Saturday, November 26, 2005

Big Bopper - Check

In my last entry I established my wish list for the beloved Metropolitans. Certainly it took no great insight to diagnose the Met needs:

  1. A closer
  2. A bopper

Before the Thanksgiving turkey was stuffed, Omar completed half of the off-season "things to do" list. And as he is an avid reader of this blog, he did the best he could to make me happy. Noting that Carlos Delgado was actually #2 on my bopper, I still find it hard to be disappointed. My primary target, the vastly under appreciated Brian Giles, has the unfortunate benefit of free will on his side. And it seems that Mr. Giles has no great desire to make Flushing, NY his place of primary employment for the next several years. Now typically I make no attempts at divining the inner thoughts of other human beings. I leave that to the mainstream sportswriters because they are so good at it. You know the litany of their successes. Mark McGwire would never sign with St. Louis because his son lives on the West Coast and he wants to be near him. Mike Piazza is not a New York "kind of guy". Carl Pavano will return to his New England roots and sign with the BoSox (oh, how the Yankees wish that one was dead on).

So why do I despair of the Mets chances of signing the offensive juggernaut - did I mention that he is vastly underappreciated - that is Brian Giles? Because Omar covets free agents like Mike Francesa covets doughnuts. Hell, he publicly acknowledges having offers out to two free agent catchers as I write this. But nothing on Giles. Nada. Zilch. Nary a word or the wisp of a rumor. Let's do the math. Omar must know that Giles is completely cold to the Mets.

Now that leaves us to Delgado. Like Giles, an OBP monster. Like Giles, a slugger. Unlike Giles, he cost more than money - the very reason he was 2nd on my list. But now he is a Met, and that is a glorious thing. Many lament the loss of Jacobs and Petit. They were interesting players, and I wish them well. Few baseball arguments are more tiresome or futile than the debate over what a prospect will or will not become. For this reason I'll pass on such projections, except to say that most prospects disappoint.

So what have we here with Mr. Delgado? Well, according to my favorite gage of offensive production, OPS+, the 5th most productive player in baseball last year. That's right, 5th, after Derek Lee, Albert Pujols, Travis Hafner, and Alex Rodriguez. And ahead of guys like Manny Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera, and David Ortiz. And by the same measure of OPS+ Delgado is coming off his 2nd best season at age 33. In short, then, we have a devastating slugger who has not shown sign of any decline.

This acquisition also gives the Met lineup the anchor it had been lacking. Lineups do funny things to players. Placed properly, a decent hitter can look very good - think Kevin Millar in 2004. Placed properly, a pretty good hitter can look prodigious - think Hideki Matsui over the last 2 season. Of course, the opposite is also true. Consider the Mets of recent vintage. Mike Cameron is a decent offensive player. Forced into lineup spots that ill-suited him, he languished. Cliff Floyd is as good a hitter as Hideki Matsui, and probably better. Plug him in the proper lineup slot, in the 5 or 6 spot, and think about his 3o plus homers and around 100 RBI's. So the rest of the Met lineup will assuredly benefit from Delgado's presence. The other Carlos, Beltran, should hit in the 2 hole, a spot in which he has flourished in the past. David Wright will bat cleanup, mostly because of Willie Randolph's obsession with the right/left pattern. In this case Willie will stumble into the right configuration because Delgado is the Mets' best hitter, and although Willie doesn't know it, the best hitter should bat 3rd. It's a guarantee that either Benjie Molina or Ramon Hernandez will be the Met backstop in 2006, so here's a pretty fair guess at the opening day lineup:

  1. Reyes
  2. Beltran
  3. Delgado
  4. Wright
  5. Floyd
  6. Hernandez/Molina
  7. Nady/Diaz
  8. A. Hernandez/Matsui/Keppinger

Referring back to my original wish list, it also called for a closer. It seems a pretty fair bet that Omar will lock up Billy Wagner sometime soon. BWag and his agent are practically donning orange and blue pom poms already. Some might cynically argue that this is an attempt to drive up his asking price, but if that were true he would be doing the opposite. Instead of lauding the Mets' organization and their pursuit of his services he would be playing it closer to the vest. I haven't been so sure that the Mets would sign a free agent since Delgado last year. Or maybe Vlad? Or was it ARod? Anyway, it seems that the fireballing lefty will be a Metropolitan. With Aaron Heilman to set up Wagner, the Met end game will be solid in '06. Of course this won't stop the, ahem, cough, cough, experts from claiming that the Mets will be done in by their middle relief because Omar did nothing to address this pressing need.

This is actually my litmus test for baseball fans. If I'm having a casual baseball conversation with an acquaintance and the person says something like, "Boy, the Mets really need to get some reliable middle relievers", in my head I'm saying "OK, you have a very shallow understanding of major league baseball". To me, that's kind of like saying "Boy, I need to find me a nuclear physicist who looks like Pam Anderson." Think about what the term "middle reliever" means: You aren't good enough to start and we can't trust you when the game is on the line. By very definition they are not good pitchers. My saying is simple - There's no such thing as a good middle reliever, only middle relievers having good years.

