Farewell to Citi Field

I ended my previous post about Citi Field saying that I couldn’t go back. As I was, sitting in this ballpark I love and watching the team that I have been a fan of for over 50 years, I realized, that it’s all a bit of a facade. Citi Field is a mere replica of Ebbets Field, located in Queens, not Brooklyn, and the home team is the Mets, not the Brooklyn Dodgers. The organization mimics a modern MLB club, the way its stadium mimics the great ballpark of Fred Wilpon (The Mets owner) dreams. So, I’m saying “Farewell to Citi Field” until things change.

NOTE: I’m quite aware that as I started writing this piece, and decided to publish it, the Mets started winning. As of Monday morning August 5th, the team is 15 and 6 since the All-Star break. They are firmly back in contention for a wild card spot in the playoffs. I still stand by my statements herein that the Mets organization and ownership is weak and needs to change.

Citi Field at Night

I love the team, bleed orange and blue, etc, but I can’t handle the owners’ mismanagement and poor decision making any longer. The problem is not that the Mets have finished under .500 eight out of the last ten years. 1 The sad fact is that Fred and Jeff Wilpon are horrible owners. They don’t seem to want to build a competitive organization focused on putting a great product on the field. The last two years have been especially troubling.

Credit Where Credit is Due

That’s not to say that the Mets front office has not had some successes. Quite the contrary, they drafted and developed last year’s Cy Young Award winner – and possible baseball’s best pitcher Jacob DeGrom. Additionally, the starting staff is also one of the best. The organization drafted or acquired in the minor leagues a good core of young players. These include Pete Alonso, this year’s Home Run Derby winner and possible Rookie of the Year and Jeff McNeil who is in contention to lead the majors in hitting.

The Mets will always be my team. I’ll read about them and watch them at home, but I can’t go to Citi Field until I see something positive from the organization.

The Problem Is… Leadership

Theo Epstein
slate.com

Consider two baseball executives, Jeff Wilpon, and Theo Epstein. Both Wilpon and Epstein became head of baseball operations for their respective teams in approximately 2002. Epstein was hired based on his talent and experience. Wilpon took over when his father bought the team with little ability and no experience.

In the approximately twenty years since they assumed their roles, Epstein broke the Boston Red Sox’s 96-year and the Chicago Cubs 110-year eras of futility. Meanwhile, Jeff may be considered one of the worst leaders in the game.

Jeff Wilpon

Jeff Wilpon
amazingavenue.com

Wilpon’s defenders could point out that the Mets have come close to winning a championship during Wilpon’s tenure. The Mets came especially close in 2015 when they went to the World Series. They also had winning teams from 2005 through 2008. However, his focus on short term success rather than consistent competitiveness is a strategy that often leads to failure and rarely to victory.

When Jeff was taking control of the Met’s operations, former owner Nelson Doubleday said:

”Mr. Jeff Wilpon has decided that he’s going to learn how to run a baseball team and take over at the end of the year… Run for the hills, boys. I think probably all those baseball people will bail… Jeff sits there by himself like he’s King Tut waiting for his camel.”

Nelson Doubleday 2

Joel Sherman quoted a baseball executive in 2010 as saying:

“Jeff is the problem with the organization, and he is never going to realize that. He cannot help himself. He has to be involved. He will never hire anyone who will not let him have major input. He will not hire anyone who does not run every personnel decision through him.”

Joel Sherman 3

The sense is that the Mets can’t attract good people to the organization because of Jeff Wilpon. The result is a series of bad decisions and an organization that is increasingly out of step with modern baseball.

The Problem is…Money

If baseball teams want to win, they either need to be very smart, spend money or both. Fred and Jeff Wilpon do not seem to be either. They make poor baseball decisions and do not invest in the team as they should. I’ll discuss the Mets bad decisions later. Let’s start with the fact that the Mets don’t spend enough money.

Payroll

Although the Mets 2019 payroll is approximately $160 million, it is currently ninth highest in the majors.4 Their payroll is approximately $70 million less than the World Champion Red Sox, $60 million less than the Yankees (in the same media market) and $50 million less than Epstein’s more successful Cubs.

