New York Mets GM Sandy Alderson Should Build Around David Wright

December 12, 2011

Pretty much all major sports, but especially, baseball, are copycat sports. If something works for one organization, then others follow the lead. However, due to the long history of baseball and the ingrained ideas and traits, it often takes longer for new ideas to be implemented.

Billy Beane began using low cost players who had high value qualities, but after MoneyBall came out, every team followed suit. And because Beane doesn’t know much about on field talent, the Oakland A’s stink once again.

Since the Yankees were always in the playoffs, they have not had many top of the draft picks. Brian Cashman began taking high upside talent in later rounds, then offering them bigger bonuses to sign. David Robertson was one such pick in 2006, and Dellin Betances was plucked away from a Vanderbilt scholarship using that same method in the same ’06 draft. Teams then began following suit with higher bonuses for top talent taken in later rounds.

The Texas Rangers have made the World Series for two consecutive seasons, with a potent offense and a good bullpen, but without a true ace pitcher who can be the proverbial shutdown guy, thus helping to avoid long losing streaks. Most of the best teams in baseball have an ace, but Texas won the past two seasons without one. C.J. Wilson was not an ace and the Rangers pounded their opponents into submission quite often.

Many people believe the 2012 New York Mets will not contend for a playoff spot, and include me as one of them. Not because they are devoid of talent, because some of their young guys are pretty good, but primarily due to the strength of the other teams within their division.

The Phillies have a great rotation and despite some aging, no current shortstop, and injury issues to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard (likely out for the 2012 season), they still have enough talent to earn a postseason spot. Plus, GM Ruben Amaro appears to make moves which improve their team, like signing their homegrown talent, trading for three top pitchers, and then signing Lee again last year.

The Atlanta Braves have good young talent, and except for a late season collapse, would have made the postseason. And they have good young pitching in the minors, and are willing to give them ample chances to pitch. They are good like that. Maybe Fredi Gonzalez shouldn’t overwork his top three bullpen guys as much, though.

The Washington Nationals are improving, have a good young mound duo in Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, both of who came back very strong from Tommy John surgery. They also have an owner with a ton of money and an itch to win before his D-Day. They could use a young, lefty power bat…

The Miami Marlins are also better with the three big free agent splashes in Heath Bell, Jose Reyes* and Mark Buehrle joining a young core of Hanley Ramirez, Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Coghlan, and Mike Stanton.

*It is amazing that the Mets lost one of their franchise players and are not even getting a first round pick back in return. Since the Marlins have the 9th pick in the 2012 draft, that pick is protected. The Mets will get the Marlins 2nd round pick plus the supplemental pick. Biggest problem with not trading Reyes at last year’s trade deadline was Sandy Alderson not seeing the variable of a bad team with a top pick signing Reyes. Tough thing to predict, but doesn’t a GM and his people have to look for every possibility?

Since the Mets were not so good last season, lost Reyes, and are unsure whether Johan Santana (a huge Minaya mistake) will pitch in 2012, they are not supposed to be good this year either. With those factors and with every other team in the division having better rosters, it is a perfect time to stick with the kids who began to produce last year and made the 2011 Mets somewhat fun to watch.

Since the team might be a last place squad, many Mets fans and pundits want the last bastion of their quality teams from 2006-2008, David Wright, to be traded. They want more trades like the Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler deal; to get younger, cheaper talent to try and win in 2014 and beyond. The Mets GM is actively looking to make trades but has indicated David Wright is not getting dealt.

And that is a very smart move.

Sandy Alderson has seen what has recently helped teams win. In 2010, it was a very strong top three in the rotation (and dominant bullpen) which propelled the San Francisco Giants, and then he saw the Arizona Diamondbacks use good, young starters (and a dominant bullpen) to win the NL West in 2011.

And he also saw the aforementioned Texas Rangers win with a solid, but not great rotation, great power lineup (and dominant bullpen) to win the AL Pennant the past two years. He also saw the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Rangers in the 2011 World Series with a mediocre rotation and a dominant bullpen.

