Scouting the Trade Market: Francisco Rodriguez

As the revolving door of the Yankee bullpen swung open on Friday night, it was hard to believe the rogue’s gallery of relievers who came out to stop the Mariners had been among the best in the game this year. Hector Noesi, Boone Logan, Luis Ayala — seventh best in the AL only when sorted by last name — all made their appearances and kept the Mariners scoreless. Only Mariano, the future Hall of Famer, faltered, and he along with Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson are the arms in which we trust.

So somehow, after 54 games and with $17.75 million worth of relievers on the disabled list, the Yankees have a great bullpen. The pen’s 2.88 ERA is tops in the AL, and their strike out and walk rates are both among the top four in the league. On the flip side, their relievers have thrown 159.1, and as Mike explored, their troika of top relievers is racking up the pitches thrown. The club will have to bolster its bullpen either within or without.

Enter Francisco Rodriguez: Yankee fans have never taken to K-Rod. He came out of nowhere to help down the Bombers in the 2002 ALDS, and he served as foil in the 2005 playoffs as well. As the Mets’ closer, he has had a tumultuous time in New York. He was, of course, on the mound celebrating as Luis Castillo dropped that pop-up, and he was arrested for assault last year in an altercation that caused a season-ending injury. He also one of the Mets’ prime trade chips.

This year, very quietly, K-Rod is putting together a stellar season. With his save in the Mets’ comeback on Thursday, he has now appeared in 27 games — and finished 21 of them — while posting a 2.00 ERA in 27 innings. He has allowed a hit per inning and 13 walks but has yet to surrender a home run and has alluringly struck out 27.

Now, the Mets are in a predicament with Rodriguez. He is making $11.5 million this year and holds a performance-based option for 2012 that’s worth a whopping $17.5 million. If he closes out 55 games this year and his two-year total of games finished tops 100, the option vests automatically. If not, then he is owed only $3.5 million, and that’s why trading him must be part of the Mets’ plan. They can’t afford to pay and shouldn’t be paying a closer $17.5 million, but he’s on pace for well over 60 games finished this year.

So how about the Yankees? At some point, you might say, the Yankees have to stop acquiring overpaid, one-inning relievers. It hasn’t worked out for them since the days of Steve Karsay, and yet, the Yankees are still doling out contracts to guys left and right only to see them wind up on the disabled list. Rodriguez, though, would be just a rental, and if the Yankees are willing to take on most of his remaining salary along with the $3.5 million buy out they will owe him when, as a non-closer, he doesn’t get to his games finished milestone, the price tag should be relatively cheap. Pick a second-tier prospect and adjust accordingly for cash contributions.

Of course, as we’ve noted over the last few weeks, the Yankees and Mets do not trade with each other too frequently. They last sent Mike Stanton to Queens for Felix Heredia in 2004 and before that, tried to plug Armando Benitez into the Bronx for a handful of disastrous games. For the Mets, trading their closer to the Yankees would be one of many potential white flags, and if they get no return outside of financial relief while the Yanks add K-Rod as a third set-up option, the Shea Faithful won’t be too pleased.

For the Yankees, though, K-Rod is another potential target. He just might be the most available reliever out there, and unless the club truly expects Soriano, Marte or Feliciano to return at full strength any time this season, he should be a potential trade target.

Series Preview: New York Mets

"Hey Jose, isn't it weird how this one rain cloud follows us everywhere?" (AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

Has the Subway Series lost some of its luster over the years? Maybe as the quality of the competition has dropped (zing!), but I still enjoy these games because I know and am related to a lot of Mets’ fans, and it’s always fun to rub it in. Believe you me, they still hear about Luis Castillo’s dropped pop-up on the holidays. I’m not sure if there will be anything that memorable at Yankee Stadium this weekend, but are you putting to past them?

What Have The Mets Done Lately?

Quite a bit of winning, actually. The Amazin’s have won two in a row, three of four, six of eight, and nine of 13, and they’ve also thrown two straight shutouts. The last run allowed by a Mets’ pitcher was on an RBI single by Marlins’ reliever Burke Badenhop in the 11th inning of Monday’s game. Go figure. They’ve won four of their last five series, and have outscored opponents 47-36 in the process. The Mets are coming in hot and feeling good about themselves, no doubt about it.

