appearances||Hits||Home Runs|
|Angels||1961||8,480 (3)||2,368 (8)||299 (3)|
|Rangers||1961||6,992 (3)||1,928 (10)||372 (4)|
|Astros||1962||12,503 (6)||3,060 (12)||449 (4)|
|Mets||1962||5,997||1,418 (9)||252 (2)|
|Brewers||1969||12,249 (4)||3,142 (10)||251 (5)|
|Nationals||1969||7,174 (4)||1,694 (7)||234 (4)|
|Royals||1969||11,624 (5)||3,154 (8)||317|
*Texas Rangers formerly Washington Senators; Houston Astros formerly Houston Colt .45’s; Milwaukee Brewers formerly Seattle Pilots; Washington Nationals formerly Montreal Expos
Until recently, with the emergence of Reyes and Wright, the Mets have not had star hitters in their primes. Mike Piazza, Carlos Beltran, and Carlos Delgado, to name three, had great seasons in New York but had already established themselves as All Stars for other teams. Darryl Strawberry, near the top of the leaderboard in many of the franchise’s offensive categories, had his Mets career cut short. Roberto Alomar and even Willie Mays once called Shea Stadium home but neither wears a Mets hat on their Hall of Fame plaques.
If the Mets re-sign Reyes and Wright, as they certainly should, and these two continue to produce as expected, the Mets’ history books will look a lot better in 10 years.
A man shares his thoughts about the Mets during an April 20th game against the Houston Astros at Citi Field. The Mets lost, 4-3, to fall to 5-13 on the season, the franchise’s worst start since 1964. It was their ninth loss in their past 10 games and seventh straight home defeat, the unquestioned low point of the season (so far).
The guy calls the Mets “shitty,” said David Wright—who was in an 0-for-19 slump—is a “very good player” but “not a superstar,” and labeled Carlos Beltran an overpaid shell of his former self.
But this was not Tony from Astoria calling WFAN for a late-night rant. This was not an orange-and-blue-clad loudmouth in section 522. This was not even a Post columnist putting an underachieving team in its place in Thursday’s paper. This was Fred Wilpon, the owner of the New York Mets.
It’s easy to see what Wilpon’s intentions were when he agreed to give Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker access for a feature on his financial troubles: the public would be impressed by his rags-to-riches story; it would show he did care about the on-field results; he would gain sympathy regarding the Bernie Madoff situation.
On those fronts, the article was a success. But Wilpon revealed too much of his inner fan, ripping the team that just this past weekend had climbed back to .500 by beating the Yankees, a franchise whose deceased former owner made a habit of calling out his players.
|I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this photo.|
That is not to say Wilpon’s comments were out of touch. Many fans would agree with his assessments. Wright is a career .300 hitter capable of 30 home runs and 20 steals, but even if “superstar,” a subjective term, is applied generously it probably excludes the streaky Wright. As I’ve written before, many fans associate Beltran with his Game 7 strikeout, as Wilpon does.
As for Jose Reyes, who Wilpon said has “had everything wrong with him” and therefore won’t be getting a Carl Crawford-esque contract, I have to disagree. Reyes will get a huge contract if he stays healthy this season—it just won’t be from the Mets, apparently.
Will Wilpon’s interview negatively affect the Mets going forward? It can’t help, but anyone who thinks it will make it harder to sign free agents is misinformed (baseball players, 99 percent of the time, care about one thing: money). It’s possible the Mets did lose bargaining power should they explore a trade for Reyes or Beltran, though we’ll likely never know for sure.
The New Yorker article confirmed some of the unflattering beliefs of Mets fans the past few years: Wilpon loves the Dodgers (“All the Dodger stuff [in Citi Field]—that was an error of judgment on my part,” Wilpon said); the Mets are clueless when it comes to media and public relations. But is also portrayed the owner as just another disgruntled fan—albeit a rich one who has more control over the team than he seems to realize.
During that April game against Houston, the Mets trailed by one heading into the ninth when Reyes led off with a single. “I’d have him steal,” Wilpon told Toobin. “We’ve had three blown bunts already tonight. I don’t like bunt here.” Mets manager Terry Collins called for a bunt, which was popped up just in front of the pitcher’s mound and turned into a double play that killed any potential rally.
