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Move Along, Nothing to See Here

The Mets didn't do anything today. They did less than the Yankees, even, who after acquiring one beloved former Met (the X-Man), were hungry for another (last graph, obvs).

Instead, the sellers had this club in a holding pattern, asking the Mets for hard-throwing lefty Jon Niese or human tool-shed Fernando Martinez in exchange for crummy used goods, like Raul Ibanez.

The Mets couldn't acquire a difference-maker for the corner outfield spots or for the bullpen without surrendering serious talent, it seems. And, hell, they couldn't even acquire a non-difference maker without surrendering something substantial.

Desperate times call for desperate measures: Omar even tried to grab Luis Ayala, in hopes of reassembling his Expos squad in Flushing.

ASIDE: How has no one pointed this out yet? As Mets GM, Omar has acquired Brian Schneider, Ryan Church, Endy Chavez, El Duque, Fernando Tatis, Claudio Vargas, Tony Armas, Ron Calloway, Wil Cordero, and Val Pascucci, all of whom were his subjects at one point when he was master of the most useless domain in baseball?

Today, he tried to acquire Luis Ayala! The same Luis Ayala of the 5.54 ERA and 1.49 WHIP! He is actually trying to recapture the glory of those Expos days, when Matt Loughlin would eat french fries with cheese curd (it's called poutine!; right) and Fran Healy and Ted Robinson would lull us to sleep telling us how sneaky-delicious those fries were, while Eric Valent hit for the cycle.

Good times - who knew they were being reassembled beneath our nose at Shea? If it's any luck, Brad Wilkerson will soon be patrolling a corner outfield spot. Or maybe Peter Bergeron will. On second thought, Bergeron will probably be running the poutine stand at ShittyField. I'm sure there will be one.


In any event, we Mets fans should be mildly pleased that the team made no moves.

While Manny would have been a welcome addition, the Mets have no prospects, outside of Martinez, who would be capable of even carrying Andy LaRoche's jockstrap. And while LaRoche (and the heretofore unheralded Bryan Morris) may seem to be quite a mild price for a masher of Manny's caliber, there always exists the possibility that Jeff Kent will be dead at Ramirez's hand by the end of the season.

I've already reserved FreeManny.com to secure funds for his legal defense.* (Actually, this is not true. Please don't register this website. You will have stolen my idea - consider investing in KentHadItComing.com)

In any event, there really wasn't that much out there for the Mets. Considering that Griffey wouldn't have waived any clause to come here (and he's only a minimal upgrade anyway), and that the price for Bay was so high, it looks like the Mets did the right thing by standing pat.

Placidity was a theme in the NL East today, as the Marlins acquired but Arthur Rhodes, while the Phillies only have that Blanton deal to go on. While both teams had previously been mentioned as potential homes for ManRam, his incurable psychosis (if he's on your team, this may be called "Manny Being Manny," or, alternatively, fun-loving attitude) may have scared them away.

In fact, it makes sense that the Dodgers' Ned Colletti was the only GM in baseball ultimately able to swing a trade for Manny - Colletti's methodology for acquiring players involves a simple set of questions:

1) Was he good five years ago?
2) If you answered yes to the first question, acquire him. If no, could he be described as either "gritty" or "a gamer"?
3) If you answered yes to the second question, acquire him. If no, did he ever play for the Devil Rays?
4) If you answered yes to the third question, acquire him. If no, is he Ramon Martinez?

The Dodgers have done everything possible to take at-bats away from James Loney, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp in that outfield – and by everything possible, I mean Andruw Jones' 218 PA of .167/.268/.250 and Juan Pierre's 311 PA of .279/.325/.316 baseball out of a corner outfield position.

Angel Berroa is also logging time at short with a line of .204/.260/.247, but hey, he won Rookie of the Year only a few years back!

While it won't take much to win the NL West, I'm still terribly excited for the pissing match that will ensue over the next couple months. Even though the Dodgers have Manny, that team is still managed by veteran-loving Joe Torre with Colletti calling the roster shots upstairs. Here's to hoping Manny rides pine for the rest of the year after refusing to cut his braids and Casey Blake grinds out his career 106 OPS+ in a corner outfield spot opposite Juan Pierre.

In any event, the Mets didn't bite on any offers and still have Fernando Martinez, Jon Niese, Bobby Parnell, Dan Murphy, Nick Evans, Mike Carp and Raul Casanova (wouldn't have been able to cope had we traded him.)

