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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Wanted: Evidence of a Plan

Let’s get the caveats out of the way early on this one.

It’s December 2, not even officially winter. The hot stove is barely beginning to glow. And Greg and I have long been proud to think that we don’t overreact to things. As the timing of the Johan Santana trade made clear, you don’t know anything about the offseason until it’s completed, and no club tips its hand about its plan.

But after a comically dysfunctional season that can’t be revisited for fear of violating the Geneva Convention, we’re all a bit on edge. And two recent transactions related to the Mets leave you wondering: Is there a plan here?

1. Alex Cora gets a one-year, $2 million deal with a $2 million vesting option for 2011 that kicks in if he starts 80 games.

Alex Cora played gamely with two busted thumbs for a good chunk of a lost season. By all accounts he was a leader in the clubhouse, mentoring several younger players through a horrifying season. By all accounts he’s also a wonderful guy. I have no reason to doubt any of this, and I’m glad that it’s so.

Alex Cora is also 34 years old and has a career on-base percentage of .313. And for that, he gets $2 million?

The vesting option doesn’t particularly bother me because it sounds like the kind of laudatory chrome that’s just there to make someone feel better about themselves — if Alex Cora starts his 81st game, I bet Omar Minaya’s watching it from his couch while Wayne Krivsky or someone else telegraphs his I-gotta-fix-this concern for the SNY cameras. But the $2 million bothers the hell out of me. Alex Cora couldn’t be had for close to the league minimum and incentives? A non-roster invite to camp? A ticket to Florida and free hot dogs?

What mystery team out there was bidding Alex Cora’s price up? Who, exactly, were the Mets competing with? Was it the same team that bid them up on Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez?

I really don’t understand it. Perhaps Omar isn’t aware that mirrors reflect, and spends his winters madly competing with Ramo, the GM of the mysterious Stems, who somehow always covets the same players poor Omar wants.

“JEFF! NO MATTER WHAT I DO, THIS RAMO GOES HIGHER! HE LOVES ALEX CORA, YOUKNOWWHATIMSAYIN? LOVES HIM! AND I HEAR RAMO WANTS TATIS BACK! TATIS IS STILL OURS, RIGHT? RIGHT? MY GOD! JEFF, WE NEED TO GIVE TATIS A 2-YEAR, $10 MILLION DEAL BEFORE RAMO CAN STRIKE! WAIT! JEFF! I HEAR RAMO IS ALSO OFFERING TATIS 2 YEARS AND $10 MILLION! THREE YEARS! THREE!”

2. Billy Wagner signs a one-year, $7 million deal with the Braves. As compensation, the Red Sox get the Braves’ first-round pick (20th overall) in next year’s draft and a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds.

The Mets traded Wagner to the Red Sox late last season and got back Chris Carter, a decent left-handed bat who’s shown no real ability to play any position, and someone named Eddie Lora. Carter could platoon with Nick Evans, I suppose, except Jerry Manuel’s never heard of Nick Evans. (Jerry’s never having heard of Eddie Lora is more forgiveable.)

So the team shed $3.5 million for someone’s 2011 DH and a roster filler? Wouldn’t the draft picks have been more useful, considering the sorry state of the farm system? Oh, that’s right, though — the Mets treat the amateur draft like Bud Selig’s laughable slotting guidelines are the law of the land and they have the budget of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Except the Mets spent just $3.1 million in the 2009 draft, last in the majors, and the PIrates spent the most in MLB, so never mind that.

$3.1 million, by the way, will pay for one and a half on-base machines like Alex Cora.

It isn’t accurate to call the Mets cheap, because they give Alex Cora $2 million to be nice to Kevin Burkhardt and ground out. It isn’t accurate to call them profligate, because their plan for restocking the farm system seems to involve experiments with binary fission. The only thing I can say with any certainty is that nothing the Mets do seems to reflect a coherent plan.

I’d like to be proved wrong. I really would. I would like to be told as the World Series parade rolls by that I can’t shred this blog post and throw it up the air, because I promised I’d eat it.

