Time For Some Brave, New, Bold Moves For Mets

An article by posted on November 7, 2013

sandy-alderson

He is the best man who, when making his plans, fears and reflects on everything that can happen to him, but in the moment of action is bold.  ~  Herodotus

The moment of action for New York Met General Manager Sandy Alderson is now. It is time for Sandy to fly against his better nature, to throw caution to the wind, and take his own bold approach to fixing the Mets.

Rules are guidelines to give us structure, but in dire times rules are made to be broken. Sandy, be a lion, throw caution to the wind, and dare to employ a different dynamic in improving the Met roster.

For three years, our Met GM has worked diligently retooling our minor league system with an emphasis on stockpiling young pitching prospects. Other than the captain, all our high paid former stars are gone, and we’ve been told that unlike other Hot Stove campaigns, this year there is money in the kitty to spend.

It’s time to throw out the old baseball playbook and rebuild our team with a roster that plays to the vastness of our home at Citi Field. With few true power options available through free agency, and an understandable reluctance to exchange a bevy of coveted young pitching arms for even a single credentialed major league slugger, why not build around speed?

I realize modern baseball sabermetrics have rendered the value of speed to the baseball scrap heap. But, a potent argument can be made that it’s time to shuck off the modern trend in favor of a lineup based on pitching, defense and speed. Paraphrasing E.F. Hutton, ‘lets do things the old fashioned way.’

Everyone knows a murderer’s row team brings throngs of fans to the park. But more available money or not, we lack the resources to rebuild our roster around homerun power. Besides power, the next offensive quality to ignite a fan base is speed. That was part of what started Met fans love affair with a young shortstop named Jose Reyes.

Think about it. Fans love to see athletic speed- burners hustling on the base paths to add another base. It’s not simply about stolen bases. It’s turning would- be double plays into fielder’s choices, forcing opposing infielders to hurry throws turning would-be infield outs into infield errors. It’s baserunners who stir up a ruckus turning would-be outs into base hits, singles into doubles, and doubles into triples. It’s about athletic outfielders running down balls in the outfield and making dazzling defensive plays to choke off rallies.

Speed is athletic. Speed is dynamic. Speed is energizing. And, speed doesn’t have a bad day. It’s the root of a mental toughness that can define the way a baseball team approaches the game.

So, what is Sandy to do. First and foremost, don’t fear promoting some young arms to plug up holes in the pitching staff. This will direct precious resources to finding speedy position players through free agency. Young pitching options are especially the case in the bullpen. Vic Black, Jeurys Familia, Jeff Walters, possibly Cory Mazzoni should all compete for possible bullpen slots with legitimate chances to make the squad.

It was disheartening to read that already Jenrry Mejia’s potential role in the starting rotation was being minimized. What’s the kid to think? He is elevated to the big team at the end of the season and simply dazzles in the starting rotation. In five starts, the youngster complies a sparkling 2.30 ERA, striking out 27 batters while walking only 4, with a 1.171 WHIP.

“I’m sorry, kid, you’re not ready yet, we believe you need more seasoning in Vegas,” simply seems disingenuous. The kid has earned a chance. All the other young kids are watching. Let Mejia continue to prove he belongs in Flushing as a part of the starting rotation. That, too will save additional resources for a speed shattering plan.

If we must go out and bring in a starting rotation place holder acquire them by trade. It pains me to say this because when he played in Binghamton he was my favorite B-Met, and on the parent squad he has always done whatever he was asked without complaint and with enthusiasm. But, in a plan to fly with the wind, Daniel Murphy becomes expendable as an exchange for a place holder starting pitching option.

eric young

How can that be? Who will play second base. No, not Wilmer Flores, I’m thinking Eric Young Jr. Don’t shut me off just yet. EY becomes a valuable asset in a lineup built around speed. Recently, I read a piece by Scott Fergunsen that used a new statistic he had created that he tabbed Scoring Positive Percentage. SPP measures how often a player gets himself in scoring position or scores himself whether via a hit or stolen base. To find an SPP, Scott simply adds a players stolen bases, doubles, triples, and home runs and divides by their number of plate appearances.

Measured against all the lead-off batters in the major leagues in 2013, Eric Young Jr.’s SPP was second best in the National League, trailing only Starling Marte. Young bested Shin-Soo Choo, Matt Carpenter, Carl Crawford, Denard Span, Norichika Aoki and all the rest.

