Todd Zeile

Mets Blogger Roundtable: Who Should The Mets Bring Back To The Organization?

This offseason, the Mets have begun hiring some former fan favorites as special advisors to Brodie Van Wagenen. David Wright was the first with the team recently hiring Al Leiter and John Franco. We have also seen the team swap Nelson Figueroa with Todd Zeile for the postgame. In addition to those moves, Mike Piazza made his annual stop at Spring Training.

Seeing how the Mets are focusing more on their history, and recent history at that, you wonder who exactly the team will bring back next. We answer that question in our latest roundtable:

Metstradamus (Metstradamus Blog)

I want to see Justin Turner come back and play third base.

Greg Prince (Faith and Fear in Flushing)

My list of ex-Mets I’d welcome back in some capacity is too numerous to detail. I love the idea that these guys are forever part of the family as applicable.

Tim Ryder (MMO)

I’d like to see Carlos Delgado back representing the Mets in some capacity. His dedication to his craft (remember that notebook he wrote in after every at-bat?) would play well in this young-ish clubhouse, as well as through the organization.

James Schapiro (Shea Bridge Report)

Does Jarred Kelenic count?

Really though, this is more of an overall thought than a concrete idea, but Billy Wagner is one of the least-recognized greats in baseball history. By pretty much any measure he’s the second best modern-style closer of all time, and he’s already pretty much forgotten. I’m not sure the Mets should be the ones to honor him, but someone needs to.

Mets Daddy

Previously, I opined how Johan Santana could be a real difference maker in the organization if he were able to teach pitchers his changeup much in the same way he once did with Jacob deGrom. However, from a pure standpoint of wanting to bring a player back into the fold, I would like to see Carlos Beltran return to the Mets.

As it stands, Beltran is going to be in a position where he can choose a Royals, Mets, or a blank cap when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame. When you’re the Mets, and you only have two Hall of Famers in Tom Seaver and Piazza, and Seaver is no longer making public appearances, it would see a team should do all they can do to bring one of those Hall of Famers back to Queens.

Once again, I appreciate each of these writers taking their time to contribute to these roundtables, and I hope each person who reads this takes the time to visit the other writers sites to see their excellent work.

 

Patriots Winning The Super Bowl Is A Bad Omen For The Mets

Last night, the New England Patriots won the sixth Super Bowl in team history. If you look at how the Mets have performed in the other five years the Patriots won the Super Bowl, you may not believe this to be a good thing:

2002
Super Bowl XXXVI
Mets: 79-86

After a disappointing season on the heels of a National League pennant, Steve Phillips decided it was time to make some drastic changes with the Mets. The team would clear out Robin Ventura and Todd Zeile to make way for Mo Vaughn and Roberto Alomar. The team would also reunite with Roger Cedeno and Jeromy Burnitz. A disappointing rotation was “buttressed” with pitchers like Pedro Astacio, Jeff D’Amico, and Shawn Estes.

What would result was an unmitigated disaster as none of the imported players would perform close to their historical levels of production. In fact, only Estes would be playing baseball the next time the Mets made the postseason. Perhaps the biggest indignity to their also-ran season was Estes inability to exact revenge against Roger Clemens.

2004
Super Bowl XXXVIII
Mets:
71-91

This year was probably rock bottom for that era in Mets history. The team proved ill advised at trying to make Mike Piazza a part-time first baseman. Kazuo Matsui looked like a bust leading you to wonder why the Mets not only contemplated signing him, but also shifting Jose Reyes to second base to accommodate him. You also wondered if Reyes was going to prove out to be an injury prone player.  Braden Looper should never have been contemplated as the closer.

As bad as that was, the team made a series of trade blunders. First and foremost, for some reason with the Mets being five games under .500 and seven out in the division, they talked themselves into contender status leading to the infamous Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano trade.

As bad as that was, we would also see the Mets first obtain Jose Bautista only to trade him away for Kris Benson. Again, this was done in the vein of the Mets are contenders despite being so many games out of contention.

Jim Duquette would shoulder the blame for the moves, which probably were not all his idea, and he would be reassigned in September. Without Duquette at the helm, the Mets would completely bungle firing Art Howe leaving him to manage the end of the season knowing he was doing it with the axe swiftly coming down on his head.

2005
Super Bowl XXXIX
Mets:
83-79

With Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph at the helm, this was a new look Mets team. Still, things weren’t quite there. Doug Mientkiewicz proved to be a bit of a disaster. The team leaned on Miguel Cairo too much. At the time, Carlos Beltran seemed to be channeling Bobby Bonilla with a year where he regressed in nearly every aspect of his game. As bad as that was, he had the horrific  collision with Mike Cameron in right-center field in San Diego:

The biggest bright spot of that season was Pedro Martinez, who was vintage Pedro all year long. He flirted with no-hitters, and he led the league in WHIP. He was a throwback to a time when the Mets dominated with their pitching. He would also battle some injuries leading to Randolph smartly shutting him down for the rest of the year.

Except he wasn’t. As Pedro would detail in his eponymous book “Pedro,” Jeff Wilpon forced him to pitch while he was hurt. This would exacerbate his existing injuries and would lead to other injuries. Instead of having Pedro in the 2006 postseason, he was watching with the rest of us.

2015
Super Bowl XLIX
Mets: Lost World Series 4-1

Even when things are going right, they fell completely apart. Alex Gordon jumped on a Jeurys Familia quick pitch. Daniel Murphy booted a grounder. Lucas Duda couldn’t make a throw home. Terry Collins did about as poor a job managing a World Series as you possibly could do. What was once fun ended in bitter fashion.