Like the rest of us watching that game, the Mets owner just wanted to see Reyes steal a base. He knows better than most that he won’t get to see it for much longer.
It’s one of the best things you’ll find at Citi Field. No, I’m not talking about Shake Shack. I’m referring to the moment Jose Reyes rounds first base as an outfielder chases the baseball rolling to the wall. The crowd, just like Reyes, gains momentum as he turns second, where it seems the base propels him forward like a spaceship orbiting the moon. A second later he is diving head first into third, the throw way too late. He gets up on one knee and claps his hands hard and points to the dugout. The crowd sings: Jo-se, Jo-se Jo-se Jo-se, Jooo-seee, Jooo-seee! Long home runs and smooth double plays are fun but this is undoubtedly the most exciting thing that can happen during a Mets game.
The question on a lot of Mets fans’ minds these days is: Will they be able to witness it next season?
It’s a strange thought, and one that would have been laughable just a few years ago. Reyes made his debut in 2003 and showed why he was a highly-regarded prospect, though he was injury prone. In 2005, his first full season in the big leagues, he hit .273, stole 60 bases, and scored 99 runs. The next year he and the Mets blew up. Reyes improved across the board (he hit .300 with 19 homers) and was the catalyst for the best offense in the league. He started the All Star Game and was a legitimate MVP candidate. He signed a contract that kept him in Queens through 2011, and Mets fans figured he and third baseman David Wright would wear blue and orange forever.
The injury concerns that surrounded Reyes at the very start of his career returned the last two years, and the Mets plummeted in the standings. Through 31 games this season (including today’s win over the Giants), Reyes looks like his old self. He is hitting .313 with 11 steals and 19 runs scored. He has thrilled fans with three triples, the most in the league.
But the man who signed Reyes no longer works for the team. Moneyballer Sandy Alderson is the new general manager, a man against the type of long-term contract Reyes will demand. With a history of injuries and a less-than-ideal on-base percentage, will Alderson give the 27-year-old shortstop the $100-million salary he’d likely garner on the free agent market?
I hope so.
For starters, Reyes would be difficult to replace. You could get an average shortstop and a big bat somewhere else to make up the difference in the lineup, but that’s easier said than done. There’s more to it than that, though.
Reyes is a homegrown talent, which means something to fans. They watched him come up, witnessed the highs and lows of his career, and want to see him finish his prime in a Mets uniform. He’s also the most exciting player on the roster and it’s not even close. Wright is a stud, but there’s nothing flashy about his game. Carlos Beltran, who is a near certainty to be with a new team next year (if not this summer), was once a five-tool player, but his bad knee has robbed him of everything but his bat. With Johan Santana on the disabled list indefinitely, no Mets starter is worth the price of admission.
|The dirty jersey, perhaps from a dive into third. (Credit: alpineinc)|
If the Mets (13-18), currently in last in the National League East, continue to falter and deal Reyes this summer, what reason will fans have to show up at Citi Field?
I was at the ballpark on Tuesday, in the same section as Alderson’s luxury box. I saw Reyes go 3-3 with three walks and a stolen base. I saw him drill one to right field and make the turn at first. This time, he had simply hit the ball too hard, and the outfielder, who was playing deep to begin with, got a great jump and played it off the wall. Reyes eased up and coasted into second with a stand-up double, but just the thought of the triple got the crowd excited.
I turned back, as I did after every Reyes at bat that night, to look at Alderson. I hoped he saw what I see.
Update, 5/27/11: Since Mets owner Fred Wilpon has apparently lost 65-70 percent of both his marbles and money in the past year or so, it doesn’t seem very likely the Mets will re-sign Reyes. Simply put, the cash-strapped Mets don’t appear to have the funds necessary to spend big money on a free agent this offseason. Sadly, Reyes will likely be dealt before the trade deadline.
For me, the reminders are everywhere. Some are subtle, like the background picture on my laptop. It’s a photo of my golden retriever and me celebrating my 21st birthday in August of 2007. We’re both so happy, because the Mets were marching towards their second straight divisional title.
