Betty's No Good Clothes Shop And Pancake House
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
  Minimum Wage

Orber Moreno's back, signed to a minor league deal and invited to spring training. Hooray for that.
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
  Rhythm Section Want Ad

Although the article linked above doesn't mention it, the Mets non-tendered Scott Strickland and Orber Moreno on Tuesday, leaving the team's bullpen thinner than Colin Quinn's standup routine. Both of these guys have significant health concerns and one or both of them could still return to the Mets, but if either of them winds up healthy and pitching for another team come spring training I have to wonder what Omar Minaya was thinking. Neither one has proven themselves a dominant middle reliever, but given that they've both put up very good strikeout rates in their careers and will probably work for very modest salaries next year, they seem like just the kind of guys the Mets should be using to populate their bullpen.

Strickland hasn't pitched in the majors since the middle of the 2003 season and even then he was often frustrating to watch given his habit of walking around half a batter per inning, so letting him go isn't anything to get too hot and bothered over. But dumping Moreno just doesn't make any sense. Last year he got paid $317,500 to post a 3.38 ERA over just thirty-four and two-thirds innings. He spent the season getting jerked around by Art Howe, who preferred older, less effective options out of his bullpen, and battling arm injuries. Moreno wasn't and isn't a lock to turn into a great or even reliable middle reliever, but he's shown the ability to be very effective when healthy and was just another example of the Mets choosing the older, more expensive option over the younger, cheaper and more promising one. Omar Minaya has done a number of things to make this into a different team than the one Steve Phillips and Jim Duquette put together, but if he's just applying the same prejudices to a different group of guys, what does it matter? Right now the Mets' bullpen consists of Braden Looper, Mike DeJean, Felix Heredia and not much else. If guys like Moreno aren't good enough to fill up the the remaining spots, who is?
Thursday, December 16, 2004
  Museum Of Idiots

The Braves acquired Tim Hudson from the Athletics in exchange for LHP Dan Meyer as well as RHP Juan Cruz and OF Charles Thomas. Anyone think Meyer is a more valuable commodity than Scott Kazmir? Do you know anyone who'd rather have Victor Zambrano than Tim Hudson? The hits just keep on coming...

And would it have been too much to ask to introduce Pedro in the blue hat?
  Destination Moon

As you might have heard, the Mets have, pending a physical that's something less than a slam dunk, acquired Pedro Martinez, formerly of your World Champion Boston Red Sox. This news has some Met fans celebrating and other decrying the "same old Mets." But this move isn't quite a coup or a disaster. The Mets will be paying a whole lot of money over the next four years to a guy who will very likely be one of the best pitchers in the league so long as his right arm remains attached to his torso. That that last part is somewhat less certain for him than for your average thirty-three year old pitcher is where things get tricky.

The numbers Pedro can produce when healthy speak for themselves and provide plenty of reason to be excited about his donning a New York Mets uniform. His unusually high ERA in 2004 looks a bit like cause for concern, but even given his age and the endless stories about the condition of his shoulder, it's a bit early to portray one year as evidence of a trend. His 2004 ERA ballooned in part due to a few extremely bad performances and a home run rate so high and out of line with his career performance as to seem like a fluke. Pedro's never again going to dominate like he did in 1999, but given his history of great performance and the transition to a league and a park more friendly to pitchers than the one he's leaving, it's reasonable to expect him to improve on his 2004 ERA once he puts on the blue and orange and (ugh) black.

Of course, the Mets finished 2004 in fourth place in the National League East due in large part to one of the league's most inept offenses, a condition which the team has yet to address. Given this, spending a significant chunk of cash on an ace pitcher doesn't seem like the first move the Mets should be making. But given the room the Mets have opened up in their payroll, ownership's apparent willingness to be flexible in the right circumstance and Omar Minaya's continued aggressiveness in pursuit of bats both wise and unwise, we shouldn't expect that the Mets are done putting together this team.

After the disastrous last few years, many have clamored for a true rebuilding effort and a serious attempt at the "youth movement" to which the team has occasionally paid lip service in the last couple of years. But given the way things spiraled out of control on one dark Friday afternoon in July, the team is left in a position where they're not positioned nearly as well to build from within as they once were. At this point, the Mets don't have but a piece or two of a future good team on the way up through the farm system, with only Yusmeiro Petit and Lastings Milledge remaining as serious potential impact players performing in the minor leagues. To fill all of the holes at the major league level from within would take at least a couple of drafts going pretty well. And while impatience has killed the Mets time and time again, right now the team has holes to fill and there are players on the free agent market who can fill them without blocking any prospects already making their way up through the organization. If the choice is between signing Pedro Martinez, Carlos Delgado and JD Drew to fill the team's glaring holes and not filling them at all, I don't think the decision is too tough.

