Will the Mets Ever Learn?

(Photo Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
(Photo Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

(For the record: While Terry Collins is pictured here, I do not believe he is to be blamed for the Mets struggles. I believe that Collins is a good manager and is doing the best he can with the lack of talent that he is given by Sandy Alderson.)

People who know me well know that I want to see the Mets win. The last ten years have been exceptionally frustrating for Mets fans to watch, dating back to the Jerry Manuel days and the years of collapses at the end of the regular season that cost them division titles in 2007 and 2008. It has been all downhill since then for the Metropolitans, winning 70, 79, 77, 74, 74, and 79 games from 2009-2014. Notice the common theme here; the Mets have been consistently in the 70s in wins for the past six seasons. They won the division in 2006 after winning 97 games, which led baseball that year along with the Yankees. But since then, they have endured two brutal finishes and have been consistently, well, average. Those who know me have heard me say this on various occasions in the past. But there was a simple way that the Mets could have fixed this thing before they entered a decade of mediocrity: trade David Wright and Jose Reyes.

I know trading the face of the franchise would not have been easy to do. But Wright has clearly had his best days behind him and he is making a pretty penny while serving time on the DL and nobody seems to know when he will return. Not only that, but the Mets still owe Captain America another $87 million for the next five seasons through 2020 when he will be 37. They gave him a seven year, $138 million extension on top of his current deal in November of 2012. Let’s face it, as nice of a guy that David Wright is, the Mets wasted $138 million the second the ink dried on that contract.

Wright signed this extension after he came off a bounce back 2012 season in which he hit .306/.391/.492 with 21 home runs and 93 RBI and a sixth place finish in the MVP voting in the National League. He still had a year remaining on his six year, $55 million deal that he signed in 2006, as his $16 million club option for 2013 was undoubtedly getting picked up. This is the most recent time when his value was at its highest. The answer here is simple; pick up the option and trade him. I would have looked to move him earlier, but this was the last chance the Mets had to trade him away and get back who knows what in a trade for him.

I know not all prospects pan out, in fact most of them do not. But you cannot tell me knowing what we know now that you wouldn’t have liked to have traded him to a team for four or maybe five minor leaguers and see what happens four years down the line. The scary thing is, four years down the line is right now. Are you watching this team to watch David Wright play? No. Is he drawing 40,000 fans to Citi Field every day? No. Yes he is hurt right now, but you wouldn’t be doing so even if he was playing. If he really meant that much to franchise, where is the support? I said it four years ago, and I‘ll say it again. The Mets are not winning with or without David Wright. If they made the right decision and traded him, I can almost guarantee that this team would be more exciting to watch because let’s face it, other than the pitchers, why else are you watching this team? Even if all of those players do not pan out, you will likely get one or two players who would be established major leaguers by now with perhaps other on the cusp of breaking into the majors. A few young, established major leaguers with possibly more on the way would sure look nice with that pitching staff, wouldn’t it?

I will give Sandy Alderson credit because when he does make trades, he makes some pretty good ones. They stole Noah Syndergaard when they got him from Toronto for RA Dickey. Again, Dickey is a great guy, but it was the right baseball move for the Mets at the time. And my goodness, to get Travis d’Arnaud as well? Even 20 year old outfielder Wuilmer Becerra has some promise. That was a steal the day it happened for the Mets. They also got John Buck who they were able to flip along with Marlon Byrd (who they signed on a minor league deal) to Pittsburgh for their second basemen of the future, Dilson Herrera along with a nice bullpen arm in Vic Black. He even somehow got the Giants to trade Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran straight up. When Sandy makes trades, he makes some pretty good ones.

I remember reading at one point that the Rockies were interested in Wright a few years back and might be interested in trading their top prospect to complete a deal. Their top prospect? Some guy named Nolan Arenado, and he turned out okay. But of course, the Mets would not trade their captain, and Arenado could be a perennial MVP candidate in Colorado.

This is not saying that the Mets would have gotten Arenado in a trade, but this is just an example. The Mets should have inquired to clubs asking what they would be willing to give up for Wright coming off a strong season. If a team would be willing to part with their top prospect as a piece in a deal, then you take that chance. There is a wide range of outcomes, but to even have the possibility to get a player of Arenado’s caliber for the next decade is absolutely worth the gamble. That is a guy you build a franchise around, not…..yeah I don’t know either.

Reyes, on the other hand, should have been an easier decision to move. There was zero chance of him resigning with the club as he entered free agency after the 2011 season. Watching Reyes play when he is healthy is an absolute pleasure to watch, especially in his prime while in Queens. He plays the game hard and always hustles. He was a sparkplug atop the lineup for nine seasons in Queens, and the Mets have had nothing close to resembling a leadoff hitter (or a major league shortstop, for that matter) since then.

With injuries always a concern for Reyes, trading him would not be that easy because that concern would always there, especially for a guy that relies so much on his legs. But he had a career year in his walk year in 2011. He hit .337, which was good enough to win the first and only batting title in Mets history. He also had a .384 on base percentage, stole 39 bases, hit 31 doubles and led baseball with 19 triples. I am still convinced that the Mets built Citi Field for Jose Reyes. He played one season there, and had amazing season. But he left after that, signing a six year, $106 million deal with the Marlins after the season.

I still wonder to this day why they never traded him at the trade deadline that season. He was having a terrific season, so even with his injury history, the Mets could have gotten back a ton in return, even for a rental. But no, they kept them because somehow they thought they were still in the mix for the postseason that season when they finished 13 games out of a wild card spot and 25 games behind the Phillies, who won 102 games that year, in the division. They had no chance to make the playoffs and what was the reward for keeping him? The only player in franchise history to win a batting title? Sure that’s a cool thing and a nice accomplishment, but who cares about that now? I thought that maybe the Mets would learn from their mistake of not trading Reyes and make the right decision and trade David Wright. But they signed Wright instead, and the Mets remain in mediocrity four years later.

