By Mike Steffanos
The passing of Lisa's stepfather has caused me to neglect this blog for the last few days during baseball's annual winter meetings. Frankly though, if I had been able to write I'm not sure that I would have had anything worthwhile to contribute.
On one hand, I'm reading story after story reiterating the tired mantra that the Mets have "overvalued" their prospects, and we're not really in the mix for Santana, Bedard or Haren. After a while I started flashing back to the scene in Animal House where Pinto and Flounder were trying to pledge the snooty Omega fraternity and were quickly relegated to an area with Mohammed, Jugdish, Sidney, and Clayton. I picture Carlos Gomez, Fernando Martinez, Mike Pelfrey and Phillip Humber sadly huddled together on the couch while all of the cooler prospects are being wined and dined around them.
Despite this constant assurance that the rest of baseball spits on Mets prospects, every day there were rumors of a potential deal. In the end, nothing really happened. Realistically, that was always the most likely outcome -- at least in regards to front-line talents like Santana, Bedard and Haren. After all, those guys are Omegas. We are not worthy.
In my younger days of baseball fandom there were far fewer places to get baseball news, and covering major league baseball wasn't a full-time job. You went weeks without any substantial morsels of baseball talk. For those of us who loved the game above all others, the winter felt just a little colder because of that. Then again, there wasn't pressure to report as news what was essentially -- and still is -- merely rumor. Hot stove gossip packaged as news and the kind of quality reporting that that brought us the asinine John Maine rumors earlier this week are a product of Twenty-First Century information overload.
Speaking of Maine, the media really did themselves proud on that story, didn't they? The story broke on that bastion of journalistic integrity, PageSix.com. Although a quote from Jay Horowitz was buried down near the bottom of the article in the article saying that Maine was in Virginia and the person making the outrageous quotes was an imposter, the author basically slanted her story to make it seem true, even ending it with the statement that publicists for the nightclub confirmed that Maine was invited to the party.
The next day in the gossip page of the Daily News, we read how this bizarre story originated:
Thursday, a woman named Abby Cohen called the club Touch to get "John Maine" a table at their opening night. When the man arrived, he identified himself as the Mets pitcher and asked several young ladies if he could try on their dresses (even offering a reporter $200 for hers). Despite being "recognized" as Maine by doormen and publicists for Touch, the Mets insist that he has not been in New York since October and was in Virginia on the night of incident.
Hmmm. Maybe it's just me, but I would think any journalist with an ounce of integrity would need more than the word of doormen and publicists of a brand-new club desperate for some media attention that the bizarre man asking to try on women's clothes was indeed the Mets pitcher. That this story was picked up and reported by others in the media is a sad commentary on all of them. I hope the next time someone in the media chooses to slam bloggers for being frivolous and irresponsible they might think twice about the hypocrisy in their profession. Maybe John Maine deserved a little better than having his name dragged through the mud in such a ridiculous, spurious manner.
Getting back to real baseball stories, the disparaging of Mets prospects has brought forth some questions about the organization. For what it's worth, I agree with ESPN's Keith Law that the negativity we're being bombarded with concerning the Mets top prospects is drastically overstated. Although the Mets lack the super sexy prospect that other teams slather over (and facilitates the big deals like Santana), there is some solid talent in the upper levels of this organization. Still, there are some legitimate questions.
Are the Mets rushing their top prospects too much?
The Mets have aggressively pushed Lastings Milledge, Fernando Martinez, Mike Pelfrey and Carlos Gomez, among others. The philosophy of the organization seems to hinge on the belief that these talented youngsters will benefit from the challenge of skipping levels. For instance, Fernando Martinez played in Double-A this past season despite being only 18 years old and in his second season as a pro. Most teams would have started him off in High-A ball and only promoted him if he dominated at that level. Some nagging injuries contributed to Martinez' mediocre season in Binghamton, but there is little question that -- fairly or not -- Martinez' allure as a top prospect took somewhat of a hit. I think you can argue that if Martinez had played most of the year in A+ St. Lucie and put up impressive numbers, his stock would have been higher among potential trading partners.
I can't help but wonder if part of the motivation behind pushing these prospects so hard was the lack of top prospects -- particularly position players -- at the top levels of the Mets system. I wonder if players like Gomez and Martinez would have been promoted at a slower pace if the cupboard was a little less bare at the Double-A and Triple-A levels.
Prospects working their way up the ladder -- building confidence and skills at each level -- is the time-honored way of developing major leaguers. Just because something has been done a certain way for a long time doesn't make it right, of course, but it's hard to see where Martinez, Gomez, the departed Milledge, or Pelfrey have really benefited from being on the fast track. I'd like to see the Mets rethink this philosophy. In my mind, a little more patience would benefit these kids developmentally and help their value as trade chips.
Did the Mets shoot themselves in the foot by adhering to the commissioner's office's "voluntary" slotting guidelines in the draft?
The Detroit Tigers were able to pull off the one blockbuster of the winter meetings because they consistently paid bonuses that were over the guidelines for players who "fell" in the draft. While teams like the Tigers, the Red Sox and the cross-town Yankees were enriching themselves with talent, the Mets were carefully selecting players that would sign for slot money. Minaya indicated a couple of weeks ago that the Mets would no longer slavishly adhere to these guidelines. I can only hope that's true. They've put themselves at a competitive disadvantage to teams who drafted and signed the top talent.
Do the Mets have what it takes to find and develop talent?
Minaya has turned over the Mets scouting and development since taking over the team, but there is some question whether he does all he can to surround himself with talent or gives jobs to people that he likes. I don't pretend to have the insight into this, but I think we'll have a better idea of the state of the farm system in the next year. Despite the adherence to slotting guidelines, there is some interesting talent drafted in Minaya's 3 drafts since taking over that could improve the depth of this system. There are several players, mainly pitchers, who are on the brink of being true prospects.
If the Mets are going to be in position to develop some young, cheap talent for themselves and be in position to make impact deals, they absolutely have to improve the depth of their system. It's nice to have top-tier talent that has a chance of being impact major leaguers, but they need to have more than a handful of players with any potential to make a major league roster. For too long their Triple-A roster has featured more guys on their way down than on their way up.
Thanks for the kind emails regarding the passing of Lisa's stepfather. Once again, in an all-too-familiar pattern this year, I am really behind on correspondence. I will answer them all as soon as I can.