SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Thursday, December 16, 2004

Lemmings

I've thought about this topic for days, and I've grappled to describe the Mets in their attempts to jump back into contention in the NL East. So the headline is what I came up with.

It's pretty obvious, I think, what I'm blogging about, but if you need further clues, click here for the reason.

I know that baseball's different from football, but I think that the most successful teams resist the temptation to follow the herd and do what everyone else does and actually show some measure of restraint. For example, the Dodgers don't relish the fact that they overpaid for Kevin Brown years ago, and neither do the Rangers take particular joy in outbidding everyone else for A-Rod. In Brown's case, he got way too long of a contract (taking him to age 40, which is ancient for a righty power pitcher), and in A-Rod's case, he got way too much, as Tom Hicks of Texas paid about $7 or $8 million a year more than the next highest bidder offered.

Those are only two examples of outright folly by owners in baseball over the years. There comes a time, however, when a team has to take a pass. Pedro Martinez has an iffy wing to say the least, one which requires, at times, five days' rest. That's a lot of rest for a 33 year-old pitcher, and $56 million guaranteed over 4 years is a ton of money to invest in a guy who's really not a #1 starter. As for the Mets, how short is their memory? They got burned with the Mo Vaughn situation, and now they're setting themselves up to get burned again. (To further illustrate my point, the Cardinals apparently offered a four-year deal too, all guaranteed. Some teams just cannot help themselves).

With no bullpen and with two aging starters who can only go 6 innings (Tommy Glavine being the other one), the Mets will lose a lot of games late. True, they have two Hall of Fame pitchers on their staff, but when those guys get inducted, they'll be wearing the uniforms of the Braves and Red Sox, not the Mets. As some of the ads say, past successes do not guarantee future results.

True, Boston has some holes in its rotation, but they didn't exacerbate their problem by committing a boatload of long-term money to a guy who is unlikely to undergo a mid-career resurgence like Roger Clemens did about 8 years ago after the BoSox let him go. They also couldn't afford to risk $56 million on a pitcher with a bad shoulder when their best starter has a damaged ankle.

History doesn't always repeat itself, but in the case of aging players, the buyer should be very careful. Yes, of course, aging veterans help form the core of any team, but the real question is, at what price?

The Mets wanted to make a splash, and they did, but if you milk the diving analogy for all it's worth, making splashes puts you in last place in a diving meet. And generating sizzle with less steak on the plate does the same thing.

So it's up to Pedro? Will he help create a magical comeback in Queens? Or will he ignite a bonfire of Fred Wilpon's and Omar Minaya's vanities?

In a town best known for taking risks and risk management, the Mets have taken one of the biggest risks of all. If it pays off, think playoffs. If it fails to provide a decent yield, the short sellers, in terms of Met fans not coming to games, will be out there in droves.

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