No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy

Remember all that late season speculation about how the Mets were going to be more active in the free agent market this off-season?

At best, it looks like somebody misread the market value of free agents. At worst, it seems like a concerted effort to sucker a fanbase that’s already endured five straight losing seasons of “wait until next year.”

Signed Jason Vargas 2006 Topps baseball card from my collection

Signed Jason Vargas 2006 Topps baseball card from my collection

In a market where Jason Vargas commands a four-year, $32 million contract, it’s pretty clear $25-$30 million isn’t going to buy much improvement.

Can Sandy Alderson still sign some cheap, useful players? Sure. He found bargains with Marlon Byrd and LaTroy Hawkins last winter, and to a lesser extent, with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Harang during the season.  (Of course, he also gave us Collin Cowgill, Brandon Lyon, Rick Ankiel and Aaron Laffey.)

I had to Google to make sure Miguel Socolovich was a real baseball player today after the Mets signed him, but he did put up some nice numbers in a very limited sample size for the Hiroshima Carp this year.

Who knows, maybe Alderson can even work out a trade or two to pick up some help for his major league roster in exchange for prospects.

But at this point, I think the best we can hope for in terms of excitement might be if Alderson forgets about “Super Two” status and arbitration eligibility long enough to let Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard legitimately compete to break camp in the New York Mets’ starting rotation.

Hot stove season looks like another bust, but I’m still holding onto a tiny shred of (mostly irrational) hope that Alderson will finally live up to his “miracle worker” reputation.

About Paul

NY Mets enthusiast, toy collector, amateur gardener, Christian. I like to take pictures & write things.

Posted on November 21, 2013, in Baseball, New York Mets and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Sorry to be the one to tell you there is no Santa Claus, but Syndergaard is probably never going to pitch for the Mets. Me, I’d be trying to trade him right now while his value is still high. He’s Tommy John surgery waiting to happen. Even if I’m wrong about all that, he is nowhere close to major league ready. Montero is another story and I could see him showing up mid-season–not because of the Super 2 thing, but because I think he’d benefit from a quick start at AAA rather than a rocky road beginning in the NL. I know modern Mets fans hate to hear it, but you need to baby pitchers and push hitters. I think we had this discussion about Jenrry Mejia and look at what a mess rushing him and messing with his role made for all involved. If you bring up Montero, you commit to keeping him in the rotation for the rest of the season…just like with Wheeler. If he breaks camp with the Mets, you know he’s in the pen…and that would be a huge mistake at this point.

    The free agent salaries are ridiculous and I don’t think anyone (except the agents) would disagree, yet Mets fans insist the owners jump right in. Sure, it’s easy to spend someone else’s money. I think there’s a trade to be made. Me, I’m thinking Dodgers. They’ve got one too many starting major league outfielders and an infielder who everybody was nuts about just a couple years ago that they’ve given up on. I think there’s a trade there. I’d send them Syndergaard without reservation. Add in a Mejia or a Gorski. I think there’s a trade to be made, there. We’d be much improved, still on plan and on budget. That’s where I’m looking.

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    • If the Mets can trade Noah Syndergaard for someone who can help them more, great. I hope that Sandy Alderson does it. I’m only committed to seeing two current players remain in Mets uniforms: David Wright and Matt Harvey. Anyone else can go if it makes the overall team better.

      If Syndergaard and Rafael Montero are still here in February, I see no reason they shouldn’t have a shot to win one of the two open spots in the starting rotation.
      Jenrry Mejia was messed up because the Mets braintrust at the time couldn’t decide whether he was a starter or a reliever, and when they went ahead and stuck him in the major league bullpen, Jerry Manuel couldn’t figure out how to use him. (Mechanics that led to arm issues also contributed.)

      We’re not looking at the same situation in 2014. There are starting rotation spots to be filled, and if Montero and Syndergaard don’t look like the best candidates, go ahead and send them to Las Vegas for more development. But don’t send them there just to avoid “Super Two” status and delay arbitration eligibility.

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      • Exactly. And you don’t have to baby MLB-ready pitchers. There’s a long line of pitchers in baseball history who were certainly ready for the Majors at a young age. The goal is to put the best team on the field, not to continue to wait for some magical moment to occur when suddenly, everyone is ready at the same moment. I’d be willing to trade anyone not named Matt Harvey if it will make the team better, but at some point, the Mets have to start acting like the big-market team they are, or get new ownership. Sandy, you’re not in Oakland anymore.

