Reese Kaplan -- The Mets and the Seven Year Itch

From “We’ll spend when we win” to “I have money available to improve” to “We’re all in”, we’ve grown accustomed to the forked tongue of the general manager.  Remember, he was “all in” without adding a single player to the roster that was one and one last year.  He was “all in” with several players returning from major injuries.  He was “all in” with no contingency plans when injuries once again reared their ugly head.

So what is the result of his passivity?  Well, the Mets are in the midst of a period during which they’ve lost 8 of their last 9.  The bullpen is already burned to a crisp due to the manager’s quick hook and subsequent overuse, often engaging 5 or more pitchers to get through the final 3 innings. 

Then there’s the well documented trust and faith put into veteran players matched only by the disdain and paranoia about trying anyone new.  The end result is having older players accruing injuries and forced to play hurt when perfectly healthy options wither away on the bench.  Furthermore, the extra strain put onto these veterans has resulted in a myriad of injuries. 

Who’s hurt?  Well, it’s almost as if the list of who isn’t hurt would be a shorter one.  Let’s start with the pitching casualties from spring training and the first week of the season – Steven Matz and Seth Lugo.  Not having a backup plan for Matz given his frailty and inability to stay on the mound is one of those shortsighted gaffes for which Sandy Alderson has become infamous.  Lugo’s injury was somewhat of his own doing, choosing to play full bore in the WBC without having sufficient time to warm up properly before his arm was ready.

What of the Captain Fantastic who has played in 75 games each of the past two years combined?  What was the plan going into 2017 for him?  Oh right – more replacement level play from Jose Reyes.  How’s that working out for you?  Replacement level would be a quantum leap forward in productivity.  Then again, he’s a veteran so he gets to play until he says he’d leaving the game to pursue another endeavor.

Of course, no one has seen Brandon Nimmo who, like his WBC brother-in-Obamacare, Seth Lugo, got himself injured by running all-out in a meaningless game too early in the spring.  Then, apparently, while rehabbing the hamstring he managed to get a hand injury as well.  He and Juan Lagares are fighting it out for the title of most fragile outfielder.

Then we have Lucas Duda who had injuries last year, this spring and now is on the DL with a hyperextended elbow.  The move to the DL was surprising since the team routinely terms things day-to-day when it’s clear that longer periods of rest and rehab are required.

Similarly, Wilmer Flores was placed on the DL with a mysterious knee infection that kept him hospitalized for IV fluids over the weekend. 

Asdrubal Cabrera was visibly wincing as he played on Sunday, yet with the state of the roster he was forced to play.  Now you’d assume a thinking manager might say, “Hey, Asdrubal, better you take a day off now than be shut down for weeks as you were last year” but no…instead after sending the .095 hitting Jose Reyes to the bench for a whopping one game, he brought him right back in to play 3B on Sunday instead of shortstop.  Hmmn…couldn’t you have tried to “get him going” by having him man shortstop and having T.J. Rivera play 3B?  Nah, that would have made too much sense.

Travis d’Arnaud is also banged up, having a bruise on his wrist which made hitting possible but not throwing.  Given his less-than-stellar reputation on that side of the game, it makes sense to sit him for awhile until fully healed. 

Yoenis Cespedes probably strained his hamstring trying to run through obvious sliding situations.  It’s not the first time that’s happened (the hamstrings and the bizarre base running), and it won’t be the last. 

In both of these last two cases the club made the mysterious decision to let the players heal rather than be without them for 15 days.  But wait…now there’s a 10-day DL.  Still, they opted to go extremely short handed on the bench with pretty much T.J. Rivera and whichever of Rene Rivera and Kevin Plawecki are not playing.  Given that they won’t burn the backup catcher, that means it’s a one-man bench of T.J. Rivera. 

To wit, the Skipper has resorted to using his most valuable commodity – starting pitchers – as offensive weapons to pinch hit and to run.  What kind of second guessing will take place when Jacob de Grom or Zack Wheeler gets spiked or pulls a hammy because the club won’t supply a sufficient bench and the manager felt it was better to use his core pitchers rather than say a Sean Gilmartin who’s apparently in the witness protection program anyway.  But wait, you can’t do that when you change pitchers for every batter in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings.  What a concept – allowing relief pitchers to face more than one batter even if they hit from the opposite side of the plate!

So let’s assume we wait until about Cinco de Mayo when Lucas Duda and Wilmer Flores should be back.  By then the silly 1-man bench should be somewhat fortified by the returns of Travis d’Arnaud and Yoenis Cespedes.  Let’s flash forward and see what the manager will have at his disposal:

He will have all of his outfielders back not named Nimmo.  His bullpen will be the same.  His bench should include Rene Rivera, T.J. Rivera, Wilmer Flores, Juan Lagares and Curtis Granderson (though it will more likely be Michael Conforto riding the pines).  He will have his current starting rotation. What will his excuse for not winning be then?

Here’s a hint.  The man has never won anything.  He’s been in the game longer than any two of his starting pitchers’ combined ages and has yet to win a World Series.  This is not a case of small sample sizes.  This career legacy of mediocrity spans nearly 1900 games.  Right now his record stands at 933-936, and his Mets record is worse at 489-502. 

Do you want to show the world you’re truly all-in AND preserve your smartest-guy-in-the-room strategy of standing pat with the roster?  Then fire Terry Collins and bring in a fresh approach since what you’ve gotten from him has not worked.  Nearly every offensive player brought in under Collins has sputtered unless they were a role player.  Why is that?  Could it be their roles need to expand or that younger players need to be given more opportunities?  How is it that collectively the club falls in the lower echelon of all offensive categories (other than HRs)? 