2017
Super Bowl XLIX
Mets: 70-92

The 2016 Mets made a late furious push to claim a Wild Card spot despite being without Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler in the rotation. The thought was if these pitchers could be healthy in 2017, then the Mets could return to the postseason for a third consecutive year, and maybe, just maybe, the Mets could win the World Series.

Instead, Harvey would have off-the-field issues leading to a suspension. Back then, we thought those issues were affecting his performance. In actuality, it was Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Joining Harvey on the shelf was Noah Syndergaard, who went down with at a torn lat. Matz had ulnar nerve issues costing him most of the season. With Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman unable to reclaim their 2016 magic, the season was history.

Still, during that season there was a glimmer of hope in the form of Michael Conforto. The then 24 year old was playing at a superstar level. He was named a first time All Star, and he was proving himself to be a leader for a Mets team which still had the talent to be contenders in 2018. Instead on August 24, he would swing and miss on a pitch and collapse to the ground with a severe shoulder injury.

As if that all wasn’t enough, this would be the first time since 2003, David Wright would not appear in at least one game for the New York Mets.

2019
Super Bowl LIII
Mets: ?

This past offseason, Brodie Van Wagenen has set out to put his stamp on the Mets. He has rebuilt the bullpen with Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, and Justin Wilson. He has reshaped the lineup with Robinson Cano, Jed Lowrie, and Wilson Ramos. There are still some holes on the roster, but generally speaking, this is a stronger club than the Mets have had over the past two seasons.

The additions have come at a cost. The Mets traded away arguably their two best prospects in Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn. The team has also parted with well regarded prospects Ross Adolph, Luis Santana, and Scott Manea for J.D. Davis. There was also a further burying of former first round picks Dominic Smith and Gavin Cecchini on the depth charts.

Sure, there is no real correlation between the Patriots winning a Super Bowl and the Mets performance during the ensuing season. To suggest that is foolish. And yet, there is an unsettling pattern where a Patriots Super Bowl begets a disappointing Mets season.

Really, when you break it down, the real analysis to be made here is the disparity between the Patriots and the Mets. Whereas the Patriots are regarded as one of the best run organizations in all of professional sports with a terrific owner, the Mets are regarded as one of the worst run organizations with meddlesome owners. If the Mets are to break this “streak,” it is going to be because the Mets are a much better run organization who has the full resources and backing it needs from ownership.

 

Al Leiter Making Right Decision Leaving Booth

In recent news former Mets great Al Leiter has announced he will not be returning to the YES booth for the 2019 season. With him leaving the booth, he is leaving behind a promising and good broadcast career which had begun when he was a player providing commentary during the 2003 NLCS.

During that NLCS, you could see Leiter was going to be a gifted broadcaster. He hasn’t disappointed in his time as a Yankees color commentator or as an analyst on MLB Network. Seeing his work, you knew no one was pushing him out the door, and yet Leiter has announced he is leaving.

The reason is his son, Jack, is a senior in high school, and he is committed to Vanderbilt. If Jack is anything like his father, his uncle Mark Leiter, or even his cousin also named Mark Leiter, he has a real Major League future ahead of him. If that is the case, Al Leiter is going to be in New Jersey doing work for the MLB Network, or he will be in the Bronx, or he will find himself anywhere where the Yankees travel.

That does not leave him much time to watch his son pitch during his senior season. It doesn’t give him time to give parental advice to help prepare his son for college or even the draft. It doesn’t leave enough time for him to spend time with his son because his son finds himself in places like Tennesse, whether that is for college or for an Appalachian League affiliate.

In his career, Leiter made approximately $68 million. He’s done a fine job as a broadcaster presumably earning a good salary. With his reputation and his relatively young age (53), Leiter has the chance to do this. This is all every parent wants, and Leiter has that opportunity. Good for him for taking full advantage.

When he’s ready to return, there could be a chance for him at SNY as the Mets have begun taking more of a look at the 90’s Mets team. We have seen Todd Zeile recently hired to replace Nelson Figueroa and Bob Ojeda before him. Sooner or later, we know Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling are going to leave the Mets booth.

Maybe, there will be room for a new booth with Gary, Leiter, and Mike Piazza. It would be the type of booth which could generate the same chemistry and cache with Mets fans. And who knows, maybe we will see Leiter calling games his son is pitching.

But before then, let’s hope the best for Jack Leiter and hope Al enjoys each and every minute of the ride.

Mets Not Permitted To Wear First Responders Caps Again

One surprising thing popped up on my son’s school calendar.  It was to wear red, white, and blue for what is being referred to there as Freedom Day. Having lived through the events of 9/11 and dealing with my own fears and loss due to the terrorist attacks, it just struck me as odd that 18 years later, children would wear red, white, and blue to celebrate America.  Odd, but good.

What also strikes me as odd is how Major League Baseball continues to not permit the New York Mets to wear the First Responders caps during the games played on 9/11.  Ultimately, when we talk about how we get from devastating terrorists attacks to children honoring America, the First Responders caps were an important part of the story.

It meant a lot to New Yorkers to see the New York Mets wear those caps.  We all shed a tear as John Franco wore an FDNY cap in honor of his fallen friend as he earned the win in the first game back after the attacks.  There was not a dry eye anywhere when Mike Piazza hit that home run off Steve Karsay to win the first game played in New York after 9/11.

Wearing the caps was the brainchild of Todd Zeile.  He defied Major League Baseball and encouraged his team to do the same.  They all did it playing at Shea Stadium, a place that was a staging ground for the recovery and relief efforts.  He had the full support of his manager Bobby Valentine, and yes, his ownership, who have unsuccessfully petitioned Major League Baseball to wear the caps during a game.

