Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Bad Actors

Bad Actor: a mean, ill-tempered, troublemaking, or evil person.

As the 2023 New York Mets' season grinds down to what surely will feel like a merciful death, most of us Mets fans are hoping and praying for a 2024 season that is at least compelling, if not triumphant. How that plays out depends on who suits up for the team next year, and that, of course, will greatly depend on who is making what is sure to be a series of significant decisions this offseason. David Stearns, or whoever calls the shots, must hit on most of those calls. The implications of those choices go way beyond 2024 for the Mets. The idea of sustained winning still feels like the ever-elusive white whale for long-time fans like myself. And even Steve Cohen isn't going to stomach massive deficit spending forever.

As the trading deadline approached, I was preparing myself mentally for news that Pete Alonso had been shipped out of town. Apparently, the Mets were never very close to trading their premier slugger, but that certainly doesn't ensure Alonso will be manning first base for the next Mets playoff team. With Pete set to be an unrestricted free agent following the 2024 season, Alonso's future will likely be one of the first decisions the person running baseball operations will face.

Over the weekend, the Post's Joel Sherman looked at a potential deal to keep Pete Alonso with the Mets, pointing out that there is currently a gulf between the Mets' value on their slugger and what his representation is seeking. It's something I've been thinking about myself.

While Alonso is a good enough athlete who works hard to keep in peak shape, he is not the elite type of athlete that tends to age the best into his mid to late-30s. In 2025, the first year of Alonso's next contract, Pete will be 30 years old. I'm sure he will still be a very good player at the beginning of that contract, but I question whether a 35-year-old Alonso will still be mashing. Beyond that — and I'm almost certain Pete will get a deal that stretches well beyond age 35 — I'd be worried about his productivity. We've seen some sluggers fall off a cliff production-wise as they advance into their 30s.

If you click over to Pete Alonso's page on and scroll down toward the bottom, you'll find B-R's list of "Similar Batters through 27," Pete's age through the 2022 season. I have to note that similarity scores are not destiny, but some of the names on the list underlined my concerns about going too deep with Alonso on a contract. Cecil Fielder was the top comp. Fielder's last season as a dominant power hitter was at age 32. By OPS+, you must go back further to Cecil's age 29 campaign. In Fielder's 5 years in MLB, age 30 or above, he slashed a combined .249/.343/.458. That production declined rapidly.

Skipping over young, active players, Chris Davis was the next similar batter on the list who completed his career. He also played 5 seasons at age 30 or above, slashing an abysmal .196/.291/.379 with an OPS+ of 80.

Tony Clark, who played a season with the Mets at age 31, played through his age 37 season. He slashed .238/.313/.456 over those 8 seasons. Not terrible, but not dominant numbers in the steroid era, particularly for a first baseman. His OPS+ over that stretch was 97.

One more name caught my eye. Mets fans who have been around for a while will remember Mo Vaughn mainly as a punchline, but he was once one of the most feared sluggers in baseball. In his prime, 6 years from age 25 through age 30, Vaughn slashed .315/.405/.569, hit 213 HR, and won an AL MVP. His OPS+ over those years was a ridiculous 148.

But Boston let him sign with the Angels as a free agent following his age-30 season. Vaughn was decent — but hardly MVP-caliber — for 2 seasons in Anaheim, then missed the entire 2001 season with an injury. The Angels and Mets swapped disappointments, with pitcher Kevin Appier going to Anaheim. Mo was decent with the Mets in his first season in 2002, then missed most of 2003 and all of 2004. The Red Sox had no reason to regret not signing their star long-term.

As I said, similarity scores are not destiny. Davis, even in his prime, struck out more than Pete does. Mo Vaughn was, to put it charitably, a bit on the husky side in his weight. Alonso has 181 homers already in his time in MLB, while Clark only amassed 251 in a 17-year career. But it's the rare big slugger who doesn't decline pretty quickly as he advances through his 30s, and those are usually the exceptional athletes or others in the steroid era that had some artificial help in staying ahead of Father Time.

I'm a huge Pete Alonso fan, as I'm sure are the vast majority of Mets fans. While not quite the athlete that the great Darryl Strawberry was during his Mets tenure, Alonso's at-bats are every bit as compelling as Darryl's. Even if Pete is traded this offseason and never wears a Mets uniform again, he will go down as one of the franchise's all-time greats. And I hope the Mets and Pete Alonso somehow agree on a deal that will keep him with the club long-term. But there would be something even worse than seeing Pete mashing in another uniform: having his career with the Mets come to an end that mirrors what happened with Robinson Canó.

It was painful watching the once-great Canó sink so low that it was better to pay him to go home than keep giving him ABs, and I never really felt any personal fondness for Robbie 
Canó. If the Mets hand Pete Alonso an 8 to 10-year deal to stay in orange and blue, I strongly suspect things will end that way. But I would be surprised if Alonso could be tempted to sign for a much shorter term. If I were Billy Eppler (or David Stearns) and Steve Cohen, I would take a shot at signing Alonso to a 6-year deal with a high average annual value and see if that worked. If not, I would trade Alonso this winter, when his value would be at his highest. Given that the Mets are unlikely to be championship-caliber in 2024, that would be the move most beneficial for the Mets' future.

