Monday, July 20, 2009

North Flushing Forty

This may all be Jose Valentin's fault.

As I sit here and watch the Mets strut their, er ... stuff on national television, I feel as if it's probably time for one of those "what went wrong, how can it get better" posts. You know the one, it's generally designed to map out the road back to greatness. Except every time I do that I get slammed.

Okay, so I only really did it once. But I got slammed for it. (Editor's note: looking back on what I had suggested, you know it really wouldn't have been all that bad.) So this isn't going to be the "five moves to put the Mets back on the map" post, because I think it's going to take a hell of a lot more than that.

And that's the entire point ... because the Mets have been basing their entire existence over the last three years over making a scant few moves when the whole operation needs a complete overhaul in thinking. It's the phenomenon that Greg Prince refers to as he surmises that the Mets perpetual mission statement is to win Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.

(Speaking of Greg, he and his co-host Jon Springer cordially invite you to "Two Boots Tavern" this Tuesday for the first 2009 installment of "Amazin' Tuesdays", where he'll welcome dignitaries such as Paul Lukas of Uni Watch, and author Matt Silverman. And old Mets baseball cards will get you a free beer, so saddle up.)

But then when you combine that with ownership which has been burned by both Bernie Madoff and Oliver Perez (and really, how many on this planet can say they've been burned by both?), you get a team that thinks they're one game away but spends as if they were forty games out. Why else would the Mets bother to sign players like Gary Sheffield who, while it's a shame that he was hurt while being the Mets greatest offensive threat, should never have been put in the position to be their greatest offensive threat, and that's the shame of it.

But it's a pattern that was given legitimacy by the one and only Jose Valentin. It's his fault for having such a good season at the age of 36 to give Omar Minaya the belief that there are more in the bargain bin like him. It's also his fault for striking out in the sixth inning with the bases loaded in Game 7. Without either/or, the ill-fated chase for the unattainable would have ended before it began.

Now this isn't to pick on Valentin, but the fact of the matter is that we're a long way from the days where Valentin provided over 50 RBI's from the sixth, seventh, and eighth spots in the lineup. And it didn't have to be that way. When Omar Minaya came out with his "the bullpen has been addressed" speech, everybody knew that the team still needed a bottom of the order bat and a true back of the rotation starter. Omar got 'em, but he got 'em from the scrap heap and the bargain bin.

We already knew that.

We also know that this team gets injured ... a lot. Happened again on Sunday, as Fernando Nieve was the latest Met to go down with a lower body injury ... yeah, a lower body injury. I'm through regurgitating the propaganda of the New York Mets. And that's another part of the problem ... a big one. Because not only is everyone getting hurt ... not only is the information heavily filtered ... not only is the information heavily wrong ... but the way the injuries are handled are a joke.

And remember, the people that used to handle the Mets medical issues were replaced because, among other things, Mike DeJean was sent out to the mound with a fracture in his leg that doctors never caught. So they were replaced by the Hospital for Special Surgery. Now I'm sure you all read the Adam Rubin article, but it's fascinating in that it's not necessarily the doctors that are at fault. Consider:
The scrutiny of the Mets goes far beyond free spending by a baseball operations department that failed to keep the minor-league system stocked. Questionable medical moves such as last year's decision to fly Church cross-country with a concussion have become commonplace. Still, players expressed full faith in the Hospital for Special Surgery, which provides care to the organization, and instead fault how the organization has used the information it is provided (...)

A source with ties to the Mets indicated that Beltran is extremely upset that he played for a month with a bone bruise after receiving a cortisone shot. The bone bruise ultimately doubled in size because of a lack of adequate rest, according to the center fielder. Scott Boras eventually had Beltran get a second opinion from doctor Richard Steadman at the Vail, Colo., clinic that performed Alex Rodriguez's hip surgery.

Putz, who ultimately underwent surgery last month to remove a bone spur from his right elbow, had been told by team doctor David Altchek weeks earlier that he needed to immediately have the spur removed, a team source said. Instead, the Mets advocated a cortisone shot. Putz went 0-2 with a blown save and 7.71 ERA in 10 subsequent appearances before needing the procedure anyway. (...)

