Archive for the '2013 Mets' Category

Oh for the Home Stand

So you are starting to feel good about the Mets season? You are feeling somewhat more confident then when the Mets ended their last home stand? Well I say take a couple of Advil and rest. While it was a very nice road trip the Mets just completed, winning six of nine games, the truth is they have proven nothing yet.

The problem as I see it is the Mets are returning home beginning a ten game home stand this evening. They will play the Braves (3), Cardinals (4), and then the Marlins (3). In my opinion these next ten games could very well define the Mets 2014 season.

In most cases, a fan would feel good about their team having a very good road trip then returning home for ten games. But if recent history is any evidence for things to come, the next week and a half could be disastrous. The Mets simply do not play well at home. Why is anyone’s guess but here are some startling facts:

The last time the Mets won a home stand at Citi Field was last August 2nd through 8th of 2013 when they went 4-2 against Kansas City and Colorado. And that was only because they were able to sweep a three game set against a dreadful Rockies team. They also had won the previous home stand (4-3) against Philadelphia and Atlanta. Before that you have to go back to the 2013 opening home stand against San Diego and Miami when the Mets won four of six games. That’s it. So since the beginning of the 2013 season, the Mets have won just three home stands. And it’s not as if they dominated them either. In those three winning home stands, the Mets combined win loss record was 12-7. That’s two 4-2 home stands and one 4-3.

So yes, it was great to see the Mets win a series in Atlanta as they did last week. They could have easily won the series in Anaheim although they didn’t and another positive sign was Arizona.

Now, many would say the Mets swept a very bad Diamondback team, a team that has the worst record in baseball (4-14). (Kirk Gibson will likely be the first manager to be fired in 2014 unless Arizona turns its’ fortunes around in a hurry.) So the Mets should have been expected to destroy the Dbacks which they did. But in the past, this is the type of team that would give the Mets leaving Mets fans scratching their heads. So the positive I take out of the Arizona sweep was the Mets did exactly what a good team should do against the meek in the league. How do you think the Yankees have been so successful over the years? They play around .500 against the best in the league and beat the hell out of the dregs. The ’86 Mets did the same and so does all winning teams.

The next test starts tonight.  If the Mets are to be taken for real then Citi Field has to become more than a pretty face. The new park in Queens (now in its sixth season already) has got to become what Shea Stadium was for many years—a park where other teams hated to come and play and not because of the all the jet noise.

The problem the Mets have at Citi Field could be psychological.  Do they press too hard at home? Are they less focused then when on the road? Do they fear the wrath of a disgusted fan base that will boo them at the slightest misstep? It’s tough to know but it would certainly help if Mets pitchers can continue to hurl they way they have recently, especially the bullpen. Mets hitters struggle and they will continue to do so against the three teams coming to town. All of them have terrific pitching. For the Mets to have a chance to win more games than lose of the next ten, their pitchers are going to have to keep the team close in every game.

So I am excited about how the Mets played on the road during this just completed opening road trip but I will believe the Mets have started to turn the corner when there is more evidence. That could start with this home stand. If the Mets can go 6-4, it will go a long way to getting more fans in the seats at Citi Field this season. If not, then management may have to consider more post game concerts.

Blown Out

Yesterday’s loss was the worst since last July.

The Mets lost 14-2 to the Angels yesterday, a twelve run differential. On July 28th of last season, the Mets lost to the Washington Nationals 14-1, a thirteen run differential. Carlos Torres started that game and gave up eight runs. The Nats only had hit two home runs in that game compared to the Angels four yesterday including the back to back to back extravaganza of the first inning. This is why I worry about a pitcher that is over 40 years old and is overweight. Bartolo Colon was suppose to stabilize the staff in the absence of Matt Harvey, not light it on fire.

This was the worst loss the Mets have suffered at the hands of the Angels but not by much. Back in 2003, the Mets lost in Anaheim by the score of 13-3. Jason Roach took the loss in that one giving up seven runs in three innings including two home runs.

Every team endures a blow out or two during the course of the regular season. Remember the night in 1985 when the Mets lost to the Phillies 26-7 at Veterans Stadium? That was the worst loss in franchise history, and that Mets team went on to win 98 games.

Hopefully the Mets can get on the other side of one of these soon. But so far, and the season is still quite young, it appears the Mets are stuck in the mud again, winning one day then losing the next. They just cannot seem to get to the .500 mark and really that should not be such an insurmountable task.

The Glass Half Full

During the press conference to announce that the Mets would retain Terry Collins for two more seasons with an option for a third, the Mets GM Sandy Alderson was asked why he decided to bring back Collins. He said that one of the reasons was that the Mets finished exactly at .500 over the last 100 games of the season. That is a fact. On June14th, the Mets lost to the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field. That was the 62nd game of the season with the Mets record having fallen to 24-38, 14 games under .500. They were in 4th place, 12.5 games back of Atlanta. I’m surprised Sandy didn’t mention that Terry got the Mets to third place this year instead of fourth, the way the last two seasons ended under this GM’s regime. I’m sure many will jump to criticize the remark but after looking at some of the numbers, Alderson does make a point.