Alright, I think we're set. The aforementioned catchers, Molina and Hernandez, don't thrill me but one of them is coming anyway. My preference is Hernandez, younger, slimmer, and a slightly better offensive player. My feeling is that of the three guys competing at 2nd base, a decent option will arise, even if it's a season long rotation. Each has their strengths. Hernandez is a good glove. Keppinger is a solid offensive player. With Matsui there's still that hope that his career in Japan was not an illusion. Maybe he too benefits from the Delgado factor. As a number 8 hitter he's better than most.

Assuming that Wagner and one of Molina/Hernandez is coming, the Mets will be one of the 2 or 3 best teams in the National League. I like their starting pitching. Pedro, Glavine, Benson, Trachsel, Seo is a serviceable starting core. But figure Omar to upgrade it in some way. The conventional wisdom is that AJ Burnett is the best free agent option on the market. I want no part of him. I'd prefer Matt Morris as free agents go. What would it take for Omar to pop Barry Zito? I doubt if any package not involving Lastings Milledge would do it. If that's the case, I pass. And in passing, I make a play for a pitcher that I have longed to see in a Met uniform for years. Livan Hernandez. A horse, a stud, an innings eater, a throwback to the days when pitchers finished what they started and treated at bats as if they were actual baseball players. A few winters ago I advocated the Mets trading a 20 year old prospect named David Wright for Livan. Thankfully, I had not nearly the influence on Jim Duquette (or was it Steve Philips?) that I have on Omar. This time I'll temper my ardor for Livan and offer something like Nady/Diaz, Matsui, Bannister, and cash. If that ain't enough, so be it.

This is where a GM does the real heavy lifting. Pulling the trigger for Carlos Delgado is a no-brainer. Omar needs to find that guy about to break out and get him on the cheap. A list of possibles include Brett Tomko, Jeff Weaver, Jarrod Washburn, and Jaimey Wright. If none of these names grab you, that's really the point. One of these pitchers, or someone like him, might be well suited for Shea. Omar, put some geeky intern at a computer and have him find us this year's Chris Carpenter. If somehow the Mets can get a guy who either is a bona fide number 2 or number 3 starter - Zito or Livan - or someone who ends up pitching like one, they will be the best team in the National League next year.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

What Is To Be Done?

Ahh, the sweet signs of the nascent baseball season. The leaves are turning orangey yellow, ready for their death spiral towards the ashen earth. The days are shortening. The creatures of the wilds are readying their winter stores in anticipation of the coming frosts. Crisp days and frigid nights will soon be our constant companions. All of these signs portend one thing and one thing only. The true baseball season is upon us. Yes, you’ve read correctly. The true Met fan knows that nature’s death throe of autumn commences our season, a season of eternal hope and optimism. For the Mets of recent vintage are Winter Warriors, Checkbook Champions, Sultans of Speculation. The dance of free agent courtship is their stock and trade.

This winter, though, looms larger than others. You see, the Mets are close, oh so close to summers charged with the heady sensations of real championship aspirations. The Metropolitans are much closer to the top of the National League than they are to the bottom. A 100 win season in 2006 is much more likely than a 100 loss season. Many pieces are in place. But the next few steps will make all of the difference.

For this reason, this winter is the key, the linchpin, for the fortunes of the next several summers.

So, what is to be done? In 1902 the notorious revolutionary V. I. Lenin posed this question to the Russian people in a polemic with the same title. I don’t think that Lenin would have been a Met fan. Probably the Devil Rays, maybe the Royals, certainly a small market team that suffers under the yoke of capitalist injustice. No loss there. Lenin was as bleak and humorless as he was murderous. If he were a baseball player he would be Randy Johnson – brilliant but joyless, devoid of all human charm, possessing the ability to amaze but never to endear. The anti-Ali, if you will. But what, you ask impatiently, does this have to do with the Mets? Nothing, of course, so let’s move on.

Last winter I postulated that the Mets best strategy would be a double free agent assault on Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Delgado. Omar Minaya agreed with the first part of this attack, but as to the latter he chose the duo of Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. By now we are all aware that the Martinez signing was a master stroke, as Pedro dazzled us with his brilliance and élan. Beltran not so much. But Carlos is still a young man and a rebound season in 2006 would surprise no one. All in all, then, Omar’s first season was a success as the Flushing Nine improved by 12 games and stayed in Wild Card contention until early September. Even more importantly, a core of young players established themselves as cornerstones for the franchise.

Foremost among these was David Wright. The 22 year old Met fan from Virginia blossomed into stardom while we watched. He became an offensive force, leading the team in doubles, runs batted in, batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. He should be the best 3rd baseman in the National League for years to come. Standing about 50 feet to Wright’s left was another 22 year old named Jose Reyes. This superior athlete led the National League in stolen bases and triples. His season was far from the resounding success that Wright’s was, but Met fans were ecstatic that he remained healthy, played a strong defensive shortstop, and displayed improvement throughout the season. These two youngsters, along with Beltran, should provide stability and excellence for years to come.

