Tuesday, March 15, 2005

"Professor Jenkins, my old nemesis..."

Matt: On November 13, 1985, the Red Sox and the Mets made an apparently innocuous trade. Boston gave up (among other things) a journeyman lefty named Bob Ojeda in exchange for (among other things) a young arm named Calvin Schiraldi. Who could have known that the distant repercussions of this deal would jar two hemispheres? It was like the Red Sox gave away the gun that would kill them in exchange for the acid that would eat through the bulletproof vest.

Now, Ben Jacobs has rated the offseason moves of all thirty major league teams , and has the Mets and Red Sox first and second atop the list. I'm less sanguine about Boston's dealings than Jacobs (a Sox fan himself), and I'm sure Jay will be gushing to the point of dehydration about the incomparable machinations of the dread and puissant Omar. As well he should. But what if karma is the opposite of March? What if it is coming in like a lamb, to later become a lion? What if Pedro and Mientkiewicz are carrying with them imperceptible seeds waiting to ripen in a "time far and dissociate"? Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! Errm, I mean, Jay's gonna talk about the Mets' offseason, and I'll break down the Sox transactions.

Jay: Whoa, Matt. A poet you may be, but I hadn't realized you had started down the long road to Xanadu so soon. Back in reality, we do indeed have a tale of two offseasons to tell and, frankly, I have to say that I do think the good Mr. Jacobs wrote his review of the Red Sox with some rose-colored reading glasses. The Mets, however, have had undisputably the best offseason this year and quite possibly the best offseason in their entire history.

For the last few years, the Mets have conducted their offseasons like they were browsing at a flea market; only look, never buy, and never, ever pay full price. Lowball was the game and the Mets hed perfected it. Granted because they had some terrible contracts to deal with (Roger Cedeno, Mo Vaughn, Rey Ordonez) and their surrounding talent just wasn't that good, it could be argued that they never were really in a good position to spend money. And furthermore, their network deal wasn't really finalized until last spring either so they also didn't have the promise of a new, boundless source of cash. But excuses aside, they never really even tried.

What Omar Minaya has done these past few months is breathe new life into a franchise that was sucking the fans' hope dry. He hired a popular, deserving rookie manager, signed the best position player available, the best starting pitcher available, and traded for arguably the best defensive first baseman out there. He filled an important hole at first, upgraded the rotation, and added Carlos Beltran to the young duo of Jose Reyes and David Wright to build around. So how much does this improve the Mets? Based on projections I alluded to before, these guys add about 69.3 in VORP over those they replaced, roughly the equivalent of seven wins. It was the best offseason in baseball by far. I think Matt is coming back to us now, so I'll give ya' back to him. Just watch out for his glittering eye...

Matt: I'd agree that the Red Sox ranking on Jacobs' list is a trifle overconfident. Matt Mantei "could end up as Boston's second option in the bullpen" and Wade Miller "could really help the rotation when he returns." I'm not saying these deals are bad, because they represent relatively little financial risk. Nevertheless, it sounds more and more like the Red Sox are relying on Wade Miller making a key contribution, and that is by no means guaranteed.

In fairness to Theo and co., they didn't get to go with Plan A this off-season. Plan A, no matter how disrespected the man in question may have felt, involved keeping Pedro Martinez. The back-up plan seems to me half-right; I like the Matt Clement pick-up. As I've said before, I'm not at all convinced that the David Wells signing will work out. I seem to be the last person in Boston to have reservations about this signing, but there you have it. Edgar Renteria they overpaid for, even if he's not a bad talent to have around.

Jacobs correctly notices that the Sox haven't really given away anything they'll regret, and that they managed to stockpile some draft choices. Even so, the question marks around this team's pitching remain considerable.

Speaking of, that's the one thing Omar rely didn't address this offseason: the bullpen crew at Shea. I only mention this because Byung-Hyun Kim is still available, and he in no way resembles Calvin Schiraldi. Plus, it might be nice to have some Trachsel insurance.

One final thought: most World Series match-ups, due to lack of familiarity between the two teams, can't really count as grudge matches. What if, though, Pedro and Mientkiewicz came back to Fenway in October wearing blue and orange? I'm not saying this is likely to happen, but could there be a bigger story than this in any possible 2005 postseason?

Jay: Will you please stop trying to ply BK on the Mets? Despite my penchant for crispy chicken sandwiches, the whole prospect of him coming out in the eighth inning for my team is incredibly unappetizing. I don't think there's any way Omar could stomach such a deal. (OK - I'm done now).

The Mets being in the World Series is a nice thought, but it ain't gonna happen this year. The Mets have far too many holes and question marks to win the wild card. Last year, the Mets won 71 games -- 76 if you go by their pythagorean record. Adding seven wins to 76 is still only 83 wins. The Mets certainly could win more if their bullpen comes together, if Jose Reyes stays healthy, if Kaz Matsui improves, if Kris Benson and Victor Zambrano drink Rick Peterson's kool-aid. If if if. Just too many if's for them all to pan out.

But the best part of this offseason is that the Mets will continue to feel its effects for the next decade. Carlos Beltran was a move for the future. Minky was a move to help the future infield adjust. Signing Pedro will only help the next year or two but the fans he'll bring into the park this year will keep coming back as the team gets better and better.

My only quibble with this offseason is the one piece of the future that the Mets sent the Red Sox' way: Ian Bladergroen. Minky is certainly not the Mets long term answer at first and Blade was the only 1B prospect in the Mets system that could be projected to replace him. I think the Sox are going to be very happy with this deal in a few years.

Matt: Bladergroen raises an interesting point about the potential discrepancy between the short and long term goals at Yawkey Way. I say "potential" because they are indeed loading up on draft picks and Hanley Ramirez indicates that the Sox seem to be back in the business of developing talent and not just purchasing it at some huge mark-up as they were during the Duquette regime. You can buy a title, but you have to build a dynasty from within; that's the big difference between the 1996-2000 Yankees and the 21st century version of the Bombers.

The Red Sox spent some money this offseason in an attempt to buy a title defense; here's hoping that Jacobs is right and Theo is keeping an eye on the future between the splashier outlays as well.

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