By Mike Steffanos
I'm sure that the team had a reason for doing it, but announcing that they are raising the prices of game tickets right before Christmas seems a little Grinch-like on the Mets part. There's nothing really shocking about it, however, and I won't argue against the team's right to charge whatever they can get for their tickets.
It did strike me, however, that with a seating capacity 10,000 seats less than Shea, the new stadium is likely to be even pricier when it opens in 2009, and with less of the "bargain" type seats. Also, for those of us who live too far from New York to make season tickets a viable option, the availability of seats at all is also going to be a question, I fear. I wonder if they're won't come a day when so many of the seats will be owned by corporations that the best place to find the real Mets fans won't be at the ballpark at all. Especially if the team continues to be a winner, there will be many people in that park that just want to be there because it's a cool place to be, similar to what happened for a while in the 1980s.
One reason that teams build smaller parks, as the Mets are doing, is to increase the value of their tickets both in price and desirability. The Mets expect season ticket sales to go up, which will of course leave fewer tickets available to fans like me. That's true, but I still think it was short-sighted of a team with such a large fan base to build a fairly small ballpark with a seating capacity smaller than Atlanta's Turner Field and Seattle's Safeco Park, among others, and barely larger than the proposed ballpark for the Minnesota Twins. I hope there is a plan to add seating if the team remains successful.
Mets.com's Mart Noble has a pleasant fluff holiday interview with John Maine posted. Among the highlights:
MLB.com: Do you leave a snack for Santa Claus?
Maine: Not since I was 8 years old.
MLB.com: Were crumbs left behind the next morning?
Maine: Nah, he cleaned up pretty good.
MLB.com: If you had a choice and a chance to give a present to anyone outside your family and friends, who would it be and what would the gift be?
Maine: That's easy. Jennifer Aniston. And I'd give her my phone number.
MLB.com: Do you have a message to share at this time of year?
Maine: I think people should enjoy the time of year. It's supposed to be peaceful. I hope it is. It's supposed to be the kindest time of the year. I hope we see that.
At FoxSports.com, Dayne Perry writes why he doesn't expect to see a return of the Braves' dynasty any time soon:
... Two other teams in the NL East, the Mets and Marlins, are better poised for success in the coming seasons.
The Marlins outdo the Braves in terms of young talent and, more critically, the Mets match the Braves in terms of young talent (to wit, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Lastings Milledge, Phillip Humber, Mike Pelphrey and, heck, maybe even Oliver Perez) and outflank them in terms of payroll flexibility. In 2006, the Mets outspent the Braves by only $8.5 million or so, but given recent trends and the status of ownership in both cities, that margin figures to grow.
Going into the upcoming season, the Mets, who finished a whopping 18 games ahead of Atlanta in '06, figure to get better production from the outfield corners (with Moises Alou now in the lineup), and if Barry Zito is signed (a likelihood) then their rotation concerns will be greatly lessened. And those were really their only two weaknesses.
As for the Braves, the shortsighted decision to non-tender Marcus Giles will hurt them (Pete Orr is not an every-day talent), Smoltz and the Joneses will be another year older, and the rotation behind Smoltz is filled with question marks and unknown quantities. In other words, there's no reason to believe that that 18-game deficit has been significantly eroded over the winter. So, barring a stunning turn of events, the Braves should fail even to be within sniffing distance of the hated Mets next season.
... All in all, the Braves longtime core is aging, the farm system, while still solid, isn't what it once was, and the warhorses of the front office and the dugout are dropping off one by one. Things, obviously, have changed. Considering that the rival Mets finally have an intelligent GM to go with their deep coffers, things are going to be much tougher on the Braves in the coming years. Then, of course, there are the Marlins, who finished only a game back of Atlanta last season despite having far and away the youngest roster in all of baseball. In other words, the NL East is no longer the province of the Braves.
Although I freely admit I'd like to be, I don't think I'm as pessimistic about the Braves chances this year as Perry seems to be. I think the Atlanta bullpen is finally decent and their starting pitching likely to be better than last year if Smoltz holds up. I do believe, however, that they really need to adjust their thinking as an organization in regards to keeping their veteran players. Too much of their payroll is tied up in Smoltz, Larry and Andruw Jones and the ill-conceived pickup of Mike Hampton. To a lesser extent, Tim Hudson is not looking like a smart addition.
