Last Sunday, two things happened. The first involved me in a car for 15 consecutive hours with my sister driving from Newburgh, NY down to Savannah, GA. 900 miles in a car on a rainy, then cloudy, then sunny, then dusk day was something to be had.
The second: it was revealed to the public that Fred Wilpon had made some choice comments about the players on his New York Mets. In sum, he said the team was snake-bitten and rather, well, poopy in nature. Since then, there has been a lot of talk in the media saying that Wilpon’s comments either A) damaged the relationship between management and the players or B) devalued the players on the roster. As a Mets fan, I was told that I should take this comments personally and that I should rally the troops and boycott my team’s owner.
But you know what happened? I agreed with everything Fred Wilpon said. In my mind, there wasn’t one thing about his comments that I read as incorrect. And you know what else? My closest friends that are also huge Mets fans agreed with him, too. So, let’s examine the part of the story that the “media” has said damaged the team. Keep in mind, when Wilpon made this off-the-cuff comments, the Mets sat at 5-13 and had just dropped two out of three at home to the Houston Astros. Fred Wilpon wasn’t the only New Yorker saying the Mets stink.
The first, Wilpon stated Jose Reyes will not get Carl Crawford money on the open market. The media interpreted that as the Mets were going to offer Reyes a one-year contract worth 50 cents and that now they ABSOLUTELY had to trade Reyes to get any sort of value for him.
Uh, what? Anybody connected in baseball will be the first to tell you that Jose Reyes is not going to get Carl Crawford money (seven-years, $140 million). You know what Crawford did while he became a star in Tampa Bay? He stayed healthy, hit over .300 routinely, stole 50+ bases year in and year out and scored a mess load of runs. While Reyes is a few years younger and plays a premium position, his health concerns over the years (first the back, then the hamstrings and last year his oblique) will limit the opportunities to get a seven-year contract. When he is healthy, Reyes is an elite talent. But health is the number one reason he won’t get anything more than a five-year deal.
And the assumption the Mets can’t afford him or that Reyes won’t sign with the Mets because of this comment is ridiculous. Sure, Reyes may be less willing to take a home town discount because of them. But, as I mentioned in my Reyes break-up column a few weeks ago, the Mets weren’t going to sign Reyes to anything more than five years and $15 million annually. If Reyes wants more, than good luck to him. It doesn’t make sense for the Mets to offer him any more than that. These comments weren’t a death sentence like the media is telling us Mets fans were in regards to Reyes. Reyes’ fate may have been determined three months ago. So, stop telling me they are, ESPN.
Second, a lot of people apparently took offense over Wilpon’s assumption that David Wright is a very good player, but not a superstar. If Fred Wilpon made that statement after the 2008 season, I would’ve been the first person in line to slap him in the face and call him a liar. But, have you seen David Wright play since the Mets moved from Shea Stadium to Citi Field? This is a different guy. Now, 2009 was an aberration. He has decent power and will always hit between 22-28 home runs a year. However, from 2005-08, Wright was the most clutch hitter I had ever seen in person and maybe the best two-strike hitter in the Majors. It wasn’t an at-bat for David those years until he had two strikes on him. And when he did, you knew he was going to get a hit.
Since 2009, if the first pitch to Wright was a strike, I had a bad feeling he’d K. And he’s been K-ing a whole lot the last couple of seasons (140 in ’09, 161 in ’10 and 43 in 39 games this year). Even worse, Wright goes through predictable two-week stretches of scorching hot, RBI producing machine, then two weeks of ice cold, can’t hit his way out of a paper bag slump. You know what you call players that go through incredible highs and equally incredible lows?
Very good players. Not superstars, but very good. What’s so wrong with being very good anyway? Very good is good enough for a couple of All-Star games a decent contract. If most players are average, can you discredit a guy because he’s only above average and not great? No. Wright will always play solid defense, hit somewhere between .290 and .310, drive in around 100 runs and produce for you. But, he will go through streaks where you don’t hear from him at all and you wonder what is going on. He was on the cusp of stardom after 2008 (.302, 33HR 124RBI), but I don’t expect those numbers from David Wright anymore. Something’s changed. I still love him, but Wilpon is right: he’s not a star player right now.
