Revisiting “Five ways to ‘fix’ the Mets”

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It was a little less than a year ago when I wrote a piece for HardballTalk entitled “Five ways to ‘fix’ the Mets.”

For those who have forgotten, here were my recommendations at the time:

  • Decide on a public face
  • Learn how to keep certain things in-house
  • A complete and thorough review/overhaul of medical protocol
  • Invest in the draft
  • Bridge the disconnect between the front office and the fans

Ah, memories. Of course, the Mets endured yet another disappointing season in 2010, finishing at 79-83 and in fourth place in the National League East. In what was a foregone conclusion for months, Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel were relieved of their duties immediately following the season.

The organization has underwent a massive overhaul over the past three months, bringing on former Athletics general manager and Padres president Sandy Alderson as the new general manager. In turn, Alderson hired two of his former lieutenants, Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi, to work in the revamped front office. Many fans rallied around Wally Backman for manager, but the job eventually went to Terry Collins, who served as the organization’s minor league field coordinator in 2010.

The holidays have predictably brought the Hot Stove to a halt, so I thought now would be a fun time to apply my original list of recommendations to the new front office and see what progress, if any, has been made.

1) Decide on a public face: As I mentioned in February, there were times when John Ricco would address the media on certain issues rather than Omar Minaya. Granted, this isn’t out of the ordinary in other organizations, but in New York, it only fed into the perception that Minaya had evolved into a powerless figurehead. We can’t say that about Alderson so far.

The hiring of Alderson has quickly drawn comparisons to Frank Cashen from the early 80s. He wowed the room during his introductory press conference, quickly silencing those who wondered if he was “too old” for the job. I’m perfectly willing to put up with corny videos like this if it means he’ll continue to call out opposing general managers for doling out bad contracts. He’s already the anti-Minaya.

2) Learn to keep certain things in-house: This is the real wild card for me, for a couple of reasons. Alderson is the general manager of a baseball team in New York, so he is going to have to deal with some unwanted and possibly overblown controversy along the way. Perhaps nothing as crazy as Francisco Rodriguez’s arrest, as bizarre as Carlos Beltran’s knee surgery, or something self-inflicted like the Adam Rubin press conference debacle, but some sort of drama is inevitable.

Also, while Alderson served in a different capacity in San Diego, Trevor Hoffman called the organization “dysfunctional.” It’s very possible that some of this was heat of the moment-type stuff from a franchise icon on the way out, but it serves as a reminder that Alderson can’t control the players. That being said, I am confident that Alderson will be able to handle a difficult situation in a more professional manner than his predecessor. I know, I’m setting the bar pretty high here.

3) A complete and thorough review/overhaul of medical protocol: Again, too early to tell. During an appearance with Mike Francesa on WFAN earlier this month, Alderson said (via MetsBlog) that he has yet to “draw any conclusion” or “put his finger” on why the Mets have suffered so many injuries over the past two seasons, but that he is working with team doctors to understand what has taken place. He also announced that the team would be hiring a new strength and conditioning coach to replace Rick Slate, who will not be retained for 2011.

4) Invest in the draft: The Mets have rarely exceeded the slot recommendations in the draft, but during a recent conference call with influential Mets bloggers, Alderson said (courtesy of Amazin’ Avenue) that he believes the club “will be over-slot,” “maybe more than ocassionally.” Alderson has repeatedly said that a large-market team like the Mets should never be in the middle of the park as far as player development is concerned, so we should expect them to throw their weight around a little bit moving forward. And finally, while he isn’t the only person to blame, the club dismissed amateur scouting director Rudy Terrasas last month, hinting towards a change in drafting philosophy.

5) Bridge the disconnect between the fans and the front office: While it’s too soon to tell with most of the items on this list, the Mets have made the most progress in this area. For example, they invited prominent Mets bloggers (including Caryn Rose of MetsGrrl) on a conference call with executive VP for business operations Dave Howard in November in order to talk about ticket prices. And as I mentioned earlier, Alderson recently spoke with a panel of influential Mets bloggers in order to talk about a wide range of topics. It’s not clear what their motivations are (some wonder if they are hoping for some softer coverage as a result of increased access), but the important part is that the front office is paying attention.

