Mets Need the Willingness to Fail

An article by posted on July 2, 2014

new-york-mets braintrust collins, katz, wilpon alderson

As the Mets begin their 6th straight summer of “don’t call us, we’ll call you” caliber baseball, something has to change.

The focus for this franchise has been shedding huge contracts, and building up the farm system and in reality – they succeeded in that feat. Whether players like Noah Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud or Zack Wheeler become big stars or not, those deals were deals that made perfect sense for the future of the ballclub.

Along with the acquired three, they have some excitement building around players like Dilson Herrera, Kevin Plawecki, Brandon Nimmo, and Dominic Smith to name a few.

Where this organization has failed miserably (most recently) is their lack of willingness to make a mistake.

I know, that sounds odd right? But think about some of the greatest successes in your life, you may have taken a risk for it to occur. Not many situations align perfectly where there is little risk involved in being successful.

For the Mets, I understand that they do not want to fall in the hole that contracts like Jason Bay or Johan Santana put them in – but here’s the truth. If you’re constantly afraid of long-term commitment to players, then you’re never going to A) attract established talent to play for this team and B) keep your pipeline players when it comes time to pay them a larger salary.

I’m not one to pay free agents huge contracts, but at some point – you have to push aside your thoughts on the past and do what is right for the team in its current state.

This team has done a great job on finding low risk players on the market and getting the most out of them while they could. Players like Marlon Byrd, LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Hairston, John Buck, Jeremy Hefner, Carlos Torres, and even Daisuke Matsuzaka come to mind. None of these players are winning you a championship – but they are the types of players you need to have a solid big league roster.

The problem is, the Mets have become fairly good at finding players like this, and fairly terrible at finding players they need to spend money on.

Everybody knew (pre-Astros diary) that the Mets needed corner outfield help, along with a great need to figure out the situation at 1B and SS prior to this season.

To me, signing Curtis Granderson was a low risk move to be honest. I think we all expected him to stay in New York but just switch uniforms, and sure the contract was probably longer than the Mets were comfortable with – but it was a low risk move.

In reality, there were three players the Mets scared themselves away from because they were unwilling to be wrong, or feared failure on a big risk.

Nelson Cruz, who admittedly I was at the time not interested in, has done nothing but prove the Mets wrong with every at bat. Not only was the lack of a move the wrong decision, but they doubled down by signing Chris Young as well.

In late May, this is what GM Sandy Alderson said about the hindsight of not signing Cruz and signing Young.

“Keep in mind, when we signed Chris Young, we signed him to a one-year deal. It was early in the offseason and we wanted to get a marker on the board,” Alderson said. “We had lost Marlon Byrd. The Phillies signed Marlon Byrd. So we wanted to make sure that we had ourselves covered in center field with somebody who had some pop and maybe could have the same type of bounce back year that a guy like Marlon Byrd had. “

“At the time, Nelson Cruz was looking for like $65 million to play — what? — left field for us. Not center field, where we needed some protection. He was going to have to play left field. It was apples and oranges at that point. For the fact that he ended up signing for $8 million weeks, months later, I think is kind of an unfair comparison.”

So I have two problems with this. The first is that he’s telling you that he was more interested in making a low risk move by a player that could “maybe” bounce back from previous failures. That’s a low expectation signing that you’re hoping will work out – not a signing you EXPECT to work.

Second, this shows a lack of understanding of what the Mets had in Juan Lagares. It seems funny to me that the Mets refused to upgrade other positions because they felt they have talent there (borderline talent at 1B), but when it comes to Chris Young – he was brought here to play CF and the idea of getting a big time power bat to play LF is scoffed at?

Fun fact, Chris Young has started 69 games in the outfield with 40 of them being in LF.

Now, a FAIR assessment of Nelson Cruz that seems to be forgotten frequently is that half of his offensive success has come as a DH. Totally fair point, but he’s also been very solid at the plate while starting in LF.

The Mets told you above that the reason they didn’t get him wasn’t become he’s a half and half fielder to DH ratio, they told you they didn’t sign him because they wanted production out of CF and were trying to replace an outfielder they traded away in August. You didn’t lose Marlon Byrd, you traded him away – there’s a difference.

If signing Nelson Cruz to a two year deal worth maybe $40 million is such an outrageous idea, then how do the Mets intend on ever fixing the lineup? Power doesn’t come cheap and you aren’t finding impact talent in the bargain bin.

The second mistake was clearly the lack of signing Jose Abreu. Abreu to me was a huge risk of course, but the real reason the Mets didn’t make that move in my view is because they were busy trying to sell teams that Lucas Duda or Ike Davis were better players than they really are.

They were unwilling to just cut the cord and move on, and acquire a player they likely KNEW was an answer at 1B because if they did that, then they wouldn’t have received any “value” on their current clog at 1B.

Once again, an unwillingness to be wrong, and a fear of failure bites the Mets right in the you know what.

The third move was Stephen Drew, and you know what? They were right. Not that Ruben Tejada by any stretch is the “answer” in my view, but had they signed Drew – it would have been a mistake.

Still, even if they had pulled the trigger, can you imagine how different this team would look with an outfield of Cruz, Lagares, and Granderson paired with an infield of David Wright, Stephen Drew, Daniel Murphy, Jose Abreu and Travis d’Arnaud?

Even with the FAILURE of signing Stephen Drew – this team would have been watchable. This team would have been competitive and they wouldn’t be using Matt Harvey’s injury as an excuse for having a one-way ticket toward protected draft picks. (You know, like the Braves use their Tommy John surgeries as an excuse for poor play, right?)

Hindsight is a tricky thing, and a lot goes on behind the scenes that we’ll never know about (how bad do you want a Mets journal to be leaked?).

The Mets are in a bad spot with a ballpark that is not hitter friendly at all. Which means in order to attract players to the Mets, they have to overpay – which is something they clearly are not willing to do.

If you look at the 2015 free agent market and ask yourself how the Mets can fix their offensive holes, you’re going to have a difficult time answering. So unless the Mets are willing to deal some talented young arms for offense by February of 2015 – you might as well call 2015 “The Year of Rinse and Repeat.”

When evaluating a GM you need to look at their player acquisitions in two ways. Whether they find valuable pieces in a low risk, high reward market – and whether they succeed when taking big risks.

The Mets don’t take risks. They are afraid of taking risks right now, and until they overcome that fear – this team will be known as the team with great young pitching that is consistently drowning in quality start defeats.

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About the Author ()

Michael Branda grew up a Mets fan watching the mid 1980's teams and his favorite Met of all-time is (and was) Wally Backman. When it comes to sabermetrics versus old school thinking, he's in the middle and believes adopting new ways to get answers is helpful, especially when the old way has not produced results.

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