Is It Time For a New Generation of Mets?

As I sit here wondering if the Mets will extend Reyes’ contract, and how I hope David Wright and Jose Reyes spend their long successful careers only with the Mets, I started thinking the bridge between different Mets generations.  In my eye, generations are roughly defined by the ‘core’ or the handful of top players on a team that stay together for a couple of years.  You had Mike Piazza, Edgardo Alfonzo and John Franco leading us into David Wright,Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran.  There was an overlap, or bridge, between these two generations as some of them played together.  One midseason story line was even when Wright would, or should, move ahead of Piazza in the batting order.  What if the bridge between generations was not so obvious?
We are Mets fans because we love the Mets.  We love the Mets because we are Mets fans.  It’s emotional, fanatical, and probably illogical, but it’s what we do.   We have an emotional connection to the team, and to the players.  We all know that you “root for the laundry” and that it doesn’t matter who is wearing the uniform because if it says “Mets” on it, we want them to succeed.

There is talk out there about breaki

ng up the Mets core: If the Mets haven’t won with Wright and Reyes, maybe they are part of the problem and not the solution.  How would the fanbase, the one that includes the millions of fans not on Twitter or in the blogosphere, react to the Mets rebuilding?  Would fans actually be excited for a team that had Tejada at shortstop, Zach Lutz at third, an outfield of Lucas Duda, Fernando Martinez and Kirk Nieuwenhuis with a rotation led by Niese, Gee and Meija? Especially if it took that group 2-3 years to really start to show any talent, if they do at all.  Perhaps Mets fans are too used to a group of players getting only one or two shots at the postseason and now mentally preparing for the next groups opportunity.  

Fans may enjoy a prospect or two, especially one that’s doing well, but watching a group of players lose consistently while going through the growing pains of trying to be a great major league baseball player is not what sells or excites fans.  Half of those guys probably won’t stick around long term in the big leagues, certainly not with the Mets, and they’ll make mistakes and boneheaded plays and go through slumps that will not enamor them to fans.  We love the team, but rooting for lovable losers is not what being a Mets fan is about.  For every fan that loved Ty Wigginton while he

was a Met there are a hundred or more that love Benny Agbayani because he was a part of a run of success.  Rustyjr of The Real Dirty Mets Blog asked for reader submissions of their top 50 Mets of all time, and has been counting down the tabulated results.  If you’re paying attention you’ll notice that the list hardly follows any statistical reasoning.  Ray Knight comes in at #37 for example despite his numbers across a mere 254 games with the Mets not being anything amazing.  Perhaps his baseball-reference sponsor has some insight:

“What a worthy ’86 Series MVP! He embodied those championship Mets. Who can forget his fire, his jubilation scoring the winning run on Buckner’s error?”

We cling the players that come through for us in big moments.  Endy Chavez made an unbelievable catch in a key moment of the biggest Mets game of the last decade.  For his Mets career he was at best a serviceable 4th outfielder and an amazing defensive replacement, which aren’t usually the guys that go down in history and get remembered.  Endy’s catch is immortalized in the left field gate at Citi Field and in the fan walk outside, and it’s one of the few parts of the building that has never been criticized by fans.  We form bonds and connections with these guys, and while winning makes them all look nicer, sometimes it’s just the emotion and effort of one player or series that makes us love them.  Endy’s catch was in a losing effort and Robin Ventura’s memorable Grand Slam Single was the last win the Mets would get in that series.

Would fans really pay to see a team of prospects?  My guess is no.  If the Mets fail to put a winning team on the field again in 2011, it won’t draw any more fans in August and September if they trade off every piece they can at the trading deadline.  While the removal of players that we have a negative association with may sound like a good idea, It doesn’t actually create more interest in watching that players replacement.  Sure there might be a boost in attendance if a fire-balling starter is doing well, or some rookie outfielder is smashing home runs all over the place, but those things will be passing novelties as most Mets fans find entertainment elsewhere that season.  Some cit the early 90s as some of the worse Mets seasons in history.  The ‘86ers retired, moved on, got into trouble and were no longer Mets. There were a couple of flashy prospects here and there that didn’t really pan out.  There was some brief excitement with Generation K, which shows us that a philosophy of “We might be pretty good in a couple of years!” is not a selling point.  There was no clear bridge to the next eneration and a lot of Mets fans in the 90s noticed that there _was_ still winning baseball in New York.  I wonder what the younger Mets fans that are in love with Wright and Reyes would do if they were no longer Mets in the next year or two?

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K-Rod’s Option “Problem”

I know all these stories have been talked about and re-talked about since it’s the off-season and there is very little going on, but bare with me as I talk about this one some more.

People act like Francisco Rodriguez’s option year for 2012 vesting would be disastrous. He makes 11.5 million next year and that jumps to 17.5 million if he finishes 55 games, which he usually does. That’s a six million dollar raise, Although if it doesn’t vest they owe him 3.5 million to buy it out. It’s not really that bad. Omar knew that a lot of money was coming off in 2012, and the philosophy is that good teams have good closers. Since K-Rod is one of the best, and remains one of the best (i.e. finishing games, staying healthy, and the option vesting), the Mets would be best served to keep him. The raise is a lot, and I’m not sure how that went down in negotiations or why it need to be so much more than the base contract, but if the option vests it means he’s contributing to the success of this team.

The Mets problems in the past couple of years have not been spending too much money, but spending too much money on guys who have not contributed. The Mets have not been playing with a $140 million dollar payroll team the last couple of years. If the Mets have guys on the field, like Francisco Rodriguez, who are performing and contributing, then the amount of money they’re being paid becomes less important. Sure he’s making more money than he’s theoretically worth, but he is adding value. There is no guarentee that the players you sign to replace him with that 17.5 (really 14 because of the buyout) million dollars would win you more games. Especially as it’s a one year thing, and the Mets reportedly will have plenty of money to spend next year without that 14 million and an extra hole to fill. Do you want to take the gamble that the money saved by the option not vesting is will help create a more successful team in 2012? It’s certainly possible, but sometimes the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” is apt.

Using games started and games finished as vesting options has always annoyed me. You’re not allowed to vest options based on statistical performance, and this seems to be skirting that line. Games on the active roster, or “games healthy” would make more sense. Both games started and games finished have the possibility of the team manipulating things so that options don’t vest. So do games appeared, as Alex Cora found out last year. Games finished is even more linked to performance, because a closer being bad at home actively alters the number of games he finishes.

There is no real need to speculate on ways to get around the option though. Francisco Rodriguez will either be healthy and successful and closing out a lot of games for a reasonably successful club, or the team will wallow in mediocrity and not get that many chances. The Mets offense seems poised to score a lot of runs though, so if the bullpen can hold leads, there may be less save situations. If Terry Collins chooses not to use Rodriguez in four run save situations or get him work for the sake of work, then that could keep the games finished number down. If the Mets are competing in August and September then not only will the Mets need and want him closing games, cost be damned, but the added attendance boost and revenue from being competitive will more than pay that raise for 2012. The thing the Mets can do to create the most money and financial flexibility is to win, not to look for ways around options or to avoid pricey contracts.

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