If the Mets don't acquire a serious first baseman and rightfielder this offseason they won't have one in 2005 or be any closer to having one in 2006. There are plenty of ways for Minaya to screw this up (hello Moises Alou!) and we certainly shouldn't give him credit for doing things until he's done them, but there are available free agents who, in concert with each other, would be good signings and go a long way toward making this a good team. Pedro Martinez alone doesn't make much of a dent in the Mets' difficulties, but until Minaya fails to address the team's other areas of concern, we can't fault this signing for not being enough.

Certainly a four-year contract is more of a risk than anyone should be willing to take on Pedro Martinez given the apparent condition of his shoulder. But if the Mets didn't have Pedro, they'd have in 2005 and 2006 what they had in 2004--a rotation full of third starters. And if the team isn't ready to replace Pedro as the ace with someone younger by 2007, then what shape would they be in if they hadn't signed him? Of course it's impossible to predict what moves the Mets might be able to make in the next offseason or the one after that, but I fail to see what other, smarter move this one will prevent the team from making. If Pedro's arm falls off in June of next year, this will look like a horrible deal, but portraying that as a likely outcome seems quite pessimistic to me. Before this signing the Mets had several positions from which you might have expected "good" or "above average" production and perhaps one—third base—where you might have expected more. Now the Mets have a player from whom a legitimately great season wouldn't be a shock. Add a couple more of those and they just might have something.
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
  It's Kickin' In

Al Leiter. Richard Hidalgo. John Franco. Todd Zeile. Ricky Bottalico. Mo Vaughn. All gone. Mike DeJean. Back at a reasonable rate. The Mets got a lot done by not doing much of anything in the last couple of days, but now the offseason proper is underway and it's time to see what Omar Minaya's really up to.

Leiter's exit is the most welcome because of what it means for the immediate future, but it's still at least a little bit sad after what he meant in the not so recent past. Leiter had quite a career on the field in a New York Mets' uniform, providing numerous memorable moments, October 4th, 1999 chief among them. He played a significant role in the most recent good times for the New York Mets, and the role he may or may not have played in the most recent bad times shouldn't obscure that. Still, it'll be nice to see him in black and teal next year issuing free passes to many a New York Met.

Hidalgo was the only other real decision the team had to make, and even that wasn't too tough of a call. The Mets are in a position where they might be wise to take a one year gamble on a player with an abundance of ability locating his consistency, but given that Hidalgo will turn thirty next year and would've gotten more money than is wise to gamble from an arbitrator, it was time to move on. And so, young Victor Diaz notwithstanding, the Mets are left with one starting outfield position unaccounted for at the present time. And if early rumors are any indication, Minaya is willing to try just about anything to fill it.

The ill-conceived idea of trading for Sammy Sosa appears to have gone by the wayside, due at least in part to the uproar surrounding Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds in the last week, if you believe what you read in the newspapers. But now those same papers are saying that the Mets, in their quest to sidestep the steroid controversy, are looking seriously at acquiring a thirty-eight year old outfielder who's coming off a season in which he produced a serious and curious late-career power spike. I wouldn't presume to accuse Moises Alou of anything, but in view of the contrast between his 2004 season and the numbers he produced in 2002 and 2003, he seems an odd choice to deflect questions about performance enhancement.

And more importantly, at least as concerns the team's fortunes on the field, he seems an odd choice to play a role in the resurrection of the New York Mets given his age and the fact that he produced just one slugging percentage higher than .462 in the last three years playing for the Cubs. Alou's resurgence might be both legitimate and sustainable, but taking a chance on him doesn't quite fit with the idea of a team trying to get better now while keeping an eye on the future. When picturing the Mets' next playoff team in your head, let the presence of players in their forties in important offensive positions serve as a sign that you're not thinking realistically.