Third, Wilpon stated that the Mets may have overpaid for Carlos Beltran after his monster 2004 playoffs in which he hit eight home runs for the Houston Astros and that he is probably 65-70% of the player he used to be. The media will tell you that those comments torpedoed Beltran’s value on the trade market and further damaged the relationship between Carlos and ownership that was already iffy.
Here’s my answer in two parts. The first, the relationship between Beltran and management tanked last year when Beltran decided on his own to get microfracture surgery without telling the Mets. That was a mess between Beltran, his agent Scott Boras and the Wilpon’s. They weren’t happy about it and I promise you they still aren’t happy about it. So throw that assumption out the window that NOW the relationship is messed up. It’s been messed up, get with it.
Second, you really think scouts needed Fred Wilpon to tell them Carlos Beltran isn’t the same player anymore? Maybe Beltran’s knees being such a problem that he couldn’t play center field regularly and that he had to move to right field to even play everyday wasn’t the first indicator to them? Or that Beltran doesn’t steal bases anymore? Or that he has limited power from the left side of the plate because of the same balky knee? You’re right, Buster Olney. It was Wilpon’s comments, NOT ANYTHING ELSE THAT IS GOING ON WITH CARLOS BELTRAN, that ruined his trade value to other teams. You’ve got to be kidding me.
Lastly, Wilpon made the assertion that quite honestly, his team isn’t very good. The media jumped all over this and said “what is he doing???? They’re having enough trouble bringing fans to the park already! Now he’s saying they suck? NOBODY WILL COME NOW!”
Earth to the media: Mets fans aren’t stupid. We stopped coming to the park because, you know, we realized this team isn’t that great before you did apparently. Look, with Wright, Ike Davis and Johan Santana out currently, Chris Young lost for the season and Jason Bay wishing he was back in Pittsburgh, it doesn’t take a Harvard graduate to tell me the Mets aren’t that great. They spent $5 million in free agency last year on players that were low-risk, high-reward. This was clearly going to be a rebuilding year. After tonight’s loss to the Phillies, the Mets sit at 23-27. That doesn’t eliminate them from playoff contention, but its also not exactly encouraging.
The starting rotation has been downright awful to start this season. Mike Pelfrey has seemingly regressed, Jon Niese hasn’t gotten it completely together yet either, R.A. Dickey is no longer fooling hitters with his knuckleball, Chris Young is out for the year, and Chris Capuano is, well, he’s Chris Capuano. Dillon Gee has been a nice addition from the Mets minor leagues (especially since he is the second coming of one of my favorite Mets pitchers, Rick Reed, even wears his #35). If you don’t have starting pitching, which the Mets don’t, you’re not going to win. Regardless of how good your line-up is or how deep your bullpen is. The Mets have a good line-up. Not great, but good. They have a deep bullpen. But, zero starting pitching.
At the end of the day, Fred Wilpon is a Mets fan like all of us. And, as one of the biggest Mets fans, let me tell you what I see from this team:
I see Carlos Beltran as a trade chip that will get something in return. I see Jason Bay as being two weeks away from leaving the doghouse and entering the Oliver Perez/Luis Castillo abandon highway ditch. I see winning pieces in Dillon Gee, Ike Davis and Justin Turner that will serve a purpose on this team for years to come. I see Jon Niese needing to develop his game a little further and the need for Mike Pelfrey to get out of his own head. I see a need for the Mets to re-sign Jose Reyes and to protect David Wright in the line-up. I also see a lot of talent coming up through the Mets minor leagues that people aren’t giving them credit for. And I also see a realistic owner who is finally on the same page as Mets fans, regardless of what the media says.
The late George Steinbrenner once called Dave Winfield, a HALL OF FAME outfielder, Mr. May because he felt that he wasn’t clutch down the stretch of the season. Fred Wilpon calls Carlos Beltran a good player that isn’t what he used to be and all of a sudden he’s the devil.
Oh, but he did say Ike Davis is a good hitter. So there’s that.
Back off my Mets, media. You’re starting to look like Phillies fans.
Greg Kaplan is a writer and co-founder of Home Field Advantage