Tuesday, January 27, 2004


The Trade: Yesterday, in a swap of late round draft choices from 1998, the Mets traded Jaime Cerda (23rd round) to the Royals for Shawn Sedlacek (14th round). Despite Sedlacek's minor superiority in pedigree, this looks like a poor trade for the Mets.

Cerda, a left-handed reliever, has pitched well at every level in the minors and pitched well in 25 major league innings over 32 games in 2002. In 2003, Cerda pitched great at Norfolk, and poorly in the majors (he had 32.1 innings at both levels. In AAA he had a 1.67 ERA and 35 K's; for the Mets he had a 5.85 ERA with only 19 K's (and 20 BB's)). Baseball America rated him the #8 prospect in the Mets organization last year, he is only 25, and all indications are that he will have a major league career as a left-handed reliever. It would surprise no one if he pitches better than John Franco in 2004 (adjusting for league and ballpark).

Sedlacek, like Cerda, had a good minor league career prior to last year. He was named Kansas City's minor league pitcher of the year in 2000 and pitched well enough in AA and AAA in 2002 to earn a major league call up that year. Sedlacek then pitched almost as badly in the majors over 14 starts in '02 (a 6.69 ERA mostly due to lots of walks and home runs allowed) as the Mets fifth starters did in '03. Unfortunately, Sedlacek then took a giant step backwards in 2003, pitching poorly at AA and AAA (a combined 5-13 with a 6.26 ERA in 32 games). Following the '03 season, he even pitched poorly in Winter Ball in Venezuela, compiling an 0-2 record and a 7.56 ERA. At best, you could call him a poor man's Pat Strange. Here's his scouting report from Baseball America: Sedlacek "lacks an out pitch against advanced hitters, throwing an 85-88 sinker, a mediocre curveball and a changeup." In short, his chances of winning the fifth starter spot appear to be virtually nil and his chances for a major league career appear dim.

If the Mets actually see something there that they can fix, and Sedlacek contributes, their achievement will be truly impressive. For now, though, we must assume that the Mets basically are giving up Cerda for nothing. The proffered reason for this is to make room on the 40-man roster for the signing of Todd Zeile. One might well question the wisdom of adding Zeile at all, but in any event there are other people on the Mets 40-man roster (e.g. Wayne Lydon and ROGER CEDENO) more worthy of removal than Cerda. . . .

Trivia Answer: In the last column, Mets Analyst noted that 4 of the top 5 rightfielders in the National League in 2003 will play in the American League in 2004. They are (1) Sheffield, (2) Jose Guillen, (3) Guerrero, and (5) Matt Stairs. Number 4, still in the league, was Richard Hidalgo. And the worst rightfielder, by a wide margin, among those with enough plate appearances to qualify? I wont even say it. . . .

Friday, January 23, 2004


The New York Post reports today that the Mets have made offers to Rick Reed and Shane Spencer to come to training camp to compete for spots on the roster. The Mets official site, in contrast, states that no offers have yet been made to them. A quick comment here, befitting the mere rumor status.

Reed and Spencer would be candidates, respectively, for the Fifth Starter spot, and the right-handed-rightfielder spot. While neither player is exciting (they both could easily be finished as major leaguers), Reed would be an appropriate invite; Spencer would be a disappointment.

Reed was a very good pitcher as recently as 2002, but was not good in 2003. His strikeout rate has declined two years in a row to alarming levels, and he is 38 years old and coming off an injury year. On the other hand, his numbers last year may have been affected by a back injury which may have healed, and the way he pitched last year was still a lot better than the horror show the Mets fifth starters put on. In short, Reed is a good bet to offer replacement level performance and has some chance of being so-so; a spring training invite to him is good insurance if all of the current candidates turn out to need more AAA seasoning or to stay in the bullpen.

Spencer used to be a true lefty masher, but in the past two years has managed only a .750 and a .781 OPS against lefties, and part of last year's numbers were achieved in Texas, a hitter's paradise. Moreover, for a rightfielder he has a weak arm and limited range. The good news is that the rumor shows the Mets know they need to sign a partner to go with Garcia, and Spencer would be better than Cedeno/Perez/Gonzalez for this role. The bad news is that while Spencer is above replacement level, a Garcia/Spencer platoon would likely not produce league average offense in rightfield, when options other than Spencer probably could. . . . One interesting note about league average offense in rightfield: four of the top five National League rightfielders in 2003 OPS will be in the American League in 2004. Can you name them?