As I mentioned earlier, MLB is a copycat league. Without a solid top three in the 2012 rotation, Alderson has smartly used his limited resources to secure a solid bullpen. He signed former closer Jon Rauch and current closer Frank Francisco and traded for Ramon Ramirez, who was a big part of that 2010 Giants World Series bullpen.

The Mets 2011 bullpen had a 4.33 ERA, ranked 28th of the 30 major league teams. These bullpen additions should help improve those numbers. With holdovers Bobby Parnell and Pedro Beato, who will not be pressured to get key outs late, the Mets now have a nice stable of power arms.

And despite Reyes’ departure, Alderson also sees a pretty good power offense. With Ike Davis (ankle), Lucas Duda (concussion) and David Wright (back) healthy again, and Jason Bay (another Minaya mistake) still in the fold, the Mets have four sluggers who might combine for 80-100 HRs. Add in a healthy Daniel Murphy, who is a solid hitter, and there are five guys who can drive in runs.

The key is health as none of the above players, except Bay, had 450 plate appearances in 2011.

Alderson performed magic when he shortened the Citi Field dimensions, likely adding power numbers to each of the hitters, but especially Wright, who has acknowledged the previously larger dimensions have hurt his numbers. By stating that Wright was not available in a trade and moving the fences in, Alderson clearly has indicated he wants Wright to remain a Met. Look for Alderson to try and extend Wright early next year.

And like the Texas Rangers have with Elvis Andrus, the 2012 will have a young shortstop, known for his glove, but has improved on the other side of the ball. His on base skills have clearly improved and he showed a knack for getting key hits.

Ruben Tejada should not be forced to win the shortstop job in spring training. He should be given the job prior to spring training. Let him have the knowledge that he will be the glue of a solid infield, which will give him immense confidence. Keith Hernandez always said the key to his 1979 NL MVP season was that his manager, Ken Boyer, told him no matter what happened early in the season, he was still going to be the Cardinal first baseman.

The overall key to the Mets future is definitely the young starters still in the minors, guys like Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jeurys Familia, Jenrry Mejia and possible Michael Fulmer, last year’s second round pick.

But to win now and stay competitive in 2012 and 2013, the Mets need to punish opponents on offense, keep the game close and win it late with a solid bullpen. That formula will not work every time in Citi Field, but it has shown to consistently win games for teams around the league.

But the offense needs to stay healthy, too, and Wright needs to wipe away his past demons and know he has a pretty good supporting cast, and need not do it alone.

The time to trade Wright was a few years ago, when the Boston Red Sox desperately needed a third baseman and actually had quality young talent to trade. Here is a Wright trade proposal I made two seasons ago.

Not moving Wright is just another sickly feather in Omar Minaya’s cap, probably the worst GM in the history of baseball.

Since Wright can void the last year of his current deal if he is traded, if the Mets tried to trade Wright they would not get a Beltran-type return, let alone a Dan Haren or Mark Teixeira type return. While, those types of trades could occur as recently as two years ago, those deals are never going to happen anymore as teams are over-valuing their young players. Wright is best served to stay in New York.

Alderson knows this and is making the smart move, for the team this season and for the Mets future.


Are the New York Mets Prepping Hisanori Takahashi for a Starters Role?

April 28, 2010

In Tuesday night’s New York Mets game against the reeling Los Angeles Dodgers, Hisanori Takahashi came in relief of Oliver Perez, tossing 3.1 innings of two-hit, one-run baseball, while striking out five Dodgers.

Takahashi has the looks of a strike-out machine, fanning 21 hitters in 14.1 innings. While allowing only 11 hits, he has also issued 10 free passes, all good for an ERA of 3.77.

Those 14.1 innings have accumulated during eight relief appearances, and in each appearance Takahashi throws a similar or increased amount of innings as the prior appearance. His first appearance on April 7 was 0.1 innings (a loss), and he threw 3.1 innings last night.

