It’s All New Monday

Pitchers and catchers are making their way to Florida and Arizona as camps begin to open.  Many players have already been there working out for some time.  That’s true of the Mets as well. A new era is about to begin in Port St. Lucie.

For the first time since 2011, a new manager will be at the helm for the New York Mets.  In the past I would have been excited about such a move.  However, I’m beginning to think that no matter what the Mets do, the goal of sustaining success year after year, like a certain cross town team seems to achieve annually, will just never happen.  I’m not saying that the Mets will have another down year like the season last but I’m also not buying into the thought that the Mets are going to go back to the playoffs either.

If everyone remains healthy for a change and the players live up to the back of their baseball cards, there is no reason to think that the Mets cannot have a very good season.  But on the other hand, that’s just not the way it has gone the last couple of campaigns, even when they made the playoffs as a wild card team in 2016.  Injury upon injury, the heralded pitching staff that has never been in the five man rotation at the same time, the catching duo of Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki not able to live up to the hype, and the overworked bullpen that imploded lead after lead—doesn’t’ leave me feeling warm and fuzzy moving forward.

It’s safe to say that the negative heebie-geebies have taken control of my ability to feel confident as another Mets season is about to begin.  I’m feeling the same way a lot of Mets fans feel.  That’s really too bad because when you look at the off season, the Mets have actually done quite a bit.  And contrary to a large amount of Mets fans, the team has dumped more money into the free agent pool than most clubs.  Their latest acquisition of third baseman Todd Frasier will help to solidify the infield and add some needed protection to the lineup.  Although his batting average is not that great, his on-base-percentage is and he hits for power.  Frasier is a solid defender and also very reliable to be in the line-up on a day in and day out basis.  He’s a very good addition to this team, especially when you consider that David Wright’s career, at least as an everyday player, is very likely over.

With Mickey Callahan as the new manager, someone who everyone raves about, the voice in the clubhouse will be fresh.  In fact the entire coaching staff has been overhauled with some very good people. Gary Disarcina comes over from the Red Sox with very high marks.  He’s the new bench coach that is considered one of the best in baseball.  Dave Eiland takes over the pitching.  For most of the Mets pitchers, it will be the first new voice they’ve heard in a long time, having been under the tutelage of Dan Warthen for their entire major league careers.  Eiland did a fantastic job with the Royals who defeated the Mets in the 2015 World Series.  Then of course there are the player changes.

In addition to Frasier, Sandy Alderson signed Jay Bruce, reliever Anthony Swarzak, Adrian Gonzales (ah…), pitcher Daniel Zamora, and resigned Jose Reyes who will be a bench player (let’s hope). Also the Mets have completely revamped their medical department.  That combined with Callahan’s approach to health will hopefully keep most of the Mets on the field this season.

So with all the Mets have done over the off season, why am I not more optimistic?  Well as the saying goes, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice… Hopefully I, a mean we, will be pleasantly surprised.  It all starts Monday, February 12th, in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

The Business of the Mets

The Mets have been written off, likely to finish in last place after the 2018 season concludes.  The Nationals are still really good.  The Braves are getting better and better, the Phillies have improved too and recently signed guitarist Carlos Santana to play first base.  Well alright, the Marlins are once again selling off the franchise so maybe the Mets finish in fourth.

Or maybe they actually do better.  Mets fans are angry and I can’t blame them.  I’m angry too and here’s why.  The Mets just aren’t the Yankees when it comes to spending money and likely will never be unless the Mets are sold to a billionaire who loves baseball and never want’s to lose.  I don’t see that happening anytime soon.  So with that we make a choice to follow the Mets or the Yankees or some other team that spends more.

Now look, none of this means the Mets cannot compete in 2018.  They were in the World Series just two seasons ago and made the playoffs in 2016 too, losing the wildcard game.  Last season became a disaster because of a number of reasons.  First and foremost were all the injuries.  How can you win when most of the starting staff and the star left fielder were either on the DL or hampered by injuries.  The bullpen, as typically handled by Terry Collins, was a complete mess.  Then it was learned after the season that the clubhouse had become somewhat fractured and perhaps Collins no longer had the players back anymore.  Of course that can often happen during a losing season.