What remains odd is how fearful Major League Baseball is that another Mets player will defy them like Zeile once did.  In fact, as R.A. Dickey once pointed out, Major League Baseball has threatened severe fines against players who choose to defy them, and they have taken the steps to collect the caps from the dugout and clubhouse after batting practice.  This isn’t normal behavior.

In that sense, it’s odd. Across the country, schools are honoring America.  Adults are taking time to remember, and some of us still mourn.  Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is making sure teams don’t infringe on a licensing deal because somehow allowing the Mets to wear First Responder caps is a bad thing for Major League Baseball and New Era.

Really, in 18 years, it’s just plain shocking no one sat across the table and figured this out.  There could have been some sort of happy medium wherein either New Era makes the caps, or that they create a new cap to both honor the fallen while keeping in the spirit of the licensing agreement.

Instead, Major League Baseball will go out of their way to announce the Mets will wear the caps during batting practice, which as we have learned, you are not required to wear officially licensed gear.  In their minds, they probably think they are offering a best of both worlds solution.  They’re wrong.

The shame of it is as we become further removed from 9/11, the more we move about our everyday lives.  In the 18 years since, we have graduated from school, gotten married, and started families.  For those of us who remember, we also have to remember work and running a household.  Moreover, we have to get our children ready for days like “Freedom Day.”

So in different places in America, we’re mourning and honoring while Major League Baseball is forgetting and enforcing.

 

Mets Should Sign Neil Walker

Certainly, when you look at any free agent, there are a number of things you can look to pick apart.  When looking at former Mets second baseman Neil Walker, you need not look at his recent health history.  He needed back surgery in 2016, and last year, he missed a large chunk of time due to a partially torn hamstring.

Even with the injury issues, Walker has been a productive player when on the field.  In 111 games last year, Walker hit .265/.362/.439 with 14 homers and 49 RBI.  The one caution you would have with him is that he showed 2016 was a blip as he returned to struggling against left-handed pitching.

To that end, Walker would be the perfect fit for the current Mets roster.

Based upon their production there last year, the Mets have three players ill-suited to playing second base everyday with Asdrubal Cabrera (-6 DRS), Wilmer Flores (-1 DRS), and Jose Reyes (-5 DRS).  What is interesting about this group is all three of them struggle against right-handed pitching.  Heading into Opening Day, Cabrera is the starter, but based upon recent history, we can count for the Mets playing dozens of players at the position.

Given the defensive issues and platoon splits, it would behoove the Mets to add Walker to the mix.  He’d be another body who can give them games, and he’s a well suited platoon candidate with any of the aforementioned incumbent second baseman.

Realistically speaking, that will never happen.  The Mets are paying Cabrera $8.5 million, and based upon how the Mets operate, they are not likely going to put that on the bench.  The organization also has a soft spot for both Flores and Reyes.  So no, the Mets are not going to bring a player to play second base over them; not even Walker, who was productive as a Met when he was on the field.

However, the team does not owe the same loyalties to Adrian Gonzalez.

The soon to be 36 year old first baseman is coming off an injury riddled year himself where he hit just .242/.287/.355 with three homers and 30 RBI in 71 games.  With him starting off the Spring going 2-15, he’s not exactly inspiring confidence he will bounce back.

With the Mets being a month away from Spring Training, you have to really question if he’s ever going to rediscover who he was three years ago.  With him looking more and more like a player who is closer to retirement and Dominic Smith having a Spring which has combined being late and injured, the Mets should at least investigate the free agent market.

If he wants to pull a Todd Zeile, Walker could sign on with the Mets to play first base.  If not, Todd Frazier has experience there, which would allow the Mets to put Walker at third base.  When Dom is ready, or when injuries inevitably befall the Mets, the team would have some versatility with Walker.  He likely could slot in at any infield position but short.

With Walker still on the market and likely available for a discount, this is something the Mets should definitely be considering.  Ultimately, it may prove to be a better option that rolling the dice on Gonzalez and the three internal second basemen.

Editor’s Note: Hat tip to Rob Piersall whose tweet inspired this post

Astros And Dodgers Fans, This One Is Going To Hurt For A While

If you ask a New York Giants fan about the postseason, they will reminisce about Super Bowl XLII and XLVI.  You will hear about the Helmet Catch and Eli hitting Manningham down the sideline for 38 yards.  You know what you don’t hear about?  Fassell having the Giants ill prepared for Super Bowl XXXV or Trey Junkin.

The reason is simple when you win, you remember it forever.  However, when you lose, and you lose and lose, that memory festers and worsens year to year.

For years and even until this day, you will occasionally hear Howie Rose bemoan Yogi Berra‘s decision to go with Tom Seaver on short rest over George Stone in Game 6 of the 1973 World Series.  One of the reasons that memory lingers is the Mets where irrelevant from 1974 until 1984.

After 1986, Mets fans were in their glory, and to this day many fans who got to live through 1986 talk about it as fondly today as they probably did when they got to work on October 28, 1986.

Behind them is a group of Mets fans who never really got to live through the 1986 World Series.  As a result, they just know Madoff Scandals and hauting postseason failures:

1988 NLCS

  • Davey Johnson botched that series including leaving in Dwight Gooden too long in Game Four.  Doc would allow a game tying home run in the top of the ninth to Mike Scioscia.
  • It was the last hurrah for Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez who struggled over the final few games of the series, and respectively faced poor and injury plagued 1989 seasons before finding new homes in 1989.