In fairness to Sandy’s glass-half-full statement it should be pointed out that the Mets did play very well after that 62nd game. On Sunday, June 16th, the Mets began their best stretch of the season. After trailing 3-0 to the Cubs in the 9th inning at Citi Field, the Mets scored four times on two home runs, the second one a three run walk off from Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Marlon Byrd had also hit a home run that inning and was a huge part of the Mets playing much better.  So from then until Sunday, the Mets played .500. Actually from June 16th through the end of July the Mets went 24-18, the best in the NL East. Why didn’t they continue at that pace?

On August 7th David Wright pulled a hamstring and missed seven weeks of the season. Bobby Parnell who was doing an outstanding job as Mets closer missed half a season because of a herniated disk. He had surgery in September and should be ready by spring training. Ike Davis who was horrible the first part of the season finally got it together but then tore an oblique muscle ending his season in early September. And of course Matt Harvey, who became the number one reason to be a Mets fan this season, came up with a slight tear in his Ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow ending his season too.

Injuries were a big part of why the Mets failed to improve on the record they also recorded a season earlier. Plus there were players who did not perform up to expectations. Lucas Duda and the aforementioned Davis were being counted on to deliver power and drive in runs. Both failed to do so.  Duda in 100 games hit 15 home runs. That by itself is not as telling as the fact that he drove in just 33 runs the entire season. Davis matched Duda’s 33 so both of those players delivered a combined 66 RBI and 24 homeruns. That’s not going to get it done folks. Duda did seem to look more comfortable at first base once Davis’s season ended with injury. It would be interesting to see what he would do playing at first an entire season.  But unfortunately for Duda that experiment will only happen if the Mets are somehow able to acquire a couple of corner outfielders who can drive the ball out of the ballpark regularly. The Ike Davis/Lucas Duda tryouts are over. Perhaps they will blossom elsewhere but it seems more and more likely they will not be able to do so in New York, at least not both of them.

Ruben Tejada was making everyone forget about Jose Reyes just a season ago but this season, he really underperformed. He eventually sustained an injury and was shipped to triple A once he finished his rehab.  Tejada looked to be re-energized as a September call up but unfortunately he suffered a broken leg on an outstanding play, tripping over Justin Turner while catching a pop fly. Omar Quintanilla did a wonderful job replacing Tejada but clearly is not the long term solution at short.

So I get the spin that Alderson is putting on the season. Here’s a team that had a miserable start but took a nice turn when a) Alderson started swapping out pieces in the bullpen, b) brought up Juan Lagaras to play center and C) acquired Eric Young Jr. for left field. If you remember, the Mets opening day outfield included Collin Cowgil in center (sent down and later released), Marlon Byrd in right, and Duda in left. Cowgil contributed a grand slam on opening day and beyond that he was a total bust.  Duda is a terrible left fielder with no range and made every fly ball an adventure. Byrd was a terrific signing and gave the Mets a competent right fielder all season long until he was traded at the end of August. So with all the late season injuries, the horrendous play during April and May, the Mets still managed to play well enough not to go under the .500 mark over those last 100 contests.  Let’s not forget John Buck who hit a lot of homers in April then became what he is—a backup catcher and suffered a prolonged slump throughout the summer. Buck was later traded to Pittsburgh along with Byrd.

The Mets improved play in late June was due to very good starting pitching, a bullpen that stabilized, an outstanding defensive outfield with Young, Lagaras, and Byrd, and for a time clutch hitting. And while John Buck struggled at the plate, he was integral to helping the young Mets pitchers flourish. But the one area that needs work more than any other is the offense, especially at home.

Here’s an interesting statistic. When scoring the first run of the game this season, the Mets went 48-30 (.615). A .615 winning percentage over a full season gets a team into the playoffs. No team in the playoffs this season had a winning percentage as high. What this stat indicates is the Mets had fine pitching. Given a lead, they protected it until the end of the game 48 out of 78 times. The opposite stat is much more alarming. When the Mets scored second or not at all (shutout 8 times in ’13), their record was 26-58 (.310). Ouch. Translated it suggests the Mets were unable to come back in games they trailed. The Mets were not good at building rallies and rarer was the three run homer that can get a team back into a game in a hurry. The home run leader on the team was Marlon Byrd with 21. He was traded at the end of August for Vic Black and Dilson Herrera. Wright was second with 18 and again, he missed seven weeks of the season.