There are a number of outfield options worth looking at on the free agent market, with Carlos Beltran, Magglio Ordonez and JD Drew chief among them. Ordonez comes with serious health questions after what happened to him this season and Drew's lengthy injury history is certainly something to be wary of, but those two were also not offered arbitration by their former teams and thus will cost the Mets nothing but money to acquire. Beltran is obviously the most attractive option, draft pick or no draft pick, but if this offseason goes like so many recent ones have for the Mets and they fail to acquire the best available option at a position where they have a need, I think Drew is a very intriguing alternative. Playing 145 games in the final year of his contract certainly doesn't erase concerns about his durability, but he also put up higher on base and slugging percentages than any Beltran has ever produced and is only a year and a half older than the newly minted playoff hero. Signing Drew would surely be risky for a team with plenty of injury concerns already. But given his age and proven offensive ability, he is definitely worth a serious inquiry from the Mets.

As for the rest of the Mets' moves, bringing back DeJean is the only one of consequence, and even that will hardly make or break the season. DeJean was awful with the Orioles for about forty innings this year before being traded to the Mets and pitching twenty-one and one-third very good innings. DeJean kept up a good strikeout rate and reduced his walks on his way to a 1.69 ERA in New York. There's plenty of reason to question whether he can maintain anything resembling that success, as he has only posted an ERA under 3.00 once in his eight-year major league career. He could just be another Rick Peterson mirage, like Matt Ginter. But the Mets gave him a very reasonable contract so he's worth a shot.

Things are likely to remain interesting from here on out until the Mets have filled all of the vacancies on their roster. So far the rumors of things Omar Minaya is thinking about doing have been much scarier than the things he's actually done, so maybe this team will turn out all right. There are still plenty of things for Minaya to do to make it so.
Saturday, December 04, 2004
  The Day

Somehow I thought I'd be happier. I mean, Mike Stanton, blower of leads and slaughterer of puppies, is no longer a New York Met! And even better, they managed to trick the Yankees into reclaiming his bloated carcass! And yet, all is not well on what should have been a day of celebration. For while the Mets did manage to rid themselves of one of the most useless members of their roster, they've exchanged him for perhaps an even crappier relief pitcher. Mike Stanton is a New York Yankee once again and Felix Heredia is a New York Met.

Stanton had a pair of awful seasons with the Mets, though in 2004 he managed to post some decent stats like a 3.16 ERA even though his strikeout and walk rates were basically identical to his numbers from 2003, when he posted a 4.57 ERA. Of course, he managed to reduce his home run rate, giving up the same number, six, in about thirty-two more innings. Still, if you look at Baseball Prospectus' stats for relief pitchers and inherited runners, Stanton comes out as the third-worst reliever in the majors in 2004. Now, there's some debate as to how useful these stats really are in determining a reliever's true ability and certainly Stanton's poor showing is due at least in part to the utterly clueless way in which Art Howe utilized him. But even allowing for that, Stanton clearly performed poorly in the job he was asked to do this year and thus the Mets wasted a large sum of money and playing time on a guy who did little to help them win games.

And here's where I think this trade might be okay. Felix Heredia also had a terrible 2004, posting a 6.28 ERA and ranking near the bottom of BP's stats as well. And his resume doesn't even contain any real periods of great success to give hope for his future effectiveness. Sure, he posted some nice ERAs in 2002 and 2003, but he also put up the worst strikeout rates of his career in those two years as well as his worst strikeout-to-walk ratios since his 1996 rookie year in which he pitched just sixteen and two-thirds innings. He appears to have gotten quite lucky regarding his ERA in those two years, and in 2004 his strikeout and walk rates stayed poor and his ERA ballooned. But here's where I'm not too scared. He's not Mike Stanton. And by that I mean he's not some respected veteran guy who's going to get chance after chance despite obvious incompetence. Now, we don't know that Willie Randolph is the kind of manager who operates that way, but given that he presumably learned his craft largely from Joe Torre, we should at least brace for it. But Heredia isn't any kind of "proven veteran" and Randolph saw first hand how awful he was in 2004. And given that even Omar Minaya doesn't seem to be saying much of anything positive about his fellow Dominican Heredia other than that he'll save the team a million bucks, I get the feeling that the team isn't really counting on him to be an important part of the 2005 bullpen.

That 2005 bullpen is still clearly a work in progress with only Braden Looper under contract and a good bet to contribute positively for the whole year. But this move seems at worst to be no big deal and at best to be some addition by subtraction, so while this move isn't quite the excising of a cancerous growth that I envisioned the exit of Stanton from the franchise to be, it's nothing to get too upset about, either.
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.

Location: Hatboro, Pennsylvania, United States
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