What Went Wrong: New York Mets

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The following completes a series profiling some of 2009’s biggest disappointments.



New York Mets




Record: 69-92 (4th in NL East)




How It Happened:




The Mets entered their inaugural season at Citi Field with legitimate
questions about the back-end of their rotation and their corner
outfield spots, but with four of the best players in the game and a
retooled bullpen, it appeared that they were in fine position to
reclaim the top spot in the National League East. The baseball gods had
a different plan in mind.




The team has endured injuries to nearly every significant player on
their roster (David Wright, Johan Santana, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran
and Carlos Delgado among them). Reyes hasn’t appeared in a game since
May 20 (hamstring) while Delgado has been sidelined since May 10 (hip
surgery). And J.J. Putz, who was expected to be the bridge to new
closer Francisco Rodriguez, hasn’t thrown a pitch since June 4 (elbow).
Oliver Perez, who was signed to a mind-boggling three-year, $36 million
deal over the winter, was limited to just 14 starts (knee). But with an
awful 6.82 ERA and 58 walks in 66 innings, that’s probably for the
best. Even their top minor league reinforcements (Jon Niese and
Fernando Martinez) suffered season-ending injuries.





Their depleted lineup has managed a major-league worst 95 home runs,
the franchise’s lowest output since another over-hyped, over-priced
flameout in 1992. Daniel Murphy leads the team with just 12 homers.
Critics have been quick to blame Citi Field for Wright’s power outage
(career-low 10 home runs), however his home-road splits are even. With
140 strikeouts in 533 at-bats (26.3%), he’s clearly changed his
approach at the plate with a lack of protection around him. He plans to
work with hitting coach Howard Johnson during the offseason to round himself back into
shape for 2010.




While the off-field distractions were utterly embarrassing (Tony
Bernazard, Omar Minaya-Adam Rubin, Jerry Manuel’s very public rivalry
with Ryan Church), what was left of the product on the field set new
standards of losing in the most epic and painful ways possible. From
missing third base (Ryan Church) to a dropped pop-fly by Luis Castillo
against the Yankees in June to a pair of walk-off grand slams served up
by Francisco Rodriguez (the first ever to do it in one season), the
Mets were not satisfied with simply slipping into unremarkable
mediocrity. They lost. A lot. And they wanted you to remember it.




Silver Linings:



After his unforgettable drop against the
Yankees, I wondered out loud if Luis Castillo could survive the
blunder. Well, he’s done that and then some, batting .316/.398/.351
with 25 RBI, 44 runs scored and 14 stolen bases since June 12. With an
overall line of .304/.389/.347 with 77 runs scored in 141 games
(shockingly, the third most among Mets position players this season),
Castillo is no longer the fans’ favorite whipping boy. While Omar
Minaya can now claim that the signing isn’t a complete disaster, he
should be looking for a taker during the offseason.




Angel Pagan has earned himself a spot on the Mets’ bench next
season. Plugging a hole while Carlos Beltran was on the mend, the
28-year-old outfielder has batted .298/.343/.469 with six home runs, 32
RBI and 14 stolen bases in 339 at-bats. He surprisingly ranks fourth in
the league with 10 triples.




Looking to shake things up, Omar Minaya acquired Jeff Francoeur in
exchange for Ryan Church in a classic “change of scenery” trade on July
10.  Apparently Minaya was enamored with Francoeur’s ability to play in
a lot of games, an underrated quality in a season like this. Francoeur
actually played quite well in what was effectively an audition for a
new contract, batting .311/.338/.498 with 10 homers and 41 RBI in 289
at-bats. There has been talk about buying out his arbitration years,
but the Mets would be wise to take it a year at a time with a player
who is just as likely to revert to being one of the least valuable
players in the league.




Looking Ahead:



There’s no perfect elixir to what ails the
Mets. They will have to fill significant holes at first base, catcher
and left field. Though they have shown flashes, Daniel Murphy, Omir
Santos, Josh Thole and Angel Pagan shouldn’t be expected to carry the
load at those respective positions if they want to be competitive.
After a disappointing year by Mike Pelfrey, who looked downright lost
at times, it’s imperative that the Mets find a No. 2 starter.




Not counting arbitration candidates (Francoeur, Pagan and Pedro
Feliciano, among others) the club has roughly $105 million tied up in
contract commitments for 2010. In this post-Madoff world, they will
likely have somewhere in the vicinity of $20-25 million to improve. For
an organization exposed as lacking in major-league ready prospects, it
will be difficult to upgrade via trade.




