OK, So What Exactly Is The Real Plan Again?

Sandy Alderson 2Oscar Wilde, who would have loved modern baseball for all its hubris and wonderful folly, is quoted as having said, “One’s real life is often the life that one does not lead”. On this rather uneventful Monday, with the new year, 2014, just around the corner, an analogous baseball corollary to the Wilde quote comes to mind: “Does a GM’s real plan ever happen?”.

Clearly, the GM of the Mets professes to be a man guided by a distinct baseball philosophy, one that has presumably helped forge his real plan for the Mets, and yet despite all his condescending lecturing to the dimwitted fan base who, in his words give or take, are beyond such subtleties he seems to violate the implementation of its precepts at every turn. Put another way, with apologies to Mr. Wilde, will this GM’s real plan ever happen?

As many supporters of the GM point out whenever ‘the plan’ is even remotely held up to the light, the work he has done to make the farm system relevant again is notable, although most of this improvement is almost entirely the result of two very good trades he made, and another that fetched two prospects with some promise, one who is counted on in the bullpen in 2014. Still, the purchase from the two very good trades, Wheeler, Syndergaard, and d’Arnaud, were all jewels of other farm systems, and were cleaved from these teams for immediate gain, not the promise of tomorrow, a crucible that often ends poorly for the more desperate of the two sides. No doubt the GM did well in these trades, very well indeed — on paper. Such is the almost mystical allure of high end prospects in baseball — who, strictly by the percentages, too often fail to live up to the advanced billing in the big show.

I have written about strikeouts as it relates to this GM’s team building philosophy, and many dissenting posters on MMO, in response, have used the adage, or some proximity of it, that simply measuring strikeouts in a vacuum is a relic of the past. They proclaim new baseball metrics are the order of the new day, as if baseball has really changed much through a century or so. True, of course — the greatest home run hitters of all time also hold the records for the most strikeouts. More runs still win games, not WAR calculations. But the point wasn’t that. Still isn’t about strikeouts. Never was. Its about inconsistency, incompetence, blatant manipulation, and cynical disregard for the truth or some combination of all four to executing a plan promised from day one. You know who else suffer these same maladies — used car salesmen, swamp land salesmen, and just about anybody on Wall Street dialing for dollars. You can just never pin them down.

The GM of the Mets could sign the most notorious strikeout hitters of all time for all I care about strikeouts, if he said the plan from the start was to sign guys who strike out and hit home runs and drive in runs. Davey Johnson (and one presumes Frank Cashen who built the teams) thrived on good pitching and the three run home run, and it served him / them very well. The point here is that the current GM, in his first interview and each time asked since, has consistently said that striking out so much was an issue on the Mets that he intended on repairing. Curious then that the Mets strike out far more now than Minaya’s last team in 2010, a very bad one, who were eleventh best, at 6.76 strikeouts per 9 innings, and scored a total of 656 runs. In stark contrast, the Mets were fourth worst in striking out in 2013, with 8.54 strikeouts per 9 innings, and scored 619 runs.

chris-young-baseball-hq-4_3Even more telling, the 2006 Mets scored 834 runs, and were fourteenth worst in strikeouts, with 6.61 per game — the kind of effective strike out / run producing ratio that I believe the current GM is aspiring to. Ask Matt Harvey if he could have used a few of those runs from 2006, or even 2010. These aren’t straw man stats, as some accuse numbers of being when they don’t quite fit into the agenda. Three years later, where’s the systemic roster fixing? Where’s the implementation of this GM’s real plan? Maybe he needs to consult with his predecessor to get some pointers on the practical relationship between striking out and producing more runs. When you have both like the Mets have the past three seasons, and will most likely again next year — high strike outs, poor run production — something is fundamentally wrong with the execution of the plan. Will Granderson and Young change this dynamic? On the surface, they certainly don’t seem to fit into the GM’s so-called plan, unless you jam them in and hope for a better outcome than logic suggests.

Would Shin-Soo Choo, who is a sabermetric marvel who does happen to strike out his fair share, leading off for the Mets for what the GM spent on Granderson and Young be a more natural fit for the GM’s stated long term plan? Would it be more aligned to his team building philosophy? A career .389 OBP, and 162 game averages of 20 home runs, 81 RBI and 94 runs with a lifetime .288 BA says yes, resoundingly. He fits the GM’s stated philosophy, fits a cogent long term baseball plan, and at the same time works within the owner’s payroll constraints. Its far more fun right now to imagine Choo raising up a World Series trophy in 5 years with a young pitching staff fully developed than, well, whoever the Mets replace stopgaps Granderson and Young with. Choo could have been the first player signed in that plan, the long term plan, that has the Mets challenging for championships in years 3 to 7 of his contract.

