Monday, July 5, 2010

The Mets Strategy With Carlos Beltran

  • When Beltran returns...

His return penciled in as being on or around July 15th, Carlos Beltran will function as a big time mid-season acquisition for a team that has a legitimate shot to win the pennant. That said, there are a few things that need to be understood.

When a team has a switch-hitting power threat like Beltran, he's going to play; the team is going to have to find a way to keep Angel Pagan in the lineup; and, despite the hatred (and I don't mean dislike, I mean hatred) he engenders for reasons I can't quite understand, Jeff Francoeur also deserves to play a significant portion of the time.

What to do?

Regarding Beltran, lest anyone think he's going to be able to play every single day. Considering that the knee surgery appears to be a repair job rather than a total overhaul as Grady Sizemore just had with micro-fracture surgery, Beltran is not "fixed". The Mets and Beltran are lucky that he didn't need micro-fracture surgery and will be able to play; but I find it hard to believe he's going to be anywhere close to the 5-tool star he was (and was never fully appreciated for being) by Mets fans. He's going to be slower; and it's a viable question whether the team would be better off with Beltran playing right field and leaving Pagan in center.

In a stat zombie world----where loyalty and humanity have little meaning----it would be simple: Beltran plays right; but Beltran has played 3 career games in right field. It's not as easy as it looks. Plus one of the strengths the Mets have had is Jeff Francoeur's defense and howitzer arm from right field. Baserunners know and fear Francoeur's laser precise shotgun and are reluctant to test him in any way unless they know they'll make it and even then, he still might nail them.

When Beltran returns, he'll be in center field; and if he has slightly less range than Pagan? So be it.

The Mets should expect Beltran to play probably 5 games a week. In those 5 games, the best thing for the Mets to do will be to platoon Pagan and Francoeur in right field. Francoeur is batting .359 vs lefties this season. Pagan is a better left-handed hitter than he is right (.302 avg; .827 OPS); plus both will be in the lineup at least two other games during the week.

What manager Jerry Manuel will have to do is carefully coordinate the days in which the players play. It will require serious planning, but it's not all that hard if one looks at the pitching matchups and sees when lefties are starting for the opposition, who would be a better option off the bench vs the various bullpens, and other factors such as which of the three----Beltran, Pagan, Francoeur----hammers what pitcher, has trouble with others; who's pitching for the Mets and whether Francoeur's arm and Pagan's greater range will be needed defensively than a limited Beltran is important as well.

Because of Pagan's above-and-beyond the call of duty work in replacing Beltran, the return will only influence the home run power the Mets lineup has. Beltran is a dual-sided threat to hit the ball out of the park that Pagan isn't. The Mets lineup will get a significant boost when he comes back even if he's not on point as soon as he steps onto the field; his mere presence and power makes the lineup deeper and better. No one should expect Beltran to steal bases with the frequency he once did----in fact, it's not advisable to risk it in meaningless situations; but what he should do is pick-and-choose his spots to swipe important bases and Jason Bay and Francoeur do; and teams aren't going to be able to dismiss his baserunning completely or he'll be off and running.

If he's at even 80% of his former capacity, the Mets are getting themselves a superstar to bolster and lengthen the lineup in a myriad of ways; and it doesn't have to be a choice between Beltran, Pagan or Francoeur, it can be all three. The Mets have been a team-oriented group all year long; and that won't change even if there are fewer at bats to go around for the three players handling two spots.

  • The strange doings with Bengie Molina:

On the surface, the Giants trade of Bengie Molina appeared to have been completed with little more in mind than increasing offense for a run-starved team. Dumping Molina allowed the Giants to insert Buster Posey into the lineup behind the plate rather than at first base; they can get both Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell's bats in the lineup and, offensively, they're automatically better; they got a useful reliever in Chris Ray along with a player to be named later; but Molina's whining in the past off-season (that's continued in-season) that he wanted to sign with the Mets couldn't have helped his cause with the Giants to stay.