In games decided by two runs or less, the Mets were a combined 41-41 so the Mets played pretty well in close games, again a sign of good pitching. But when they were behind by more than two runs, we see a record of 33-47. In many of those games, the opposition scored first. With Mets’ hitters struggling to score runs, especially in bunches, that put pressure on the pitching to hold the opposing hitters. As good as the pitching was, that’s pretty rough to do day after day.

The only category the Mets were over .500 when considering run differential was one run games. The Mets were one game over .500, winning 29 games by a single run. That’s a good sign moving forward. Their worst margin was 3 run games, losing 13 of those.  In blowouts, games decided by five or more runs, the Mets went 18 and 24. I’m not suggesting Mets pitching is without issue but clearly the offense is the one area that has struggled more so than others. As mentioned the Mets were shut out eight times in 2013. Over 162 games, the Mets averaged 3.18 runs per game. Compare that to Boston who averaged 5.27 runs per game.

The Moneyball guys will tell you that it is runs scored that counts. In 2013, the Mets were 23rd in the majors with 619 runs scored, 11th in the National League. They are not in good company. The teams scoring fewer runs were the Padres, Twins, Astros, Phillies (wow, the Phillies scored fewer runs than the Astros?), Cubs, White Sox, and Marlins. None of those teams are in the post season. Out of the ten teams that made the post season, five of them are in the top ten of runs scored (four of them division winners). The Pirates are the worst of the playoff teams at scoring runs in the majors at 17th with 634 runs scored. That’s a major reason the Bucs gave up two top prospects to the Mets for Byrd. The Red Sox scored 853 times and led the major leagues.

Home runs are important but by themselves are not as significant as driving in runs. The Mets hit 130 homeruns. The Mariners with a worse won-lost record than the Mets hit 188. The Cardinals, the top seed in the National League, hit five fewer home runs than the Mets but scored 164 more runs.  The Cardinals play in a pitcher’s park, similar to Citi Field but have more gap to gap hitters than the Mets. The Cards had 322 doubles to the Mets’ 263 and their hitters drove in many more runners when in scoring position.

Then there is the all important OPS (on base percentage plus slugging)? Slugging is the total bases divided by at bats. In OPS, the Mets ranked 29th out of 30 MLB teams at .672. Only the Marlins were worse (.627). The Cardinals were 10th at .733. The Red Sox were first with a .795 OPS. The Mets were also 29th in slugging and 25th in on base percentage. Not a good place to be if the playoffs are a team’s aspiration. When looking just at the National League the Mets team batting average (.237), SLG (.366), and OPS (.672) ranked 14th out of 15 teams. They tied for 12th with the Phillies (.306) in OBP.  The Mets were also 14th in total bases with 2035. The one category the Mets led the National League in was pitches seen at the plate (5th in the majors). Mets hitters saw 24,330 pitches during all plate appearances in 2013. That suggests the Mets hitters are good at working the count but perhaps they need to be more aggressive since they did so poorly in so many other offensive categories.

The other startling and quite obvious stat is the Mets record at Citi vs. their record on the road. The Mets managed to play a game over .500 on the road with a 41-40 record. Their home record of 33 and 48 should sound the claxons. Why such a disparity? The Mets swept the Giants in San Francisco. That’s a big ball yard very much like Citi’s. They won all three games in Target Field in Minnesota, another big park. They split four at Petco Park in San Diego. Again, another pitcher’s paradise. You can’t make the argument the Mets play better on the road because they are in smaller parks. In many cases as I have indicated the Mets did just fine in parks very much like their own digs. So what’s up with that?

I guess they take a different approach at home then they do on the road. Perhaps it’s a perception thing. Opposing players didn’t seem to have too much trouble hitting the ball out of Citi Field. There were 149 homeruns hit in Citi Field in 2013. That was good enough to be tied for 6th place in the National League for most homers hit (This is according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker). But of those 149 homers, the Mets hit just 57 of them. It’s not the road or home, it’s the Mets hitters. They don’t hit.

On the pitching side of the ledger the Mets fared much better.  They were 12th in WHIP (hits plus walks divided by innings pitched) in the major leagues, tied for seventh in the National League. This is a value that got much better for the Mets as the season progressed. The bullpen’s early season implosions contributed to this statistic not being much better when all was said and done.  In the majors, the Mets jumped up to 10th after the All Star break. They were 19th prior. Within the NL, they were 12th out of 15 teams but after the All Star break to the end of the season, the Mets staff jumped to 6th in the league.

Then there is defense. In the infield Wright was outstanding at third which is usual. Davis was generally solid at first, Murphy has improved dramatically at second but will never win a gold glove. Tejada definitely took a step backward, no doubt about it. Quintanilla did a fine job in Tejada’s absence. The outfield was dreadful before Alderson brought in Eric Young Jr. from Colorado for pitcher Collin McHugh on June 18th. Alderson had earlier promoted Lagares who instantly became one of the major’s best defensive center fielders. Lagares may not drive in a lot of runs but he saved a lot by leading the league in outfield assists with 14 as a center fielder. He was second among all outfielders throwing out 15 runners. With Byrd in right, by the end of May the Mets had one of the best defensive outfields in the game. Overall the Mets were .971 in fielding percentage, 17th in the majors. Certainly they were better the last four months of the season.