Moreover, only about $96 million is devoted to the 25-man payroll – 15th highest in the major leagues. The spend the rest of the salaries on:

Injured players: The Mets spend roughly $39 million on injured players. They also adhere to the standard practice of insuring their players’ salaries. Thus 75% of the $39 million is reimbursed to the team. However, Instead of reinvesting the reimbursements in replacement players, the Wilpons keep the money. 5 “They saved money in player payroll and just pocketed it, continuing to let the fan base down.” 6

Retained Contracts: Salaries for players still on the Mets major league payroll who were released, traded or had their contracts bought out. The Mets rank fifth in the major leagues ($24.5 million), indicating that they make lousy player decisions.

Buried Contracts: Payments for players with major league contracts that play in the minor leagues. The Mets rank eighth highest in the majors ($8.5 million).

Team Value

The obvious question is, do the Wilpon’s have the resources to invest more in the team? The answer is a) yes they do and b) if they don’t why do they own the team? The Mets don’t report a complete picture of the team’s finances; however, the sense is that they are profitable. For example, they earned $54 million in income from Citi Field Operations in 2018. This amount was down from 2017 when they made $96 million.

Relative Team Values – In The National Baseball Hall of Fame

Moreover, the team’s growth in overall value is staggering. The Wilpon’s purchased the team in 2002 for $391 million and the Mets are now worth $2.3 billion.7

Interestingly, when the Wilpons bought the team, the Mets were second only to the Yankees as the most valuable team in baseball they now rank sixth. Other organizations, especially the Yankees, have appreciated faster than the Mets. For example, Epstein’s Cubs (in a market half the size of New York) is now worth more than the Mets. 8

There are many factors as to why the Yankees and Mets have not appreciated the way other organizations have, 9 However, it’s clear the Mets, although valuable, are falling behind more aggressive organizations.

The problem is that the Mets don’t invest the way they should and more importantly, they don’t maximize their investments. In today’s game, the best way to evaluate, select, and develop players is through analytics.

The Problem is…Missing the Analytics Revolution

The Tampa Bay Rays an unpopular team that plays in an even more unpopular stadium, exist in a much smaller market and spend much less than the Mets do. However, the Rays are one of the smartest organizations in baseball. They are currently in second place in their division and in contention for a playoff spot.

The Mets missed what I call the Analytics Revolution. As discussed in “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis, the Oakland A’s in the early part of the century used data analysis to inform their decision making. Other teams soon followed. Now everyone (including the Mets) have an analytics component in their organization. However, some are stronger than the others.

The Rays, Astros, Dodgers, Indians, and Yankees are some of the teams I hear mentioned when analytics are discussed. I never hear the Mets mentioned. Their analytics staff is likely not as robust as others. Moreover, is their input respected?

Does it matter? Some will still argue that teams can do just as good with the old statistics and intuition, but those opinions are fading. When the best organizations in MLB and college are also the ones known for their analytic chops, it’s hard to argue that analytics don’t have an impact.

The Travis d’Arnaud Saga

Travis d’Arnaud
Anthony J. Causi – NY Post

As an example, Travis d’Arnaud was an oft-injured, catcher who never realized his potential with the Mets. They released him this year during spring training as he was rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery. Although not thoroughly explained, the sense was that Mets management was concerned about d’Arnaud’s poor performance and uncertain future. However, he is now doing well with the Rays.

Joel Sherman made these points:

“If we were making a list of organizations that have their act together, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay would be in the top five. If I ran the Mets — decidedly not in the top five — I would be asking my baseball operations what did well-run franchises see in d’Arnaud that we didn’t, particularly now that he has become a valuable piece for the Rays?”

Joel Sherman 10

“It is the largest Mets problem — the need to recognize their near-term success and failure is not about one or two moves, but the process to create thoroughness and consistency — plus the highest level of information from scouts, analytics, sports scientists, medical, psychological, etc. They should be digging down on the d’Arnaud progression and really coming to peace with how they made their determination every step of the way, and what the Dodgers and Rays saw that they did not.”