The Mets have had a curious track record of pushing players too hard. Billy Wagner was furious at Mets VP Tony Bernazard for insinuating that Wagner was dogging it when he complained of discomfort after throwing a simulated game in Pittsburgh last August. Weeks later, Wagner was undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery.
What the whole Rubin piece shows us is that nothing is in a vacuum. The Mets have boxed themselves into a corner to the point where they know full well that there's nothing in the minor league system, so in a twisted way it makes sense that Tony Bernazard is going to recommend cortisone shots and go against the wishes of the hospital ... anything to keep the baseball public from knowing how bare the cupboard actually is. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain ... it's Argenis Reyes!

It all fits. The signings are cheap because there's no money because of Bernie Madoff. And the major league talent are getting cortisone shots because there's nothing in the minor leagues except more of the low salaried, old man "talent" that are merely existing in Buffalo. Like pieces of a bloody jigsaw puzzle.

But you already knew all of the above. The big question is to ask what it all means for the future. The first option seems to be the most likely option as reported by most, and that's the return of Omar and Snoop for 2010. At best, the injuries are more of a factor than we all thought and 2010 will be the "our season has come" year. At worst, the realization that Minaya & Manuel are not the men for their respective jobs will come at the expense of one more season than necessary.

The second option is scary. That option sees Minaya and Manuel fired in favor of Bernazard and Manny Acta. I don't know Tony Bernazard, but everything I read about him tells me that I shouldn't trust him as far as I could physically, or even mentally, throw him. I've dealt with people who are sneaky, and that man is sneaky. And while Acta isn't necessarily a bad hire, if Bernazard he does hire Manny Acta, it only proves that he's more concerned with hooking up a friend and a favorite of his than hiring the best man for the job. If Bernazard paid more attention to his job than worrying about who's employed at other positions, maybe the organization would be in better shape than it's in.

The third option is: none of the above. Maybe the team thinks outside the box and brings a fresh approach to an organization that needs one. But would it matter? Would the Wilpons be in a position to spend money? Forget Bernie Madoff for a second, and think back to where the organization was before Omar Minaya, where the team was presenting half-ass offers to Vladimir Guerrero to save face before presenting us with the pizza twins (Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer) to play right field. Then Minaya came. And then came Pedro Martinez. And he made possible the signing of Beltran, which led to the trade for Delgado and the trade for and signing of Johan Santana. (I don't count Frankie's signing ... they swooped in to get what they needed in the midst of a bad economy. And I'm convinced that if the economy was strong, Frankie is still an Angel today.)

But what now? And what of the winter of '09-'10? While nobody will be asking for another big fish (and apparently there's not much out there), the Mets are going to need some solid pieces to support the Big 5 ... especially if they're planning to continue the Daniel Murphy Experiment at first base. But are the Wilpons going to continue to hide behind the Madoff losses? Are they going to use the excuse of injuries to say "well, we don't really need much because Reyes and Beltran will be back?"

And scarier still, are the Wilpons going to stop spending the way they did with Pedro and Beltran all together because now they have their shiny new ballpark? Will they continue to give us retreads like Freddy Garcia thinking that fans will continually flock to Citi Field for succulent cheeseburgers and mediocre baseball?

This offseason, which unfortunately I'm already thinking about, will answer all those questions. Those answers had better be the right ones.

And it would probably be better for all of us if those answers didn't include Jose Valentin batting sixth.


MetFanMac said...

I give up. Wake me when it's over.

Luis said...

That trade idea from 06 looks pretty good right now. Well done.

Alvin Martinez said...

I know you bring up the point of Bernazard being Minaya's replacement (gawd help us!) but in my opinion, if (and that's a big IF) the Wilpon's were actually smart baseball men, they would back up the truck and get rid of the entire front office and go outside for a GM that had no affiliation with the Mets whatsoever. And this includes firing the manager, coaching and medical staff, and backing up the truck for a number of players. Clean house. A fresh new perspective may be what's needed to rid this team of the culture and philosophy that has developed from the players on up for the last several years. Or I can guarantee you that the Mets will not go deep in the post-season, much less win a WS, which should be the goal for this organization, not just "meaningful games."

But the reality is that the Wilpons won't do that because ultimately their only real goal now that they have their Ebbet's shrine is $$$$$. Not a WS championship, or even a contender, but the almighty $. And thr scary part is that Jeffy will take over once Daddy decides to hang it up, so my daughters will grow up being Mets tortured Mets fans as well, and their kids, and so on…

Old Backstop said...

