Yesterday, Mark Healey was kind enough to answer a few questions for me on the state of the New York Mets. For those of you who don’t know, Mark is the Online Editor for Baseball Digest and also hosts, BD Fantasy Baseball on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio.
Among his many other projects, Mark is the Co-publisher and Executive Editor of Gotham Baseball, an online magazine that is a must-read for any baseball fan.
For all you Mets fans out there, you have to read his eye-opening piece on Nelson Doubleday. If only Nelson had bought the Wilpons out instead of the other way around, things would be so much different today.
Anyway, here’s the interview and please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments thread.
Joe – I was shocked about ten ten days ago, at how quickly the Mets Twitterverse exploded seconds after Dino Costa tweeted that Jose Reyes had agreed to a deal with the Marlins. What did you make of the tsunami of raw emotion by Mets fans who got incredibly hot and even uncomfortably vile until the rumor was finally shot down? How in the world will Alderson address this negative tide if Jose Reyes were to really end up signing with another team? What can he possibly say or do to calm what looked like a mob mentality for the space of about 90 minutes?
Mark – Jose Reyes is one of the most popular Mets of all time. It’s that simple. The thought of him wearing another uniform is anathema to most Mets fans, especially the ones who suffered through the Art Howe era waiting for him to make the big club. The fact that we have all watched him grow up in the blue and orange makes it even more difficult to contemplate.
The other reason is that Reyes has become a symbol of the ongoing battle between different factions of Mets fans; the Moneyball / sabermetrics crowd that abhors sentiment, narrative and the mythical, and the more traditional fan, who wants homegrown guys kept on the team, regardless of cost. Then there’s the “break up the core” crowd, who maintains that Reyes is somehow emblematic of the team’s struggles. All of these factions have a point. But I’m never surprised to see explosions of emotion on Twitter when it comes to the Mets. I’ve been involved in a few of them.
As for what can Sandy say, as far as I am concerned, the less he says the better. Ed Ryan of the excellent Mets Fever blog wrote a superb post recently, illustrating the double-speak of the club’s stance on payroll. The fans want action, sooner rather than later. Either tell the fan base that Reyes is simply too expensive and the club is moving on, or make him a real offer. They won’t do that of course, but outside of winning 90 games next year, Mets fans are not going to be swayed by rhetoric.
Joe – In the aftermath of potentially losing Jose Reyes, it sounds like the plan is to keep the approximate $20 million rather than reinvest to upgrade at shortstop or shore up other various needs. That would lead to a likely scenario of Ruben Tejada at shortstop and Daniel Murphy at second base to start he 2012 season. First, your thoughts on that, and second, please comment on the decision not to reinvest on the roster or improve the product on the field.
Mark – Given the lack of real depth in the middle IF positions in the Mets system, the potential SS-2B combo of Tejada and Murphy is problematic, given the former’s inexperience at the MLB level and the injury history of the latter. Still, both are likable and homegrown, so there’s some upside there. Murphy has a great work ethic and hits when he’s comfortable. But Tejada is an unknown as a starting MLB player, and its silly at this point to expect much. I mean, when you hear that Jack Wilson is being considered as a potential FA pickup, it doesn’t exactly scream confidence for the status quo.
As for the growing possibility that the club will not reinvest the savings from a Reyes departure, the Mets had better get off to a really, really good start or things will get ugly rather quickly. Reduced ticket prices or not, people in this town will not sit still for Wal-Mart baseball.
Joe – The Mets made the odd decision to shorten the renewal date for season ticket holders this offseason – essentially giving them a month’s less time to decide and asking them to make that decision before the hot stove season even warmed up. Talk to me about the strategy behind that, whether or not you believe it was a smart move on their part, and lastly if it was effective?
Mark – I think it illustrates how desperate the organization is for operating capital. As I tweeted on Tuesday — which started one of those aforementioned Twitter battles — I don’t understand how any Mets fan could spend any money on season tickets for 2012 — partial or otherwise — when the ownership is clearly a complete and utter mess.
There is a severe lack of transparency. If the team is not going to reinvest the money left on the table with the loss of the Reyes, Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and other contracts, where is the ticket money going? To pay off the MLB loan? Supporting the team is one thing, enabling dysfunction is quite another.
Joe – You have been involved with writing and speaking about the Mets for a long time. You brought back Baseball Digest, the oldest and most venerated baseball periodical of all time. You’ve seen a lot. Where do you see this Mets team today? The overriding sentiment seems to be that we are heading in the right direction, that the Mets will be relevant as soon as 2013, and that we are on a path to sustainable seasons of championship level baseball. Do you agree with that?