You know what? I will eat it. Hell, let’s make it easier than that. If on Opening Day anyone can give me a plausible argument that the Mets’ offseason plan was put together according to a sound overarching strategy that should leave us feeling optimistic about 2010, I will print out and eat this blog post. On Opening Day. I will eat it to celebrate a 0-0 record. I will eat it before Alex Cora refuses to take his first walk and before the first Met disappears to the limbo of the Eventually To Be Disabled List.

C’mon, Omar. Prove me wrong. Before Ramo does.

18 comments to Wanted: Evidence of a Plan

  • Anonymous

    Sir, I will join you in eating it. (As long as I can flavor it with some tabasco.)

  • Anonymous

    The overarching strategy is called “Our Fans Are Stupid and WilL Believe Anything We Tell Sell Them”

  • Anonymous

    The thing with Cora is, it's an overpayment, but it's not as grievous as all that. He's an established major leaguer, so it's unlikely he'll take league minimum. still, 750k is still 1.25 million savings right? What it really boils down to here is if we could've gotten someone as 'useful' as Cora to do next to nothing for less. Would it be worth giving the spot to a rookie? (well, we don't really have many infield rookies, and you don't want guys like that sitting on the bench anyway). Another aging veteran? Not that you're missing much if Cora walks, but there isn't exactly a huge amount of guys that want to come earn next to nothing, start maybe 15 games, and actually be any sort of productive. Cora's not worthless, and he was playing injured for us. The other thing is, if the Mets have accepted that Cora is near the top of the guys that will be able to fill that slot in the roster, can you really give him less money? Deservedly or not, can a team that spends as much money as the Mets do go to Cora and give him a pay cut after he played hard, and hurt, last year? What's worse, paying Cora a million more than they probably should, or letting what they feel is the best option walk because they don't want to spend a million?
    Personally, I'd have preferred a backup IF that has a little more pop that Cora, but my vision of the 2010 Mets is not necessarily the best one either. The Mets can't possibly let a million here and there impact what they do with Holliday or whoever.
    The other thing is, we can't really ever know for sure who else was bidding. There is so much misinformation and wrong information out there for Hot Stove. Maybe someone else did call Cora. the same could be said for Perez, and Castillo. It's so hard to judge. And don't forget the Mets didn't exactly have a ton of draft picks to pay last year. Sure they paid little, but they signed the guys they were going to sign. Only two of their first nine picks in the first ten rounds didn't sign (rounds 5 and 6, two teenage pitchers.) Should they have paid them more just because?
    The thing with Wagner does bother me. Who was it that leaked the information about the player, and how did they make this trade without making sure the return players cleared waivers? Why did they still go through with the trade? Did they just not think Wagner would be a type A free agent and the pick/picks they'd have gotten not have been much anyway, considering they were sure of a first rounder by that point anyway?
    Do they have a plan? Well..I have no idea. Obviously, they're not going to talk about it. A lot of the rumors seem to me that they have a couple of different paths in mind, and are feeling it out.
    There have been some good signs. Francoeur was rumored to be getting a three year deal from the Mets during the season, but that hasn't happened. Maybe that means it wasn't for real, or the Mets realize that they should actually be looking for a backup option for Francoeur, not locking him in.
    Tatis filed for free agency, and on the last day. Does that mean he was holding out hope the Mets would try to keep him, and they didn't? Good.
    They grabbed the crappy backup catcher named Coste, and let Schneider walk. They're still supposedly looking for catchers which hopefully means they're not automatically giving the job to Santos(who I personally think had a career year, but it was a year that wasn't very good, excepting a few clutch HR. I also thought he was a poor, slow, baserunner, and showed poor defensive skills behind the plate.) I'm hoping the Mets have plenty of options to outplay him for the job in ST.
    There is the getting of coaches and GMs from other teams, bringing in a lot of smart people or fresh ideas. There have definitely been points where I've thought that the Mets definitely need some fresh perspective, someone to lead and guide with new ideas about how to succeed. there has already been plenty of thoughts that Omar, the Mets, don't operated with full autonomy, and I don't think adding more to the mix can possibly make it worse. Hopefully someone wise gets a smart thought through.
    There are bad signs too, they kept Manuel, who has done nothing but fail, fail, and fail again. They kept Warthen who from all signs is next to worthless. Shines wasn't a good 3B coach, but he does seem like a decent guy and a good leader.

