Betty's No Good Clothes Shop And Pancake House
Thursday, September 30, 2004
  First in war, first in peace, last in the National League East?

I don't have a whole lot to say on the subject of the Expos moving, other than to offer my condolences to the Montreal fans. I think baseball in Washington is a fine idea, but it's a shame it had to work out like this for the Expos and their fans. If only the 1994 strike could have been averted, or baseball hadn't done something silly like award a franchise to Tampa Bay, or the owners simply hadn't run the Expos into the ground. A once great baseball city with it's share of history is dead, probably for good, at the major league level. I'm sorry to see them go.
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
  Omar Minaya to return to Mets

What in the world is going on? A couple of weeks ago, Fred Wilpon was on WFAN defending his front office against allegations that there were too many voices influencing the team's decision-making and asserting that Jim Duquette was in charge. Now he's bringing in the butcher of Montreal, inventing a job title and making Duquette answer to him. I would imagine there will be more to this story once the Mets make the official announcement, but assuming that Duquette remains on as GM, this move has to be taken as a commentary on his job performance. So the quetsion must be asked, is Duquette being used as a fall guy in the wake of the increasingly unpopular Scott Kazmir trade, or is this just another instance of the now legendary Wilpon impatience?

It seems that Duquette is, in effect, simply being demoted after slightly more than a year as the Mets' general manager, although I imagine Wilpon will try to spin this otherwise. But does he deserve it? Under normal circumstances, it would be easy to point to the more egregious mistakes made by the Mets under Duquette's leadership and blame the general manager. The Mets' much-publicized yet equally half-assed pursuit of Vladimir Guerrero, the team's completely inaccurate scouting regarding Kazuo Matsui's defense and the decision to trade Scott Kazmir for an injured, unproven twenty-nine year old pitcher would be enough to warrant any GM's firing. But with the Mets, there's always the question of who to blame for any particular decision. If Duquette were actually to be let go, we could take that as a signal that these blunders were in fact his fault, or at least that Fred Wilpon wished us to believe as much. But this course of action raises more questions than it answers and makes an already muddled decision-making process seem even moreso.

If Duquette hasn't performed poorly enough to be fired, that leads one to believe that the Wilpons either were involved in or at least agreed with the various controversial decisions made by the team in the last year. But if that's the case, Wilpon seems to be making an incredibly rash decision in removing Duquette from power out of disappointment with the team's results this year. When Duquette took over last year, it was clear that even a completely autonomous general manager would need more than one year to turn this franchise around, and during the offseason and the early portion of this season, both Wilpon and Duquette seemed to understand that. Before too long, the team apparently reverted to the patented Wilpon quick-fix strategy, with predicatbly disastrous results. Blaming Duquette for the team's poor finish and yet believing him to be valuable enough to retain in a lesser role is just a baffling decision that gives little indication of the true structure of the team's front office in the past year or its direction for the future.

So what about that future? Where does this Omar Minaya-led franchise go from here? This utter mess of a baseball team seems once again to be at a crossroads, needing to choose whether to seriously rebuild from within or to spend like crazy to try to compete for the division title next year. Minaya's history as the general manager of the Expos doesn't give one much hope that they'll choose the former approach. The way he systematically reduced a once-productive farm system to ruins doesn't bode well for the future of the Mets' minors. But you do have to consider the context somewhat, as the ever uncertain future of the Expos made it difficult to commit to building for a future that may never come. Minaya's experience in the areas of scouting and player development might give us hope that he won't ignore the need for a strong farm system. But the events of the past few months make it unlikely that the team will commit to a true rebuilding process anyway. Reverting to a patient, build-from-withing approach at this point would be a startling flip-flop that would make the Kazmir trade look all the more boneheaded.

So the fact that Minaya is being brought in presumably indicates that he's already on board with Wilpon-style team-building. This move may be just another step in the major shake-up of the team that Wilpon indicated was coming and which began with the firing of Art Howe, but at this point, it's hard to expect this to signal a major change in the team's direction. Kris Benson and Al Leiter, rather than Aaron Heilman and, say, Matt Clement, will be aomng the Mets' five starting pitchers next year. Magglio OrdoƱez or J.D. Drew, rather than Victor Diaz, will be the team's starting rightfielder. Mike Stanton will be back. The Mets are going to continue their standard operating procedure of filling every roster spot that they can with a "proven veteran" and Mets fans will only be able to hope that they choose the right ones this offseason.

There probably is more to this story than we know so far and there will likely be further developments in the soap opera that is the Mets' front office as the offseason really gets going. It's hard to say what to make of this hiring right now, but one thing's for sure. This isn't going to reassure anyone that the Mets know what they're doing.
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
  Six innings, three hits, three walks, zero runs, nine strikeouts

That's Scott "four years away" Kazmir's line from his start tonight against the Boston Red Sox. That's right, the guy who the Mets traded because they didn't want to wait for him to fulfill his potential and be as good as Victor Zambrano followed up a solid relief outing against the Yankees by outpitching Pedro Martinez on his way to a victory over the fearsome Boston offense. Kazmir certainly hasn't been perfect since he's been called up, as he's had a couple of rough outings and has walked sixteen batters in twenty-two innings. But given that the guy the Mets received in exchange for him a month and a half ago is still leading the American League in walks despite being both in the National League and on the disabled list, it's hard to fault the twenty year-old Kazmir for his wildness. When Kazmir was traded, there was some legitimate debate about whether or not he'd ever be as valuable as Zambrano. But at this point there can be no debate about which pitcher is more useful to his team at this very moment. On September 14th, 2004, any sane person would rather have Kazmir under contract than Zambrano. If the Mets had never traded him, I doubt I'd be calling for them to promote him to the majors this early, but it turns out, even that risky move would have left the Mets' starting rotation in better shape than it's in now. As every week goes by, this is looking more and more like a trade that's going to hurt for years to come.

