Reese Kaplan -- Animal Farm: Mets Edition

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.


Richard Herr said...

I love the comparisons to 1984 and Einstein. Unfortunately, the general manager and the manager lean a little too heavily on the back of the baseball card and the salary. (Try to guess which of those guys is enchanted with which of those attributes.)

Mack Ade said...

All team policies come from the ownership and General Manager. Even a lineup card can't be filled out without the blessing of the guys upstairs.

No one gets more excited about prospects bubbling over the system. Remember how excited we were when Lastings Milledge and Fernando Martinez became decade long outfielders in Queens.

No, wait...

This is a very talented, seasoned team that is dependent upon injuries.

Everybody stay healthy, here comes the playoffs.

If not, here comes the guppies.

Thomas Brennan said...

to be fair regarding Jose Reyes, he is first and foremost a gate attraction; fans may like Wilmer, but a gate attraction? Not really.

Jose adds an element of speed this team extremely lacks, and I believe he was a decent 5 for 18 with 3 steals in WBC. Still has a gun for an arm playing 3B. So I feel really bad for Wilmer, but the speed factor is not there,,,if he were an above average runner, he'd be in every day, but he is a snail. He is another guy who, if the management saw this as a 70 win team, would have played 150 games this year. If he really performs in 2017, maybe he will be a 150 game guy next year.

Also Reyes does not turn 34 until mid-June, so don't rush him into his mid-life crisis. He has shown greatness in the past, maybe he can catch lightning in a bottle this year. Doubtful Flores' ceiling will ever approach Reyes' ceiling.

If Bruce does not hit, and Conforto destroys AAA (which he will), my guess is after game 55, a push will be made to change that and put Conforto in there and bench Bruce.

Poor Paul Sewald - in a Mike Puma article yesterday, Paul said this...then read Terry's quote, damning him with faint praise:

“I felt like I came into spring ready to rock and roll and ready to show them what I can do,” Sewald said. “And come in more game ready than some of our starters who don’t really have to come in trying to make the team.”

“He throws the ball over,” manager Terry Collins said. “He’s got a change of speeds and throws strikes. He’s not an overpowering guy, so he’s got to locate and that he does.”

Reese Kaplan said...

I understand the realities of grasping at past glories but at some point when there's little skin in the game (such as Reyes' minimum wage contract) you might want to consider other options if he's not getting it done.

Thomas Brennan said...

Reese, I agree. 2017 is performance--based.

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