Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Mets Misread Their Fans Again And Again

  • The Mets image issues add to the feeling of disarray:

There's a problematic disconnect between the Mets and their fans that needs to be addressed if the club is ever going to shed this label of repeatedly missing the mark on what they're trying to do. Concerned as they were to the public reaction to Bengie Molina's rejection of their offer exemplifies a need to be more in tune with fan response and maintaining a necessary detachment from what's popular as opposed to what's right for the team on and off the field.

When the news started to break that Molina had chosen to return to the Giants for less money than what the Mets offered, the team wasn't as saddened by Molina's decision as it was frightened at the fan reaction... Bengie Molina...

...choosing to go back to the Giants.

This wasn't as if the Mets had lost on on a Mike Piazza-style catcher who they desperately needed; it was Bengie Molina.

Molina, still a good receiver who can throw and hit the occasional homer, wasn't going to be the difference between the Mets contending or not this year. He would've been a nice pickup on a short-term, inexpensive deal to fill a hole, handle the pitching staff and mentor the club's young catchers. But his decision to go back to San Francisco was no calamity for the Mets.

Molina was not the referendum on the club's off-season that some thought it would be. The stat guys said that the Mets dodged a huge bullet with Molina deciding to go back to the Giants; the rank and file Mets fans reacted with a shrug, more offended that Molina didn't want to play for the Mets than they were at upset at losing him as a player.

Still, the club was petrified without basis.

There was a similar misreading of the fans yesterday when the Mets acquired outfielder Gary Matthews Jr from the Angels for righty reliever Brian Stokes. Just like the game of telephone that sprouted when Carlos Beltran's injury and surgery became known, the club let it leak out that they were working on a deal and the announcement would come shortly. Fans unaccustomed to the way things evolve in Met-land (or simply hoping for something different this time) speculated what that meant.

Ben Sheets? Bronson Arroyo? Carlos Delgado? Nobody knew.

Then it came out that it was...Gary Matthews Jr.

I think my reaction summed it up perfectly with the following on Twitter:

THAT'S the deal they're making? RT @SI_JonHeyman #mets are acquiring gary matthews jr. from angels, according to an AL source.

It was the cryptic and strategic filtering of the information that the Mets "had something cooking" that raised expectations as to what they were doing and led to the head shakes and anger in the fan base along with more ridicule from those that lie in wait for anything and everything the Mets do to provide ammunition for their comedy. (Some are funnier and from more charming individuals than others; but still, eventually it gets to a point where you don't want to hear it anymore and this is adding to the Mets paranoia.)

After the news came out that it was Matthews Jr, the thought was that it was Luis Castillo going to the Angels, clearing the way for the Mets to sign Orlando Hudson. Instead, it was Stokes going to the Angels and Matthews and over $20 million coming back to the Mets. After the wearing off of the shock and annoyance of this move not just being made, but of the Mets trying to use it as some sort of ripple by letting the information come out slowly, it was easier to examine it with some clarity.

Gary Matthews Jr is a no-lose proposition for the Mets.

First, the odds are that Angel Pagan is going to be playing center field everyday in Beltran's absence; but Matthews provides competent defensive insurance in case Pagan falls flat on his face or gets hurt.

Second, they're not paying Matthews Jr anything (the Angels are picking up almost the entire contract) in the worst case scenario, if Matthews doesn't hit or can't provide anything of use, the Mets can simply release him when Beltran gets back.

Third, all due respect to Brian Stokes, he's not a pitcher who's going to be missed on the field all that terribly. Stokes's 98 mph fastball was pin straight; he gives up a lot of homers; and despite that velocity, he doesn't strike out hitters. He gets rocked by lefties, so he's one-dimensional; and the Mets had acquired him from the Rays in 2007 by purchasing him. Stokes is from Southern California, so the move is a positive for him on a personal level. He's the epitome of the pitcher who needs another pitch----a sink on his fastball; a change-of-speed forkball; something----to become more than what he is; and what he is is a journeyman reliever who's easily replaceable.

