Though Rob Neyer mostly covers baseball on a national level for SBN (!), he was kind enough to sit down for a couple fireside emails with me about our favoritest team and the special challenges we face this year. His unique voice and take on baseball shined through in his analysis of the Mets. Thanks Rob!
Eno Sarris: Mets fans have spent a lot of time wondering about team ownership these days. What are some ways that a bad ownership group can sink a team?
Rob Neyer: How much time do you have?
If ownership hires the wrong people for key management positions, you're sunk. If ownership insists on spending money just for the sake of spending money and avoid 100 losses, you're sunk. If ownership does hire the right people, but gets between the right people and the right decisions, you're sunk. We spend a great deal of time criticizing general managers, mostly because it's relatively easy to see what they do. But I would argue that for every lousy general manager, there's at least one lousy owner, doing stupid things and sticking his nose in places it doesn't belong.
Eno Sarris: You may not be a business writer and may want to avoid getting too far into the Bernie Madoff crisis for the current Mets ownership, but what is your general appraisal of the Wilpon's tenure with the Mets to date, and more recently in particular?
Rob Neyer: I'm afraid I'll have to defer to you and your readers on this one. I just don't follow the Wilpons closely enough to tell you anything you don't know. Among which is that if a team with the Mets' financial advantages isn't in the hunt for a playoff spot almost every year, it probably means the owners did something terribly wrong.
Eno Sarris: Well, now we famously have a new team in town. Perhaps they have the full confidence of the ownership. One of their main spring training responsibilities will be to identify a plan of attack for second base. How do you think they'll evaluate the contenders in the small sample that is Spring Training?
Rob Neyer: I think when you've got four unexciting candidates for one position in spring training, you can basically do whatever you like, based on long-term considerations. I think the Mets are smart enough to not just hand the job to some guy because he hits seven more singles in March than anyone else. But if some guy hits seven more singles and he looks good on defense and he works his butt off and nobody else looks good, then sure. The X-factor is obviously Daniel Murphy's defense, as nobody can really know what he'll do at second base until he's had to make (or try to make) some tough plays there. Again, though, there might not be any truly wrong answer here because their probably isn't any truly right answer.
Eno Sarris: Defense seems to be an interesting aspect of this front office. Perhaps they put less emphasis on it, judging from some comments they've made, and the idea that Daniel Murphy and Brad Emaus are the possible front-runners for the second-base job. That seems to have some implications for their approach to the upcoming decision about Jose Reyes, doesn't it?
Rob Neyer: Well, again, I don't know that there's a wrong answer here. You want the guy who gives you the most Runs Created + Runs Saved, and as long as the defense isn't so awful that it's embarrassing or distracting, it's not important on which side of that plus sign you find the runs. And no, I don't really see the implications regarding Reyes. With him, it's pretty clearly a matter of seeing what he does in 2011 before doing anything at all.
Eno Sarris: Let's say that Reyes is healthy most of the year and hits his current projection by the fans on FanGraphs. That would be a .290/.349/.440 line in 145 games with scratch defense at shortstop and 42 stolen bases in 52 attempts. Add it all up, and it's a four-WAR season (short of his six-WAR peak). That's close to $20 million on the open market, but you still have his injury history as a fact. He's 28 at the end of the year and in his peak seasons by most research. Would you throw nine figures at him in a deal?
Rob Neyer: Yes, he's "in" his peak seasons, and worth "nine figures" ... but for how long, exactly? Peak seasons are (roughly) 27-29, so if we're talking about four-or five-year contract then most of those year are obviously outside of his peak seasons.
Again, I think it's just impossible to treat this situation seriously without seeing him play for a whole season. If he's healthy and productive -- though I have to say that 52 steals seems like a stretch -- then what happened in 2009 looks like sort of a fluke, doesn't it? Reyes averaged 158 games per season from 2005 through 2008, and his 133 games in 2010 doesn't seem like a problem.
As long as Reyes runs well, keeps his OPS around 750 or better and plays decent defense, he's going to be immensely valuable. If the Mets don't want to pay him, someone else will.
Eno Sarris: Mets fans were giddy about the production of Angel Pagan and R.A. Dickey in particular last year. They came out of nowhere, figuratively, to give the team solid value. Do you think one or the other is more likely to repeat? Have you ever heard of another knuckleballer with two speeds on his knuckler? You must love a bookish knuckleballer, right?
Rob Neyer: Apologies, but I'm afraid I have to quibble a bit with your characterization of Pagan's season. He actually played quite a bit better in 2009, granted in fewer games. But to me, '09 was the outlier. It's true that his minor-league career didn't suggest he could have posted the numbers he did in either of those seasons, and I can understand why you would love him.
Meanwhile, Robert Allan Dickey figures to be my favorite player in the majors if Tim Wakefield ever retires. And I don't see any reason to think Dickey ... Well, he probably won't post a sub-3.00 ERA, right. And knuckleballers are known for their ups and downs, especially the non-stars. Actually, I probably should just stop right here because I'm not capable of objectivity when it comes to knuckleballers, let alone knuckleballers like Dickey.