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Interview With Sandy

The interview Sandy Alderson had with Michael Kay regarding the state of the Mets dismal season so far has generated a lot of chatter. Here’s my take of many points made during the interview.

It’s clear that the firing of Dave Hudgens was a gangland style hit with the purpose of sending a message. The message was to the players who simply don’t hit with runners on base. Look, this is nothing new in baseball. You can’t fire the twelve or so hitters on the team. So a GM fires the hitting coach hoping that a new voice, a new face, even professing the same philosophy makes a difference. Time will tell if it does.

Clearly Mets hitters are spooked at home. Do they try too hard as Hudgens suggests in an attempt to win over the few fans actually showing up to Citi Field? Perhaps they do. So maybe then a new voice will help. Hopefully Lamar Johnson can help these hitters relax and stay within themselves. Clearly the Mets hit better away from Citi Field but any comparison to the road Mets and the 1927 Yankees Murderous Row would be an absurdity. The Mets don’t hit that well on the road either.

So the move is clearly to try and get more out of the hitters the Mets have. The Mets are not going to win the division and likely not even a wild card. But they should be better than this. They should be around where they were at the end of April, three or four games over .500.

A point was made that I have been railing about for years. The question was asked to the Mets GM why in the world is the most distant part of the ballpark in right center field where the Mets star third baseman has most of his power.  Alderson said that was a good question. Here’s my take on that one.

It’s because Jeff Wilpon had far too much input into the construction of the ballpark. It was more exciting for him to build cute into the park instead of practical. Why does the outfield wall have to have all those ridiculous bends and turns when the tract of land the park sits on does not dictate those restrictions? It made no sense, especially when Wright hit so many homeruns to right center field at Shea Stadium.  And as pointed out by Alderson himself, they now have Curtis Granderson for four years and the huge dimensions are not helping him either.

In fairness I do recall the purpose of the Mo-Zone. It was to give Jose Reyes a lot of room to hit for triples. It also was a selling point for party groups behind the right field wall. Well Reyes is long gone showing that the ownership of this team really has no clue of what the team is all about. It was clear that Sandy may consider again changing the dimensions of the outfield wall.

Kay and his sidekick Don La Greca also picked apart the bullpen. Sandy was quite clear that pitchers like Velverde and Farnsworth were bridge type guys until Vic Black, Josh Edgin, and others were ready to come up and take over–nice to see Black’s 98 MPH fastball last night. Welcome! Alderson made the point that overall, the pen is about in the middle of the pack in the league, certainly not the worst one in baseball. It should get better as more young players come up and more experience is acquired. Clearly, he said, the problem is the Mets do not score enough runs. It is a difficult task for pitchers to constantly work with the game tied or with a slim lead. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Mets could score six or seven runs once in a while?

A big part of the interview revolved around payroll. Specifically the question was asked if Mets ownership is not giving Alderson the money he needs to field a competitive team. As a good soldier, Alderson deflected blame away from others and assumed all responsibility for the Mets failures including the payroll. However Alderson did make reference to the fact that payroll would go up if revenue went up and that would require the Mets to win.  His exact quote was “I do believe the payroll will go up if the revenue will support that and that’s why we have to win.”

After the interview, Kay went on quite the tirade that this philosophy was wrong. In his words why should the fans pay to come to Citi and watch a crappy team for payroll to go up? Why is it the fan’s responsibility? I have to agree with Kay (and La Greca). It’s an absurd business model. It would be like opening a pizzeria and telling potential customers that our pizza sucks right now but if you come and buy some, we can make better pizza in the future. Uh no, it doesn’t work that way. Now Kay’s argument is in my opinion 100 percent valid however I think it’s a bit unfair to suggest that’s exactly what Alderson meant. If you read is quote carefully he’s stating a fact that the Mets must win in order for payroll to go up. He did not say it was the fans fault and their lack of support is the reason why the Mets cannot spend money. Honestly I think Alderson is the unfortunate middleman here. In fact the Mets cannot spend money because ownership is weak. The Wilpons simply want to own the Mets. I don’t think they should own a team in New York because they don’t have the finances to make it work. George Steinbrenner’s success with the Yankees was due to him investing heavily in the team from his other assets. His philosophy that it takes money to make money turned the Yankees from a laughing stock into the greatest sports franchise in the country if not the world.

