Monday, July 26, 2010

Fixing the New York Mets

Three weeks ago, the New York Mets were leaders in the National League Wild Card race and breathing down the necks of the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. They were alive and kicking, playoff contenders by any stretch of the imagination set to return arguably their best player to the lineup after the All-Star Break. This was, of course, before the wheels fell off. Since the 4th of July, the Mets have the worst record in the entire National League, winning just four times in their last 17 tries. They are 7.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East and 5 games out of the Wild Card with four teams between them and leaders San Francisco. Along the way, the Mets have lost 12 games on walk-off hits and seem poised to hold the dubious distinction of losing more games via walk-off in one season than any other baseball team ever (the current MLB record is 16). Though the starting pitching has been good, the Mets have not hit with runners in scoring position, they do not show a disciplined approach at the plate, they do not play their optimal lineup on a regular basis and they are run by a top-down organizational philosophy that values saving face far, far more than it does winning ballgames. It is with great regret that I admit that it is once again "that time of year," the time at which we accept that "they just don't have it this year". While Mets fans will continue to watch, because watching the Mets is what we do and because, against our better judgment, there is a small part of us that will always be waiting for another miracle, we know deep down that for the 24th consecutive year the Commissioner's Trophy will belong to someone else.

However, all is not lost. The Mets have a very strong core consisting of a group I like to call "Homegrown Mets Revolution" (HMR, pronounced "homer"). HMR consists of first baseman Ike Davis (a.k.a IDB for "Ike Davis, Bitch!" We are not calling Ike a bitch, but instead emasculating anyone who dares question his prodigious talents); dynamic, albeit injury-prone shortstop Jose Reyes; All-American, all-world, face-of-the franchise third baseman David Wright; impressive young catcher Josh Thole; prodigal son-turned-fourth outfielder-turned centerfielder of the future Angel Pagan. On the bump, HMR features emerging star and bearded beanstalk Mike "Big Pelf" Pelfrey, curveballer extraordinaire Jonathon Niese and flame-throwing reliever Bobby Parnell (a.k.a." Bobby Punch-out"). The point of all of this is to say that the Mets have a number of good, young players who are ours, all ours, for the foreseeable future and figure to be in the mix for a while. The Core will be complemented over the next several seasons by superstar lefty Johan Santana (affectionately known around these parts as "57") and free-agent flameout Jason Bay (who smart money says will find his stroke eventually. Remember Carlos Beltran's 2005, anybody?). Here is how the Mets can go about building a champion around their rock-solid foundation in the years to come.

  1. Learn the concept of the sunk cost, and act accordingly:

The sunk cost is an economic principle that states that once you have paid for something, the amount of time and money you have invested in it is unrecoverable. As a result, a rational actor should disregard the prior investment when making decisions about the future. The common example used in textbooks to illustrate this principle is a scenario in which a person has already paid for tickets to a concert he no longer wants to see and is trying to decide whether he should go to the concert and get his money's worth or go to the beach with his friends. According to the textbook, a rational actor should go to the beach because it is more optimal to have spent $30 and gone to the beach on the shores of Lake Any Pitcher Not Named Oliver Perez than to have spent $30 and sat through a truly miserable concert ("The Oliver Perez Experience" with supporting acts "The Sub-Replacement Level Second Basemen" and "Frenchy"). Though it sounds simple enough, this 101-level economics concept is one Mets General Manager Omar Minaya has struggled with mightily, giving precious playing time and roster spots to players like Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez who are not performing, simply because he has already paid them a lot of money. How the head of personnel for a multi-million dollar company can fail to grasp a concept understood by a 21-year-old who spent most of his one semester of economic training on Facebook is sort of mind-boggling. In any event, the Mets need to stop putting valuable time and development resources into these players and instead shift them to players who may prove to be of some worth in the future (Dillon Gee, Ruben Tejada, where you at?). The past two years have been like watching one of your friends continue to pursue a girl who's just not feeling him in hopes that his emotional investment will pay off and the girl will ultimately come around instead of turning his attention elsewhere. Oliver Perez isn't coming around, Omar. It's time to cut your losses and move on.

(Side note: Continuing this metaphor, a fun thing you can do after you've been relegated to the Friend Zone and have decided to cut ties with a girl is to send a text message out to all of your friends announcing something to the effect of "Jane Doe (Sophomore/Chemical Engineering) has been designated for assignment. No corresponding move yet announced". Your male friends will think it's hilarious and your female friends won't get it, so it's not even sexist!)

