Wilpon and Selig: A Love Affair.

As Commissioner Bud Selig makes his farewell tour (good riddance) around the league, he paid visit to his friends the Wilpons in Queens. Selig has helped the Wilpons in their financial struggles over the past several years approving loans, not forcing a sale of a team in economic despair, and backing Fred, Jeff, and Saul Katz in their control of the club.

He joined Mets broadcast trio Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez, and Ron Darling for a couple innings on Tuesday evening. While on air, the atmosphere was light and he didn’t have to dodge any difficult questions. It was more of a conversation than a Q & A. However, Selig faced the media earlier in the day, who came in locked and loaded. He was immediately bombarded with questions about the Wilpon’s finances, differences between their struggles and that of Frank McCourt’s Dodgers, amongst other probing questions. Selig held firm in supporting the Wilpons and the way they run the team, which came as no surprise.

As the questions kept coming, Selig stayed cool. But at the end of the day, some of his comments were downright condescending. Does he really think fans are not that intelligent? For sure, some are ignorant, but many dedicated and frustrated Met fans know facts, and Selig either takes them for fools, or is too faithful to the fraudulent owners running this big league circus to care. Here’s what is disturbing: Selig claimed that the Mets are doing things “the right way” and don’t need to spend like “drunken sailors” to be competitive. While some small market clubs are able to be competitive, the Mets shouldn’t be one of those examples. This is New York for goodness sake.

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Selig continued to back the three blind mice at the top of the ownership mountain. He claimed to follow the model of the St. Louis Cardinals. While the Cards are a model run organization, they have their differences from the Mets, which makes it difficult for Sandy Alderson and company to match their moves. First, the Cardinals have a payroll of over $111 million. The Mets are about $85 million. So, Mr. Selig, the Mets are just supposed to add $25 million to their payroll without any string attached? Not that easy. And based on his press conference, he apparently thinks that’s not to tall of an order. Secondly, the Cardinals get around $20 million/year from their TV deal. The Mets get about $80 million, yet the Cardinals payroll is 10 spots above the Mets (13th vs 23rd)? The Mets play in the biggest market on Earth and have the seventh lowest payroll in the league. Something’s not right here.

Look at the other big market clubs–Los Angeles (which has 2 payrolls in the top five), Philadelphia, and Boston, all are in the top 10. Some of them are competitive, others are not, but they at least have invested significant capital to try to improve their respective clubs. For as much undeserved heat as Sandy Alderson takes for not acquiring players, consider this: He was expecting to spend more than what he has thus far, and has been restrained by ownership from pursuing large(r) contracts. So, when you hear Sandy hint at the payroll remaining the relatively the same, it’s because he can’t bad-mouth his boss and tell the public he’s not being allowed to spend like he thought when he took the job 4 years ago. Alderson and his executives have become baby sitters for an ownership group that has had its share of fiscal issues (Let’s not forget the fact that ticket sales, concessions, parking, and sales of the most expensive seats have declined every year since the ballpark opened in 2009). So, if you’re going to point fingers, don’t look at management; look at ownership. Lastly, because of Selig’s long standing relationship with the Met’s owners, he has done nothing to address their financial limitations. Hey new Commissioner Rob Manfred, you’re up next. Let’s hope he has more integrity than his predecessor.

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Baseball’s Sick Obsession: Tommy John

Injuries are part of the game. Every team has to find a way through a tough break over the course of the 162 game season, but, have we ever seen an entire league be devastated like the MLB has from Tommy John Surgery this year?

Major League Baseball has seen 20 TJ surgeries already, as the second half is just under way. Since 2000, there have only been two seasons in which there were 20 or more TJ surgeries (20 in ’07 and 36 in ’12). The spike in 2012 was believed to be an oddity for one year, but with 20 in a little over half the year, the issue is more pressing than ever.

What’s even worse, is that it’s happening to some of the brightest young arms the game has to offer. Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez, Patrick Corbin, and Matt Moore top the list of many other impressive talents that have succumbed to the season ending injury. It’s disappointing for GM’s, front office personnel, and the fans, more than anyone else. However, the game wasn’t always this way.