1999 NLCS

  • First and foremost, the one thing that should stick out was how those Braves teams just tortured the Mets, and the Mets could never get past them.
  • Both John Franco and Armando Benitez blew leads in Game 6 preventing the Mets from sending the series to a seventh game and letting the Mets be the team to do what the Red Sox did to the Yankees five years later.
  • Kenny Rogers walked Andruw Jones with the bases loaded to end the series.

2000 World Series

2006 NLCS

2015 World Series

2016 Wild Card Game

  • Connor Gillaspie

The list for the aforementioned series really goes on and on, but those were just some of the highlights.  After tonight’s game, that is what Astros and Dodgers fans will be doing.  They’ll be asking if Dave Roberts was too aggressive with his pitching changes while A.J. Hinch was not aggressive enough.  Why didn’t Chris Taylor try to score, or why could Josh Reddick just put the ball in play.  Really, the list goes on and on.

For one fan base, they will focus on the things that went wrong.  Considering the Dodgers haven’t won in 29 years and the Astros have never won, the pain of this loss is going to hurt all the more.  For the fanbase that gets to win this one, they will have memories to cherish for a lifetime, and they will never again be bothered by the what ifs that could have plagued their team in this epic World Series.

Cubs And Red Sox Have Recently Won World Series Titles, Mets Haven’t

When I was talking with my Dad about the postseason, we were prattling off how most of the teams in the postseason haven’t won in quite some time:

  • Astros – Never
  • Nationals – Never
  • Rockies – Never
  • Indians – 1948
  • Dodgers – 1988
  • Twins – 1991
  • Diamondbacks – 2001
  • Yankees – 2009
  • Red Sox – 2013
  • Cubs – 2016

Just go back over that list again.

For nearly a century, the dream World Series matchup was Red Sox-Cubs. 1912 versus 1908. The Curse of the Bambino versus the Billy Goat Curse.

Then there was all of the Hall of Famers on both sides who never won a World Series. For the Cubs, you had absolute legends like Ernie Banks and Ferguson Jenkins.  The Red Sox had Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski.

Throw in Fenway and Wrigley with the Green Monster and the ivy, this was the World Series to end all World Series because these were two teams pathologically incapable of winning World Series.

Until recently.

We know it all changed for the Red Sox with a Dave Roberts stolen base propelling the Red Sox to overcome an 0-3 ALCS deficit.  It would be a Kris Bryant homer to start the game winning rally in Game five of the World Series.  Before each of those moments, these were two franchises who seemed incapable of winning a World Series.  There was also a time the Mets would take full advantage.

In 1969, the Cubs went from Ron Santo clicking his heels to a black cat crossing their path.  We would then see Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman pitch the Mets to their first World Series title.

In 1986, Mookie Wilson hit a little roller up along first that got past Bill BucknerRay Knight scored the winning run en route to a Game 6 win and eventual World Series title.

Even in 2015, the Mets beat up on the Cubs.  Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom dominated them from the mound, and Daniel Murphy homered the Mets to the team’s fifth pennant.

Now, the Mets are behind both the Red Sox and the Cubs.  Now, it looks like the Mets who are the team that can’t win a World Series.

In 1988, Mike Scioscia hit a grand slam against Dwight Gooden.  In 1999, Kenny Rogers walked Andruw Jones with the bases loaded.  In 2000, Timo Perez didn’t run out a Todd Zeile fly ball that landed on top of the wall.  In 2006, So Taguchi homered off of Guillermo Mota, and yes, Carlos Beltran struck out looking against Adam Wainwright.  In 2015,  Jeurys Familia blew three saves with the help of Daniel Murphy overrunning a grounder and a way offline Lucas Duda throw.  Last year, it was Conor Gillaspie who hit a three run homer in the Wild Card Game.

In reality, the Mets aren’t cursed even with all that ensued after the Madoff scandal.  However, with each passing year, you can forgive fans for starting to feel this way.  It’s been 31 years since the Mets last won a World Series.  In those 31 years, the Mets have reached the postseason six times, and they were eliminated in excruciating fashion each time.

Again, the Mets are not cursed.  Still, it is depressing to now live in a world where the Red Sox and the Cubs have won a World Series more recently than the Mets.

Put Bobby Valentine in the Mets Hall of Fame

It has been almost 15 years since Bobby Valentine has managed the Mets, and because of how history works, the enduring image we have of Bobby V is the time he came back into the dugout with sunglasses and a fake mustache made with eye back after he had been thrown out of a game.  Bobby V was much more than that.

After a disappointing player career that included two forgettable seasons with the Mets, Valentine became a coach.  In 1983, he was named the third base coach for the George Bamberger led Mets.  Despite Bamberger not lasting the season, and General Manager Frank Cashen cleaning house, the Mets decided to keep Valentine when Davey Johnson was hired.  From 1983 – 1985, Valentine was generally regarded as a very good third base coach, who helped in the development of a young Mets team from cellar dwellers to contenders.  He would be hired as the Texas Rangers manager, and he would miss all of the 1986 season. 

After his stint in Texas, a brief stop in Norfolk, and one in Japan, the Mets brought Bobby V back to the organization for the 1996 season.  Initially, he was named as the manager of the Tides.   However, after Dallas Green had finally run through all of the young arms on the team, Valentine was named the interim manager for the final 31 games of the season.  In the offseason, the interim tag would be removed, and he would start the 1997 season as the Mets manager.

The 1997 Mets were THE surprise team in all of baseball.  Despite a starting rotation that was comprised of Rick Reed, Dave Mlicki, Bobby Jones, Mark Clark, Brian Bohanon, and Armando Reynoso, the Mets would go from a 71 win team to an 88 win team.  Now, there were good seasons for the turnaround.  There was the acquisition of John Olerud.  There was also another strong season from Lance Johnson, and Todd Hundley proved his record setting 41 home run 1996 season was no fluke.  However, there were other factors at play, and they were directly related to the manger.