Great post. You do not speak to any solutions, but I think you do a great job breaking down what has gone wrong to this point (dating back to false hope provided by Jose Valentin). I also like your analysis of Tony B and Manny A.

- Old Backstop

Coop said...

I am RIGHT WITH YOU BRO. Pretty much, I was laughed out of other forums for *merely* suggesting that now was the time to back up the truck - think about 2010, and build around Johan, Beltran, Reyes and Wright. Now I will add a caveat that we need to floor Reyes and Beltran RIGHT NOW so that they are healthy for 2010. None of this half-assed stuff that, as you say, gives us about 75-80% of the player, while further impacting them to ever be 100%. Another suggestion, merely about money is this - Mr. Wilpon, LOWER THE MID-TIER SEAT PRICING NOW! Don't make "the loge-a-nine" this area that is more exclusive to get in than the field level (let's be honest - we've ALL snuck down to the lower levels b/c the ushers don't care down there, yet rent-a-cops staffing the Excelsior want to use stun guns on you to keep you from using the open bar there, for pete's sakes). They lower the prices, make it open so that everyone can utilize the area - MAYBE make the Caesar Club accessible via pass only - and therefore, fans will spend MORE MONEY and you basically make it back.

I swear, you'd think the Wilpons were not successful businessmen (they are, just have no clue how run a baseball team).

My other suggestion would be to raise funds via fans and buy out 20% interest of the team so that we can have our say. Since they care so little about what the fans think/want, if we have control, they'll have no choice but to listen to us.

Anonymous said...

But on the other hand, if Jose Valentin was still hitting 6th, we'd have a better lineup. :)

James Allen said...

In the past I've cited that Faith and Fear article you mention, and it's one of the most brilliant things I've ever read about this team.

It clearly spells out the mentality of this organization that this team is only ever "one piece away", the questionable practice of relying way to much on 35+ guys, the over reliance on scrap heap pick-ups, and of course, the complete neglect of the farm system. This is all Minaya's fault, and he deserves to be fired for it. But he probably won't be.

Too bad they didn't show that "Mets Not Top Ten" thing during the ESPY's last night, it would definitely have won an award of some kind, and would have been funnier than most of what Samuel L. Jackson did. And that reminds me:

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children.

I don't have the rest of the quote, something about a plane with shakes on it or something. Mmmmmm... shakes.

Now where was I? Oh yeah, the Mets. I wish I was like that Superfans sketch where Chris Farley deludes himself into thinking it's always 1985 (while watching the Super Bowl Shuffle), only it's the Mets and it's 1986. I think I'll watch my "Let's Go Mets Go" tape. Doc! Gary! Straw! We got the teamwork to make a dream work! Yes! I can feel it! Sid Fernandez is going tonight! Let's do it!

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number15 said...

@ alvin

i agree completely, this organization needs to clean house. unfortunately, as time goes on i'm getting more and more of a jim dolan/isiah thomas feel to this team's front office, which is to say that personal relationships and politics seem to play a more important role than the results on the field. at this point, in light of the overall direction of this franchise, i'd be willing to sell some pieces and deem the rest of the '09 season and even '10 as 'rebuilding' to turn things around. of course, what i actually expect is more of the same.

schneck said...

If it weren't for the fumes from my previous 40 years as a Met fan, there is no way I could stick with this team. As disgusted as I am I still find myself turning on the FAN, if only briefly, to see what is happening. I think I'm like many Met fans now that are fans despite the current state of the team rather than because of it. The Wilpons will push away all of the fans that don't have a long enough history to justify sticking with it, though. The only chance this team has of securing a successful future is for the Wilpons to mistakenly surround themselves with competent people if enough pressure forces them to fire Minaya, Manuel and Bernazard. A scandal within the ranks might be a good thing about now. Maybe a Bernazard sex tape? Proof that Manuel is betting on games against the Mets which is why he can't contain his excitement after games? An Omar Minaya slip where he compares the team to Jerry's kids?

