Go west young man! Horace Greely, manifest destiny and all that. I remember it from Mr. Fabricant’s history class at Bryant H.S. Look west for opportunity and inspiration! And so it was, the Mets looked to a west coast paradigm manifested in two executive runs first in Oakland then in San Diego for our current leadership team. A “west coast” approach if you will. Even now with the Mets at a crossroads we look at their former exploits for answers.
Early in the off-season of 2005 Omar Minaya was in the midst of turning the Mets into a kind of “Angels East,” spending big to draw enough fans and revenue to ensure even more freedom to operate with the other big markets, and like the Mets, sharing their market with an even bigger neighbor. The Angels were, and arguably still are, on the cusp of establishing themselves as perennial big market big spending contenders. While Minaya’s ability to function was compromised, never completing his spend first and let everything else fall into place plan, a dramatic restructuring was embraced on account of ownership’s association with Bernie Madoff. Minaya’s services were no longer needed (attempts to retain him notwithstanding). The team was moving in another direction.
South, to San Diego. Pertinent to the Mets in that the Padres are a living artifact of Sandy Alderson’s most recent efforts. Padres fans, in spite of a couple of early division titles, generally consider Alderson an axe man, he came in, put a stranglehold on every aspect of the organization, turned over baseball operations to Kevin Towers and sliced the team’s talent up for parts with cold, calculating, impunity … like the Doomsday Machine slicing up Rigel-IV for fuel. (incidentally, the similarities between the Trevor Hoffman and the Jose Reyes situations are uncanny).
Much like the Mets, the Padres have seen improved minor league systems, consistently ranking in the top 10 (if not the top 5). Yet, much like the Mets, they have struggled to perform in their offensively challenged home confines.
One major difference between the Padres and the Mets has been lip service. In San Diego Alderson couldn’t be bothered about fan backlash, he simply ignored the public. In NY, probably having been counseled against such an approach, Sandy and his spokespeople pushed the “don’t be fooled, we’re here to win” narrative, which was disingenuous at best and patronizing at worst. Not a good initial salvo in the all important “win the crowd” battle. Alderson proceeded to do precisely what he had done in San Diego, with one notable exception, David Wright. I’d wager David Wright would have been traded in a heartbeat had he been on the Padres only a few years earlier.
From San Diego you can take I5 north back to Los Angeles and the contents of Chavez Ravine where the Los Angeles Dodgers reside. The sight of perhaps one of the greatest violations of public trust, look no further than the history of Chavez Ravine for the whole sad story, “the poor man’s shangri-la.”
It certainly is no poor man’s recourse as the present day home of the Dodgers who have finally managed to outspend the Yankees, the first time anyone’s done that in 15 years. But you can’t really talk about the Dodgers without talking about the Red Sox. The Dodgers were the willing recipient of one of the largest cash-dump trades in MLB history. About $270 million dollars in salary freed up by the Red Sox, but even more astonishing was that the Dodgers absorbed it. Remarkably, both Boston and L.A. seemed to benefit from this trade. The Dodgers were propelled to a 92 win NL west title in 2013 while the Red Sox did even better with mid-level replacement players racking up 97 wins. The lesson here? If you are paying for wins there really isn’t an argument, the Red Sox paid their players a lot less and ended up with 5 more wins. But the Dodgers won also, and winning means money, especially in a market that is even bigger than Boston. So there are no losers here, simply a case of big markets operating like only big markets can, consolidating and moving around staggering amounts of money and talent … must be nice if you are a member.
If you look at another trade, the Marlins and Blue Jays 2012 trade, it’s not only maybe even more interesting, the outcome seems similar. A trade that initially looked absolutely awful for the Blue Jays, is suddenly looking fantastic. Welcome to 2014 … One thing is certain, both of these supposed “salary dump” trades have thrown giant wrenches at the money won’t buy you pennants argument.