Of course the Mets can improve their pitching and defense but what they have now and what is coming up from the minors can contribute to a winning season. What the Mets need are a couple of big hitters, guys that can drive in runs and hit the ball out of the ballpark.

So while we could joke about the .500 record over the last 100 games, Alderson was honest in saying that fact does not get the Mets to the playoffs. But the point he was making was that considering the terrible first couple of months of the season, the under performers being counted on to do so much more, the injuries then the trades at the end of the season, it was pretty remarkable the Mets did go 50-50 to end the season. It was a tribute to Collins instilling an excellent work ethic in his players. He kept his players focused and hustling in every game.

Alderson was also clear that he intends to make some significant changes to the roster this off season. How that happens requires us to be patient. Nothing will happen during the playoffs and its ten days after that before teams can begin to court free agents. It will be a slow process that will play out over the winter. Am I cynical? Of course, I’m a Mets fan. How can I not be?  But I am somewhat optimistic.

If you look back over the first three years of Alderson’s regime he has been true to his word. He stated that he would do what he could to make the Mets competitive but that the organization needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. He has done that. The farm system is in much better shape now than it was before he took over. To the front office he added J.P. Riccardi and Paul DePodesta. Together they have completely restructured scouting, made fine draft picks and trades for blue chip prospects, building a foundation that all winning team needs.  He has said that he would have much more financial flexibility once some contracts expired. Specifically he is referring to the money owed to Johan Santana and Jason Bay. Those two are off the books now with the Mets owing them just the buyouts. So when Sandy says he wants to do something significant at the major league level, I believe him. I hope the Wilpons have the money for him to use. If not—well that’s entirely another story.

Sandy Alderson is either going to have to spend money on the free agent market, make trades to bring in impact players, or both. But here’s the catch. In a recent interview with the Yankees GM Brian Cashman, also in need of player influx, he made it clear. While it is a goal of the Yankees to stay below the 189 million dollar payroll threshold in 2014, it is not a mandate.  The point being the Mets are not about to get into a bidding war with the Yankees over a specific player. Forget Robinson Cano at second base for the Mets. That is not going to happen. It’s nice that Alderson says he’s going to spend money but the Mets are not the only team looking to improve their team this winter. And historically the Mets are not a club to outbid others, at least outside of Omar Minaya and you saw where those bloated contracts got us.  The good news is the Yankees need pitching more so than the Mets do so perhaps the needs of the two New York clubs will not line up so much on the market but we’ll see.

And remember, how much a team spends is no guarantee a team wins anything. Ask the Los Angeles Angels how their season went. The Phillies are now suffering from the same malady that ailed the Mets beginning four seasons ago. The Dodgers better hope they win the World Series this season because they are on the hook for many years owing millions to players who are going to grow old while in those contracts. I really hate when Mets fans say the Wilpons are cheap. They are not cheap. The Mets have supported huge payrolls over the years but what did it get them. A better criticism of the Wilpons is they did not spend the money wisely. I do believe a team that wants to contend needs to spend around 100 million dollars on payroll. Alderson is intending to do so but only if the deals can be made to help the club, not to spend money for some cosmetic reason. Everyone clamored for the Mets to sign Michael Bourne last off season. Instead the Mets got a bargain in Byrd and look who had the better season.

As I mentioned in a previous post I was struck by the sellout the last day of the season. I plus 40,000 other fans did not show up to pay tribute to the 2013 Mets. We were there to honor and remember a better time, one where Mike Piazza led the team to victory. But the day hopefully served as an eye opener to Mets ownership and the baseball front office. The fans will come. They will come in droves to enjoy that magnificent baseball cathedral they have built in Queens. All they need to do is put a team on the field worthy of their fans. The Mets have many pieces and I agree with Sandy, there were a lot of positives even though the club won only 74 games. I like to think of another time in Mets history when I was a much younger person. It was 1968. The Mets finished in ninth place with a 73-89 record, one game worse than this season. The following year… well you know the rest.

Great Fans

Well I did it. I broke down and went to a Mets game this year, yesterday in fact. I vowed I would not go until things begin to turn around. But I had a groupon with reasonable prices and thought it would be nice to be there when the Mets induct Mike Piazza into the Mets Hall of Fame. After all, I was there when Mike played his final game as a Met on the last day of the 2005 season so it only seemed right to be there again.