What's nice is that this team is no less equipped to win tomorrow than it was yesterday, even if that game didn't turn out so well. It wasn't like trading Nady for Bert, Kazmir for VZ, or doing anything that would give Luis Castillo a larger share of the team's at-bats. The Mets haven't changed, for better or for worse.


Playing With Fire

Sure, it was crushing.

But this game, unfortunately, was lost on Saturday night.

Sure, one might say that the Mets squandered the lead twice in this game – and that it's hard to lambaste the team when the starting pitcher went fewer than five innings because of an injury – but this one was really over Saturday night.

You might remember Saturday night's - well, maybe Sunday morning's - Mets game, a 14-inning thriller chock full of comebacks, contributions from journeymen, and guys on base (even if the Mets couldn't drive them in.) They lost, 10-8, to the Cardinals, when a dog-tired Aaron Heilman served up a two-run shot in the top of the 14th to Albert Pujols. He's good.

That game, in which the starter, Brandon Knight, only went five innings, really set the tone for tonight's matchup. For, you see, that game taxed the Mets' most effective reliever of late, oddly enough Aaron Heilman (in fact, this space hammered him for an almost identical incident last year).

Heilman, with Duaner Sanchez's arm acting like it's in a Miami cab, Pedro Feliciano turning into a rancid pumpkin (in July, batters have been hitting .409 against him, and he's already served up more homers this year than he has in either of the past two), and Joe Smith and Scott Schoeneweis only ROOGY and LOOGY at their bests, and Carlos Muniz and Willie Collazo being Carlos Muniz and Willie Collazo is now this pen's non-Wagner ace, or N.W.A. (I am sure I am the only one who finds this joke funny.)

Heilman, though, was treated on Saturday like Darren Oliver in 2006, or Aaron Sele of 2007 - he was the LONG MAN. And as the LONG MAN, one takes a pounding, knowing that he will not be called upon to pitch night after night. This individual may even have more than a week between appearances - which is not a bad thing, given that the infrequency of work for a long man means that starters are going deep into ballgames and that the Mets are taking care of things in regulation.

It's not hard to notice, though, that this bullpen, under Jerry Manuel, has contained no such figure. There are two situational pitchers, a closer with an iffy shoulder who occasionally has trouble controlling his slider and his mouth, a righty who spent more than a year out of baseball and is trying to find his gas, a lefty who appears to have hit some sort of wall after two years of nonstop contributions, and the warm body who knows the MSY (N'Awlins Airport) to LGA flight quite well. There is no once-great (or, well, for Sele and Oliver, once-average) starter who occasionally will be asked to make a pseudo-start if the game goes into extras or a starter can't give the team much.

Let me reiterate: this team has no long reliever.

Now, I titled this missive "Playing With Fire" because I do not believe this has to be the case. Jerry Manuel could, quite easily, designate Carlos Muniz his long man. Muniz would not make brief appearances early in ballgames, as he has been doing of late, only to give back leads. I know it hurts, Carlos, but it's something vaguely resembling the truth.

But would you believe me if I told you that Muniz, who has allegedly been the long man this season, has made no appearances of more than two innings? Not one.

Jorge Sosa, who was supposed to fill that role - before being released, made only one such appearance, in the second game of the season! Tony Armas, who might have been that player, made two appearances of less than two innings before being placed on the DL. Claudio Vargas, who was something of a long man, made two appearances of more than two innings - including one of great success after Ollie Perez's meltdown in San Fran. He, along with Nelson Figueroa - another potential longman, currently toils at AAA. Maybe Willie Collazo, currently on the roster due to Pedro Martinez's bereavement leave, could even be a long man.

Although not one of these men would likely contribute in the way that Oliver did while filling that role in 2006, any one of them would be an upgrade over "Oh, shit - this game's going into extras. We've used everyone but this guy, because we were trying to rest him after working plenty on consecutive days. Well, what choice do we have? Let's throw him out there!"

Hell, maybe the Mets could even trade for Manny or Teixeira - I hear they're available - and make one of them the long man. Even if they couldn't pitch well, it would still be nice to designate someone in that role.

Look at the number of relievers the Mets have used in their recent contests excluding Santana's (ill-advised) complete game:

7/22: 4
7/23: 3
7/24: 2
7/25: 4
7/26: 7
7/28: 5

Keeping in mind that there are only seven relievers on a team, how is this kind of usage pattern sustainable? That question becomes even tougher in road games, when a manager will not use his closer without a lead.

Manuel is more aggressive than Randolph; we knew that when he was coming in. But his aggression with the bullpen cost the Mets this game – if one only makes the conservative assumption that a well-rested Aaron Heilman would have been better than Muniz, Smith, Schoeneweis and Co.