Other players proved valuable in 2005. Cliff Floyd stayed healthy and gave the lineup a left handed slugger. Mike Jacobs came up in late August and hit 10 homeruns in less than 100 at bats. His sweet lefty swing could be a staple in the Met lineup through the decade. Tom Glavine was as good as any pitcher in the league in the second half of the season. Aaron Heilman showed versatility as both a starter and reliever. Kris Benson and Jae Seo were effective during large segments of the season.

But the team has weaknesses, although not nearly as many as in previous winters. And in each case several attractive options are available. In order of priority, let’s take a look see:

A Closer – These are nice to have. I’m not one to dog Braden Looper. He pitched well enough in 2004 and certainly some part of his ’05 travails can be attributed to a bum shoulder. But this team needs a more reliable end game. Luckily, one of the top 3 closers in captivity is available. Billy Wagner won’t come cheap, but lefties who throw 100 mph can name their price. Omar knows this is the guy to get. BWag knows that Omar knows it. And for that the Mets will pay, and possibly overpay. This is the first priority. If Wagner falls through, BJ Ryan also provides lefty heat and will do so with a lighter price tag. And Trevor Hoffman, the long time Padre, might be tempted to bring his changeup, 436 saves, and his kick ass theme song (Hell’s Bells) to Shea Stadium. If one of these 3 is not jogging out of the Met bullpen next spring, this will have been a dismal winter.

Wish List
1) Billy Wagner
2) BJ Ryan
3) Trevor Hoffman

A Bopper – This lineup needs a true bopper, a feared bat to round it out. But this guy can’t be a one dimensional slugger. He needs to provide a high on base percentage to augment the Mets weakness in this critical area. Preferably he will be a right fielder or 2nd baseman, two positions in need of offensive upgrade. Brian Giles, a very fine right fielder, is a free agent. He also posts astonishingly high on base percentages. In other words, he is the perfect fit. But this one won’t be easy. There will be plenty of competition for Giles. Another option is Manny Ramirez, the greatest right handed hitter of the last 10 years. Manny as a Met, however, would be a complicated situation. If he is acquired and Cliff Floyd stays, then the Mets have two left fielders and a weak outfield defense. If Floyd goes in a Ramirez deal than they have lost a good hitter, still leaving the lineup a hitter short. For these reasons, I would prefer the Mets pass on Manny. Alfonso Soriano is another name mentioned in trade rumors. A defensively challenged 2nd baseman, Soriano can slug but does not get on base enough. The dark horse in this affair is an object of desire from last winter, Carlos Delgado. His back loaded contract might render him available if the Marlins are feeling cash strapped. He is still an elite hitter who would provide the juice that the Met lineup sorely needs. The drawback here is that Delgado’s presence would block young slugger Mike Jacobs.

Wish List
1) Brian Giles
2) Carlos Delgado
3) Alfonso Soriano
4) Manny Ramirez

If the winter goes the way I dream it might, the opening day Met lineup will look like this:
1) Reyes SS
2) Beltran CF
3) Giles RF
4) Wright 3b
5) Floyd LF
6) Jacobs 1b
7) Keppinger/Woodward/Hernandez 2b
8) Castro C

The starting rotation will look like this:

And the bullpen will have Heilman setting up Wagner.

You are probably looking at that lineup and wondering why 2nd base and catcher look as they do. It’s simple. I just don’t think that the potential upgrades at these spots are significant enough to warrant trading assets or tying up money. Will Mark Lorreta outperform one of the Mets’ in house options enough to warrant the loss of a Heilman or Seo? I doubt it. Will Benji Molina or Ramon Hernandez outperform Ramon Castro by such a margin as to justify the difference in salary? Again, I’m not so sure either of them will.

Looking at this team as imagined here, it occurs to me that its greatest need is a young, left handed starter. “Hello, Billy Beane please. Tell him it’s Omar Minaya calling. Yes, I’ll wait.”

Next entry – Springing Barry Zito.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Two Simple Questions

Last weekend I was enjoying my Sunday morning newspaper, ESPN buzzing vaguely in the background. In one of those rare convergences of the cosmos, two jolting bits of information came careening at me simultaneously. At the exact moment that Newday’s Jon Heyman was telling me, via his Sunday column, that the Mets should trade Mike Cameron for Ugueth Urbina, Peter Gammons on ESPN told me that Hideki Matsui was one of the ten best players in the American League. Reeling and dazed, I gaped open-mouthed, my disoriented stare switching back and forth from the newspaper to the TV. Which piece of stupidity was most in need of an infusion of logic from my addled brain? Within minutes, lucid thoughts began to form again, mostly in the form of questions:

How is Mike Cameron worth only a fading set up man?
Is there another American League that Gammons is referring to?
Were a dozen or so American League stars traded to National League teams last night?
If so, did the Mets get any of them?
Why is Jon Heyman fixated on the Met bullpen?
Can Ugueth Urbina play right field?
Or does he see himself as more of a center fielder who views right field as beneath him?