While it will never happen given the circumstances under which they parted ways, what the club needs now is a Wally Backman type who can actually motivate players to give more than they’re currently doing.  They need someone who understands how to play the hot hand.  They need someone who can reinforce fundamentals and not just wait for the three-run homer.  They need someone who knows if you burn your bullpen out in April you won’t win in September. 

But, but, but…he brought us to a World Series in 2015.  No, Yoenis Cespedes put the club on his back and delivered them to the World Series.  Then you watched Terry Collins get humiliated by a non-rocket scientist manager on the other side whose club made the Mets look silly.  Who can forget Collins’ insistence on batting Yoenis Cespedes when the man could barely stand, to say nothing of running?  Or his insistence on leaving in a clearly “lost it” Matt Harvey?  These decisions rested squarely on the manager’s shoulders.  No one else gets the blame for them.

But, but, but…he got us to our second straight post-season in 2016.  Once again, I give a lot of credit not only to Yoenis Cespedes, but also to Robert Gsellman and the pre-WBC Seth Lugo for getting us there.  And what happened when we did get there?  He used luminaries like Eric Campbell to pinch hit and “we’ve seen this movie before” left in a clearly “lost it” Jeurys Familia to blow the game.  There's some merit to ride the horse who brung ya, but a thinking man adjusts.  Once again these decisions were made by the guy with the career losing record. 

While I personally disagreed with bringing him back for yet another year, I could understand the rationale.  However, even though it’s a marathon and not a sprint, the dismal start to the season during which you’re allegedly “all in” suggests it’s time for a change to be made even if only as a symbolic gesture of doing something rather than the standard modus operandi of doing nothing. 

Hopefully a new manager will look at who his best player options are and giving them starting assignments.  If that means benching, demoting or cutting Jose Reyes, so be it.  If that means making Curtis Granderson a $15 million pinch hitter, hey, them’s the breaks, Curtis.  If that means keeping Lucas Duda on a short leash when he returns, perhaps the “you hit or your sit” mantra will actually morph into reality.  If that means bringing up a .400 hitting shortstop with 5 SBs to do what Jose Reyes is not doing, hey, aren’t you allegedly “all in” to win?

As a manager myself I know when something doesn’t work you try something else.  When something hasn’t worked for seven years then we have a tendency to get mighty itchy.  At the very least can we at least push Kevin Long to the curb to let his boss know what's coming if he doesn't turn things around in a hurry?  Some will call it Steinbrenner-esque.  Say what you will, but the Yankees sure did win a lot of pennants by not settling for mediocrity.  


Mack Ade said...

Reese -


Once again, you make a very good case for the removal of TC as the Mets manager. I'm not going to disagree with you this morning. The Mets need change and, and, as you and I both know, it starts with the manager.

Still, anyone new would be stuck with the same players, the same injuries, the same depleted AAA depth, and the same upper management approach to running this team.

I'm not sure if fans have caught this fact, but Sandy has begun fazing himself out of the day to day running of this team For now, that's being taken over by two Vice Presidents around him, John Ricco and J.P. Ricciardi.

You will get your wish one of thes two guys get their way...

Or, if this team continues to fight it out with the Braves for last place, this will all be over by the all-star break.

Reese Kaplan said...

I offered an interim step -- removing the hitting coach whose approach isn't working. That will create the illusion of action and buy TC another 6-8 weeks out from under the microscope.

Mack Ade said...

I would hate to see anyone lose their job because of being afraid of a microscope.

Managing a sports franchise in New York City is sort of like being Donald Trump in the White House.

Everything is going to be wrong to at least 49% of the people out there.

Hobie said...

The X's & O's of baseball managing is so over rated. Any one of the Mack's Met Family would do no better nor worse at flipping the coin. We all do it of course, armchair managing is maybe THE pleasure of the National Pastime (note: Pastime). It's the only sport where the pace allows contemplating possible sequences of future events in alternate scenarios. (Maybe some 1st & 2nd guess golfers choosing a club...idk).

Our 2nd guessing is near 100%. 1st guessing not so much, but of course we REMEMBER those times our forecast was prescient (& superior to the guy getting paid). I didn't want Wheeler to PH, like Reese for fear of injury, and had he gotten hurt my memory would be much more robust than it is. The best hitters fail to get on base 60% of the time. Managers are closer to the coin flip odds -- the best ones and the worst ones.

Want my all time first guess? Has nothing to do with TC. "If they don't resign Daniel Murphy they'll be a generation without another ring."

Mack Ade said...

I think we can all agree at this point that replacing Murph with Walker was a bad decision

Reese Kaplan said...

And an expensive one. We paid Walker $27.2 million for 2 years (an average of $13.6 per year) which is more than the Nats are paying Murphy for just one more year of commitment. Walker was supposed to be a one-year bridge to the minimum wage Dilson Herrera. How'd that work out for ya?

Thomas Brennan said...

And I looked yesterday and in the minors, Dilson (and Gabe Ynoa and Logan Verrett) are all doing AWFUL.

David Rubin said...

Great piece, Reese!!! Having met Terry and speaking with some insiders are very familiar with the situation, unfortunately most of the lineups are dictated from up above. That being said, the thought that managers do not cost games is aa false as batting average is a good barometer of a player's Talent. Terry is a great guy and a wonderful person to speak with but unfortunately he is out matched at every turn and I agree that the 2015 World Series was a primer on how NOT to manage!!! I completely agree with you that A change is necessary but unfortunately knowing the way this exec team works it is not going to happen anytime soon and the season might be lost before we know it.

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