Joel Sherman 11

If you want to argue the point, read these books, and then we’ll talk:

Two Years of Bad Decisions

”The Mets are playing darts blindfolded.”

“The Mets are behaving like the Yankees used to; conversely the Yankees are behaving like the Mets should.”

Paul Hembekides 12

In the early 80s, the Yankees used to have the same “win now” mentality that the Mets do. The practice resulted in annual failures. They recovered through patient management, and later by becoming a leader in the analytics revolution. 13

Here are a series of poor decisions that stem from the issues outlined above.

Jeury’s Familia Trade

Familia in Oakland
nbcsports.com

The Mets traded Jeury’s Familia to Oakland before the July 2018 trade deadline. The transaction was expected since Familia was to become a free agent at the end of the season. Teams normally trade players in their so-called “walk year” so that they can get some compensation before the player leaves. However, the Mets handled the trade poorly and didn’t receive the compensation they should have. Keith Law remarked:

If the New York Mets are just going to trade their most valuable major league assets for salary relief, rather than to try to improve the club, then it’s time for MLB to step in and force the Wilpons to sell the team, just as the league did with Frank McCourt and the Dodgers.

Keith Law 14

For a franchise that operates in the largest market in the league to do this — and do so 10 days before the trade deadline rather than waiting for someone to offer a legitimate return — is embarrassing for the Mets and for Major League Baseball as a whole.

Keith Law 15

Hiring Mickey Callaway and Brodie Van Wagenen

Mickey Callaway
newsday.com

Before the 2017 season, Wilpon hired Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway to manage the team. Callaway was hired even though he had no experience in management, the National League and with the New York media. Mickey deserves better, but he is out of place and has failed in New York

Chaim Bloom Tampa Bay Rays Web Site

Last December, Wilpon hired player agent Brodie Van Wagenen as the new General Manager. In so doing he bypassed Chaim Bloom, the young but very experienced Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations with the Rays. The Rays are one of the best, analytic organizations in baseball. Hiring Bloom would start the transformation of the Mets into an organization that used data and analytics to inform its decisions.

Instead Van Wagenen was hired because he promised Wilpon that he could make the Mets win immediately. Van Wagenen has to date been a failure.

Brodie Van Wagenen and Jeff Wilpon
New York Daily News

The current practice in the major leagues is to focus on valuable young players and not use the more expensive, older players. In previous years, teams were willing to trade prospects for veterans. That trend is changing, teams value their prospects more so than ever and hold onto them. Bloom would have followed this strategy, Van Wagenen did the exact opposite. He made a series of deals that may have damaged the Mets for years.

Prospects For Cano

Robinson Cano
La Vida Baseball

He traded two young prospects and two existing players to Seattle for 36-year-old Robinson Cano and young Edwin Diaz. In so doing, acquiring Cano’s $25 million annual salary. Although the players traded offset some of the salary, the Mets are committed to paying Cano for five years. Moreover, Cano plays second base, and the Mets had Jeff McNeil, a promising younger player at second base. McNeil is now one of the leading hitters in the majors, while forced to play the outfield. Unfortunately, Cano has not hit well and has a limited range at second.

Other Older Players

In addition to adding the 36-year-old Cano, Van Wagenen signed:

  • 35-year-old infielder, but oft-injured Jed Lowrie to a two-year $20 million deal. Lowrie has not played the entire year due to injuries.
  • 31-year-old Wilson Ramos to a two- year $19 million deal. Ramos can hit, but his best days as a catcher are behind him.
  • The previously mentioned Jeury’s Familia is 29 and will end his three-year $30 million contract at the age of 32.
  • 33-year-old Todd Frazier was not acquired, by Van Wagenen, but is in the last year of his current contract.

In total Van Wagenen committed the penny pitching Wilpons to paying $69 million over the next few years to players that most organizations wouldn’t consider because of their age. More importantly, Jeff Wilpon approved the deals.