I’m glad I went. It was a spectacular day and the ceremony was very well done. Finally the Mets did something that really warranted no criticism even if loud mouth Chris Carton of WFAN, the former radio home of the Mets (more about this later) said it was dumb to do it on the last day of the season. Well apparently it was not so dumb after all. The ballpark was sold out and the roar at the mention of Piazza’s name was deafening. There were empty seats here and there but something no one could have known by watching on the TV was that the concourses were packed with people. And I venture to say that if all those people milling about the concourse were to have been forced into their seats, many would be left standing. It literally was difficult to move around inside the ballpark.

There is a point I would like to make here and I certainly hope the Mets front office was paying attention yesterday. While the baseball people need to make some big changes over the winter in terms of player personnel they should realize this: their team has a remarkable fan base. For Citi Field to be sold out on the last day, yes most there to greet and cheer for Piazza, it should let the brain trust know their fans are still around and they are a loyal group.  The outfield reserved stands were completely filled with The 7 Line Army, all with thunder sticks and wearing shirts that said “Loyal to the Last Out”. I admire that but there should be a subtext on the shirts that says “but we aren’t suckers either”.  As I said the main grandstands were filled and the place looks fantastic when it is full of Mets fans.

So here’s the point. Citi Field could be like yesterday every day. All the fans ask for is a competitive team, a team that at least has a shot at making the post season. Sure, there will be those that bitch and moan if the team doesn’t get to the playoffs but there are always going to be those fans that are unhappy unless their team wins the World Series. However, a team from New York with a legitimate shot at getting to the post season year after year will consistently draw well.

Attendance for the Mets has gone from 3.6 million in 2009 when Citi Field first opened to about 2.2 million this year. Yesterday was an indication of how exciting the place will be when a winning team is put on the field. Will it be next season? We have been hearing that for a long time now. The bad contracts are done. The payroll is low with money to spend. Well we’ll see.  All I can say is—Sandy, grab a bat and take a couple swings. You’re up.

Bad Home Cooking

Last evening, the Mets lost their 46th game at Citi Field this season. They just came off a road trip where they swept the Phillies then took two out of three from the Reds. The Mets actually completed their road season with a winning record of 41-40. You know what they say, play .500 on the road and win at home. Well at least the Mets took care of half that equation.

Milwaukee is having the same kind of season the Mets are having—terrible. They had a pitcher on the mound who hit David Wright in the head because he couldn’t seem to put the ball anywhere he wanted. Yet the Mets once again left a ton of runners on base to lose in another lack luster performance. So what is it about home that makes the Mets so bad? Is it that the ballpark is so big? Well they brought the fences in two seasons ago and other teams don’t seem to have a problem playing there. Is it the fact that no fans show up? Well the problem is certainly in the team’s control. Win and they will come.

The first two seasons at Citi Field, the Mets recorded an 88 and 74 record. 41-40 in the inaugural season then their Citi best 47-34 in 2010. Since that time the Mets have gone 102-138 with three games left on the schedule for 2013. This ballpark should be a haven for them with their outstanding pitching and fine outfield defense. The problem has been driving in runners on base.

For the first three seasons, the Mets hid behind the complaint that the ballpark was simply too big. And it was, no question about that. As I have blogged about before, you have to wonder what in the world the Wilpons were thinking. Their star player, David Wright, is an opposite field hitter so what did they do? Make it almost impossible for him to hit home runs to right field. Their thinking was that Jose Reyes would hit a ton of triples into the Mo Zone. Well that never happened. Reyes was let go by the new regime and Wright’s long drives to right died on the warning track frustrating the third baseman. But while the Great Wall of Flushing was in place, as Howie Rose coined, the Mets still managed to play over .500 those first three seasons (124-119). Sandy Alderson brought the walls in for 2012 and since then the Mets have gone 66-93. So clearly while the walls did need to be brought in, that reason alone is not what is wrong with the Mets at home.

Are they uninspired playing in front of an empty house? Well could be but these are professional athletes and they should know that the fans are not showing up because one—its expensive and two—they stink.  If the Mets are winning, fans will come regardless of the price of a hot dog.

The Mets drew 3.2 million fans in 2009, the first season Citi Field opened. Not bad considering the Mets had come off of two disappointing seasons having lost out on a playoff spot the last day.  They had their first losing season in five years in 2009 and Citi has about thirteen to fourteen thousand fewer seats than Shea Stadium had.  Since ’09 the Mets attendance has continued to fall. They drew 2.6 million in 2010, 2.4 million in 2011, and 2.2 million in 2012. Their attendance this season is just over 2 million. Understand this is tickets sold not the number of fans that showed up to the ballpark. Did you see the game last night? The box score says there were 21,000 at the game. Where, in line at the Shake Shack?

So while attendance is dwindling, this cannot be an excuse. There is no worse attendance than in Tampa Bay and that team is headed to the playoffs. If the Rays played in Flushing, the place would be packed every night.

So why do the Mets play better on the road?