First, Edgardo Alfonzo was made the everyday third baseman instead of the utility player he was under Green.  Also, while Reed had started the season coming out of the bullpen, Bobby V moved him into the rotation.  Additionally, whereas Green’s calling card was to abuse his starters’ arms, Valentine protected his starters’ arms (his starters averaged six innings per start and less), and he used the bullpen to his advantage.  On a more subjective note, this was a team that played harder and was more sound fundamentally.  It was a team that probably played over their heads for much of the season.

One important note from this season, Mlicki threw a complete game shut-out against the Yankees in the first ever Subway Series game.  While the Mets were overmatched in terms of talent in that three game series, Bobby V had that group ready to play, and they very nearly took the three game set from the Yankees.

With the Mets having overachieved, the front office led by General Manager Steve Phillips gave his manager some reinforcements.  The team would acquire Al Leiter and Dennis Cook from the Marlins.  The Mets would also add Japanese pitcher Masato Yoshii from Japan.  However, this team was struggling due to Hundley’s elbow injury and Bernard Gilkey and Carlos Baerga having yet another disappointing season.  Bobby V and the Mets kept the team above .500 and competitive long enough to allow the front office to make the bold move to add Mike Piazza.

From there, the Mets took off, and they would actually be in the thick of the Wild Card race.  They were in it despite the Hundley LF experiment not working.  They were in it despite getting nothing offensively from left field and their middle infield.  They were in it despite the fact the Mets effectively had a three man bullpen.  The latter (I’m looking at you Mel Rojas) coupled with the Braves dominance of the Mets led to a late season collapse and the team barely missing out on the Wild Card.

The Mets re-loaded in 1999 with Rickey Henderson, Robin Ventura, Roger Cedeno, Armando Benitez, and Orel Hershiser (no, Bobby Bonilla is not getting lumped in here).  Things do not initially go as planned.  After blowing a late lead, the Yankees beat the Mets, and the Mets found themselves a game under .500.  Phillips responded by firing almost all of Bobby V’s coaching staff.

The Mets and Bobby V responded by becoming the hottest team in baseball.  From that point forward, the Mets were 70-37.  At points during the season, they even held onto first place for a few days.  The Mets were helped by Bobby V being judicious with Henderson’s playing time to help keep him fresh.  Like in year’s past, Bobby V moved on from a veteran not performing to give Cedeno a chance to play everyday, and he was rewarded.  Again, like in previous seasons, Bobby V had to handle a less than stellar starting rotation.

In what was a fun and tumultuous season, the Mets won 97 games.  The team nearly avoided disaster again by forcing a one game playoff against the Reds for the Wild Card.  Not only did the Mets take that game, but they upset the Diamondbacks in the NLDS.  The NLDS performance is all the more impressive when you consider Piazza was forced to miss the last two games due to injury.  In the NLCS, they just met a Braves team that had their number for the past three seasons.  Still, even with the Braves jumping all over the Mets and getting a 3-0 series lead, we saw the Mets fight back.

In Game 4, it was an eighth inning two run go-ahead Olerud RBI single off John Rocker.  In Game 5, it was a 15 inning game that was waiting for the other team to blink first.  While, the Mets blinked in the top of the 15th with a Keith Lockhart RBI triple, the Mets responded in the bottom of the 15th with Ventura’s Grand Slam single to send the series back to Atlanta.  The Mets would be ever so close in Game 6.  They fought back from a 5-0 and 7-3 deficit.  Unforutnately, neither John Franco nor Benitez could hold a lead to force a Game 7.  Then Kenny Rogers couldn’t navigate his way around a lead-off double and bases loaded one out situation in the 11th.

In 2000, Bobby V finally got the rotation he needed with the trade acquiring Mike Hampton and the emergence of Glendon Rusch.  However, even with the much improved rotation, it still was not an easy year for the Mets.  It rarely ever was during Bobby V’s tenure.

First, the Mets had to deal with the Henderson and Darryl Hamilton situations.  Henderson became a malcontent that wanted a new contract.  Hamilton lost his starting job due to a toe injury and had become a part time player.  The result was the complete transformation of the outfield with Benny Agbayani and Jay Payton becoming everyday players.  In the infield, the Mets lost Olerud to free agency and had to convert free agent third baseman Todd Zeile into a first baseman.  Additionally, the Mets lost Gold Glove shortstop Rey Ordonez to injury leading the team to have to rely on Melvin Mora as their shortstop for much of the season.  In what was perhaps Bobby V’s finest managing job with the Mets, the team made the postseason for the second straight year.  It was the first time in Mets history they had gone to consecutive playoff games.

In the postseason, the team showed the same toughness and grit as they had in prior years.  In the first game of the NLDS, they overcame an injury to Derek Bell and saw Timo Perez become a folk hero.  The Mets outlasted the Giants in Game 2 despite a Benitez blown save.  In Game 3, Agbayani hit a walk-off homer in the 13th, and Game 4 saw the Jones one-hitter.  With the Mets not having to face the Braves in the NLCS, they steamrolled through the Cardinals en route to their first World Series since 1986.  While the team never gave in, the balls did not bounce in their favor.  That was no more apparent than when Zeile’s fly ball hit the top of the left field wall and bounced back into play.

From there, Phillips lost his magic touch.  The team started to get old in 2001, and by 2002, everything fell apart.  After what was his first season under .500 with the Mets, Bobby V was fired after the 2002 season.  With one exception, it was the end of a forgettable and disappointing two seasons for the Mets.

