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Failure to Spend Is Not the Problem, Part 3

Mike SteffanosThursday, January 29, 2009
By Mike Steffanos

Before I get into this, a reader named Cliff pointed me to a couple of User Journals he contributed to the MetsGeek.com web site: Dead Dollars and Dollars and Sense on the subject of payroll. Check them out.

The New York Mets franchise was at a crossroad in the off-season of 2003-04. Steve Phillips had been finally been sent packing the previous June. Roberto Alomar and Jeromy Burnitz were gone, and Roger Cedeno soon would be. Mo Vaughn was an unhappy (and expensive) memory.

After years of trying to spend their way to the Promised Land, the Mets were going to do it the "right way" with patience and emphasizing player development.

You have to wonder what might have happened if the Mets hired a strong GM with a background in development after the 2003 season. Jose Reyes was already with the big club with David Wright soon to follow. There were some interesting players in the system such as Aaron Heilman, Scott Kazmir, Matt Lindstrom, Lastings Milledge, Brian Bannister and Carlos Gomez.

Mets fan, tired of quick fixes like Alomar and Vaughn, were ready to give the club some time to build a winner as they had in the 1980s, the glory years of the franchise. Who knows what might have happened if the right man was hired and given real control.

Sadly, though, the decision was made to give acting GM Jim Duquette the full-time position in an odd, unwieldy hierarchy where Superscouts, coaches, the owner's son and some players all seemed to have input in decisions. Ultimately it seemed that no one was truly in charge, and mistakes were inevitably made.

Trading a pitching prospect like Kazmir for the journeyman Zambrano made a mockery of the Mets "plan." In truth, it signified yet another change in direction for a franchise whose strategic vision has too often resembled the frantic anarchy of a squirrel crossing the road.

Instead of being in the enviable position of building a club around Kazmir, Wright and Reyes, the Mets had, for the umpteenth time, broke their word to the fans.

The arrival of Omar Minaya in the winter of 2004-05 signaled another change in direction. Even if you didn't totally believe Minaya's assertion that he had complete autonomy in running the team, it was clear that the decision-making process was now centralized.

There's been a lot of revisionist history of late, but Minaya's signings of Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez revitalized a team and a fan base that was on the verge of mutiny. While basking in praise for landing two of the top prizes of the off-season, Minaya solemnly promised fans that the player development system would been completely overhauled, with the idea that eventually the Mets would be the type of organization that other teams would emulate.

As mentioned in the previous installment of this series, had the Mets managed to take the next season's NLCS from the Cardinals, there could well be a different strategic plan in place by now. Certainly a title would have bought a little time for a philosophy of building a new champion.

The Mets lost that series in 7 though, and the rest is, as they say, history.

Despite the disappointment, there was a residue of good feeling after 2006, but I thought the Mets made a huge mistake in their marketing after that season with a campaign that promised that 2007 would be the Mets fans year. Instead, you had a team with some older, brittle key players and flaws in key areas. Add to that a seeming indifference to their inability to separate themselves from the .500 mark during the middle of the season and the infamous late season collapse, and any residual good will from 2006 was long gone.

As I said in the last installment, the series of events from the Kazmir trade to the tough NLCS loss to the twin collapses of the past two seasons has put the Mets in a mode where they once again seem to have an inconsistency in focus -- veering back and forth between long-term goals and short-term moves to mollify an unhappy fan base. The sad truth is that the only thing that can mollify the fans is success, and the best way to achieve success is to have clear goals and maintaining a steady course.

Next time we'll look at some of the moves that have been made, particularly in the last couple of years, that have inflated the payroll without improving the team much.

Part 1 of this Series
Part 2
Part 3 - Current Article
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 (10)

Nice post, Mike.

As sort a therapy for the Kazmir trade, I created a website called www.meaningfulgames.com.

Like an amputee who feels his legs, I still wake up looking over the Mets box score, but Sco-Kaz's pitching stats ain't there. Check out the very first post: "Never Forget."

I trust you will enjoy!

Mets Fan,


Really enjoying this series of posts, Mike.

Having long ago sickened of WFAN I find myself listening to the ESPN radio station more often these days, and I have to say it's a good listen -- if you're interested in football, say. When it comes to the Mets, I recently heard someone, one of the Mike's or somebody, make the following arguement: what could a Mets fan possibly care if Manny Ramirez imploded in the second or third year of a contract with the Mets? He could mean a title this year!

How could we care about long term consequences? Really, now: can you stand to be in a room with anyone who actually thinks like that, those with the atrophied memories, the maxed-out credit cards holders of the world? To feel that way requires not only a determination to live ENTIRELY in the moment; it also demands a childish belief that resources are limitless. But resources are NOT limitless, as we all know; present day decisions impact future options, always. The consequences of such a mindset are predictable: you live behind the eightball; and over time you develop a high sense of grievance, a sense of victimization, the feeling that things just aren't fair. Which is about the point when I walk out of that room.