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    • How exactly is Syndergaard “nowhere close” to major league ready? In 293 minor league innings, he’s struck out 329 batters while walking just 81. In 11 Double-A starts last year, he averaged over 11 K’s per nine innings. Also, if you start him off in Triple-A Las Vegas, which is a real hitter’s park / league, you may be doing more harm than good. It’s a terrible place to develop a pitcher. He has already shown plenty of control, great stuff, and fine composure. He’ll be entering his age 21 season in ’14. The Nats babied Strasburg, and the Mets did not overwork Harvey, and they still blew out their arms. There’s no way to know which pitchers will eventually go under the knife, and which one’s will not. Meanwhile, why waste valuable, potentially high-quality innings at the minor league level if the pitcher shows himself to be ready for the Majors? If Syndergaard looks terrible in spring training, by all means, send him back down for more seasoning. But if he looks like he’s obviously one of the best half dozen arms in camp, there’s nothing to be gained by shipping him down to AAA, except that the Wilpons get to save a little money, which isn’t something Mets fans should be concerned about.

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      • The numbers don’t tell the whole story, William. Syndergaard has one major league ready pitch–a plus fastball. If you’re developing a closer, you might get away with that, but its not going to cut it for a major league starter. Maybe the Mets have some real wizard developmental coaches on the farm and they SAY they’ve been developing Noah’s “arsenal”. But you don’t get that done in a single year, regardless. The whispers have been that he tips his other pitches. If minor league hitters can pick up on that (and they have), major league hitters certainly can. When a minor league hitter (single-A, double-A) sits on a fastball, you can still blow him away if your fastball is good enough. Major league hitters not so much. What I hear is that Syndergaard’s other pitches aren’t major league ready at all and that he’s over-reliant on the fastball to get the job done. That’s putting undue strain on his young arm and setting him up for arm trouble going forward. I’d want to trade him before the thing falls off. Throwing a baseball is unnatural. Every pitcher is going to have arm trouble to a greater or lesser degree, sooner or later, other than the occasional freak of nature. But, if you’re a starter and all you throw is a fastball, the odds lean heavily toward sooner and often.

        The Mets, for the moment, seem committed to Syndergaard, and as a starter. That being the case, I’d send him to AA to start the year for the same reason I wouldn’t start the year with Montero in the majors. Noah’s still very much a work in progress. Let him get a good half year under his belt at AA, work on his other pitches some more, before you expose him to AAA hitters in the PCL. But, hitters parks and all, the PCL is still AAA. And, if you’re worried he’ll get knocked around in AAA, its absurd to think he’d be successful in the majors at this point. Like Wheeler before him (and Wheeler was a more complete pitcher), I doubt Syndergaard is even being considered for the majors this year. Nor should he be.

        Are the Mets going to contend in 2014? No. Are Montero and/or Syndergaard the difference between competing or not competing in 2014? No. So there’s nothing to be gained by pushing young pitchers to the major leagues ahead of their time. Risk reward. There’s too much risk and not enough reward. I know the impatient fans want to “see what they’ve got” at the major league level NOW. But the Mets, themselves, already have a sense of that. They’re not just reading statistics; they’re watching them pitch every time out. Now, as I say above, Montero is essentially ready, but a half season at the major league level will be sufficient to see where he fits. Mets fans are in far too much of a hurry to create the next David Clyde for my liking. And, really, William, haven’t you watched baseball long enough to know that spring training tells you next to nothing?

        I seem to recall a young pitcher absolutely blowing away the competition one spring on a moribund Mets team that wasn’t going anywhere for a few more years. The fans demanded he go north with the team. Even supposedly smart (but also desperate) baseball people with the team agreed. He was 22. His name was Tim Leary. He lasted all of 2 innings before blowing out his arm on a cold Chicago day and he was never the same. Tim Leary was a better pitcher then than Syndergaard is now…by far. Was it worth it? Was it worth it for Mets fans, for the Mets, for Leary? No one can say for sure that, had he spent another half year in the minors, Tim Leary would have been a Hall of Fame hurler. But we DO know, with absolute certainty, the result of pushing him to the majors that spring. There are lots of reasons to leave “high-quality innings” in the minors and not just money. Pressure. The weather. The future. The Mets are going nowhere in 2014 and everybody knows that. Let’s not prematurely put an end to 2015 and 2016 just because fans have little patience or vision. There’s too much risk and not much reward at stake.