One thing that cannot be lost with the 2001 season was how the Mets dealt with the aftermath of 9/11.  Every player did their part.  So did their manager.  After 9/11 happened, Bobby V was a visible face of the Mets franchise visiting firehouses and helping relief aid at Shea Stadium.  When it was time to return to playing games, he was able to get his players in a mindset to play baseball games.  That is no small feat when your captain was a local guy who lost a friend on 9/11.  Also, while it was the players who spearheaded wearing the First Responders’ caps, it was their manager who stood by their side and encouraged them to wear them despite requests to take them off from the Commissioner’s Office.

Through the roller coaster ride that was the 1,003 games of the Bobby V Era, the Mets were 536-437.  During that span, Bobby V managed the second most games in Mets history while earning the second most wins in Mets history.  His .534 winning percentage is the third best in Mets history just behind Johnson and Willie Randolph.  In all but his final season as Mets manager, the Mets either met or exceed their expected (Pythagorean) record.

Bobby V stands as just one of two managers to go to consecutive postseasons.  His 13 postseason wins are the most by any manager in Mets history.  He’s the only Mets manager to win a postseason series in consecutive postseasons.  He’s managed in more postseason series than any other Mets manager.

Overall, Bobby V is an important part of Mets history.  Out of all the managers in Mets history, it is fair to say the Bobby V consistently did more with the talent given to him by his front office.  For some, he is the best manager in Mets history.  Most will certainly agree he is at least the third best manager in Mets history.  For all of this, and how he represented the Mets organization during 9/11 and the aftermath, Bobby V should be inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.

 

Bobby Valentine’s Second Greatest Achievement

Recent reports indicate that President Elect Donald Trump is considering Bobby Valentine as the United States Ambassador to Japan.  If Valentine is indeed selected as the Ambassador to Japan, it would be his second biggest accomplishment.  Naturally, his biggest accomplishment was leading the 2000 Mets not only to the postseason, but to the National League Pennant.

As luck would have it, the New York Mets would begin the season in Japan.  Valentine’s Opening Day outfield was Rickey HendersonDarryl HamiltonDerek Bell.  Of that group, only Bell would play in a postseason game for the Mets, and he would be injured in Game One of the NLDS.  Henderson would prove to be a malcontent that wanted a new contract, and ultimately, he would be released in May.  Hamilton would lose his job in April after suffering a toe injury.  This led to the Mets outfield being Benny AgbayaniJay Payton-Bell for most of the season.

The one thing Agbayani could do was hit.  In 2000, he hit .289/.391/.477 with 15 homers and 60 RBI in 119 games.  However, he was a terrible fielder who did this in the field during a game that season:

 

For his part, Payton was one of the heralded players out of Georgia Tech that included Jason Varitek and Nomar Garciaparra.  While Payton was once considered on par with them, if not better.  As a prospect, Payton’s star would diminish a bit, but he would still become a major league player.  In his 2000 rookie season, Payton relatively struggled at the plate hitting .291/.331/.447 with 17 homers and 62 RBI in 149 games.

There was more than that.  Valentine also had to help make Todd Zeile an effective first baseman after he spent most of his career as a third baseman.  Zeile was of course signed to replace John Olerud, who departed in free agency.  While Zeile had a nice season hitting .268/.356/.467 with 22 homers and 79 RBI, his production fell far short of Olerud’s .298/.427/.463, 19 homer run, 96 RBI season.  When you consider the drop off defensively from the Gold Glover Olerud to the quickly adapting Zeile, the team was noticeably worse at first base.

The team was also worse at shortstop.  While Rey Ordonez never hit for much, he was a Gold Glover at shortstop.  The Mets would miss that defense after he broke his left arm trying to get a tag down in May.  This led to the Mets trying to get by with Melvin Mora at shortstop, who struggled at the plate and in the field.  This led to the ill advised trade for Mike Bordick who would hit .260/.321/.365 in his 56 games as a Met.

In reality, this was all part of a Mets team that was considerably weaker than the 1999 version.  Pat Mahomes was nowhere near as good as he was in 1999.  In place of well established veterans like Orel Hershiser and Kenny Rogers in the rotation, the Mets had Glendon Rusch and the return of Bobby Jones.  However, it should be noted the rotation was one area the Mets were better.

Whereas the 1999 Mets were an offensive juggernaut with a strong bullpen, the 2000 Mets were built on starting pitching.  Al Leiter had an improved season making him 1A behind the ace the Mets acquired in the offseason, Mike Hampton.  With Rusch and Jones outperforming their expectations, and quite possibly what their rotation counterparts did in 1999, the rotation was one area the Mets were improved.

The rotation along with two terrific players in Mike Piazza and Edgardo Alfonzo, Valentine was able to lead the Mets to the World Series.  Valentine was able to do that despite a diminished offense, vastly diminished defense, an overall less talented roster, and some drama (which usually follows Valentine wherever he goes).  It was a team that outperformed their Pythagorean win-loss record by six games.  It was a team that outperformed expectations.

Making it to the 2000 World Series should be considered Valentine’s biggest accomplishment.  That Mets team really had no business making it to the postseason let alone the World Series.  It is why that should stand as Valentine’s biggest accomplishment even if he were to be named as President Trump’s choice to be the Ambassador to Japan.

Mets 2017 First Base Options

One of the biggest issues with the 2017 Mets was the production they received from first base.  The precipitous drop in production was a major factor in why the 2016 Mets scored fewer runs than the 2015 Mets.  Remember, the 2015 Mets once infamously had John Mayberry, Jr. and Eric Campbell hitting in the middle of the lineup.  With that in mind, getting improved production out of first base needs to be a priority for the Mets this offseason.  Here is what should be available for the Mets this offseason:

INTERNAL FIRST BASEMAN

Lucas Duda

Duda is exactly the player the Mets need to revive their offense in 2017.  From 2014-2015, Duda hit .249/.350/.483 while averaging 28 homers and 82 RBI.  He is a home run threat in the middle of your order, and he is the classic slugging first baseman.