So in the shadow of the Yankees getting superstar Giancarlo Stanton to play along with superstar Aaron Judge, the Mets signed a very decent relief pitcher in Anthony Swarzak.  GM Sandy Alderson wants to build up the bullpen to support the starting staff. Okay, he’s done that and is likely not done brining in new players.  They have also been actively looking for a second baseman and may reunite with Jay Bruce.  Not bad moves and if all the pitchers, Yoenis Cespedes, and Michael Conforto (when he comes back) stay healthy, there is no reason to think the Mets cannot be competitive in 2018.

Now if the Mets want to sign Mike Moustakas to play third base, I’m not going to stand in their way.  I’ll even take Todd Frazier.  But either are not likely.  The Mets use a model of basing their salary on advanced ticket sales, TV revenue, merchandising, and whatever else is an income source.  Many teams do this.  What I don’t get is the thinking.  How does not signing Moustakas or a similar impact free agent foster selling more tickets?  It seems to me that if the front office shows an unwillingness to invest in the team, the fans are not going to clamor to buy tickets ahead of time.  However, a lot of bitching and moaning Mets faithful would reconsider say a Moustakas and a Darvish were coming to Flushing.  How do you think the Yankees’ ticket office did once it was announced that Stanton would be donning the pinstripes?

The New York Post had an article indicating that Fred Wilpon was aghast that the Yankees traded for Stanton and took on a 265 million dollar salary.  Really Fred?  You’re shocked by that?  How long have you lived in New York?  Maybe instead of complaining that the Yankee model can’t be sustained you should take a page from it.  I’m not saying the Mets should become the Yankees but just be a bit more flexible and take a risk or two that could payoff big dividends.

Whether the Mets pick up more impact free agents or not, I still think they will be better next season. How much better is hard to predict.  Hopefully the Mets will make some smart moves before spring training to get those tickets going out the door.

Stanton Was Never Coming Here

So the Yankees pull a rabbit out of their hat (again) and Mets fans go absolutely insane.  They are calling for the Wilpons to sell the team but let’s be honest. Giancarlo Stanton was never, ever going to approve a trade to the Mets.  So stop blaming the owners.  But…

You CAN blame the owners.  Because you need to ask yourself why would Stanton not approve a trade to the Mets?  I think the answer is clear.  The Mets simply don’t win enough.  Why wouldn’t Stanton or any player in his position not want to go to the Yankees?  They win all the time.  They just went through a brief rebuilding effort and never stepped below .500. Why do the  Yankees win all the time?  Because the Yankee owners make that the number one priority in their mission statement.  “Our mission is to win, period!”

Can’t say that about a lot of teams, including our dear beloved New York Mets.  Yes, they want to win but not at all cost.  They don’t want to spend the way the Yankees do.  They look at their budget over a stretch of time and depending how they’ve done the previous season will determine what their new budget will be.  F-that say the Yankees.  They will spend what it takes to win and that’s what they demonstrated again yesterday.  So ultimately yes, Mets fans are not wrong to blame Mets ownership.  The Wilpons have not created the atmosphere for the biggest stars of the game to want to come to Flushing.

Rarely have the Mets been successful at signing a big time free agent.  Tom Seaver, Daryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden, Keith Hernandez, Mike Piazza, Johan Santana, and Yoenis Cespedes all arrived through development or trade.  True, Piazza and Cespedes signed their next contract with the Mets but seldom have the Mets picked up a marquee player straight from the draft.  But let’s not forget that this is “Money-Ball” philosophy that Mets GM Sandy Alderson helped to create.

So while the Yankees have to be the odds on favorite oto win the AL East, it doesn’t mean the Mets will necessarily have a bad season.  It appears that Mets fans are assuming that will be the case.  Stanton has played his entire career on the Marlins with some other very good players and they’ve won nothing.  Of course he now joins a much more talented team.  Would Stanton have made the Mets better?  Of course he would have, he would make any team better.  But the fact is he’s Yankee now and there’s nothing we can do about it.

