The U Files #11: The Case of The Wayward Owner

The Mets are ever more looking like a mime "trapped in a box". Trapping themselves in a box of their own making and looking foolish trying to get out of it. They've stuck to a "win now" philosophy, at least in theory. In practice it's been a "won a bit then" philosophy well on it's way to a "won't win again" philosophy.

In the 2000 season, the Mets reached the World Series with a roster of mostly unspectacular veterans. The following offseason, they lost first baseman John Olerud to free agency. Immediately they signed Todd Ziele to replace Olie. This deal illustrates their lack of creativity and dependence on "proven veterans". To replace pitcher Mike Hampton, they signed Kevin Appier to a contract funkier than the pitcher's delivery.

When their team of expensive stopgaps stopped up over their own gaps in talent, Steve Phillips went mad. In a bewildering series of maniacal moves, the general manager picked up bad contracts belonging to crusty veterans in the guise of repairing the defective parts of his engine. When that failed, we can only assume he consoled himself with the preseason Rotisserie awards he won. It was manager Bobby Valentine who got hit when the axe inevitably fell.

What has become quite clear by now is that the entire theory behind the team's construction needs to be completely overhauled. The Mets shortsighted approach got them into an expensive bind, and continuing to weave their psychotic tapestry will only sink them deeper into the confusing maze. What the Mets need to do is cut their binding cords and regrow the team from the roots.

In dealing away their overpriced, underproducing veterans, the Mets only managed to acquire overpriced veterans contractually obliged to under produce for years further. The only way to relieve themselves of the burden is to wait until the contracts expire. However, owner Fred Wilpon seems to believe that bringing back the same tired players will produce negative results at the ticket office. He's right, but what he can't see is that he won't produce big sales until he can field a team cleansed of it's overpriced baggage, a fresh new team built around a young homegrown core. After all, this is the way the Mets can get back to a winning franchise. Unwilling to wait a few years until he can build a consistent winner, he's focused on finding old luggage that will carry it's own weight.

To rid themselves of Appier, they picked up the impressive girth of Mo Vaughn. Even Vaughn couldn't fit his contract into his wide belt, and for the Mets he did little more than wow fans with a 505-foot blast of a home run on June 26th. Taken from a paradise in Fenway Park and placed in the restrictive environs of Shea Stadium, his aged self did as little as could be reasonably expected. Fortunately or unfortunately, there may be no worse contract the Mets can exchange for his, so they seem to be stuck with him whether they like it or not. Wilpon has commanded Vaughn to lose weight in the hopes this may restore some measure of productiveness to the former slugger.

Rey Ordonez may be tradeable, if the Mets aren't bothered by the pathetic sum they can expect in return. Or, he can be packaged in another deal as a throw-in. The Mets have finally grown tired of the useless shortstop and have a shiny new replacement to slot in named Jose Reyes. The Mets shouldn't care who the stopgap is that they employ, as long as he's not Rey Ordonez. If it comes to it, they have Jorge Velandia, a cheap clone of Ordonez. He can fill in for a year and be disposed of once the golden child Reyes is ready to step up to the plate.

To replace Ziele, the Mets picked up Jeromy Burnitz and Jeff D'Amico in a three way trade. Burnitz was never the best suited hitter for Shea Stadium, being a pure swing-for-the-fences home run hitter whose power would be sapped by the dead air of Flushing Meadows. Still, more should have been reasonably expected than the season-long parade of strikeouts and popups that ensued. He may be tradeable on the premise that he can restore his former productivity in a new environment. However, such a deal would only bring back more baggage. Teams won't be willing to pick up so much salary to inherit a question. They'll balance the money coming in with money going out. A player with as much uncertainty as Burnitz won't net a player who produces numbers as big as his contract.

D'Amico completely bombed out as well, but he is a free agent this year.

Roger Cedeno was signed in one of the more mindless moves of the trading season. The speedster had had only one good year and never produced any power whatsoever. He did produce numbers even lower than would have been expected, though even a more normal season wouldn't have been worth the cost in draft picks. The Mets will seek to trade Cedeno, but will likely face the same problems as with trading Burnitz. Luckily, his contract is not as expensive as Burnitz'.

The roster the Mets have currently, or would likely have if they traded their current problems, is bogged down with too much dead wood for aging stars Mike Piazza and Al Leiter to carry. The Mets won't be able to build a winner with a fresh nucleus within the remaining playing lifetimes of Piazza and Leiter. Surrounded by dead wood, they won't be able to go anywhere with this team. With improvements in performance by their players and choice good moves, the Mets may move into the 80+ win range at best.

If the Mets sign a big name free agent, they have to be sure they can contend. Otherwise, said player will only tie down more money and years for mediocre teams. Right now, the Mets cannot be sure they can contend. Mike Piazza, Al Leiter, and Edgardo Alfonzo will suffice to provide as much leadership as the kids will need as the new nucleus of the Mets is brought through it's infancy. Also, the Mets need to make sure any signed player(s) will be able to produce during the years of their contract(s).

One signing the Mets should make is of their own free agent third baseman Alfonzo. He provides consistent on-base ability and solid defense, and is perfect for the number two spot in the lineup. He is the best on-base man the Mets have. Off his last two years, he should not command as much money as he would have if he continued as he had before. Also, the available free agent replacements do not look appetizing. Fonzie and Cliff Floyd seem the only good free agents with listed ages under 30. Japanese third baseman Norihiro Nakamura cannot provide more than questions until it is shown how well Japanese power hitters adjust to American baseball. Nakamura has shown in Japan he is not an on-base kind of guy, I must say with a polite bow of apology.

The move that set off the Mets trading bonanza was the trade of prospect Alex Escobar and others to the Indians for second baseman Roberto Alomar. Escobar, a decent prospect, wasn't the heaviest price to pay for Alomar. Indeed, the trade by itself was not a bad move at all. It is unfortunate, though, that Escobar was the only decent outfielder in the organization, and is now gone.

Still, trading of prospects should be discouraged at the moment. At this point we should look to them as the future of the Mets. Right now the Mets do not have a depth of talent to trade from. Once the nucleus is in place and the Mets evaluate which prospects are non-essential, those can be dealt.

The Mets philosophy of late shows that Fred Wilpon is overly concerned with keeping ticket sales up. He will sign a free agent to attract fans without concern over the future. He trades names the Shea faithful have tired of for fresh names with their own baggage that perpetuates a vicious cycle. His names have not produced wins.

The names that can produce wins are Jose Reyes and Aaron Heilman, if the Mets can build a team around the gems of their farm. In so doing it will be greatly helpful not to be bogged down with dead wood names. When the time is right to sign free agents and pull off the trades to surround our new nucleus with the players needed to fill out a winning team, we will need money and space.

That the Mets pursued name Lou Piniella and signed name Art Howe to manage, and are rumored to have interest in names Tom Glavine and Denny Neagle shows that they have not changed from their dysfunctional philosophy. Be forewarned to expect more articles from me with the same tone if this does not change.

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