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Failure to Spend Is Not the Problem, Part 4

Mike SteffanosFriday, January 30, 2009
By Mike Steffanos

The 2003 Mets began the season with the second-largest payroll in baseball, $117 million. While this figure was significantly less than the $152 million the Yankees spent, it was also $11 million more than the third place Braves. The 2003 Mets won 66 games.

A housecleaning ensued, rightfully, as the Mets informed their fans that the franchise would be taking a new direction: emphasizing developing talent and building with pitching, speed and defense.

After the debacle of the last couple of years of Steve Phillips' regime, the majority of Mets fans seemed on board with the new approach. There was guarded optimism, which the franchise sadly squandered by the way it mishandled negotiations with free agent Vladimir Guerrero.

Guerrero was by far the top free agent hitter that off-season, but some back issues had many teams leery of giving him the big contract. The list of power hitters derailed by back problems is extensive, and the Mets had been burned on some contracts. They were already paying Mo Vaughn a lot of money not to play.

When the Yankees didn't pursue Guerrero and he continued to be unsigned, the Mets came under increasing pressure from talk radio to take a shot at the slugging outfielder who was still a couple of years shy of 30. By all accounts his back was fine, and he was young enough to seem to be a perfect star to build around.

Looking back, it seems clear that the Mets didn't want to take a chance with Guerrero. I could only believe that if they remained firm in their stance they would have been better off, but they chose to make a show of negotiating with Guerrero that was transparently insincere.

Guerrero signed a very reasonable 5 year/$70 million contract with the Angels with a club option for 2009. Although starting to decline a little, Guerrero has remained productive enough for the Angels to happily pick up that $15 million option for next season. The Mets came off looking deceitful and silly, and the free agents they did sign (Kaz Matsui, Mike Cameron, Braden Looper, Karim Garcia, Shane Spencer and Todd Zeile) proved to be a less than inspiring group.

I bring up Guerrero because what happened with him has proven to be an ongoing problem with the Mets -- the way the situation was handled provoked a lot of anger from the fan base. Again, it's the lack of a clear direction and a firm commitment to a game plan that causes more frustrations than if they made a decision and stuck to it.

More tomorrow.

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

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 (7)

Hi Mike, glad to see you have some time to write. I can't really add anything much of worth to the comments you made in your series, except to note that my sense is that most seasoned Mets fans feel the same.

Of course, good management doesn't grow on trees and luck plays such a large role in baseball success. But what's galling is that they would announce a few years ago that from now on it was "plan time"as you noted, and then hire a GM who clearly is without a plan, extending him at his darkest moment. If a fan such as me can see that getting older (ElDuque, Alou, etc) was a mistake one year, and not cleaning the bullpen out another, why can't the management? Instead they fight the last war. Something is clearly not right with the offensive chemistry when it counts and one of their run producers is almost guaranteed to decline. Yet no offensive moves are planned. They seem tone deaf. The Wilpon approach strikes you as organizational insincerity, it rubs me the wrong way too, but makes me feel that they designed the public relations program after Kazmir, and then immediately lost interest. There was no plan.

My sense is this team is now taking chances where they shouldn't (waiting until the moment they could get the least for Milledge then giving him away for nothing, leaving a doomed Willie at the helm til mid year, and if my suspicions are correct, signing a declining KRod because they thought they needed another star "closer"), and not taking them where they should (arguably Vlad or Sheets or Manny or Dunn this season). The team is always just reacting. Reacting to fan outrage when the GM makes another boner. Making desperate "credibility" moves, whether its signing aging pitchers with problem labrums or on the brink of batting practice status when those pitchers' demonstrably savvy former front offices declined to retain them, or going fishing for the biggest free agent every year to appease the fan base when all we want is a sign of intelligence and some playoffs. They are tone deaf is the best metaphor I can come up with, but it seems consistent since Wilpon took over the team.

So after the collapses, I guess its me that changed. I'm fed up. Especially with the gauging ticket price atrocity and opening of a new park engineered to give the remaining richies in the NY area an intimate experience. I throw my hands up and call for drastic measures like Manny and Sheets because I no longer see the point of pretending this team has a coherent approach to building a winner. I can actually imagine the Mets squandering the entire bounty of the Wright-Reyes-Beltran-Santana years. It seems that one could build a team around this core falling out of bed. Yet ahhh: there's our useless catcher and reviled semi-crippled second baseman and their big contracts, and our scrubs in left and unproven yet celebrated right fielder.

At best, Omar seems poised to return the same old inconsistent Ollie to an unimproved rotation, probably weakened by injury recovery, just as he returned Alou, ElDuque, and Castillo to their comfortable spots with no success. The writing was on the wall for all those guys. I can't help but see another frustrating season up ahead.

It's a shame but I believe the tone of your posts are correct; that the Mets have not been managed well enough to win a Championship, despite opportunities to do so. In my opinion this team has a two year window to dominate the NL East if they adda big bat(maybe one year if they don't want to pay $8M for their setup man next year or a young replacement doesn't evolve, however Putz could be a great trading piece). After this season it is likely Delgado and Putz will be gone. Two large holes to fill. If they are at all inclined to go all in to win a World Series this is the window to do so. For a long time I wanted to see the Mets build a top flight farm system to feed the ML team, add some young talent through trades, and and add veterans where needed (think the late 90's Yankees). I think my first two wishes have been fulfilled. However, lack of foresight brought us Castillo's 4 year contract when Hudson was in the final year of his contract. Two years of Marlon Anderson. Leting Bradford go ut signing Show. This year small signings like Alex Cora, and the glut of replacement level or below (ie. outfielders) will eat up millins in the aggregate. The Mets won't spring an extra 2 or 3 million for a solid #2 pitcher in Lowe but with fewer bad small contracts (both in number and $ value, ie. Cora $2M vs

The end of my post was lost. Here it is.