If you get back on I5 and continue north you end up in San Francisco where you can drive over to ATT Park, home of the Giants. The team our current brain trust has openly tried to emulate. A franchise built on a marvelous pitching tradition with two recent world titles in tow, another successful spare parts and scotch tape offense, and with no signs of slowing down.
The Giants are scary, they draft, develop, and spend … they can shut you down with their pitching and bullpen, but they also seem to know when to capitalize on mistakes. In our recent series against them, it felt like the Mets actually played well, and yet, one little mistake and forget it, the Giants snatch the win in a blink. it may actually be too early to judge whether our efforts to be like the Giants bear fruit. A tradition isn’t built overnight. Part of the strategy involves more than just putting great pitchers on the mound in the majors, it also involves accumulating the “collateral” to make trades, allowing you to pursue players like Carlos Beltran. The Mets have not exactly established pitching dominance at the major league level — although they are trending in that direction — but they also haven’t moved into the “trade for bats” phase. For all of Alderson’s talk about accumulating collateral, they have been sitting on that collateral since they came to town. Even the one piece they did trade (Colin McHough) is starting to look questionable.
Finally there’s the team across the bay. Oakland, the team that gave Sandy Alderson his start, with his disciple, ex-Met farm hand Billy Bean running the show (although I am sure there was a “Ha HA! Who is the Master now old man??!” moment at some point). The A’s, really since Sandy Alderson’s pivotal run as GM, have enjoyed perhaps the most sustained stretch of success, contending at times out of nowhere, season after season with an off-year here and there. They scout the high minors’ “almost ML ready” players aggressively and trade for those players aggressively. They also keep their minors stocked with pitching at the lower levels, developing a steady stream of ace caliber pitchers. Their prospects aren’t too shabby for 2014 either.
The Mets have reached a watershed moment in the context of their current approach. They are primed for trades having established a strong minor league pitching base but have not pursued any significant talent acquisitions, their payroll has been overhauled following the expiration of numerous cumbersome contracts but the team continues to spend less and showed mixed (at best) results with their recent foray into free agency.
It doesn’t look like the Mets will be spending any time soon, so they basically have a choice, they can either be like the A’s or the Padres. On one end of the spectrum you have the masterful wheeling and dealing on a shoestring of the Oakland A’s, on the other end you have the Padres, overly dependent on fragile prospects who more often than not aren’t good fits in their home ballpark … sound familiar?
The Padres, the A’s, and the Mets are all in the bottom third for spending. Unlike the A’s the Padres have not really been able to find a successful formula. The Mets, as currently constructed, are more like the Padres than the A’s because, like the Padres, we’ve been conservative in dealing talent from our minor league systems. It’s almost like this Mets front office is afraid of turning in a stinker, so they stand pat. I hope that’s not the case, because it would essentially neutralize one of the most important parts of the A’s (and to a lesser degree the Giants) formula … what good is all the pitching if you never trade for bats?
Something has to give. The Mets are loaded with pitchers, and are at (hopefully) a low point in their payroll, our GM’s contract is expiring soon. This is NY, we all know the deal, you want more fans? Win. Alderson and the NY Media have been running with a “now is the time” storyline for the Mets in 2014 but the results haven’t been there. We can add talent, we can add offense but the prospect of doing so without adding even a smidgen of payroll is unlikely, so, again welcome to San Diego east.
In the end, the Mets front office is going to wallow perpetually in a sort of almost there but not quite place until one of two things happen, they add a reasonable 10 – 15 million to their current payroll, allowing them to add a couple more decent free agents to the mix or perhaps one more big one, or they can loosen the purse strings on that minor league collateral and start making some trades. Whatever happens has to happen soon because for Sandy, his time is just about up, and the remarkable patience of a remarkable NY fanbase that has already been lied to and placated too often, is fed up enough to stay home.
Spend or Trade… Do something.
Don’t just stand there staring down the middle at a 3-1 fastball. Please, we don’t want to be the Padres…