The Mets aren’t “fixed” as we sit here today. The contracts to Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, and to a lesser extent, Carlos Beltran, have restricted the ability of Alderson to be active in free agency this winter. Thus, expectations are low for the 2011 season. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Phillies are the overwhelming favorites in the National League East, so adding one big piece in free agency just for the short-term boost in season ticket sales would be the wrong and cynical strategy. Call it the silver lining of the Cliff Lee signing, but most Mets fans are beginning to recognize that this just isn’t a quick fix situation.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Astros place Charlie Morton on disabled list with strained lat

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The Astros placed right-hander Charlie Morton on the 10-day disabled list with a strained right lat muscle, the team announced on Sunday. The move is retroactive to May 25, when Morton reported feeling some soreness after his start against the Tigers last Wednesday. He’ll be shut down from throwing for a week and will concede his roster spot to right-handed reliever Jordan Jankowski for the time being. The team has yet to announce a specific timetable for his return to the mound.

Morton, 33, shouldered a 4.06 ERA through his first 10 starts of the season. His 3.6 BB/9 and 10.1 SO/9 were accompanied by a significant uptick in velocity, averaging a career-best 96 m.p.h. on his fastball in recent outings. This is the righty’s first disabled list stint since 2016, when he missed all but four games of the season with a torn hamstring.

Without Morton, fellow right-hander Mike Fiers is expected to retain his place in the rotation. He was reportedly in line for a demotion to the bullpen after producing an abysmal 5.21 ERA through his first 46 2/3 innings of the season. Brad Peacock, who made a spotless spot start for for the Astros last Monday, will fill out the rotation during Morton’s DL stint.

And That Happened: Saturday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Saturday’s scores and highlights:

Yankees 3, Athletics 2: Dellin Betances is fast. Very fast, in fact. Take this pitch, for example, which registered an approximate 100.2 m.p.h. on the radar gun before it ripped through Gary Sanchez‘s mitt — literally:

Josh Phegley flied out to left field on the next pitch, and you have to think he was relieved not to be behind the dish during that at-bat. The win marked the Yankees’ fourth of the week, just enough to keep their heads above water in the AL East.

Blue Jays 3, Rangers 1: It just wasn’t Rougned Odor‘s day. While none of the Rangers looked particularly sharp against Toronto’s defense on Saturday, Odor had the worst of it. He struck out swinging against Marco Estrada in the first inning, then was stranded in the fourth after lassoing a single to left field. In the sixth inning, he tried and failed — in spectacular fashion — to beat out an infield single:

Odor took a final at-bat in the ninth inning as the Rangers attempted a last-minute rally, but it went about as well as the others had, falling in the Rangers’ favor as they executed a smooth play to catch him at first base.

White Sox 3, Tigers 0: There was something for everyone during Saturday’s doubleheader. Game 1 went to the White Sox, where rookie right-hander Tyler Danish made his first major league start to the tune of five scoreless innings, distributing three hits, six walks and six strikeouts for his first career win. Opposing starter Michael Fulmer took the first complete game loss of his career, firing nine hits, three runs and four strikeouts in eight frames.

Most exciting, however, was watching the player tasked with throwing the ceremonial first pitch: none other than Cuban prospect Luis Robert, whom the White Sox officially inked with a $26 million signing bonus earlier that day.

Tigers 4, White Sox 3: The Tigers took the edge in Game 2 of the doubleheader, finally getting on the board with home runs from John Hicks and Victor Martinez and a pair of productive outs (including a run-scoring wild pitch on a swinging strikeout) from J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton. The win effected little change for either team, however, keeping them neck-and-neck in third and fourth place in the AL Central.

Twins 5, Rays 3: Brian Dozier extended his hitting streak to eight games on Saturday, fueling the Twins’ 26th win of the season after he clobbered a two-run, tie-breaking home run in the eighth inning. Byron Buxton rounded out the rally with an RBI single of his own, giving the club just enough cushion to finish off the Rays in the ninth. With the win, the Twins are now a full three games ahead of the second-place Indians.

Phillies 4, Reds 3: If you’re in the market for a walk-off hit, Tommy Joseph is your guy. The Phillies’ first baseman came through in the clutch again on Saturday, polishing off his two-hit performance with a game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Joseph provided the Phillies with his first career walk-off hit on Thursday, lashing a single against the Rockies’ Scott Oberg to finalize the Phillies’ 2-1 win. According to MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, no Phillies player has produced as many walk-off hits in a three-day span since Juan Samuel did so in 1985.

Red Sox 6, Mariners 0: Spot starter Brian Johnson took the mound in place of David Price on Saturday, and what a spot start it was. The 26-year-old returned to Fenway Park for the first time since 2015, executing nine flawless frames in his third major league start and first career complete game shutout. The outing was a redemptive one for the southpaw, who took a line drive to the face when he last pitched in Fenway several years ago.

Johnson’s picture-perfect outing brought the Red Sox within two games of the division lead, but his contributions capped a short-lived stay in the majors. With David Price set to make his season debut on Monday, the rookie left-hander was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket to clear a roster spot for the returning ace.