The issue with Duda is no one knows if he is healthy.  In 2015, he went on the disabled list with a herniated disc in his lower back.  In 2016, he suffered a stress fracture in his lower back, and he took longer than expected to return from the injury.  While he tried admirably to try to play in the Wild Card Game, he just wasn’t ready.  For the season, he only played in 47 games hitting .229/.302/.412 with seven homers and 23 RBI.

While all indications are Duda is completely healthy, it is unknown whether he can withstand the rigors of a 162 game schedule.  It is also unknown whether he can return to form after suffering back injuries in consecutive seasons.  At the moment, it is anticipated he will earn approximately $7 million in arbitration.  For the production we know he is capable of producing, that is a steep bargain.  Not knowing if he can produce, $7 million could be an expensive gamble, especially in light of Wright’s situation.

Dominic Smith

Smith is coming off a terrific year in AA where he finally began to fulfill some of the offensive potential he has by hitting for more power in the second half of the season.  He is a a highly regarded prospect who is already a slick defender at first base.  Still, he is just 21 years old, and he has yet to have an at-bat above AAA.  He is not ready to be the Opening Day first baseman, and it is quite possible he may not be ready to play in the majors next year.

PLAYERS CHANGING POSITIONS

David Wright

Time and again, people state Wright should just move across the diamond and play first base.  Saying that presents a clear misunderstanding of the first base position and how taxing it would be on Wright.

Other than catcher, first base is the most demanding physical position for a player.  At first base, a player is constantly stretching, turning, and twisting in the hopes of getting a throw from one of his infielders that much quicker to turn a close play into an out.  With a runner on first, the first baseman has to spring off the bag and into his defensive position as the pitcher delivers the ball.  Like a third baseman, he charges the bunts and dives for balls down the line.  According to Dr. Walter P. Jacobsen, DO, a neurosurgeon, these activities that are high impact and require twisting are activities that should be avoided.  These activities are more prevalent at first than third base.

Even assuming this was incorrect, that Wright was better suited to first base, when is he going to get the opportunity to transition there?  Wright had season ending cervical fusion surgery, and presumably, he is going to need to spend most of his time in the offseason rehabbing and figuring out yet another pregame routine that will permit him to play in as many games as possible.  As such, there is no time for him to learn first base.

Jay Bruce

Without or without Cespedes’ return, the Mets are going to have a glut of everyday caliber outfielders, and one of them may need to find a new home.  That new home could be on another team or at another position.  With UZR and DRS rating Bruce was the Mets worst outfielder, he would be the likely candidate to move to first base.

The one caution is Bruce has only played three games there in his major league career, and all three of those games were two years ago.  Even accounting for that, Bruce may have the athleticism to adapt to first base and succeed there on the major league level.  It is also a way to keep him and his 30 home run caliber bat in the lineup every day while also allowing Curtis Granderson, another Mets right fielder who can hit 30 home runs, in the lineup everyday.

Still, before moving someone over to first base, Mike Piazza should always be a caution to Mets fans that not just anyone can move over there.  It is a difficult position that requires hard work in the offseason.  If this is the plan, the Mets need to implement it sooner rather than later.

Michael Conforto

None other than Keith Hernandez believes Conforto should be playing first base with him saying, “He more than likely is going to end up at first base, though it’s unlikely he’ll be anything more than average there.”  (nj.com).  While it is far from a ringing endorsement, it is notable when Hernandez, the best defensive first baseman in major league history, states you should play his position.

For his part, Conforto is open to the possibility saying, “I took some reps in college over at first base just for emergency-type situations. I think that’s something that’s very, very interesting, something I’d be open to, obviously. I just want to help the team.”  (New York Post).

Moving Conforto there means you won’t have to displace a veteran like Bruce.  However, it does create a few problems.  First, choosing to move Conforto over Bruce also means choosing to move the better defensive outfielder out of the outfield.  Second, moving Conforto there could become a potential barrier to Smith or Peter Alonso at first base in the upcoming seasons.  Third, having Conforto change positions to the infield could be yet another obstacle in the young player’s development.

For a myriad of reasons ranging from a wrist injury to uneven playing time to him just falling into slumps like any other player, the 2016 season was a lost one for Conforto.  He went from the Mets top hitting prospect to a young player Terry Collins entrusted to little more than pinch hitting duty down the stretch.  It is quite possible the best thing for him is for the Mets to pick a position in the outfield and let him stay there and allow him to work with Kevin Long to get back to what worked well for him.

EXPENSIVE OPTIONS

Miguel Cabrera

Tigers GM Al Avila has already announced the Tigers are looking to get younger and shed some payroll this offseason.  With that in mind, the Tigers have a number of interesting trade candidates making big money like Cabrera.

At 33, Cabrera had another terrific season hitting .316/.393/.563 with 38 homers and 108 RBI.  Should Cespedes depart this offseason, Cabrera would more than replace Cespedes in the lineup.  However, the Mets chances of obtaining Cabrera are unlikely due to the cost.  First, it is going to take a huge haul of players to obtain them, and in the past, the Mets have shown unwillingness to move one of their big pitchers like Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, or Steven Matz.  Given Cabrera’s production, it is likely the Tigers ask for one of these players and/or a big prospect like Smith, Amed Rosario, or both.