Recall this game, last year. The Mets still had Billy Wagner ready to go to slam the door in the 17th! Against the Cardinals on Saturday, Oliver Perez was warming up in the 14th.

Certainly, the Mets' bullpen is going through tough times right now. Smith is hitting a wall, perhaps, as is Sanchez, and Feliciano hasn't been able to get anyone out for over a month. Carlos Muniz is not a capable major league pitcher, and Billy Wagner won't be pitching eighth innings because no one else can.

The problem is not that starters aren't going deep into games (ARGH, THESE BABIES WITH THEIR PITCH COUNTS! SATCHEL PAIGE DIDN'T EVEN KNOW HIS OWN BIRTHDATE! MORDECAI BROWN HAD THREE FINGERS! OLD HOSS RADBOURN THREW 678 INNINGS IN A SEASON!), but that the bullpen isn't getting anyone out (and is giving up plenty of runs), and Manuel is managing aggressively to keep the Mets in these games.

Problem is, managing aggressively means you sometimes have to pitch Aaron Heilman until his arm falls off, even though you know it will hurt the team.

Managing while paying due attention to the bullpen wouldn't be all that difficult, though - it means getting lots of innings out of Carlos Muniz (or whoever the long man will be) and perhaps in the process conceding a less important game and saving the bullpen for the next contest, or, if the game is still definitely within reach, charging ahead with all hands on deck.

But the Mets can't have it both ways.

ADDENDA: This is the second straight post within which I have spoken about debunking the philosophy of the Met manager. I love Jerry, just so you're sure. But I will depart from the discussion of baseball philosophy to plead for a few things:

1) Scott Schoeneweis is a situational lefty. Lefties are hitting .149 against him; righties .309. In his inning of work tonight, he faced one left-handed batter (whom he should have retired if not for David Wright's premature sprint to third), out of seven total. I know there were pinch hitters and the like, but he is not on this team to face right-handed batters (again, this speaks to the problem of a short-handed bullpen, but I'll move on.)

2) Schoeneweis is a better situational left-handed reliever than Pedro Feliciano. We knew that going into the season, provided we believed that Schoeneweis was truly injured last year and for that reason he pitched poorly. However, Pedro Feliciano was expected to do well against left-handed and right-handed batters, as he had both last year and the year before. That has not been the case. Pedro has been unable to retire righties of late - which might explain this news that the Tigers have been looking into snagging Schoeneweis. If this is the real Feliciano, then the two cannot peacefully coexist in that bullpen. There is only enough room for one situational lefty. Although your author would prefer Schoeneweis be the one to stay, his value is probably greater to interested teams.

3) Cannot the Mets acquire a reliever? Moreso than an outfield bat, a set-up man would be a welcome acquisition, it appears. While your author fondly remembers previous midseason relief acquisitions that have proved a little less than fruitful (Mel Rojas, Steve Reed - for Jason Bay, Billy Taylor - for Jason Isringhausen, Roberto Hernandez's Act II - the lacking success of which I forecasted correctly here, save for the Perez stuff), this corps simply cannot be trusted. Perhaps relief (intended, obvs.) comes from within: in the form of Jon Niese or Bobby Parnell, power arms that could be converted to bullpen help for the stretch. The Mets have Eddie Kunz, too, a former college closer ready to contribute. Maybe former Philly legend Eude Brito brings some help. But this bullpen, in its current state, ain't goin' nowhere.

4) What is up with this three catchers thing? I presume Manuel's still carrying three catchers because either Castro or Cancel is a better pinch-hitting option than Chris Aguila or Val "I'll be honest. Who is he?" Pascucci. But Castro has had four at-bats as a pinch-hitter this year. 4. Sure, he's probably been double-switched in a few times - and therefore not technically a pinch-hitter, but the fact remains that Manuel isn't using his third catcher to give Castro at-bats off the bench... he's using Castro as a third catcher (on days when he's not starting) to get Robinson Cancel at-bats! Cancel has 8 pinch-hit ABs, despite having been on the roster quite a lot less than Castro has. I'm not going to make an argument that Castro should be the everyday catcher - he's in too poor shape for it to ever happen. But, Jerry, let me plead: if the Mets are to carry three catchers (thereby hamstringing the rest of the bench), can it at least be designed to give ol' BigHead some extra at-bats, and not SlightlySmallerHead Cancel some plate appearances to write a fairytale?