Then there’s the 2007 Mets media guide that is in my bathroom. Every time I use the toilet, shower, or brush my teeth I see it. The 3 x 2 photo grid on the cover is saddening. There’s Carlos Beltran, holding his pointer finger in the air. There’s Tom Glavine, wearing a 2006 NL East Division Champs shirt and cap, with a smile that says, “Yeah, I’ve done this 15 times before but it never gets old.” There’s Carlos Delgado, wearing the same attire, though looking even happier since he was in his 14th season and about to play in his first playoff series.
There’s Billy Wagner and Paul Lo Duca, the spokesmen of the team, embracing near the mound with the unbridled joy of a couple of little leaguers. There’s David Wright and Jose Reyes, looking a bit more serious as they perform a choreographed handshake. And there’s Willie Randolph, displaying the biggest smile of them all, most likely after one of the Mets’ 103 total victories that season.
Oh, how I miss the joy of 2006 and the optimism that lasted through August of 2007. The joy and optimism that beams from the media guide. The joy and optimism that, like many of the characters on the guide’s cover, are no longer associated with the Mets organization.
It’s hard to imagine how far the franchise has fallen since that magical year, a year which could’ve been even sweeter. The Mets were one game away from a trip to the World Series. It’s pointless to play this game, but given how poorly the Detroit Tigers played against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Mets would have likely won the franchise’s third World Series title.1
While the starters were nothing spectacular that year, the Mets rarely blew leads. Unlike more recent seasons, the ’06 team had a tremendous bullpen. Of the five relievers used most often, only Aaron Heilman (it still annoys me just to type his name) had an ERA over 3. Wagner was awesome, converting 40/45 save opportunities, but it was the bridge to him that defined this bullpen.
(Here are some numbers to prove my point: In 2006, when the Mets were leading entering the sixth inning, they lost a total of 18 games. In 2007, this number jumped to 31. In 2008, the year in which the Mets operated with the worst bullpen I have ever seen, they blew 52 of these leads. In fact, they blew 20 leads just from the eighth inning on.)
Chad Bradford was the submarining righty specialist who, get this, could actually pitch to lefties as well. Pedro Feliciano, the only reliever still with the team, was the phenomenal lefty specialist. Darren Oliver was the long man, and the best in baseball that season in my opinion. And of course there was Duaner Sanchez, who kept getting more and more responsibility until Willie realized he was the second best arm in the ’pen and made him the set-up guy.
Duaner was a fan favorite in ’06. People loved his energy, his throwing motion, his glasses, and of course, his excellent performance. My older brother went as far as requesting Duaner’s #50 jersey as a gift that summer.
The jersey wasn’t a hot commodity for very long. On a Sunday night in Florida, less than 24 hours before the trade deadline, the cab Sanchez was riding in was hit by a drunk driver. Sanchez’s shoulder was injured and it was apparent to the Mets he wasn’t going to be returning that season. Forced to replace a key component of the bullpen, Omar Minaya traded useful outfielder Xavier Nady to the Pirates for reliever Roberto Hernandez and, as a throw-in, Oliver Perez.
Hernandez was decent, pitching to a 3.48 ERA in 22 appearances for the Mets, but he was not as trusted as Sanchez, unable to lock down the eighth-inning role and appearing in only three postseason games, never in an important situation.
The effect of Sanchez’s unfortunate injury was two-fold. One, I honestly believe it cost the Mets the 2006 World Series. The bullpen was perfect with Sanchez, but without him it forced Heilman into a more important role, one he couldn’t handle.
Secondly, while the trade also brought Perez—who made two critical starts for the Mets in the NLCS and won 15 games the following year—it also, well, brought Perez, who was really bad in 2008, atrocious in 2009, and a financial drain this year and next. Someone else could’ve started those playoff games. Someone else could’ve helped the Mets not make the playoffs in ’07 and ’08. Ask anybody who follows the Mets and they’ll tell you know that the franchise would be far better off had Perez never joined the team.2
|Even without words, Mr. Met says so much. Shown here during the Mets’ 70-win 2009 season. (Credit: Andrew Kahn)|
Perez alone was not responsible for the Mets’ collapses in ’07 and ’08. Remember, the offense and bullpen were so good during that incredible ’06 season. So what happened? To make a long story short, many of the hitters simply had a worse season.3
One player who was a pleasant surprise, though, was 37-year-old Jose Valentin. Valentin took over the starting job at second base in the summer of ’06 and never looked back, providing more offense than anyone expected from the position. He was also said to be a clubhouse leader. I don’t doubt this, because another turning point of the Mets franchise—and this one is not mentioned nearly enough—is Valentin’s injury in late July.