There is no “cure” to prevent this injury, but we can definitely come to our own conclusions. Many years ago, it was common for pitchers to throw 250-300 innings (sometimes even more) and have several complete games per season. Now, it is seen as a success if a pitcher makes it to 200. Here are some reasons why elbows are in need of serious maintenance.

1. It’s the baseball or bust mentality. From a young age, kids may enjoy playing more than one sport. However, once it’s determined that America’s Pastime is the way to go, all other sports become irrelevant. It’s baseball all four seasons instead of maybe just the summer time. Parents, who see a chance for a college scholarship, and coaches who see big league potential, make baseball the only game to know for some young athletes. What that does is place wear and tear on young elbows much quicker than if they were to play baseball less. Sure, when you’re a high school kid pitching however long coach says to, it doesn’t seem like much of an issue. However, the mileage the elbow picks up at a young age becomes an issue once some of these young hurlers reach the professional stage. If a kid has the talent to make it to the bigs, let him get there at his own pace. Let him play other sports when it’s the offseason and the elbow will thank you later.

2. The Tommy John success rate. So many pitchers have had TJ surgery and have came back without many issues. Sure, some have the surgery again, while others never recover from the initial operation, but because so many players have come back, the risk seems worth it. This is especially true for players at a young age. Stephen Strasburg had the surgery, and is still a top of the rotation starter for Washington. He is just one of the many examples of players that have made a successful return. Some players also come back from the surgery throwing harder. While the injury takes a great deal of time to recover, pushing it to the maximum effort seems okay, because you can be just as good after a visit to Dr. James Andrews.

3. Obsession with the “K.” Strikeouts are at an all time high. Players, coaches, and front office personnel alike, have become almost obsessed with punch outs. It’s also not much of a surprise pitchers are missing bats like never before. Players are throwing harder, getting more movement, and altering their deliveries just to get strikeouts. The art of pitching to contact seems lost. With detailed scouting reports, you can discover where a player likes the ball, at a certain time of the day, on a given day of the week, etc (catch my drift?). Consider this: Matt Harvey would throw his slider near 90 mph last season. A decade ago, most pitchers would throw their heater at the same velocity. Low and behold, Harvey will not pitch this season. Irony?–That’s up for debate, but you can certainly see the reason to worry. The Mets also decided to place lefty Jon Niese on the disabled list, because his velocity was down. Considering Niese has a sub three ERA, this seems a bit unnecessary. Sure, it’s great if you have a staff full of fireballers, but if they are over throwing just to get a better reading on the radar gun, their health is going to deteriorate. Coaching and scouting staffs need to realize it’s OK to pitch at 91 instead of 95. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine made Hall of Fame careers living at that velocity. Jaime Moyer pitched into his late 40s barely touching 80 for goodness sake. If hurlers can control multiple pitches, get good movement, and keep the opposition off balance, then throwing high heat becomes irrelevant. There’s an old baseball phrase about throwing hard that went something like this… “95 will get you a shot.”

If you can throw hard great, some players just have the right physique. However, movement and deception will win just as many ball games. The obsession with the strikeout needs to end. If a pitcher can play to his strengths and master his craft, velocity won’t matter.

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A Note to the Three Stooges-Fred, Jeff, and Saul

2014 was supposed to be the year. We’re a week and a half into this young season and Mets fans have little reason to believe this year will be different from the past 5. Okay, Matt Harvey won’t pitch this year–a major setback. But would his presence really make the difference between mediocrity and breathing October air? The payroll remains the same. No solution was reached about shortstop or first, and the bullpen remains a mystery. Even if the Mets caught a few breaks (that will be the day), it still looks a daunting task to reach the coveted 90 win plateau General Manager Sandy Alderson targeted this offseason.

You read that right in the first paragraph–the payroll remains mostly the same. Despite Alderson bragging about how the team was one of the top spenders this past offseason, the Mets payroll is actually slightly less than the $90 million they were at last season. The Mets didn’t add payroll, they simply reinvested money that was no longer owed to Johan Santana and Jason Bay. The contracts Curtis Granderson, Bartolo Colon, and Chris Young received, is the majority lump some of money that came off the books.