Slowly, these questions morphed into these two:

Why is Hideki Matsui so overvalued?
Why is Mike Cameron so undervalued?

Let’s start with question #1. Right up front, let me say that Hideki Matsui is a good, solid major league hitter. All in all, he is a solid, productive offensive player. But he is not one of the 10 best players in the American League. In fact, he’s not one of the 20 best. His actual number probably lies somewhere between 25 and 40. Many players are difficult to evaluate because they do things that can’t be quantified easily. These skills include playing defense and running the bases. Hideki Matsui is not one of these players. His peripheral skills are abominable. He can’t field and he can’t run. By any measurement he is one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball, playing the least demanding position on a baseball diamond. He’s also 31 years old, meaning he’s not going to improve very much, and he’s only had one really good season. So, in a very real sense, Matsui is what his numbers say he is. This means that it is very easy to evaluate and rank him. Most other very good offensive players also bring something else to the table that adds to their value. Not Matsui.

So who’s better than Hideki? Here’s my list. Now, keep in mind that I’ve only chosen the “definites”. I’ll deal with the “maybes” later in this article. So these are the guys, in no particular order, that I have no hesitation about:

Derek Jeter
Alex Rodriquez
Gary Sheffield
Garret Anderson
Vlad Guerrero
Eric Chavez
Aubrey Huff
Carl Crawford
Travis Hafner
Adrian Beltre
Miguel Tejada
Melvin Mora
Hank Blalock
Mark Texeira
Michael Young
Manny Ramirez
Johnny Damon
David Ortiz
Edgar Renteria
Magglio Ordonez
Ivan Rodriquez
Carlos Guillen
Frank Thomas

Now there’s an even two dozen to start off. As I said, these are the no-brainers. Matsui had better offensive numbers than some of them last year, but many of these players outrank Matsui by virtue of position scarcity. For example, Derek Jeter will never post the kind of power numbers that Matsui posted last season, but his value as a shortstop inarguably places him above Matsui. Ditto Edgar Renteria. Also a couple of players here are coming off seasons in which injuries reduced their effectiveness – Eric Chavez, Garret Anderson, Frank Thomas, Magglio Ordonez. In each case their bodies of work are so strong that they warrant inclusion here.

Of the 24 players listed, the one most similar to Matsui is the one that most casual fans would find least recognizable. It’s Travis Hafner.

HR RBI OBP Slg% Avg.
Matsui 31 108 .390 .522 .298
Hafner 28 109 .410 .583 .311

Similar numbers, but the edge to Hafner. What are the odds that Peter Gammons thinks that Travis Hafner is one of the ten best players in the AL? Hafner, like Matsui, does nothing else. He’s a DH who can’t run. If you think that Matsui’s position play gives him some value over Hafner, than you don’t watch Yankee games. And even if you want to award Matsui points for this, is it enough to compensate for .081 OPS points? No way. Hafner is also 3 years younger than Matsui and produces more offense in a weaker lineup.

Alright, now for the list of “maybes”:

Steve Finley
Erubiel Durazo
Vernon Wells
Brett Boone
Sammy Sosa
Rafael Palmeiro
Alfonso Soriano
Trot Nixon
Jason Varitek
Mike Sweeney
Torii Hunter
Jorge Posada

An even dozen for your consideration. One could easily make the case for all of them being better than Matsui, but they are on this list for various reasons. Finley, Sosa, Boone, and Palmeiro are aging players, although I think both Finley and Sosa will outproduce Matsui this year. Vernon Wells had a disappointing offensive season last year, some of it due to injuries. But he did win a Gold Glove. Nixon and Sweeney have been injured often. Varitek, Soriano, Posada, and Hunter are flawed offensive players, but play important defensive positions, very well in the cases of Varitek and Hunter. Durazo is one dimensional, but a very similar hitter to Matsui.

Much of the hype on Matsui is due to what Bill James calls the “Halo Effect”. A good player on a great team becomes perceived as something much greater than he really is. To use an analogy for Met fans, Matsui is similar to a healthy Cliff Floyd (yes, such a thing once existed). In fact, he is a little less than this. When healthy, Floyd is a better slugger. He also is a decent fielder who can steal bases

Remember when this article started 1,039 words ago? I promised to look at two questions. The second one is this:

Why is Mike Cameron so undervalued?

We all know Cameron’s resume’. He’s a Gold Glove winning outfielder with power and speed. He also strikes out a lot and hits for low batting averages, usually with decent on base percentages. Since the Mets signed Carlos Beltran, Cameron’s name has been mentioned in many trade rumors. Of course part of this is due to Cameron’s whining about playing right field. Reporters and fans have shipped him off to every corner of the Major Leagues, for players ranging from Eric Byrnes to Willy Mo Pena to Ugueth Urbina. Ugie is the latest rumor, rearing its ugly head in Jon Heymans’ article today in Newsday.