Tuesday, January 20, 2004


As we wait for the Mets to sign the righthanded part of
the rightfield platoon (how about Ellis Burks? Burks still hammers lefties, would need to field on his gimpy knees less than 1/3 of the time, and is looking for work), it's time to take a quick look at the fifth spot in the starting rotation, behind (in order of '03 quality), Trachsel, Leiter, Seo, and Glavine

The 2003 Carnage. The Mets fifth starters were awful last year. Really awful. The Mets were 8-20 in games started by their fifth starters. This means that, while they started only 17% of the Mets' games in '03, those games accounted for 41% of the Mets abysmal 27 games below .500. And these guys weren't unlucky; they were as bad as that sounds (or worse). In those 28 starts, the Mets fifth starters managed to pitch 132 innings in which they allowed 176 hits and walked 71 (striking out 93), which led to an E.R.A. of 7.21. In only two of those 28 starts did the Mets pitcher make a "quality start" but have the team lose; in contrast, the Mets pitcher did NOT make a quality in six of the eight games the Mets somehow managed to win.

Dept.-of-the-Glass-is-Half-Full. One advantage of being so bad is that it is easy to improve. If the Mets simply replaced last year's fifth starters (in order of number of starts:
Heilman, Griffiths, Cone, Bascik, and Roach) with, well, a replacement level fifth starter -- a starter just barely good enough for the majors (which means someone who would lose nearly 60% of his decisions on an average team) -- the Mets could expect the change to be worth about 4 games in the standings. That is an extremely large improvement to be gained simply by adding replacement level talent. If they added someone a bit better -- for example as good as Seo was last year -- they could expect a 6 game improvement. If they got someone very good, like Livan Hernandez, the Mets would be looking at about 9 more wins than last year from the change: a huge shift.

Who Will It Be?

. . . . Not Hernandez. There have been several published rumors that Livan Hernandez might come to the Mets, on the rationale that MLB wants to reduce the Expos payroll. This would be great but seems very doubtful. Hernandez is scheduled to make "only" $6 million in 2004 (without the need to guarantee anything in 2005) which is less than somewhat weaker free agents (e.g., Sidney Ponson) have signed for. (Indeed, Hernandez would be at least as good a bet in '04 as Petitte or Millwood, who both signed for roughly twice his salary). Since Hernandez is under a bargain contract, he would likely require a lot of good talent in a trade -- more than the Mets have to give. I would trade Timo plus Heilman, Griffiths or Keppel for him in a heartbeat, but doubt very much that would be close to enough.

. . . . Not Maels Rodriguez. By all reports, the Cuban flamethrower now projects as a reliever in the Majors.

. . . . Not Maddux. Greg Maddux is the only good free agent pitcher still out there, but no way he's a Met in '04.

. . . . So, it looks like the answer will either be from inside the Mets system or a non-roster invitee (ex-Mets available include Rick Reed, Glendon Rusch and Kevin Appier; as long as we're reliving the 2000 season (see Todd Zeile) can we bring the "good" Bobby Jones back from retirement?), with (given the "quality" of these names) inside the system being a better bet. Jim Duquette announced that the Mets will let Grant Roberts be one of the internal competitors, a choice that makes sense. He was a successful starter in the minors and has pitched well in relief in the majors. Whether that was an adjustment period and he's now ready to start, or whether he has to stick to relief because he does not have enough quality pitches to be a starter (a key may be finding consistency with a curve to go with his fastball and slider) is worth exploring. Identifying the right man out of the flock will be a key test for the new Duquette/Howe/Peterson regime.

Even someone not very good will be a lot better. The Mets likely will wait to Spring Training to evaluate the field. Finding at least a replacement level starter is a reasonable bar to set for them. If nobody emerges as ready and able, then they can try to trade for a replacement level guy that another team wants to move in a salary dump. (The Angels will likely try to move Ramon Ortiz, Aaron Sele and/or Jarrod Washburn, and, at least in the case of the first two, should be giving consideration to the team that takes them on). If the Mets surprise and contend, then they can trade for a front of the rotation guy in midseason. Let's see what happens.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004


Karim Garcia is going to be a Met. Bob Klapisch in the Bergen Record was the first to break the news that the Mets have agreed to a one-year, $850,000 contract with the erstwhile Yankee rightfielder. This move, which has been urged repeatedly by MetsAnalyst (see columns from December 22 and January 11 below) is a very good step in the right direction.