Mets On Offense

Won't be seeing either of these two this weekend. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)

Could you imagine if the Yankees lost Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez at the same time? That’s basically what has happened to the Mets, who will be without Ike Davis (ankle) and David Wright (stress fracture in his back) for the next few weeks. That’s not just a straight first base and third base comparison, the position stuff is actually just a coincidence. Davis (.397 wOBA) and Wright (.346 wOBA) have been the Mets’ second and fourth best hitters this season, respectively, like Tex and A-Rod have been for the Yankees. You don’t replace guys of that caliber, you just hope to survive.

Luckily for them, the Mets still have the resurgent Carlos Beltran, who’s hit .277/.368/.539 on the season and .286/.388/.643 this month. Like Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers or Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays, this is the guy the Yankees can’t let beat them this weekend. He’s easily their biggest bat the moment. Jose Reyes is doing a fine job from the leadoff spot (.317/.373/.468 with a league leading 16 steals), but Jason Bay just has not hit as a Met. Last year’s disaster (.336 wOBA and injuries) has been followed by .238/.330/.357 batting line this season, and that’s after yesterday’s 3-for-4 effort. I still don’t feel comfortable when he’s at the plate though, he hurt the Yankees too many times while with the Red Sox. Those are the guys you know about, so let’s talk about everyone else.

Former Yankees’ draft pick Justin Turner (unsigned 29th rounder in 2005) was called up when Davis got hurt and played some second before moving to third once Wright got hurt. He’s hitting .333/.393/.490 in 18 games and is making plays all over infield, so he’s my early pick for the guy that annoys the crap out everyone all series with curiously long at-bats and timely hits and great defense. Daniel Murphy eventually took over at second but has since moved to first, and he’s hitting .233/.298/.367 after a wretched .167/.234/.228 stretch during his last 18 games. Jason Pridie is playing center for the injured Angel Pagan, and he’ll probably be best remembered as the third guy the Twins received in the Matt Garza-Delmon Young swap despite his respectable .235/.325/.441 line. The punchless Ruben Tejada (.500/.571/.500 in all of seven plate appearances) is the second baseman, and Josh Thole (.221/.300/.260) splits time behind the plate with Ronny Paulino (.313/.405/.344).

I have no idea who is going to DH for the Mets this weekend, but they’ve already indicated that it won’t be Beltran despite his grenade with the pin pulled knees. Their best bench bats are my boy Scott Hairston (.244/.309/.327) and a pair of recent call-ups in Nick Evans and Fernando Martinez. You might actually see Bay serve as the DH with one of those three in left field. I guess we’ll find out tonight.

Mets On the Mound

Dickeyface! (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Friday, RHP R.A. Dickey: The Yankees have seen as many knuckleballs as any team in the league thanks to Tim Wakefield, but not all knuckleballs are created equal. The UCL-less wonder actually throws two of them, a hard one and a soft one that he uses to disrupt timing. He also throws a helluva lot more fastballs than Wakefield ever did, about one for every five pitches and it hums in around 82-84. Dickey has not pitched as well this year as he did last mostly because a) his walk rate shot back up to his career norms (3.16 BB/9 this year after 2.17 last year), b) some bad BABIP luck (.328), and c) far fewer swings and misses (6.8% after 8.4%). That said, his 4.52 FIP is probably more indicative of his true talent than his 5.08 ERA. Dickey is coming off three straight disaster starts, I’m talking 16 runs in 18.1 innings with a .350/.381/.500 batting line against. Also: Dickeyface!

Saturday, LHP Chris Capuano: Chris Young is out for the rest of the season with yet another shoulder issue, but Capuano has held up pretty well so far. His ugly ERA (4.78) is BABIP-inflated (.340) and masks some solid peripherals (4.03 FIP). He’s struck out 7.06 men per nine (11.2% swings and misses) while unintentionally walking just 2.91 per nine and getting a ground ball 43.8% of the time. Capuano has crushed lefties (.255/.305/.291) and gotten crushed by righties (.315/.380/.532) with his upper-80’s fastball, low-80’s slider, and upper-70’s changeup mix, splits in line with his career norms but a little on the extreme side at the moment. He’s coming off three pretty good starts (six runs in 18 IP total) and is a pretty safe bet for six innings if the Yankees right-handed bats do not do their jobs.