There's this feeling throughout baseball that the Mets have a million voices whispering in the ear of a rich kid boss in Jeff Wilpon and he's treating the club as his plaything and making capricious and uneducated decisions on what to do. People don't realize that Jeff Wilpon actually played baseball professionally out of college; and it wasn't a Marc Sullivan-type situation in which he was a pro almost exclusively because his father owned a club that drafted him; in 1983, Wilpon was drafted in the fourth round by the Expos. (There's talk that the drafting was done as a favor to Fred Wilpon, which makes little sense; why waste a 4th round pick as a favor to an owner for another team?) He's just as qualified to make assessments on players as a chunk of people in prominent scouting positions today; but the label the club has acquired as completely discombobulated incites the chain reaction that greets the club no matter what they do even before any evenhanded analysis has taken place.

It's the air of disarray and of trying to please everyone that's caused a multitude of the Mets problems. They're too nice. They want to be fan-friendly and all things to all people and are taken advantage of because of this fact. If the Mets dispatched this fear of the public and trusted their evaluators on an even-keeled and brutally honest basis, they have no reason to apologize or explain away the decisions they make. Just do what's right and let everything else fall in place.

If you trust your people, there shouldn't be an issue. That's what the Mets, as an organization, must learn and adhere to in running the club.

There's something from yesterday that's being missed here. Amid all the hilarity that ensued regarding Gary Matthews Jr, no one seemed to take the continued missteps of the Phillies as a reason to unload on the National League champs; and their latest move is a thousand times worse than anything the Mets have done this winter; the Phillies have truly lost their minds if they intend to get big outs and innings from...

  • ...Jose Contreras?

Are they serious?

Not only have the Phillies signed Jose Contreras, but they're expecting him to contribute in the role inhabited by Chan Ho Park last year.

Uh. Yah.

Jose Contreras.

Jose Contreras, who cannot handle any pressure at all.

Jose Contreras, who the Yankees dumped for Esteban Loaiza----Esteban Loaiza!----because Contreras couldn't function in New York and manager Joe Torre couldn't trust him.

Jose Contreras who needed the White Sox to acquire Orlando Hernandez almost exclusively to babysit him.

Jose Contreras, who since 2006----when some imbeciles anointed him as the "best pitcher in baseball" after a hot streak for a championship team----has been atrocious as he's been rocked repeatedly.

Jose Contreras who always looks on the verge of a nervous breakdown if the umpire misses one call; if a fielder behind him makes an error; if he gives up two bloop singles in a row.

That Jose Contreras.

They're taking a mentally weak and emotionally fragile pitcher, inserting him into games with big outs necessary and expecting him to deliver.

They're doing this in a bandbox called Citizens Bank Park.

They're doing this while sticking him in the middle of the zoo to deal with the most abusive fans in the world----the charming fans in Philadelphia no less!

I have no idea whether Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. looks into the mentality of his prospective free agents before signing them, but if he did, there's no chance he'd have signed Contreras, who's going to be an absolute disaster in Philly. In fact, it's becoming clearer and clearer that Amaro doesn't know what he's doing.

How anyone can look at the decisions the Phillies have made this winter and suggest that they've done anything but facilitate a downslide that's going to result into a reversion to what they were before everyone fell in love with them; a skid that will render meaningless the "gutty and courageous" Phillies and turn them back into the misshapen and self-destructive crew that never, ever showed any fortitude to win when it counted.

It's easy to forget now, but it won't be that easy once it's happening; once people see the unraveling on the horizon. They're going to crash even if the arrogance of the club and the fans refuse to see it.

One thing I'd suggest to the Phillies is to hire a qualified psychologist and put him in the bullpen to counsel the likes of Contreras, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson; it won't help, but at least they'll have tried to avert the coming catastrophe that they themselves have created.

  • Viewer Mail 1.23.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Gary Matthews Jr and the Royals:

Congrats on Gary Matthews Jr. I guess he'll be a nice bat for the Mets, although he didn't get much playing time with the Angels, did he? And you forgot the biggest deal of all for the Royals: Wilson Betemit! LOL.

I'm getting annoyed at the overreaction (specifically of those idiots on ESPN) to the trade for Matthews Jr. It's a nothing deal. Whatever he gives the Mets----if anything----is gravy.

Ah, Dayton Moore; what would we do without you? On the bright side, Wilson Betemit fits in perfectly with what the Royals are trying to do, whatever that is.

Bravesbloggerinlawschool writes:

So you've correctly went on a few times about how teams value questionable prospects perhaps too much these days to their detriment. Also, how the "super-prospect label" gets applied to far too many players in the minors.