5) Manny? I think Manny would be a good fit - I really do. And for the first time ever on WFAN, I even heard an intriguing potentially feasible trade proposal: Manny and Jacoby Ellsbury to the Mets for Carlos Beltran. The Mets would probably be asked for a little more in that hypothetical deal, but I digress. Its feasibility gives me pause. To get Manny, this would not be a simple trade - regardless of how much of a clubhouse cancer the slugger is, and despite the boatload of money still owed to him (including two option years he might want the new team to pick up) – the Red Sox have hopes of repeating as World Series champs and would need a player of Beltran's caliber in return. Prospects would be of no use to them. My gut would tell me that Beltran, who has a full no-trade clause, would not want to go to Boston. And if giving up Beltran seems a tough pill to swallow, imagine losing the only other comparables: Wright, or Reyes. The Mets wouldn't benefit on the field from trading either one (and it would be an off-field nightmare), and moving Beltran would be only slightly better. While this author has a sneaking suspicion that other potential tradebait (ie Fernando Martinez) is tremendously overhyped and will not be an elite major leaguer, the Red Sox should not be interested in prospects at all. So we must wait. Perhaps he comes here as a free agent this offseason, though your author would prefer another lumbering free-agent left fielder: Patrick Brian Burrell.


On the whole, though, there's a lot to like about this team. Despite two blown ones from the bullpen out of the last three, first place is still theirs - at least until tomorrow.

Tuesday night's matchup: Oliver Perez (6-6, 4.15 ERA) goes against Scott Olsen (6-5, 4.07 ERA), in the Dolphin Tank in front of a few thousand fishmongers. 7:10 p.m. is your start. If you have an unaddressed fetish for mercurial (read: immature) lefthanders, this is a must-watch game. This author hopes the two will have been in fisticuffs by the third inning.



The Mets' acquisition of Johan Santana was largely symbolic.

Sure, there was that whole acquiring arguably the best pitcher in baseball thing - but in looking at how the Santana trade was viewed by Mets fans and pressfolk - it was a symbolic trade.

Johan going to the Mets, rather than the Red Sox or Yankees? Symbolic - there's a new sheriff in town.

Omar Minaya nabbing Johan with dogged persistence, and doing so without giving up Fernando Martinez or Mike Pelfrey? Symbolic - in him we had lost confidence after fumbling away Brian Bannister and an entire relief corps; now, it was In Omar We Trust all over again.

The Mets managing to get a negotiating window with Santana, and then signing him to that big deal? Symbolic - big-money signings since the Minaya regime came into power notwithstanding, there were still some who complained that the Wilpons were not willing to open up their checkbook, and there they were inking an elite pitcher to a big money, long term deal.

So, why, then, is Johan still treated like a symbol?

Sure, I know they won (handily), and everything, making them 15-4 in their last 19 and giving them some momentum heading into the Dolphin Tank, but there was something not to like about Johan today.

He pitched great, having exceptional pitch economy while limiting hits for the first chunk of the ballgame. It looked, for a while, like he would have more hits than he gave up.

But then Santana started to run out of gas in the seventh - the Mets were up by plenty, and he served up a near homer to Ryan Ludwick before serving up an actual homer to Phat Albert. It was fine, he set the Cardinals down in the eighth. His day should have been over.

What is that, you say? Contrarianism? How dare you?

Johan Santana went out and pitched the ninth inning. He finished it, gave up some hits in that inning, and gathered his final out on the 118th pitch of the day. He had retired 27 batters in one game, the highest total posted since Oliver Perez's immortal second-half of a doubleheader showing against Atlanta in September 2006. (Dave Williams had started the first game. He was better than Ollie then.)

But he threw too many pitches doing it. It's one thing to ask someone to throw that many pitches in a playoff game, or even in a close game, where the gassed starter is a much better option than the reliever likely to get the call.

It's quite another when the Mets have six and a half more years of Santana, at a steep price, and are up by seven runs on the Cardinals in bad weather. Willie Collazo, no matter how much he is Willie Collazo, easily could have pitched the ninth en route to a painless victory.

This victory won't be painless, though. Johan's more likely to be injured now than he was before this start, and it doesn't help that his velocity dropped after a non-taxing season in Minnesota last year. Sure, his number of pitches per start is roughly the same as it has been for the last few years, but that, according to most research done on the topic, isn't the health risk.

Johan has thrown or exceeded 110 pitches in a start eight times this season.