In-between, he appeared for 1.0 inning (April 8), 1.0 inning (April 9), 1.2 innings (April 13), 2.0 innings (April 17), 2.0 innings (April 21), 3.0 innings (April 23), and 3.1 innings. (April 27 – last night).

When innings allowances increase that much, there is a very good chance the organization is seeking to transform that pitcher into a starter. While I do not believe GM Omar Minaya is intelligent enough to initiate such a plan, it has fallen in his lap. Takahashi’s appearance Tuesday night saw him throw 75 pitches.

Do the Mets need starters?

Well, their top two starting pitching prospects are already in the major leagues. Jonathan Niese is currently in the Mets rotation, and 20-year-old Jenrry Mejia is a middle reliever. Niese is finally been given his full opportunity (I do have to credit Omar for this), and it appears Minaya and field manager Jerry Manuel are the only two people who believe Mejia shouldn’t be down in Double-A Binghamton building his starting resume.

Unless you count Dillon Gee (4 starts, 3-0, 2.77 ERA), there is nobody else on the horizon. With the 2010 season starting terribly Oliver Perez and John Maine, the Mets do need starting pitching depth. Perez has a case of strikeaphobia (a fear of throwing the ball over a 17-inch home plate), and despite Wednesday’s impressive performance Maine has a strong injury history. He is one pitch away from an injury and also has a slight case of the strikeaphobia.

That is where Takahashi comes in to play.

He was a starting pitcher in Japan before he signed with the Mets, and he appears to have the ability to throw lots of pitches. Most Japanese pitchers do, it is just the American system of pitch counts that affect the Japanese hurlers. He did not seem to be laboring at all in Tuesday nights game, even after 70+ pitches.

And because he is 35, you can ride Takahashi hard, every fifth day for at least seven or eight innings, up to 120 pitches. It’s not like he is among the prized young starters whom organizations like to limit in their effectiveness .

Only Mike Pelfrey has shown the Mets that he can consistently throw at least seven innings, doing it twice in four starts. Johan Santana has gone seven only once and in Maine and Perez’ eight combined starts, they have pitched six or more innings only twice.

There are calls for Perez to be removed from the rotation, just days after Maine’s spot was in jeopardy. However, it has been reported Manuel will stick with Perez in the rotation for the time being, as he has with Maine.

But the time is now to move Takahashi into the Mets rotation, and move Perez or Maine into the bullpen. Let Takahashi piggy-back Perez in his next start and allow him to go four-plus innings. 

There are concerns that pulling Takahashi from the bullpen will affect the surprisingly effective relief pitchers on the Mets roster. However, it is much more important to have good starting pitchers who can pitch at least seven innings, so you do not overwork your bullpen.

And besides, Jenrry Mejia is down in the bullpen to save the day.

Why the New York Mets Jenrry Mejia was always ticketed for the 2010 Bullpen

March 27, 2010

This spring has brought us more stories of the Joba Rules. It has also created more pitchers likely to go under similar rules and talked about in “Is he (pick your guy) best suited as a starter or a reliever?”

Most relievers are failed starting pitchers. The New York Yankees closer extraordinaire Mariano Rivera is one such example. At 25 years of age, Rivera started 10 games in 1995 (the season before Joe Torre became manager), producing a 3-3 record, 5.94 ERA and 1.680 WHIP.

While their were flashes of brilliance, such as this July 4th (George’s Birthday) eight inning, 11 strikeout, zero run gem*, their were obvious duds, too, like three of his first four career starts when he gave up more earned runs than innings pitched in each of those contests.

*It is interesting to see that during that game, Rivera threw eight solid innings and was pulled after 129 pitches. His ninth inning replacement was John Wetteland, the first of many times the Rivera-Wetteland combination would help win a game for the Yankees.

We will never know if Rivera would have developed into a starting pitcher, as potential starters need more than 10 career major league starts to have a proper evaluation.

Besides the perpetual Joba starter/reliever story this 2010 spring training, the biggest starter/reliever conflict has occurred with the other New York team, the Mets.

