Elster's World

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

If You Build It (Correctly) They Will Come (Around)

Sports Illustrated’s Rany Jazayerli (no I did not make up that name) has a piece on SI.com today giving an in-depth look at how the 2006 Tigers, the best team in baseball to this point in the season, were built. I thought I would try and do the same for the best team in the National League, the New York Mets, and how they evolved over the last two seasons.

In the wake of the Scott Kazmir trade for Victor Zambrano two years ago, Team Wilpon realized a front office shakeup was needed. The Mets brought back former assistant GM Omar Minaya and made him Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, effectively putting him in charge of, well, all baseball operations. So far, this move has been a success.

Minaya is a smart baseball man with a plan. Sure, some argue that he is attempting to make the Mets Latino North, but the fact remains that he is in the process of building a very good club. He isn’t afraid to make a splash (Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran were two huge free agent signings and he brought in slugger Carlos Delgado via a trade) and his moves have been working out.

In the wake of the shakeup, the Mets hired Willie Randolph as manager and replaced all of their coaches except pitching guru Rick Peterson, who has done a tremendous job with the pitching staff, especially Tom Glavine. Randolph is now in his second year and still learning on the job. But he is a very even guy and seems to be very good at gauging the mood of his club. They all really seem to respect him as well. He needs to get better at in-game moves, but that often comes with experience.

Pitching: Minaya immediately made a splash when he guaranteed a fourth year and stole Pedro Martinez from the Boston Red Sox. Pedro has been a real breath of fresh air for the Mets. He is a master on the mound (despite being about 70% of the pitcher he was in his heyday) and a positive voice in the clubhouse. Despite making just 18 starts so far this season due to injury, Pedro leads the team with 122 strikeouts. Tom Glavine has been turned around after three forgettable seasons with the Mets (he’s currently 12-4 with a sub-4.00 ERA) and despite being pretty unimpressive this season, Steve Trachsel has won 10 games. Injuries to the end of the rotation (including the aforementioned Zambrano) caused a scramble, but Minaya made a great trade for Orlando Hernandez (very up and down at first, but since then has really settled in) and the throw in to the Kris Benson trade, John Maine has been fantastic, currently riding a 23 inning scoreless streak. Let’s not forget some misfires though – Jose Lima and Alay Soler failed in their chances to fill the back end of the rotation. Young untouchable prospect Mike Pelfrey showed promise (and a very live fastball) in his short time with the club).

In the bullpen, Minaya tried to splash again this past offseason by signing Billy Wagner to a long term deal. At best, the results so far have been mixed. Wagner has a respectable 24 saves, but he has blown 5 saves as well, way too many for a supposedly elite closer.

Minaya also traded Jae Seo for Duaner Sanchez this offseason, which was going brilliantly for the Mets until a freak accident last week lost Sanchez for the season. Home grown product Aaron Heilman has been asked by the coaching staff to step up his uneven game and try and take over for Sanchez. The Mets also added Darren Oliver, Chad Bradford and Pedro Feliciano to the staff and all have contributed.

In the infield, Minaya did not have to touch the left side, manned for the long term (thanks to two excellent contract recently signed) by Jose Reyes at shortstop and David Wright at third. The Mets patience with Reyes is especially rewarding, as New York is not a patient town. The were able to look past his early career injuries and he has rewarded them by batting close to .300, leading the league in stolen bases and triples, second in the league in runs scored and even showing pop with the bat. Wright is a developing MVP-type player who could eventually replace Derek Jeter as the face of New York baseball.

After a misfire two seasons ago (extensively covered on Elster’s World), Minaya got his slugging first baseman in Carlos Delgado from the Florida Marlins, giving up prospect Mike Jacobs and other prospects for a legitimate 35-100 guy – a thumper in the middle of the lineup. Minaya went back to the Marlins for his catcher, and number two hitter extraordinaire, Paul Lo duca. Lo duca has been masterful with the staff, calling a very aggressive game, and has been a perfect number two hitter, helping move Reyes and setting up the thunder behind him. Castoff Jose Valentin has been marvelous since becoming the regular second baseman, allowing the Mets to concentrate on filling other holes.

