Recently, Matt Cerrone of MetsBlog was kind enough to answer a few questions for me via email, in which he shares his thoughts on some of the issues facing the Mets and the current state of the team.
Joe – I am very concerned about Johan Santana despite the rosy outlook that he will be ready for spring training. First, he never came back last season and that really bothered me considering how many different timetables were set for his return. Not once did they say he suffered a setback, and yet I’d argue that he obviously did. He never made it back on the mound to face real major league batters. I was hopeful that maybe he would face real competition in winter ball this year, but he was shut down instead. You know the history with this team and by and large it’s the same trainers and medical staff we had in 2009 and 2010. Are you concerned? What are the odds Johan Santana is the Opening Day starter?
Matt – 99 percent. I understand your skepticism, but the people who watched him and worked with him in the minors don’t seem to have any concerns about him being ready for March, so why should I? I am less concerned about his presence and more worried about his ability. He is NOT going to be the same pitcher he was. He can’t. His body isn’t physically the same, and he’s older. I think he has the intellect and ability to do what is necessary (like develop more stark differences in his change up, get better command of his curve ball, etc.) to compensate for what will be an inevitable drop in velocity, but we haven’t see him do it yet… so, who knows?
Joe – Tell me how confident you are in an outfield comprised of Jason Bay in LF, Angel Pagan in CF and Lucas Duda in RF? I see three outfielders with huge questions. Bay of course is still baffled at the plate, Pagan regressed back to his former self, and Duda may be handed the job on the strength of a few good months which reminds me a lot of the “Daniel Murphy is our left fielder” situation. What’s your take and what would you like to see the organization do?
Matt – My sense is that Pagan will be on a different team. I think they’ll tender him a deal, but I expect him to be traded. I think the thinking is, the Mets can trade him for an arm, because Pagan can be viewed as a bargain, then sign a more affordable outfielder and basically two players for the price of one. But, if Pagan is here, I think that can be a decent outfield. It’s full of question marks, like you said. It has the potential to be outstanding, say Bay returns to form, Duda keeps progressing and Pagan does what he did in 2010. But, it can also be SO bad. How confident am I? In terms of offense, not very. Bay has been terrible, and, though I think Duda will have a nice career, I haven’t seen enough to be brimming with confidence.
Joe – I think we both agree that Citi Field needed to be a fair and neutral park as Sandy Alderson said regarding the new changes. It really was unfair to hitters especially right-handed batters like Wright and Bay. But on the flip-side, are you concerned at all about how the slimmed-down version will affect the rotation which for all intents and purposes benefited greatly from Citi Field last season. Take a look at these home/road splits: Pelfrey 3.94/5.49 – Capuano 3.82/5.42 – Niese 3.54/5.33 – Gee 3.17/5.74. That’s kind of scary, only Dickey remained consistent, but as a knuckleballer and Jedi warrior that’s not surprising. Should the Mets be concerned? Should Dan Warthen be concerned? Should fans be concerned?
Matt – Yes, I’m concerned. But, if the Mets are scoring more runs, that will help the pitching staff. Also, as Ike Davis was telling me the other day, the outfielders will be able to position themselves better as well, and that could actually have a bigger impact on the pitching staff than people will realize. Also, a more true read will help the team evaluate income talent better as well. In the end, I think it all balances out.
Joe – How in the world will Alderson address the negative tide of emotion, if Reyes were to really play for another team next season? What can he possibly say or do to calm what looked like a mob mentality for the space of about 90 minutes when it was erroneously reported he had signed a deal with the Miami Marlins?
Matt – I’ve talked with people at different levels of the Mets organization, and to a person they are prepared for how people are going to react. It’s interesting because in my time as a Mets fan, I don’t ever recall the majority of fans being so pragmatic about this situation. If you look at the polling I’ve done on MetsBlog, and I see this when talking to people face to face, though everyone wants Reyes to return, most people do not think the Mets should offer him more than a five-year deal. In fact, I asked how the Mets should react to the rumored five-year, $90 million offer from the Marlins and, while most people said the Mets should tinker with that deal to make it more attractive, 31 percent actually said to let Reyes walk and go to another team. 85% of 10,000 people said the Mets should not offer six or more years. So, the fans are in step with the team (at least based on people voting on MetsBlog) and that is literally the first time I’ve ever seen that happen. Nevertheless, if Jose signs a deal in Miami (even if it is for a contract that most fans do not advocate giving him), people will react negatively. Worse, people will assume it is because the Mets are broke, even though I am certain you will eventually read of them offering up to $20 million per season. It’s not about the money in this case, it’s about how Alderson valued the player Reyes will be over the course of this deal, and I just don’t think he thinks it’s smart to being Jose that much money in, say, 2016, 2017, etc., or about the time Ike Davis and hopefully guys like Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler and others are looking to sign extensions and earn more money in arbitration. Personally, I’m going to be VERY disappointed if Jose goes, even though intellectually I agree with the team and most fans. It’s a weird situation. In some ways it’s a lose-lose for the Mets. The question, do they want to take the hit short term or long term?
Joe – Recently, Sandy Alderson confirmed the $100-110 million payroll figure for 2012. I recently became aware that this figure also includes allocations for next season’s Amateur Draft bonuses. That would actually put payroll for the active roster at around $93 to $95 million. During his first press conference, Paul DePodesta drew a comparison to the Oakland A’s and told reporters that working for the Mets would be like “Moneyball with money”. Sandy also made a similar comment on a conference call you and I both participated on before the season started. With everything that’s in play right now with Mets, is this really Moneyball with money or something entirely different?
Matt – Well, since Moneyball technically has NOTHING to do with total payroll, I don’t know. Moneyball is instead about using statistical evidence to identify opportunities in the marketplace that can be exploited for the best possible return on investment. And so, I have no idea if what the Mets are doing is ‘Moneyball with Money,’ because I am not privy to their research models and reasons for spending. DePodesta and Alderson actually laugh at the idea of the term Moneyball and they mostly dismiss that book as fiction, so they were probably joking around or at least being facetious when saying what they said. In either case, what’s the difference? Seriously, who cares what it’s called. I’m sick and tired of the Mets going through these half-ass boom and bust cycles like they’ve done since I’ve been born. I see a Front Office hellbent on remaking the franchise (from top to bottom) so that it can be consistent and have a way of doing things in place that can sustain success for a long, long time, instead of having to start over every 10 years. Is it going to pretty in the short-term? Probably not. But, if spending more on the draft or scouting gets a better, long-term product on the field, I’m fine with that… so long as it all works out in the end.
I want to thank Matt for giving us some of his time during what’s been a busy start to the Hot Stove season. We look forward to reading more of his reports on the Mets as the offseason wages on.