1) The Main Point. Garcia can be the key part of a solid rightfield platoon. His triple crown stats from last year (.262, 11 HR, 35 RBI) do not show his true value. He hits righthanded pitching very well. He had a .291 average and an .811 OPS against righthanders last year, with 10 home runs in only 189 at-bats. Nor does that appear to have been a fluke. Over the last three years he is .297/.855 against righthanders, with 24 home runs in 360 at-bats. On top of that, he has been hurt by his home parks in this period, compiling a .684 OPS at home but a .956 OPS on the road over the last three seasons. Since he is only 28 years old, he can reasonably be expected to produce at the same level against righthand pitching this year -- at or slightly above league average offensive levels for rightfielders.

2) His Defense. He will certainly be a significant upgrade defensively over Roger Cedeno, but who wouldn't be. This is what the 2003 Scouting Notebook had to say about his fielding (he played for the Indians in 2002): "Garcia can play all three outfield positions, but the Indians moved Matt Lawton to left field and handed Garcia the right-field job. . . . He has a strong, accurate arm and is faster than he appears. He can run down balls in the gap and get into the corner to keep doubles from becoming triples."

3) The Crucial Next Step. The Mets must now sign a righthanded hitter who hammers lefties to platoon with Garcia. Garcia stinks against lefthanders (.164 average/.415 OPS against them in '03; .237/.736 over the last three years), and should not be allowed to face them. Fortunately, such players are even easier to come by than Garcia was. Some possibilities:

Jeff DaVanon (age 30) a spare outfielder on the Angels, .891 OPS against lefties over last three years.

b) Craig Monroe (age 26) of the Tigers, who lost his job to Rondell White, but hit .293/.968 in 157 AB against lefties last year.

c) Craig Wilson (age 27) of the Pirates, who was .308/1.123 against lefties in 107 AB.

d) Aaron Rowand (age 26) of the White Sox, .298/.819 in 285 AB vs. lefties in last three years

e) Joe Vitiello (age 33), minor league free agent who hit .375/1.024 against lefties in 57 AB with the Expos last year and who would come to camp as a nonroster invitee. . . .

You get the idea. The Giants (Dustan Mohr), the D-Rays (Eduardo Perez) and the Red Sox (Gabe Kapler) have all recently added rightfielders with .800+ OPS' against lefties at very little expense. These guys are simply not that hard to find.

4) Why It's a Good Sign. This is real evidence that Jim Duquette is seriously working towards improving the team with intelligent moves, rather than letting a search for back page headlines or random thoughts guide the team. We will know for sure, when they get the righthander to match with Garcia -- the Teufel to Garcia's Backman.

5) Take that John Rocker, Wherever you Are. Garcia is from Mexico, which means the Mets will have players from four different countries in their line-up most days. That is nice to see.

6) The Other Shoe. This almost certainly means the Mets will dump Roger Cedeno. Raul Gonzalez's roster spot is also in jeopardy. With the right-handed compliment to Garcia, Timo Perez will be the Mets fifth outfielder, and it is hard to see them carrying six. Gonzalez could conceivably compete for the right-handed role, but he was a revolting .240/.593(!) against lefties in 97 AB last year, and at age 30 is not an obvious candidate for improvement. If the Mets use Cedeno as the "righthanded" part of the platoon, well, ignore every positive thing I've said in this post.

7) Karim Garcia Trivia. Garcia is the wrong part of one of the worst trades of recent years: the Tigers traded Luis Gonzalez to the Diamondbacks straight up for Garcia following the 1998 season. Since then Garcia has accumulated about 20 Win Shares, Gonzalez has accumulated 140 Win Shares and a World Series winning hit. . . . And finally, the most similar player to Karim Garcia through age 27 (using Bill James' similarity scores) is none other than our own Art Shamsky. How can you not like that?