The Mets have a new manager and a new coaching staff for the most part.  They have a fine group of pitchers who should do very well if they are healthy.  They can score runs with the players they have, again if they can stay healthy.  And I’m sure changes are still to come at the Baseball Winter Meetings that begins tomorrow.

Clearly the Stanton trade hit’s the Mets below the public relations belt, no doubt.  But the fact is he was never coming here.  Mets ownership saw to that a long time ago.


Thoughts of this World Series

Last evening’s wild extra inning game in LA not only happened on the anniversary of the 1986 World Series game six classic but was oddly reminiscent of game 6 of the ’86 NLSC involving Houston and of course the Mets.  Both games included a late game comeback then back and forth scoring threw extras before the away team won.  Quite an amazing game that did not involve the Amazins.

It’s the first World Series since 1970 involving two teams with 100 wins or more.  That year it was the Orioles with 108 wins and the Reds with 102.  That was the second year in a row that both World Series entrants had over 100 wins.  In 1969 the Mets won 100 while the O’s won 109.

With both clubs in warm climates and Houston having a roof over Minute Maid Park, there should be no postponements.  If the series goes seven, it will be the 5th time that Major League baseball is played in November.  Last season the Series ended on November 2 in Cleveland.  In 2015, the season ended on November 1 at Citi Field.  In 2010, the Giants won the World Series on November 1 at Texas.  The latest a World Series ended was at Yankee Stadium on November 4, 2009 and in Arizona on November 4, 2001.  The ladder was due to the delay in the schedule because of 9/11 and it was the first time November ball happened.  I’m waiting for the day that a World Series game will be postponed because of snow.  It will happen.

Even though Houston moved to the American League in 2013, they still feel like a National League team to me.  And therefore this is an unusual World Series in that it feels like two NL teams competing.

Former Mets in the World Series include Justin Turner, 3B (LA); Carlos Beltran, DH (Hou); Colin McHugh, RHP (Hou); and Juan Centeno, C (Hou).  Curtis Granderson was left off the Dodgers’ World Series roster and will only be added if there is an injury to an outfielder. How sad for Curtis.

Manager News

Dusty Baker manages the Nationals to two consecutive division titles winning 93 games each year but then is fired.  Joe Girardi gets the Yankees within a game of the World Series in a year that everyone expected the Bombers to work on rebuilding and he’s fired too.  Win or else!

I’ve read nothing but positive things regarding new Mets manager Mickey Callaway.  He certainly appears to be different from the standard garden variety manager.  I feel that because he was a pitching coach, his handling of the bullpen will be miles ahead of Terry Collins who wore out relief pitchers on a regular basis.  Callaway supposedly has very good communication skills which will be helpful in a clubhouse that appeared to fracture during the latter half of the 2017 season.  A new voice was needed so hopefully Callaway and the coaching staff that will be assembled will move the team back into a winning environment.  That and good health of course.

The Mets Buy the Chiefs

From 1969 through 2006, the Mets triple A farm club was located in Norfolk Virginia.  Originally known as the Tidewater Tides, then the Norfolk Tides, the 38 year affiliation was the longest running minor league club in franchise history.  But following a disagreement with Mets ownership, the Norfolk Tides bid adieu to the Mets, signing a deal with the Baltimore Orioles for the 2007 season.  Since then the Mets have been the foil in a game of AAA musical chairs.

Because there are only thirty AAA teams, MLB parent clubs sometimes do not have a choice as to where their AAA affiliate will be.  The only open seat available in 2007 was the New Orleans Zephyrs, a Pacific Coast League club.  This posed a series of problems for the Mets because none of the Zephyrs’ games took place in the Eastern Time zone with many played on the west coast.  The distance to shuttle players back and forth, to and from Flushing was often problematic.  Ideally a team would want their AAA and AA clubs as close as possible for the simply reason of retrieving players as quickly as possible, especially in the case of emergencies.