How is a player like Cameron worth as little as a decent 4th outfielder (Byrnes), an interesting but deeply flawed prospect (Pena), or a set up man coming off a bad year (Urbina)? Let’s take a step back. Maybe if we remove how we feel about Cameron it will help us gage his real value. What other player fits Cameron’s profile? Torii Hunter. Like Cameron he is a multiple Gold Glove winner known for his athleticism. Like Cameron he has some power and speed. Let’s compare, based on average numbers over 162 games:

Hunter 23 88 14 .319 .459 .778
Cameron 22 80 29 .340 .440 .780

Pretty much the same, huh? Throw in park and league factors and Cameron looks even better next to Hunter. So what’s my point? Let’s role play. You play the part of “typical baseball fan”. React to this headline:

Torii Hunter Traded to A’s for Eric Byrnes

My guess is that your reaction started with “What the *#@!?”

OK, try this one:

Twins Trade Hunter to Tigers for Urbina

This time I’m thinking your reaction was stunned disbelief.

Hey, Mike Cameron is not Willie Mays, but he is good. He’s as good as Torii Hunter, and that’s pretty good. Should the Mets trade him for less than market value because he’s unhappy? Hell no! I don’t care if he runs out to rightfield in a diaper while sucking on a pacifier, the Mets better hold on to him unless and until a fair trade is available.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Digging in the Corners

Cliff Floyd and Mike Cameron have been dangled so often they belong in a bait and tackle shop. That is, if the media and Metropolitan fan base count for anything. As for the Met front office, I really can’t say. One can be pretty sure that Floyd and Cameron have been mentioned in some trade scenarios, but it’s impossible to judge Omar Minaya’s true interest in jettisoning one or both of them. The amateur G.M.’s, however, – both in the press and in the public – have been working overtime to clean out the corners of the Met outfield. The reasons usually boil down to these:

Cliff Floyd is an injury prone loose cannon.
Mike Cameron strikes out too much, has lost value as a corner outfielder, and will be an unhappy camper playing a new position.

Let’s take each case individually. Cliff Floyd is indeed injury prone. Yeah, you had noticed that already, hadn’t you? As for the loose cannon part, that’s a bit of an overstatement isn’t it? Yes, Cliff occasionally lapses into brutal honesty when a microphone is shoved in his face. Perhaps he could be more circumspect when speaking to the press. But a loose cannon? A bad guy in the clubhouse? No way. Cliffy is a good guy who speaks his mind. The early trade rumors had the big lefty headed to Chicago as part of a Sammy Sosa trade. With that no longer a possibility, the rumor mongers have decided that Texas would be a good destination for Floyd. In these fantasy trades the Mets usually receive Kevin Mench or Laynce Nix. Both of these guys are interesting, but I wouldn’t trade Floyd for either. On this Met team Floyd could be a vital bat in the lineup. First of all, he’s a lefty slugger and the only one on the team. This means that he will be strategically placed in the lineup to break up Mike Piazza and David Wright. Secondly, he is a bona fide run producer. He posts high on base and slugging percentages consistently. As for his propensity for injuries, this Met team is constructed to withstand his absence from the lineup. If Cliffy plays his Met average of 110 games again this season, I believe that Victor Diaz and Eric Valent can provide capable production in his place. My hope, of course, is that Floyd finally gives the Mets a full season of .360 on base percentage and .500 slugging. A very fair projection for a full season of Floyd would be 25 home runs and 90 RBI’s. And if Cliff suffers through another injury plagued season, I would expect the Diaz/Valent combo to come very close to those numbers. The bottom line, then, is that the Mets actually have the luxury of keeping Cliff and hoping for the best on the health front.

This takes us to Cameron. The anti-Cameronites point to his high strike out totals. Yes, Mike strikes out a great deal. That’s a stat that just has never bothered me too much. Some very good players strike out a lot. The list includes Carlos Delgado, Derek Jeter, and Adam Dunne. For the most part, an out is an out. The same critics who want to ride Cameron out of town on a rail are theorizing trades that include people like Preston Wilson and Willy Mo Pena. What are these guys, Tony Gwynn disciples? You can’t criticize Cameron for striking out too much and then propose trades for whiff kings like Wilson and Pena. As for Mike losing value as a corner outfielder, that has some truth according to principles of economics. Very few centerfielders have Cameron’s power, but many rightfielders do. But this is more than compensated for by Beltran’s presence in center. And again, the players who would come back have no more power than Cameron. Does anyone honestly think that Eric Byrnes would hit 30 home runs as a Met? Jason Lane has been a highly thought of prospect for years, but he’s 28 now and has never played a full major league season. Could he provide the kind of power that Cameron does? Well, it’s possible, but why trade a known quantity for an unknown? As for Cameron’s unhappiness playing a new position, I think it’s a non-factor. I certainly wish he would stop grousing and focus on playing his new position as well as his salary dictates that he should. But I don’t think it will affect his play.

