For the fan in enemy territory

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Two Mets, One Question. HGH?

There is an interesting topic brewing in spring training. A revisit of an old topic that just will not go away. The use of performance enhancing drugs. Every spring, it seems as if this question is raised or brought up. Whenever a player comes into camp, trimmer or more muscular, they are said to be 'in better shape'. In the back of everyone's collective mind, however, it is pondered. Last season it was Alex Rodriguez facing a whirlwind of media. Who's under the microscope now? Two leaders of the New York Mets, David Wright and Jose Reyes.

First, let's discuss Jose Reyes. Reyes has been involved in a public relations nightmare involving a Canadian doctor, Dr. Anthony Galea.

"A lot of people talked about (Galea)," Reyes said. "I wanted to come back so bad to the field to play, so I say, 'Why not? Let's try this guy and see if he can fix me.' "

Dr. Galea has ties to such prominent athletes as Tiger Woods, Dana Torres and former Mets player Carlos Delgado. He is currently being investigated for his practices and anyone noteworthy, that he has treated will be questioned by federal agents. Unfortunately, Reyes finds himself in that position. While it is not known at this time what was asked or his statements, what is known is that Reyes, currently is not under investigation.

On the other end of the spectrum is, the player who is the face of this franchise, David Wright. Wright showed up to spring training earlier this week in the best shape of his career. He is leaner and more muscular. The first items on the agenda to be addressed was HGH. He quickly dismissed it, citing his upbringing.

"Obviously I was raised in a way that it's not even an option. More importantly, it's not an option for me," says Wright.

However, the fact that he had to answer any questions like that at all is the real story. We now live in an age where we can't trust our heroes. It is a sad time to be a fan. When cheering a home run, one can't help to question it now. The innocence is gone. We are no longer naive, we are tainted as are the records that we watched fall. We no longer view the world in the same way. We have lost the joy of the game. It is that we should be concerned over, not the athlete whom we feel has slighted us. It is that we should be angry for, nothing else.

These athletes who have caused such harm and the distributors with them, were only responding to a human emotion. Pride. Perhaps survival as well, but they were only trying to hold on to what they had or rise above where they were. In that vein, can you we truly blame them for cheating? I'm sure the average fan will scream 'yes', but that average fan is not in their shoes. That average fan doesn't face the pressures they face.

I was always told not to point a finger, because there are three pointing back. When did we forget that as a country? I believe the suppliers and the distributors are much more to blame for the destruction of our innocence. However, now that we are no longer naive, we will question. When we do question, no one is safe. Everyone is held accountable, and should be, but I miss the days when players can show up to spring training 'in better shape'.

Wright ok with power outage

David Wright has two Gold Glove awards. He has all star appearances. He even has the 'captain' status on a major sports franchise in New York. He seemingly has everything. That everything includes a power outage in his teams' new ballpark. We've all been through this, I know, but the numbers don't lie. Allow me to briefly visit this topic in light of a recent interview David Wright has given. Since he broke into the league in 2004, he has not had a full season of less than 26 home runs or 100 rbi's until last year. He had a career high in season strikeouts with 140 and career low in season hits with 164.

This could just be one bad year. Let's hope so, after all every major player has a bad year or two. We don't have to look too far for an example of this. For all of the slack that Carlos Beltran has had recently, he has been a very productive player, not only for the Mets, but in his career. Beltran has had only three full seasons of less than 20 home runs. Two of them occurred while injured, one of which was last year. The other was directly after signing a major contract and having to adjust to the media jungle that is New York. He bounced back to have a monster year after that.

I'm not comparing the two players, merely pointing out an important factor. It's how you bounce back from that bad year that defines the type of player that you are. I hear the words 'blue collar' and 'hard nosed' being thrown around about Wright. The word I don't hear is tenacious. That is different than 'hard working'. Of course, tenacity can lead to hard work and then to success, which may be the case here. The truth is no one except Wright himself knows how much work he puts in. However, judging by the shape he is in, it's probably safe to say that he puts in more than the average player. That is almost a requirement for an athlete who wants to be great. This is promising, however, the attitude may be up for debate.