Sunday, January 11, 2004


So, in the end, the Mets lost Vladimir Guerrero to the Anaheim Angels, who offered him a guaranteed $70 million (or a little more) over five years. Very disappointing for Mets fans, but Mets management, which did present a "vesting option" offer that would have paid $71 million if he stayed healthy, should not be blamed for not wanting to risk that much guaranteed money. Indeed, given that the 400 PA's/year needed to get the Mets offer to $71 million would have been so easy to meet (he had 396 last year; Fonzie, with all his back problems, has cleared that every year), and that Guerrero might have been able to get insurance himself, it seems likely that Guerrero simply preferred to sign with the Angels (a much less high-pressure market) or had his own grave doubts about his health.

Saying "good try" and absolving the Mets for blame in not landing Guerrero (and nobody wants to discourage them from trying with a backlash for coming up short), is not the same thing as saying it is OK to start the season with Cedeno/Perez in rightfield. What the offer to Guerrero shows is that the $80 million payroll is a completely artificial constraint that can easily be ignored in favor of moves that will improve the team (not surprising, considering the Met's have not had a payroll that low in many years).

Assuming that the Mets give the fifth starter spot to Griffiths or Heilman, go with seven relievers by adding Cerda, Wheeler, or Moreno, and sign Todd Zeile for the last bench spot, that would give them a payroll of only about $78.5 million, counting the money owed Cedeno and Vaughn. There simply is no excuse for not cutting Cedeno and signing someone like a Karim Garcia to platoon with a right-handed rightfielder. Guerrero would have brought the Mets about 7 or 8 wins compared to Cedeno, but the Mets can get about 3 of those just by getting someone who isn't terrible, and I see no reason why a competent club wouldn't do so.

Of course, they could also pursue a rightfielder via trade, and MetsAnalyst has long argued that they should inquire about Richard Hidalgo (particularly as the Astros may add Clemens and need to shed payroll).

One intriguing question, though, is what the Angels will do now that they have signed Guerrero. They already have Garret Anderson for leftfield, Jose Guillen for rightfield, Tim Salmon for DH and Darrin Erstad (owed $24 million over the next three years and with the Mets on his no-trade list) for Centerfield. The Los Angeles Times says that Erstad -- the weakest hitter and best outfielder of the bunch -- will move to first base, and Guillen will play center (he has a good arm, but no one has previously suggested he can handle CF). Hmmm. The Angels also have an extra outfielder named Jeff DaVanon, who mashes against lefties and is exactly the kind of guy the Mets can and should get for the righthanded part of the Rightfield platoon. This situation bears watching.

So, good try on Guerrero, but the real test for Mets management comes now. Don't let us down.

Friday, January 09, 2004


All the New York papers reported today that the Mets have made a three-year offer to superstar outfielder Vladimir Guerrero. The offer is reported to be 3 years for $30 million, with reachable incentives that could make it worth about $40 million if he stays healthy. According to the Post, there would be vesting options for years 4 and 5 if Guerrero stayed healthy. To succeed, the offer would have to compete with Baltimore's 5-year $65 million offer which Guerrero has seemed reluctant to accept. While speculating about these kind of rumors is often pointless, Mets fever is running so high with this rumor, that a few comments seem appropriate.

1. Guerrero Would be Great for the Mets. I'm starting with the obvious, but some people can miss even the obvious. Guerrero is one of the best players in baseball, he is still only 27-years old, and he plays the position at which the Mets are weakest. A reasonable projection for him for next year would be a .330 average with about 40 homers and 115 RBI and an OPS around 1.000. Compared to Roger Cedeno, that would mean the Mets would be expected to score about 75-80 more runs (that's a 1/2 run per game!), which would translate into 7 or 8 more wins.

2. Guerrero Would Make the Mets Average to Pretty Good, not Great. With the team they have now, the Mets do not project to be a .500 team. In their current form, the Mets project to be about a 78-80 win team (for some explanation see my December 5 entry, which I will update when moves are settled). Guerrero makes them an 83-88 win club. Of course, teams can exceed (or fall short) of expectations, and one could imagine a wild card run if the fifth starter comes through and the old starters hold up. (It takes 90-something wins to be the Wild Card. The Marlins made it with 91 last year, the lowest total since the Cubs made it with 90 in 1998). Remember, though, that the '03 Cardinals started an outfield of Pujols, Edmonds and Drew, and finished third in the weakest division in the league.