In the outfield, Carlos Beltran is the shining star. After a disastrous first year of his 7 year-119 million dollar contract, Beltran is having an MVP type season (.281, 33 hr, 97 rbi, .619 slugging). Xavier Nady was having a fine season before being emergency trade bait for Roberto Hernandez (fallout from the Sanchez injury). Cliff Floyd has continued to struggle with a variety of injuries, but Endy Chavez has been a fantastic pick-up for the Mets (like a much better version of Timo Perez) and highly touted prospect Lastings Milledge is now getting a full time shot at the bigs.

The Mets have the best record in the National League and a fairly comfortable 12 and a half game cushion in the East. Much of that is due to the great work of the Mets front office in putting together a fine mix of veterans and youth (let us not forget that Beltran is only 27 years old and makes up a great young nucleus with Wright, Reyes, Milledge, Pelfrey and Maine).

The Mets should challenge for the right to represent the National League in the World Series this fall. They have a very deep lineup (especially with a healthy Floyd – it may to shut him down for a month of so and then get him some at bats before the playoffs), the deepest in the NL. The key for this team, like any team, is pitching. For the most part, the staff is old and cannot be relied upon to go more than 6 innings. Pedro is pretty much a 6 inning, one hundred pitcher guy and Glavine and Trachsel rarely go deep into games. I firmly believe that the greatness of the El Duque trade will not be seen until the playoffs.

Still, pitching is the Mets weakest link. Their staff is good enough to get them to the World Series against a weak NL, but especially with out Sanchez, they probably are not good enough to beat any of the American League rivals they would face there.

21 Comments:

  • I guess it's my job to provide a counterpoint:

    1. "He needs to get better at in-game moves, but that often comes with experience."

    Don't go so easy on Willie. In the playoffs, bad game moves will be fatal.


    Bring back Bobby V.

    2. Pedro has not been dominating, and, as you state, he is "pretty much a 6 inning, one hundred pitcher guy." We're paying a lot of the credibility of having Pedro, and it remains to be seen whether his huge contract will be even a bigger drag iun 2007 and 2008.

    As I see it, whether Pedro was a good signing will depend on his playoff performance.

    3. "Home grown product Aaron Heilman has been asked by the coaching staff to step up his uneven game"

    Huh? Is it that simple? Why don't they also ask Cliff Floyd to step it up. Why didn't they ask Kaz Matsui to step up his game?

    4. "Minaya did not have to touch the left side ... The Mets patience with Reyes is especially rewarding, as New York is not a patient town."

    While Minaya doesn't get credit for Reyes or Wright being on the Mets, you forget that the Mets were not all that patient with Reyes. They signed Kaz Matsui and moved Reyes to second. It's only because Kaz was so awful that Reyes was given his old job as starting shortstop back.

    5. The Delgado trade is something we still apparently completely disagree on. Arguably, Mike Jacobs - playing for a much worse team and without the protection of hitting between Carlos Beltran and David Wright - is having a better season than Delgado. Jacobs is certainly making $13 million less than Delgado, $13 million that would have better been used on an elite pitcher. Furthermore, top pitching prospect Yusmeiro Petit was also traded in that deal, and is now on the Marlins major league roster.

    6. The Lo Duca trade is also questionable. The Mets could have signed Begie Molina or Ramon Hernandez for less money. Instead, they gave up another top pitching prospect - Gaby Hernandez - for Lo Duca.

    7. Overall, I think you ignore the cost of trading away prospects. As can be seen from the Mets reliance on players like Reyes and Wright, young (and relatively cheap) talent is essential. Imagine if the Mets hadn't traded Kazmir. Then they'd likely be World Series favorites.

    8. Alas, Kazmir is gone, and with mediocre pitching, I am skeptical that the Mets will win the NL pennant. I hope you're right and I'm wrong about that.

    By Blogger Joe Schick, at 5:47 PM  

  • 1. I am not sure how we disagree. I'm not saying he will be experienced by the playoffs. I am saying I thnk he will be a good all around manager in the futire.

    2. The Mets paid Pedro for legitimacy. every 5th day is an event both at Shea and on the road. He is a master - pitching with an 88 mile per hour fastball he has 122 k's.

    3. Not simple at all. i'm just pointing out a fact. he has been asked to be the 8th inning guy. Not saying that will work out - in fact I strongly doubt it will.

    4. Patience = Not trading him away in a short sighted deal. Remeber a few years ago, his name was bandied about like Milledge this season.