In his previous full seasons as a starter, he has done the same this many times:

2007: 6
2006: 4
2005: 6
2004: 7

We're not even into August, and Santana has extended himself more in starts than ever before. Today, the reason for doing this was wholly symbolic. The game was won, and the taxed bullpen had relief, even if it happened to come in the form of Willie Collazo (though the bullpen would have preferred a suppository.)

Baseball Prospectus found Johan Santana to be the 26th most-abused starter in baseball, measured by total Pitcher Abuse Points. Imagine what happens in the wake of this effort.

The Mets aren't stupid - Santana, in fact, is the only Met pitcher in the top 30, while noted crusty ol' baseball men like Lou Piniella and Charlie Manuel each have two pitchers in the top 15 (is it any wonder Carlos Zambrano always seems to have a DL stint and Brett Myers is out of gas? They're both up there. Good news, too - Cole Hamels is #7... just wait until his arm falls off.)

So why do they kowtow to goofy WFAN hosts/callers, and this woman (left) (writing here), and other idiots from the peanut gallery?

She wrote a book about Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, which apparently makes her qualified to determine the physiology of pitching.

I wrote a book about the Prague Spring, and yet I don't claim to know anything about women's tennis.

Ed.: Yes, he does. And Kundera's lawyers, please look away.

The Mets lost on Tuesday not because of Johan Santana, but because of an inept cast of characters who toil in the Shea bullpen. That is obvious. The fact that Santana did not pitch the ninth has nothing to do with Sanchez, Feliciano, Smith & Co.'s inability to retire anyone.

The argument for Johan to finish that game could have been made thusly: he's the team's best pitcher - and his inning, regardless of how many pitches he's thrown, would be better than the bullpen's; we want to avoid using Wagner; Feliciano's been struggling lately; something like that.

Nowhere in arguing for Santana to pitch that ninth would one bring up the following things:
1) He's getting paid $137.5 million.
2) He has a seven-year contract.
3) He's thrown 105 pitches.

And yet, those were the hindsight crew's points about why he should have pitched the ninth! He's getting paid all of this money - he should be out there pitching every day! He's got seven years of salary coming to him - he should earn his damn keep! He's thrown 105 pitches - come on! Juan Marichal threw 220-something to beat Warren Spahn! Or was that Pedro Astacio...?

The money spent on Santana is an investment, and the seven years granted in his deal are a reflection on the Mets' hope that he will keep up his current pace. Johan should not be treated like a rag doll just because of his contract.

And all of this thinking about Tuesday and its wake brings me to today, when Johan Santana willingly engaged in that which shall be called "arm harm."

Jerry's Kids gave into all of this hot air spewed from the media this week, and Johan first among them. Manuel and Warthen asked him if he was okay to throw all of those pitches, and he said yes. And while this blogger does not doubt that Santana felt confident in the instant of throwing those pitches (after all, he uses J.R. Watkins Apothecary Liniment), it is certain that the Mets just absorbed plenty of risk for zero reward.

What does the team gain from the CG next to Santana's name on the box score? Momentum? Ha!

Earl Weaver said, "Momentum is the next day's starting pitcher." It's John Maine, facing Ricky Nolasco, by the way.

Does one really believe that had Santana left after eight innings, and Willie Collazo done all he could have not to surrender seven runs, that the Mets would have a better chance of winning on Monday in Florida?

Can one honestly think that John Maine is going to pitch especially well tomorrow, now that Johan's gone deep into the game?

In fact, Maine's last especially good start really generated plenty of momentum for the next day's pitcher. Look at that line: 7 2/3 innings, one hit, no runs, 14 strikeouts.

If momentum exists, think about the kind of show that the next day's starting pitcher put on.

(I'm quite sorry I had to bring this up, by the way. Devastated, in fact. I know that I'm a Mets fan first, and a stathead second, but the overwhelming contention that some intangible effect of Santana's abuse would help this team has driven me to crazy things.)

Simply put, Johan Santana did The Job Of An Ace™ today, but there was no need to extend him through the ninth, especially after all of the times he's been extended earlier this year. He does not have a rubber arm, and whatever rubbery things exist in his arm will wear down on the Mets' dime if the team continues to batter him like they have so far.

When the Mets acquired Johan, it meant a lot of different things. It helped turn the tide for this team after an embarrassing collapse in 2007.

But he's here now. When all's said and done, he will most likely have made more starts as a Met than as a Twin, where he fashioned two Cy Young Awards and collected the bulk of his now 101 career victories.

Mets fans are smart enough to know that Johan Santana is right now way more than a symbol, way more than a device. He's ours, for the long haul. Let's treat him like it.

LINK: This article on Pitcher Abuse Points might be useful to you.