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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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Better Player, Better Team?

The Mets are signing somebody! Cue the applause!

I’m clapping, and not just politely, to my mild surprise. I’m all for the Mets securing the services of better players, and I’m fairly certain Curtis Granderson is better than what they had before they got him. Perhaps because I didn’t expect the Mets to actually get him — or anybody of note — I wasn’t all that enthused when he became The Guy a few days ago, a transformation that seemed rooted in his ordering a celebrated plate of salmon and the sense that with everybody else doing something, why weren’t we?

Now that something’s been done, what the hell, I’m more or less on board. The more should be obvious, given what Granderson’s accomplished in the not altogether distant past. Why the less? Well…he was severely limited by injury last season; he’s beyond traditional “prime” age; he’s guaranteed maybe one year too many for our comfort; he’s changing addresses to dimensions that might not really play to his strengths; and I am plagued by the nagging feeling that if something can go wrong for the Mets, it will go wrong for the Mets.

Those were my concerns before Curtis Granderson said yes to the Mets. With a reported $60 million committed over the next four years, those are still my concerns.

But we did something. We got a better player than anything we had in his neck of the field when 2013 ended and 2014 approached. The economics wouldn’t be worth talking about, given that economics have blowed up real good throughout baseball, except these are the Mets and budgetary implications aren’t just the stuff of lip service. I’m still in the dark about whether paying Granderson an average of $15 million a year over the next four years will represent an untenable burden in the Land of Wilpon.

I didn’t worry about those things when Mike Piazza, Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana were all lavished in riches for what were considered, in their day, luxurious long-term deals. I never complained about their lengths, either, not even when they crossed into albatross territory. Those guys were each signed to do more than merely “something”. Piazza (seven years) and Santana (six) were convinced, respectively to stay with and join contenders and, to my mind, did all they could do up front, making their back-end decline the unfortunate cost of doing serious business. Pedro’s four years seemed excessive, as they were tendered at one of those rare moments in the sport when sanity had seeped into executive thinking and almost no starters were being signed for more than three years at a time. Pedro was marquee-level Pedro for only his first season-and-a-half, but that’s what he had to be when he had to be it most, and his presence and performance made a massive difference in the big Met picture he entered.

Granderson is not the kind of megastar those guys were. The Mets don’t point and click on such upscale merchandise anymore. But Curtis — first-name basis OK? — is star enough in this market and, I’ll say again, he’s an upgrade in the post-Byrd world the Mets had been living in. If Granderson gives us a couple of seasons akin to what Byrd gave us over five months of 2013, and does it from the left side, that will be highly valuable. Of course it won’t be as cost-effective as Byrd’s output was, but when we’re focused on the games, we’re rarely calculating price unless someone expensive is exhausting our patience.

Which inevitably brings us back to if something can go wrong it will go wrong or, to use the convenient Met shorthand, Jason Bay. That isn’t fair to Granderson, no matter that Baseball-Reference’s comps suggest the two outfielders hold very similar statistical profiles. They’re different people and different players, even if the circumstances of their arriving as Mets feel of a piece. By December 2009, the Mets didn’t really know what they were doing, so they defaulted to doing something. I kind of thought buying Bay would work. It didn’t. Now that I’m spooked that grabbing Granderson won’t work, maybe it will.

How’s that for insightful analysis?

Let’s go out on a limb and decide Granderson won’t be Piazza 2000 but won’t be Bay 2010, either. Let’s assume Granderson is simply a pretty decent version of Granderson while he’s 33 and 34 in the first two years of contract. Let’s assume that’s better than running Andrew Brown into the outfield, to name a low-profile survivor of 2013 who started 27 games in left or right. Let’s assume that means maybe not as many homers runs as he popped into the infamous short porch slightly to our north but a Byrd-plus figure in the upper 20s. Let’s throw in his established glove, his extra-base power and whatever you want to assign to his undisputed good-guy intangibles.

Do all that and pencil in a (presumably) healthy Curtis Granderson for a couple of very fine seasons. What does that do for the Mets in 2014 and 2015?

I don’t know.

It’s better than seasons that aren’t very fine from a player who is less credentialed or capable. But what does it do if these are the blah Mets we expected plus Granderson? It’s the same philosophical quandary I encountered a decade ago when the Mets were reported hot and heavy on the trail of Vladimir Guerrero for five minutes. (Except Guerrero was close to his all-world peak and the numbers being thrown around were period-reasonable.) All I could think was “the Mets suck…if they get Guerrero, they’ll still suck, but they’ll have Guerrero, and he’s really good.”