Jim Windolf said...

a few specifics:

(1) trade Pelf before this trading deadline for a prospect or two. Last year I thought he might be a 15-year pitcher for the Mets and possible 200-game winner. Now we have to trade him before every other organization realizes how bug nuts he is.
(2) trade Feliciano before the deadline -- his value will never be higher.
(3) but we should keep Beltran through the end of his deal; keep Wright and Reyes, too -- keep them for the duration. they're all we've got and they both could go to the Hall of Fame one day.

kjs said...

Excellent post.

Don't be shocked if DWright has been playing hurt, which could account for his dropoff, not Wilpon's Folly "being in his head."

The Mets M.O. in the past: Play Looper HURT and keep the injury quiet and blow games; play Chris Woodward HURT so he could get booted out of town; and they tried to keep Schoenweis's injury quiet until Rick Peterson let it slip...

Solutions? None. But I'm buying 40 pairs if tix for 2010. No way.

Ed in Westchester said...

New T-Shirt:

“I was promised Exciting Internal Options amd all I got was this lousy Argenis Reyes.”

Unser said...

Everyone forgets that Valentin struck out with the bases loaded in Game 7. To me, that was more of a crushing moment than Molina's HR, especially given that Endy's catch took place in the TOP of the 6th. What a momentum killer.

The season effectively ended when Castillo dropped that pop-up, didn't it? I mean, really, wasn't that when everyone pretty much figured it out?

We've hit rock bottom. These past three years have been the most embarassing this organization has ever had, and I'm including those late '70s teams. They're getting their butts kicked and their faces rubbed in it by division rivals, who take great joy in expressing their hate for the Mets. This team needs a front office and players who take this personally. Until then, you can shut your sets off.

Big_Fella said...

I think the season ended when Beltran got hurt.

I really hope the Mets clean house and I'm sensing that the cries for Omar's head are getting louder. I just wish there was a consensus pick that made a lot of sense. Someone who knows how to use advanced stats and can develop a farm system. There is no reason that we should not be perenial 90-95 game winners like the Yankees and Red Sox. Not that I think we're entitled to that, or that any fan base is - it's just that it is embarrassing to root for a team that spends a lot and still loses. I'm a Mets and Knicks fan and it's my dream of one day rooting for a well-run organization.

King Metropolitan said...

Boy, I wish we had Jose Valentin in that lineup right now.

I wonder what it'll take to coax him out of retirement.

Joe Cook said...

Well, it's great to hear that the Wilpons have guaranteed Minaya is safe in his job -- especially on the same day the story breaks that he turned down a very reasonable offer for Roy Halladay. Great idea, Omar. Let's let the Phils get Doc Halladay so that we can hold on to F-Mart until his trade value plummets the way we did with Lastings Milledge. I seem to remember turning down the Astros when they asked for Milledge in exchange for Roy Oswalt. What exactly is this plan? Niese projecting as a mid-rotation starter is too important to hold onto to get Halladay? Oh, wait! I forgot. Our rotation is perfect since we brought back Ollie. Someone like Wolf on the cheap wasn't worth it a few months ago since we had Livan and Freddy Garcia. Injuries have killed this team, but Omar Minaya ran it into the ground with his lack of any real direction.

Anonymous said...

Great post that summarizes how we got here very well, but provides no solutions. I agree with everything, especially about the need to give players cortisone shots to hide the fact that there is nothing in the cupboard.

Minaya has made a habit of picking players off the dung heap and hoping that he would catch a flash in the pan, but the steroids era is over and old players are just old players now.

There are so many holes in this team that they are impossible to fill. We have one and only one bonafide starting pitcher. We have three major league players in Reyes, Right, and Beltran. We have a great closer and maybe a few set-up men. That’s about it.

We need to make some trades to get some prospects. I would empty some of the bullpen. As much as I hate to say it, we could probably get a lot for Parnell and something for Feliciano. I don’t even know what else we have to trade. We just might have to trade Reyes, who would be my choice to go of the big 3. A little bit of a head case, despite the talent.

The front office MUST go, starting with Tony Bernazard. He is not trusted and very destructive from the inside. Minaya must go too. I think Manuel is not a good fit either. Too many very bizarre moves this year, and not the right temperament.

NO MATTER WHAT, we are looking at years before they get back to respectability. It is just a matter of how much longer than necessary do we have to wait, which depends on how long it takes to admit there is a big problem and head in a new direction.

But, as Mets fans, we are accustomed to suffering, aren’t we?