Now in fairness, it needs to be pointed out that there are teams with payrolls around where the Mets are who are doing far better and have even won championships recently. The point is the highest payroll does not always win but a high payroll at least gives a team a chance to compete at a serious level. While I might even squawk if the Mets had a payroll rivaling the Yankees or Dodgers, an 87 million dollar payroll is less than what you would expect for a New York team.  So yes, I am on the bandwagon supporting the idea that the Wilpons and Saul Katz should sell their shares and go off into the sunset living a rich and happy life. But that is unlikely unless things become so bad that financial institutions not getting their loans paid force their hand. But fellow fans, for that to happen we will have to head into much darker times than where we currently are. So be careful for what you wish for.

Another point was made in regards to free agents. Why didn’t the Mets sign Nelson Cruise who is having a great year in Baltimore? The Orioles got him for one year around 8 million, roughly the same deal the Mets gave Chris Young who has been a bust so far. Unfair claimed Alderson and he’s right. At the time the Mets spent the money on Young, Cruz was asking for 65 million over four years. When it became apparent no team was willing to spend that much, his demands dropped and ultimately signed for far less money and only one year. That was long after the Mets had signed Young. Of course Kay and La Greca never claimed mea culpa when that was pointed out.

Alderson also fielded questions about the Mets broadcasters. Hudgens made the claim that Cohen, Hernandez, and Darling’s were constantly criticizing his approach to hitting. Alderson defended the broadcasters and admitted what is said on the telecast has no bearing on the field.

Is Sandy’s job in danger? That was the last topic broached. He said you need to ask someone else but I’ll answer for him. I hope not. For all the criticism he is getting these days, let’s look at some facts. The farm system is in far superior shape than when Mr. Minaya was shown the door. You want a team like the Cardinals, the Braves, and the Giants? Well then you need a strong farm system. Look at the minor league teams. Las Vegas, St. Lucie, and Savannah are all leading their respective divisions. Binghamton is close to first place. There is outstanding pitching at all levels. Position players are strong at the lower levels. There is a winning philosophy that has been put in place throughout the organization. Unfortunately and most notably it has not taken hold at the major league level. If Sandy and his staff including JP Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta are blown up now, then where are we? Who runs the show then, Jeff Wilpon? If that happens forget it, this franchise is doomed and I will never step foot in Citi Field again.

Look, the Mets should be better. I get that. But there still is time. They have had an awful month but sometimes, that happens in the course of a long season. What the Wilpons need to do is make sure they can provide Alderson with the funds he needs and if they can’t they should seriously consider selling (I know that will not happen).

The ’86 Mets were developed over time. It took that regime four years before the Mets were finally able to win 90 games (in their fifth year). We are almost to that point now. But the one thing missing is the Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter type trade that truly turned the Mets around in the mid 80s. We have yet to see that from Alderson but that could be coming. After all, not every prospect is going to make it. Some of that bright young pitching will have to be traded to bring in the pieces that will turn this Mets team around.

But until things truly change for the better, expect more crying out from a fan base, one of the most loyal in baseball, that is truly fed up and disgusted with all the losing.

 

First Base Still a Need

The Mets decided to keep Lucas Duda as their first baseman and trade Ike Davis. So since the trade was made a few weeks back, are there any regrets?

In 39 games for the Mets, Duda has hit .250/.328/.392. He has 4 home runs with 17 RBI and 5 doubles. He struck out 33 times and walked 12 times, once intentionally.

By comparison Davis has hit .250/.375./380. Ike has two home runs and 12 RBI, 8 of them from the two homers which were both grand slams. He has 20 walks, two intentional. He has scored 16 runs and has hit 7 doubles.  Davis has struck out just 22 times compared to Duda’s 33 in 100 at bats.

Neither Duda nor Davis has a triple which is not surprising. Davis was always sure handed with the glove and Duda has shown he can pick it very well himself. That was evident in the series last week at Yankee Stadium.  They are roughly the same age. Duda is slightly older.

So did the Mets make a mistake in trading Davis?

Of course it really is too soon to tell but it probably came down to two things. One, the offer for Davis was greater than what they could have gotten for Duda. Two, Davis seemed to have a reputation for not listening to his coaches. That last one has been denied but the rumor persists.

Honestly I don’t think it really made a difference as to which player they kept. Essentially they are the same player. They both give you decent defense at first base, both are capable of hitting moon shot home runs and both will never be super star players. In fact I would go as far to say that I’m sure the Mets hope that Dominic Smith develops quickly. But the young prospect is not exactly tearing up the South Atlantic League either. Although he does have a .600 on base percentage, his average is low and is not hitting for power.