It likely is psychological. They probably feel more relaxed away from New York. The media scrutiny, constantly comparing to the Yankees (who is not the team they used to be either) likely wears on the many young players on the team. Perhaps the Mets are so aware of the fans frustrations, they are pressing way too much at home. Likely the reason is the Mets play better on the road than at home is more coincidence than anything else.

The problem really has nothing to do with where the games are played. It’s scoring runs. Here’s an interesting statistic. This season when the Mets score first, they are 47-30 (.610). This stat supports the fact the Mets have very good pitching. When they get a lead first, their pitching, and since acquiring Eric Young Jr. and bringing up Juan Lagares, their defense is strong enough to hold the lead. However, when the other team scores first the Mets are 26-48 (.351). They simply lack the offense to come back when being behind. They lack the three run home run that Earl Weaver was so in love with.

It’s clear what needs to be done over the winter. I’ll exhale when I see it happen. Sandy Alderson has a big job ahead of him this off season. He has got to improve the offense dramatically and he may have to part with some prize jewels in the process. Four losing seasons in a row is enough. It’s high time the Mets turn the corner or the crowds will continue to diminish even more than they already have.

Losing My Patience

2010 – 79-83, fourth place, 18 games back
2011 – 77-85, fourth place, 25 games back
2012 – 74-88, fourth place, 24 games back
2013 – 68-83, fourth place, 21.5 games back currently

The best the current Mets can do is to tie their 2010 record if they run the table over their last eleven games. That’s very unlikely. To do better than last season, the Mets must win seven of their last eleven games, also very unlikely. With that said, unless there is an unprecedented surge in these final games the Mets are destined to end worse than the season before for the fourth consecutive season. Sandy’s Mets continue to get worse every season instead of getting better.

I know there were a lot of unfortunate circumstances. Front and foremost, there was the Bernie Madoff situation that tied Alderson’s hands of spending any significant money. There were the bad contracts doled out by Omar Minaya that also hampered the new GM. There was a farm system in complete disarray that also contributed to the decline of this franchise. So there are a lot of reasons why the Mets continue to get worse each season. But I would expect that Sandy would say the buck stops at his desk and he would not offer excuses as to why the Mets have gone in the wrong direction since he took over.

In fairness the Mets did finish far worse in 2009 finishing with a record of 70-92. So in defense of Sandy one could argue that his ’10 club, the first year he was GM, improved by nine games but that would almost seem silly. I would defend Sandy in other ways however. He hired Paul DePodesta and J.P. Riccardi, two of the top executives in the industry of baseball and gave the Mets front office instant credibility. Together they have completely rebuilt the farm system and changed the way the ballclub drafts players. It is clear that a successful team must have a strong foundation. Currently, the Mets farm system is ranked at 12th among the 30 teams. Their system would be higher if there were more top offensive prospects. There they are thin but the farm is loaded with pitching, another element of a strong system.

In addition to the talent in the farm is how their farm system has changed in terms of player development. Instead of the myriad of approaches and styles from one level to another that was being overseen by a dysfunctional front office, a unified approach in training and teaching young players has been adopted. The entire scouting structure was revamped under Alderson, building a strong foundation that will feed the Major League team or fuel trades for years to come—hopefully. Player development is the primary focus, even more so than winning. But if player development is done well, winning becomes a by-product of the process. This past season, all but one farm team had winning records with four teams making the post season including the A level Savannah Sand Gnats that won the league championship. Just a few seasons ago, the Mets farm was barren with most clubs having losing records. So give Sandy credit for the farm’s improvement. Unfortunately this effort is not very sexy when it comes to the back pages of the New York Daily News and the New York Post.

Baseball fans in the New York area don’t sit around looking at their team’s minor league games to fulfill their baseball jollies. They want the Mets to be a winner and are getting more and more tired of the dreadful show we see night after night. Yes, there was a period of time this season, from about the middle of June to the end of July where the Mets were exciting to watch. In fact they had one of the better records in the league over that period of time. Once David Wright pulled a hamstring and Marlon Byrd was traded, and Matt Harvey was shut down with a tear in his UCL, the team has been as awful as anything we have seen the last four seasons. Mets fans are disgusted and one need only look at the thousands upon thousands of empty seats at beautiful Citi Field to understand that fact.

Last night’s come from behind win against the San Francisco Giants was exciting and inspiring. But let’s not kid ourselves. The Mets are very much in need of serious offensive help. Josh Satin is a nice player but he’s not an everyday player. Having him on the bench or in the lineup in a day game after a night game would be great but the Mets need some serious retooling. The current roster as structured simply does not work. I’m not saying there is no talent, there is. The pitching for the most part has been outstanding. The outfield defense was a joke at the beginning of the season. Now it’s one of the best in the league. The problem is scoring runs. The Mets simply do not score enough runs to take the pressure off of the pitching and the defense. You look at a team like the Red Sox. They pound out runs night after night. Their pitching can feel confident that if they make a mistake, their offense will pick them up. That’s sorely lacking in Flushing. The Mets need a couple of guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark consistently. They can be obtained through free agency or trades but they must come.

