Monday, September 13, 2010

Joel Sherman has Mets' marketing critique backwards

The Post's Joel Sherman lays out the Mets' likely offseason strategy to sell 2011 tickets as follows:

1) Hire a new general manager and manager...

2) Systematically leak how great Johan Santana, Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes are doing physically over the winter...

3) Oversell the one positive from the 2010 season: the rookie class/breakout components...

Sherman's piece mostly focuses on a critique of the third item, arguing that popular new players such as Ike Davis should not be untouchable for marketing purposes if trading them will help the team. But if the Mets really want to avoid alienating their fans for a change, they should change their thinking regarding item #2 - and stop encouraging unrealistic expectations when it comes to injuries.

In January, Met fans were surprised and disappointed to learn that Carlos Beltran was undergoing knee surgery. Even worse, he might not be ready for the start of the season. Throughout the preseason and the first part of the regular season, reports kept changing as to when Beltran would return - late April, mid-May, maybe even the All-Star break.

As time went on, the story evolved to when Beltran would be able to resume "baseball activities." Media and fans became frustrated with Beltran's lack of progress. Those fans who believe that Beltran is less likely to play through injuries had new ammunition.

When Beltran finally returned after the All-Star break, manager Jerry Manuel raised expectations by putting Beltran back in centerfield and batting him cleanup despite the fact that Beltran was clearly not ready for either.

The Mets were 48-40 when Beltran returned to the lineup. Since then, they have gone 22-33. The Mets' collapse is far from all Beltran's fault. But it would have been better for both the team and Beltran if the Mets had said from the start that he probably wouldn't be back before the All-Star break, and once he returned, he was not going to be 100%.

Met fans have been burned so many times waiting for players to return from injury that the biggest marketing mistake the Mets can make is to try to burn them again by touting a quick return of Johan Santana.

Already we are hearing conflicting reports about when Santana will start "throwing" and when he will start "pitching" and when he will finally return. The truth is that nobody knows, and the main thing that nobody knows is how effective Santana will be when he returns.

The Mets' position should be that they hope to have Santana back by the All-Star break. From what has been reported, that is probably optimistic, especially having Santana back at full strength. But such a position tells fans and media right up front that the Mets are planning to play a significant portion of 2011 without Santana.

Rather than raise the fans expectations only to disappoint them yet again, the Mets will be obliged to come up with a plan B - competing without their ace.

No one is more of a competitor on the Mets than Santana, but if the Mets start fudging his return date, they run the risk of making Santana look like yet another Met who can't quite make it back on the field.

Of course, the new GM will have to do a better job than Omar Minaya of coming up with a plan B. Minaya's initial replacement for Beltran in the outfield rotation was Gary Matthews Jr. When Daniel Murphy, then the starting first baseman, got hurt in spring training, Minaya and Jerry Manuel's initial plan B was Mike Jacobs.

As for trading the young players, I agree with Sherman that nobody should be untouchable. But it's one thing for the Mets to realize that Davis is no Jason Heyward - there's still no point in trading him unless the other team still buys into the hype. Otherwise, you end up with a deal along the lines of once-hyped Lastings Milledge for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider.

Says Sherman about Davis:

What do you think will be his best year, something like .275 with 30 homers? That is good. But it probably never makes him one of the 10 best first basemen in the game.

Yes, but .275 and 30 homers would make him the cleanup hitter on the Mets. And most of the players that Sherman suggests as stopgap alternatives for Davis have no shot at 30 homers. Lyle Overbay has hit more than 20 homers just once - and his career high is 22. Adam LaRoche hit more than 30 homers once, back in 2006. And both Overbay and LaRoche have generally played in ballparks far more homer-friendly than Citi Field.

Hubie Brooks was once a popular young player, but it made sense to trade him when the Mets had a chance to get Gary Carter before the 1985 season. But unless the Mets get an offer they really can't refuse, I would hold on to the young players. Better to oversell the young players than the seriously injured veterans.

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