Sunday, RHP Mike Pelfrey: Has anyone figured out what Pelfrey is yet? He’s supposedly a sinkerballer but he doesn’t get a ton of ground balls (44% this year, 49% career) and he certainly doesn’t strike anyone out (4.38 K/9 this season, 5.06 career). The walk numbers aren’t anything special (3.28 BB/9 both this year and career) and his platoon split isn’t huge (.292/.370/.461 vs. RHB career, .283/.333/.487 vs, LHB). Pelfrey has some Jon Garland in him, in that he throws a ton of innings every year and has gotten labeled as a ground ball pitcher without actually being one. Anyway, he’s coming off three fine starts (three runs or less and 6.2 IP or more in each) and is going throw low-90’s fastball after low-90’s fastball (both four and two-seamers) with the occasional split and slider thrown in for effect. The Yankees have seen plenty of him in the Subway Series throughout the years, though haven’t really seen the “new” version of Dickey and have faced Capuano just once, many years ago.

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Bullpen: Francisco Rodriguez is having a very typical Francisco Rodriguez year as the closer (lots of walks, lots of strikeouts), but his ERA is a shiny 0.83 thanks to a 93.8% strand rate. He’s putting nearly three runners on base for every two innings pitched. K-Rod has thrown in each of the last two days and in six of last eight, so his availability tonight is very much up in the air and who really knows for the rest of the weekend.

Like the Yankees, the Mets have a former closer working the eighth inning, except Jason Isringhausen has actually been pretty solid for new manager Terry Collins (3.56 ERA in 14 IP). He had yesterday off but has pitched in three of the last five days, and at 38 years old with an elbow that’s undergone two Tommy John surgeries, who knows what kind of restrictions he’ll have this weekend. Tim Byrdak is a lefty specialist in every sense of the term (.231/.259/.385 vs. LHB this season), and former Rockie Taylor Buchholz is the secret weapon. He’s struck out 9.97 batters per nine while walking just 2.91 per nine in 21.2 middle relief innings this season. He’s their David Robertson, and he’s nice and fresh after having four days off.

The rest of the relief corps consists of second lefty Michael O’Connor (just 4.2 IP since being recalled, though he’s another LOOGY), third lefty Pat Misch (just four innings since being recalled, but he can throw multiple innings if needed), and surprising Rule 5 Draft pick Pedro Beato. The young right-hander grew up in Brooklyn and was just activated off the disabled list (elbow trouble), and before the injury he pitched to a 0.00 ERA (2.27 FIP) in 17 IP thanks to a 5.29 K/9, 1.29 BB/9, and 42.4% ground ball rate. Pretty good for a kid that skipped right over Triple-A. Beato has worked mostly lower leverage situations, and we hope to see a lot of him late in the game when the Yankees have the lead.

Recommended Mets Reading: Amazin’ Avenue and MetsBlog

Mailbag: Igawa, Garcia, Double-A, Mets, Pujols

This week’s edition of the mailbag brings queries about Chris Garcia, the difference between minor league levels, the ghost of Kei Igawa, and then the Mets and Red Sox. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you want to send in a question.

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Bruce asks: It’s funny (but not really) that after all the money thrown at Kei Igawa that he’s never even mentioned as a possible desperation move to fill the fifth slot in the rotation. He’s got to be the highest-priced “organizational player” ever.

Yep, Igawa was a spectacular bust, and it shows you how little faith the organization has in him by not even mentioning him as a candidate for the back of the rotation. Hell, he didn’t get an invite to Major League Spring Training, he’s with the kids in minor league camp. Igawa’s contract comes off the books after the season, and the only reason they haven’t gotten rid of him yet is because if they do so, they’ll get stuck paying the luxury tax on his contract. There’s no harm in having him soak up innings at Triple-A, but that’s pretty much the only thing he’s qualified for these days.

Cody asks: Whatever happened to Christian Garcia? I know he had TJ surgery last season and then the Yankees released him. Any chance they bring him back if all goes well?

Good timing on this question, Chad Jennings posted an update yesterday. Allow me to quote…

Once a highly touted pitching prospect in the Yankees system, right-hander Christian Garcia was released last season after a series of injuries derailed his promising career. The Yankees are aware that Garcia, 25, has been working out and plans to throw for scouts, but I was told today that the Yankees have no plans of bringing Garcia back to the organization.

