The Untouchables

Almost as predictable as the Mets falling short in the wins column these days is the projected fall-out that occurs after each loss.  Every beat writer or sports news outlet is trying to find the scapegoat.  I find that laughable, since I believe Jerry Manuel, Howard Johnson or Omar Minaya are symptoms of a larger problem. I can’t believe that letting any of those guys go will help in the short or long term, except maybe in the appeasement of fans department.

Likewise, some fans are lamenting trades that never happened or were close to happening at the deadline.  We talk mostly about the “core” and the parts of the team who are “untouchable.”  It was rumored that in the Houston Astros’ quest to find a suitor for pitcher Roy Oswalt, the Mets would have had to relinquish Jon Niese, one lovely surprise this season.  In other rumored trades, Josh Thole or Ike Davis were the “major league ready” talent at the very least.  According to the writers and sources “close to the Mets,” the major league ready talent were classified as “untouchable.”

Let’s think about that word for a minute.  Untouchable. One Webster Dictionary definition of “untouchable” means “not to be handled.”  In the baseball world, and in Mets terms, there are players who will not be moved around despite anything that happens to that player or the team while the player is there.

To a spectator, the core has been construed as Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana, with supportive “home grown” players Davis, Thole and Niese (Mike Pelfrey to a lesser extent, since who knows what happened to him recently).  Let’s take a look at two members of this core: Jose Reyes and David Wright.  These two young guys are under contract for a few more years, and are incredibly cheap by most standards (especially by Mets standards, who have demonstrated the ability to overpay for unsubstantiated talent).  Wright made his debut in 2004, Reyes in 2003.  By most accounts, these two were the cornerstones, the future franchises, the Mets’ position player versions of our own franchise pitcher, Tom Seaver.

In the years they’ve been here, the team has been plagued with management-turnover and instability issues (Art Howe, Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel have all been skippers of the team in those years), leadership issues (Carlos Delgado was considered the leader with his bat, yet would disappear after abysmal performances, setting up comments by teammates who noticed as well) and veteran presence (Cliff Floyd and Moises Alou, who were both prone to injury, and “Captain Red Ass” Paul LoDuca).

However, in the years since the Boy Wonders signed their extensions, the Mets went on an improbable run in 2006, making it to Game 7 in the NLCS, monumentally collapsing in 2007, falling apart at the end of 2008, no comment on 2009, to now: playing .500 ball 2/3 of the way into the season, which does not leave a huge margin of error down the stretch.  If you noticed, heartbreak is a more common theme than actual triumph in those years.

The only true “constant” they’ve had is that Omar Minaya has been the General Manager most of their years with the Mets and Jeff Wilpon has been around all those years.  It was Minaya himself who signed the “Dynamic Duo,” as they were heralded, to extensions in 2006, guaranteeing they would be Mets for several more years.

The Mets are projected to be a .500 team going down the stretch, and were so predicted by computers in the preseason.  The Mets also boast the fifth highest payroll in Major League Baseball at $132.7 million, and the third highest in the National League behind the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies.  Clearly, payroll isn’t everything, since the Cubs are having their own nightmare of a season, and the Phillies are being bit by the same injury bug that plagued the Mets in 2009 (but they are still executing).

The Mets have been underachieving and accepting of it since, oh I would say June 2007.   It’s one thing to make moves and act like a big market team, which is clear they try to project on the ownership and management side.  However, getting the least out of the players and parts you have is another story.

I believe it’s a bit shortsighted of management to at least not consider offers for under contract players who are the supposed cornerstones of the franchise.  If ownership is truly committed to win and not by pure profit, then studying moves would be necessary to initiate a WINNING CULTURE.  Fans are getting restless, and I have to believe the players are as well.  They come to New York for fame, money and championships.  The current Mets may not exactly be the “Worst Team Money Can Buy,” but it’s certainly the most mediocre and blase team one can buy.

For $130-plus million, it can achieve a lot more.  Come October 3, 2010, this team may need to be reevaluated for those purposes.  If the players are the problem, and they are not executing, it’s time to get rid of them.  I want to state for the record: I am not advocating trades of Reyes or Wright.  Beltran has a no-trade clause; I’d also like to point out that Roy Oswalt did as well and waived it.  Moving right along, Johan Santana is a great “problem” to have.  For the record that I was not exactly “supportive” of trading away Niese or Thole or Davis for half-year rentals or even under-contract injuries-waiting-to-happen at the deadline.  However, if the Mets truly end up as a .500 team this season, why would there be so many untouchable pieces?  I am not saying a vanity move of trading Jeff Francoeur, who would not net a lot in return.  Cutting Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo outright would speak volumes; again, don’t see it happening.

I have to wonder what ownership is thinking these days.  Reporters need their “headlines,” and who better to talk to than Mr. Money Bags himself, Fred Wilpon.  Wilpon suggested that Minaya was safe for 2011 and that he believed Jeff Wilpon to be doing an “excellent” job.  Seriously, was Fred going to say something scandalous by suggesting Minaya could be on his way out or that he thought his son was doing a terrible job of managing the baseball operations?  However, it does bring me pause in the elder Wilpon’s thinking that if he believes things are going swimmingly, we can all expect more of the same in 2011.

MMO’s own Tie Dyed wrote a passionate piece on David Wright recently, projecting that if he walked, it could be devastating to the franchise like Tom Seaver’s trade was.  I see the comparison, but it would be a different environment since it would be contractual and not via trade.  Minaya is terrible at evaluating, dollars-wise, major league talent, what’s to say he would get anything of value for these guys anyway?  Perhaps it was luck that the Mets parted with such little in the Johan Santana trade (however, that was more Minaya overvaluing his own prospects…I digress).

All of this is hypothetical.  The Mets could possibly turn it on and go 44-14 in this next stretch and surprise us all.  Jeff Wilpon could say that Omar Minaya is being reassigned within the organization at the end of 2010, and that Howard Megdal is taking over the General Manager operations.  Come Opening Day 2011, we could all be high-fiving each other during the ring ceremony (yes, I still have a bit of Kool-Aid left).

If the path of .500 is enough to warrant that any player, no matter how good, is “untouchable,” then this team is in more trouble than the standings can ever point out.