Following the two years in New Orleans, the Mets were able to grab a seat back in the International League table as they landed in Buffalo New York.  This was a much more desirable location for the Mets since International League clubs are no further west than Indianapolis and further south than Gwinnett Georgia.  However, two things hurt the Mets while in Buffalo.  One, the Mets farm system was not very good with the AAA Bisons finishing in last place twice, the highest being third place, their second year in Buffalo.  Two, with the Toronto Blue Jays just 100 miles away from Buffalo, there are lots of Blue Jays fans in the western part of New York State.  The Buffalo ownership wanted a more competitive team with closer fan ties to a major league affiliate.  A deal was struck between the Bisons and Toronto leaving the Mets out in the cold once again.

The only franchise left available at the time was the Las Vegas 51s, a place where pitchers go to die.  The Pacific Coast League is a notorious hitter’s league.  It’s worse in Vegas with the high altitude and dry air.  Simply put, Vegas is not a great place for young pitchers to hone their skills in an organization trying to build around pitching.  Plus the ballpark in Vegas, Cashman Field, is considered one of the worst in triple A.  Because of the hot dry conditions, the field is like concrete making infield play a daunting task.  But the Mets had no choice except to wait for an opportunity to hopefully get back to the International League.  Minor league affiliate deals are typically two to four years in length.  After two seasons in Vegas, with no opportunities available again, the Mets had no choice but to stay.  In an announcement in 2016, the Mets said that the relationship between the major league club and 51s was beneficial to both.  Of course this was nothing more than PR.  The Mets desperately wanted out of Las Vegas but with nowhere to go they had to suck it up and make it sound like they were glad to be staying put.

During the last couple of seasons of so many injuries, moving players from Las Vegas or another Pacific Coast League city, when the 51s were on the road, required a lot more travel time, cost, and logistics.  But more importantly evaluating players was more difficult when playing in conditions so alien compared to where the home team play their games.

Citi Field is at sea level where conditions are often cold, wet, hot and humid (let’s hope it’s not below sea level in the coming warming years).  Air pressure and climate affect the way a ball is thrown and hit.  Prospects with good stuff are often pounded playing in desert conditions.  Breaking balls do not behave the way they are supposed to when at high elevations in dry conditions.  Just ask any Colorado Rockies’ pitchers.  On the contrary, not so talented hitters benefit from desert conditions.  Quite simply, it makes the evaluation of talent by the front office difficult.  Ultimately an MLB club wants their prospects growing up and playing in conditions similar if not exactly like those they will experience at the major league lever for 81 plus games.

In order to create a better AAA situation, the Mets would need to be creative and insure a path back to the International League, hopefully as close to the city as possible.  This week the Mets did both of those things and give them credit for taking charge of the problem.

One way to get back into the IL would be to buy a franchise.  A team cannot create a new franchise because there can only be thirty clubs.  Typically MLB clubs sign a deal known as a PDC (player development contract) with a minor league team to develop their players.  The major league club hires the general manager, manager, and coaches and builds the roster with players that mostly come through the MLB and International amateur drafts.  A MLB club also subsidizes the expense of running team operations making the relationship desirable.  The benefit owners have of affiliated teams over independent minor league teams is that major league clubs defray the cost.  PDCs are typically two to four years in length.  When the contract expires, ownership of the minor league club is free to negotiate a new deal with the same club or another major league team.  An MLB club not owning the affiliate makes themselves vulnerable to being moved out by another team.  That was the case when the Mets were forced to New Orleans then to Nevada.