Garcia blew out his elbow in his first start last year, so he’s about nine or ten months out from his second Tommy John surgery. The kid just couldn’t stay healthy, and there’s really no reason to believe he ever will. I don’t fault the Yankees for not wanting to bring him back at all. It’s a shame, he had a great arm.

Joseph asks: With all of the talk of Brackman having an outside shot of the rotation, it had me thinking which was the harder transition from leagues in the minors. Is it from High-A to AA or from AA to AAA.

The biggest jump is Triple-A to MLB, no doubt about it, but in the minors only, going from Single-A to Double-A is probably the biggest jump. Double-A is the first time hitters will consistently run into pitchers that have some sort of game plan and can throw a breaking ball for strikes, while pitchers will regularly face batters that will lay off stuff out of the zone or sit on a 2-0 fastball. It’s not so much that the physical talent is that much better in Double-A than Single-A, it’s that the preparation and experience is. That’s why they say Double-A is the great equalizer. If a kid does well at that level, chances are he’ll have himself a nice big league career.

Omar Good-bya (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Chris asks: If the Mets completely fall apart and spend very little over the next few years could they create heavy debate about being a team in NYC and collecting a revenue sharing check? I can see this becoming a battle in the next CBA if a team like the Mets, in a massive media market spends very little. This situation may spur on a salary floor. What do you guys think?

I don’t think that’ll happen. The Mets, as far as I know, are profitable in terms of ticket sales, merchandising, advertisements, etc., and that’s what revenue sharing payments are based on. Even with the Madoff stuff, the team would really need to fall in the dumps to start getting some revenue sharing money. With a nine-figure payroll, it won’t happen anytime soon.

Matt asks: With the recent Albert Pujols contract negotiations, I have begun to think about what his value is. It seems to me that the value of a win is greater the higher above replacement it is. Doesn’t it make sense that a player who is worth 7 WAR is more valuable than 2 players who are worth 7 WAR together simply due to the fact that the team will have another position available which they can fill with another player. Because a player like Albert Pujols gives you equal production to that of two good players while still allowing you to fill that extra position with more value, shouldn’t he make more than the total value of the two good players’ contracts?

Yep, exactly. You said it perfectly, one great player is better than two pretty good players. The more wins you’re getting out of a player, the higher a cost. You might pay, say, $3M per win for a one or two WAR player, but once you get into Pujols territory, $7M or $8M per win becomes the norm. It’s not a linear scale.

Reg asks: Although most people are conceding the AL East to Boston, there has been little mention of the fact that they lost Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez. True, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez may make up the offensive punch but Youkilis is not the defensive third baseman Beltre was. Also, there are questions re pitchers Josh Beckett and John Lackey. Do you think that the Red Sox should be odds-on favorites to (a) win the AL East or (b) advance to the World Series?

a) Sure, I think they’re the favorites in the AL East right now, I don’t think you’ll find anyone that can put up too much of an argument otherwise. They’re not going to lap the field or win the division by like, ten games. The other four clubs are too good for that to happen, but I feel comfortable saying they’re the best team in AL right now.

b) Nope, I’ll always take the field when asked that. The Yankees, Rays, White Sox, Athletics, Rangers … all those clubs could take down the Sox in a five or seven game playoff series. Do they have a really good chance of going to the World Series? Sure, but odds-on favorite? Nah.

Casting a wary eye across town

I couldn’t decide whether to title this one “Meet the Mess” or something less antagonistic. See, I don’t hate the Mets per se; generally, I find it more exciting when New York has two competitive, well-run baseball teams that are both embroiled in division crown pursuits. Lately, though, I’ve just sat back and laughed at the Mets much to the chagrin of their fans.

I’ve long been amused by the relationship between the Mets and their fans and the Yankees and their fans. Simply put, Yankee fans don’t hate the Mets while Mets fans absolutely abhor the Yankees and their fans. We seem to view the Mets as the unlucky younger brother that can’t catch a break. Seven game lead with 17 left to play? They won’t hold it. Bases loaded with the NLDS winning run at 3rd? Walk it in. Great catch by Endy Chavez in Game 7 of the NLCS? Serve up a longball to Yadier Molina.

Perhaps, Yankee fans deserve the scorn we get from Mets fans. We do tend to take perverse pleasure in watching the Mets find new and exciting ways to blow games, leads, chances. It’s what Jets fans had come to expect out of their own team prior to the past few seasons, and it’s how Red Sox fans, until 2004, behaved for decades. But while Mets fans loved their lovable losers, Yankee fans smirked at the bumbling Mets.