  1. Throw in the towel and rebuild

    Too often, the Mets organization has undermined itself with the idea that if they just make it look like they're trying and the team is playing "meaningful games in September," fans will be satisfied enough to keep buying tickets. In addition, they also seem to act under the impression that "New Yorkers won't tolerate rebuilding". This notion is ridiculous. Mets fans--well, most of us--aren't stupid. We know that dynasties aren't built overnight and would be more than okay with a year or two of rebuilding if it meant a championship team down the line. Furthermore, the Mets have enough quality players already in place for the future that even if they do not actively add pieces in pursuit of a playoff run in 2011, the team is still going to play at or around .500 ball.

    Since this season is essentially over from a competitive standpoint, the Mets should act accordingly. This means that if they have any players not part of the long-term plan that can be shipped away for useful parts, they should make those deals. For instance, Hisanori Takahashi has proved himself a decent reliever. Unfortunately, he's 35 years old and probably not a piece of the puzzle in the years to come. With relief pitching a valuable commodity in this year's trade market, why not try to see what the Mets can get back for a decent fifth starter/reliever? If the Mets could net even a league-average corner outfielder or utility infielder, this player would be an upgrade over the outgoing Jeff Francoeur or the garbage currently rotting on the Mets bench.

    With Takahashi gone, the Mets will have a chance to give some of their Triple-A pitchers an opportunity to prove themselves at the Major-League level. If nothing else, the rest of 2010 can serve as an evaluation period for the team. Maybe they can get Nick Evans some at-bats. DFA'ing Rod Barajas so they're not carrying three catchers would open up another spot on the bench to get someone big-league at-bats.

  2. Make 2012 your go year and build toward that

    As noted earlier, the Mets have plenty of pieces. Though they have shown an unwillingness to cut ties with bad contracts Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and Alex Cora, these players come off the books after the 2011 season. Unfortunately, so does Carlos Beltran, and given his age and injury problems, I don't think it would be prudent to re-sign him. Still, the Mets will have plenty of roster space and payroll flexibility for 2012 if they can keep themselves from making any stupid, over-the-top free agent signings beforehand. Here is how the roster should look:

    C: Josh Thole

    1B: IDB

    2B: ? Possibly Minor-league Ruben Tejada, although I'm not totally sold on him as a big-leaguer just yet. If Daniel Murphy ever makes it back from injury, he could perhaps be taught to play second base and should be given a shot at this role.

    3B: David Wright

    SS: Jose Reyes

    LF: Jason Bay

    CF: Angel Pagan

    RF: ? Perhaps a free-agent signing for the 2012 season, maybe prospect Fernando Martinez.

    Basically, the team needs to work with this roster in mind, and slowly collect pieces to complement it. Finding a decent second baseman and rightfielder (JAYSON WERTH) seem to be a must. They don't have to be incredible because there are already enough good hitters in this lineup (especially if Bay starts hitting), but they need to be significantly better than Castillo and Francoeur. Under no circumstances should they mortgage the future for a chance to win in 2010 or 2011.

    Starting rotation:

    1. Johan Santana (although it remains to be seen how good he will be in 2012)
    2. Mike Pelfrey
    3. Jonathon Niese

    The fourth and fifth spots in the rotation will be contingent upon whether knuckleballer R.A. Dickey can continue to be effective and whether Jennry Mejia, a teenager with electric stuff, is ready to be a big-league starter. If both have proven themselves worthy, they should be in the rotation. If not, the Mets should have payroll flexibility to add a starter from the free agent market. The bullpen should be spearheaded by Bobby Parnell, Francisco Rodriguez and a re-signed Pedro Feliciano. Okayish middle relievers are pretty much a dime a dozen.

I think this is a pretty solid plan. When you think about it, this team has a year and a half to acquire two to four pieces, with all of the major parts already in place. Being in a big market, the Mets should be able to spend money to get these players when the time is right. The main key is just to act rationally and remember that the goal should be winning championships instead of half-assing it in constant fear of an empty Citi Field. If the team builds a consistent winner, the tickets will sell themselves for years to come.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Hella Hyphy Road Trip


Sorry it's been forever since I've written anything. I had meant to update this at least once every week or so, but a unique confluence of events including a visit from my parents, an unusually resilient cold, a spat of laziness and an extended period without an original or particularly interesting thought has kept me from the keyboard. I'll do better next time. Anyway, I know those of you who are my mother have been eagerly anticipating an update, so I'll get to it.

For the most part, things have been pretty slow here in Seattle. I don't do a whole lot outside of going in to the station for my internship, but it's been really nice to have some time off to sit around in my underwear watching professional wrestling and screwing around on Facebook. I did, however, leave the relative comfort of my bedroom for a four-day pilgrimage to San Francisco to see my beloved Metropolitans take on the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park with my cousin Eric, who had recently moved to the city by the bay when Sears moved its Apparel & Home division, of which he is Chief of Staff.