The Mets took care of business this week by purchasing the Syracuse Chiefs, the longtime AAA team that has made the upstate New York town home since 1961*.  This is a great move for many reasons.  It puts future AAA Mets players in close proximity, playing in identical climate conditions to that of Queens.  Mets players need to experience playing in cold wet Aprils in the northeast as opposed to comfortable warm conditions in the desert.  Plus, the Mets AAA team moves from a dilapidated run down ballpark in Nevada to one of the finest facilities in all of AAA baseball.  NBT Bank Stadium, opened in 1997, is a double deck ballpark modeled after the modern retro ballparks of the modern era.  It’s been well manicured over the years and is a first class baseball stadium.  And surely now that the Mets own the club, they will certainly want to help the city of Syracuse keep the ballpark pristine.**  Most importantly of course is the distance between Citi Field and Syracuse.  It’s just 260 miles, a mere one hour and five minute flight.  That’s quite a difference compared to the 2500 miles to Vegas, a five and a half hour plane ride.  Once in Syracuse, the furthest a AAA Mets player will be from New York is when the Chiefs play in Gwinnett, Georgia, a two hour flight away.

Another benefit to being in Syracuse is that it puts front office personal in a position to easily visit their triple A club and see firsthand who may be ready to come up.  It also places a third Mets minor league club in the state of New York.  The Binghamton (AA) Rumble Ponies are only one and a half hours away from Syracuse by car.  When the Mets want to see a double A starter try out triple A hitters, it’s going to be a much simpler logistic.  The Mets also have their short season A club in Brooklyn.  They are building their brand throughout the state of New York with their top two farm clubs in upstate New York and their low level A club a borough away from Citi Field.  Come 2019, all Mets farm clubs will play home games in the Eastern Time Zone with away games no further than the Central.

This is a win-win for the Mets.  Frankly I’m rather shocked they were able to pull off a deal like this considering the often confused state of affairs within Mets ownership.  Now if they can just incorporate that kind of thinking into the roster and health conditioning, we’ll have something to cheer for.

Of course the move to Syracuse does not happen until after next season.  In 2018 the Mets will still be in Vegas playing out their final season in the desert.

*The Chiefs actually began in the 1930s but eventually moved.  In 1961 the franchise was re-established with the ’62 Mets being affiliated with them.

**I’ve read that the Mets will be at NBT Bank Stadium through 2025 which leads me to believe they do not own the stadium, just the franchise.  This just means that the Mets will renegotiate a new lease with the city at that time.  Of course since the Mets own the team, they could always opt to move it elsewhere but that would seem doubtful.

Games of Importance of the Last Weekend

It’s hard to believe that six months have passed and that the end of the regular baseball season is upon us.  And of course for Mets fans, there is no more baseball come Monday.  This was one of the most disappointing seasons in a very long time.  Expectations were so high but injuries completely derailed the season and the pitching staff completely fell apart.  Only Jacob deGrom managed to stay on the field the entire season.  Noah Syndergaard, lost since April 30, Matt Harvey, on the DL for a good chunk of the season,  Steven Matz and Zach Wheeler both had their seasons end early.  Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman underperformed too compared to their work from the end of last season.  Closer Jeurys Familia was lost for most of the season after a blood clot was fixed in his shoulder.  The rest of the bullpen couldn’t hold a slim lead and what we ended up with was a season to forget.  In games when the Mets scored three runs or less, the team went 6-53.

Of course we hope this was just a stumbling block, an aberration, that next year things will get back on track and the Mets will contend again.  Before that, there will be a lot of changes.  The Mets will have a new manager and coaching staff and there will be some personnel changes on the field as well.  But that discussion is for another day.

There still is baseball to follow if you so wish in 2017.  So here are the important games of the final weekend.  And to add insult to injury the first one involves the dreaded cross town rival Yankees.

1-Blue Jays vs. Yankees (1:05) – Yankee haters will be rooting for the Jays to do to the Yanks what they just did to the Red Sox. The Sox magic number is 1 meaning if the Yankees lose just one game this weekend or the Sox win just one, then Boston is the ALE Champ and the Yanks will host the Twins Tuesday at the Stadium in the AL Wildcard game.  Kudos to the Yanks for playing an afternoon game today—ah the good ole days.

2-White Sox vs. Indians (7:10) – The Tribe wants home field advantage and they have a shot at winning it playing the White Sox who have had another down year.  Cleveland has a one game lead over Houston so who gets most of the home games may not be decided until Sunday.