Today, though, it’s hard out there for a Mets fan. The team, under the auspices of Omar Minaya for the past few seasons, had tanked. That Yadier Molina home run took a lot out of the club, and in the second year of a new ballpark in New York City, they were having a tough time filling seats by the end of the 2010 season. This year will be the start of Sandy Alderson’s rebuilding process, and with some key contracts expiring soon, the Mets will have room to maneuver.

Or at least that’s what the players and their fans thought. Shortly before pitchers and catchers, the Madoff hit the fan. We had heard rumblings of some fiscal issues the Wilpons might run into in conjunction with the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, and everything exploded a few weeks ago when the Madoff Trustee filed suit for $1 billion against the Wilpons. The owners know they’re going to be on the hook for at least a few hundred million dollars, and even as Mario Cuomo enters the picture to mediate the dispute, the Wilpons are looking to sell part of the Mets.

For now, the owners want to hold onto a majority stake in the team and, more importantly, control. They want to sell perhaps 25-30 percent of the team — to raise approximately $250 million — but I can’t imagine too many people willing to shell out those dollars would be willing to take a backseat to ownership that hasn’t done much winning lately. If the Mets are sold entirely before the year is out, I wouldn’t be shocked.

The fans who just want baseball are the ones who lose out. In an ideal world, the Mets, playing in New York and with their own TV station, should have a payroll around $150-$160 million, and they should be able to dominate the NL with their financial edge. Instead, the club has to essentially bribe season ticket-holders to re-up for their plans this year. Bondholders are suffering as well.

As a Yankee by birth — Thanks, mom and dad! — I draw no joy in these stories. Too many people were ruined financially by the Madoff scandal, and the Mets, a baseball team that serves as a diversion from real life, are going to be dragged down. Still, as I’ve cast my glance across town lately, I’m glad I’m a Yankee fan. Our team’s biggest problem is the back end of the rotation, and that certainly puts things into perspective.

Mailbag: Montero, Jeter, Injuries, Stats, Mets

Time for another edition of the RAB mailbag. This week we’ll tackle questions about Jesus Montero‘s future power, Derek Jeter‘s future everything, pitching injuries, ways to measure a pitcher’s volatility, and how I’d fix the Mets. If you ever want to submit a question, just send it in via the Submit A Tip box underneath The Montero Watch in the sidebar.

Sheepmeister asks: Guys, why all the hype around Jesus Montero. Everyone tabs him as a 40 HR guy but this year he has 18 in 417 ABs (Ed. note: this was sent in a few days ago, he’s at 19 HR in 438 AB now), what makes him so special with the bat (other than the C position)?

You’re looking at this entirely the wrong way. He’s 20-years-old, he hasn’t physically matured yet. Montero will add power naturally that way, and also by benefiting from a big league coaching staff, a big league training and conditioning program, big league advanced scouts and video, all of that. Albert Pujols played one year in the minors and hit 19 homers. Miguel Cabrera never hit more than ten homers in a minor league season. I could go on all day. You don’t want players to peak down in the minors.

Montero is also a .314 career hitter in 1,560 plate appearances, and he has a good enough approach at the plate to draw his fair share of walks (though I don’t think he’ll ever be a 90-100 walk guy). He’s a complete hitter, not just a mindless brute that will club 40 homers while hitting in the .220’s with 200 strikeouts. He’s a very natural all-around hitter, and that’s extremely exciting.

Shai asks: Is there any chance that Jeter’s pride will make him decide to retire and not have anymore of these embarrassing seasons? He doesn’t need the money, so whats in it for him?

Zero. He’ll play next year to get his 3,000th hit at minimum, and probably play a few years beyond that. I doubt it’s just about money, Jeter was set for life financially before he signed this soon-to-expire monster contract, there’s probably a huge part of him that just wants to win.

Also, I certainly wouldn’t call his season embarrassing. Disappointing yes, but not embarrassing. Cesar Izturis is embarrassing. Chone Figgins is embarrassing. Jason Kendall is embarrassing. Jeter’s just been a letdown compared to his lofty standards.