The similarities between Valentin’s and Sanchez’s injuries are apparent. Much like after Sanchez got hurt, Minaya was forced to act shortly before the deadline to acquire a replacement for the inevitable playoff push. He traded two minor leaguers for Minnesota’s Luis Castillo.
In the short term, Castillo was a great pick-up, bringing stability to the middle of the infield in place of Valentin. In his 50 games with the Mets that season, he hit nearly .300, scored 37 runs, stole 10 bases, and hardly ever struck out. Much like the Sanchez deal, this was a savvy move by Minaya. Castillo played well and, as a bonus, the prospects the Mets parted with turned out to be low-impact players.
The problem, of course, was the contract Minaya offered at season’s end. Castillo was a player who had always relied on speed and scrappiness, but he was 32 at the end of the ’07 season. This didn’t stop Minaya from overbidding for Castillo, giving him a four-year, $25 million deal. That is unconscionable, given that Castillo would be 36 at the end of the contract. His speed (and defensive range) faded, and for whatever reason (the big contract, maybe?) his scrappiness was gone, too.
Watching the 2008 version of Castillo induced Little League flashbacks. Castillo was like the worst kid on your team, the kid who knows he can’t get a hit so he enters the batter’s box praying for a walk. That’s what Castillo did for 87 games in 2008. His batting average was a career low .245. He still managed to walk 50 times despite showing an inability to hit the ball out of the infield. He was overweight, out of shape, and useless both offensively and defensively.
In his defense, Castillo did have a bounce-back year in ’09. In a season where seemingly every other Met missed considerable time, Castillo played in over 140 games and hit over .300. Of course by July nobody was watching. We were watching at the start of this season, only to discover Castillo had returned to 2008 form.
Perez, as I mentioned before, seemed to carry the momentum from that memorable NLCS Game 7 start into the following season. He struck out a batter per inning and reduced his walks. His 15 wins and 3.56 ERA were very respectable for someone the Mets anticipated to be a back-of-the-rotation pitcher.
Perez won arbitration in the offseason and raked in $6.5 million for a season in which he had a 4.22 ERA and walked over 100 batters. By midseason, Mets fans were very uncomfortable when Perez took the mound. They never knew whether “good Ollie” or “bad Ollie” would show up. His middle name was Inconsistent.
How did Minaya reward this erraticism? With a multi-year mega-deal. The exact numbers: three years, $36 million.
Perez rewarded the Mets faith by showing up to Spring Training in terrible shape, then not using that period to get in shape. He was overweight and had lost considerable velocity on his fastball. His control had somehow gotten even worse.4
In 14 starts in 2008, Perez’s ERA was 6.82. He walked nearly eight batters per nine innings, though he never made it anywhere close to the ninth inning of a game. Only twice did he pitch into the seventh. In eight starts he did not make it past the fifth. Keep in mind that like ’07, the Mets missed the playoffs by one game this season. A minor league starter chosen at random from the Mets’ farm system could have helped the team more in 14 starts than Perez did.
The light at the end of the tunnel is that these two unfathomable contracts expire after next season. If the Mets can somehow find a taker for either one (I actually think a team might bite on Castillo this winter; no chance Perez gets dealt), then 2010 could be the last time they appear in a Mets uniform.
The fact that either was allowed to don the orange and blue for this long should ensure that the man who made it happen is sent packing at season’s end.
1(2006) The consolation prize was not too shabby: The Mets ended the Atlanta Braves’ 14-year run atop the division, winning their first title since 1988, and advancing to the NLCS before losing that epic seventh game to St. Louis.
The offense that season was off the charts: Beltran hit 41 home runs; Delgado blasted 38. Three players accumulated at least 100 RBI. Two Mets finished in the top 10 in the league in batting (Lo Duca and Wright). Reyes led all of baseball in triples and stolen bases. The core—Beltran, Wright, and Reyes—and the only three hitters who are still with the team today, all finished in the top 10 for the league MVP.