        Paul, if you recall our discussion of Mejia, you’ll remember that my position was that moving Mejia between the pen and the rotation would ruin him. Your position was that, if he’s a professional pitcher, that shouldn’t matter at all. Now I see you’ve adopted that his uncertain role was, indeed, part of the problem.

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        • From what I’ve read in both Baseball Prospectus and SB Nation,as well as a couple of other sites, Syndergaard is more than a one-pitch pitcher. While his fastball is his dominant pitch (which is as it should be with a future stud pitcher), his secondary pitches, including his curve and change-up currently rate as “B” level pitches. I can live with that, and so, too, should the Mets brass.
          Your primary point seems to be that if they “rush” him to the Majors, he’s in danger of burning out his arm. Tell me exactly how throwing a 97 mph fastball in a minor league game is somehow “safer” or less stressful on a pitcher’s arm than throwing that same pitch at the Major League level? You’re also worried about cold weather and “pressure.” Then you say that the Mets aren’t going anywhere in 2014. So where, exactly, is the pressure in pitching for a team that allegedly has no expectation of success in the first place? Sounds like a good environment to give him a shot, since their expectations are low in the first place. Also, does it not get cold anywhere in the PCL?
          As for my point that he could “get knocked around” in the PCL, it’s my understanding that the alleged purpose of spending time in the minors is to help a pitcher refine his arsenal. If that pitcher is pitching in an environment where breaking balls don’t break, what exactly is he learning from the experience, that he should avoid signing a long-term future deal with the Colorado Rockies?
          You seem inordinately concerned that young pitchers are brittle. You’d rather trade them than actually benefit from their talent, regardless of for how long. How, then, do you propose to build a Major League caliber pitching staff. With a bunch of soft-tossers who are overly-dependent on the quality of their defense for their success? A power pitcher is always an asset, and no pitcher, no matter how carefully used, is immune from the possibility of an arm injury.
          Citing Tim Leary as a reason why the Mets should not “rush” Syndergaard because Leary might have been a future HOF’er if only he hadn’t pitched on that one cold day in Chicago, is truly a stretch of imagination. Looking at Leary’s minor league stats reveals a young pitcher who was, if anything, overused at the Minor League level for one year, and a pitcher whose stats were not as good as Syndergaard’s were last season. Suppose the Mets had waited another year to bring up Leary, and only pitched him on warm, sunny days? Where’s the evidence that he wouldn’t have gotten hurt at some later date anyway?
          Moreover, for every Tim Leary, there has been a Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Dwight Gooden (whose career was wrecked by drugs and alcohol, not arm problems), Bob Welch, Jon Matlack, Bob Feller, Herb Score, Steve Carlton
          and many other young pitchers throughout baseball history who made their debuts at very young ages, and went on to successful careers.
          You say that Syndergaard allegedly tips his pitches, and that the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Well, what the numbers do tell us that if he really is tipping his pitches, he’s averaging over 11 K’s per nine innings at the Double-A level. Are we to believe that the Mets coaching staff at the AA level somehow isn’t aware of this alleged problem if the hitters supposedly do know what’s coming, and that they haven’t talked with him about this? Is this supposed to be some hugely complicated problem that might take a couple of years to fix?
          Finally, as for your suggestion that some Mets fans are too impatient, I’m wondering what exactly we’re supposed to be waiting for? We’ve now had five losing seasons in a row. Some of us are wondering why other Mets fans seem so readily resigned to failure. Is 2016 the new magic year that we’re all supposed to believe will come gift-wrapped in nice, neat packaging after another couple of lousy seasons? Are we to somehow believe that Alderson and Co. will suddenly open up the checkbook and sign an actual star-level free agent?Why do you find anything the Wilpon’s say at this point to be credible at all? There is no plan, other than to keep as much money in the Wilpon’s wallets as possible.
          The reality is, the Wilpon/Alderson regime is interested in one thing, saving themselves money. If they elect to keep Syndergaard and / or Montero down on the farm next year, it won’t be because they believe those pitchers need more seasoning. It will be because they are trying to save themselves money in the long run. The problem is, in the long run, there may not be enough Mets fan left to care when or if Syndergaard or any other young pitcher, is ever allowed to throw a ball at the MLB level in the first place. On the other hand, allowing the kids to pitch might actually generate, God forbid, some excitement around CitiField for the first time in a few years. If injuries happen, that’s baseball. If they are ultimately successful, though, that’s why fans buy tickets, and ultimately, even bother to have debates like this.