When a player says that he will not adjust to his surroundings, that can be troubling. The surroundings can make or break a player's career. A case in point, Dante Bichette. He never had a season of more than 15 home runs before he went to Colorado. During his time there, he never had a season under 21. After he left, he had only one good season, and even that year he didn't break 100 rbi's. In other words, Coors Field made him and not having Coors Field broke him. Imagine if Mike Piazza hit at Coors Field for his career, he'd be in the top 5 all time home run list. On the other end of the spectrum the name Tony Gwynn Sr. comes to my mind. He spent his entire career playing for the same team and in two pitchers parks. He adjusted his game to the environment. He had 8 seasons of more than 195 hits and never once had more than 17 home runs and only one year with more than 100 rbi's.

I am by no means saying that Wright is like Gwynn or Bichette for that matter, but you have to accept your surroundings and adjust accordingly with an open mind. Players can't just say 'so be it'. They have to be aggressive, on the attack. That is the nature of sports. Sports is competition. If Wright spends more time working on proper perspective and less time talking, he may just bounce back. The Mets need a bounce back year from him, since the departure of Delgado and the injury to Beltran have caused obvious holes in the lineup. Jason Bay will help, but he is not the hitter with the most potential in this lineup. That award goes to Jose Reyes.

Reyes is a spark plug, but he is not the leader of the ball club. David Wright is the leader and he must act like the leader. Leaders must lead by not only example, but attitude and sometimes words. As long as those words are timed well and spoken articulately, unlike his offseason comments. Therefore, he must lead properly. If he does, he could lead this team for many years to many good things.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The second coming? Let's wait a while....

Every so many years, a player comes along for a franchise, that is hyped up so much that they inevitably will let them down. For every young phenom and natural hitter that develops into anything resembling an everyday player, there are thousands of others who burn out long before they're due. Every franchise has them. The New York Mets usually trade them away or bring them up too early and shatter their confidence. The latest prospect on this always growing list is Jenrry Mejia.

Mejia is the latest in a long line to wow the owners and baseball people alike. It seems like every season, these players show up, get too much attention, and fizzle under the spotlight. Does the name Alex Escobar come to mind? Perhaps, Scott Kazmir? Does anyone remember the Mets big three that was supposed to answer the 90's Atlanta Braves? Pulsipher, Wilson and Izzy? What happened to them? They were rushed into stardem and struggled with arm issues, injury issues or confidence issues. I can think of countless names that were traded away before they hit their stride and countless more who never hit that stride.

Almost every spring training, there is a comparison to a well known pitcher or player. Kazmir was the next Roger Clemens, Escobar was the next A-Rod. Fernando Martinez is supposed to be the next 5 tool stud. Now, Mejia is the next Dwight Gooden. I would be interested to see what Dr. K thinks about that. He's down there, maybe someone will ask him. Probably not. Okay, okay. Maybe the kid has a 95 plus mph fastball, but that doesn't make him the second coming. Does it? Is this fansbse so starved for a homegrown ace that we are ready to draw comparisons based on a spring training, team workout, batting practice? Really? Seriously? This franchise has had many good pitchers, and players for that matter, and many more traded away, half of them to National League rivals like San Diego, Washington and Florida. Even more traded to the American League, which might be better.

Players such as Lastings Milledge, Carlos Gomez, Justin Huber and all of those previously mentioned are just the tip of the busted farm system iceberg. Many supposed experts claim that the Mets farm system is weak at best, but the scouting over the years has been outstanding. It still is. We live in a success happy world and we root for a team who plays in the capital city of that world. If our teams don't win, they must trade away future talent for present success. The other scenario that plays out is, the home grown talent gets rushed up because of the rush for success, and therefore never truly adjusts and never truly succeeds. If other ball clubs had done this to their talented players, we might have a Joe Mauer or an Albert Pujols, but we wouldn't have a Ryan Braun or a Jason Bay.