Anonymous asks: It was disappointing and alarming to see Stephen Strasburg go down. What really hit me was that they say it was a sudden thing – i.e the elbow was 100% fine for one pitch, then the next pitch, hello Tommy John. No lingering problems building up over time, no mismanagement of his young arm by the Nats, nothing. My question is: are all pitchers essentially time bombs that could go off at any instant? We all take for granted that CC has been in perfect health during his Yankee career – is he somehow at less risk for the next pitch being his last?

Yeah, pretty much. It can go at any moment. Some guys are lucky with health, others aren’t. It really is that simple. A guy could have fine mechanics, good genetics, be in great shape, and it still might not matter. All it takes is one pitch, one mistake with his delivery, to pop that UCL.

That said, some guys obviously manage to stay healthier over the long term like Sabathia, but I have no idea what makes him less of an injury risk than say, Rich Harden. It could be his size, but Roy Oswalt’s skinny as a twig and he’s been a horse all these years as well. If I knew the answer to this question, I’d auction the info off to whatever team offered the most money for it.

Wade asks: Do any of the advanced pitching metrics take into account volatility? I assume (certainly for a team like the Yankees) a pitcher who goes out and gives you 7 IP and 2 or 3 ER every single time is more valuable than one who goes 9 shutout innings in half his starts and 5 IP with 6 ER in the other half. I couldn’t find any metrics that consider this, so maybe I’m just wrong in assuming it matters over the course of a year.

Not that I know of, everything’s generally based off the big picture. If there was such a thing as a stat that measured volatility, I’m guessing A.J. Burnett would lead the league in it. I suppose one way you could do it is by have something that’s the opposite of a Quality Start, say a Weak Start at 6 IP, 5 ER, then use a +/- system. A guy gets +1 for a Quality Start, and -1 for a Weak Start. The closer a guy is to zero, the more unpredictable he is.

Looking quickly at the Yanks’ rotation, I come up with this:

  1. CC Sabathia, +20
  2. Andy Pettitte, +12
  3. Phil Hughes, +8
  4. Javy Vazquez, +4
  5. A.J. Burnett, +4

For the fun of it, I get +23 for Felix Hernandez and +2 for Kevin Millwood. I took a quick glance at the bottom of the ERA leaderboard and couldn’t come up with anyone in the negatives (that made 20-something starts). Last year Sabathia was at +17, Burnett +16, and Pettitte +11.

My arbitrary definitition of a Weak Start could be tweaked (you could say the same for Quality Starts), but I guess this general approach works as a way to attack the volatility question. I’m not sure how useful a stat like this would be for analytical purposes, but it is a nice reference number and obviously you’d prefer a more consistent starter.

Tom asks: Congratulations! You have been given a job in the Mets organization (Maybe I should have said “My condolences”) your task is to clean house and fix the broken organization. What steps do you take to fix it? Who do you fire? Who do you hire to take their place?

Oof, I don’t even know where to start. Since you can’t fire the owner(s), I guess I would start by cleaning house with the field staff (Jerry Manuel, Howard Johnson, all of ‘em) and re-assigning Omar Minaya. He’s pretty bad as a GM, but he’s actually got one hell of a scouting background. He’s the guy that found Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, Juan Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, Ryan Church, and a bunch of others with the Expos and Rangers way back when. Just make sure he’s not in a position to trade them away. With something like four years left on his contract, some kind of advisory role works. He can be an asset when used in the right capacity. Bring in a new scouting department (both pro and amateur) and a new(er) school manager. Call me crazy, but I’d at least consider David Cone.

As for the player personnel, the first step is figuring out who is part of the team’s core going forward and who isn’t. David Wright absolutely is, he’s your franchise cornerstone. Johan Santana is. Ike Davis, Jon Niese, and Bobby Parnell probably are. Carlos Beltran and the one year left on his contract aren’t, ditto the dreck like Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez. A decision will have to be made about Jose Reyes, who has just one year (an option year at that) left on his deal. I’d probably take advantage of a barren shortstop market and trade him, but that’s easier said than done, especially with no obvious replacement available.

It all starts with strength up the middle, and frankly the Mets have very little of it. Josh Thole is a nice young catcher, but very few project him as an every day player. Is this Angel Pagan’s career year, or his true talent level as a centerfielder? Who plays second? What about short if Reyes is dealt? Lots of questions, almost no answers. Finding those answers will not be easy, but that’s where you have to focus your efforts. Acquire as many young up-the-middle players as humanly possible, then sort it all out later.