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        • William, how can I take you seriously when you say there’s no pressure on a 21 year old kid pitching in the major leagues for the first time? In New York, no less. Let me quote Terry Leach from the book “Amazin'” by Peter Golenbeck. “The pressure is on in New York…because they expect so much of you. Or you think they expect so much of you, so you try to do more than you’re capable of, and that’s not good. And that’s what happened to Tim Leary in New York. He was young, it’s hard to cope. You don’t know what it’s like until you play big league ball in New York.”

          Yes, pitchers have fragile, brittle psyches when they’re young. At that age, your body isn’t fully developed, let alone your mind. A pitcher with a 97 mph fastball at that age thinks he’s invincible. So what you want to do is put him in a situation to succeed, not throw him in the deep end and see if he’ll swim or drown. My concern in not promoting him prematurely isn’t that he’ll burn out his arm, its that we’ll break his skull. I do think a pitcher who has one pitch–a fastball–is heading for Tommy John surgery and soon, but that’s not why I wouldn’t promote him. He’s not ready. If you want this kid to succeed at the major league level and be a starter for the Mets long-term, you don’t put him in a position to fail. You’ve read that his other pitches are “B” level. I’ve read that they’re not nearly that good. OK, so we read different stuff. The fact that there isn’t a consensus is a red flag.

          As for trading them rather than pushing them up ahead of schedule, no. I like to think there’s some internal evaluation going on. I’d trade Syndergaard because I don’t think he’s gonna make it. I think he’s Tommy John surgery waiting to happen. There are others I’d trade, too, because I don’t think they’re the real deal. Gorski? I don’t see him being much more than middle inning canon fodder. Mejia? I think we messed him up but good by rushing him. He’s bounced back pretty well, but he’s never going to be what he could have been. Now I recall last offseason, supposed Mets fans couldn’t wait to trade Wheeler. Wheeler’s the real deal and I wouldn’t entertain the thought of trading him unless the offer was ridiculous and included dozens of major league ready arms. That’s MY evaluation, of course, and I have to presume the Mets have a better handle than you or I on what they have. I will say this: If minor league numbers told the whole story, Mike Hessman would be Babe Ruth.

          There’s no stretch about Tim Leary. I saw that kid pitch. He had ungodly stuff. His fastball easily hit 98 nearly every time. His curve ball broke like something out of “It Happens Every Spring”. Were the Mets going anywhere in 1981? Nah. They were worse than the current Mets. So what was the point in rushing him to the majors? To appease a disgruntled fan base? Well, that’s just peachy. We wasted a ten year ace for two innings of hope. I clearly said we don’t know what the alternate history would have been. But what we DID do was clearly, in retrospect, a huge mistake. And, no, there is not a Felix Hernandez for every Tim Leary. For every Felix Hernandez or Matt Cain or whatever, there are HUNDREDS of Tim Learys. The roadsides are littered with them. Pitchers with ungodly talent who were tossed into the fire and flamed out quickly who might have developed into aces if properly cultivated. Tim Leary, Mark Fidrych, David Clyde, Mike Norris, Steve McCatty, Generation K. Those are just some of the names you know. There are plenty you’ve never heard of.

          Now I get it. You want to win now. You’re tired of waiting. You want to plant the seed and see that tree fully grown the next day or, by God, you’ll keep planting seeds until one grows a tree overnight. What the heck, let’s bring ALL the kids north with us this year and see what sticks. And so what if we destroy the careers of a couple of dozen kids who could have been something? Hey, man, if they break down that easy, they weren’t worth the time and trouble to begin with, right? If you can’t hit the ground running like Bryce Harper, then who needs you? Spend a lot of money and bring kids right to the majors and, by God, you’ll have a dynasty in no time. And, what the heck, its not your arm or your career or your money you’d be risking. So who cares?