These players need time to develop, not instant fame and success. They need patience and baseball nuturing. I hope, as a Mets fan, Mejia pans out. I hope he is every inch as good as the baseball people say that he is and that he performs like it, for many years to come, in Queens. I only ask of the fans and the franchise to be patient with him. If the team is out of the hunt by July again, don't start with the Ike Davis, Josh Thole and Mejia talk. They have the rest of their lives to celebrate their accomplishments, if they take the next few years to hone their skills. If they do, the Mets fans will have another few years to celebrate glory until the next Jenrry Mejia comes along by 2020.

Mets may land Beimel for beleagered bullpen

In a recent post, on this blog and on, I reported that the New York Mets were considering adding depth to their bullpen. They had reached out to Ron Mahay and Joe Beimel for additional help to a rapidly deteriorating area of the roster. First, came the news that Kelvim Escobar has a weak arm, and then the story of K-Rod, mysteriously coming down with pink eye, that took the training staff several days to finally diagnose.

In light of these events, the Mets offered a contract to Joe Beimel. The specifics of the contract were not made available and probably will not be until after it is finalized. If it is finalized. Beimel is said to be considering the offer. However, at this point of the offseason, his phone may not be ringing off of the hook, so he probably will take it. If so, he will join an odd collection of pitchers to round out the group that will hand the ball off to K-Rod.

The seasoned veteran of this group has to be Pedro Feliciano. He is the premier lefty in the bullpen and the resident Philly killer. He needs help, however, so this is where Beimel will come in. Then, throw in Bobby Parnell, the young and unseasoned gun. Follow him with the unhealthy veterans Sean Green and Kelvim Escobar, who will most likely be on the DL by July, and the untested Ryoda Igarashi. They may have a competition for the mop up role, but it should go to Nelson Figueroa. Finally, the closer, who is currently one of the best in the game, Francisco Rodriguez. He is the definition of a closer. He has electric stuff and a chip on his shoulder. He gets the job done.

All in all, they could be an outstanding bullpen, if they are healthy and pitch up to form. The bullpen could be one of the greatest strengths on this team. This is what Joe Beimel will be joining, should he decide to accept the offer currently on the table. If the rest of the team were one player away too, this could be a magical season. Alas, they are far more than one player away, they are about five or six players away from greatness. Still, it's not a bad bullpen to join, Joe.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

In the game of life, Barajas may be a pawn

The past few days, a major story in spring training has been the signing and eventual arrival of Rod Barajas. The past few months have been sparked by a flurry of activity in the New York Mets front office, concerning addressing the need of a catcher. They signed multiple players for that position. It began with the acquisitions of Chris Coste, who declared himself a lifelong Philadelphia Phillie and Henry Blanco on the same day. This was followed by the courting of Benjie Molina for a month or so, before he eventually decided against New York in favor of staying where he knows in San Francisco. Then they add Shawn Riggans a few months later and Barajas just days after that. All of this swarm of transactions have me missing the days of Mike Piazza, of stability in the lineup and the position. How has this franchise that has had so many great catchers get into this predicament?

For now, the biggest problem with the activity I can see, is where does Omir Santos fit? Omir Santos was a spark plug for a dying automobile last season. This is how the franchise that took a chance on him and was so pleased by his eventual output rewards him? The answers are unclear, but most likely he will not be in the majors and not grooming the other catcher I haven’t mentioned yet, Josh Thole. It is, by now, no secret that Thole is in the long term plans for the organization. The same organization that had previously stated that Santos was their man. They proclaimed him the starter for 2010 and were ready to go from there, but something happened on the way to opening day.

