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Failure to Spend Is Not the Problem, Part 2

Mike SteffanosTuesday, January 27, 2009
By Mike Steffanos


Read Part 1

Despite signing the checks of a payroll that has increased substantially over the past four seasons, Mets owner Fred Wilpon is being accused of being a cheapskate again.

I have my problems with the Wilpons. I think they're often guilty of thinking smaller than their team's market. A prime example of this is the decision to build a stadium with more than 10,000 fewer seats than the one that it replaces while bragging about how much it will push up demand for the tickets. My ideal owner would have built a 50,000+ seat replacement with the confidence that the product would be good enough to create the demand. I often think that the Wilpons would have been much better off owning a small market team.

For all that, Fred Wilpon strikes me as a decent guy who genuinely cares about putting a winning team on the field. Only the Steinbrenners spent more in an effort to do that. That should probably preclude being christened Freddy Coupon by angry fans but, hey, New York is a tough town.

To my mind, the biggest problems with this club are a lack of clear direction, a tendency to try to solve most problems by throwing money at them, and the weakness of worrying too much about what is written about them in the press.

The Mets franchise has floundered badly at times during the Wilpon regime, which began when he and partner Nelson Doubleday bought the team in 1980. The success of the club in the mid 80s under Frank Cashen proved the exception rather than the rule, and the previously mentioned lack of a clear direction has plagued this club since.

When the Mets parted ways with Steve Phillips in 2003 and announced a commitment to building from within, there was a general consensus among Mets fans approving this decision. Sadly, this commitment lasted barely a year, as the Mets inexplicably traded top prospect Scott Kazmir for the wildly inconsistent Victor Zambrano.

I think you can argue that a lot of the club's biggest problems now can be traced back to then. Omar Minaya was hired before the 2004 season was over, and the mandate became the contradictory "build the system, but also win now."

We'll get more into Omar's plusses and minuses as we get further into this, but for now there are a couple more events that contributed to the schizophrenic way this franchise is run that are, to my mind, important to understanding what's going on now.

The first happened in year two of Minaya's regime. A lot of good moves by Minaya helped the Mets overcome the loss of Pedro Martinez before the playoffs. Then El Duque, who had been pitching like an ace, went down with a calf injury right before game 1 of the Dodgers series.

The Dodgers should have dispatched a Mets squad whose starting rotation featured an over-the-hill Glavine and Trachsel and in-over-their-heads Maine and Perez. Instead, the Mets swept their way to a NLCS meeting with the Cardinals.

Again, pitching would seem to favor their opponents, but the Mets took game 1 behind a gem by Glavine and jumped on Cardinals' ace Chris Carpenter with 3 in the first of game 2.

John Maine wasn't great, either, but the Mets still managed to be up 6-4 with 3 innings to go. Sadly, the series tipped away from the Mets at that point, culminating with Beltran's futile AB in game 7.

If the Mets had held on to win game 2, they almost undoubtedly would have taken that series. Then they would have faced the Tigers, and perhaps beaten them for a title. How much different would the direction of the franchise had been in that case?

But the Mets marketing department promised us that 2007 would be our year. We all know how that turned out. Then they went out and got the best starter in baseball and still came up short in 2008. To add insult to injury, the little boutique stadium they elected to build is now ready, necessitating a huge increase in ticket prices.

I've been a fan of this team for 40 years now, and there have been plenty of low points, but I have never witnessed a fan base this angry. Every move that gets made or not made is picked apart, and the Mets don't seem to win these discussions too often. The press seems only too willing to feed off the anger of the fans with sometimes outrageous pieces that only serve to inflame more.

When the Red Sox came back from the dead against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS and went on to win the Series, it can be argued that they were somewhat freed as a franchise from the incongruous needs to win now and build for the future. The Mets failure in 2006, compounded by the late-season failings of the past two years, have only solidified their existence in a purgatory where both are demanded. Now it seems that many of their moves work against both goals.