I have not seen one trade rumor involving Floyd or Cameron that makes sense for the Mets. None of the usual suspects – Byrnes, Pena, Lane, Mench, Nix – excite me. The optional idea of trading one of our corner guys for relief help is even more unattractive to me. Good major league corner outfielders are more valuable than all but the most elite relief pitchers, and by that I mean upper tier closers. Is Octavio Dotel one of these? Possibly. Yet I’m still not sold on the idea that he would help the Mets more than Cameron.

Floyd and Cameron give the Mets a pretty formidable corner outfield pair. In the National League East, only the Phillies can boast a better pairing. And that’s only because their rightfielder is Bobby Abreu, an elite player. Overall, I would think that the Met corners are a top ten major league pair. It’s also important to factor in Victor Diaz and Eric Valent. These two are a good insurance policy for Floyd, potentially providing as much production as the Byrnes/Mench types. So my advice to Met fans is to sit tight and enjoy what could be a very productive outfield trio. Does anyone doubt that these are very realistic projections:

Floyd .285 BA .360 OBP 25 HR’s 90 RBI’s

Cameron .245 BA .340 OBP 25 HR’s 90 RBI’s

Beltran .280 BA .360 OBP 30 HR’s 110 RBI’s

For a team that recently went to a World Series with an outfield of Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton, and Derek Bell, those are pretty heady numbers. Throw in about 80 stolen bases and excellent defense and you have one of the top outfields in baseball. Why mess with it?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

One True Thing

After the flurry of activity this winter, the Met starting lineup may finally be all set for the 2005 season. I’m not entirely convinced of this, but it is pretty safe to say that the infield is now set with the acquisition of Doug Mientkiewicz. The upside of signing the Mientkiewicz is the Gold Glove caliber defense that he brings to the right corner of the infield. The conventional wisdom is that this will have a steadying influence on the Mets' young infielders. The truth is that these players - Kaz Matsui, Jose Reyes, and David Wright – hold the key to the Mets’ fortunes in the upcoming season. Perhaps this is most true of Reyes, the dynamic but oft-injured shortstop who has teased Met fans with his raw athleticism. When Reyes first came up to the Mets in the summer of 2003 I felt much the same way as I did when I first saw Michael Vick playing football at Virginia Tech. It was amazing to me that an athlete playing at such a high level could be so obviously more gifted than his peers. All of us in Metropolitan Nation thanked the gods for our good fortune, while at the same time pleading with them to allow this one good thing to flourish and prosper in the barren wasteland that had become Shea Stadium. Of course, the gods are a cruel and arbitrary group. They smile on the unworthy in the Bronx, they bless the indifferent in Miami, they shed sunshine on the sun drenched in Arizona. We asked them, we implored them, for this one thing. Let this flash of brilliance, this sublime gift – let this one true thing be. Let him be our Jeter, our Pujols, our Vlad. And how have the gods answered us? With a resounding maybe, of course. Now, on the verge of what should be Reyes’ 3rd big league season, we still wait and wonder what will become of our fondest hope.

Well, I bring you good news of great joy. For unto us a child is born . . . Oh, my mistake, wrong story. But I do have good news anyway. Jose Reyes is tearing it up in the Dominican Winter League. Yea, yea, you knew that already. Big deal. Reyes is putting up big numbers against middle-aged factory workers and under-aged wannabes in the jungles of the Caribbean. Your reaction is understandable, if uninformed. You see, the Dominican League is a very good league filled with big time talent and major league players. And many of these big time talents and major league players are not performing nearly as well as Reyes is. In fact, none of them are. The Dominican League is currently finishing up its playoffs. Each playoff team has played 18 games. Below are the playoff averages for some of the recognizable talent in the league:

Tony Batista .190
Miguel Tejada .322
Charles Thomas .167
Julio Franco .293
Ron Belliard .214
Jose Guillen .267
D’Angelo Jimenez .250
Jose Offerman .288
Carlos Pena .045
Timo Perez .308

Jose Reyes .422

That’s right, .422. That’s 27 for 64. Throw in 9 stolen bases in 9 attempts. The next highest average on that list is Miguel Tejada, and I’ve heard he’s pretty good. He’s .100 points behind Jose. Actually another recognizable name has a playoff average even closer to Jose’s. Victor Diaz, .355.

