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Post-Winter Meetings Thoughts

Mike SteffanosFriday, December 7, 2007
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.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (5)

As Mike indicates, the impugning and discounting of Mets young talent is a bit insidious. If you regularly read ALL the NY region's papers and blogs, there is no doubt that there is a feeding frenzy of sorts to demean the Mets and promote the virtues of the Bronx Highlanders as well as the BoSox. I suspect the Bronx and BoSox prospects aren't nearly as good as the writers suggest and the Mets prospects aren't nearly as questionable. Nary one of these writers has a clue as to what makes a prospect a good prospect or a great prospect. I suspect that the Marlins will be very pleased to have two of those so-called studs obtained for Cabrera and Willis turn into quality major leaguers. Three would be an incredible windfall.

Mike is also correct that the once patient Mets now seem to put prospects on the fast track for reasons best known to the organization. However, everything trickles down from the top and Minaya is likely to bve the culprit. To rush these kids is most unwise and probably hurts in many ways, from the confidence level of the player, to the value of the player, to the overall performance (or lack thereof) of the team. Perhaps the only player who was rushed, yet performed solidly from Day One was David Wright.

Without revisiting Mike's superb dissertation, the gist of it all is: Should the Mets be so eager to unload prospects others have chosen to demean?

My view is NOT SO FAST.

Milledge, who clearly possessed talent, was sent packing for two very serviceable players, who WILL help the Mets. To send a Carlos Gomez and/or Fernando Martinez away with a 42-year-old currently holding down LF would be sheer madness from my perspective. Anyone watching Gomez can see the raw talent and numerous skills. He is at least a full season away and Martinez likely two to three seasons away. Pitching is a bit more fickle and subject to injury. While Pelfrey, Humber, Mulvey (the real stud here) and Guerrera are the creme de la creme, there could be some reasonable accolades for Joe Smith, Burgos and Jason Vargas, among a few others.

Should the Mets trade the farm (and Aaron Heilman) for a pitcher like Santana, who will also command a salary of $16 to $20 million annually, not to mention for a dangerous deal of seven years or so?

I think not.

Pedro Martinez looked very good last September. Not great, but much better than anyone expected. It shouldn't be too surprising since his work ethic is outstanding and he has the baseball guile and brain to match. And why shouldn't he be the front-line starter? Maine and Perez are both 15-game winners, youthful, on the rise and capable of being a #2 on any staff.. That leaves Pelfrey, Humber, Mulvey, El Duque and perhaps a free agent acquisition to round out the last two rotation spots for the first four months of the season.

Omar has made the Mets defensively powerful up-the-middle (Schneider, Castillo), which should inure to the benefit of all the arms. He has strengthened the lineup (Alou, Castillo, Church) and the bench (Easley, Anderson, Castro). Perhaps a right-handed hitting rightfielder to platoon with Church (Kevin Mensch or Xavier Nady come to mind). If he can pull of a couple of bullpen signings like Mahay and/or Dotel without losing Heilman and with Sanchez and Padilla on the mend for real, this team can live without Santana, Bedard or Haren, especially if they can throw an innings eater out there for 200 innings (Livan Hernandez--and he can hit).

If the Mets are willing to part with Heilman, Gotay and prospects like Humber, Anderson Hernandez and Joe Smith, there should be some trading partners for Joe Blanton and Nady types. If not, so be it and lets roll the dice. To be perfectly frank, if any of the guys traded for a stud hurler turned out to be superstar, or even a quality player, those same writers who today demean the Mets prospects will be all over Minaya and Co. for letting them go in the first place, no matter who they get in return.

Let me close by saying, if appreciate great baseball insights and interesting writing, Mike Steffanos continues to deliver the best in the business. I wouldn't trade him for a flock of baseball writers and a bevy of bloggers.

Dat's a fact, DaMetsman - Mike is Da Man. I can never say that enough. My condolences and prayers, Mike, for your family and Lisa's on their loss.

Any time I see a 2-for-1, 3-for-1, or 4-for-1 deal go down, uppermost in my mind is the very real possibility that the team getting the 1 is a freak play away from being the victim of a complete bust.

We saw how the Mets not signing Zito guaranteed Perez in the starting rotation, and all he did was earn more wins, fewer losses, had an ERA nearly a full run lower, more strikeouts, and fewer walks. Granted, Zito pitched for a team with much less offense to back him, but Omar saved himself a boatload of money by not pulling the trigger on that one.

"Buy low, sell high" applies to baseball trades as well as the stock market. We shouldn't be eager for the Mets to pry two or three shiny jewels out of our farm system for a guy who may well be to 2008 what Zito was to 2007 - a mediocre, overpaid pitcher. in my opinion, all the teams dangling their aces in front of us are expecting way too much in return.

Cold, hard fact is this - the Mets can't, and shouldn't, cobble together a package that will make a shallow minor league talent pool even shallower. If another deal is coming, it'll be understated, not flashy. With any luck at all, we'll be asking each other in June, "How did we GET this guy?", as we've done several times in recent years.

DaMetsMan and NostraDennis - fantastic posts. I thought I was the only person who questioned the wisdom of trading the farm and then spending $120 - $130 million dollars for ONE player who is going to play in 7 innings in 35 out of 162 games if he keeps injury at bay. Granted, Santana is a terrific pitcher and could help the team right now and in the short term, but what is his value going to be say 3 or 4 years from now when he's entering the downside of his career while Pelfrey, Mulvey, Gomez and F-Martinez are coming into their own. I think Omar has to take this into consideration. I'm not saying he shouldn't trade for Santana, but I think this sort of transaction has to be methodically and pragmatically thought through because of the implications for the franchise 5 and even 10 years from now.

I just hope Omar is very careful and does not cave into the torch carrying hords or the talk radio blabbering entertainers who care more about ratings than they do any sort of truly informed and intelligent converstaion.

Whoa, too much information to respond, nearly.

I agree 100% that the teams that have followed the signing guidelines (and exactly how does that avoid being collusion anyway?) were doing themselves a disservice.

As for the Mets timeline in bringing on the prospects, I believe a player needs to establish his mastery of a level of play before kicking him to the next level. It is always a temptation to acceletate the pace, of course.

But today I would say that the Mets record of bringing along young talent is "mixed" -- and since only a few years ago the record was anything but mixed, simply awful, I believe they have actually improved. I do get upset seeing some of those other teams that have more success than the Mets in this regard, as do we all I suppose.

Finally, a comment from Negotiations 101, which Nostradennis touched upon: if the other side genuinely does not realize the value of your product, you can only trade at a disadvantage. Omar feels the pressure to do something, no doubt, but giving away your best young talent because the baseball world undervalues it makes no sense at all. And for the record I believe Pelfrey, Humber, (Milledge), Martinez and maybe Gomez ARE undervalued. Better to keep them and see what they can do, than to donate them to another organization for trifling returns.

Everyone's got good posts here, now that the "OMG Lastings Millege was traded!" buzz has finally subsided.

I would agree that the Mets might be rushing some of their young talent, but let's also keep in mind that there were ALOT of major injuries to the team during the season which forced some young guys to step up- especially Gomez, Pelfrey, Gotay, and Humber. Remember that one time when the Mets even had to call up Chip Ambres because they were so shorthanded on outfield help? Ouch.

And I'm also really happy that the Mets didn't shotgun a trade for Johan and break the farm system doing it. The Milledge trade at least got them two very good guys who are guys who CAN help the Mets win a title.

Also, I haven't mentioned anything yet, but I wanted to add my condolences to the list for Lisa and the family, as well.

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