The Philadelphia Phillies made a huge splash in the market by trading their ace Cliff Lee for the league’s ace Roy Halladay in a multiple team deal. It has not been mentioned much thus far, so allow me to do so. Rod Barajas spent the last two season as the Toronto Blue Jays starting catcher. He caught for Roy Halladay for two years. He knows him. He knows him very well. He knows what pitches he likes to throw and in what counts. He knows the movement of those pitches. This is all useful information in a 162 game season, where 19 of those are head to head with a rival that has won the World Series and been to the last two. Baseball is a business, but it is also strategy. We always talk about the moves and reaction moves between the Yankees and the Red Sox every off season and midseason. It is the stuff of legends, but perhaps we have our own National League version brewing.

The business of baseball can be ugly at times, but is necessary. It helps keep parity. Last season, for example, when the Atlanta Braves traded for Ryan Church, Church said he would gladly divulge all information he could about his former team, the Mets to his new team, a division rival. Perhaps, although it has not been mentioned and probably won’t be, Barajas was acquired as a response move to the Phillies trading for Halladay. It could be another move in the continuing chess match between the two ball clubs, this time with Barajas being the newly acquired pawn and for the Mets, hopefully checkmate.

Paging Dr K., you're needed in Florida

Every spring, like many other teams, the New York Mets parade a series of old timers in Port St. Lucie in an attempt to mentor the younger players on their current roster. In years past, we’ve seen the likes of Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, etc.

Now, this season can be officially considered another trip in the time machine. Let’s set our dials back to a time when things were good in Queens and New York was an undisputed Mets town. Let’s take a time warp back to 1986. That’s exactly what the franchise is doing, after news today, that yet another former member of the ‘86 team is being beckoned by the organization for the specific purpose of mentoring.

The New York Mets have asked Dwight Gooden to be a spring training adviser to the team, and share with the players his knowledge and his experiences in the hope that they can properly adjust to life in the big city. Add to the list that already is a reuniting of bad guys that won, including Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, Mookie Wilson, and Tim Teufel. This collection of Mets heroes is wonderful for the fan to reminisce over, but may not be a factor in the current clubhouse.

The truth is, some of these current players were either too young to know these former Mets, or they didn’t follow the Mets, so these names don’t spark any emotion in them. Perhaps it may help David Wright, who grew up an avid Mets fan. Can you honestly say that Jason Bay, who was born and raised in Canada, has heard of any of these players before the age of 17 or 18 when he was old enough to grasp a historical sense of the game? I don’t believe so. The majority of this team was born and raised far from this country and even more, this city. This cavalcade of old timers will not be effective enough for them. Only time will tell, but this attempt at mentoring may fall on deaf ears, and when it does, the apologies by some of these current players to the fans and management will too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Remembering when...King Kong and Terrific Tom

While searching around the web one night, I came across some interesting facts that two dates this week hold in New York Mets history. The first is February 24, 1966. On this date in Mets history, the Braves franchise signed a pitcher. That seems inconsequential to a Mets fan, however, the contract was voided, opening up the way for the New York Mets to draft and eventually sign Tom "Terrific" (The Franchise) Seaver. I’m sure that the people who will read this really don’t need a glimpse of who Tom Terrific is or the impact that he had on the franchise that is the Mets, but for those of you who have never heard of him, allow me to introduce you. First, though, what planet were you on for the last 40 years?

Tom Seaver is the New York Mets all time franchise leader in several categories including ; all time Wins, strikeouts, E.R.A., Games Started and W.H.I.P. to name a few of his accomplishments in the all time Mets categories. He also is the leader in such single season Mets history stats such as: Complete Games, Strikeouts and Innings Pitched. He lead a team of no name lovable losers from the depths of despair in the early years of the franchise to the miraculous glory of 1969. He is a winner and was a formidable presence on the mound and still is one in the clubhouse years after. I can’t begin to say how much I regret that he was before my time, There are not many pitchers that even belong in the same category as Tom Seaver, let alone should draw a comparison to him. He is an elite, with only a very few names. The world of baseball did him and Mets fans justice by placing him in his rightful place with those elite in Cooperstown. He deserves it. I just wish some of him would rub off a little on Mike Pelfrey.