The Mets needed more than one guy then — even if he really was The Guy — and they need that now. Otherwise, you’re talking about something along the lines of Willie Montañez coming to a dreadful Mets club in 1978, driving in almost 100 runs (which was the be-all and end-all of stats in those days) and the Mets being just a tad less dreadful than they were in 1977. Or, to borrow an example my blogging partner mentioned the other day, albeit I’m sure in a differently intended context, you have Cliff Floyd in 2003 and 2004. Floyd was a good player who had, basically, good Cliff Floyd seasons. He was productive when he played, he was held back by injuries both years and the Mets were, give or take an embarrassing contretemps here and there, as dreadful as they were in 2002. Floyd came around for a Monsta year in 2005, which dovetailed with the additions of Martinez and Beltran and the blossoming of Wright and Reyes. He was 32 and in the third year of his four-year deal. The timing was great as the Mets leapt into legitimate Wild Card contention.

A year later, Floyd was hurt again and struggled. The Mets were much better overall and you didn’t really notice, if you were inclined not to want to, that Cliff wasn’t truly helping the cause. It wasn’t until he came up to pinch-hit in arguably the most dissected ninth inning in New York Mets history, Game Seven’s in the 2006 NLCS, that I realized how little I wanted our hobbled heretofore hero up in such a stressful situation.

It always comes back to October 19, 2006, in these parts, doesn’t it?

Anyway, the point, I think, is if you’re gonna pay as much as the Mets are paying Curtis Granderson, you want to believe there’s a high purpose to it. It was fun to watch Montañez drive in runs in ’78 and it was swell to see Floyd go on a pre-DL tear in ’03, but the team was still lousy. You didn’t really think about pound-per-dollar production where either of them was concerned because neither of them had been meaningfully framed as The Guy in the preceding offseason, not to the extent that we were led to believe either of them would make a ginormous difference in our lives.

Granderson, as old this coming Opening Day as Floyd was in 2006, seems to be exactly that at this December juncture, but that’s a function of the inflationary marketplace for available talent and probably as unfair as deciding he’s Bay after Bay became a synonym for everything going wrong. Problem is that without substantially more help, the Harvey-free 2014 Mets aren’t likely to contend. I wouldn’t hazard a guess about what lies beyond Opening Day 2015, except that once it gets here, Granderson will be 34. If we’re willing to believe in young pitching, speedy recoveries and a lack of prohibitive financial constraints, it’s not unreasonable to dream we might really make a run at a playoff spot by 2016 and be honest-to-goodness championship timber by 2017.

At which point Granderson will be 35 and 36 and be owed an average of $15 million annually and still employed by those wonderful folks whose last half-decade has been brought to us by Bernie Madoff.

Is there enough in the till to find enough help to make Granderson more than just an enhanced 2013 Byrd while we’re killing time wandering the competitive desert? Does this front office have the skill to parlay finite resources into infinite improvement? Did the plucking of Byrd and LaTroy Hawkins constitute the bulk of their luck for this decade? Is Granderson-Lagares-Young going to be an outfield that inspires absolutely no “what outfield” jibes?

What of the other Young and first base and shortstop and the fourth and fifth starters and who’s gonna close and close effectively if Parnell is slow to heal and is d’Arnaud gonna hit and will Murphy remain a Met long enough to make his date as the Mets’ designated Santa Claus given that it’s a role usually filled by a player who is about to be stuffed in a sack and boosted up the chimney with great care?

We’re getting into the details, and the details are potentially fun when you think you’re going in the right direction. I hope Curtis Granderson constitutes a one-way sign indicating a clear path to a club that every day in every way keeps getting better and better.

Obtaining a better player should seem like a surefire start toward that goal. With the Mets, though, I never can quite tell.

16 comments to Better Player, Better Team?

  • Greg

    Well, that really let the air out of the balloon.

    You did everything but call Granderson lipstick on a pig.

    I’m sorry I read this. I’m depressed now when a few
    minutes ago I thought it was a good Mets day.

    *sigh*

    • Aw, I don’t wanna bum out a Mets fan with such a cool first name. Reserve judgment, listen to Granderson when he’s introduced, get fired up again and when he, Wright and fill-in-the-blank lift the Mets on their shoulders, come on back and remind me I was unnecessarily gloomy.

    • Dave

      Greg Not Prince…message I got from this was that while Granderson isn’t The Man, maybe in a few years, fans of a successful competitive Mets team can look back on his signing as a positive step in the right direction. Until now, the Mets had exactly zero bonafide major league OF’ers, now they have one. And Alderson has given someone not named David Wright more than minimum wage. That’s something.

      Or it could be business as usual and everything goes wrong. We always have to plan for that possibility.