    5. Pitcher fear Delgado, who can at least make a showing against lefties. Jacobs may one day be a better hitter but not now. If you think Delgado lacks ipact, see Carlos Beltran ans his number this season. You think its entirely tied to his quad???

    6. Lo duca has been trmendous. I think Molina's team was considering trading him at the deadline because of his large salary. In some ways, the Mesta re going for it all this year while keeping a future as well. I have no problem with that.

    7. The Mets have traded away prospects to build a winner while at the same time keeping Reyes, Wright, Milledge and Pelfrey. Even the Yankees in their late 90's heyday only had about 4 major players from their own system. You cannot rely only on prospects and you also have to see how many of them actually pan out. That being said, the Kazmir trade will forever be unforgiveable.

    8. Who in the NL can challenge? No one is that deep in their rotations and the Mets hit better than all the other team (come back Cliff Floyd!!!)

    By Blogger Elster, at 9:49 PM  

  • 4. The Mets considered trading Reyes in a deal for Soriano. In a sense, Reyes' constant injuries were a blessing, because it prevented Jim Duquette from getting rid of him. I don't think Reyes is here because of patience, but because his value was low when he kept getting hurt.

    5. After a slow start, Jacobs is hitting .284 with 15 homers. Delgado has been pretty quiet for a while.

    6. Molina and Hernandez both ending up signing in the $4 million range, while Lo Duca cost two prospects, makes $6.6 million, and can't throw anyone out.

    7. "Even the Yankees in their late 90's heyday only had about 4 major players from their own system."

    I'm sure you're wrong. Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Petite, Ramiro Mendoza, Jim Leyritz, Alfonso Soriano, Rickey Ledee (signed today by the Mets) and Jorge Posada immediately come to mind. I know there are other more marginal players who also were homegrown - Shane Spencer is one of those.

    8. St. Louis certainly can beat the Mets. If the Mets get into a hitting slump, they can lose to anyone in the playoffs.

    By Blogger Joe Schick, at 11:08 PM  

  • Williams Petite Soriano Jeter and Rivera Posada. 5 studs. The Mets have 2 studs (right Reyes ) and 2 in the making and if u count Maine, 3. Mendoza Ledee Leyritz were contributors, much like a Feliciano or a Woodward. Ok, so that Yanls were a bad example. THAT'S why they are the wvil empire.

    I like Jacobs but hes not a 4th place thumper which the Mets desperately needed.

    I think Hernandez is having a bad season (though I honestly didnt look it up. Lo duca bring intangibles, hes a great number 2 hitter and he has a very hot soon to be ex wife.

    And yes, if the Mets go stone cold they could lose to anyone. But they happen to be the best team in the NL.

    By Blogger Elster, at 11:31 PM  

  • Hernandez is having a very good season, though he's still in the low minors.

    Williams, Petite Soriano Jeter, Rivera and Posada are six "studs" not five.

    Maine is not a stud in the making based on three starts, and anyway, he's not homegrown, and nor are Woodward and the others you mentioned. Mendoza and Leyritz were indeed "contributors" but they both performed fantastically in the playoffs and World Series.

    By Blogger Joe Schick, at 7:28 AM  

  • Sorry about the counting, I was tired.

    The Yankees were a bad example for me, as they really did have a number of homegrown contributors. My point, really, was more about the Mets. Too many of the most highly touted of prospects fizzled badly (Paul Wilson, Pulsipher, and about 47 "5 tool" outfielders) and sometimes you need to trade them for a legitimate shot.

    Even if you don't think the Mets are the best team in the NL, you cannot argue that it wasn't setting up perfectly for them this year. The Phillies had the same train wreck lineup as last year, the Marlins were in total rebuild mode, Washington was, well, Washington and the Braves were declining. The Mets were bringing back a rested Pedro, a resurgent Glavine, what they thought was a new and improved Zambrano, a healthy Beltran and a season older Wright and Reyes. Can you really blame them for going for it? I can;t. Could/should they have signed Molina or Hernandez? I think so, but I think they felt the market for those guys was going to be higher than it ended up being (I know Molina was signed after the trade, I cannot remmeber the timing on Hernandez). And no matter what you say, Delgado is a true number 4 hitter, unlike Jacobs.

    Also, you cannot discount chemistry and Delgado and Lo duca are great clubhouse guys (as is Franco, the sole reason they gave him two years to steal him from the Braves).

    In short, you may not agree with what the Mets did, but the moves were certqainly defensible.

