The New Philosophy

Like many of you, I have been paying attention to the World Series.  I knew if just one of either the Phillies or the Yankees were in it, I’d have a problem because I’d be too emotionally invested.  If it was both, I wouldn’t be able to watch it at all.  However, two teams that I can kind of like each in their own way are playing in it, so I can sit back and enjoy being a spectator (and no, I am not a Cablevision subscriber).

Let me give you a few good examples why.

Back in the offseason going into 2007, Barry Zito, finesse pitcher of the formerly “Big Three” in Oakland, was the big ticket free agent.  While I was rooting for the Mets to give him an offer he couldn’t refuse, I am pretty sure my jaw dropped when I saw what he was offered by the San Francisco Giants: $126 million over seven years.  I could get behind Omar Minaya for not throwing money away like that.  Zito has not exactly been the $126 million man they hoped he would be in the Bay Area.  He has not posted a winning record in the four seasons he has played there, boasting a record of 40 – 57.

Imagine if he was on the Mets.  I’m sure we’d be screaming that he should be cut, I’m certain we’d be booing the contract (not the uniform or the player, of course).  The Giants have not made a statement and cut him, and Zito even slightly redeemed himself early this season.  The Giants did not get off to a smoking start (and were even a long shot for the Wild Card at one point in the season), but Zito posted a marginally impressive first half, then faltered in the second.  While Giants manager Bruce Bochy claimed that if not for Zito’s strong-ish first half, the Giants might not even be in the playoffs, let alone the World Series.  However, they made a bold move in keeping Barry Zito off the postseason roster.

That is a strong statement right there: if you do not perform, no matter what you are paid, you will sit this out.  San Francisco is not exactly a “small” market, but their team has a history in that their most storied players were all stars in San Francisco, but much of the team’s glory took place in another city (New York, for those of you keeping track at home).  However, while someone like Oliver Perez is relegated to mop up duty in the bullpen with a Barry Zito-esque contract in a larger market in New York, San Francisco is not afraid to make a move like leaving Zito off the roster, no matter how much he makes.

Back in 2009, I took a Southern California baseball stadium road trip, and one of my destinations was Angel Stadium in Anaheim.  Their opponent that day was none other than the Texas Rangers.  To me, the Angels always had a solid team, a class-A organization, and the Rangers seemed to be bumbling (especially as to how atrocious their Alex Rodriguez signing was initially).  I had the opportunity to sit next to a Texas Rangers fan who happened to live in the area.  I asked him about the team because quite frankly, I didn’t think too much about them (although at the time I did know that Mr. Texas Nolan Ryan was intimately involved with the Rangers operations then).  He told me some things that not only surprised me, but I thought about this year when they came out of nowhere.

This fan told me that they had a change in philosophy.  Ryan made it clear that he wanted to concentrate on pitching, speed and defense (sounds like Omar Minaya’s plan, then went on to sign the likes of Luis Castillo and Moises Alou), and even eliminated pitch counts.  I had to say, I liked that philosophy.  No one knows pitching better than Nolan Ryan, but to be able to take an old school philosophy and attach to today’s Moneyball and high-priced free agency game, that was unheard of.  Especially in a town that seems to be more football oriented than baseball. Again, a bold statement that speaks volumes now.

Today, the Rangers may be down two games in the World Series, but their story has captured the nation.  They made a bold trade at the deadline this year to nab Cliff Lee, arguably the crown jewel pitcher in the free agent market in this upcoming offseason and one of the best pitchers in baseball.  Their “claw” and “antlers” bit has been viral over the Internet.  Bengie Molina, who started the year off in San Francisco, was traded to the Texas Rangers, and will get a World Series ring, regardless of who wins.  Josh Hamilton, a frontrunner for American League MVP with a great story of overcoming alcohol abuse and drug addiction, led the team with his bat and over the New York Yankees, practically anointed as repeat World Series champions due to their large payroll.

Yankees payroll: $206 million

Texas Rangers payroll: $55 million

Sometimes a change in philosophy is what is needed.  At the beginning of the 2010 season, did any of us suspect that we would have two teams west of the Mississippi representing the AL and NL in the World Series, or that Texas and San Francisco would be either of those teams?  Probably not.  But it goes to show that a commitment to winning and a strong team philosophy do manage to change a team and bring them together to a common goal.

I know this seems out of place on a Mets blog, but I am going to tie it together right now.

Today, the Mets are going to hold a press conference announcing Sandy Alderson as the new General Manager.  I’m sure as fans we can break bread on a few things today: the Mets don’t need another “yes” man running the organization (Alderson certainly is not one of them).  We don’t need him to dismantle the “core” of the group, just come in with a firm plan, something the Mets have been lacking since the days of Frank Cashen.  We do need to get rid of dead weight, however, we would not need to do so right away to appease a fan base.

It’s the philosophy, silly!  I’m pleased that Alderson is the new General Manager.  He’s got his work cut out for him, but as long as there is a plan and he doesn’t contradict himself, I’m eager to see how the next few years unfold with a distinct plan.