More tomorrow.

Part 1 of this Series
Part 2 - Current Article
Part 3
Part 4

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 (8)

The Mets for some reason, do have a thing for trading away young players who become servicable players or better. Could you imagine what numbers an outfield of Amos Otis, Ken Singleton, and Rusty Staub would have meant to the Mets in the 70's? Then, they acquire players well past their "expiration date" or complete busts! The Fregosi's, Taveras', Hernandez', Samuels, etc. All I have ever asked of this organization is some consistancy, that's all. Get some people who know how to scout and evaluate talent. Get some people who know how to develop players and utilize their skill sets to benefit the organization. Field a team of 25 players that want to put it on the line every day and have the desire to win. I think the Mets have a few players in that mold, but need to round out the roster with a few more guys like that. I like guys who are good for the clubhouse, but who can produce on the field as well. I think the leaders of Mets (owner/GM/business decision makers) are quite content with just contending as you mentioned. I am glad the Mets have had 4 consecutive seasons of winning baseball. But, the last championship was in 1986, 23 years ago (it aint the Cubs), the last world series appearance was 2000, almost a decade. We all support our Mets, even with the raising of ticket prices & etc, people are geared up for the new stadium and the 2009 season. I think Mets fans would be a little more tolerant if they could see the direction the front office is taking. To contend and build for the future is a tough thing to do simultaneously, but it can be done. Lets go Mets 2009!

lot of frustration being a met fan.2 sickening collapses last 2 years and the front office of the mets treating the fans like we are idiots.i can fully understand why any team would not want manny with all the baggage and all the "manny being manny crap".in that case, let the front office say we don't want him because he's a nut, can't play the field, he's too old to give a 3 or 4 year deal..met fans could buy that.but wilpon jr. saying minaya has no interest in manny is the reason he won't be on the team is just idiotic.especially when your manager goes on sny last nite and says he would love to have ramirez on the team, as does your all star third baseman.does anybody have a clue???the bottom line is we'll never win with a full blown idiot like jr. running the team.i hope i'm wrong this year, but unless the team is sold we can look forward to more collapses and more years of not making the playoffs, which would be a shame,becuse i plan on going to see a lot of games at the new ballyard..

Mike,

I agree with you that Fred Wilpon wants to put a winning team on the field. Wilpon has done more to help the Mets' organization prosper than most other owners would do in a life-time. For example, he hired Omar Minaya to construct magnificent off-season deals to instill a renewed sense of confidence for 2009. The Mets are fortunately one of those teams that can afford to bring in the top free-agent stars, but also manage to work with the players that have developed in their stunning farm-system.

Excellent post.

Best wishes,
Marc
http://MajorLeagueBusiness.Com

marc, your last name wouldn't happen to be wilpon??? would it??if not, thanks for the comic relief.i needed a good laugh.. lol!!!!

In inning 3 of Ken Burns "Baseball" which I just caught up with last night, he claims Connie Mack once said something to the effect of:

"It is more profitable for me to have a team that is in contention for most of the season but finishes about fourth. A team like that will draw well enough during the first part of the season to show a profit for the year, and you don't have to give the players raises when they don't win."

In fairness, I was the one that said Wilpon was a decent guy who seemed to care about putting a winning team on the field, and I believe that, comic relief or not. Sadly, though, I am not related to the Wilpons, either. On the bright side, I don't have to worry about what Madoff's Ponzi Scheme did to my inheritance.

mike, i don't doubt that wilpon is a decent guy.unfortunately in pro sports, in my humble opinion u are judged by championships.he has been an owner of the mets for 29 years.we have one one world series victory to show for it.the last 2 years have ended in embarassment for met fans.i am a long time jet fan as i have noted in prior posts.i am an expert at spotting inept owners.if we don't make the playoffs this year, my hope would be that the wilpons sell the team.i'm tired of being a second class citizen in this town when it comes to baseball.

I hear you, Gary.

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