The Big C: There’s no need for Wright to be the “Official Captain”

Yesterday, Terry Collins told reporters that his third baseman David Wright need not wear a “C” on his jersey, citing Derek Jeter as an example as someone who just implicitly acts as his team’s leader without all the fanfare of having some extra stitching on his uniform.

This is his team. He’s the face of it. He’s the captain.

To me, that’s the beginning, middle, and end of the discussion. For the sake of not hitting submit right away, here’s a little more discussion anyhow. 

Over the past 9 years, we’ve all watched as David Wright’s grown up on the baseball field. There were ups, there were downs, and there were those times when he’d get all up in Mike Pelfrey’s business (for example).

Outside of the 2011 season when David had injuries to contend with, he’s been the picture of consistency. He says all the right things after every single game, regardless of which of the W/L columns it was to be filed under. He’s always the first one to run out of the dugout while the PA announcer at Citi Field introduces the squad. Those are all things that a captain does. If you’re a fan of the Mets, and certainly if you’re a member of the Mets, you already knew all of this. But it bears repeating anyway: David Wright is the captain of the New York Mets.

Look, if all parties involved decide that, yes, let’s go ahead and slap that “C” on the guy’s chest, then so be it. I would not object, and honestly? I’d probably get a little thrill out of seeing it for the first time, myself. It’s been a while since John Franco was around, after all. As it is now though, it’s my opinion that they just save the trouble of stitching it onto his uniform. It’s far from a crucial thing to do.

Now, if we can get past calling him the “Mets’ Jeter” so that one day some other fanbase can call one of their key players “this team’s David Wright,” or better still, Mets fans call someone “this generation’s David Wright,” I’d really be happy.

A Reminder to Believe

I rarely have trouble believing. 

But with the Mets, particularly in the last couple years, reasons to validate those beliefs have been few and far between. Not that believing needs validation—the funny thing about faith is that it needs no justification—but it’s nice every once in a while. Otherwise, us fans might go and build a golden calf or something. 

The start to this season is has been an uplifting moment, reminding me why I believe. Whether the Mets finish 162-0 or 4-158, stretches like these are a taste of the deliciousness of fandom. 

And what’s best about the 4-0 start is how it is so antithetical to the pessimistic same-‘ole-Mets narrative that grows louder seemingly every season. 

Let’s take a game-by-game look at the Mets four wins to start the season: 

  • Game 1: Mets 1, Braves 0 - In his first start in over a season, Johan Santana throws five shutout innings, but leaves the game without a lead. Classic Mets, not giving Santana run support and ruining a day that should have been his glorious comeback. David Wright goes hitless in his first two at bats. Same ‘ole Mets, same ‘ole Wright of the last couple seasons. But wait—Wright notches an RBI single in the next inning, giving the team a 1-0 lead. The Mets have nowhere near good enough a bullpen to maintain a 1-0 lead, it’s just a matter of time until they blow it. Four relievers, three of whom were newly acquired in the off-season, combine to allow two hits and zero runs as the Mets win on opening day. 
  • Game 2: Mets 4, Braves 2 -No way the Mets can keep this up. The offense just isn’t good enough. Who cares about moving the walls in, this team just doesn’t have any power. Lucas Duda went hitless in the opener and isn’t actually a MLB hitter. Wright might have gone 2-for-4 in the opener, but as Keith Hernandez always says, Wright is only at his best when he’s going the opposite way and his RBI single was to left field. First inning, Wright homers the opposite way to right field. Fourth inning, Duda homers. Seventh inning, Duda homers again. Only one of the two jacks would have gone out at the old Citi Field. After R.A. Dickey allows just two runs in six innings, and the bullpen combines for three scoreless frames to make the Mets 2-0. 
  • Game 3: Mets 7, Braves 5OK, this has been nice but sweeping the hated Braves to start the season? Laughable. And is Ruben Tejada seriously going to lead off? That dude looks like he belongs more in the nine slot. Through six innings the Mets led 7-0. Unlike last game where they were carried by the longball, the Mets rally for all their runs, led by a 4-for-5 performance from Tejada in which he hits two doubles, registering two RBI and runs scored. And through six innings, Jon Niese has a no hitter going. It gets broken up in the seventh and after two unearned runs, and the Braves rally themselves back into the ballgame, down just 7-5 after eight innings. Classic Mets, pitcher takes a no-no into the 7th inning and we’re not even going to give him the win. The bullpen finally decides to blow a game, and it’s after a no-hit bid. Of course. Like the previous two games, Frank Francisco tosses a scoreless ninth while striking out the last batter he faces, giving the Mets a 3-0 start.
  • Game 4: Mets 4, Nationals 3 - Mike Pelfrey on the mound? The question isn’t winning or losing, it’s losing by how much. Pelfrey allows a run in the first inning and two more in the third, giving the Nats an early 3-0 lead. Told ya so! Just wait for the wheels to REALLY fall off. The Mets tack one on in the third and rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis launches a bomb in the fourth, knotting the game up. Oh of course, tie this game up just to give us hope and break our hearts. The Mets WOULD do that. Pelfrey regains his composure, and grinds out more scoreless ball through 5.2, while the bullpen picks it up without allowing a hit for the remainder of the game. Daniel Murphy knocks home an RBI single in the ninth to a chorus of “undefeated” chants at Citi Field as the Mets move to 4-0. 