One note here. I do not at all buy into the rumors being touted by a couple of talk radio guys about Alonso being a bad clubhouse guy. That rumor has already been debunked by guys who cover the team, including going into the locker room. It still irks me that these jackasses felt the need to do this in what can very well be Pete's last season with the Mets. I will probably not get the chance to head out to Citi Field this season, but if I do, I will stand and cheer for this man who meant so much to this team through some trying seasons. Pete is not a perfect player, but he was pretty great and fun to watch.

Whether Pete stays or goes, the lesson here is that the Mets try to extend their best players while they are still under team control. That's when it makes sense for a guy to sign a deal that ends in their mid-30s or a bit before. A prime example would be Francisco Álvarez. If I were the Mets, I would offer this kid a 10 or 12-year deal this winter that would still only carry into his early 30s. I believe Francisco will be eligible for free agency at age 28. Buying out some of his free agent years would make sense for the Mets and offer some certainty to the young catcher. If Francisco Álvarez even approaches the star potential he has shown this season, waiting until he approaches free agency will put the Mets in the same boat with their young catcher that they currently find themselves with Pete Alonso.

Pete Alonso wasn't the only 2023 Met accused of being a bad actor in the clubhouse. An extended analysis of the Mets' disastrous season by Mike Puma in the New York Post noted friction between some Mets and Justin Verlander. Verlander's sin, according to Puma:
Verlander and Scherzer had a strained relationship as Tigers teammates, and a source said even as the pitchers worked toward harmony with the Mets, there was occasional discord. Verlander was a "diva," according to this Met, causing Scherzer to grouse about his fellow three-time Cy Young award winner. Verlander often complained about the Mets' analytics department, which he deemed inferior to the one that served him in Houston.
This was interesting in that, apparently, Verlander felt that he wasn't getting enough from the team's analytics department, which often comes under fire on Twitter as asserting itself too much. For myself, I still see whatever problem there is the same way as I noted in my last post:
I respectfully disagree with folks that want to hang all of this on overdependence on analytics. The truth is that the most successful clubs can integrate analytics and scouting into one coherent operation. Both disciplines have their usefulness. Neither are the be-all and end-all. I can't pretend to have any inside view into the Mets organization. However, it wouldn't surprise me if there is still a struggle at times to consistently get analytics and scouting working together on the same page.

Now, Verlander's complaints about the Mets' analytics department may have pissed off Max Scherzer, but I would be curious to find out how the analytics guys themselves reacted to Verlander's complaints. If I was running that department and got word of Verlander's thoughts, I would have contacted him and requested a sit down with the man at his earliest possible convenience. A healthy analytics department would welcome helpful criticism as a chance to improve the way they do their job. Don't get me wrong, being praised is always wonderful but, if you really want to get better at what you do, it's constructive criticism that helps you do that.

I'd love it if someone out there with access followed up on this. And frankly, if no one spoke with Verlander about his concerns while he was here, I hope Cohen, who had a personal relationship with Justin, follows up himself. I know he cares about having the best possible analytics department.

Be well and take care.

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  1. They traded Tom Seaver. They traded Nolan Ryan. They traded Jeff Kent. They traded Amos Otis. Anyone can be traded. Whether not not they should be traded is a totally different question.

    On the plus sides, Alonso's power is real. His HRs are seldom just barely there eeking over the fence. They are monster shots. However, like many power hitters his batting average is never going to be nearly as formidable.

    He came up with a reputation for defense that was quite negative. While he's no Keith Hernandez out there, he's made himself dependable in the field as well.

    Now, he's not going to be a base stealer. He's not going to make himself into a Gary Carter type of leader via personality and work ethic. He's a quiet, big guy who can hit while playing a position often relegated to those folks whose best defensive role is DH.

    With his free agency approaching, the fact is that the deadline will depress his value. His sub .220 hitting will do that as well. The question is do you perceive him as the next Boog Powell or the next Dave Kingman?

    The only way you find out what his true value is would be to put his name on the list of trade candidates. Offering him up in trade and simply trading him are not the same thing. The former helps you gauge what he's worth and project what it will cost to keep him long term. The latter is more like a last place club's quick fix.

    As far as long term deals go, they don't always have to be for over 6 years to bite you in the ass. How's that Marte deal looking? McNeil? Diaz? Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose...goodtime Charlie's got the blues.

    1. I think Pete will almost certainly get over 6 years. Marte was already 33 in his first season with the Mets. They saw him as the type of elite athlete that ages well, but of course the increased risk of injury of older players factored in. Like I said, I'd be in favor of them offering Pete high AAV for 6 seasons, and then trying to trade him if he passes, which he probably will.


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