First base remains a work in progress.

Notes: Better Call Saul – Did Saul Katz actually try to sell his shares of the team? He says no but other reports say yes. I guess you might get to a point where you want to do something different so your money starts earning instead of losing. Although I like the approach Alderson is taking by building from the ground up, I wouldn’t mind seeing a new owner who did not have Jeff Wilpon as the heir apparent. This will be interesting to watch as time goes on.

Here We Go Again

If you think things are bad headed into the Yankees home and home series, they are not as bad as they were last year. The Mets were ten games under .500 last season when the Yanks came to play the first of four at Citi Field then Yankee Stadium. The Mets ended up sweeping all four games the two New York teams played against one and other. It was the first time in history that happened.  The subway series also happened later in the season, beginning on Memorial Day.

This year, the Mets are only two games under .500 at 17-19 while the Yankees have the opposite record of 19-17. An emotional and hard fought win yesterday against the Phillies certainly makes a Met fan feel better before they take on the cross town rivals but by no means do I feel confident heading to the Bronx.

The Mets have won just two games this May. They leave runners on base in droves and when they do have a lead, it is always slight and seldom held by another Sandy Alderson bullpen that is struggling to find its way. And while the Yankees are not lighting the world on fire either, it’s hard for me to believe the Mets are not going to struggle this week. The Mets starting pitching has been good, but for the most part, the Yankees have been too. The Yankees have a better bullpen and score more runs. I would be happy with a split but we may be looking at a 1-3 situation—if that.

The Mets and Yankees have played 94 games since Dave Mlicki shut out the Bombers on June 16, 1997 (gees, SNY has replayed that game enough times). The Mets are 40-54 in those games. Quite simply while the Mets have had their moments in the subway series, the Yankees have dominated them.

The Mets have won the subway series just three times, 2004, 2008 and last season. This year the series starts in Yankee Stadium and if there is one ex-Met who wants to show up his old team more than anyone, it’s Carlos Beltran. The former Mets center fielder made no bones about the fact he was disappointed the way his former club treated him. Well now’s his chance to show up the Mets.

On the Mets side is Curtis Granderson. The former Yankee right fielder has struggled mightily after moving to Queens. Perhaps a trip back to his former digs will help find his lost stroke (although Granderson has been a bit better as of late). Everyone realized Grandi would never hit the amount of homeruns in Citi Field he was able to hit at Yankee Stadium. But certainly most thought he would have more than three by now. So far the signing is not looking very good. But neither is the Chris Young signing or the decision to make Travis d’Arnaud the everyday catcher and Ruben Tejada the everyday shortstop (even though Ruben was the hero yesterday).

While the Mets farm system is looking better and better, struggles continue with the parent club. And let’s face it—if the Mets are being crushed tonight in the Bronx, Mets’ fans aren’t going to be happy that the Savannah Sand Gnats are beating Charleston in the South Atlantic League.

2-4-2

The Mets went 2-4-2 on the just completed road trip. Two wins, four losses, and two games they should have won had Terry Collins and Dan Warthen had enough sense to remove Jenrry Mejia with a six run lead on Saturday night in Colorado and obviously fooling no one. Then on Monday night in Miami when Dice-K was walking the ballpark. he should have got the hook after the first two batters reached on walks. Sorry, but I think those two are on Terry.

Anyway, just when you thought the Mets were turning the corner, they take a step backwards. Personally I would like to see the Mets start promoting some of those young arms for the bullpen. Put Mejia in the pen and let Dice-K start. Looks like Flores is coming up to be the work-in-progress shortstop. The Mets have to do something to wake up this anemic offense.

Oh, Ike Davis went 3 for 4 this evening in Pittsburgh. I know, he has not really been doing well but what Met has gone 3 for 4 lately?

Winning Month

Regardless if the Mets win two, split two, or lose two, or they get rained out with the coming monsoon, they will finish April with the first winning month since last July. The Mets finished July 2013 with a 15-12 record. But then the rest of the season went south. It was the only winning month of the entire 2013 campaign.

In 2012, the Mets had a winning record in the month of April going 13-10. They followed that with two winning months of 15-13 each. That had the Mets in second place at 43-36 at the end of June, just two and a half games behind the Nationals and in the thick of the wild card hunt. But contention was short lived as the Mets suffered a 7-18 (.280) July. It went all down hill from then.