  • Mike

    I like the Granderson signing. Will he put up the homer-totals he did at Yankee Stadium? Probably not. But he’s shown he can handle NY, is a solid all-around player and — and this is a very important point — he is a proven commodity. After three off-seasons of the Mets ordering off the Dollar Menu (with occasional forays into Big Mac Extra Value Meal territory — Frank Francisco — and one trip to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse — Wright), they needed to do something this offseason. This isn’t a significant gamble. Grandy’s injuries last season were of the freak variety; they do not make him an injury-prone player. Will his numbers dip from ’12? Like I said, probably. But I’d say 25-30 homers is a safe bet. Not much more than Byrd had last year, one might argue? Well, yes, but as much as I loved Byrd last season, I’m not sure how many Mets fans are willing to bet he repeats ’13 next season. (Maybe he does. If he weren’t with the Phillies, I’d wish him all the luck in the world, as he seems like a solid guy.) I’d be surprised if Granderson is another Jason Bay. As one of the contributors to MetsBlog wrote, Bay’s collapse was so extreme, and so mind-boggling, he’s almost a statistical outlier.

    One minor point: I’m not sure comparing the Piazza signing to the Santana one is fair. I don’t know if the Piazza signing ever crossed into albatross territory. His numbers in ’04 and ’05 may not have been Piazza-esque, but they weren’t terrible either (around 20 homers each season). Plus, we were still living high on the hog in those years, and during the end of Piazza’s term could still throw money at guys like Floyd, Glavine, Pedro and Beltran. I don’t think the Piazza contract was holding us back. The Santana contract, coming right before the end of our big-spending days, is a different story; how many times during the 2013 season did we hear “Well, when the Bay and Santana contracts are finally off the books…..”?

    Also, as much as I like Santana, and don’t call that trade or that contract a mistake (he finally got us a no-hitter; a bad-call-helped no-hitter, but a no-hitter), Piazza led us to the playoffs — something that Santana, though he tried his very best (especially in ’08; looking back, that display of leaving-it-all-on-the-field may have ultimately been what’s cost him so much injury), just couldn’t do.

    • Piazza crossed my mind because of length and the sense that the Mets didn’t know what to do with him in ’04 when they shoved him to first base (which made sense on paper but not on the field) and how he seemed less than a part of the present as “the New Mets” of ’05 coalesced. Strangely, Beltran only grazed my thinking, probably because the Mets did move him before his contract was up.

      Santana did what he was supposed to for three years (2008 especially) and again in his fifth year. The last year, while mind-bogglingly economically inefficient, was what they/we were paying for when we/they bought the first years.

  • Chris Galligan

    Meh .

  • Dave A

    Words that shall never be uttered again: “The Grandyman Can!!!”

  • Gianni Privacio

    I was also pretty much disappointed when I heard the news they were chasing him. Couple interesting things though, beginning with DeRosa’s comment. Of course he’s just starting out as a commentator and played things pretty close to the vest in being generally complimentary but I liked the sound of “…and an even better person” coming from a guy known as a team first, positive-influence-in-the-clubhouse type.

    A quick check of Granderson’s career stats indicate that during his Detroit years he hit a lot of doubles and triples, stole bases and walked enough to have a .340 lifetime OBP despite the .261 batting average, indicating that if he’s able to perform up to his general level despite the certainly concerning age issue what we probably should expect the next couple years is going to be more like 20 – 25 HR, 20 – 30 2B, hopefully he’ll also hit some triples and steal some bases. His steals totals while hitting all those HRs with the Yankees were 12, 25, 10 and 8 in his shortened season of 2013. Of course the general low career batting average is a real concern considering he won’t be surrounded by that lineup anymore. So unless he has some protection in the 5 hole his average could be nasty – maybe as low as .210 or .220.

    In the field, he hasn’t made an error in two years and had 11 assists in 2011 (from centerfield). He’s made 18 errors in his entire career (er, is that good for an OF? Not sure.) So by signing him the Mets will essentially field 3 natural centerfielders and Eric Young, who has enough speed to have led the NL in stolen bases last year. Meaning they seem to have addressed configuring their outfield for the stadium they play in. Granderson is also one of those anomalies that bats left and throws right; he’s actually well suited to play left. So if his speed does fade the Shmets seem to have a realistic plan to utilize him. And you can also make the argument that at this point, while they are not fielding a murderer’s row in the OF, if Lagares was a flash in the pan you either have at least two guys to play center or could even put Den Dekker out there sandwiched by a few guys with decent pop.