Now, the italics there, that wasn’t me. I’m not the self-loathing type. I wouldn’t be a fan, particularly of the Mets, if I didn’t have the capacity for irrational optimism. 

Those italics, however, are the narrative of what some people usually assign to the Mets. Maybe fans don’t actually do that and it’s just people on the radio but you hear it over and over again—same ‘ole Mets.

Everything the Mets could have done to shake our hope and keep us from believing in these first four contests, they have done the opposite. 

I’ve always remembered to believe, but these four games made me remember why. 

David Wright is One Crafty Little Bugger

oldtimefamilybaseball:

Oh yeah, just the ole fake to first, run down the very fast baseballer and tag him out move. Yeah, seen it a hundred times. 

If you sped this up and looped it, you could almost hear Yakity Sax in your head. Just awesome. Sorry Maybin.

David Wright, Shortstop (via @MatthewKnell)

David Wright, Shortstop (via @MatthewKnell)

End of an Era?

Mets fans, this may be a special week. A sad week.

No, not because the childhoods of many feel a void without a Harry Potter movie to look to in the future. But, this in some sense is the end. The end of The New Mets.

The Mets trotted out a sad lineup yesterday, that included none of Jose Reyes (hamstring), Carlos Beltran (flu) and David Wright (back). The first two are expected to be back today, while rumors have been that depend on how the rest of the week goes, Wright could be back as early as Friday.

Friday is July 22nd. The trade deadline is July 31st.

The Mets play a game every day in that span. Soak it in, or at least I’m going to, because depending on how those games go and whether or not the Mets make a surprising run and convince the front office they’re contenders, it looks like Beltran can (and probably should) be traded.

It’s sad, it really is. With Beltran’s signing came a wave of optimism. He wasn’t just an All-Star centerfielder, he was a vision and hope for this organization’s future. He said it himself in his introductory press conference. He wanted to be a part of the “New Mets.”

2006 was, indeed, new. Although it ended prematurely in the NLCS, it was magical. The craziest part of it was that when it was over, Mets fans seemed to look at each other and say, “Oh well. At least this is the sort of team that will be making it this far for the next five years, we can wait.”

Wait we did, wait we have, but obviously these last five years weren’t what at least I envisioned after watching Beltran buckle at Adam Wainwright’s curveball. Two collapses and two middling seasons later, the Mets haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 and are now preparing to say goodbye to the centerfielder who joined them along with an ethos of optimism and confidence.

It’s weird to think that these next few days could be the last time Wright, Reyes, and Beltran put on a uniform together. That optimism and that confidence have long since faded, but they still make up the famed “core” that everybody knew would eventually bring us a ring.

And sure, Beltran being traded is far from a foregone conclusion. If Sandy Alderson isn’t offered a decent return, I sense he’ll keep him for the season and maybe even consider resigning him. Because, if he’s not getting a decent return, then Beltran is being undervalued. The Mets front office is all about value.

So, maybe I’m just a fan clinging onto a long-since faded dream of optimism. Maybe the New Mets are now the Old Mets and romanticizing it is foolish. But, in the nine games from July 22 through July 30th, maybe something magical can happen.