3. The Mets Can Easily Afford Their Offer to Guerrero. Indeed, there is room to spare. By my calculations, the Mets currently have a payroll of $70,150,000 with 4 roster spots to fill, three of which (2 bench and a starter) could be filled for a total of $1 million. That does not include the $5 million owed Cedeno (he should be cut) and the $3 million (give or take about a 1/2 million depending on details of deferred payments) the Mets owe Mo Vaughn net of insurance. So, Guerrero at $13 million brings the Mets payroll to $84 to $92 million depending on how you look at it. Here are the Mets payrolls for recent years:

2003.....$117 million
2002.....$94.6 million
2001.....$93.6 million
2000.....$79.7 million
1999.....$71.3 million

and that's before adjusting for inflation. In 1999, the last time the Mets had a payroll this low, the average salary was only $1.6 million. In 2003 it was
$2.4 million -- 50% more (after rounding). So don't think what the Mets are offering "stretches" things; they are well below what they have "afforded" in the past.

4. Would That Be So Terrible? The most outrageous statement in all this (and a scary one if it truly reflects management's thinking), as reported in the New York Times, was that "the team decided against overwhelming Guerrero with a hefty one-year contract because it did not want to put itself in the same position as the Florida Marlins [did with Ivan Rodriguez]." Excuse me? They don't want to come out of nowhere to win the World Series by signing a guy who turns out to be the MVP of the post-season? I know they meant they were worried about pressure to resign him, but give me a break! The Marlins did great with Rodriguez (obviously), and I'm sure even Jeff Loria would have done it again in a heartbeat. If the people running the Mets are "fearing" that, well, get used to Cedeno....

5. Worth the Money? Here's a quick quiz: Who are these guys? --- Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Mike Hampton, Chipper Jones, Jeff Bagwell, Albert Belle, Juan Gonzalez, Raul Mondesi, Chan Ho Park, Larry Walker, Ken Griffey, Jr., Darren Dreifort, Bernie Williams and Jeremy Burnitz. Answer: Those are the players who made from $12.1 million (Burnitz) up to $15 million (Johnson) in 2003, the range the Mets are looking at for Guerrero. A pessimist (or a collusion apologist) looks at this list and says teams that pay that kind of salary end up disappointed. An analyst looks at it and says Guerrero at these numbers would be a great deal.

6. What Will Happen? We will just have to wait and see. Without being on the inside, there is really no way to know if the Mets are serious players or not. Getting their fans worked up without getting serious seems like a poor PR strategy to me, but that can't be ruled out. Certainly, these reports are a great way to sell papers, which leads to reporters inflating (and creating) the rumors. Reports that Baltimore is getting serious about Rodriguez as an alternative to Guerrero are as likely to be plants designed to scare Guerrero into accepting their offer as they are to be genuine. There is simply no telling. But, here's hoping.....

Tuesday, January 06, 2004


All baseball fans, but especially Mets fans, were saddened by the news of Tug McGraw's passing on Monday. McGraw was a beloved character, who had the nerve to jump up at the end of pompous Chairman M. Donald Grant's locker room speech to his last place team and wildly parody Grant's statement to the team that they must believe in themselves, and in doing so created one of the best remembered rallying slogans of all time. McGraw was great to watch, great to root for and a quintessential Met.

He was also a very good pitcher for many years. Although he was traded away before he turned 30, McGraw still ranks 4th all-time on the Mets in Saves, 5th in Games pitched, and 4th in Games Finished. He also ranks 10th in Adjusted ERA+ -- a statistic that compares a pitcher's ERA to his leagues' eras and accounts for park effects -- 7th in hits/9 innings and 10th in K's/9.

Looking at Tug's career as a whole, he ranks as one of the greatest left-handed relief pitchers of all-time. (A list in which Mets are prominent!) Who was better? Using Bill James' "Win Shares" method to compare players, only John Franco (179) and Sparky Lyle (161) rank in front of Tug (158). Dan Plesac, Ron Perranoski, Randy Myers, and Dave Righetti all come up well short of Tug -- both in overall career value and in peak value, as you can see for yourself with these hyperlinks. Jesse Orosco, will have to go on for several more years to match Tug, though that is a possibility. Billy Wagner is about three strong seasons away from matching Tug, and does have the potential to finish as the greatest lefty reliever ever. For now, though, when you add in Tug's post-season contributions, you can argue his case for the top spot, and he is no worse than third.

So raise a glass to Tug McGraw. Thanks for the memories. You gotta believe he is already living the afterlife to the fullest. . . .

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