The Braves need to spread out their payroll better, even if it means letting guys go who would finish their careers as Braves with a higher overall payroll. It seems as if John Schuerholz spent the last few years trying to hold the dynasty together with spit and bubblegum, and it finally caught up to them. Still, they're a real threat in the NL east next year.
Interesting that Perry didn't mention the Phillies in this article. They have a decent young nucleus and better pitching now. At least for the time being their payroll is structured better than Atlanta's, and I certainly think they could win the NL east in 2007 if the Mets stumble. As for the Marlins, there is no denying the talent, but with so many rookies last year I think it's important to see how many fall back in their sophomore run through the league.
Earlier this week John Sickels came out with his Mets prospects list. Looking at Sickels' Top 10:
- Fernando Martinez, OF, A- (tools and youth, just needs refinement)
- Mike Pelfrey, RHP, Grade A- (I think the breaking pitch problem is overblown. He had a good one in college and I think he'll find it again. I am sticking with my guns on this one)
- Phil Humber, RHP, B+ (Many prefer him over Pelfrey, I like both)
- Carlos Gomez, OF, B (great tools, but I'm not sure about his power)
- Jon Niese, LHP, B- (projectable lefty is a personal favorite)
- Deolis Guerra, RHP, B- (live arm, a long way away)
- Kevin Mulvey, RHP, B- (accidently left off first list)
- Joe Smith, RHP, B- (impressive reliever could advance fast)
- Mike Carp, 1B, B- (developing power bat to watch)
- Alay Soler, RHP, C+ (Cuban defector looks better as a reliever to me than a starter)
Other thank liking Jonathan Niese more than many prospect gurus, I found Sickels' remarks about Pelfrey and Humber interesting. There seems to be some debate in an either/or way about which former number one pick is the better pitching prospect. Sickels' comment about Humber (Many prefer him over Pelfrey, I like both) captures my thoughts.
Phil Humber is the more major league ready of the pair. I remember when he started his pro career in 2005 and was only getting into the high 80s with his fastball there was some concern, but that was obviously a reflection of the elbow problems that led to the Tommy John surgery. Humber bounced back last year with a low 90s fastball and the quality off-speed pitches that could lead to success on the major league level this season as either a starter or in the bullpen.
Mike Pelfrey, on the other hand, came as advertised with a mid to high 90s fastball with terrific movement that he throws consistently for strikes. The off-speed stuff is a work in progress, to which Sickels has alluded. He came out of college with a breaking pitch that was described as a slurve, and struggled with command of it. He had some success in the Arizona Fall League last September with a breaking pitch that is more of a sharp-breaking true slider. If he can develop that pitch successfully along with his changeup he has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter. If not, you're probably looking at a guy who will slot down in the rotation or perhaps in the bullpen.
Pelfrey is a potential ace, and those guys don't come along every day. When you have the type of fastball that you can throw by a major league hitter who is looking for it, your ceiling is very high. As with any pitching prospect, the biggest thing will be staying healthy. (One of the biggest regrets I have as a Mets fan was that we never had the chance to see the real Paul Wilson, who had the potential of being a very good pitcher.) After that it comes down to commanding your fastball, at which Pelfrey is fairly advanced; and having good enough secondary pitches to complement your fastball, at which he admittedly needs a lot of work.
I like his delivery, which is remarkably consistent for a very young pitcher who is 6 feet seven inches tall. I liked his poise, which he maintained throughout his brief taste of the major leagues. I thought he had a presence on the mound, which all the very good pitchers do. I think this is going to be the year where he firmly demonstrates what his potential truly is. If he commands those secondary pitches, we may be looking at the next great Mets home-grown starting pitcher. If he continues to struggle, than he probably tops out as decent reliever.
For that reason, I'd like to see the Mets be able to leave Pelfrey alone for a full season in New Orleans. Let him find the consistency in his off-speed pitches, come up for a September call up, and compete for a rotation slot in 2008. Humber, on the other hand, I could easily see as making more of a contribution to the big club this year. All of his pitches seem ready to make the next step. With almost two full years under his belt after the Tommy John procedure in June of 2005, he should be fully recovered from the surgery.
In a perfect world, both youngsters will attain their full potential and lead the Mets rotation in the same manner that Wright and Reyes will lead the position players over the next few season. That would be something that would reward the team and its fans for showing some patience and living with the inevitable growing pains.