Maybe they’ll win eight and recapture the hearts of Mets fans. Maybe they’ll win nine and move from sellers to contenders. A lot can change in a week. The New Mets have unfortunately been victims of that, rather than the victors in those situations. In 2006 - and even to some extent 2007 - the Mets sat as comfortably atop the NL East as the Phillies do today. The Phillies look insurmountable right now.

But, so did the Mets, we know how that turned out.

Yes, the odds are low, percentage points small and faith probably smaller. But when Wright, Reyes and Beltran put on a Mets uniform together - hopefully this Friday - I won’t be ready to call it the end of an era quite yet. At least until I watch all the games, enjoy every last moment of it, I’m not going to admit it is over, even if it seems like an inevitibility.

And then, there’s here’s to hoping they rekindle some of that magic…because as long as these three are still together…who knows…I sure don’t…but I can’t wait to find out…

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It’s About Time, Fred

Imagine this: An employer pays more than 90% of his competition for employees to ensure he gets the cream of the crop in terms of talent for his company. But for many years, the company not only tanks but is a public embarrassment for both its failures on and off the field. 

Finally, the boss of the company expresses some displeasure at the employees - employees he can’t fire because they have guaranteed contracts, some worth nearly $20 million annually. The same employees that have performed below expectations year after year. 

Holding them accountable?!? THE HORROR!

Clearly, in Jeffrey Toobin’s piece in The New Yorker - Mets’ owner Fred Wilpon upset some people. I’m going to assume you’ve read it, because if you’re a Mets fan and haven’t, you’ve lived under a rock the past couple days. Hopefully you have, because a great deal of the piece is about how Wilpon built himself and has nothing to do with what has created such controversy. If you haven’t, Matt Cerrone of Mets Blog put it most eloquently when he wrote, “Before you react emotionally to this ‘story’, read the full 22-page article. Otherwise, you’re just reacting to the reaction.”

A disclaimer: the only comment I whole-heartedly disapprove of is what he said about Beltran, saying, “He’s sixty-five to seventy per cent of what he was.” Was he worth the $119-million? Probably not, but a player doesn’t get better by you paying him more. Beltran has fought back valiantly from injury, graciously accepted a position change and has been great this year. Saying that was disrespectful of his effort, and only hurt his inevitable trade value. Bad on all accounts. 

But the rest of the comments? What was so wrong? 

The two that people have primarily focused on have to do with Jose Reyes and David Wright. 

Beginning with the one on Wright, he said, “A really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar.” What is wrong about what he said there? Should Wright be pissed off? Absolutely, but maybe that’s the point. He is a great “kid.” His willingness to champion and be the face of a struggling franchise is admirable. His classiness and acceptance of responsibility with the media is unwavering. But has he been a superstar? In 2009, Citi Field’s first season, he only hit 9 home runs. Last year, he hit 29, but he also struck out 161 times, compared to 140 times the year before and only 118 times in ‘08. Prior to going onto the DL recently with a back injury, he began this albeit young season hitting .226 with a high K-rate and six home runs. Is that the production of a superstar? Is that the consistency of a superstar? Are those the numbers of somebody you build a team around? No. He certainly has that potential, and maybe he needed to be called out to find it. 

In terms of Reyes, Wilpon said, “He thinks he’s going to get Carl Crawford money…He won’t get it.” Crawford signed a seven-year, $142 million deal with the Red Sox. And you know what? If Reyes gets that type of contract, it sure has hell shouldn’t be from the Mets. I’m in favor of trying to resign him, and not trading him as I’ve written here at Hot Foot, but that type of contract? Absurd. Coming off the Omar Minaya years in which he was very buddy-buddy with players and clearly signed too many large contracts, people are upset with him for expressing a sentiment of fiscal responsibility for the team? Preposterous! It wasn’t tactful, but it was also right. 

Finally, aside from the comments on Beltran, Wright and Reyes, Wilpon called the Mets a “shitty team.” Is this anything but true? 

If you don’t agree with any of this, let’s think about if Wilpon said different things, on other sides of the spectrum from what he said:

  • The Mets are a shitty good team. Wouldn’t it be a problem if he thought this type of performance were good? I want an owner who thinks this is shitty, because frankly it is. I’m tired of it. 
  • Wright is not a superstar. A superstar is a player you can build a team around, and have as the face of the franchise. He’s definitely filled the latter role, but the former? His play has been very good, not great as Wilpon said. He has more potential, and has not played at a superstar level. It’s good that he was called out on it, because maybe it’ll light a fire. 
  • Reyes is not going to get a Crawford like contract. Do we want another set of years where we overpay players? Where we sign contracts like we did with Perez, Castillo, Beltran, and Santana that limit us financially? Maybe it pissed Reyes off, but I doubt it affected Alderson’s plans for what he plans to do with Reyes. We don’t know what that plan is, but I’m glad it doesn’t involve paying the man that much.