  • Anonymous

    this article from kinerskorner.com i think gives a solid argument why the wagner trade did make sense at the time of the trade.
    http://citifield.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/when-evaluating-wagner-deal-remember-919/
    here's the main point:
    “However, you have to consider this particular deal at the time it was made. Wagner had come off Tommy John surgery, is in his late 30’s, and only pitched a couple of innings prior to the deal. His health was still VERY much in question, as was his ability and velocity. The market had a glut of free agent closers coming up, and was expected to be a very drawn out poker game wait for free agents, much like last year.
    In a season where Omar relied too heavily on things working EXACTLY right and consistently getting burned by it, he needed to play the odds. Credit goes to Billy for beating the odds, and Theo was a lucky recipient. “

  • Anonymous

    Gotta say, I love the pessimism. Tell it like it is!

  • Anonymous

    I applaud the optimism, but it is so clear, that their plan is all about catching lightning in a bottle. If they really were going to be players in the offseaon, they would for once, set the market. There can only a few possible plans, go after all pitching, signing Lackey, Wolf & Marquis…sign Holliday & Lackey, and then maybe a second pitcher. Or the plan I like best, Sign Lackey & Figgins, and trade for Crawford. There is a fourth plan, but it requires the Mets to say, you have to spend money to make it…bite the bullet, and tell Toronto, after we negotiate a four year deal (he'll want five, but should only get three…so four is the compromise) with Halladay, that we will take Vernon Wells off of your hands, which they have already said will allow them to give away Halladay…but since all of these make sense, none of them will happen. They clearly prefer to corner the market on over paid catchers.

  • Anonymous

    You're 100% right. Omar has no plan, no idea what he's doing, and really has to go. And the proof of that is the Billy Wagner move isn't so bad.
    Say what? Let me explain:
    In a vaccuum, the whole transaction is easily defensible. Flash back to August. Wagner is 37 years old, just coming off TJ surgery, and has a grand total of two major league innings on his 2009 resume. He's going to earn $3.5MM for the rest of the season — a dead season at that — and may be a total flameout for the next month-plus. So there's a decent chance that if you keep him, you are spending $3.5MM on utter crap, and in that case, you certainly cannot offer him arbitration and be saddled with a crappy, old, set-up man at $8MM for 2010.
    Even if he's good, he's massively unlikely to find a multi-year deal in the 2010 off-season. Again: he'll be 38, coming off injury, with really a small sample size (15-20 IP) to show he's recovered and at 2008 levels. You would have to be an idiot to offer him a two year deal, and to be blunt, Frank Wren must have been drunk to give up $7MM and the 19th overall draft pick to sign this guy.
    In short: in August, it would have been incredibly risky and expensive to wed yourself to offering Wagner arbitration in December.
    In a vaccuum, that is.
    But Omar doesn't operate in a vaccuum. He's the general manager, not the Billy Wagner specific transaction manager. So he needs to justify the transaction outside of just the Wagner situation itself. As you said, he needs a plan.
    And it's not the $3.5MM and subsequent re-signing of Cora is inconsistent with a plan. Omar could very easily say that the freed-up money from Wagner allowed him to spend an extra $1.65MM on Cora (versus say Wilson Valdez), and as that's a luxury he thinks is important for the bench, but one that they'd have foregone but for the extra cash. I disagree, but fine — at least it's a plan.
    The problem, rather, is trading for Chris Carter while not firing Jerry Manuel, who apparently does not know who Nick Evans is. It makes zero sense to take a guy who you *know* you can't use. None. So instead of trying an Evans/Carter (or Murphy/someone) platoon, we're going to … do something stupid.
    So basically: The reason why Omar screwed this up is not because it was de facto stupid, but because Omar is an idiot. He's become a tautology of failure, and that's a HUGE problem.