Mark – Thanks for those generous words. Baseball Digest has been around a long time, and 2012 is going to be our 70th year of publication. When I agreed to bring BD to the internet and become Online Editor in 2009, the idea was to make sure future generations of baseball fans would be as lucky as us to have a link back to the greatest game ever.
I would love to tell you that I think the Mets are on the right track, but I don’t know if that’s the case. Many people praised the hiring of Sandy Alderson as GM, and the eventual hiring of the front office “Dream Team” of J.P. Riccardi and Paul DePodesta. In fact, when it appeared all but certain that Omar Minaya would be out as GM during the latter part of the 2010 season, I went as far as to nominate DePodesta as the guy I would rehire to reboot the Mets.
But I think that as long as the long shadow of the Mets debt to MLB is in place, it’s hard to envision the Mets being relevant. Why?Because while I think that while DePodesta and Riccardi are working hard to rebuild the mess that former Player Development VP Tony Bernazard left behind,
I have no idea what Alderson’s endgame is. Is it to make the Mets champions? Or is to minimize / monitor the mess that ownership has created? Ask me again on Opening Day, as thie next few months could change that answer a bit.
Joe – The Mets are going to tender Mike Pelfrey and Angel Pagan at a combined cost north of $10 million dollars. Would you call that exploiting market inefficiencies or something else? I’m getting the sense that we are simply handcuffed again. Last offseason we blamed Omar Minaya for the lack of flexibility, but with about $60 million slashed in non-returning contracts ($75-$80 million if you count not re-signing Reyes), who will be this offseason’s scapegoat? Where do you see Mets payroll heading in 2013?
Mark – Pelfrey and Pagan are guys I have covered since they joined the club as minor leaguers. Pagan in particular is a favorite of mine, as he was the first Brooklyn Cyclones player I featured during my stint as the “Clones beat writer for the Brooklyn Skyline newspaper from 2001-2004.
That said, if it means building depth in the bullpen, adding a veteran cacther to help Josh Thole and even adding another starter with a little more upside than Pelf, I would let both leave.
As for a scapegoat, blame ownership. This is their reality, not some grand design to rebuild the team. Anyone trying to sell that nonsense — or who really, truly believes it — I know a money guy who’s never wrong about the market.
Joe – There’s a lot of excitement swirling around all of the NL East teams right now. The Marlins with their new stadium and a $50 million dollar boost to their payroll, the Nationals GM telling his fans 2012 is going to be their breakthrough season, the Braves with that incredible young starting pitching core, and of course the Phillies fresh off a 105 win season and already beefing up their roster this offseason with Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton and Jonathan Papelbon just for starters. Pardon that run-on sentence if you will, and tell me what Mets fans should be excited about this Winter and what they can expect in 2012?
Mark – I’ll have a clearer picture of the state of the NL East once the Winter Meetings are upon us, because that’s when we’ll learn if the Fish are actually going to sign anyone. A new ballpark is always awesome for a long-suffering fanbase, and despite the worst uniforms this side of the Mercury Mets, tickets are selling well. However, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports recently wrote a great article about Marlins ownership and I think it’s far closer to their intentions for 2012 than most national media have chronicled. The Braves have some great young arms, but have plenty of question marks as well, including how they respond to their collapse down the stretch. The Nationals are a very weird franchise. On the one hand they have young talent like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, but on the other, they spent $126 million on Jayson Werth. I’m curious to see how they augment their club.
This will annoy Mets fans, but I love how the Phillies do things. Trading for Hunter Pence at the deadline, signing Jonathan Papelbon to kick off their offseason, and then dealing for one of my old favorites, Ty Wigginton is how you get a fan base excited. Will it come back to bite them in a year or two? Probably. But it’s been a great ride.
As for the Mets? IF Johan Santana is healthy enough to make 32 starts, the Mets rotation should be solid. R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee are a competitive foursome. If Pelfrey stays he gives you innings and health, but not much else. The bullpen is the horror show.
If Sandy and Co. can make a little magic here, Mets could very well play at a higher level than they have the past two seasons. Offensively, health (again) will play a huge factor. The Mets did a much better job of getting on base on 2011 but have to find a way to score more runs. Maybe the new dimensions at Citi Field will allow Jason Bay and David Wright to provide the type of 1-2 bunch that Mets fans have been waiting for since Opening Day 2010.
And to excited about?
Maybe, just maybe a #7 under the tree on Dec. 25. It’s nice to dream, even the pipe kind.
What I love about Mark is how passionate he is about his feelings for the game and the Mets. His descriptors of “Wal-Mart Baseball” and “enabling dysfunction” do seem to resonate for me.
You can follow Mark on Twitter at @BaseballDigest9.