Molina has always put forth the appearance of a team-oriented, selfless guy, but with the relentless complaining that's gone on, culminating in the weird (and that's the correct word---"weird") interview with SNY Mets beat reporter Kevin Burkhardt where Molina went into great detail of his disappointment----Mets Blog, May 8th----you have to wonder whether there was concern that he was going to start pouting and causing trouble if the Giants benched him in favor of Posey and kept him around as insurance.

The main reason the Giants brought Molina back was to handle the pitching staff. Worried that Posey wasn't ready defensively to deal with the power fastballers Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum and to nurse Barry Zito through the raindrops, it made sense to bring Molina back; but his endless moaning about the Mets had to cause head shakes and wonderment as to his mental state as the season wore on; it could very well be that the adjustment of the lineup and acquisition of Ray were secondary to the preventative measure of getting rid of Molina before he started causing trouble.

It's not always the Gary Sheffield-type who's outspoken in his unhappiness that creates the most lockerroom tension; it's easier to dismiss the likes of Sheffied, who was never happy; or Manny Ramirez for "Manny being Manny"; it's worse when there's a respected player like Molina putting forth an aura of negativity----specifically with young players like Posey, Madison Bumgarner and even Lincecum and Cain.

Molina wasn't hitting and he was a detriment rather than a savvy veteran to keep "just in case".

I have a feeling the Giants hierarchy was looking to improve the offense, but it was more important to nip any potential disharmony in the bud.

Molina had to go.

  • Viewer Mail 7.5.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE manager-star relationships:

Star players and managers/coaches will always vie for control. Look at Kobe and Phil Jackson on the Lakers. For awhile it seemed like Kobe would push Jackson out, but Phil is still around and the two made peace. It takes a smart, strong manager to handle these situations. Ownership has to be smart about it too.

Since you bring up basketball, it's notable that Magic Johnson got Paul Westhead fired with the Lakers; and Mark Messier got Roger Neilson fired from the New York Rangers----it happens all the time.

I mentioned Derek Jeter in my posting regarding manager-star relationships and suggested that he would've gone to upper management and told them that Girardi had to go if things fell apart early last season. That was a mistake because Jeter's parents would never stand for him getting a manager fired. Jeter wouldn't have done it----it would've been Jorge Posada who handled it with the clear message it was coming from Jeter so there was plausible deniability for the Captain's sterling image.

It's only brought up when it doesn't work; but sometimes the star happens to be right. If the coach/manager comes off in an intractable manner as if to say "this is the way I coach/manage" without deviation, he's asking for trouble; it's remarkably hard-headed and inflexible to run things in such a way and is a function of arrogance more than style.

In addition to his iron-fisted rule over the Orioles, Earl Weaver altered his gameplan to suit his talent. When he didn't have the power hitters to bash the 3-run homers he so adored, he stole bases and hit-and-run----and he still won despite preferring the security of guys who hit the ball out of the park.

No owner/GM should get approval from his star player as to who the manager is----that's too much power for the player----but hiring someone who's agreeable to the star is imperative to keeping the clubhouse in line. They don't have to be buddies, but they have to be on the same page. That's more important than anything in the relationship.

Jeff (Acting Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE the manager-player relationship and Ruben Tejada's game-ending play:

I love it when the Prince brings the funny, and the line about Cox & Escobar tethering to their deaths... made me LOL.

And the Tejada play? Bad ass. I like when games end with unconventional drama.

Escobar and his kind are the proximate cause of more antacid sales than the shakiest closer.

I still remember the look on then-Mets manager Willie Randolph's face when the rookie Lastings Milledge answered a question about one of his numerous on-field mental errors by barely peeking over his shoulder and giving a too-short response for Randolph's old-school tastes.

With a face set in stone, Randolph's eyes flashed murderously as he slowly stood up; Milledge then turned and faced his manager giving a more detailed response; Randolph calmed himself and sat down.

It didn't appear as if Milledge had any clue how close he came to being strangled in the dugout.

That folds neatly into Tejada. The biggest thing to remember about him is that he's 20-years-old!!!

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.

It's still useful, man!!!

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