Ultimately, especially with the SI story coming out this week about the Mets hemmorhaging money, we don’t even know if Wilpon will own the team in the near future (though I personally suspect they will). But are we really just upset that he let his guard down for a moment and said things that were unsaid for too long? 

Maybe this is all like the movie Major League. In case you’re unfamiliar with arguably the funniest baseball movie of all-time, owner Rachel Phelps cuts cost and treats her team like crap, ultimately motivating the rag-tag group of players make it to the playoffs, against all odds.

Little known to most fans, there was an alternate ending in which she tells the manager, Lou Brown, that she wasn’t cutting costs just to treat the team like crap, but did so because the team was on the brink of bankruptcy. She was so mean in order to motivate them. Sound familiar, and can a fan dream? 

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Say Goodbye to Wright and Santana Too?

If Jose Reyes isn’t on the Mets next season, leaving via free agency or traded for prospects, the front office should seriously consider getting rid of David Wright, Johan Santana, and others too.

Let’s take a step back.

Four weeks ago, I dished out my thoughts on the merits of trading vs. keeping Jose Reyes. In case you don’t feel like rereading it, the point – in short – was that unless they are blown away with a package of prospects, Reyes is the sort of luxury a big budget team like the Mets can afford to have, even if he is inevitably going to be overpaid.

This is the sequel to that, in which I’ll discuss what the team should do iff (if and only if) they trade Reyes or let him walk; I’m not advocating that course of action, I’m explaining its consequences. I think this is the type of sequel like The Dark Knight was to Batman Begins, so even though it’s far more grim (even I can’t believe I’m trying to logically explain why in some scenario it might make sense for three of my favorite players to wear different uniforms), and probably slightly too long, you’re happy for having read it because it brings up some interesting ideas.

To me, losing Reyes whether it is via trade or free agency is a signal that the Mets are entering a rebuilding mode. Not just rebuilding for another year, but for two or three. Over the long run, the $15 million or so that would be spent on the dynamic shortstop annually could definitely be spent better: on the draft, farm system, better starting pitching and so forth.

Those benefits, while very real, are only tangible beginning a few years from now, not in 2012 or 2013. And, over these next years, the approximated $15 million can’t be spent much better – an exciting, homegrown talent whose athleticism lends itself to a large ballpark like Citi Field both offensively and defensively is far preferable to whatever that same money buys in terms of free agents.

Thus, it seems to me that getting rid of Reyes is an indication the team will not be a serious playoff contender over the next couple seasons. And, if we’re not winning in 2012 or 2013, why hold onto and pay Wright and Santana?

Johan Santana is currently 32. Next year and the year after - the last years of his contract before the team has a $5.5 million buyout of his $25 million option in 2014 - are probably the two best years left of his career after he spends the rest of this season recovering and building strength back up from rotator cuff surgery. It’s an unsure process that will probably make him untradeable at this deadline, but this off-season? It’s worth finding out. Nobody will want to pay him his full salary over the next couple seasons, but if the Mets are willing to eat some of that contract I’d bet the buyers will be plentiful.  

Come this off-season, Wright will turn 29. A few years down the road, his best years will start be behind him. His swing has clearly been affected by the pressure of hitting home runs in large confines of Citi Field and while his heart, dedication and willingness to be the face of a struggling franchise are beyond admirable it really seems like he could benefit from some sort of change, perhaps one of scenery.

I guess my idea is, if we’re going to rebuild: why half-ass it?

The core of Reyes-Wright-Santana was built to be at its best through the length of Santana’s contract, give or take a year or two depending on when the players start hitting their decline. If they commit to dismantling that by rebuilding and letting Reyes go, they’ll have a tough time winning next year and the year after, though I can’t say exactly what Sandy Alderson has planned. Maybe he has some tricks up his sleeve that makes all of this moot, but we’ll see. 