The second date is Sunday February 28, 1975. On that day, 35 years ago, the New York Mets bought King Kong. That’s right Dave Kingman. The same Dave Kingman, who after two separate stints with the club, is fourth all time on the Mets homerun list with 154 of his 442 total career homeruns. The 154 with the Mets was more than he hit total for any of the other three teams he played for. He had 389 R.B.I’S and over 500 hits with the Mets in his 6 seasons in Queens. He was versatile, productive and twice acquired by the Mets on the same date in two separate seasons (1975 and 1981). He came from the same college as ‘the Franchise” Tom Seaver, USC. His last season with the Mets was, unfortunately I must say, my first watching them. I am sorry that I didn’t have the chance to watch him in Queens longer, but thanks to modern technology, there is always a place to go in order to see highlights or stats of both he and Seaver, if you really dig for them.

That is the beauty of the computer age, but that is a story for another blog entry. Fast forward 35 years to the current Mets roster, and you will see poor defense, undisciplined plate presence and a general lack of production. He is a throw back to a different age, an age where players understood the effort and hustle it takes to just be competitive. I’m not saying the current squad doesn’t give effort and hustle, but a little more could always help. Hopefully the players this year will heed the lessons learned from the barrage of old-timers parading into spring training. You never know when it may sink in and make them a contender.

The Mets are pitching for lefties

The New York Mets have unofficially announced that they are shopping for another lefty for the bullpen. This comes after word that the player with major league experience that they already signed for the bullpen, Kelvim Escobar, is complaining of a “weak arm”. The news of his arm status really doesn’t come as a surprise, however, given that Escobar was supposed to be the answer to the bullpen woes and replacement of J.J. Putz, it is troubling. The Mets sudden interest in Ron Mahay or Joe Beimel makes sense, but it is just like the Mets to be on the defensive. They make maneuvers based on not foresight, but hindsight. They have a player with some question marks, who they sign, and then when he goes down or doesn’t perform up to par, they go shopping. As opposed to just signing the free agent that doesn’t have question marks.

I’m not talking about injury replacements for healthy players, such as trading for a pitcher when Duaner Sanchez went down a few years ago. I’m not even referring to Gary Matthew Jr after Carlos Beltran decided to opt for surgery when most of the offseason behind him wasted away and only a month or so until reporting to Florida. The franchise makes this a every season scenario. They respond rather than attack. This is the mindset of a smaller market team, it is not supposed to be the mentality of a major sports franchise in one of the major cities, let alone the biggest city in the country. This conservative mindset on the free agent and trading market is a major reason the Mets have roster trouble and are one of the older ball clubs in the league. However, there are many more reasons, deeper organizational reasons, that the franchise as a whole is in disarray. It starts at the very top and reverberates all the way down through the franchise, from the owners to the peanut vendors.

There must be a change in this organization for the future to be brighter. I’m not suggesting different ownership, as I truly believe that the Wilpons, though clueless at times, do care about the team and the bigger picture. They may not always know or care what the average fan wants, but they do care about the health of the organization, their product, and the future of it. That is a good start, but my prediction is, despite what they promised Minaya and Manuel, if the team doesn’t get off to a good start, they may be shopping for new “baseball people”. That would be a good start.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Spring has begun for the evil empire

In the first week of spring training for the defending champion New York Yankees, the big names were starting to arrive and they brought their mouths with them. Mark Teixeira showed up ready to go and ready to talk. When asked of his expectation for the upcoming season he replied "We feel like we're just as capable of defending our championship as we were winning it last year," Teixeira said. "We have a great team with a core group of guys back." He and the rest of the team do have every reason to be confident, they are after all the defending champions. As a Mets fan I hate saying it, but you have to give the devil his due. They still have the best lineup, arguably, in the American League. Some would argue all of baseball, but I still think the Mets rival, the Phillies have a slightly better lineup than the Yankees, given the addition of Polanco and the small ballpark they play in.