Next season, the Mets are on the hook for only 33 million dollars. (Only—as if I couldn’t use even a small percentage of that.) For a major league team, that is not a lot of money in the 21st century. When you add in tendered contracts and minimum salaries to the young players, the 2014 salary will be around 50 to 55 million. I think it’s clear when looking around baseball that a winning team fields a salary of at least around 100 million. Obviously, some teams spend more. Sandy has said he will have money to spend. Jeff Wilpon said the Mets have money to spend. If this is lip service, Mets fans will know. We are not stupid. The Mets are already beginning to promote ticket sales for 2014. How’s that going Jeff? I’ll tell you who will not be buying any tickets for 2014 just yet. That would be me. In fact I have not gone to one Mets game this season and the reason is simple. I am disgusted with this team.

I understand the approach the front office is taking and I agree with it. However what frightens me is this club’s history. Ownership (the Wilpons) is meddlesome. That has been reported many times over the years. I just cannot help but think that the Wilpons, specifically Jeff who is running the show these days, will screw up what Alderson is trying to do. I have already read rumors that after next season, Sandy may step down. Why? Because he wants to retire and give the job to either DePodesta or Ricciardi? Or he too has had enough of Jeff’s input. Omay Minaya gets a lot of blame for what happened to the Mets post 2006 and rightly so. But he was a good soldier and there is enough innuendo to suggest that Jeff Wilpon had a lot to do with the demise as well.

Last night was broadcaster Gary Cohen’s twenty-fifth anniversary of being hired by the Mets. During the telecast, Cohen said in all those years the Mets have been to the post season three times. While there are other teams who have done so less, it is a disgrace for a New York team to boast such a poor record. It’s hard for me to think this team’s management has finally decided to embrace the formula for sustained success and keep their mitts out of the pie. If Sandy truly has autonomy, it will be proven over this coming winter. If we get to April with the same cast of AAA plus players are surrounding David Wright, we’ll know he doesn’t. And if that is the case, I will do my part to keep Citi Field’s seats empty. Empty seats mean no revenue. No revenue means the owners, no matter how much they may want to own a baseball team, would have to consider selling. I have followed this team since I was a little boy, almost since their beginning but I am losing my patience. I have enjoyed seeing the young players develop and the hope they give us but now is the time for the next step.

While I could never in a million years become a Yankee fan, there are twenty eight other teams I could root for. I have an affinity for the one in New England, having lived in Boston many years ago. I think I have watched more Red Sox games over the last couple of months than Mets games, not hard to do with today’s access. I could be persuaded to change my allegiance but that’s really up to the Mets now. I need improvement for next season or I will have to consider going to Boston a couple a weekends during the summer to spend my baseball dollars.

Depth

It’s all about Depth. The St. Louis Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Yet the team continued to compete. Why?

Depth, that’s why.

Carpenter missed most of 2012 but came back to make three starts before the end of the season. The Cardinals were one of two wild cards. They defeated the Braves in the wild card game, beat the Reds in the NLDS then lost to the Giants in the NLCS.  Not bad for a team that had lost one of its ace pitchers.

A year before (2011), Adam (if only Carlos Beltran could have that one at bat back) Wainwright complains of elbow soreness in spring training and is lost for the season. Wainwright required Tommy John surgery so what did the Cards do? They won the World Series, that’s all. They lost their ace and still did well and how did they do it?

The St. Louis Cardinals continue to win because they have depth. The Atlanta Braves continue to win because they have depth. A Jon Niese fastball may have ended Jayson Heyward’s season but the Braves continue to roll toward their first division title since 2005. A team that has a strong farm system can survive injuries that are inevitable, especially to pitchers. A strong farm system gives a team the flexibility to call up a player or to move a player(s) to other clubs for help.

After Mets fans received a punch in the face the other day, the mood was gloom and doom. When it was announced that Matt Harvey has a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament and that his season is over, it was as if the world had come to an end. As if all Mets hopes rely on one player, a pitcher who can only contribute every 5th day. There is no question the injury to Harvey is a huge blow and a big disappointment but to assume that all is lost now is an extreme over reaction. But given the Mets history over the last five seasons, the reaction is perfectly understandable. It’s just not logical.

Sandy Alderson’s plan was not to develop one player, Matt Harvey (actually drafted in Omar Minaya’s last season), and hope that he could pitch a shutout 97 times a season. In fact, Harvey almost needed to pitch a shutout every time he took the mound this season because the Mets’ miserable offense cannot score enough runs for Sandy Koufax to win consistently. I wonder if the pressure on Harvey (pressure he put on himself that is) to keep the other team from scoring, helped to lead to his injury. I’m sure no one can know for sure but Mets pitchers can never feel as if they are going to get a lot of run support. The real problem with this team is its inability to score runs. Offensive players need to be brought in if not coming from the farm and how can the Mets achieve that?  Oh yeah, depth.