They say that rabbits and goldfish have no long term memory, but most Mets fans belong to a higher species. We can remember Phillips and Duquette; and most of us plan on being fans beyond 2009. Now, why would that not hold true for a person paid to comment on baseball to knowledgable baseball fans? Makes no sense to me.

Wright and Reyes got cheap deals... They under paid Church and Heilman last year. They cut salary at catcher last year. Delgado makes millions less this year than last. Cheap Coupons and media that work for them cant fool me. They also lowballed Manuel,K Rod, and have been low balling Oliver Perez. They lost in arbitration to Oliver Perez last year with a very cheap offer. They didnt go out and land a closer type at the trade deadline in July-August. How can you defend them? They wont eat Castillo's contract. I am sorry but for a team that takes in a Kazillion dollars and uses all these different uniforms on also to make even more money.. there should be no nickel and diming with their players or with free agents.

The Mets Failure is an inability to properly judge their own farm system: Kazmir, Bell, Lindstrom, Bannister all were more useful than the parts brought back in trades. If they were on the team over the last 2 years rut would have prevented the late season collapses. Anyone can spend money, but a good GM doesn't trade away cheap major league talent for crap.

hey george costa, i like your style..u speak for a lot of met fans.with the advent of free agency, pro sports is about winning now.an owner with deep pockets and a savvy gm can turn things around in a hurry.we seem to be lacking on both fronts.i just had lunch with a season ticket holder who has laid out $20,000 for tickets that were half that price last year.he does not understand why the mets have a fixed budget, when revenues will be way up this year.sadly, neither do i..

Costa, you do know that A) the economy isn't what it was 2 years ago? B) Not every team is the Yankees? And no one's overpaying for players? C) The Wilpons lost alot of money in the Madoff Ponzi scheme? D) They have alot of money invested in the new stadium (ie; it's not liquid currency)?

And pray tell, which closer was available at the trade deadline who's team didn't want Murphy, Evans, AND F-Mart in return? And what does "underpaying" for Heilman and Church mean? Heilman hasn't been the same since Yadier Molina, and Church- until the 2008 season- was an unproven left fielder who had alot of upside.

The Mets didn't lowball K-Rod; they got him at the market value. It's simple economics- if there's no real demand for a closer on the high end market, you DON'T have to pay the high end market costs. Hence why the Mets were able to get K-Rod- and let's face it, K-Rod still got a good deal, and has a serious chance to win a title.

Lastly, how would the Mets eat Castillo's contract? That would require someone actually WANTING him. The Mets won't eat his contract unless they get something in value in return.

And while we're at it, the Mets do have a better look now at the minors- F-Mart, Thole, Murhpy, Niese, Aguilar, Kunz, Evans, etc.- are staying in system. The Mets haven't needed to throw away their minor leagues, and they're building around Reyes/Wright/Pelfrey as it is. They've done a great job at fishing for hidden gems like Maine and Church, and they have good investments in Santana, Beltran, Putz, and K-Rod.

If you want the Mets to just throw money out there, they might as well rehire Art Howe, Steve Phillips, and bring back the 2002 team.

And I know a guy, Gary S, who bought season tickets and very much wishes that he hadn't, as his company is one of the more spectacular collapse stories of 2008 and no one's job is safe.

You have to think that way sometimes. It shouldn't keep the Mets from competing, though; there are options, not all of them expensive. And no, I don't mean Alex Cora!

Btw, I also want to mention that the Rays, Twins, and Brewers all made the postseason last year. And they each had a fraction of the Mets current payroll.

And even the vaunted Boston Red Sox rebuilt the bottom end of their rotation with cheap deals for Penny and Smoltz.

It's not how much money you spend; it's how wisely you spend it and keep it.

in todays new york post the mets announced they have already sold 26000 season ticket plans.that means about 60 per cent of all the seats are already sold for 2009.all 49 corp boxes are sold for the entire year.i was lucky enough to get into citifield twice a few weeks back..every 20 feet there is a food stand or a kiosk to sell mets paraphanelia.please go on mets.com and check the pricing structure for tickets.unless the world ends this year (god forbid) the wilpons will make a fortune this year in revenue.good for them.i love the new park..i will not miss shea.i will attend 10-15 games minimum this year.no manny, fine.no derek lowe, i'm ok with that too..do u think a guy like ty wigginton would help the mets??he plays hard, plays 4 or 5 positions and has some pop..he would not cost much and he would balance the lineup..what is our excuse for not bringing a player like him in?instead i read we are thinking of bringing pedro back.why?? didn't omar learn anything from the el duque fiasco?? he is a 5 inning pitcher with a 84 mph fastball.he will kill the bullpen.use the money for pedro on a right handed bat like a wigginton or a similar player.

I like Wiggy, and I think he would be a nice RH bat for this team, but I think he's still looking for someone to guarantee him a starting role.

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