Their 20 year old flame thrower Jenrry Mejia has been talked about as a top Mets pitching prospect for at least two seasons now. In his brief professional career, Mejia has been in 47 games, starting 40 of them. The only seven relief appearances for Mejia came in 2007, his first pro season as a 17 year old, when the Mets were slowly breaking him in.

Over the last two seasons Mejia has appeared in 33 games, and started all 33.

But at lest for this season, the Mets envision Mejia as a relief pitcher due to some dominant outings this spring.

They are making Mejia a relief pitcher despite the Mets lack of adequate starting pitchers in their organization, and seeing what happened to Joba over the last two seasons, as he was jerked around by the Yankees.

Many Met fans do not like it, and they are staged a protest to support keeping Mejia a starting pitcher.

As mentioned earlier, Mejia has only been a starter the last two seasons. In year one he advanced from Rookie Ball in the Gulf Coast League up to Short Season ball in Brooklyn, where he faced mainly recent college draftees.

Mejia fared pretty well that year producing a 2-0 record, 0.60 ERA, 0.800 WHIP in Rookie ball and a 3-2 record, 3.49 ERA, 1.147 WHIP in Brooklyn. Really good as he was still only 18!

In 2009, the Mets jumped Mejia to High A St. Lucie in the perennially pitching rich Florida State League (FSL), and Jenrry did not disappoint. He went 4-1 in 9 starts, with a 1.97 ERA and 1.132 WHIP.

At a tougher level, Mejia significantly improved his pitching numbers from one season to the next, just what an organization wants to see out of a young player.

After the great start in the FSL, Mejia was moved to Double A Binghamton, where he went 0-5, 4.47 ERA, 1.511 WHIP in 10 starts. In 44 innings, Mejia (still only 19!) struck out 47 hitters.

That Double A jump is the biggest a minor league player will make. If you can make it their (Double A) you can make it anywhere, meaning the majors.

After the successful adjustment Mejia made from his A ball stint in 2008 to 2009, the biggest no-brainer then is to see how your best #1 starting candidate pitching prospect (sorry Jonathan Niese), will fare starting his 2010 season in Double A Binghamton.

Will Mejia again adjust to the Double A hitters, and begin to pitch well early on? And with the annual terrible April weather in the Northeast, Mejia has the elements on his side, too, as pitchers usually fare better in early season nasty weather, especially when all hitters have been used to the Florida sunshine.

Wouldn’t this advantage allow him to gain confidence early and give the Mets another potentially major league ready starting pitcher if not later in 2010, but the following season?

We may never find out due to the inabilities of Mets General Manager Omar Minaya*. Coming off the debacle that was September 2008, and last season’s full-year disaster, the GM and manager Jerry Manuel NEED TO WIN NOW.

*Remember that Minaya was given his first GM job by MLB to be the GM of the Montreal Expos. He pretty much ruined that organization (now the Washington Nationals), but they are showing sign of getting things together, seven years after Minaya took the helm. Ironic that the Nats are now showing some young promise, and the Mets now being run by Minaya are starting to crumble.

That is why they signed Jason Bay in the off season instead of shoring up the starting pitching, and why Mejia will be in the Mets bullpen to begin the 2010 season. Minaya would have been better served to protect the franchise by saving the money spent on Bay, allowing all the kids Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis, Jonathan Niese, Josh Thole, etc. to play and develop instead of trying to win a very tough NL East in 2010.

But Minaya and Manuel (the lousy version of the M&M boys) need to win now to save their jobs. If the Mets get off to a slow start in 2010, they both could be fired by June 1. If that happens, neither one will ever get another chance at their current roles with any other organization.

This is it for both of them. Last chance.

There is an old sports cliché which states a team never wants to face a desperate opponent, because that opponent will do anything to win. Manuel and Minaya are desperate people. When asked by a reported if he was desperate and crazy to bring Mejia north as a reliever, the very honest Manuel has said he “Yeah, I am both of those.”

The Wilpon ownership never should have allowed their GM and field manager to come back for 2010 for the same reason. The Mets M&M boys will do anything to win this season, and that includes ruin the Mets for the future.

