By Rich Coutinho
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By Rich Coutinho
For an organization that has now gone five seasons without a playoff appearance and possesses one of the sport's biggest payrolls, there are many challenges for the New York Mets. But the issue that Sandy Alderson must tackle first is re-signing Jose Reyes. Sure, this team has other problems like a leaky bullpen but the Reyes decision will impact greatly the path Sandy Alderson will take this off-season. And not signing Reyes could have far-reaching implications for this franchise both long-term and short-term.
I think readers of this blog know how I feel about this situation and it is not necessarily how most beat writers feel about it. Jose Reyes is as much the face of this organization as David Wright and both players are part of the solution-not part of the problem. Reyes had a great season, and aside from the two stints on the DL, his year was just about perfect. He is a game changer with the way he approaches every at-bat and the way he runs the bases. But often times we forget how good a defensive shortstop he is--in my view the best in the sport because his speed allows him to get to balls other players don't and his arm allows him to make throws others can't.
Jose and I have talked a little about next year even though he was clear he did not want to tackle the subject until after the season. But he made it crystal clear he wants to be back here next year because he loves playing here and his family loves living here. Sandy Alderson had admitted to me that he acknowledges what an important player Jose Reyes is both on the field and off the field. "The fans love him and that has to enter the equation", says Alderson. The pressure on the Mets will be enormous to sign Reyes because I could picture the criticism they would receive if they let a player go who became the first play in the team's 50 year history to win a batting title and who is still very much in the prime of his baseball career.
But ultimately I think both parties want it and this is an organization, despite the shots the media takes at it, that generally retains a player if they really want him. Mike Piazza, Al Leiter, and John Franco are examples of that fact and much like Piazza, the departure of Reyes won't happen in my opinion. If you remember the Piazza case, it is very similar to the case of Reyes in that both were having great seasons in their walk years. Both also did not want to talk contract until the season was over. Both also said they would give the Mets every opportunity in their exclusive negotiating period. Piazza told the Mets what he wanted and after a few phone calls back and forth, a deal got done BEFORE the free agency period.
What I would give Reyes is six years at $17 million per for a total of $102 million with a vesting option in year seven if he plays in an average of 150 games for the duration of the six year deal. He would deserve that seventh year if he reaches that benchmark. Is that a lot of money? You bet it is, but the simple truth is Jose Reyes deserves it because he is the best leadoff hitter in the sport and plays an important defensive position better than anyone has in the history of the franchise. Better than Buddy. Better than Ordonez. Better than anyone.
Signing him would be Step 1 towards getting back the trust from your fan base. It is an important first step for Sandy Alderson.
So, the next step in the Madoff scandal has begun to come into focus: Both sides have dug in and settlement talks are, at the least for the moment, done. The defendants in the case have agreed to drop their motion to keep lawsuit documents sealed and so they may be unsealed as early as Friday morning.
What does it all mean? In the short term, not much as most of this stuff has likely been revealed with the apparent leaking of information to members of the media. Rightfully so, the Wilpons felt what's the point since most of what is inside the documents have already been unveiled for the world to see? But now the real chess match begins as the sides seem destined to be embroiled in a long court case that could take years to litigate.
My sources indicate that the Wilpons have cooperated fully with the Madoff investigation from jump and have provided hundreds of pages of documents to aid in the inquiry. What you must remember here is the documents that will be unsealed are merely contentions of the plaintiff and should not be construed as evidence until they are presented in court just as the defendants refuting the claims are contentions as well.
Ok enough legal babble--what does this mean for the Met fans? Well, a couple of things. First and foremost, this issue will not go away any time soon as a court case of this magnitude could drag on for 2 years or more. Secondly, it makes the prospect of a minority owner a remote possibility because they will not need the money until this case is settled (unless of course they re-enter settlement talks) and more importantly, any minority owner will want this resolved before he jumps in.
The biggest thing though is this will hang over the Mets like a dark cloud every single time they don't make a trade or not sign free agents or shy away from a top draft pick because he is represented by say, Scott Boras for instance. The litmus test might very well be if the Mets are in contention by the All Star break are they buyers, sellers, or neither? Whatever words are said, their actions will speak volumes as to where their finances are at that crucial point in the season.
Sandy Alderson's track record is to do more with less so he may desire to take that route anyway but the public perception will be that he may be hamstring by the organization's cash flow or lack of it. The ironic thing is if the Mets are out of contention by July 31, the proper course would be to become sellers which will send flares up that the Mets are dropping salary to curb costs.
The moment these documents are unsealed, it will set into motion a series of events that could have this case linger in the minds of Met fans for years to come and that is why I think the Wilpons wanted to settle. And the plaintiff in this case might have missed a window of opportunity because you get the feeling the Wilpons just wanted this to go away but with the contents of the lawsuit leaked, the repuation of Fred Wilpon is at stake making him more apt to take this to the finish line in court.
My question remains this: If the Mets made $ off the Madoff scandal, why would they hold salary this off-season and why would they be seeking a minority owner to bail them out? Secondly, how could the Wilpons be held accountable to have known the true story behind the Ponzi scheme if the SEC, who is trained to spot these issues, missed it? And the fact that the Mets fully cooperated with the authorities by providing over 700 pages of evidence would refute the statements that they knew what was going on? All good questions that will now be answered in court in the next 30 months or so. That is unless a settlement alternative can still be reached.
I know all about the media in this town as I have both been a New Yorker all my life and have covered the Mets for over 20 years but it must be said the hatchet job being done on the Wilpons is both unfair and misguided. I can not say I am surprised but enough is enough already.
Is it so hard to understand that a lawyer in a lawsuit brought against the Wilpons would try to exert pressure by leaking details of the lawsuit in order to either extract a settlement or a much richer one? Yet, until this morning no one in the media even entertained that notion. I know very little about the legalties of this case but it would be hard for me to believe that the Wilpons would get a fair shake in court if those sealed documents were released on February 9. They are high profile public figures and as such, it would be hard to try this case in court after it has been litigated in the "court of public opinion."
So, the question remains why would Wilpons offer to settle here? Simply put, these stories are damaging their ability to do business because of all the negative publicity. It stands to reason this has hurt their ability to pursue players, sell tickets, and even generate revenue for advertising both inside the stadium and on SNY. I am sure they want this resolved for those reasons and a variety of others including the care and concern for families affected by this.
The offer to pursue minority ownership is to defray the cost settling these cases might have on the Mets ability to conduct business in the way a New York franchise should. While we are on that topic, lets be clear that the Met payroll is still one of the highest in baseball and while you may quibble on how they spent it, make no mistake their payroll levels are more than enough to win. This notion that the Wilpons do not invest in their team is pure nonsense fabricated by people who never let facts get in the way of a good story or have an ax to grind with either the Wilpons or the past general manager who was treated very unfairly in many corners of the media as well.
My sense is the Mets tactic of letting a new general manager advocating a wait and see approach once he can truly evaluate his players is a sound strategy. And more to the point, it is a strategy that would have been employed whether the Madoff case wreaked its ugly head or not. But if you hear the media tell it, the case has been tried and completed before we even have all of the facts.
I wrote in this blog just a few days ago that we should all take a wait and see approach whichever side of the fence we sit on and let the evidence guide you once it comes out. You can not do that when info about the case is leaked to the media by a lawyer who has a hidden agenda and because of that, so much is being assumed before we know all the facts.
And that is just flat out wrong.
When you bring up the topic of the 2011 Mets,most baseball experts say they are a .500 team at best and were even picked to finish last in the NL East in some circles. I say stop the insanity--they were pretty much a .500 team last year without some of their core parts and with a new manager, you have at least give Terry Collins a chance to put his stamp on this team. Sandy Alderson has assembled a very impressive roster in the front office whose baseball acumen might very real re-define the "mission statement" of the team.
The team does have question marks and will reside in a division that houses some of the best pitching in the sport. The strategy to stay put, evaluate what you have, and wait until you have more economic flexibility is a sound one which should not be surprising knowing what a solid baseball man the new GM is. And my sense is there is serious talent on this roster--I mean All-Star caliber talent like Wright, Reyes, Bay, Beltran and K-Rod and budding stars like Angel Pagan and Ike Davis. This team will hit plenty even in spacious CitiField and so the 2 big questions will be: Is there be enough starting pitching and who is the bridge to K-Rod?
One scout told me, "If Young does for them what Dickey did last year, they will be OK especially if Pelfrey duplicates 2010 and Santana returns for the second half. They will hit and they are pretty solid defensively." The 8th inning question is a tough one but not an uncommon issue around the league--that is why the Yankees paid so much for Rafael Soriano. So, the rotation is the rub here and more specficially, how they perform on the road where the Mets lost in walk-off fashion too numerous times to mention a year ago.
Many experts pinned that on the bullpen but you could make the argument that an anemic offense put the team in those positions due to the loss of injured players. And then there is the question of in-game managing. It is no secret that I was very critical of Jerry Manuel and the way he handled this team but let me be very clear--I personally liked him alot and always said that I'd want him to manage my son in high school or college but at this level, I think he misstepped quite a bit.
Terry Collins will do a better job of communicating roles to the players and will do less tinkering with the lineup. This is a group that needs that and needs to play with passion. My sense is that Jerry sometimes tried to think too much "out of the box" when a simple approach would have served the team better. Trying to bat Jose Reyes not once but twice indicated to me his stubborness clouded his judgement and in the 2009 season his opposite field hitting drill proved counter productive especially with his big power hitters.
When I look at this team its pretty simple, Reyes is the catalyst, Wright is your fulcrum, Beltran when healthy is your best all around player and Jason Bay, aside from last year has been an RBI machine. Pagan and Davis are great complimentary pieces and so what will decide the Mets fate is health and starting pitching.
Which makes them very similar to a handful of NL teams aside from the Giants and Phils. Lets remember the Mets were 10 games over .500 midway through the season last year before that fateful West Coast trip after the break which for all intents and purposes, ended their season. With a little luck, (which they are overdue to receive) they just might surprise the naysayers.
February 10, 2010, 11:50 AM
Flushing, New York-- The facts are clear--The New York Mets will have a significantly lower payroll in 2010 than they did in 2009. Just one year ago, the Mets committed about $149 million to player contracts while the team currently has about $122 million committed in 2010. With that figure likely to expand to $126 million or so by opening day with the addition of some minimum salary contracts, the question remains why are the Mets scaling down payroll?
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
After Lackey was taken off the board, the Mets were also shocked when "B-level pitchers" began getting outlandish contracts and particularly when Randy Wolf signed a 3 year $30 million contract the team felt that overpaying for that type of pitcher was not the proper course to take. That made it easier to devote most of their money to the pursuit of Bay and that prompted them not to overpay for pitching that they felt was not much better than the trio of John Maine, Oliver Perez, and Mike Pelfrey. I do not know if I agree with that approach especially in the case of Jason Marquis who signed with a division rival, the Washington Nationals.
But in the long run, this off-season might help the Mets going forward costing them some in 2010. Next year's free agent class could include players like Derek Lee, Josh Beckett, Victor Martinez, Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, Brandon Webb, Adam Dunn, Manny Ramirez, Javier Vazquez, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera. Add in players like Prince Fielder who will be one year from free agency and players like Jayson Werth who have burst onto the scene and you can see deep quality in next year's off-season.
Honestly, I do not think that was the Met strategy going into the off-season but as the market evolved or in this case, deteriorated, they felt their money would be better spent either next year or this year at the trading deadline when some of these teams might get a little trigger happy when considering they want to get something for these soon to be free agents. It might also give the Met prospects another few months in the minors to make them more attractive options for potential trade partners.
There is an old baseball adage that says "sometimes the best deals are the ones you do not make." And I know Met fans feel beaten down right now but the organization may ultimately benefit from not making a deal for overpriced and overrated talent this off-season. Of course, Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya may not be here to reap the rewards of the strategy if the current cast of characters cannot rebound from a dismal 2009 season.
New York, New York-- It was a star studded guest list that could fill any room in America and beyond with fans who just wanted to take a picture or get an autograph but on this night it was all about major league players giving time and money for a very worthy cause, The 21st Annual BAT (Baseball Assistance Team) Dinner. And 1050's Met beat reporter Rich Coutinho was there.
You know I go to my share of these type of events but this one just felt different as you could feel the passion and commitment in the room from players both current and retired, MLB corporate executives, sponsors and members of the media for this most deserving charity.
The first thought you generally get about major league baseball players is that they make a boatload of money and enjoy lives that only few of us can dream of living. But it was not always this way as players in the 50's, 60's, and 70's did not reap the rewards that the players have today--at least not until MLBPA President Marvin Miller paved the road. And despite Miller's best efforts many of the players were left behind that played prior to the labor renaissance of the 1980's.
But the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT) is not just about major league players--it has helped minor league players and coaches, scouts, clubhouse attendants, trainers, and just about every conceivable person that belongs to the "baseball family." I remember the 1960's vividly and recall many players working in the off-season just to make ends meet which I realize is an impossible concept to grasp today. I remember going to a men's store with my dad surprised to see that Ed Kranepool was there to assist us in the purchase. Unbelievable but true.
The numbers that BAT has on its resume are staggering--since 1986 they have handed out over $19 million in grants to over 2,400 needy individuals who had no retirement money, could not afford health care, or were unable to keep up with the slippery slope of inflation. And when you talk to players like Orlando Cepeda, Andre Dawson, Jim Palmer, former Met manager Davey Johnson, or Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, you get the feeling that have benefited far more from BAT than the people who have received assistance because it has allowed them to give back something to the game they love so much.
BAT needs you so it can continue to get the help to people that are in most need of it. The following link on MLB.com can guide you through the donation process: https://secure.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/community/bat.jsp
We will be running podcasts all week so you can learn more about BAT and at the same time start to warm you up for Pitchers and Catchers which is about 25 days away.
The first order of business should have been getting a reliable #2 starter to sit behind Johan Santana and I would be the first to admit that task was far from easy but their approach to solving the issue was misguided. Roy Halladay was quite honestly never an option because the Mets did not have a trade fit for the Jays while the talented pitcher had a short list of teams he would go to which did not include the tenants of CitiField. Once that became a painful reality, they should have immediately turned to John Lackey who wanted to decide more sooner than later this off-season.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
But my sense of Lackey is he is a bulldog--a tough minded hurler who gets to the goal line. I think he may not have the stuff Santana has but he has that same inner toughness and he is as prepared to pitch in big games as any pitcher in either league. That's the scouting report I get from ex-teammates like Frankie Rodriquez and people like Jason Bay and Mark Teixiera who have battled him in big games.
OK so the Mets dropped the ball there but decided they could not skate away this off-season without getting one of the Big Three free agents (Lackey, Holliday, and Bay) and so they acted quickly pursuing Bay and finally got him. He will help the Mets and the fans will love his approach to the game as well as his ability to be a reliable run producer. And they still had the chance to get the catcher they so desperately needed.
But something happened in the pursuit of Bengie Molina that is very hard to pinpoint. I talked to many of the Met pitchers in the off-season and to a man they wanted Molina because they felt in those tough moments late in the game they wanted a more reliable backstop. The veteran catcher felt to uproot his family he needed a little love from the Mets and I mean a little--in the form of either a 2 year deal or a 1 year deal with an easily attainable platform that would all but guarantee two years. Instead of giving him a little love, they dug in like a separated husband in search of a more favorable alimony payment and so they lost him.
I also think the botching of the Carlos Beltran surgery news contributed to Molina's decision as well although if they offered him a 2 year deal I think he'd be a Met today. And that brings me to next chapter of the off-season--why take on Beltran? He obviously needed the surgery, 2 doctors agreed on the diagnosis, yet the Mets wanted a third opinion when a renowned specialist made the recommendation. Knowing Beltran as I do, I think he feels hurt but quite honestly he will rehab like an animal and be ready as soon as possible--probably by May 15th.
The rest of the off-season, player after player seemed to turn their back on the Mets in wake of these events. But these players-Joel Pinhiero, Jason Marquis, and Randy Wolf were not difference makers and in Wolf's case, he got an obscene 3 year $30 million contract which is insane. So, the Mets operated under the assumption that counting on a rebound season from Pelfrey, Perez, or Maine was just as likely as a good season from this "B" level talent and in Pelfrey's case for instance, at far less of a financial commitment. I do think a rebound season for either one is not a reach but to expect it from all of them is a leap of faith that I am sure Met fans are not anxious to take.