Even if there was a middle ground on players the Mets deemed acceptable, it is hard to imagine them adding Cabrera’s contract.  Cabrera still has seven years $132 million left on his deal.  The contract carries through to his age 40 season, and there are two vesting options at the back end of the deal for $30 million a piece.  If Cabrera does not age well, this contract would become the type of albatross Sandy Alderson typically avoids.

Justin Turner

Bringing back Turner would be a page out of the Todd Zeile handbook.  While Turner has not played regularly at first base, he has shown the ability to play over there, and his bat may help the Mets improve in 2016.

Moreover, Turner may need to move to first base to lengthen his career.  Over the past few seasons, he has had knee issues, and he may not be well suited for the third base position in the time of the modern shift era that requires a third baseman to cover more ground than they did a decade or so ago.

There does remain some issues for Turner.  First and foremost is the aforementioned knee issues.  Second, Turner took off when he played in his hometown.  There is no telling if he would struggle playing on the east coast again.  Third, he regressed from an on base perspective this year.  In 2014 and 2015, Turner was a player who had a .384 on base percentage with a .492 slugging.  This year, Turner’s OBP dropped to .339 even while his slugging percentage stayed in the same vicinity (.493).  This might have been a product of his knee issues or it could have been a product of him swinging for the fences more as evidenced by his career high 27 homers.

In either event, Turner is not the safest choice, especially when you are asking him to play out of position.  These fears become magnified when you consider Turner will likely received a qualifying offer, and he will likely get a big contract offer from someone, including but not limited to the Dodgers, to play third base.

THE DESIGNATED HITTERS

Edwin Encarnacion

Encarnacion may prove to be the biggest power bat on the free agent market.  He is coming off a year that saw him hit .263/.357/.529 with 42 homers and a league leading 127 RBI.  Over the past three seasons, Encarnacion is hitting .269/.361/.544 while averaging 38 homers and 112 RBI.

There are two issues with Encarnacion.  First, much of his stats have been generated as a result of him hitting in the Rogers Centre, which is a hitter’s park.  In his career, Encarnacion has hit .272/.360/.535 there.  Last year, on the road, Encarnaction was a .246/.342/.492 hitter on the road.  While it is a drop-off, the Mets would gladly take Encarnacion’s road production from their first base position next year.

Therein lies the real problem with Encarnacion.  He’s a DH.  Encarnacion has not played more than half a season at first base in his entire career.  In his last five years with the Blue Jays, he has split his time between first and DH.  While advanced metrics like UZR and DRS rate him to be an average first baseman, it is unknown whether he could withstand the rigors of playing in the field everyday.  Those concerns are amplified for a player that will turn 34 next year, will command a large contract, and will most likely recent a qualifying offer.

Carlos Santana

Seemingly, from the moment Santana came up to the Cleveland Indians as a catcher, the team has sought a position for him.  He has proven his best position is DH.

Santana is coming off a terrific year that saw him hit ..259/.366/.498 with 34 homers and 87 RBI.  Those were the highest home run and RBI totals of his career.  In his six full seasons with the Indians, Santana has averaged 24 homers and 81 RBI.  With his on base skills and his switch hitting ability, Santana would be a welcome addition to the Mets lineup.  However, like Encarnacion, the real question is whether he can be an everyday first baseman.

Like Encarnaction, he rates as average when he does play there.  Unlike Encarnacion, he played almost a full season there in 2015.  Moreover, he is four years younger than Encarnacion.  So while both may receive qualifying offers and large contract offers on the free agent market, Santana may prove to be the better bet for the Mets should they look to upgrade the first base position in free agency.

QUESTIONABLE OFFENSIVE PRODUCTION

James Loney

The best thing you can say about Loney in 2016 was he was a definitive upgrade over the Mets internal options like Campbell.  Unfortunately, Loney showed little that would entice the Mets to bring him back next season.  Loney finished the year hitting .257/.287/.369 with five homers and 18 RBI in 63 games after the All Star Break.  He also showed he had limited range and an inability to stretch far for throws made to first.  While he was an improvement over what the Mets had in 2016, the Mets are simply going to have to do better than him in 2017.

Mike Napoli

The Cleveland Indians took a one year flier on Napoli this offseason, and it has been a boon for them as Napoli has been a major contributor for a team now playing in the World Series.  Still, there is caution for Napoli, who has a history of hip problems, and whose numbers were not great this season.

In 150 games, Napoli hit .239/.335/.465 with 34 homers and 101 RBI.  In 2015, Napoli bounced around, and he hit .224/.324/.410 with 18 homers and 50 RBI in 133 games.  With Napoli turning 35 next year, it is hard to believe he will have another strong campaign.  Furthermore, the last thing this Mets offense needs is another low OBP guy who is seemingly all or nothing at the plate.

Adam Lind

For a few seasons, Lind had proven himself to be a good on base player who may not have the traditional power you typically want from the first base position.  In 2016, Lind played for the Mariners, and his production fell off a cliff.  In 126 games, Lind hit .239/.286/.431 with 20 homers and 58 RBI.  Historically, Lind has also struggled to hit left-handed pitching.  Lind is more of a buy-low candidate in the event there are no better options than he is an upgrade you would seek on the free agent market.

BEST CHOICE

Ultimately, it may behoove the Mets to bring back Duda for one more season.  If he produces at his normal levels, he will be exactly what this offense needs.  Better yet, if he produces at that level, the Mets could give him a qualifying offer next offseason thereby helping them gain a first round draft pick in the process (assuming no changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement).  Furthermore, with Duda, the Mets have a nice bridge to Smith should he take another leap this year and prove himself ready to contribute at the major league level ahead of schedule.