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.

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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.

The Current State of Big Blue

Senior year of college has kept me busier than imaginable, but as I digress, I’d like to shift attention back to the gridiron. The Giants are 3-6, in one of the ugliest, most unusual seasons in their history. The 0-6 start was brutal. You’d have to go back to 1976 to find a start that bad, for a usually proud organization. However, they remain a game and half out of the division lead. Well what’s all this mean? Do they actually have a chance? Here’s the deal:

Despite being 3-6, yes, the G-men are very much alive. Just one game back in the loss column, anything is possible with 7 games left to play. However, let’s not get overconfident here–the Giants have serious holes and the three game winning streak hasn’t been stylish at all. Beating a backup QB at home, a backup QB on a dysfunctional team, and an inexperienced Terell Pryor at home is nothing to boast about. The Giants haven’t defeated anyone with a winning record. Eli Manning leads the league in interceptions. The offensive line is a mess. David Wilson’s career is in jeopardy. It’s not a trip to Disney Land. But, oh, there is hope.

The rest of this division is so inconsistent, anything is possible (cue the Kevin Garnett voice). The Cowboys are still my pick to win the NFC East, but with little confidence. Dez Bryant is cancerous to his team, star linebacker Sean Lee could miss the next month, and this team looks to be fairly incompetent away from home. This is a story all too familiar to Dallas fans. 

The Eagles don’t know who they want as the signal caller, but Nick Foles looks to be the guy after two straight stellar performances. Still, their defense scares no one, and Nick Foles needs to perform against legitimate defenses before he’s taken seriously. 

Down in Washington, the Skins have all kinds of issues. RGIII is playing well, but doesn’t seem like he can run like he used to after offseason ACL surgery. Their defense is overrated and gives up too many yards. They also seem to struggle on the road. 

If the Giants want to keep winning, changes have to be made, because the competition will not be as easy as the past three weeks. The offensive line needs to protect Eli Manning. When Eli has time, he is a pro bowl caliber player. He has been getting sacked and knocked down far too much to be comfortable. Many of his interceptions are because he forces them, which can be attributed to a lack of confidence in his offensive line. No one on the team, especially Eli himself, will throw that unit under the bus, but it’s easy to tell the o-line is vastly under performing. 

Fortunately for the Giants, their run game just got a huge boost with Andre Brown returning. If he is getting 20+ carries/game, this will make play action passing a much more effective weapon. It will also set up a more balanced offense. 

When the Giants do not turn the ball over, they are far more competitive. It’s a simple formula for every team, one of Tom Coughlin’s most emphasized points. Don’t turn the ball over, and the Giants will be in games, I’ll guarantee you that. 

Lost in all this Eli/Coughlin commotion, is a defense that has played very well. Even when the team was losing, the defense was victim to starting in poor field position, being played too much and tiring out due to turnovers, and being bashed for the offense’s and special team’s miscues. This unit hasn’t been the ’85 Bears, but they have played well enough to be competitive, especially when the offense doesn’t commit turnovers. 

Although they still have a long road ahead, there is reason to believe again in New York. Little by little, this team is improving. With 4 division games left, there is no reason to think it’s an impossible task anymore. Surely there is more adversity on the horizon, but no team has ever won without perseverance. 

Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but that’s what sports is all about–a never say die attitude, even when going gets tough. Because when that happens… ah I’m sure you know the rest of it. 

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