The game of baseball is about starting pitching. The teams with the best starters will usually win.

Mejia in the bullpen gives the Mets the best chance to win in 2010, but his bullpen gig in 2010 will hamper the Mets development in future years.

With the injuries last season Minaya did not have good enough replacements in the minors to make the necessary moves to improve a bad situation. He continually spent for free agents trying to win now, and it pushed the Mets into a bad overall organization, similar to a Ponzi scheme.

Like Bernie Madoff** in pulling in more investors to pay older investors, the Mets constantly needed to replenish their older resources (Delgado) with more expensive resources (Bay), in order to win now.

**Ironic how the Mets ownership was moved to keep Minaya and his Ponzi player scheme due to his guaranteed salary in order to save money, when much of their family fortune was lost to the same Ponzi type scheme run by Madoff.

Back in early March when Manuel said that Mejia reminded him of Rivera, with a sharp cutter, people took that as Mejia was going to be the Mets 8th inning guy. With the entire talk surrounding starter vs. reliever, it appears Manuel began to listen (and believe) to all that talk.

The primary reason why starters fail is that they have a limited amount of pitches in their repertoire. Guys like Rivera (and all time saves leader Trevor Hoffman) can become good relief pitchers is they have a master of one or two pitches which translates well to shorter stints in a game. Has Mejia mastered his pitches yet?

Often the second or third time through a lineup as a starter, the lack of different pitches leads to getting hit hard. Mejia has four pitches, including an exploding mid-90’s fastball, and has a cutter, curve and change up. He also can sink the fastball as a fifth pitch.

In seeing him pitch this spring, Mejia needs to get more command of the off speed pitches, and he doesn’t seem to use his curve that much. That shows a lack of feel for the pitch, and is something that can be worked on down in the minors.

Mets starting catcher Rod Barajas said “You’d like to get him more seasoning down there, make him use those pitches. I think he could get major-league hitters out on a regular basis. With that fastball, he definitely can have success. But the second and third time he faces clubs, if they can just sit on one pitch, it’s going to be tough for him.”

Mejia has made hitters look bad this spring, but has faced mostly non starters so far. Up until this past week, Mejia has faced only six hitters who have had over 300 at bats in the major leagues. But the last week or two of spring training is when the regulars are going to play most of the games.

Mejia did not do well yesterday in the Mets game against the Florida Marlins when he faced seven hitters, allowing three hits and a run. That appearance was against the Marlins regulars.

That 1.1 inning appearance is another telling sign that the Mets are going to take Mejia north with them as a reliever. If teams were going to use a pitcher as a starter, they would allow him to throw more innings in each appearance to get him ready for the season.

In developing a starter for the season, a team extends the innings each appearance to allow him to throw at least 5-6 innings in the first regular season start.

However, Mejia has not been extended out, never pitching more than into a second innings in any appearance this spring. He also has been used back to back days this past week, something the Mets would not do unless they were going to use him in the bullpen.

The Mets are in a difficult division, with Philadelphia, Atlanta and Florida all capable of winning the division. While I am not saying the Mets are not in the hunt, they have a lot more questions than the other three teams. Plus, after Johan Santana, their starting pitching stinks.

And when the starting pitching is terrible, you need better starters. No amount of capable relief pitchers will help you win many games. That is why Mejia needs to start the season in Double A to continue his development as a starter. To see if he can replicate the advancements he made the prior season.

While Mejia did well early in the week throwing in back to back games, they were in front of about 6,000 vacationing sunbathers. How will Mejia react to a situation in front of 45,000 serious baseball fans? If Mejia does wilt under the major league New York pressure, will the Mets send him down to Double A and convert him back as a starter?

We shall see. But it would be better for the Mets if Mejia made his major league debut later in 2010 as a called up starting pitcher who dominated Double A, or in 2011 when he is informed by new Mets manager Bobby Valentine that he made the team.

But it shouldn’t be at the beginning of this season as a reliever.