The Yankees lost Matsui and Damon, yet still can overpower many, if not all of the teams in the A.L. including Boston and Tampa Bay. They added Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson to replace the holes in the lineup and added Javier Vazquez for further depth in the rotation. They also, still have the Captain, Derek Jeter, who is playing better than ever and in his prime. They have Alex Rodriguez, who is a perrenial MVP every season, with or without steroids. Add to that Teixeira and they have the potential to actually be even better than last year's explosion of offense. They have to be favored at the very least in their own division, I can't see anyone challenging them in the A.L. except for Boston in a playoff, Detroit, Anaheim or Seattle (don't laugh, the Mariners had an outstanding offseason and took talent away from their division rival Ananheim Angels in Chone Figgans and added great depth in the starting rotation). The Mariners will be a contender this year with all the speed and contact hitting at the top of their order with Figgans and Ichiro Suzuki.

I mentioned the Detroit Tigers a moment ago. A very interesting story was brewing out of Detroit today that has ramifications reaching far into New York. Johnny Damon, the same Johhny Damon who had played for and won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox, who joined the New York Yankees and stated how happy he was to be with such a winning organization (the hated rival of the Red Sox) has stated in a press conference with the Detroit Tigers that he wanted to be there all along. Really. This is a man who, at the prompting of his always overly greedy agent, Scott Boras, turned down a two year $14 million deal with the Yankees, who he just won a World Series with, and had to settle for a one year $8 million offer from the Tigers because the Yankees never gave him the payout he was promised by Boras. This is greed run amuck and now he is trying to save face with his new local media. How embarrassing. Johnny Damon needs to stop having press conferences and just focus on playing. He is after all, the one who, while in Boston, proclaimed himself an "idiot". Yes, Johnny you are.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Torture and timid optimism in Queens

This past weekend, New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon was asked of his thoughts on this past offseason? His response, in one word, "torture". “It was very, very difficult. You’ve heard the theme of you’ve gotta stay healthy. I’m very optimistic that they will, and I think that when you have very good and in some cases great players, it doesn’t necessarily translate into a great team. So I think that if they stay healthy, now our people have to translate that into a great team. That’s what my optimism is about, and what my hope is about.”

He went on to state that the moves or lack of moves that were made by his front office, were directed by their "baseball people". He has admitted that he didn't make the decisions himself to not sign one of the many available free agent starting pitchers. Earlier this offseason, Mets GM Omar Minaya had said in an interview that he was not in control of such decisions, that it was the owners who decided who to sign or not sign. So, Omar blames the inactivity on the owners, the owners blame it on their "baseball people", than one question remains. Who do the "baseball people" blame it on? If that can be answered by Fred or Jeff Wilpon, than perhaps the organization could have better direction.

On a similar note, Jason Bay, the only big splash the Mets scored this past offseason, showed up for spring training with just as much optimism. When asked of his thoughts on this years' squad, his reply was "I obviously knew their performance record-wise last year wasn't what people wanted, and I also understood there was a lot of injuries," Bay said. "But I couldn't really understand where all the animosity was coming from given the fact you look at the team ... that's a pretty good team. I thought I offered a fresh perspective as far as coming in as an outsider and being like 'I don't really get it.' Maybe that's good for me, coming in with a clean slate and seeing what I see."

Bay is coming in with a clean slate, this much is true. With the present optimism by players and brass alike, perhaps they are all on board with this years' team goals and such unity could cause a better outcome. The problem is that optimism doesn't cancel out execution and hard nosed play. That swagger that they had a few seasons ago that helped so much has now become a detriment unless properly utilized. It's not enough to be confident, they must execute and hustle. Only time will tell, but so far, this is a good sign that at the very least they are all on the same page.