When one gets past the excitement of the Mets signing a credible free agent who actually becomes part of this regime’s long term plan, there is this sobering reason for pause.
Well, actually there’s 195 of them.
As in, 195 strikeouts, which is how many times Granderson struck out in 2012, his last full season. A career 162 game seasonal average of 159 K’s is not exactly Sabermetrics by the numbers. Yes, to be fair, all this swinging and missing is tempered by his home run production, if not necessarily his run production, which of course was mostly achieved in band-box Yankee Stadium, and at the more spacious Comerica Park in Detroit, when he was a much younger man.
In Young (career 148 K’s a season per 162 game average) and Granderson, that’s 307 strikeouts a season, freshly added to a lineup that racked up 1384 strikeouts in 2013, or roughly 8.5 a game. If nothing else changes, that’s potentially 1691 K’s for anyone keeping track, or 10.4 a game average. It would crush the MLB record of 1,530 set by the Astros last season. For a brain trust that is by self-described mandate trying to transition the Mets to a high OBP team that puts balls in play, this sure feels like an odd way to go about things. Hey, Uggla is on the trade market – trade Murphy, an excellent contact hitter, for Uggla, and you have acquired the off-season strike out trifacta, and a chance to set a team record that might stand for all time.
But let’s not let that distract from all the goodwill the Wilpons have bestowed on us this holiday season.
For a player, Granderson, who will be 33 when he plays his first game for the Mets, and 37 when he receives his last paycheck, there is real risk, and to say otherwise is is trying to force fiction into fact. Even if we are to somehow ignore the injuries of this past season, while freakish, they still happened to a hitter’s more important assets — his hands. The numbers suggest he is in decline, perhaps rapid decline. While a pro’s pro, and a great guy, the same was said about Bay, and it is difficult to not put him at the top of the horror pile for Mets fans – particularly the timing of his reign of nothing and its chilling aftermath.
Granderson is a lifetime .235 hitter, and no one can logically think this will trend appreciably upwards. He steals less bases now, covers less ground, hits less triples – it happens when you are 33 – 37 years old. Best case guess from this view: Granderson will probably hit .230, strike out 175 times (more if the pressure of hitting in Citi and justifying the contract get to him), hit 15-20 home runs (less if he presses too much), drive in 75, and play in 120 games.
Not to say that the Granderson signing will turn out like Bay’s did; nothing can be that horrible, can it? He was so bad he’d have been cut from the local beer league softball team.
Even so, bad free agent contracts are signed every off season, and yet they haven’t slowed down the Dodgers, the Tigers, the Rangers, the Yankees, the Angels, the Braves, the Nationals, nor the Phillies. At one time or another, most of these teams have spent unwisely on free agents or signed ‘core’ players to bad long term contracts, only to continue to spend past these mistakes, and to continue to put winning teams on the field. The Angels have been criticized for egregious spending and yet since 2006, they have won 624 games, an 89 wins per season average. The Mets, in contrast, have won 551, or an average of 78 wins per season.
Be honest. All things equal, who would you rather watch play next year on the Mets for 162 games — Pujols and Hamilton, or Young and Granderson?
The Red Sox boldly purged a number of bad signings in a historic trade in 2012, finished last for one season, and then went out, spent $60 million on free agents for the 2013 season alone, and reaped immediate rewards by winning the World Series.
The Dodgers gratefully accepted those players, traded for and signed more players with equally onerous contracts, and now are prepared to sign the best pitcher in baseball to a $300 million contract.
Here’s the point, that seems to get lost in the fog. Fans of all these teams — Dodgers, Tigers, Rangers, Yankees, Angels, Braves, Nationals, Phillies — spend the same amount of their hard earned money for their tickets as Mets fans do for their tickets. The outrage of some Mets fans howling into the wind about these big, long term contracts might make more sense if these teams charged their fans a surcharge for bad free agent contracts, or higher ticket prices for actually making the playoffs.
Large market teams cover over mistakes with more spending, or they trade them off to other teams willing to pay the contracts. And you know what? It actually works. Anyone thinking that the Dodgers can’t trade Kemp and his contract hasn’t been paying attention. All the ‘bad’ free agent signing by the Marlins in 2012 — gone, via trades that brought back important pieces. In the brave new world that is modern baseball, there’s absolutely nothing dysfunctional about running baseball teams like this. Its what big market teams can do that small market teams can not. Now, yes, some do it better than others, and some do more with less, but that’s an entirely different conversation.
You know what is dysfunctional — the Mets owners and front office, and a small part of the fan base who applaud their fiscal restraint, as if the money not spent by the Wilpons is going back into their pockets.
Yes, money can’t buy you love, but in baseball it can get you more wins, it gives the fan base hope that they can statistically still be playing baseball in the late fall, which is entirely preferable to being broke and walking the streets with a tin can — or, in other words, watching a Mets game in late August.
By the wave of applause following the Granderson signing it appears that any move the Mets made this off season for the benefit of some kind of long term plan would be viewed a positive by Mets fans, and in some ways that’s sad and depressing. The GM has distorted our reality in such a way as to have us applauding what we would have booed lustily not 3-4 years ago. Can expectations be any lower? Say what you want, but this GM is an absolute master at lowering expectations with a litany of plausible lies and empty promises.
Its one thing for the Mets to be genuinely broke, and quite another to be brought to its organizational knees if, as has been alleged in parts, the owners are siphoning off revenue to pay down debt that had nothing to do with the Mets, and more indefensible still, to fund $3 billion real estate projects that will ultimately line their pockets.
Asking Selig to intervene and put this maddening organization’s feet to the fire is superfluous — he already has his man right where he wants him.
Unfortunately for the Wilpons, they stop handing out participation trophies in little league, so they need to do more than give a quick, but fleeting, jolt of optimism to their ticket buyers. In the big leagues they actually keep score, and there are always winners and losers, and no matter how much a particular move is debated, or spun, in the off season, the passage of time has a wonderful way of sorting it all out.
Signs that the Granderson move augers a seismic shift in spending were all but extinguished by more talk by the GM of an even lower payroll (the fourth ‘payroll lowering’ proclamation by the GM this off season), now to $85 million. Even more revealing — and frightening — is that the front office must believe Mets fans have taken the hook with the Granderson signing as it was also brazenly noted in the same interview by the GM that finding value in baseball’s bargain basement is part of the reason this front office was hired in the first place.
That’s how this group honors pledges and promises made to its fan base for the past 3 seasons — with one free agent signing of note, and more scrap heap throws at the dart board. Even now they’re using the same tired gambit — be patient, trust us, we have a ‘big plan’, we’re not even out of December yet.
Only time will tell if the Mets have struck real gold with Granderson, and whatever moves follow him this off season. Or, like the roster they are building for 2014, just struck out.
But no worries. Have they got a big plan for us in 2015.