The injuries are a convenient excuse, but no manager who leads his team to a lifeless 20-48 stretch deserves to be
considered “safe.” That’s why I expect and urge the team to replace
Jerry Manuel before next season. In recent weeks, there’s been a
movement building for Bobby Valentine to return as manager in 2010.
Nostalgia? Sure. But what it reveals is a longing among the fanbase.
They want an overhaul. Not just someone who pitches every five days
(Johan Santana) like after they collapsed in 2007; not just someone who
pitches the ninth inning every couple of days (Francisco Rodriguez)
like after they collapsed again last season. They want a change at the
top. Valentine wouldn’t be a long-term solution, mind you, but they
could find a worse steward to change the culture of the clubhouse and
restore some faith heading into an uncertain future. Fred Wilpon and
company shouldn’t expect fans to line up with the same leadership in
place, no matter how much they cut ticket prices.

The Braves are banning outside food. And they’re probably lying about why they’re doing it.

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Here’s a thing a lot of people don’t realize: there are a lot of ballparks that allow you to bring in outside food.

Not all of them, but a lot do. They don’t publicize it, obviously, because they want you to buy their expensive food, but if you go to the concessions policy page on most team’s websites, you can get the scoop. It often lists “soft-sided coolers” under “permitted items,” which is code for “yes, you can bring your own food in.” Some may specifically limit THAT to sealed plastic water bottles, but for the most part, if you can bring soft-sided coolers into the park, that means it’s OK to bring in grandma’s potato salad and a few sandwiches. They may check your coolers, of course, to make sure you’re not bringing in alcohol or whatever.

The Atlanta Braves have always allowed food into the ballpark. But thats going to change in shiny new Sun Trust Park. The AJC reports that the Braves have announced a new policy via which ticket holders will not be allowed to bring in outside food. Exceptions will be made for infant food and for special dietary restriction items.

Which, OK, it’s their park and their rules. If they want to cut out the PB&J for junior and force you to buy him a $9 “kids pack” — or if they want you to forego grandma’s potato salad to buy that pork chop sandwich we mentioned yesterday — that’s their choice. Everything else about the Braves new stadium has been about extracting money from fans, so why not the concessions policy too?

My beef with this is less about the policy. It’s about their stated reason for it:

The changes are a result of tighter security being put into place this season throughout the league, said the Braves spokesperson.

This, as the French say, is horses**t.

We know it is because not all teams are prohibiting outside food. If there are tighter security measures across the board, other teams are implementing them without the food restriction. Even the Yankees, who take security theater to extreme heights as it is, are still allowing fans to bring in their own food.

The Braves, I strongly suspect, are using these measures as an excuse to cut down on competition for their concessions. Which, like I said, go for it. Just be honest about what you’re doing and stop blaming “tightened security” for your cash grab.

Yadier Molina says Adam Jones “has to apologize to the Puerto Rican people”

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After the U.S. won the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday night, Adam Jones told a reporter that he and his teammates were motivated in part by the fact that Puerto Rico already had championship t-shirts printed up and plans for a parade/celebration in Puerto Rico in place beforehand.

Which, OK, whatever you need to motivate you, Adam, but all of that seems complicated by the fact that (a) ALL teams playing for a championship have pre-printed gear, thus enabling them to be put on moments after the final out; and (b) Puerto Rico’s celebration plans were not contingent on winning or losing. In fact, they went ahead and had a parade/celebration even though they lost. The WBC was a big deal to them in ways it simply wasn’t to the U.S., so it makes sense.

Yadier Molina of Team Puerto Rico did not take kindly to Jones’ comments. He tells ESPN Deportes this:

“Adam Jones … is talking about things he doesn’t know about,” Molina told ESPN. “He really has to get informed because he shouldn’t have said those comments, let alone in public and mocking the way [preparations] were made . . . He has to apologize to the Puerto Rican people,” Molina said. “Obviously, you wanted to win; he didn’t know what this means to [our] people.”

Kind of a messy little controversy, eh?

My feeling about it is that Jones probably didn’t know the whole story about Puerto Rico’s plans and misinterpreted celebration for arrogance. I also suspect that most players motivate themselves in all manner of irrational ways like this, but we just don’t hear about it all that much. Jones can do whatever he wants to psych himself up, but it changes the equation a bit when you talk about it to the press. Perceived slights that an athlete uses internally can seem petty once exposed to the light of day.

Either way: Jones does not have a reputation for being insulting or disrespectful, so I seriously doubt that was his intent here. I also think that, while Molina has a right to be miffed, the “he must apologize to the Puerto Rican people” thing is laying it on a bit thick. Maybe Jones can just text Molina and some P.R. players and say he was sorry, followed by a “we’re all good, man” and this can end? That makes the most sense.

If not, well, the Orioles do play the Cardinals in an interleague series this summer, so maybe we’ll see some fireworks.