An aside. I read a number of the posts on MMO when the Choo signing with Texas was announced. I was amazed — stunned, really — at how many fans professed relief that Choo wasn’t signed by Mets. Bullet dodged. Nothing but a polished turd. On and on went the rollicking back slapping, as if the Mets couldn’t use a player of this caliber on their roster right now, and as if it was actually their money that would pay this player. Further, this notion that Choo will be too old at the end of this contract, while Granderson, at virtually the same ages in his four year contract, will not be is so disingenuous one would have to be drunk on the Kool-aid to believe otherwise.

USATSI_7400954_154511658_lowresWhy is Choo too old, and Granderson is not, when the ages match? Again, its gross revisionism for agenda sake, and nothing more, because the argument collapses on its own weight. Moreover, Choo has better lifetime stats, and the main point, he’s more of a metrics guy, who should age better than a home run hitter in a huge ball park. And guess what? One will be 36 at the end of his contract, and the other will be, wait for it … 36. So if one is too old, they both are, if Granderson is a great sign, then so too is Choo — but that might be a tad too logical for some tastes. Yankee fans don’t seem fazed by having so many long term contracts, some worse than others. Yes, players signed to long term contracts break down, and get old. To the Yankees, its almost a collective yawn, “So what? Who’s the big free agent this winter? Tanaka — go get him!”.

The way they have spent this off season should turn Mets fans green with envy. The Yankees would have loved to have signed Choo, who appears to have taken less from Texas. Along with Beltran. And Ellsbury. And McCann. Maybe Tanaka, if his team grants permission. Imagine these guys on the Mets. You get the picture. Yet some Mets fans are ready to hold a parade down the canyon of champions for their GM — who has actually spent less than what came off the books. Insert here all the blithering rhetoric about net gross revenues this or that, and severe debt repayments. The Yankees paid for their stadium, too, which at $1.5 billion was twice what Citi Field cost to build — what about the Yankees debt? Who’s paying that off — yes, the Yankees, albeit, like the Mets, with tax and other concessions. Even this plaint about the Mets / Wilpon’s great debt repayment is a shill’s ploy to deflect the real issue that perhaps the Wilpons are diverting baseball money to their real estate business.

Which segues nicely to the Colon signing, which has been universally hailed by the fan base on MMO — albeit curiously with similar stipulations and equivocations shading each ringing endorsement, as if something deep inside is screaming for them to hedge their assessments of Colon — just in case it blows up. Yet everything about this signing screams hypocrisy — and double speak — from the GM. He won’t sign a relief pitcher, LaTroy Hawkins, a stunning physical marvel who hits the weight room instead of taking PEDs as a shortcut to hard work (what a concept?), who brought class and high level performance to the Mets, when, frankly, it has been in short order recently with this GM’s signings. Yet for an extra million dollars he is determined by this GM to be too much of a risk at this age. This makes sense? Rod Serling anyone?

bartolo colonOf course, before the howling starts, from a purely baseball standpoint you can make a case for Colon, more so if you close your eyes, pinch your nose and completely eliminate a conscience from the process. He should, rather amply at that, be able to bridge the Harvey gap, unless, of course, whatever fountain of youth PED use provides is, in fact, actually flushed from his system and he pitches to his age, and previous arm and shoulder ailments.

But however this gets spun around on its head, there remains the intractable reality that the same GM who unceremoniously let Hawkins walk away, signs a player who a season ago was banned for PEDs, and who in the 5 seasons before he was caught cheating won only 22 games, total, and only averaged 84 innings per season. Hawkins is precisely the epitome of the type of player who deserves to be financially rewarded, the kind a fan base can embrace for integrity and honor and relentless class and really rally around, and Colon is quintessentially the opposite, as undeserving as they come, seemingly wholly lacking in anything remotely called a moral compass, seemingly cut from the same ilk who must confuse picking up a needle to actually exercising. Yet, somehow, and I swear I can hear Rod Serling’s voice right now, Colon fits the GM’s plan and Hawkins doesn’t. Colon, the cheater, gets the big contract, and Hawkins, who plays by the rules, gets dumped. For a lousy million dollars savings. Is this the real plan — or have we, indeed, entered the Twilight Zone?