To further validate the high quality of baseball in the Dominican League, let’s look at some regular season numbers for a group of major leaguers:

Tejada .250
Timo Perez .256
Eric Byrnes .273
Raul Mondesi .192 (I particularly like this one)
Willy Mo Pena .202
Angel Berroa .256
Pedro Feliz .227
Juan Uribe .227
Enrique Wilson .231

Jose Reyes .302

That .302 is based on a 38 for 126 regular season. This time throw in 11 bags in, you guessed it, 11 attempts. Let’s put it together now. Playoffs and regular season combined, Reyes is 65 for 190, a batting average of .342. In stolen bases he’s 20 for 20. Are you excited yet? I am. It seems that Jose Reyes, combining regular season and playoffs, has been the best player in a league with some pretty good players. And he’s been healthy. Now, one of two things is happening here. Either the gods are setting us up for the inevitable fall, or they have decided that we have suffered enough and are going to grant us this one true thing.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Tick, Tick, Tick

For the second time this January, a Texas team is on the clock. And for the second time the Mets are hoping for a buzzer beater. We are all in the dark as to actual numbers, but unlike my fellow writers in the mainstream media I won't make any uneducated guesses as to what each team is offering Carlos Delgado. It is being reported that Texas wants an answer by Sunday. If true, this is good news for the Mets. Other reports claim that Omar Minaya is pondering whether or not to try to outbid the competitors for the left-handed slugger. Delgado's agent, a guy who issues press releases each time he gets a phone call, had this to say today:

"I had extensive telephone conversations today with representatives of the Mets, Orioles and Rangers and a face-to-face meeting with the Marlins due to the proximity," agent David Sloane, who lives in Florida, said in an e-mail.

It is, and has been, my firm belief that Delgado wants to play for the Mets. I don't think this was true in December, but the sudden ascension of Met fortunes has grabbed Delgado's attention. For these reasons the Mets are now attractive to Carlos. But, like most humans, he will chase the money. In Delgado's case, however, I don't believe he'll make this his sole consideration. If the Rangers offer $48 million for 4 years, and the Mets offer $33 million for 3 years, I believe Delgado will don a 10 gallon hat and tatoo a lone star on his arse. But, if the Mets offer $45 million or something close to the Ranger offer, then I believe that Carlos Delgado will become a Met. Why do I believe this? Well, mostly because I want to. Also because Delgado is a guy who has languished in what has become a lukewarm baseball climate. New York would offer him the most exciting atmosphere to spend the latter days of his possible Hall of Fame career. He is good friends with Carlos Beltran. He is, by all accounts, a cultured, intelligent person. New York just seems right for him.

To prove the extent of my delusional ponderings, I also am reading into his agent's statement. Why are the Mets mentioned first? There was a 25% chance of this happening. Shouldn't the Marlins be first? They met with him face to face. What about Texas? They have the most money on the table. Why the Metropolitans? Because this is where Delgado wants to be. And if Omar is thinking about raising the ante, then my strong hunch is that he will do so. The truth is, however, that we have no idea what Omar is doing. This has been true all winter. To me, this proves the extent of his power and influence in the Met organization. He has changed the entire culture. It used to be an amateurish, gossipy, loose-lipped organization. Now they operate with the secrecy of the CIA. This is a welcome change and a sound negotiating strategy.

Why is Texas even in this thing? They don't need Delgado at all. They are a good team that needs pitching. Their tussle with the Mets should have been for Pedro Martinez. They have a great, young, slugging first baseman in Mark Texiera. It just seems that their owner woke up one day this week and decided that he had to have a free agent and Delgado was the only sexy one left. Well, Mr. Hicks, I don't think you're getting him. Sometime next week, let's say Wednesday or Thursday, the Mets will break out the good china and hand a jersey with #25 on it to a very large gentleman named Carlos Delgado. He'll smile, we'll all smile, and then we'll bide our time until pitchers and catchers report.

Monday, January 17, 2005

An Early Look at the N.L. East

New York has certainly been the hub of hot stove activity this winter, with probably the three biggest off-season maneuvers – the signings of Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, and the trade for Randy Johnson. Surprisingly, the Mets have garnered most of the headlines by successfully recruiting both the most desirable free agent pitcher and position player. This is part of a greater trend in the National League East. Every team in the N.L. East has made major acquisitions over the winter, making this division the most balanced one in major league baseball. Any one of 4 teams could realistically win this 5 team division, which has been locked up by the Braves since Warren Harding was President. None of the teams looks like a world-beater, mind you, but each of the 4 contenders could win as many as 95 games if all breaks well for them. On the flip side, any of the 4 could also win as few as 75 games if their best laid plans go astray. The 5th team, ostensibly called the Washington Nationals, is far from awful and is my bet to be baseball’s best last place team in 2005.

Let’s take a look at where each team stands as currently constituted:

Atlanta Braves

Key Acquisitions – Tim Hudson, Danny Kolb, Raul Mondesi

Safe Bet – Hudson will pitch outstanding baseball and contend for the NL Cy Young Award. Has-beens and never-weres flourish under the genius of Leo Mazzone. In this case Mazzone has a big time talent in the prime of his career. Look for 20 wins and a sub 3.00 ERA.

Burning Question – How will John Smoltz adapt to his return to the starting rotation? My guess is that it will be a difficult transition for Smoltz. He’s been a closer for several years now and he has a history of arm trouble. A few stints on the DL wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Most Likely to Flop – Raul Mondesi is a very strange person. He will self-destruct in Atlanta, just as he did in New York, Arizona, and Pittsburgh. And, somehow, it won’t affect the Braves at all.