    Back to the intangibles, I am generally loathe to even follow what the Yankees are doing but it seems to me he came here and didn’t miss a beat, in fact upped his game significantly under the microscope. Some Yankee fan correct me here but I also vaguely remember him basically carrying the team once or twice when the rest of their lineup was injured.

    Conversely, I am wondering a bit how 4 years of him at 60M is better than 3 years of Beltran at 45M or Byrd for 2 at 16M. And of course you have to wonder why the Yankees didn’t pursue resigning him. Personally I think Cano and Granderson for McCann, Ellsbury, Beltran and Johnson implies that Cashman and company have not lost any ability in assessing and configuring talent.

    Of course the whole thing will play out with a large dose of luck (injuries). Skip last year and Granderson had seven straight seasons of between 136 – 160 games played before last year so he also does appear to be durable.

    I think the more interesting questions now are what they’ll get from Chris Young, what ends up happening at short and first, the (at least in my eyes) sort of befuddling dismantling of the infield depth and, God forbid, if they trade Murphy. Management is clearly far from done given the pitching situation and the other holes. I don’t like the free agent options at catcher so expecting they will be making some sort of trade for someone to compliment d’Arnaud despite the complimentary comments about Recker.

    Despite my suspicions that the moves they’ve made so far are being driven by monetary policy I’m waiting to see who the 25 are come April 1 to decide how they stack up. Moves are being made fast and furious and the quality players are disappearing quickly. At least they got someone decent in the OF and if the above assessment is correct the move could work out well.

  • Rob

    We can’t really even guess whether this is a good or bad signing because what we’d really be guessing at is the financial state of the Mets. Let’s say Granderson averages 25 HRs and 80 RBIs these next four years…that’s a good player. But the question is, will paying that player $60 million make it more difficult to get the players they will need two years from now, when they will hopefully be in a better position to compete? If yes, then this is bad, though I’m sure Sandy Alderson thought all that through. If they are financially sound, then this is a moot point. Granderson is by all accounts a good guy…the hope here is that they are in good enough shape money-wise that this doesn’t impede the NEXT move.

  • Kevin from Flushing

    I still think this team will make another big move via trade. Granderson is fine as long as he’s not our cleanup hitter. Ideally I wouldn’t want to hit him higher than 6th. Offensively, he’s really just a slight upgrade over Ike, no? Hopefully a trade can bring us a true cleanup hitter, and perhaps Duda puts it all together and proves to be a solid 5-hole guy.

    But hey, welcome Curtis. Lets go Mets!

  • Andee

    You know what the best thing about this deal is? We will never have to see Lucas Duda in the outfield, ever again. And you know what the second best thing about this deal is? The pitchers will be very happy, because a CBY/Lagares/Granderson/MDD/EYJ outfield rotation will hoover up every ball hit over Duda’s head. Or Wright’s. Or whoever our middle infield consists of by the time the bell rings, who I am fairly certain will not be Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada. And if Granderson being there results in a few more runs, they’ll be even more thrilled.

    But actually, Granderson makes me think more than anything else of Robin Ventura. A personality guy, who happens to hit a little. Maybe not the worst thing in the world, in the situation we’re in.

  • Ed Rising

    Wow Greg – Gonna have to put ‘high hopes’ and “I’m a Believer” back onyour IPOD. Grandy is a piece not a savior and without giving up any player – he instantly gives us a professional hitter. C. Young/Lagaras/Grandy improves our outfield greatly. Now we have the “winter Meetings” to look forward to! Lets hope Sandy can bring home a deal. How about Jose Reyes and Jose Bautista from the Blue Jays for Sandegard, Flores, Duda, Den decker and maybe another of our prospect/suspect pitchers? (They could sign Drew for SS). With all the trades that went down already I’m feeling we can get something done – but we gotta believe!

    • To be completely literal about it, Ed, “High Hopes” has a Phillie tinge to it thanks to Harry Kalas, though I do have two versions of it (including the one Sinatra recorded for JFK). “I’m A Believer” is on my 41-track “The End” playlist, dedicated to the end of Shea (you’ll recall it was the “singalong” song from the eighth innings of 2008). When the hot stove settles down and we get back to nothing going on, perhaps I’ll explore my 2013 Mets playlist with you…you’d be surprised how innate my optimism can be.

      Oh, and yeah — let’s get more pieces and keep getting better.

  • open the gates

    A step in the right direction. But I hope the Mets don’t make him into another George Foster. He’s not going to save this team – not by himself. Or I should say, not just him and David Wright.

  • […] because of the timing. First we sign Curtis Granderson, former Tiger and whatnot, and I’m getting used to the idea that this is a splendid acquisition. Then the other team in New York swoops in and grabs a guy who was one of our best players ever, […]