Front Office: The buzzards are circling Mets GM Steve Phillips, who may be out of a job by
the time you read this and certainly can’t expect to hold his position past
the end of this season. Phillips has assembled an old, expensive, fragile team
that, like a list of Grammy nominees, is largely being rewarded for work done
The Mets are in the exact same situation today that they were in following the
2001 season, when they followed up a World Series appearance in 2000 with a
disappointing 82-80 record. At that time, Phillips had to choose between
squeezing another run out of his World Series team, the Mike
Mets, or dumping the veteran talent and taking on a multi-year rebuilding
process. He chose the former, trading for Roberto
Burnitz and Mo Vaughn
and signing Roger
Cedeno in an effort to remake his lineup. The moves flopped, and the
Mets fell all the way to last place.
After last season, Phillips made Bobby Valentine the scapegoat for the
disaster and again tried to squeeze something out of the veteran team, adding
Floyd and Tom
Glavine to his aging roster. A month into the season, it’s clear that
the endless acquisition of expensive, past-prime talent isn’t going to lead to
the promised land, and that a change–not a cosmetic one, but a cellular
one–has to be made.
It’s time for the Mets to move on, to get someone with a player development
background in the GM’s seat and cut ties with the team that almost went all
the way in 2000. The key is that the Mets must commit. They can’t get caught
up in the same cycle that the Madison Square Garden teams have in their
sports, unable to rebuild for fear of alienating the fan base. The Mets have
to sacrifice a year or two of relevance to be ready to take the city back in
2005, when the Yankees’ backloaded contracts and own aging roster force
them into a similar position.
Jim Duquette might be the man for that job. Tim Purpura might be, or Paul
Steve Phillips isn’t.
Position Change: It hasn’t happened yet, but watch what the Mets do in the absence of Mo
Vaughn, on the DL with strained fat or something. They called up Jason
Phillips when they placed Vaughn on the DL, giving them three catchers
and just one first baseman (Tony
Clark). The Mets may use Vaughn’s absence to give Mike Piazza some
innings at first base, on a trial basis.
For all the discussion over the years about moving Piazza, he’s made just one
career appearance at a position other than catcher or DH, that all the way
back in 1993. While much is being made of his six RBI through May 5, he’s
hitting about the same as he always has (.301/.389/.494), just doing so behind
some wretched players at the top of the order. Still, with Vaughn out, the
Mets can get Piazza some innings at the position without benching a big
contract, and the added flexibility could help both player and team down the
Wretched Performer: Rey
Sanchez has never been a great hitter, but his ability to post a .280
average has generally kept him from being an anchor. This year, he’s off to a
typoriffic .179/.216/.202 start. Adding to Sanchez’s troubles, there’s a
report that teammate Mike
Stanton found Sanchez getting a haircut in the clubhouse last
week–during the game!
While this sounds bad, consider the tradition of Mets players taking off
mid-game to do things better done on their own time. Kevin
Mitchell had to be rousted from the clubhouse to bat during the tenth
inning of Game Six of the 1986 World Series, and Bobby
Bonilla and Rickey
Henderson reportedly played cards in the clubhouse during an
extra-inning game in the 2000 NLCS.
A Tale of Two Pitchers: Last season Jason
Jennings was productive enough to win the NL Rookie of the Year
award while Shawn
Chacon suffered through an ineffective, injury-ridden season that
eventually landed him back in Triple-A. But the two pitchers have
reversed roles in the first month of the 2003 season.
Jennings didn’t conquer Coors in his rookie season; he was not
particularly effective at home. He earned his accolades with solid
performances on the road–a 3.35 ERA, 68 strikeouts and 33 walks in 91.1 innings pitched.
Jennings has only started twice at home so far this season–his
struggles have been on the road. His main problem appears to be that
he’s not getting batters to hit the ball on the ground as often. His
groundout/flyout ratio of 1.29 is down from last year’s 1.64, and he’s
already allowed five home runs in road games after allowing only eight on the road all of last season. Jennings will almost certainly
rebound from his rough start, especially when he gets his opportunities
to start in the NL West pitcher’s havens of San Diego, San Francisco and
San Diego (where he had a 2.89 ERA last season). But there’s no reason
to think he’ll improve upon last season in the near future.
On the other hand, there’s nowhere to go but up from last season for Shawn
Chacon. After a promising rookie year in 2001, everything fell apart
for Chacon in 2002. A rough April was followed by a month on the
disabled list with a strained pectoral muscle. A 10 ERA in August
resulted in a demotion to the minors, where he continued to be
ineffective. The Rockies wanted to see progress in Chacon in 2002, but
instead saw enough regression to make his Colorado future uncertain. His calendar year ended just as badly with an arrest for third degree
assault in December after a bar brawl.