When Fergunsen dug below the surface level of the baseball numbers, he concluded Young performed for the Mets far better than most people think. He was a sparkplug at the top of the Met batting order, a tough kid who provided a much needed energy boost to the lineup, and he was very effective when he led off a game or an inning during the game. Those situations equaled 40.2 percent of his bats with Young hitting .313 with a .387 on-base-percentage and a 10 percent walk rate. That batting average and walk rate in these situations ranked 3rd best in the NL.

And, Fergunsen notes that Young’s lead-off stats in general (leading off an inning or game or hitting with nobody on base and 1 or 2 outs) are pretty fine. In those cases, he hit .277 with a .349 OBP and a 9.2 base-on-ball percentage.

It was a stretch of 50 at bats representing 12-percent of Young’s plate appearances that skewed his overall statistics. I’m sure most every Met fan reading this post can remember that stretch well. Young hit only .095 over that span with a .357 OPS. Ouch. But, as Fergunsen notes, for 88 percent of his time at the top of the order, Eric Young performed well earning him a shot at returning to the top of the order next season.

Well, why can’t EY do that playing left field with Daniel Murphy still at second base you ask. Because a bold Sandy Alderson, a GM building a dynamic, lightning fast running machine will be bringing in Rajai Davis to play left field.

Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays

What? You’ve lost all your marbles you scream? Hear me out. Davis is a free agent who played for Toronto last summer. With speed our new premium, Davis could be the best base stealer in baseball. Last season he swiped 45 bases, one less than his SB total in 2012. Davis was only caught stealing 6 times in 2013.

I understand that Davis is 33 years old, a questionable time for guys who depend on their legs. Yet, in the past five seasons, with only one of those campaigns as a bonafide regular, Rajai has stolen 216 bases. And using Scoring Position Percentage, Davis goes off the charts at 19.4 percent.

The most appealing fact for Sandy could be that Davis should come cheap. The speedster earned $2.5 million last season and deserves an uptick, but he is on record saying his top priority is gaining a chance to play everyday. His hypothetical 8 year professional averages based on a 162 game schedule have him hitting .268 with 53 stolen bases, scoring 69 runs with a .316 OBP next season. In 2009 for Oakland in 390 at-bats, Davis hit .305, stole 41 basis and had a .360 OBP. The following year, his only full season as a starter with over 500 at-bats, Davis hit .284 with 51 stolen bases and a .320 OBP.

Davis’s is a right handed batter who rakes against left-handed pitching hitting .319 with an .859 OPS last summer. His numbers dipped dramatically against right handed pitching, but Davis is eager to prove all that will change with a chance to play everyday. An average defender, Davis gets a jump after a ball slowly, but depends on his blazing speed to make up the difference. With Juan Lagares in centerfield, Davis would man the left field corner spot in a remake that capitalizing on speed.

curtis-granderson_600

A bold Sandy Alderson remake will target a pure power hitter to play the opposite outfield corner slot, Curtis Granderson of the Yankees. And, yes, the Grandy Man is part of the speed equation makeover. Granderson’s 10 year, 162 game stolen bases hypothetical is 17 swipes for next year, and I certainly believe 15 is well within range. Extremely athletic, Granderson has stolen 20 bases or more 3 times in his career, the most recent in 2011 for the Yankees.

Alderson would need to pull out all the stops to snare Granderson. As an anchor in the middle of the lineup, Granderson would be the legitimate power threat the Mets need. In the two seasons before his injury plagued 2013 lost season, Granderson slammed 84, home runs, the most in baseball. Many Met fans will scoff attributing that number to playing in HR friendly Yankee Stadium, but 37 of those long balls came on the road.

Sandy will need to open up Fred Wilpon’s wallet to bring in Granderson, the signature piece of his winter wheeling and dealing. Granderson earned 15 million for the Yankees this season. Sandy would need to be prepared to overpay for the linchpin of a busy winter of Hot Stove play. Wine him. Dine him. Offer healthy contributions to his Grand Kids Foundation, his efforts to immerse inner city kids with educational and baseball opportunities. Bring in David Wright to pledge that side-by-side they will become the faces of a new baseball power in NYC. That and perhaps 55 millions dollar over 4 years could get it done.

And, imagine the glee of Met fans if Sandy could bring to Citi Field one of the Yankees’ major pieces. It might erase some of that lingering sting of having to endure Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and David Cone clad in pinstripes.