This is just the biggest reason why the Mets won’t be contending anytime soon. They continue to make decisions today that baffle me. Bobby Parnell has pitched in every role imaginable. He finally put together a nice season in 2013, picking up 22 saves and posting a 2.16 ERA. Parnell has always had good stuff, but has had trouble with consistency and staying healthy. Surely the Mets would move him at the deadline while his value was at its highest to a contender for anything that could either add to the farm system or fill in one of the many holes on their roster. It is not necessary to have a great closer if he isn’t getting many chances to close games. But this is the Mets we’re dealing with. They kept Parnell, he blew out his arm on Opening Day 2014 and he required Tommy John surgery.

Daniel Murphy is a very good hitter. He hits line drives and uses the whole field. But he is not a power hitter and he while he is smart on the bases, he is not a fast runner. He does not have a defensive home in the National League. The Mets have stored him at second base for the past few seasons for who knows what reason. Sure, he can hit. But again, sacrificing defense for offense when you do not score a lot of runs yourself is not the way to go. If you do not score runs then you have to prevent them defensively (Royals, defending American League Champions and best record in the American League). Murph is a free agent after this season and he will not be coming back next year because there is no room for him. So if there is no room for him, why is he on the team now? Trade him. Get something, anything for him. But this is the Mets we’re dealing with, so they will surely keep Murphy around then let him walk in free agency and get nothing for him.

Wilmer Flores has been one of the Mets’ top hitting prospects for the past few seasons. They signed him out of Venezuela in 2007 and he has been praised throughout the years in the minors for his bat. He was signed as a shortstop, but then they moved him to third base because he “was not a shortstop.” Only the Mets would take a guy and move him off of shortstop because he would profile better as a corner player and then move him back to shortstop. This is just one of the more bizarre cases I have seen. The Mets need offense and Flores, albeit not spectacular, has been one of their best hitters this season. In a lineup that needs offense, he needs to get a chance to play every day. While he is getting that chance, moving him from shortstop to second base cannot be good for him. This kid is a third baseman. Period. He is not an outfielder, where the Mets considered using him in the minor leagues. He is not a shortstop, where they were playing him most of the season. He is not a second basemen, where they are playing him with Murphy coming off the DL and playing Ruben Tejada at shortstop. The whole situation is a disaster that nobody thinks twice about, because nobody thinks that it matters where he plays. A young player needs to be given a position and given time to settle in to that spot where he can be comfortable in the field. While versatility is a good thing for a player, your top hitting prospect should be playing everyday, not become a utility player. The only answer here is to trade Murphy, play Flores at third base where he belongs while Wright is injured and see what you have there. We know what Ruben Tejada is, a backup infielder at best. Call up Matt Reynolds, who can actually play shortstop, and give him a chance there. Dilson Herrera was sent down to make room for Murphy coming off the DL, which is fair considering he will be playing every day in Las Vegas. But there is no room for Daniel Murphy on this team. If Dilson Herrera is your future at second base, let the kid play there every day. An infield of Flores, Reynolds, Herrera, and Duda left to right may not consist of four gold glove winners, but it has to be better then what they are running out there right now. But this is the Mets we’re dealing with, so that’s not likely to happen.

People complain all the time about the Mets never spending any money. They spent $138 million on David Wright, $66 million on Jason Bay, $60 million on Curtis Granderson and $21 million on Michael Cuddyer and also gave up three draft picks in the process in an age where the value of player development and young players is higher than ever, you just cannot be giving up draft picks. They have spent plenty of money, and they have took on plenty of albatross contracts in doing so. They continue to search for power when they vastly need to improve their atrocious team speed, defense and athleticism. They are spending money on the wrong players. Extending Wright was one thing because he was already with the team. But as far as free agency goes, the Mets are targeting the wrong guys. All three of the aforementioned were guys who relied on power, brought little to no speed or athleticism to the table, were below average defensively, and were all past their prime. It does not matter how much money you spend, it’s about spending it wisely. The Mets have not had a big free agent signing pan out since Carlos Beltran, and that was ten years ago.

Power does not play at Citi Field, just like it does not play in Kansas City or San Francisco. The two teams from the World Series last year built their teams to their ballpark: with defense, speed and athleticism (sounds like Jose Reyes, doesn’t it?). The Mets need to stop worrying about power and put together a well-rounded baseball team that can do all those things. Until the front office realizes that, I really do not know when this team will appear in the postseason again. The Mets have built one of the most talented young starting rotations the game has seen in a long time. The problem is it is all going to waste as we speak.

I have been saying this for the past four years and if I am still saying the same thing now, then maybe I was right. Unfortunately for the Mets, they can no longer trade David Wright or Jose Reyes at peak value anymore like they could have four years ago and make an attempt to fix this thing (Matt Harvey maybe?), and that was just the beginning. As much as I want to see them do well and as much as I hate to say it, the Mets will always be the second team in New York until who knows when. The facts are that the Mets are a baseball team that doesn’t know how to play baseball. They can’t play defense. They can’t run the bases. They can’t get a bunt down. They have zero team speed or athleticism whatsoever. And they can’t hit. As a unit, this is probably the least fundamentally sound major league team I have ever seen. Will the Mets ever learn? Considering that I am still saying the same thing as I said four years ago; it’s unfortunate, but I have my doubts.

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