And speaking of questionable trades, Kris Benson pitched for the Mets tonight, and finally had the kind of start Met fans had to expect from him, given the post-trade hyping of his potential, shutting the first place Braves out for a meaningless nine innings, striking out seven and walking none while allowing four hits. Benson's last time out he pitched six scoreless innings and tonight's performance is more good news, or would be if the Mets had Benson locked up for more than the next three weeks. The man who's supposed to help the Mets' rotation get younger and more consistent has had two straight very good starts against good teams. Perhaps mad scientist Rick Peterson has actually had some success with his latest "project" and this portends well for next year, assuming that Benson pitches for the Mets next year. Benson was full of hype and promise, signifying not a whole hell of a lot when the Mets acquired him. His figuring out how to be a dominant starting pitcher on a consistent basis is key to turning the July 30th trades and, oh yeah, the Mets' 2005 season into something other than an utter disaster.

Meanwhile, David "Last Man Standing" Wright hit another home run tonight, his twelfth in 199 at bats. The twenty-one year-old heart of the Mets' offense is hitting .312/.343/.573 and providing just about all of the evidence there is right now that the Mets will score any runs next year. Lay all your hopes at this guy's feet, Met fans. He's all we've got.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
  Art Howe to be fired

And hooray for that. Howe was clearly bad at his job. He repeatedly showed a staggering ineptitude in strategic areas of in-game managing, and in these last two years there's been little to suggest that he has much more to offer in the more intangible areas of the job. Whether a largely veteran team has "quit" on him in two consecutive Septembers is debatable, as is the question of whether or not he could have done anything to prevent it. But he's been obviously incapable of dealing with the New York media, from his bungling of the announcement of Mike Piazza's move to first base last year to his nauseating insistence that the team had "battled" in every game. And so firing him at the end of the season seems like a no-brainer of a move and an encouraging sign from this front office.

Except that the events of the last month and a half have revealed that, incompetent as he may be, Art Howe is no longer near the top of the list of the Mets' problems. The fact that the team's apparent desire to be rid of their manager at season's end has already leaked to the press and prompted Howe to publically wonder why they don't just fire him now is simply the latest and among the mildest of the indicators that this front office is a hopeless mess incapable of figuring out how to return this team to contention, let alone executing such a plan. After two-thirds of a season of appearing to be on the right path, the unfortunate trades of July 30th revealed the Mets' front office to be at best dishonest about their willingness to be patient as the team is rebuilt and at worst clueless about the true quality of their team in the present and going forward. The weeks of finger-pointing that followed the trades illustrated that talent evaluation wasn't the only area of running a baseball team in which Fred Wilpon has "no competence." The New York media has painted a picture of a front office filled with warring factions which if even half-true casts serious doubts upon Wilpon's managerial acumen.

Whether or not the image of a chaotic front office with an impotent general manager bears any resemblance to reality, there can be no doubt that the Mets have shown a complete inability to come up with a plan an stick to it. In the offseason we heard that the Mets were going to be patient and build their team the right way. Fred Wilpon said the plan was to get "younger and more athletic." (He also said Scott Kazmir was "untouchable," but that's a whole other story.) Perhaps that was just spin in the wake of the failure to sign American League MVP candidate Vladimir Guerrero, but at the time, it seemed believable. That the team was going to be patient with its young players and wait until they were ready to really reach for the stars was the only explanation that meshed with the signings of Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer to fill the void in right field, so while it was also exactly what smart Mets fans wanted to hear, believing the words coming out of the owner's and general manager's mouths seemed like more than just wishful thinking. Some of the moves the team made didn't really mesh with this philosophy, like the time when they decided they'd rather have Ricky Gutierrez and Joe McEwing than Danny Garcia on the major league roster. But they did other things, like promoting David Wright and acquiring Richard Hidalgo for less than nothing, that made it seem like they knew what they were doing. Then they took some of those young, athletic guys they had and traded them for a couple of pitchers who'll each be at least thirty years old by the time this team's ready to win anything. Again, either they don't mean what they say or they just don't know what they're doing.

So while it'll be nice to say so long to Art Howe, it hardly solves this team's most serious problems. And even worse, it leaves this newly inept front office with the task of hiring a manager at the same time they ought to be out finding a first baseman or a corner outfielder or half a dozen relievers. And do we really trust the guys who can't tell the difference between a potential ace and a number three starter with a bad elbow to hire the right guy for the job? It's been rumored that this team wants to hire Larry Bowa in some capacity and people aren't laughing, because with this front office you never know. I can hardly imagine a manager worse at utilizing his bullpen and his bench than Art Howe, but at this point, a Mets fan has to expect the worst until further notice.
Disseminating descriptions and accounts of New York Mets games without the expressed written consent of Major League Baseball or the New York Mets since 2003.

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