Stop the Madness

There are many more examples, but why go on? Blog posts should be relatively short. I’m not the first to refer to the Mets organization as a “Dumpster Fire,” or a “shit show.” But that is what they are. Even if, as I write this post, The team has an outside shot at a wild card playoff appearance.

If I’ve learned anything in my travels this season, I can enjoy baseball anywhere and also follow the Mets. A trip to Citi Field requires flights and hotels as well as the ticket and food costs. For the same investment, I can go to Wrigley. It’s even less expensive to drive to Toronto, Cleveland or Pittsburgh. I can also take a vacation in say San Diego, which is a beautiful city and visit one of the best ballparks in the country. Not that I’m a fan of the Padres, but they are young, talented and exciting. I can enjoy a few days at Petco Park.

What I Want

I’m not going back to Citi Field until:

  • The Wilpons either sell or at least remove themselves from active management of the team.
  • The team increases their payroll so that they rank in the top five highest-spending teams in MLB. Can they win for less? Probably, but they have a lot of bad contracts to deal with, and it’s going to be expensive for the near future.
  • Build one of the most modern, analytic organizations in baseball. Let me hear just one time, “they should run their organization the way the Mets do,” and I’ll be back.

By doing so, the Mets will build around a core of talented young players that fans can enjoy, somewhat consistently over a series of years. They will also have a strong farm system that will consistently replenish the major league club.

I long for the day that the Mets organization transforms into a unit that I can support. When they do, I’ll be happy to visit Citi Field again. Until then, I’ll root for the team from afar. Lets Go Mets!!

One More Thing

If the Twins have a statue of Kent Hrbeck at Target Field, can’t we have a few with our great players? How about statues of Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Piazza, and David Wright along with the requisite Tom Seaver one that is in progress. They should retire their numbers as well.

Moreover, why is there is a statue of Hank Aaron in front of Milwaukee’s Miller Park and no mention of Willie Mays at Citi Field? After all, Aaron ended his brilliant career with the Brewers after spending the 1950s and early 1960s with the Milwaukee Braves. Mays did roughly the same thing with the Mets after playing for the New York and San Francisco Giants.

Just an idea, but why not create a monument garden between the Home Plate Gate and the train station across the way. Most fans would walk by it on the way to the Robinson Rotunda. Include statues of the players I mentioned, add Jackie Robinson and another with “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.” A real organization with owners that loved the team would do something like that.

My next stop was the All-Star Game…More fun, less angst.

Thanks for reading my article.

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  1. See Baseball Reference
  2. Matthew Cerone, “Gammons: Jeff Wilpon is GM of the Mets,” MetsBlog, October 15, 2009
  3. Joel Sherman, “Mets need GM bailout,” New York Post, September 19, 2010
  4. See www.sporttrac.com for all salary information in this section. These data change as rosters change – the data is from 7/31/2019.
  5. Jeff Passon, “Why the Mets are a mess again,” ESPN.com, May 21, 2019
  6. Matt Snyder, “The David Wright insurance mess is a perfect reason why Mets fans deserve better from ownership,” CBSSports.com, September 18, 2018.
  7. Paul Ladewski, “MLB Owners Ranked From Worst to Best,” Stadium Talk, April 12, 2019
  8. Matt Snyder, “The David Wright insurance mess is a perfect reason why Mets fans deserve better from ownership,” CBSSports.com, September 18, 2018.
  9. Michael Sykes, “The ever-increasing value of MLB teams,” Axios, April 12, 2019
  10. Joel Sherman, “Travis d’Arnaud epitomizes huge Mets flaw that needs to end,” New York Post, July 20, 2019
  11. Joel Sherman, “Travis d’Arnaud epitomizes huge Mets flaw that needs to end,” New York Post, July 20, 2019
  12. Paul Hembekides, Baseball Tonight Podcast July 30, 2019
  13. As discussed. By Buster Olney on Baseball Tonight Podcast July 30, 2019
  14. Keith Law, “Mets get weak payoff for trading Jeurys Familia early,” ESPN, July 21, 2018
  15. Keith Law, “Mets get weak payoff for trading Jeurys Familia early,” ESPN, July 21, 2018

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