Get it done, yes, but is Sandy, done? Not yet. With every indicator leading Met fans to believe the front office has abandoned hope that Ike Davis can be the first baseman they craved, word has Lucas Duda slotted in at first base. This is not acceptable. Trade them both, even if its to get prospects or fillers to stockpile for a potential injury replacement in the rotation or another arm for the bullpen.

james loney

In their place, Sandy needs to pursue and sign James Loney. The free agent first baseman had a signature year as the full time first baseman for Tampa Bay the past season. With 598 at-bats he hit .299 with a .348 on-base-percentage and a .430 slugging percentage. Loney scored 54 runs, totaled 85 RBI’s, nailed 33 2Bs and hit 13 balls out of the yard. These are decent statistics and amazingly close to his 8 year average 162 game hypotheticals (.285 BA, 62 R, 31 2B, 13 HR’s, 80 RBI’s, .285 OBP, .421 SLG). And Loney is only 29 years old.

Loney is an above average defensive first baseman, a guy Joe Torre calls a defensive plus. His strikeout rate is fairly low, in fact he had fewer strikeouts than any Met players this season other than Eric Young Jr. and Omar Quintanilla, and they both batted 200 fewer times than Loney.

Additionally, only Daniel Murphy had more RBI’s this season than Loney. His RBI total this season was only topped by David Wright and Ike Davis in 2012. David Wright was the only Met to total a higher on-base-percentage than Loney this summer, and only Wright and Marlon Byrd had a higher slugging percentage.

My gut tells me Loney has matured and is ready to realize a performance uptick even better than his numbers this year. He was more selective at the plate this summer, swinging at fewer pitches off the plate. He has good line drive potential with the ability to occasionally pull a long ball over the fences.

If the price is right and the coffers still have available funds, I would consider trying to bring back Marlon Byrd. He would be a great right handed bat, provide clubhouse leadership and be a safety mechanism if Rajai Davis proved he could not handle righthanded pitching. The Mets might consider chasing Tampa Bay relief pitcher Jesse Crain. I think he might be a solid bullpen addition and guess what, he’s only 32 years old. Now that’s a novel idea for a Met reliever.

And, one last point to make. The Sandy Alderson Met make over I propose would be wildly popular with the fans. Baseball fans like the physical power, grace and athleticism that comes with speed. Speed equates to hustle, and hustle to attitude and earned swagger, something our most recent additions of Mets have been sorely lacking. And, a fast aggressive team plays into the strengths of an old school manager like Terry Collins.

When you look at a proposed speed enhanced line-up, I think you might agree Met fans could rally around this gang.

  1. Eric Young, 2B – 50-60 SB, 5 HR
  2. Juan Lagares, CF – 12-15 SB, 8-12 HR
  3. David Wright, 3B – 15-20 SB, 20-25 HR
  4. Curtis Granderson, RF – 15-20 SB, 35-45 HR
  5. James Loney, 1B – 5 SB, 10-15 HR
  6. Rajai Davis, LF - 50-60 SB, 5-10 HR
  7. Travis d’Arnaud, C – 5 SB, 8-12 HR
  8. Ruben Tejada, SS – 8-12 SB, 2-5 HR

Note: You could keep Daniel Murphy to play first rather than Loney and use the saved free agent money to get a starting pitching fill-in, but I’m feeling a bold make-over might be in order.

Finally, the new additions in a new, brave, bold, Sandy Alderson baseball world are high character guys, players the fans would love to cheer for. In no time at all Eric Young has become a fan favorite. His passion for being a Met and his ability to win games with his feet resonate with Met fans. Young chats with fans on Twitter and signs
autographs freely.

Joe Torre calls James Loney a good personality for any clubhouse. “You’re going to love having him around,” notes the managing legend speaking to any perspective takers. Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos calls Rajai Davis a good teammate, a guy who is easy to like. And, everyone knows Curtis Granderson has a big personality, a humble guy popular with the fans, teammates, and the media. Granderson is one of the most amiable players in the game, and a guy Met fans would love to see wearing orange and blue.

Go make your mark on the baseball world, Sandy. The blueprint is here for you to follow. Be the game changer we know you can be. Let the howling begin.

About the Author ()

MMO Minor League Analyst John Bernhardt is a retired public school teacher and administrator, who still coaches high school baseball. Growing up in a Yankees household, Bernhardt was an ardent Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra fan. When the Yankees fired Yogi in his first season as the Bomber manager, curiosity turned to passion when the Mets signed Berra as a player/coach and he has pulled for the Mets ever since. In retirement, John writes the sports for a local weekly, The Catskill Mountain News and hosts Tip-Off, a Friday morning sports hour, from 8:00-9:00 on WIOX, 91.3 F.M.

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