Tuesday, September 8, 2009

ESPN debates the Mets: Is this franchise 'moribund'?

Last week, ESPN's Jayson Stark buried the Mets with the following piece:

Mets in impossible spot going forward

Monday, Peter Gammons countered with:

Return of the Mets not as impossible as it seems

The return of the Mets only seems impossible to the likes of Stark. The subhead on his piece reads "Trading Jose Reyes could be a huge step toward jump-starting moribund franchise."

Whatever else one can say about the Mets, and one can say a lot of negative things, they are not a "moribund franchise." The Pittsburgh Pirates and their record seventeen losing seasons in a row - that's a moribund franchise. The Royals, Orioles and Nationals could fall into that category, and the Padres are heading there fast.

Even with an unprecedented wave of injuries, the Mets figure to go around 72-90, which means that just by getting healthier, they will do a lot better. How much better depends on what they do to replace Carlos Delgado's bat in the lineup, since he is the one injured player who does not figure to return. It is probably also necessary to assume that, between John Maine and Oliver Perez, at least one of them will not live up to the expectations going into this season.

So the Mets need a cleanup hitter, a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher and a return to health to get back to where they were the last few years - a contending team.

Would the Mets be championship caliber? Unlikely. Would they be flawed? Yes. Would they have organizational issues? Sure. But the notion expressed in Stark's column that the Mets have no choice but to rebuild is not true.

According to the anonymous scouts that Stark quotes, the Mets need a lot more than one pitcher and one hitter, and they are right, they could use a catcher, another corner outfielder, another starter and a lefty reliever. But that is to get the Mets to championship level. What's wrong with getting the Mets back to the 85-90 win level, then saying that all they need is a couple more pieces to compete for the title?

Instead, Stark feels that the Mets need to blow things up by trading a star such as Jose Reyes. Now one can make a case for trading Reyes, though you would rather do it when his value is a lot higher than when he is coming off of an injury-plagued season in which the health of his legs is back in question.

But if you are going to trade Reyes, you do not do it for the reasons expressed in Stark's article:

To be a truly great team, said one scout, "you need grinders, not stars. And the Mets have been All-Stars and no grinders."

So the logical solution is: Trade one or two of those stars.

No, that is not logical at all. You need stars AND grinders. The 1986 Mets might not have won without Wally Backman and Lenny Dykstra, but would they have won if they had acquired them in a trade for Darryl Strawberry?

Gammons' column is much more realistic. He says that the Mets need "one quality starting pitcher," "one catcher" and "one corner bat." Still a tall order, but a lot different from rebuilding a moribund franchise.

But where Gammons does agree with Stark, and, I would imagine, most fans, is that the Mets need some sort of major organizational change. Gammons writes:
...here is some advice for the Wilpons: Hire a really strong, competent, forceful CEO with a widespread understanding of the business, development and people.
And here is Gammons' first assignment for that CEO:
1. They will not allow the commissioner's office to determine whom they draft, and use their market and SNY television network advantage to acquire talent through the draft and the international stage.
The fact is that the Mets are not that far away from contention because you can buy your way into contention, and over the last few years, Omar Minaya has done just that. But to make yourself a winner requires also building a strong farm system.

Starks quotes Minaya as claiming to be the right man for the job:

"I think it's a challenge," he said. "But I've dealt with challenges before. I had to build the Montreal Expos situation from scratch [after MLB took over the club]. That was a challenge."

Minaya did help make the Expos a winning team in 2002 - by bankrupting his farm system by trading future stars Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips for Bartolo Colon in midseason. A little over six months later, he traded Colon away for a package featuring Orlando Hernandez.

Minaya has claimed in the past that he traded away the jewels of the Expos farm system for a half-year rental of Colon because it appeared the franchise was about to be disbanded. But even if that is true, it makes Minaya's Expos' experience even less relevant as to whether he can build a championship team in New York.

The only good thing about Minaya's Colon trade in 2002 is that it might be keeping the Mets out of last place today. If the Expos-turned-Nationals still had those players, or had gotten much better value for them, Washington might be a team on the rise, instead of a moribund franchise.

The Mets are not a moribund franchise, not as of now. But the quickest way to get there is to trade Reyes, and to let Minaya be the one to make that trade.


Jonmouk71 said...

The truth is not "out there" but it is somewhere in-between Stark and Gammons. This next year's free agent class for pitchers is mediocre at best (no CCs or Burnetts available, as Cashman could rebuild with) so the Mets may have no choice but to trade. As to the bats needed to help, unless the Mets are willing to pay $$$ for a significant number of years, who comes to Citi for one or two years to see their power numbers drop off? Gammons also says nothing about ATTITUDE. The Mets can have all the talent in the world but they already folded a couple of times, quit on one manager, and I saw no one rushing back to help, save Santana who gutted it out with a bad elbow.

Jorge Says No! said...

I'll tell you this much: it makes no sense for the Mets to trade Jose Reyes now....his trade value is at its absolute lowest....

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