Only a strong spring training and ineffectiveness from Scott
Elarton and Darren Oliver won Chacon the fifth spot in the major league rotation this
year. Since then Chacon has gone in the opposite direction of Jennings. Chacon had the best month of his major league career in April, posting
an ERA of 1.04 in his 5 starts. His 25/9 K/BB ratio was also the best he has posted in any month. And he did this all in a month in which four of five starts were at home in Coors Field. Perhaps even more significantly, his
groundout/flyout ratio went in the opposite direction of Jennings’–up
to 1.61 (his previous career ratio was 1.19). Not surprisingly, his keeping the ball on the ground has resulted in only one home run allowed in 42 innings, a far lower rate than he has allowed in his previous major league seasons.
Chacon’s streak of quality starts has already been broken in Chicago,
and there’s no reason to expect that even the best pitcher in baseball
could maintain Chacon’s level of April performance through an entire
Colorado season. But it’s clear that Chacon has gotten over his 2002
difficulties, and it’s likely that he’ll outdo his rookie season as well
in 2003. It’s only a month of evidence, and that’s a very short sample
size, but in that month Chacon has shown more “ace” potential than
Jennings ever has.
Schedule: The Rockies continue their road trip in Atlanta and Florida
before returning home to face the Mets and the Expos. These teams, save maybe the Braves, are
all stronger in the pitching/defense department than they are
offensively, so look for relatively low-scoring games. The Rockies need
to take advantage of series with weak teams such as the Mets and the
Marlins if they want to stay in contention all year.
Rotation: The Orioles broke camp with a set rotation of (in order) Rodrigo
Lopez, Omar Daal,
Johnson. Nearly six times through the rotation, they never deviated from that lineup. A
combination of a rainout plus makeup doubleheader and Lopez’s strained oblique
muscle led to Eric DuBose
called up from Ottawa, and he started what
would have been Lopez’s seventh start the day before Johnson made his sixth.
After 31 games, the Orioles’ game score log looked like this:
DuBose 62 avg 62.0 Johnson 70 53 45 64 60 51 avg 57.2 Ponson 23 56 54 60 54 76 avg 53.8 Helling 54 31 52 78 13 40 avg 44.7 Daal 46 40 19 64 48 50 avg 44.5 Lopez 47 16 57 25 43 43 avg 38.5
The best average goes to the guy who couldn’t make the rotation out of spring,
and the rest have performed in the opposite order of their their slots in the rotation.
Looking Over Their Shoulders: Members of the Orioles who are being outperformed by minor leaguers at the
In the latest EqA
report, Deivi Cruz is rated at 8.6 runs below replacement
level for a shortstop (Runs Above Replacement Position, RARP), and Dean Palmer
is the only player in the majors who is rated worse. Roberts has played SS in
the past, but the Orioles haven’t been happy with his fielding there, but a
move back shouldn’t be considered a ridiculous suggestion…especially since by leaving him at second he’ll be blocked by Jerry Hairston.
Matthews, CF .218/.242/.371, .212 EqA
Matos, RF/CF .330/.390/.509, .329 EqA, .280 DT-EqA, Triple-A Ottawa;
Raines, CF .341/.431/.534, .356 EqA, .276 DT-EqA, Double-A Bowie; and
McDonald, CF/RF .314/.395/.362, .280 EqA, .238 DT-EqA, Triple-A Ottawa
Matthews should be nervous. He’s the third-worst CF in the majors by RARP,
ahead of only Roger Cedeno and Aaron Rowand. He had never hit for an EqA
better than about .240, translated, at any level before suddenly hitting .291
last season. It was unreasonable to expect that he would duplicate that
performance, but the O’s dealt their only major league alternative, Chris
Singleton, in the off-season (Singleton, by the way, has a .271 EqA for
Oakland). In Ottawa, Matos and McDonald have been alternating between center
and right fields (both are capable center fielders and prefer it). Both are
hitting for high average, while Matos has also hit the gaps (10 doubles, three
triples). Down in Double-A Bowie, Tim Raines has rebounded from last season’s
disaster to do a credible impersonation of his father (he is 13-2 as a
basestealer), and currently rates as one of the top best performers this year in Double-A. Matos
has probably been the best of the bunch so far, and is the oldest and most
experienced of the group, but he is also out of options (meaning they won’t be
able to just send him back to Ottawa); McDonald and Raines still have them.
The Orioles have gotten virtually nothing from their catchers this season. Gil
has been so bad that he’s lost his starting spot to Fordyce, who had nearly
become a pariah for his play over the last few years. Lomasney is a former Red
Sox prospect, highly touted, who suffered a severe head injury in 2001, fell out
of favor, and was waived this off-season. He’s played 21 games in Ottawa, and through the
first seven did nothing to make the Red Sox regret their decision: 3-24 with
13 strikeouts. Since then, he’s run off a 13-game hitting streak, going 19-44
with 12 strikeouts (that’s a .432 average).
Royalty: Three players, all of whom were originally signed by and played for the
Orioles, were knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands last week. All
three of the players (Sidney Ponson, who is still with Baltimore, Calvin
Maduro of the Dodgers, and Gene Kingsale of the Tigers) hail from the tiny
Dutch possession of Aruba, and were signed by Chu Halabi, an Orioles scout who
settled in Aruba. Apparently, the Governor of the island nominates potential
Knights, and he’s a big baseball fan.
Andruw Jones, talk to Curacao governor.