  • Anonymous

    But what exactly was the risk of keeping Wagner? If he was terrible or broke down again, so what? You'd pay him the $3 million you already budgeted for him. If they got prospects worth anything, then fine, its an OK deal. But they got two nothing prospects. The deal provided no upside for the Mets, only downside.
    Lots of people hated the deal at the time because this could happen. And we were right.

  • Anonymous

    I think the obvious plan is to get Holliday, Lackey and Halladay and pray that the team can't possibly have as many injuries as last season. With Holliday in left, you can keep Frenchy in right, Beltran in center, an infield of Wright/Reyes/Castillo/Murphy (w/ a platoon), Santos and Coste catching, and have a rotation of Santana/Halladay/Lackey/Maine/Pelfrey. The bullpen looks like a dog's breakfast, but K-Rod is still decent. With some reasonable spare parts, that team could contend.
    Then again, if Omar doesn't get Holliday, Lackey and Halladay, or everybody gets hurt, or both, we're looking up at the Nats. Then we can draft Bryce Harper. Maybe that's the plan!

  • Anonymous

    Bengie Molina will be the “big” pickup.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jason,
    Omar does have a plan — it's called “BREAK UP THE METS”.
    Why get rid of Putz? What caused him to have second thoughts regarding potentially the best 8th/9th inning combination in the game? Nobody got a chance to see the real J.J. – he pitched injured all season before joining his mates on the DL.
    He gets rid of Schneider. As someone already pointed out, who else do we have behind the plate other than Santos (who is not an everyday player by any stretch)? Having a Schneider is still better than not having one and that's no BS.
    I still had hopes for 2010, however, it appears Omar made the team weaker prior to going into the winter meetings. While not as vital as a Santana, Beltran, Wright, Reyes, etc., Putz and Schneider are those small but important links that keeps a chain strong.
    For that reason, Jason, I think your digestive system is safe for next year.

  • Anonymous

    Are you really trying to argue Putz and Schneider are the keys to a championship?
    Blanco's better than Schneider, if he sticks, and there is no reason to overpay an 8th inning guy like Putz coming off an injury.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Ceetar,
    I said they were “small” but important “links”, not “keys” to a pennent. As you know, the team had too many “missing links” to begin with and could not have ill afforded to lose two more.

  • Anonymous

    semantics. Blanco is a better catcher than Schneider, (at least 2009 Schneider) and that actually makes the team better.
    yes, the team was missing some links, but that's because they were using guys like Tatis and Sheffield. Those are the places to look to fill in these holes. Better backup/bench guys that can walk, and will play their natural positions and not be liabilities defensively.
    Putz is just an injury risk, which is something we don't need, and a guy that'd have made way too much money for a lesser role. There are other relievers. Spend the money on Holliday. The Mets aren't looking to have a 30 million bullpen. Honestly, signing Putz for 2010 would feel like Alou for 2008.

  • Anonymous

    I've got a bit of a buzz going on right now, so perhaps it's the wine talking–BUT…
    Perhaps Omar was thinking about the Wilpons when he accepted little in return for Wagner. Maybe the thinking wasn't of the Mets winning in the future, but of the Red Sox beating the Yankees in the present.
    I know that such an idea could be written off as hogwash VERY easily, but… hey man, with this team, who knows.

  • Anonymous

    It's not semantics
    Blanco is 38 and a lifetime .228 hitter. Schneider is 33 and a lifetime .251 hitter. Both threw out approximately one out of every three baserunners.
    Putz at 32 is still young enough to come back from injury. In 352 innings he has surrended only 33 home runs (about one every ten innings). He has a lifetime 1.20 WHIP.
    And Henry, at 38, is more apt to resemble Alou than Putz.
    .

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