However, lack of foresight brought us Castillo's 4 year contract when Hudson was in the final year of his contract. Two years of Marlon Anderson, letting Bradford go but signing Show. This year small signings like Alex Cora, and the glut of replacement level or below players (ie. outfielders) will eat up millions in the aggregate. The Mets won't spring an extra 2 or 3 million for a solid #2 pitcher in Lowe but with fewer bad small contracts (both in number and $ value, ie. Cora $2M vs

Mike, your last paragraph of "Part 4" hits the nail right on the head. The way this organization handles things and their lack of clear direction have been consistent since the Wilpon's took over. They think their fans are idiots and they are smarter than all of us. That is what is so infuriating and frustrating.

As you said they really didn't want Vlad Guerrero, they were shamed by the media to get Piazza (Doubleday was still around then)and they started the "24 and 1" cry when A-Rod was a free agent the first time around. Many times rather than admit they didn't want to spend, they would bid a little less for free agents to give the appearance that they were trying. Mike Mussina comes to mind. The World Champion Yankees offered 90 million and the Mets would come in at the 11th hour when the deal was all but complete and offer 85 million and the newswire reports would say the Mets were right there but Mussina chose the Yankees. You just have to go back to last year's season finale. Right after the devastating loss, Jeff Wilpon "sugarcoated and shrugged off" the playoff eliminating loss, like it was a July game versus the Pirates. Then after being villified on WFAN and in the press, he changed his tune the next day.

As a season ticket holder after the past two collapses, I received letters from someone named William Ainello who is in the Mets Sales Department. Basically the letter was the same for both 2007 and 2008 stating how sorry they were for the team's failure, thanking us for our loyal support (and this is the kicker)promising to do everything in their power to bring a championship team to their loyal fan base. This is followed by a similar "blah,blah blah" letter from Omar stating how committed the organization is to winning. The only thing committed should be Omar for giving that stiff Castillo a 4 year/24 million dollar contract!

This whole Manny fiasco is "so" Mets. Rather than just coming out and saying we are not interested, which would have been an acceptable response. Jeff throws Omar under the bus and states his name never has come up in organizational meetings. Again this is where they think they are smarter than you! Every Met fan knows Omar loves Manny! All the angst and distrust again comes to the surface with the fans and is all self inflicted. They are their own worst enemy!

mike, good work with the posts..u and the rest of the posters deserve better as met fans.unfortunately as most of the posters and myself have stated, the wilpons are clueless and we are stuck as met fans with their second rate finishes despite a very good core group of players.the burning desire to win chanpionships from the owners is just not apparent to all of us.they seem content to finish over .500 and get their little ebbets field throwback stadium (which i like by the way).however, i would have preferred staying in shea and winning a world series.as i have stated before, if we don't make the playoffs this year, we need someone to buy the team from the wilpons.if not, the second rate status in this town will continue..

Very good stuff...but a couple things you may have missed. During Steve Phillips years, they lost their number one minor league prospect...Brian Cole (what would have happened had he not been killed?!!). Also, Steve Phillips' lovefest for Jason Middlebrook caused him to trade away an up and coming minor leaguer named Jason Bay. What would have happened if he'd stayed a Met. Of course the Kazmir thing was hit on...that was horrible and I still have nightmares about it!!!

I’m going to play devils advocate for a moment. While I agree that the club has whipsawed through philosophies rather than adhering to a single vision, it’s less clear to me how much it really matters.

For the vast majority of fans it’s about outcomes. Sure a few thousand hyper-engaged fans like us live and breathe every feint in every negotiation but we provide a small fraction of the club’s revenues. The big bucks come from casual fans that care about stars and outcomes – no matter what process delivers them. Four years ago they started returning to Shea to see the stars and the last two they’ve gone home disappointed by consecutive “collapses.”

Even the most rabid part of the fan base doesn’t much care how the wins come as long as they’re plentiful. On other boards I’ve seen posters who wanted a homegrown club four years ago, now clamor for O’Dog, Lowe & Manny. Today they’ll complain about the “process” but they’d revel in the hoisting of a banner delivered by 25 free agents. And if Wagner had stayed healthy and saved the club to the ’08 WS even their criticisms would largely be muted.

The Wilpons are undoubtedly way too reactive. I’d love to see a coherent plan articulated and implemented but they’re a far cry from incompetent. Most important, they provide enough resources to create a reasonable margin for error.

Not that you’d ever know it but the club is currently in the midst of a pretty good run. Twice before they’ve had runs of 5 consecutive .500+ seasons and the 80’s produced 7 straight winning years. Right now the Mets have strung 4 winning years in a row together and a 92 win season in 09 would tie this 5 year run for 2nd best in club history.

I know I’m an anomaly but as much as I’d love for my club to play post-season and win a championship each year – failure to do so doesn’t erase or even lessen the joy I take from watching them play winning ball over six months.

Not many baseball fans get to see a collection like Wright, Reyes, Beltran, Santana & Delgado every night for 6 months. I don’t love them because they’re stars. Jose reminds me of the youthful joy of the game, DWright seems on his way to becoming the club’s 2nd best homegrown player, Beltran is poetry in motion, Delgado cerebral approach reminds me of Keith even if his glove doesn’t and Johan is a world class competitor and athlete. Not a single Manny-donna among them. I’d love for the Wilpons to deliver me a championship but I’m also grateful they’ve acquired the kind of winning talent in which I can take pride.

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