So when I read these minor league stats and scouting reports I thought "now that is a real prospect"

First full season in the minors, 18 years old, single A: .277, .372 OBP, .512 SLUG, 41 doubles, 5 triples, 25 homers, 104 runs, 100 RBI, and 56 SB. Also, a scout was quoted about his defense "best defensive player in MiLB, regardless of position. Could be best defensive OF in MLB, right now. Best CF arm in minors, best OF range in minors, best CF instincts in minors, dives for ball better than any player I've seen at any level ever. Has bigger impact on game from a defensive standpoint that any player I've ever scouted.

Then the next year, 19 YO, 2nd full season in minors: began that season in Class A, where he had 17 homers, 16 stolen bases and a 1.024 OPS in 86 games.

After being promoted to Double-A that summer, he played even better, hitting .369 with 12 homers, 37 RBI and 12 steals in 38 games, with a 1.107 OPS.

And after being promoted to Triple-A five weeks later, hit .378 with five homers, 12 RBI and a 1.213 OPS in 12 games. (ie not only did he tear it up, he improved in a single year every time he went up a level in the minors).

Player? Andruw Jones

Has there ever been a borderline HOF player who possibly didn't live up to his potential?

I'm not sure what you're trying to say here.

Even though the stat zombies have tried to boil down scouting from "subjectivity" to "objectivity" and have in fact done worse in finding players than the old-school scouting clubs have, there's never been, nor will there ever be an infallible way of determining what a player can or will become. Considering what Andruw Jones became (through some possible *outside help*), his tools in the minors had to have been so blatant that anyone who had an idea of what they were talking about would've known what he had the potential of becoming.

The only way to determine a player is in retrospect. Did anyone look at the 5'11", 150 lb Greg Maddux and think that he'd develop into one of the best pitchers ever? Highly unlikely.

I can look at a guy and see superstar potential; label him an "untouchable" in trade talks and be wrong. The Hall of Fame is such a pipe dream for 99.99% of professional players, who can say whether one who has the tools will fulfill that "possible Hall of Fame" label. Albert Pujols was a 13th round draft pick; obviously a lot of people missed him and Pujols is the Joe DiMaggio of this generation.

On the same token, with the Mets for example, when I watched Fernando Martinez----a "five-tool prospect"----I felt that he's not someone I'd refuse to part with in the right deal. He may blossom into an All Star; he may not; but that's where the scouting comes in. It's no exact science.

If you're looking for a player who had borderline Hall of Fame talent and didn't reach that level, I have two words: David Wells.

If David Wells had kept in shape; not lived as hard as he did; not been such a pain to every organization he'd pitched for, he could very well have been one of the best left-handers ever to pitch. A rubber arm; a smooth, clean, deceptive motion; and fantastic control of all his pitches made Wells a mega-star in waiting, but it never came through as it should've. Of course there were moments like the perfect game in 1998 and the post-season performances; but with Wells there was always a "just missed" footnote to his career.

He still won 239 games, but he was never, ever what he should've been based on talent-level. It's doubtful that Wells would ever change anything in his life or career, but he could've been so much more. To me, Wells is the epitome of a Hall of Fame talent who didn't reach his ceiling even with a great career filled with memorable moments.


She-Fan said...

Contreras sweats more than any player I've ever seen. He needs someone to mop up after him - literally.

Bravesbloggerinlawschool said...

hey paul,

Just to clear up confusion, the last line "has there ever been a borderline HOF..." was just meant to say "wow what a prospect Andruw was." Not predict HOF success from MiLB numbers.

My point is that today when the term "uberprospect" gets attached to guys with decent speed and 25 HR power, AJ was a real super prospect. I remember Francouer being referred to as a super prospect. JF was nowhere in the same ballpark as AJ prospect wise.

My point was that the term "super prospect" or the even worse "uberprospect" gets so overused, that numbers like Andruw's put things in a little perspective as to what a true superprospect is.

Bravesbloggerinlawschool said...

also, not sure its clear, but just so I dont get in the quasi-anon smackdowange, this is franklin rabon.

NYGovPaterson said...

Excellent work! I lived the read and will definitely return for more in the future.

Gabriel said...

I feel bad for Roy Halladay. He's not going to win a lot of games because of the bullpen :(

Jeff said...

Gov. Patterson's eyesight must've improved. He's commenting on your site!

Perhaps he's also available for the Phillies bullpen... I mean, his eyesight can't be any worse than Contreras', right?