Question Mark – Can Danny Kolb be a big time closer for a contender? Danny Kolb saved 39 games last season for a bad team. That’s impressive, but not the most interesting stat from Kolb. That would be his 21 strikeouts in 57 innings pitched. Trust me, this is the only time in baseball history that a guy with that kind of K ratio saved 39 games. Is there a message in those numbers? I would say yes, and that message is that Danny Kolb does not have 39 save stuff, and that this number will decline significantly.

Florida Marlins

Key Acquisition – Al Leiter

Safe Bet – Miguel Cabrera will continue to mature into an absolute superstar. What I wouldn’t do to have this guy on the team I root for. Let me put it to you this way; has a section on each player’s page that tells you the most statistically similar player to the player you are looking at. It’s called a similarity score. Cabrera’s most similar player at this point in his career? A guy named Henry Aaron.

Burning Question – How will the lefties pitch? Dontrelle Willis and Al Leiter are key lefties in the Marlin rotation. Willis fell off considerably from his stellar rookie season, posting an ERA over 4.00 and giving up more hits than innings pitched. Leiter, as every Met fan knows, pitched very well at times last year, but threw a ridiculous amount of pitches, causing him to be removed from most games by the 6th inning. Both of these guys are capable of having excellent years. The Marlins will need them to.

Most Likely to Flop – Guillermo Mota will close for the Fish. He’s got a great arm, but closing games requires a certain attitude that Mota might not possess. Will he be able to take on the pressure that goes with being the last line of defense?

Question Mark – Can Josh Beckett and AJ Burnett stay healthy? Last year they combined for a record of 16 wins and 15 losses and only 280 innings pitched. Both of these strong-armed righties have had more difficulty with their arms than a UN weapons inspector. Will both of them stay off the DL in 2005? If they do, the Marlins will be very tough to deal with.

Philadelphia Phillies

Key Acquisitions – Kenny Lofton, John Lieber

Safe Bet – Bobby Abreu will continue to be baseball’s best kept secret. This guy needs Scott Boras to put together a binder on him. Maybe 5 players in baseball are better than Abreu. Maybe.

Burning Question – How will the players respond to easy going new manager Charlie Manuel after the firing of uber-jerk Larry Bowa? Well, honestly this question is really not burning. In fact, it’s not even lukewarm. It’s actually quite easy. Would you rather work for an absolute maniacal tyrant or a mild-mannered, professional gentleman? You see, it really is an easy question.

Most Likely to Flop – Shortstop Jimmy Rollins rode a hot September to post decent enough stats last year. I’m not sold on him. In his previous seasons he had a very difficult time getting on base, with OBP’s of .323, .306, and .320. This is a key season for Rollins. He is still young and very athletic, which could mean he’ll turn the corner and be a productive major league hitter. I just don’t like the quality of his at bats. My hunch is that he returns to his previous numbers.

Question Mark – Will several key Phillies have bounce back years? Billy Wagner, Pat Burrell, and Randy Wolf are very important player for the Phils. All of them suffered through injury plagued 2004 campaigns. All are expected to be ready for 2005. Wagner, the dominating closer who regularly touches 100 miles per hour on the radar gun, is the most important of the three. I believe he is also the most likely to return to form. That’s very good news for the Phillies.

Washington Nationals

Key Acquisitions – Vinny Castilla, Christian Guzman, Jose Guillen

Safe Bet – Livan Hernandez is a very good pitcher, even if I am one of the only people who thinks so. For quite some time I have wanted the Mets to acquire him. To be honest, last winter I suggested that the Mets trade a prospect to get him, some guy named David Wright. OK, sometimes it is a very good thing that the Mets front office does not listen to my ideas. Well, I am no longer suggesting that the Mets trade David Wright to get Livan, but I am still saying that this guy is a horse, an innings eater, and a very good pitcher.

Burning Question – Will anyone in Montreal notice that they left?

Most Likely to Flop – Vinny Castilla should never leave Coors Field. Ever. He should only sign contracts with the Rockies and not even go on road trips. At Coors Field he hits like Mike Schmidt. Away from Coors he hits like Jason Schmidt. Check out his career stats. In 14 seasons he has posted 6 seasons of 30 or more home runs and 5 seasons of over 100 RBI’s. All were as a Rockie. In two seasons with the Braves he averaged 17 homers and 69 RBI’s. Look for Vinny’s stats to return to these pedestrian numbers.

Question Mark – What’s next for Jose Vidro? This is a player that I really liked. Great approach, high on base percentages, good power for a middle infielder. Last year two interesting things happened to Vidro – he turned 30 and he had knee surgery. These are not necessarily alarming events, but Vidro has never struck me as a guy who stays in great physical shape. Can anyone say Carlos Baerga? I hope Vidro bounces back. He’s a fun guy to watch play baseball.

As the Mets still have at least one gaping hole to fill at 1st base, my analysis of them will come at a later date.