Posted by Reese Kaplan at 8:00 AM
In George Orwell’s Animal Farm he famously said, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This thought came to mind when looking at the state of the New York Mets prospective roster and the roles assigned to various players.
Take, for example, David Wright. Suppose he’d been healthy enough to play regularly, but struggling to perform at a competent level due to rust, physical limitations or simply age catching up to him. How many second chances would he get before his role was changed? Now this particular example is brought up because he’s a known commodity who has been an All-Star multiple times and as such bought himself a tremendous benefit of doubt (rightly or wrongly). However, if the objective is to win ballgames then shouldn’t it also follow logically you put the team on the field that can perform best to help achieve that end?
Of course, this equation leaves out such variables as value to the organization, size of paycheck and historical legacy. I’m merely considering what role a player should have based upon his production as a professional ballplayer.
Towards that end I find it somewhat amusing, puzzling but not surprising that when David Wright was deemed unable to play the job was handed on a silver platter to his once and current teammate Jose Reyes. The fleet footed Reyes does indeed add a dimension of speed heretofore missing from the Mets’ offensive attack, but at age 34 he’s not the disruptive force that a Dee Gordon or Billy Hamilton can be. In fact, his total of just 9 SBs over a half season’s worth of play is not exactly the stuff that makes pitchers and catchers lose sleep overnight. His spring training batting average well below the Mendoza line similarly suggests he’s behind the curve (perhaps due to appearing in the WBC instead of concentrating on the job he’s being paid to do).
By contrast, others in the spring camp have done far better but it was never really an open competition. Gavin Cecchini has already been farmed out to the minor league complex to build on his .333 average. T.J. Rivera may or may not make the team as a backup to build on his .304. Wilmer Flores sits on the bench despite doubling the HR and RBI output of Reyes last year and hitting for the exact same average (and currently stands tied with $27.5 million man Yoenis Cespedes in RBIs).
No, apparently it’s not what Reyes does currently or in the recent past that matters, but what he’s done collectively for his career. Such is the state of one animal not being the same as another animal in the Mets’ Orwellian vision. In Reyes’ case, you can’t even factor in the same intangibles as you would had Wright been healthy because he’s become a pariah for off-the-fild issues and only earns major league minimum.
This issue, of course, is not limited to who plays 3B when Wright is injured. It’s also apparent in the starting rotation where Matt Harvey has been plain dreadful thus far in his attempt to rehab from thoracic outlet syndrome. Is his spot in the starting rotation in the last bit of jeopardy? No, of course not. He’s getting the same benefit of doubt of another veteran player and even if he costs the team victories with substandard pitching, you can bet the Skipper will keep running him out there every five days for at least two months before thinking, “Hmmn…I keep trying the same thing expecting different results. Didn’t Einstein say that was the very definition of insanity?”
Similarly, Addison Reed has perhaps crumbled under the pressure of being handed the temporary closer’s job in anticipation of Jeurys Familia’s suspension. It wouldn’t be the first time. In fact, the very reason the Mets were able to obtain him late in 2015 is that he’d lost the closer’s job in Arizona and many felt that a change of scenery and a less pressure-filled role might suit him. He’s been nothing short of spectacular since arriving but his ERA over 10.00 for the spring might have a thinking man considering other options for this temporary gig.
Small sample sizes, of course, cut both ways. It is in fact the curse of the small sample that’s likely leading to Paul Sewald and Travis Taijeron again calling Las Vegas home for the summer. After all, how could you expect the strong performances to continue? (Here’s a hint – it’s the same way you can expect the bad performances to continue. If you’re trying to win games you ride the hot hand as long as it remains hot, egos be damned.)
Occasionally there truly is an open competition. The 5th starter role was probably Zack Wheeler’s to lose and he’s appeared to have done just that, ceding to Robert Gsellman’s brilliant spring and Seth Lugo’s curious decision to impress people in Puerto Rico rather than in Port St. Lucie.
Another example could be that of the 2nd lefty in the pen. Going into the spring it was veteran Josh Edgin who appeared to have the edge but he’s been smoked by namesake Josh Smoker. Adam Wilk looked pretty good but he was never really in the race.
Some situations do make sense. There’s no point in having Michael Conforto sit on the bench despite his strong spring when he could be starting and learning CF every day by playing regularly.
I’m not naive. I know paycheck dictates playing time more so than performance, particularly under this regime. Veteran status trumps all. However, at some point you have to wonder if that approach is the right one, particularly since the team has just dubiously celebrated 30 years without a World Series victory.