A trip to San Francisco was something I had been thinking about ever since I'd decided I would be spending my summer in Seattle. Even before telling my friends and family, the first thing I did after being offered my internship was figure out where the nearest National League ballpark was and when the Mets would be playing there. San Francisco is about a 14-hour drive down from Seattle, so I decided to stop in Crescent City, California, conveniently located about halfway between my starting point and my destination, to see Redwood National Park.

My love of the outdoors is something that always surprises people when I tell them about it. In general, I'm a pretty extroverted guy, and I think people have trouble imagining me being alone and keeping quiet long enough to properly enjoy nature. Perhaps under different circumstances, I wouldn't be able to, but I think growing up an only child has taught me to enjoy and appreciate solitude in a way I otherwise wouldn't. I guess if I'm going to be alone for long stretches of time, it's better to be alone beneath hundreds of magnificent and gigantic Redwoods than sitting at my desk staring at a computer screen.

I was pretty excited about being in the Redwoods, so I woke up at like 7 a.m. to do the longest dayhike the Park offered, a 12-mile jaunt through the woods along the Pacific Coast.

The hike into the woods was pretty much perfect. It was really pleasant to just be out for a walk by myself for a few hours and get my head straight. I was able to start planning and mentally preparing myself for my senior year of college. In hindsight, I'm not really thrilled with the way I spent my first five semesters at school, so I feel like I have a lot to make up for in my last year at Carolina. While being as happy and successful as I want to be next year will take a lot of effort, I have a lot of things to accomplish and I'm really excited to get to work.

The scenery itself was gorgeous. The "Last Chance Trail" I walked was named as such because it presents hikers with their "last chance" to walk part of the California Coastal Trail before hitting the Oregon Coast Trail. The Redwoods were as impressive as I had always imagined them from hours spent playing "Cruisin' USA" on N64. The trees were dense enough to provide a really refreshing sort of sanctuary from the outside world, but allowed for enough space for the sun to break through and illuminate all of the flowers and shrubbery along the ground. At times the path would emerge from the woods to offer a view of the Pacific Ocean. I am not a good enough writer and do not know enough about different kinds of flowers and trees to really describe the things I saw, so here are some pictures I took with my iPhone:

Exhausted from the six mile trek in, I stopped for lunch (turkey sandwich, granola bar, Propel) on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. It was a pretty choice lunch spot.

My hike back out was somewhat less enjoyable. Prior to leaving for Crescent City, my parents asked me if I wanted to purchase hiking shoes. Already spending Winn Dixie bags full of their money living in Seattle this summer, I declined, assuming that I wouldn't have much use for them and that I would be just fine in an old, beat-up pair of Adidas that were not only cost-effective, but complemented the scenery quite nicely.

Despite being aesthetically pleasing, my Adidas were a mistake. Almost immediately after getting back on the trail after lunch, I started feeling pain in my left heel and the balls of my right foot. As I continued through the reeds and tall grass of the marshy area closest to the water, this pain spread to every part of both of my feet. It was sort of like walking across a North Shore beach for six hours, without being able to stop and lie in the sun (those of you reading who have not spent extensive periods of time on the North Shore of Long Island: just imagine a beach as a place where people gather to lie on a bed of rocks and never go swimming because the water is too cold). Combine the constant pain in my feet with a growing rash of mosquito bites and a pair of legs that were not as strong as I had previously thought them to be, and you had the makings of a fairly excruciating walk back to my car.

Anyone who has ever been around me after I've had three drinks or more knows that I will, from time to time, declare that I have "the heart of a champion". This was not one of those times. I yelped in pain as I was forced to run down every hill I encountered, the strength in my quads eroded to the point that I would not otherwise be able to stop my momentum. I made grunting noises usually reserved for female tennis players and shouted expletives at unsuspecting trees. I stopped to lie down on several occasions, suddenly crumbling to the ground as if I were a member of the 2009 New York Mets. Unfortunately, resting only seemed to make the pain even worse when I ultimately regained my footing. It is safe to say that if there were an easier route back to my hotel, I would have taken it. Alas, the Last Chance Trail was similar to a Puff Daddy record in that there was No Way Out. I had no cell-phone service, no Internet and no way back to my car other than to finish the hike. And so, I sweated, grimaced and hobbled my way through perhaps the most unpleasant and uncomfortable experience I have ever known at a speed only slightly faster than "backwards". But in a testament to my extraordinary perseverance complete lack of any other option, I ultimately arrived at the end of the trail around sundown. Moral of the story: If your parents offer to buy you something of even marginal utility, let them.