In the years after that, Santana and Wright (less so, but still to a significant degree) will not be part of the future winning solution. So, in this scenario, wouldn’t it make sense to trade all of them and get value while they can? And be locked and loaded around Ike Davis, Jon Niese and a farm system that has been infused with young talent from the trades, the existing talent and improved draft strategy under the careful management of Alderson and his crew? It’s heart-breaking to admit, but it might be true. 

But, all things being considered, I still hope they hold onto Reyes. 

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: So Long, Frenchy

The Good

Who even cares who he was traded for (Joaquin Arias by the way)? Jeff Francoeur was a guy who was… let’s say, marketable… so that he was forced into the lineup most days to go a typical 0-4 with 2 strikeouts. I hope he moved a ton of Metro PCS phones because the guy was hitting .236 with an OBP of .293 in a lineup that already strikes out way too much. He’s a fourth outfielder with a decent power threat off the bench. That’s what he is. As soon as the team started to figure that out - when Carlos Beltran returned - he started crowing about not playing every day. What happened to that rah rah team attitude?

The Bad

While he was playing every day, sure, he was a good clubhouse guy for whatever that’s actually worth. He took some pressure off of other guys like David Wright after games with the media, so there’s that, right? Honestly, he seemed like a good guy, so I’m guessing that some in the Mets clubhouse will miss him. Too bad being funny doesn’t translate to not 3 strikeouts a night.

The Ugly

Oh good lord, everybody has to stop eulogizing the guy. After about 5 minutes this trade should already be an old story, but wow is it far from that. We’ve got beat writers on Twitter pathetically using #freefrenchy in their posts. It’s pretty sad. If I didn’t know better I’d think these writers fell romantically in love with Frenchy, and just can’t handle watching him go. I’m pretty sure everybody needs to take a breath and realize: guy’s a fourth outfielder. I’m going to preemptively beg: Please don’t say that the Mets will miss his grittiness, because last I checked the team has so far gritted its way to 2 games under .500 with 30 games to go. Besides, Angel Pagan is plenty gritty, and actually has useful talent. Bonkers!

So Long, Frenchy. I’m going to miss your flailing swings at pitches on their way to the backstop.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: August 9

The Good

There isn’t much that I’d define as “good,” but how about we go with “encouraging” instead? Let’s apply that to the fact that General Manager Omar Minaya has decided to infuse a touch of youth onto the roster. I don’t know if there’s anybody who doesn’t like Alex Cora, but we all know he wasn’t going to start the amount of games necessary for his vesting option to kick in, and he wasn’t very effective anyway. Jesus Feliciano is a guy who I’ve never seen swing so hard to hit a ball 6 feet in front of him. The Mets welcomed Ruben Tejada and Fernando Martinez back to the Majors, and Luis Castillo has been delegated to a bench role. Is this the answer? No. But it is encouraging that some young guys are here to play.

The Bad

Can anybody answer what the hell’s going on with Mike Pelfrey? Anybody? Bueller? I remember how, after a month of a half into the season, Small Pelf was a part of early Cy Young and All-Star game discussions. Any discussion concerning Pelfrey now pretty much always starts with “I don’t know…” Why? He’s a guy with all the talent in the world, and clearly has the ability to be an extremely effective pitcher. His fall from grace this year has been nothing short of alarming, and if the Mets are going to at the very least make the last two months of the season remotely interesting, they need him to return to form.

Other problems with the team pretty much all concern the heart of the order. I’m talking about Carlos Beltran, David Wright, and Ike Davis. This trio are 11-62 over the last week, with Ike responsible for 6 of those hits. Together, they have 3 RBI. If you’re head didn’t just completely explode, and I hope it hasn’t, you’re probably thinking that that is completely unacceptable. Because it is.

The Ugly

Jose Reyes has been absolutely brutal with the glove - and more confusingly, his arm - last week. The only thing that’s worse than Reyes making an error is the fact that it seems as if it always leads to at least a run, and usually more.

Someone needs to teach Jerry Manuel how to use a bullpen. After walking Chipper Jones in the Mike Pelfrey game, why he was left in to pitch to Brian McCann, who already had 2 hits on the day, is beyond me. How about leaving him in long enough to hit a batter with the bases loaded to force in a run? The only thing I’ve been able to say whenever the manager makes a mistake like that is: “Oh, Jerry.”

Then, there’s this: