From what I gather from reading incorrect interpretations of the book, I take many people did not actually read Moneyball. If you haven’t, you should go and read it. If you have, now is the time to re-read it.
The reason to re-read it now is the script for the Mets postseason lies within those pages. I know Sandy Alderson was no longer the A’s GM at the time; it was Billy Beane. However, remember Beane’s top two lieutenants were J.P. Riccardi and Paul DePodesta. Until recently, they were Alderson’s top lieutenants. They were at least in place when the Mets were creating their offseason plans.
One of the many aspects of the book, which the movie seemed to get purposefully wrong, was how the A’s went about replacing Jason Giambi and one-year rental Johnny Damon. In essence, the A’s determined they flat out didn’t have enough money to replace these guys with other high priced players. Instead, the A’s were going to have to replace their production using a different line of thinking. I’m summing up here and being a little over simplistic, but here was the thought process:
- The team needed to identify what was undervalued on the free agent market (OBP);
- They needed the cumulation of their entire roster to replace Giambi and Damon since they couldn’t just sign two big name free agents to do it; and
- They needed to do it as cheaply as possible.
So what did they do? Well we know the Scott Hatteberg story with him being moved to first due to his traditionally high OBP (more on that later). In the movie and most other places, the story behind the David Justice acquisition is plain wrong. The A’s obtained him from the Mets, not the Yankees, in exchange for a LOOGY by the name of Mark Guthrie and a mistake waiting to happen by the name of Tyler Yates. It was the Mets, not the Yankees, who kicked in salary. It was only $1.2 million.
Now for the moves that haven’t received much fanfare. The A’s handed the secondbase job to a young Mark Ellis, who was capable of higher production than last year’s second baseman Frank Menechino. Menechino was moved to the bench to create a deeper roster. The A’s traded for Carlos Pena, who was a promising young player. Pena was supposed to be the first baseman with Hatteberg at DH and Justice in LF. That’s the way it was up until the trade deadline. They also traded for Billy Koch to sure up the closer’s role for the departed Jason Isringhausen.
By design, the A’s replaced Giambi and Damon not only with Pena and Justice, but by also improving their DH spot (Olmedo Saenz and Jeremy Giambi) and secondbase. In essence, the A’s added three new starters putting their old starters on the bench. The A’s left some payroll flexibility and had assets for the trade deadline.
The A’s used Pena in a three way trade to acquire Ted Lilly to sure up the rotation behind their three young big pitchers. They then used a prospect to acquire Ray Durham to DH with some needed cash. Hatteberg moved to be the full time first baseman. And yes, like in the movie, the A’s also added Ricardo Rincon to be the LOOGY to sure up the bullpen.
Did it work? If you look at the record, it absolutely did. They went from a 102 win team to a 103 win team. However, the reason wasn’t Hatteberg or Rincon. No, the part we forget is Barry Zito won the Cy Young, and Miguel Tejada win the MVP. They were powered by an insane 20 game winning streak. Lost in that streak was the A’s played only one team over .500 and played two teams that lost over 100 games that year.
The 2002 A’s got top notch performances from their top guys, and they made sure to beat the teams they were supposed to beat. Make no mistake. The 2002 A’s were worse. They scored 84 less runs and allowed nine more runs. However, at the end of the day, it didn’t matter. They won one more game.
The Mets are in a similar position as the A’s were. Make no mistake about it, the Mets have limited funds. With those funds, they needed to go out and replace the production of Daniel Murphy and a half a season of Yoenis Cespedes. Last year, Murphy hit .281/.322/.449 with 14 homers and 73 RBI. Cespedes hit .287/.337/.604 with 17 homers and 44 RBI in his time with the Mets.
We already know how the Mets replaced that production. They traded for Neil Walker, who hit .269/.328/.427 with 16 homers and 71 RBI. He’s a career .272/.338/.431 hitter. The Mets then decided to go with a platoon in center. There is in-house option Juan Lagares to hit against lefties. He hit .273/.333/.438 against lefties last year and .279/.325/.427 for his career. Platooning with him is Alejandro De Aza, who hit .278/.351/.448 against righties last year and .274/.338/.418 for his career. Now, this isn’t enough to replace the production of both of Murphy and Cespedes.
That’s where Asdrubal Cabrera comes in. Last year, Wilmer Flores played the bulk of time at shortstop hitting .263/.295/.408. Ruben Tejada played a lot there hitting .261/.338/.350. The Mets hoped by signing Cabrera they have significantly upgraded the position to cover the loss of Murphy and Cespedes. Cabrera hit .265/.315/.430 last year with the Rays. Speaking of replacing Cespedes’ second half production Cabrera hit .328/.372/.544 in the second half last year. Tangentially, the bench is theoretically better by having Flores and Tejada there.
Following the script they invented in Oakland, the Mets have already done what they believe they needed to do to replace the production they have lost. Right now, the Mets projected payroll is ~$106 million or about $4 million less than the 2015 payroll. Accordingly, the Mets are maintaining payroll flexibility like the A’s did so they can make trades at the deadline.
And, by the way, the Mets are powered by their three big young starters. How will it work out in 2016? We don’t know yet. However, if history is any lesson, the 2016 Mets will be worse than the 2015 version. If they want to have a better record, the 2016 Mets will need to take advantage of their games against bad teams like the Phillies and Braves. One of the young pitchers will have to step up even more. We’ll see which everyday player can step up to have the Tejada-like season.