I’d also at least try to do something with CitiField. Bring the walls in, shorten them up, do something. Part of the problem are getting people in the seats, and a more offense friendly environment helps with that problem a little bit. I’m not saying you turn the place into Coors East, but league average is a nice start. At least make an effort.

Fixing the Mets will take some time and patience, but thankfully it doesn’t have to be a total rebuild given their above average financial flexibility. You could probably turn this team around the “right way” and compete by 2013, maaaybe even 2012. The Phillies aren’t getting any younger, ditto most of Atlanta’s key pieces. Ownership needs to be convinced to go big on the draft and international market, which is where it all starts. When you spend big bucks on free agents, spend it on complete players capable of impacting the game in multiple ways and power pitchers that miss bats. Quite simply, I’d just follow the Yankees blueprint.

Credit Posada’s double to the Mets’ coaches

Although the Yankees scored runs in only one inning yesterday, they did put a number of runners into scoring position. But, as we saw most of last week and into the weekend, they’re having trouble bringing those men around to score. From Wednesday through Saturday they were just 2 for 21 with runners in scoring position, and then on Sunday were just 2 for 9 (Swisher’s single and then Tex’s home run). One of those seven misses yesterday came when Jorge Posada doubled with two outs in the eighth.

Normally this would just be trivia, another tally in the column of futility. Yet this particular double caught my attention. When Posada struck the ball it looked like it might fall into the outfield, but it was no sure thing. It was low enough that David Wright could have nabbed it if properly positioned. If anything it seemed like Jason Bay could have gotten to it and limited Posada to one base. Yet none of that happened. The Mets, for some reason, shifted to the right with Posada batting lefty.

For most of the game Posada hit righty against the lefty Johan Santana. As you can see, when he batted with the bases empty against Santana the Mets played in their normal positions. This screen shot comes from Posada’s lead-off fly out in the sixth.

Everything seems in its right place. That should come as no surprise, as Jorge sprays his hits evenly as a righty. The first chart below is his 2009 spray chart as a right-handed hitter. The next is his 2010 chart, which does show a bit of a pull tendency. That, however, is probably due to a small sample size. I suspect that when we hit October Jorge’s righty spray chart will look similar to his 2009 one.

Jorge’s next at-bat came in the eighth, after Santana had left the game. Pitching in his place was the right-handed Fernando Nieve. On a 2-2 count Posada laced that pitch to left. As you can see in the screen shot below, David Wright was playing well off the third base line. You can also see Jason Bay rushing to his right, trying to track the ball down before Posada took second.

It’s tough to judge distances on this, but it appears that if Wright were in his normal position he might have made the play. Surely, if Bay had played Posada straight on he could have made the play. I’m not sure exactly where Bay was positioned, but the spot at which he appears in this screen cap looks like the right spot. I’m assuming he’s already taken a few steps to his right in pursuit of the ball.

Why would the Mets play a shift on Posada? I suppose they had Posada pegged as pull-happy when batting lefty. Looking at his 2010 spray chart below, there’s a definite concentration of grounders to second base. Yet there are also plenty of balls fielded down the left field line. Remember, these spray charts represent where a ball was fielded, not where it landed. There are enough dots, both green and red, to suggest that Posada can take the ball the other way and, therefore, teams shouldn’t play a shift.

While we have a larger sampling of Posada from the left side than from the right in 2010, we can still look back at his 2009 spray chart to get a better idea of what he does while batting lefty.

Yes, there is a concentration of red dots off the third base line. They also happen to be right where the shortstop would be playing normally. Again, I don’t see a reason to shift Wright over that way. There are enough dots directly behind where the third baseman to suggest that Posada can and will take the ball the other way as a lefty.

Teams play the shift against Mark Teixeira, and it actually makes sense. Here’s his spray chart from 2010:

Yes, there are a few dots to the left side. But they pale in comparison to the dots on the right side. Actually, maybe that’s part of the problem. As you can see on his 2009 spray chart, he might have a concentration of hits to right field, but he also has a nice spray of hits to center and left as well.

That concentration just doesn’t exist for Jorge like it does Teixeira. Why, then, would the Mets play a shift against him? I’m not saying that Wright would have made the play had he been in proper position. He would have had a chance, which is far more than he had when he was playing well off the third base line.