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Even if the Mets didn’t add payroll, they did make moves in the offseason. So, are they actually any better? Not really. Curtis Granderson is being heralded as a major upgrade in the outfield. Marlon Byrd played very well before he was traded to Pittsburgh in August, and Granderson projects to equal his production, maybe surpassing it by just a little. This was not a significant upgrade by any means. It is a minor upgrade at best compared to the numbers Byrd put up last season.

Now, the saga that is known as Ruben Tejada. The incumbent shortstop has fallen out of favor with the organization and with fans, so his exit looked eminent. It has not happened–at least not yet–and for good reason believe it or not. Stephen Drew is the obvious choice to replace, but Alderson has not given in to the usually overpriced demands of agent Scott Boras. The free agent market for shortstop next offseason is very strong, and Alderson could make a move then. Although another year with Tejada could be rough, it could be beneficial in the long run with big names like Hanley Ramirez and Asdrubal Cabrera set to become free agents in the winter of 2015.

Trade Davis, kick the tires on Duda. Get rid of at least one of them. That was the plea of most Met fans before the season started, and in typical Mets fashion, neither gets moved. However, Alderson has a plan. Yes, Davis and Duda have been disappointments, but there is still hope at this position. If either has a strong first half, a late July trade could be a very realistic option. If not, one of the two may stick around for another year or two. As painful as that sounds, it makes sense. Last year’s first round draft pick Dominic Smith is already one of the organizations top prospects, and it is just a matter of time before he exits the minors for Flushing. Until then, we might be stuck with the unknown of Duda and Davis.

Chris Young has yet to play this season, and has always been injury plagued, and an inconsistent performer when healthy. Bartolo Colon will not produce Harvey like numbers this season. That’s just unfathomable. So, how has the team improved?

The formula for success in baseball changes over decades. For many years quality starting pitching, timely hitting, and strong defense won championships. Heck, that formula still works today (we don’t see it as often, though). The 90s and early 2000s was the era of PED’s and the longball. Now that PED’s have significantly decreased (or so we think), what is the recipe for success? For one things certain, you need starting pitching to win ball games. That’s been true for as long as the game has been played. And with the current starters and elite prospects the Mets posses, it’s a luxury many teams do not have. Moving on, batting seems to be better than it was before the PED era, but not as good since the era ended not too long ago. Depth in the batting order, rather than a few MVP caliber players seems to be the trend. So what does that leave out as a vital aspect of the game in the modern championship formula?

Oh, how could we forget…THE BULLPEN.

Go back to last season and watch the Cardinals and the Red Sox. Most of the arms that came out of their ‘pens threw very hard. Late game cheddar has become crucial to getting K’s in big situations. Just watch Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal work. It’s very difficult for the opposition to connect with his 95+ mph heater. He is just one example of the many arms that help postseason teams in the late innings.

The Mets haven’t had a legitimately solid bullpen since 2006–the last time they made the playoffs. Irony? I think not.

Yes, the Mets did posses the best lineup in the league that year, but their starting pitching was average at best. Tom Glavine had a nice year but was no all star. Orlando Hernandez pitched decently before getting hurt. John Maine and Oliver Perez (imagine that) were two postseason starters. Yes, John Maine and Oliver Perez. Steve Trachsel won 15 games with an ERA near 4.50.

Let’s go over the arms in the 06 ‘pen. Closer Billy Wagner–one of the hardest throwers in the league. Guillermo Mota, Roberto Hernandez, Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez (first half only) all threw hard. Pedro Felliciano and Darren Oliver were soft tossers, but lefty specialists. Chad Bradford did not throw hard but his submarine style made him effective. That bullpen was the best in the league.

Now, look whose in the ‘pen. John Lannan, a soft tossing lefty, Carlos Torres, who does not throw hard, Scott Rice, another soft tossing lefty, not to mention Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde who have decent velocity, but not anywhere close to where they once did. Gonzalez German and Jeruys Familia bring gas but are very inexperienced. Vic Black, who was primed to be the set up man in the pre-season, was sent down because he was very ineffective this spring. Josh Edgin, who has good velocity from the left side, found a fate similar to Black’s. This bullpen has the experience in the wrong places and velocity that doesn’t know where it’s going.