    And a s a side note, the point of my article was simply to show hopw the League leading Mets came to be.

    By Blogger Elster, at 9:22 AM  

  • "The Yankees were a bad example for me, as they really did have a number of homegrown contributors."

    My point is simply that to be a winner over a long period, the best method is homegrown players, since they contribute early on at a steep discount. That's how the Yankees and Braves achieved long-term success.

    You're right that some Mets prospects never paneed out. On the other hand, you mentioned Wilson and Pulsiphor, but not Isringhausen, who they lost patience with just when he was turning things around. We know about Kazmir.

    Perhaps Millege also is overrated, but if not, he could join Reyes and Wright as a key player who doesn't cost much for at least a few years.

    By Blogger Joe Schick, at 10:19 AM  

  • Agreed. I didn't mention Izzy because he DID pan out - though as a closer and only after some early failures.

    The jury is out on Milledge. I think he has a lot of talent, but we shall see how it comes together. He seems to fight off every ball hit at him in right.

    By Blogger Elster, at 11:02 AM  

  • I have not been impressed with Millege and think he belongs in AAA.

    By Blogger Joe Schick, at 11:19 AM  

  • He needs more seasning. He is only up because of the Floyd and Nady situations. He should NOT be lpaying everyday and is becoming almost an automatic out.

    By Blogger Elster, at 11:23 AM  

  • I think getting La Duca was a spectacular move; he is a great catcher, leader, and a fun player to watch. Molina has been close to horrible this season.

    The Kazmir and Benson trades are two of the worst ever and would have solidified the Mets roster and would have practically gaurenteed them a World Series victory.

    I am taking my brother to the Thursday game this week. He loves the Mets and I am a great sister :-), baseball fan, and just a little curious to see the best of the NL in action so I'll let you know what I think.

    By Blogger bellanny, at 12:11 PM  

  • oh, and on the topic of yankee studs, you forgot to mention Cano and Wang who have been unbelievable for them. proctor has been great this season as well. i definitely like what i am seeing of cabrera and if they don't trade him by next season (set outfield of abreu, sui, and damon) he will make a great addition to the team in 2008.

    By Blogger bellanny, at 12:15 PM  

  • Actually, while Ty Wiggington is having a very nice year after a terrible stint with the Pirates, and Justin Huber has made some appearances in the majors, the Benson trade was not as bad as first thought. The main prospect in that deal, Matt Peterson, is still in the Pirates minor league system.

    I don't see how Molina's season can be described as horrible. He's hitting .275 and throwing out runners.

    By Blogger Joe Schick, at 1:42 PM  

  • "on the topic of yankee studs, you forgot to mention Cano and Wang who have been unbelievable for them. proctor has been great this season as well."

    1. Elster specifically referred to the late-90's Yankees teams.

    2. Proctor is not a homegrown Yankee. He actually was initially drafted out of high school by the Mets, though he went to college and, I believe, was then drafted by the Dodgers.

    By Blogger Joe Schick, at 1:46 PM  

  • Bell - I, too, am going to the game tomorrow. I am feeling ill and will be forced to "call in sick" tomorrow afternoon.

    Joe - I was referring to the Late -90's Yanks, so Wang and Cano do not qualify.

    I do not think the Benson trade was terrible anyway on either end of the trade. Benson for Wiggington was fine - the Mets had Wright anyway. And they essentially traded Benson for El Duque and John Maine. I'll take that.

    By Blogger Elster, at 2:28 PM  

  • Wiggington would fit in at 2B, though.

    By Blogger Joe Schick, at 2:37 PM  

  • "I, too, am going to the game tomorrow."

    Poor El Duque. He won't know what caused his poor performance.

    By Blogger Joe Schick, at 2:46 PM  

  • No way, I have a pretty good record at Met games.

    And since I'm going tomorrow....I'm SURE the Mets are going to get killed tomorrow. Alas, I am so miserable and sad.

    And that, my friends, is the Reverse Elster Jinx in action.

    By Blogger Elster, at 2:53 PM  

  • Joe- sorry my bad

    it'll be great seeing duque pitch again, should be fun regardless

    By Blogger bellanny, at 4:33 PM  

  • I just hope we get 8 inning shuout El Dudue, not 1 and 2/3 5 runs 6 hits 4 walks el duque.

    By Blogger Elster, at 5:05 PM  

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