Moreover, is anyone out there wondering how a superior GM, Billy Beane, who had a choice between Colon, his own player who he watched win 18 games for him, and Scott Kazmir, and he took Kazmir, same years, just about the same money? Hmmm — I wonder why. What did Beane know? What could Beane no longer abide about Colon? That clean, he’d break down? Or dirty, he didn’t want him anymore? Think about it next time you think Colon was the wiser choice over Scott Kazmir. Its difficult to comprehend, but the Mets have missed out on Kazmir twice now. One presumes the GM watched Kazmir mow down the Mets last year, so dominating them — and so easily striking them out — it was truly cringe-worthy embarrassing to watch.

Except for a few brave, strident voices in the posts on MMO, where is the groundswell of outrage for this signing — moral, ethical, even baseball-wise? Can Mets fans boo ARod and Bonds and the cheaters like them, and applaud Colon, just because they think he can win a few games next season for their team? That is implicitly the definition of hypocrisy, and if the moral high ground is to be so arbitrarily depreciated for the sake of winning baseball games, than doesn’t that say more about the GM’s code of ethics and team building fidelity, than it does for a starving fan base, who are being force fed these moral dilemmas? Colon comes with a hefty price tag that is measured in more than dollars, and the implications and compromises can only be ignored if we willingly turn our backs on his past indiscretions for a narrow, short term benefit. Is the impeachment of a player’s market viability through failing drug tests and being banned merely only another MoneyBall opportunity to exploit for this GM, regardless of the stench? Clearly Beane didn’t want him, under any circumstances, and that is truly damning. Is this the real plan?

Too many of this GM’s previous free agent signings who have already played for the Mets share this in common: low character, low production, high fan frustration level, high cost, and the same GM who handed them the pen when they signed their contracts. Yet the GM keeps going back to the very same foul-smelling well for more. Will Colon, the admitted cheater, join this group? Will advanced age, lack of conditioning, lack of dietary discipline, past injuries and presumably no longer taking PEDs to cheat his way through next season lead to a total and early collapse? If Tejada was called fat and out of shape by this GM last season, what does that make Colon? And what message does it send to Tejada and any other young player who decides to skip training, eat everything in sight, and when injured or not playing well, cheat, because their so-called mentor did, and look where it got him, after all? Has the GM given his tacit consent for cheating, for taking expedient short cuts through illegal means whenever the greater good — winning baseball games — is in the balance? But never mind, goes the hue and cry by the majority. Byrd turned out okay. And if Colon needs to use the needle again to get through next year, that’s his business – wink, wink, wink. This is baseball not Boy Scouts. So much noise about nothing, right? He did win 18 games last year, after all, didn’t he? Gees, shut up already. I’m tired of reading this puke. Bang another drum, hunh?

Here’s the opportunity that was missed…

shin-soo choo

— Choo in right, leading off (high OBP, high run production, and at 7 years, a part of the long term solution)…

— The big-hearted Kazmir on the mound (much more of a prototypical MoneyBall signing than Colon, much more cosmically appealing to Mets fans who rued him being traded away, and someone who sacrificed and worked very, very hard to get back into the game the right way, and who, like Dickey, is an inspiration for all athletes, pro or not)…

— And Hawkins (the definition of a professional athlete, and the man that the GM should be saluting as the penultimate example of a professional baseball player to the younger pitchers, not Colon), who in a very young bullpen would have been a much needed anchor.

— Hell, with some payroll creativity and a true $90 million payroll, he could even have reasonably fit Granderson into this haul, too — a terrific player, of high moral character.

Strangely, these players, this plan, this roster, more closely approximates what the Mets GM’s plan should have looked like if he was being faithful to his own stated plan in the first place.

It is philosophically aligned to a baseball ethos of honor, commitment and integrity, it adheres to a short term plan and a sustainable long term plan, the total salaries are within the constraints of the budget this year and for the next seven years, and to a player, not just two out of three, their character is unimpeachable.

You know, the kind of players you thought this GM, purportedly a man of impeccable character, and a team building visionary, would have brought to this franchise when he finally implemented his real plan — not some makeshift, on the fly, reactionary, stick this square peg into that round hole, this spooks us, that spooks us, the markets too hot, too cold, non-existent, over-ripe, keep looking under the rocks, scour the suspended lists, the injury lists, pinch another penny abomination the GM calls a plan.

And then he’s heralded for all the money he has spent so far this off-season and how wisely he spent it. Now that’s a special genius, and I bow to it.

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