After getting a good night sleep at the appropriately named America's Best Value Inn of Crescent City (it really was a great value), I once again climbed into my trustee black Avalon and hit Highway 101 en route to San Francisco. The view was scenic, the accompanying soundtrack (JUST the right mix of Jay-Z and Ira Glass) was delightful and before I knew it, the Golden Gate Bridge was in sight.

Eric was gracious enough both to take me out to dinner and let me crash on his couch. After dinner, Eric gave me a tour of his new neighborhood, which is pretty sweet and only a few blocks from the famous Lombard Street switchbacks. He's done pretty well for himself.

We also had ice cream at the original Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory, which was really cool. You can see how they make the chocolate and everything, definitely something I would recommend seeing if you're ever in San Francisco. The next day Eric went to work, so I explored all of the touristy things San Francisco has to offer. I did a walk through the Japanese Tea Gardens and San Francisco Botanical Gardens at Golden Gate Park. GGP is sort of like San Francisco's Central Park, and it's a pretty nice place to take a walk while working up an appetite for clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl.

Once I decided I was sufficiently hungry, I boarded a bus (the surest way to avoid losing an argument in a Cable Car) bound north for Fisherman's Wharf, the tourist hub of San Francisco. The breadbowl was as delicious as I'd imagined it would be and there is perhaps no more exhilarating feeling of community than the one you get as a visiting fan in a foreign city, exchanging high fives with blue-and-orange-clad strangers and holding discussions about the Mets' need for another starter, thousands of miles from Flushing.

But the most poignant moment of the trip for me came while I was visiting a college sports paraphernalia store in Fisherman's Wharf that I had visited when I was last in San Francisco five years ago. At the time, I was on the lookout for Syracuse gear, a sixteen-year-old almost certainly bound for the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Now, I'm a sort of walking billboard for the University of North Carolina, a place that has become so much a part of me that I refer to it as home and have trouble even imagining spending the last three years anywhere else. It's hard for me to explain to people who didn't know me in high school how in love with Syracuse I was and how many random things had to happen for me to end up heading south instead of north. Until being in that store, I had almost forgotten there was a time when I was anything besides a Tar Heel.

After cooling my jets at Eric's apartment for a few hours and eating a pretty solid dinner in Chinatown, we headed to AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Prior to coming to AT&T, I had read and heard lots about how it was the nicest place to watch a baseball game in the world. While there will always be a part of me that is partial to Shea Stadium, the first ballpark I ever visited and the place I learned to love baseball, I can confirm that, from an objective standpoint, anyway, AT&T Park is probably the best place to watch a baseball game anywhere. The park is clean, it is state of the art, it is comfortable, it usually provides good to great weather and it affords a magnificent view of the San Francisco Bay.

Unfortunately, on this warm July evening, the Mets' bats went absolutely frigid in a 1-0 loss that might as well have been 10-0 given the way the visitors were hitting. Giants' starter Barry Zito seemed to have hopped into a time machine destined for 2002 (23-5, 2.75 ERA, AL Cy Young), expertly mixing his fastball, changeup and curveball in such a manner as to make the depleted Mets lineup (M.I.A: Jose Reyes, Josh Thole, Angel Pagan) look very, very silly. New York managed just three hits and failed to score a run off either Zito or Brian Wilson, the detestable Giants closer on whose upper-90's fastball the Mets were simply unable to Get Around. I would be remiss not to mention that the Mets' starting pitcher, "Homegrown! Mets! Revolution!" member Jonathon Niese, was quite good himself, yielding just one run in seven innings of work. Alas, Alex Cora's throw home on perennial Met-killer Pat Burrell's grounder was late, and Aubrey Huff was able to score the only run the home team would need.

The lack of offensive fireworks during the game was somewhat made up for by the actual fireworks provided by AT&T Park afterward. While the Giants fans in our section loudly proclaimed how much better the fireworks were after a victory and stated that they would not want to sit for fireworks after a loss, I would contend otherwise. Even when the Mets lose, being at a Mets game is pretty much the best thing that can happen to me on a given day. Throw in a scenic view, the company of family and post-game fireworks and it was as close to a perfect an evening as you're going to get when you've got out-machines like Jeff Francoeur, Jason Bay and Rod Barajas in your lineup. Also, we won the 2000 NLDS, Barry Bonds was a cheater and all of the best moments in San Francisco Giants history happened in Uptown Manhattan. So there.

Even after watching the Mets accumulate one hit for every ten hours I spent driving to see them, I still felt compelled to listen to the entirety of their 8-4 loss to the Giants on the radio the next night as I drove home, confirming something I had always suspected, but never been entirely sure of: There is nothing the Mets can do that will make me not love them.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Sorry it's been so long. Please direct any comments, questions or concerns to my e-mail at, or holler at me on Twitter @aptaube. Stay fresh.