Last season, the Mets played more consistently down the stretch but still managed to never go above .500 in any month but July. So while it’s nice the Mets have done well up to this point in 2014, it’s still understandable if Mets fans take a wait and see attitude. If the Mets can continue there very good pitching and defense and their offense starts to hit, then maybe something is finally starting to change. We’ll see…

A Mets Star that Wasn’t

It’s a good thing that the Mets won yesterday or my tone in this post would be much more sarcastic. It took three ground balls, a sacrifice fly, and fourteen innings for the Mets to win a game yesterday.  Have you ever seen a more futile offense than this? Hey Zach Wheeler, giving up three runs is nothing to be a shamed of but if you want to win with this club you better learn to give up nothing per every nine innings pitched.

At 9-9 and considering how many teams are around the .500 mark, again, it’s hard to go too ballistic this early but the concerns at home continue as the Mets dropped two of three to the division leading Braves. So far, the Mets are 3-6 at home, 3-6 against division rivals including 3-3 against Atlanta. The only other divisional rival the Mets have played so far is the Nationals who swept the three game opening series. The Mets will face the Marlins and Phillies starting next weekend.  For the Mets too be competitive, they must play at least .500 at home and against the Eastern Division teams. So far, they have done neither.

In other news, the Mets traded first baseman Ike Davis to the Pirates for a pretty good minor league relief pitcher and a “significant” other minor leaguer whatever that means. Well here’s what it means-the Mets are going to get one of Pittsburgh’s top 2013 picks who cannot be traded before one year has passed. Actually I was not aware of that rule. So we have a couple of players who will hopefully help the Mets down the road. Frankly I am starting to get tired of the acquisition of good prospects that are going to help down the road. Can the Mets ever get a player that can help us right now?

While I agree with the philosophy of developing from within from this Mets front office, I admit to becoming a bit restless. I would like to start seeing some improvements at the major league level. There are only so many games you can watch where the Mets load the bases to just get a single run on a force play then watch the other team eventually take the lead. Mets games have become quite formulaic and not in a good way.

I was initially angered by news of the trade. I feel as if Davis still has a chance to become an elite player. He certainly has the power and he also has an outstanding glove. And who doesn’t like a left handed first baseman. I also don’t think the Mets gave Ike a fair shot this season. He was injured for most of the spring and when the season started he was handed the starting position at first. He lost it quickly because it does seem between Ike Davis and Lucas Duda, this Mets’ regime has always preferred the latter. Ironically the day after Lucas was given the starting first base glove, Davis won a game in the bottom of the ninth by hitting a pinch hit grand slam, his only dinger of the year so far. Since then Davis had a few starts and really gave the organization no reason to change their mind. Now in fairness, Duda hasn’t exactly lit up the joint either. He has hit three home runs to Davis’s one but Duda certainly isn’t enticing chants of MVP from the home crowd. But no other Met is either for that matter (although David Wright is starting to get hot).

Davis had a lot of holes in his game, no question about it. But he was no Dave Kingman either. Davis, as mentioned, has a great glove, and is capable of going on a tear and belting a few homeruns in a short amount of time. Ike could look so good at times and just so dreadful at other times. He had a knack for getting off to horrendous starts that lasted two or three months and then having a very good second half.  My biggest fear of course is that he will somehow end up on the Yankees and help them win another World Series. I know that’s not very likely but would you be shocked if that happened?

Maybe I was persuaded to take sides with Davis because of those tremendous homeruns he would hit or those ridiculous catches he made falling into the Mets dugout early on. He certainly had a flair that made you believe he could be the next great home grown star since Wright. He has a swagger and a personality that made him seem like a perfect fit for New York. It just didn’t work out and that’s disappointing. Davis became just another flash in the pan that got traded away. He certainly can help the Pirates who made it to the post season as the second wild card last year. It’s not crazy to think Davis will get to the post season before the rest of his former teammates.

Well the job is now Duda’s to lose with an occasional start being given to Josh Satin, especially when there is a tough lefty going for the opponent.  And because I’m a Mets fan I am rooting for Duda to succeed. I just have my doubts because of his mental makeup. He just seems too laid back for New York and he has shown signs of a lack of confidence. I have no doubt he can be as productive as Davis and perhaps more consistent. If anything it will be interesting to see if Duda can progress where Davis was not able to.

In other Mets news Bobby Abreu is coming. He’s 40. How much can he help? Considering the offense so far, how could he hurt?

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.