          Well, we did it your way through the oughts. Those supposedly penny pinching Wilpons were spending money like there was no tomorrow. The checkbook was open and a kid in the minors was only fodder for trades. And what did that get us? Yes, it sure was exciting watching the team collapse down the stretch every year, wasn’t it? And then, one day, we turned around and there was nothing. There was no farm system left, no money left, no players left. Hell of a party, though, phew!

          And now circumstances force us to build a team the old fashioned way–the “right” way, in the opinion of those like myself. I can promise you that the oasis is right over that ridge, even though you can’t see it from here. So you’ll just have to take my word for it and be patient. Sorry, that’s the best I got. There IS a plan. It’s working. Chillax, brah. When Omar left, the cupboard was bare. Now, we’ve got a decent stockpile of high upside arms on the farm. Not an overabundance, mind you, but we were starting from zero. That’s how its done, son. As it happens, the Wilpons ran into a financial problem. Stuff happens. It happens to everyone. So, yeah, money’s a bit tight right now. We have to be smarter. Maybe if you got laid off, you’d tell the wife and kids to run up the credit cards. Or maybe you’d have no problem with your friends advising you to sell your children to keep up appearances. I’m just not down with that.

          “Some of us are wondering why other Mets fans seem so readily resigned to failure.” I’m not at all “resigned to failure”. I’m a Mets fan. One of the originals. And, no, that doesn’t mean I’m used to losing or I expect to lose or that I even very much like losing. I married my team for better or worse. I’ve seem ’em good and I’ve seen ’em bad. I’ve seen ’em stupid (Omar) and I’ve seen ’em smart. I’ve seen ’em nice (Ms. Payson) and I’ve seen ’em downright evil (M. Donald Grant). I’ve seen ’em cheap and I….well, truth is the Mets have always been cheap. What can I say? I love them. I’ve always loved them. I always will love them. When I see them do something stupid, like signing Jason Bay for way too much, I sigh and shake my head. But I still love them. I still root for them. And I don’t spend my time and energy publicly bad mouthing them. They’ve fallen on hard times, but they’re getting better. From the depths they reached, its a long, hard road to better. There is no miracle cure or magic fix. But they’re on the right road, right now, and, so long as they stay on that road, I know its all going to work out. If they fall off the wagon and start handing out Bobby Bonilla type contracts again, well, I’ll still love them. But no good will come of that. Being smart, staying on the path they’re on, that’s the road to a winning franchise.

          I don’t hear “Mets fan” from you. Sorry, I don’t. I hear impatience and discontent. Agitation even. You don’t have a positive thing to say about them. Does Sandy get any credit for turning Marlon Byrd into Dilson Herrera and Vic Black? My God, that’s was effin brilliant. Nope, you’re still not happy. You want to throw away what you have to get what you think is better. You want that flashy red convertible across the street and you want it now. Does it matter if I tell you it won’t make you happy? I guess not. Maybe what you need is to “divorce” from the Mets and find a team that will give you the “excitement” you’re looking for. The Red Sox are looking pretty sexy, right now? Maybe they’ve got what you’re looking for.

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  2. If the Mets were a couple players away, going out and playing the free agent market would be the thing to do. But how many players would the Mets need to contend this year? 6? 8? More?

    The best thing would be to bring some of the minor leaguers with a future up, put them up against major leaguers and tell them there’s absolutely no pressure on them because no one is expecting anything from the team this year. Then we can find out if players like Syndergaard really are major league ready instead of thinking they might need more seasoning in the minors.

    If I’m Alderson, I wouldn’t spend a nickel on a quality free agent this off-season because this off-season might last until at least 2015.

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    • Sounds logical to me, but I don’t see how they can avoid upgrading the team without spending at least some money this year. Even if we’re shooting for 2015 or ’16, some effort has to be made now to lay the groundwork for that to happen. We can’t expect to go out and sign 3 or 4 expensive players all at once in a year or two. I’d settle for a trade right now that might bring someone, for example, like Ryan Braun, or at least Andre Ethier to New York. And yes, let the kids play and we’ll see what they’ve got. Then their true trade value will be determined, if we decide they are expendable.

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