So, when the team convenes in Port St Lucie they will be a better offensive team than last year replacing Ryan Church with Jeff Francoeur and replacing Carlos Delgado with Jason Bay. They are also expecting a healthy return for Jose Reyes, a bounce back year from David Wright, and eventually a healthy Carlos Beltran. I think, aside from Beltran, all of those will happen and I only make Beltran a question mark because of the severity of his surgery.
But the starting pitching is a huge question mark and one that has to be the biggest story of the spring with all eyes pointing to every move Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez make. In Perez's case, his focus will be on display and it will be interesting to see if has made any changes in both his preparation routine as well as his ability to handle in-game adversity--the latter being very hard to discern in no-pressure spring training tilts.
If for some reason these 2 pitchers, do not bounce back a lot of people, including the decision makers inside the organization, will hold Omar Minaya responsible for the course of action he took this off-season. Despite all the talk about Reyes and Wright, it might very well be that the 2 players that hold the Met season in their hands are Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez. And with it the future of both Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya.
January 26, 2010, 7:23 PM
In his latest edition of The Mets Hot Stove Podcast, 1050 ESPN's Mets Insider Rich Coutinho has a sit down with David Wright who if the 2010 Mets are to rebound, will need a bounce back season.
January 19, 2010, 11:10 AM
In his latest edition of The Mets Hot Stove Podcast, 1050 ESPN's Met Beat Reporter Rich Coutinho has a sit down with Mike Pelfrey who is determined to show Met fans that 2009 was nothing more than a fluke season.
January 14, 2010, 10:08 PM
The Mets held a conference call on Thursday confirming knee surgery had been performed on Carlos Beltran but indicated proper process was not followed because they were denied the right to seek another opinion. On Thursday Night Beltran told his side of the story.
The Met centerfielder issued the following statement in regards to the story:
I am totally surprised by the reaction to my recent knee surgery. Any accusations that I ignored or defied the team's wishes are simply false. I also spoke to Omar Minaya about the surgery on Tuesday. He did not ask me to wait, or to get another doctor's opinion. He just wished me well. No one from team raised any issue until Wednesday, after I was already in surgery. I do not know what else I could have done. The most important thing here is that the surgery was a total success and I expect to be back on the field playing the game I love sooner rather than later."
I must say this story gets stranger with each passing moment but it seems from the way the planets have lined up here Beltran did nothing wrong and it appears to speak to a lack of communication inside the Met organization. And we are talking about important communication here regarding perhaps your best player and one you have a considerable financial investment in both this year and next year.
One thing for sure here is that the relationship between Beltran and the Mets must be repaired because he is essential to the success of this team in 2010. It seems like the surgery was the right thing to do and it also appears both the Mets doctors and Beltran's physician agreed on the course of action so why seek a third opinion?
I also think if Minaya spoke to Beltran on Tuesday wishing him well, that would certainly indicate the Met brass knew about the surgery and were willing to go along with it. Maybe the issue here is not everyone involved was aware of that sign off which is incomprehensible in this era of instant messaging, E-Mails, and blackberries. Nonetheless, communication can still break down and I could give the Mets a pass if they hadn't indicated otherwise in Thursday's conference call. It speaks to an organization with frayed lines of command making definition of roles almost impossible to discern.
And when you are talking about crucial issues like medical decisions on your $117 million investment, communication needs to be airtight or at the very least, accurate when you address the media. For Met fans, the hope here is the organization can mend the fences that were knocked down in the last 48 hours with both Beltran and his agent Scott Boras who, like it or not, has a roster of clients that could make or break a high profile franchise like the Mets in future years.
So far, the 2010 season is sounding a lot like the 2009 season but this organization has the power and resources to change that because there is talent on this roster. But those talented players need to trust their bosses whether that means Jerry Manuel, Omar Minaya, or the team's medical staff. That trust appears to be tenuous at best these days and that must improve if this organization is going to erase the painful ride of the 2009 season.