Now, this is where it really gets frustrating. The Mets bullpen has been in the bottom half of the league ever since the 2007 season. The Mets payroll remains largely unchanged, so that means that didn’t really invest into an area of need, while looking for cheap internal options. That plan looks like a nightmare thus far, as the bullpen has looked shaky (generous wording here) thus far. What could have been done this winter? Veterans Ronald Bellisario and Matt Thornton signed for about 3 million each on 1 year deals. It’s time to open the checkbook, and pay for surgery, because the Met bullpen has been broken for the past 7 years.

The overall feeling of the 2014 season is one all too familiar: disappointing. It feels like nothing has changed, despite the new faces in different positions. We sit here and wait, as the Mets continue to try to sell us on Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, and the other talented Met farmhands. What they are selling, I’m not buying. They did the exact same thing last year with Harvey and Wheeler. Don’t get me wrong–I love the young staff that’s taking shape. It has the potential to be one of the league’s best for many years. However, what good is that starting pitching with a lineup that can’t support it, and a bullpen that can’t hold a lead?

This team needs a better shortstop, consistent first base play, another quality outfielder, and an above average bullpen. The Wilpons are losing money each season as ticket prices, concessions, and parking, have been on the decline since Citi Field’s inaugural season. Why should we be confident they will make the proper changes, with a payroll that can’t grow? It’s time to sell the team, but that isn’t likely unless the next commissioner forces a sale of the team.

With a young, and potentially dominant rotation on the horizon, 2015 looks like the year. But wait–didn’t we say that last year? Even with a healthy Harvey, it seems that not much else will change. WIth the Wilpons still in power, Met fans everywhere are waking up in the same nightmare.

Offseason Outlook: 2014 New York Mets

Okay, I’m growing tired of the Mets ownership/front office not being willing to spend, after claiming they would have money to afford players this offseason. Well, aren’t we all in the same boat? The losing culture has gotten old, and the rebuilding strategy has run its course.

We as Mets fans, deserve to see a better on field product. However, despite this negativity, we must remain patient, as hard as that is to do given the circumstances. Met fans have been given poor reputations due to their ignorance. So, let’s sort out the facts:

First and foremost, the Wilpons are to blame for the poor player quality the team has been accustomed to over the past several seasons. General Manager Sandy Alderson wants to spend money for a big market team with small market budget. The Wilpons have been recovering from financial loss due to the Bernie Madoff scandal, and from the overbearing contracts of Johan Santana and Jason Bay. Lawsuit has been settled, contracts set to expire, so there’s money to be spent, right? Wrong.

The free agent market is inflating in price as the player quality has decreased in quantity. The top free agents this offseason are guys like Sin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury. They are both asking for contracts over 100m. We saw Johnny Peralta get a whopping 4yr/53m deal already. This money for average to slightly above average talents is ludicrous. Alderson knows that, and won’t overpay for a player that won’t likely return the investment. The aforementioned players are all at least 30 in age and have either and injury/PED case in the past. That isn’t worth the risk.

Met fans wan’t to see a big name get signed. They would like a Curtis Granderson or Nelson Cruz, who are also asking to be overpaid. The fanbase longs for new faces with high expectations. However, as the market has inflated, the Wilpons did not anticipate the price increase and are left with their collective pants around their ankles. They and GM Alderson both know they either can’t afford them, or would be wasting money. The longer ownership waits, the increase in pressure from the fanbase rises.

So, what’s next? Does the front office cave under pressure and hand a massive contract to an average player? The answer, is somewhat complex; Alderson is patient enough to wait for prices to fall or for a trade to open up. The Wilpons are not as patient but too insecure and frugal to let Alderson spend.

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Look for this dilemma to end either during or shortly after the winter meetings in mid-December. If the Mets are going to acquire new talent, it’s most likely to come via a trade. With a plethora of young pitching and decent interest in starters like Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, and Dillon Gee, there are many trade possibilities. Yes, the possibility of a free agent splash also remains, but a trade is most likely.

So, this is my message for you, fellow Met fans: hang in there. The winter meetings are quickly approaching and Alderson can engage in numerous trade talks. Although we would like Roberto Clemente to walk onto right field on opening day, we must stay realistic. There are going to be changes, just let Sandy work.