Nationals 3, Padres 0: Next to the Astros, the Nationals have the largest margin between a first and second place team in any MLB division, sitting a comfortable 8.5 games above the next-place Braves. It’s easy to see why after Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg ripped through the Padres’ lineup this weekend, combining for 28 strikeouts in back-to-back wins. Strasburg’s 15 strikeouts were the most of any start in his career to date, stifling the Padres’ offense through seven innings of the Nats’ 3-0 shutout.

While Strasburg has been pitching with an average run support cushion of 4.31 in all other starts this season, he only needed a three-run backing to put up his sixth win on Saturday. Bryce Harper and Michael Taylor did the honors, scoring on a fielder’s choice and a two-RBI home run, respectively.

Brewers 6, Diamondbacks 1: There hasn’t been a no-hitter in the majors since Jake Arrieta‘s gem last April, but Brewers’ starter Chase Anderson gave it his best shot on Saturday. Anderson crafted seven pristine innings against the Diamondbacks, surrendering three walks and striking out 11 of 25 batters before Nick Ahmed came through with a leadoff single in the eighth.

Anderson was pulled after Ahmed’s single, but even if he had managed to keep the no-no going, it seems unlikely that club manager Craig Counsell would have pushed his starter much further. The righty had already tossed 114 pitches, a career-high mark and the most he’d thrown in a single outing since last May.

Royals 5, Indians 2: Ned Yost was handed his 40th career ejection during the Royals’ win on Saturday — or, as his three-year-old grandson would put it, a “timeout.” Yost was booted in the first inning after arguing against a strikeout call on Eric Hosmer‘s check-swing attempt. While Yost mulled over the ejection in the clubhouse, his grandson took him to task:

Angels 5, Marlins 2: No one can shatter a Mike Trout record like Mike Trout. The Angels’ slugger went yard for the 16th time this season, drilling a 2-2 pitch from Vance Worley 443 feet into the left field concourse during Saturday’s win. According to Statcast, the ball traveled at approximately 113.8 m.p.h. — Trout’s hardest-hit home run in 13 months.

“I hit it good,” Trout told reporters after the game. Truer words were never spoken.

Astros 5, Orioles 2: The Astros prevailed for their third consecutive win on Saturday, helped in part by a Cirque du Soleil-esque catch by shortstop Carlos Correa in the eighth inning. Down 5-2 after seven innings, the Orioles’ Joey Rickard skied a pop up to shallow center field. Correa and Jose Altuve ran in on the play, narrowly avoiding a collision as the shortstop made an impressive over-the-shoulder grab for the first out.

Altuve attempted to dust off his teammate following the play, but Correa wasn’t having it:

Dodgers 5, Cubs 0: The Cubs have yet to score on their road trip this weekend after Brandon McCarthy initiated the Dodgers’ second consecutive shutout of the series on Saturday. In fact, the Cubs have only won two of eight games on the road — and their last road trip win dates all the way back to May 12.

There was no beating McCarthy, however. The right-hander contributed six innings of two-hit ball, striking out six batters before he exited in the seventh with right knee tendinitis. Ross Stripling finished off the shutout, allowing one hit and striking out two of 11 batters to preserve the lead.

Pirates 5, Mets 4 (10 innings): John Jaso played the unlikely hero during the Pirates’ walk-off win on Saturday. He’s batting just .194/.295/.357 through his first 44 games of the year, but had a breakthrough moment in the ninth inning, lacing a pinch-hit single to left field to send the game to extras.

The Pirates chased Tyler Pill out of the 10th inning, loading the bases to bring Jaso back to the plate. He battled through nine pitches against Josh Edgin, finally selecting a 3-2 slider for his second RBI single — and walk-off run — of the night.

Cardinals 3, Rockies 0: Adam Wainwright is on a roll. He turned in his third win in a row after holding the Rockies scoreless through seven innings, giving up three hits and six strikeouts to bring the Cardinals within half a game of the division lead.

The Rockies, meanwhile, took the loss in stride. Gerardo Parra kept fans distracted from the team’s losing effort, even handing out sticks of gum in the ninth inning:

Giants 6, Braves 3: After four straight losses and a cumulative six runs scored, the Giants finally broke through against the Braves on Saturday. Nick Hundley got things started in the second inning, putting the Giants on the board with his first home run of the season:

In the fourth, Brandon Belt drove a four-run spread with his tenth home run of the year, while Ty Blach engineered his own run support with an RBI single. Blach was even better on the mound, pitching through 7 2/3 innings with two runs and five strikeouts and setting Mark Melancon up for his 10th save.