The pitching was not excellent, but it was good enough. Steve Trachsel (with an ERA just a hair under 5) and Tom Glavine each won 15 games. Pedro Martinez started 5-0 but injuries derailed his season. He wasn’t the same after matching Arizona ace Brandon Webb pitch for pitch in a late May game the Mets ended up winning 1-0 in 13 innings.
Pedro was absolutely masterful that night. He pitched eight scoreless, striking out just as many and only allowing five baserunners. Webb was equally dominant, showing why he won the Cy Young that season. It was Endy Chavez, a name Mets fans will never forget, who finally won the game with a single.
I attended this game with some friends for $5. That’s right, upper deck seats for select “value” games at Shea Stadium were $5, even if the Mets were in first and it was Pedro vs. Webb. I wrote an article about this game for a very local paper, though it was never published. My dad came up with the clever headline: “38 Cents Per Inning.”
Orlando Hernandez joined the Mets from Arizona shortly before that game, and was serviceable in 20 starts, baffling hitters by drastically changing speeds. “El Duque” was stellar in September, and thus was named the starter for the Mets’ first playoff game since 2000. He tore a muscle doing some light running the day before the game, though, and was scratched from the postseason roster.
Replacing Hernandez was John Maine, who helped the Mets win the opener against the Dodgers and earned the win in Game Six of the NLCS. Oliver Perez, of course, was called on to pitch the most important (and, as it would turn out, the last) game of the season, and performed admirably, aided by Chavez’s miracle catch.
2(2010) In fact, I conducted a casual poll on Twitter asking Mets fans and bloggers which current Mets player they disliked the most. Jeff Francoeur, Luis Castillo, and Francisco Rodriguez were mentioned, but the overwhelming “winner” was Perez. Responses noted that he is selfish, unmotivated, and of course, overpaid. Interestingly, several people noted that they had wished the question included any Met employee because they disliked Minaya more than any player.
3(2007) To keep a long story long, let’s take a deeper look. The future had become the present as Reyes and Wright once again had monster years. Reyes saw drop-offs in his average (20 points), RBI, and power, but his OBP remained the same due to added plate discipline and he actually stole 14 more bases (a whopping 78). I believe it was during this season that a Sports Illustrated poll of GMs listed Reyes as the guy most likely to be taken No. 1 if all players were thrown into a draft.
Wright improved across the board as well. He hit for more power (reaching the 30-HR plateau for the first time), stole more bases (34, up 14 from ’06), and won his first Gold Glove (although people who watched Wright on a daily basis, like I did, will tell you it probably wasn’t deserved).
The homegrown boys were challenging their cross-town counterparts—Jeter and A-Rod—for the best left side of the infield in baseball.
Even at the time, at the height of his awesomeness, I remember thinking this was a bit ridiculous. Were they forgetting a certain Cardinals slugger? Through 2006 (six seasons), Albert Pujols averaged 40 homers, 123 RBI, and .332 batting average. He had already won an MVP and turned himself into a Gold Glove first baseman.
If the poll was in fact taken during that ’07 season, Pujols was only 27 years old at the time. Reyes had turned 24 that summer and had established himself as a five-tool player. Scouts thought he could hit 20 homers a season and steal 60 bases. These optimistic projections were a reality for Pujols, so it was, to say the least, premature for GMs to vote for Reyes. Even so, it shows exactly how high Reyes’ stock was at the time.
As for the rest of the lineup? Well, the term “career year” exists for a reason, and the Mets had an abundance of them in ’06. Lo Doca’s batting average and on-base percentage each dropped about 40 points in 2007. Delgado’s 38 homers and 114 RBI became 24 and 87, respectively. Beltran regressed towards his career average—his batting average remained the same but his slugging and OBP dropped significantly.
The corner outfielders were Shawn Green (acquired late in the ’06 season) and Moises Alou, an off-season acquisition. Their best years were certainly behind them, and while Alou was productive when he was in the lineup, injuries prevented him from reaching even the 90-game mark. Endy Chavez was a suitable replacement but not someone you want playing everyday.
4(2010) In case you don’t know about how Perez has fared this season, go ahead and look it up. It was hard enough writing about his ’09 campaign—I couldn’t bring myself to waste time on his seven starts in 2010.