3-Astros vs. Red Sox (7:10) – As mentioned above, the BoSox need one win to wrap up their second consecutive division title but Houston wants home field advantage.  The Astros who are playing very well down the stretch having won 8 of their last 10 and their last 4 in a row.  Of course if the Jays take just one game from the Yankees, the Sox will back into the division title.  Interestingly if the Red Sox and Yankees are tied after Sunday, there will be a one game playoff on Monday to determine division and first wildcard winner.  This is a new rule that went into effect in 2012.  Prior, the team with the better regular season head to head record would be declared the division champ.  The head to head record does have some bearing on a playoff game however.  The Yankees won the season series against Boston 11-8 and because of that would host the one game playoff on Monday in the Bronx.  If that happens, do you think Bucky F. Dent can throw out the first pitch?

4-Dodgers vs. Rockies (8:10) – The Rockies have a magic number of 2 to clinch the NL second wildcard.  LA has already clinched home field advantage so expect them to rest players and get ready for the post season.  That doesn’t mean they are going to simply role over for the Rox however.  The former Brooklyn Bums are 7-9 vs. Colorado this season.

5-Brewers vs. Cardinals (8:15) – The Brewers are 2 back of Colorado with 3 to play.  It’s a longshot for the Brewers who have gone 5-5 in their last 10.  The Cardinals were eliminated from participating in the post season last night after losing to the Cubs.  St. Louis’s only incentive will be to deny Milwaukee.  It’s a longshot for Milwaukee but at least their playing meaningful games the last weekend of the season.

So of the 15 games being played each day of the last three days of the season, five have significance for at least today.  If Boston wins or the Yankees lose today then there will be two less games of interest over the weekend since Boston cannot win home field and the Yanks will be locked into the first wildcard.

Nine of ten post season teams have been decided.  By the end of Sunday all will be set for baseball’s second season, one the Mets will not be involved with this year.




Today’s Games and Their Importance

Twins vs. Indians (12:10) – This game is only important to Cleveland.  They are one game ahead of the Astros for home field advantage through at least the first round.  With the Angels’ loss last evening, the Twins clinched the second wildcard and are locked into the fifth seed in the American League.  Either the Yankees or Red Sox will host the AL wildcard game.  Therefore this noon time game means nothing to the Twins.

Reds vs. Brewers (4:10) – The Cubs clinching win over St. Louis last night eliminated Milwaukee for the division.  The Brewers lost a little later last night. However they still have a very slim chance at the second wildcard. It will likely require a miracle. Colorado holds a magic number of 2 over the Brewers so Milwaukee cannot afford to lose and must hope that the Rockies go on a losing streak.

Pirates vs. Nationals (7:10) – This is a meaningless game.  Washington is the NLE division winner and is locked into the second seed in the NL.  Pittsburgh will look forward to the off season.

Rays vs. Yankees (7:05) – The Yankees continue to win putting a lot of pressure on the Red Sox.  The Sox won last night by scoring 10 runs.  But their pitching continues to falter having allowed 7 in last night’s win that reduced Boston’s magic number to 2.  So this is another important game for the Bombers who have at least secured the first wildcard while trailing Boston by 3 with 4 to play.

Astros vs. Red Sox (*7:10) – Boston must face one of the two toughest teams in the AL for a season ending four game set and hope to win two to clinch the AL East.  The Astros trail the Indians by one game for home field advantage so they will be out to spoil the Sox.

Cubs vs. Cardinals (7:15) – After celebrating last night at Busch Stadium, the Cubs will have their B lineup in place and that’s good news for St. Louis.  The Cards have to win out and hope that the Rockies and Brewers lose the rest of their games.  Realistically the Cardinals will be looking forward to next season.

A’s vs. Rangers (8:05), Angels vs. White Sox (8:10), Braves vs Marlins (7:10), and Tigers vs. Royals (8:15) are all meaningless games as these teams play out their schedules.