Alderson said the other day that Harvey’s injury does not derail the plan. “It’s not a dream unrealized, it may be a dream deferred”.  The point Sandy was making is that the future success of the Mets cannot be based on any one player. It must be based on a cadre of players. Baseball is a team game and it is not basketball where one player can make the entire difference. And a lot of our upset over Harvey is founded in the aura he has projected. Harvey is a very talented pitcher with a tremendous desire to win. He is a leader and personifies something that has been missing for a long time from this team. But the reality is somewhat different. Since the All Star break, Harvey has not been the Mets best pitcher. No, that accolade has fallen upon Dillon Gee. But Gee flies under the radar because well, he’s not Matt Harvey. Don’t get me wrong, Harvey’s loss is horrible and the Mets will be better off with him then without him. But suppose Harvey does need Tommy John surgery (which of course is yet to be determined) and he is not available for the entire 2014 season? Do we assume all is lost and it will be another losing campaign? I hope not and I am certain Sandy Alderson is not throwing in the towel either.

It’s clear for an organization to be successful there must be depth at every position, especially the one labeled number one on the score sheet. The good news is the Mets are deep at the pitcher position. At the major league level, Jon Niese has had three fine starts since resting his injured shoulder, Dillon Gee continues to dominate and do so as a pitcher with finesse vs. power.  And what, Zach Wheeler is not a potential ace? Wheeler has not had the storybook start to his career that Harvey has but he has an uncanny knack for winning, even if not so dominating. However Wheeler does posses the skills to be a number one pitcher who can dominate.

Look to the minor leagues and see some of the arms on the way. They include Rafael Montero, Jenrry Mejia, who just had chips removed from his elbow and should be ready to go by spring training. There is Noah Syndergaard dominating at double A Binghamton.  Also there is Jacob DeGrom at AAA Vegas and a slew of strong arms in the lower levels of the organization.  The Mets may be able to package some of these younger players for a hitter or two that they desperately need.  Oh and Jeremy Hefner did a fabulous job before the All Star break before it was clear he needed Tommy John surgery. Late next year, he could be back too. Let’s face it. In the baseball world we live in, it’s not uncommon for a certain percentage of pitchers on a staff to go down with a UCL tear then come back a year later as if nothing happened. (33% of professional baseball pitchers have had TJ surgery.) It’s pretty amazing when you think how far medical technology has evolved in the past twenty-five years.

Also, consider the Mets minor league system and its success this season. Alderson has put great emphasis on player development over winning. But winning is a byproduct of good player development and consider this, the Mets already have three minor league clubs, Binghamton (AA), Savannah (A), and Kingsport (R) going to the playoffs. Las Vegas, the AAA affiliate led by fan favorite Wally Backman has a magic number of 3 to clinch the Pacific Southern Division crown in the Pacific Coast League. And Brooklyn, the short season A club of the New York Penn league has a chance at making the post season as well with a half game lead in the McNamara Division. Brooklyn struggled early in the season but has come on strong late with L.J. Mazzilli, Lee’s son, playing second base. The St. Lucie Mets (high A) won’t be going to the playoffs but they have a fine record over the combined halves (69-60). So all and all, the farm system has jumped light years since the days of Tony Bernazard ripping off his shirt to challenge players to a fight.

Another factor to keep hope alive is payroll. The Mets have a significant amount of money coming off the books after this season. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Mets will owe 33.5 million dollars to four players in 2014. That includes 8.5 million in team buy outs to Johan Santana and Jason Bay (would love to be at that party). The Mets also have a number of players under their control so they will be on the hook for around 50 to 55 million next season. If the Mets are true to their word saying they will spend if the right players become available, then another potential for improvement can happen over the winter. And if money is not spent, fans have every right to complain and not buy tickets next year (but that’s of course if they do not spend money on significant upgrades. I am not a believer in spending money for the sake of it).

Summing up, the path the Mets are on is the right one. And let’s not assume the worst in the case of Harvey. He has been diagnosed with a partial tear of the UCL. That could be a five percent tear and if so, he could rehab by strengthening his elbow and pitch next year. Of course it could be worse but until the swelling goes down and another picture can be taken, we really do not yet know the fate of the young hurler.

One thing is clear however, the Mets must bring in some bats. Their strength is pitching but a team needs to score runs to win games and in the process, protect the pitching staff. You cannot expect your pitching staff to protect a one run lead every night. It’s nice once in a while to have a three, four, or six run lead.  The moves made over this coming winter to bolster the lineup and bench will likely determine the outcome for the 2014 Mets much more so than whether Matt Harvey needs Tommy John surgery or not.