A blog dedicated to the New York Mets with some other baseball thrown in.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Rebuilding 101

The rebuilding word can be a dirty little word for fans loyal to their sports team. Eventually, every team will have to have a bit of house cleaning and change direction. Rebuilding does not have to be a bad thing or a drawn out process. There are a few key components to rebuilding. One is that a team needed to have good drafts for a number of years leading up to the rebuilding point. Without a strong farm system, your rebuilding process can last for decade (see Pittsburgh Pirates). Secondly, you need to have a GM that has a vision is that will actually stick to his plan (i.e. not trading Scott Kazmir after you preach about building from within and getting younger). Third, you need to get some value back in trades from the inevitable fire sales. Fourth, you need to make some tough decisions and wave bye bye to some veteran players who came up through your system or gave you years of service when they just do not fit into your rebuilding plans.

I look at the Indians and I see and organization that took a big chance and moved to rebuild. Indians GM Mark Shapiro orchestrated one of the best and quickest rebuilding jobs I have ever seen. Over the years they made unpopular moves like letting Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Ellis Burks, and Kenny Lofton walk and shipped off players like Roberto Alomar after an MVP type season, Bartolo Colon while he was putting some of the best numbers he ever had with a 10-4 record and a 2.55 ERA, and sending David Justice away to help the Yankees win a World Series against our beloved Mets.

The Indians had finished a stretch in which they placed 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 2nd, and 1st. That does not sound like a team that would be looking to rebuild, but the players they had added up to a payroll they would not be able to manage effectively as a winner for the next eight years. It was a tremendous run, but one that inevitably had to end sometime. The Indians were at a crossroads in 2001 and 2002 of sort and knew they could not afford to keep Thome, Colon, Alomar, etc. and have money for all of their other needs. They are a mid market team that could afford about an $80,000,000 payroll but to allocate almost half to three players was nonsensical. In December of 2001 they started the process by trading off Alomar to the Mets in a deal that got them Alex Escobar, Jerrod Riggan, Matt Lawton, Earl Snyder, and Billy Traber for Roberto Alomar, Mike Bacsik, and Danny Peoples. Matt Lawton is the only producing major league talent at this point out of that entire group and is batting .283 with 20 homers this season with a .366 OBP. Then during the 2002 season, they traded Bartolo Colon and the infamous PTBNL (who later turned out to be JD's brother Tim Drew) to the Expos for Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Lee Stevens. That already is a fleecing, but will turn into a larger fleecing when Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore become all-star caliber talents year in and year out. That trade gave them back what looks to be three above average and possibly all-star caliber starters. After the 2002 season concluded, the Indians had to decide whether or not they wanted to bring back Thome for about $15,000,000 per year or to go with a Ben Broussard at first. They ended up going with a Broussard/Hafner platoon and were officially on their way to rebuilding.

The Indians had stocked their minor league system and had plenty of young up and coming players already in the organization. In addition to receiving Grady Sizemore for centerfield, Brandon Phillips for their infield, and Cliff Lee for their rotation, they drafted the likes of Jeremy Guthrie (right handed power pitcher) and JJ Cooper (outfielder) from Stanford with Johnny Peralta (infielder with .327 with 15 homers in AAA in 2004) and in 2003 drafted and signed Michael Aubrey, who people liken to Todd Helton, and yet another Stanford player in Ryan Garko. The Indians also spun Milton Bradley into a solid OF prospect Franklin Gutierrez. In 2004 they drafted and signed a polished left hander in Jeremy Sowers.

They have all those young players to infuse with young and promising players like CC Sabathia (24), Kazuhito Tadano (24), Jake Westbrook (26), Victor Martinez (25), Ronnie Belliard (29), Jody Gerut (26), Travis Hafner (27), Coco Crisp (24) and Josh Phelps (26).

The Indians last finished in first in 2001. They were in rebuilding mode for 2002, 2003, and kind of 2004 even though they showed some flashes of being competitive. They currently have the second most potent offense in the majors with an up and coming pitching staff that may include three talented lefty starting pitchers soon enough. Their ace is only 24 and is a lefty, their second best pitcher is Jake Westbrook at 26, their third best pitcher is 26 and a lefty in Cliff Lee. They also have another lefty on the horizon in Jeremy Sowers who was regarded as an extremely polished pitcher coming out of Vanderbilt with not much time needed in the minors. In addition to Jeremy Sowers, they have Fausto Carmona, Jake Dittler, Fernando Cabrera, Adam Miller, and Nick Pesco who are all young and solid pitching prospects.

Then you look at who the Indians have for the outfield. They have Matt Lawton, who is their resident veteran presence and has a contract that runs through 2005, with Cocco Crisp, who is quietly having a solid year, Jody Gerut, and Grady Sizemore stepping in for 2005 with Franklin Gutierrez and JJ Cooper on the horizon. Not only do they have talent in the major leagues, but they have youngsters ready to supplant Matt Lawton when/if he leaves in the next few seasons. They have depth at the minor and major league level.

The infield only gets better. You have masher Travis Hafner at the DH spot but can sub in at 1B and you have Ben Broussard and Josh Phelps doing an adequate job at first until Michael Aubrey or Ryan Garko are ready for the show. At second base and shortstop they have Omar Vizquel who is in the last year of his contract and Ronnie Belliard who is in the last year of his contract as well. You can bet that Peralta and Phillips will be at SS and 2B respectively in 2005. Victor Martinez is a 25 year old stud catcher who will be a mainstay at that position for them for a while. That leaves third base. Casey Blake, who is also having a solid season, has his contract expiring at the end of the season and the Indians plan to supplant Aaron Boone into that position.

That leads us to the final product, the fruits of Shapiro's hard work, your 2006 Cleveland Indians (I skipped to 2005 because some contracts run through 2005 and some of the prospects they have now will almost certainly not be ready in 2005):

All ages are at the being of the 2006 season.

1B - Michael Aubrey (24) / Josh Phelps (28)
2B - Brandon Phillips (24)
SS - Johnny Peralta (23)
3B - Aaron Boone (33)
C - Victor Martinez (27)
RF - Jody Gerut (28) / Franklin Guitirez (23)
CF - Grady Sizemore (23)
LF - JJ Cooper (25) / CoCo Crisp (26)

SP CC Sabathia (25)
SP Jake Westbrook (28)
SP Cliff Lee (27)
SP Jeremy Sowers (23)
SP Adam Miller (21) / Nick Pesco (22) / Jake Dittler (23)

As for the bullpen they have Jeremy Guthrie, who used to be a starter coming into this year and could return to the rotation, that could possibly be anchoring that bullpen with is mid 90's fastball alongside Kazuhito Tadano and Francisco Cabrera. The entire point is that in 2006, they will have only ONE or possibly two major players out of their entire starting lineup that will be over 31. There are a lot of question marks when it comes to prospects and not all pan out, but I've put people in bold who have proved they can play in the majors and it really does not leave that many question marks. They also have enough organizational depth that most of the players could fail and they would still be in very good shape. Shapiro did an amazing job building this team for the immediate future and the long term. Duquette and other GMs should take note.

What does this have to do with the Mets? Well I'm going to outline how I think the Mets can get back into to thick of things with a few moves and the Mets do not have to rebuild as much as retool. That will be coming right after the season.

* * *

  • Ryan Vogelsong had not held any opponent scoreless in any of his previous 24 starts. So what happens yesterday? The Mets are the team he holds scoreless for the first time in his short career. Vogelsong was sent over from San Francisco in a deal that sent Jason Schmidt and John VanderWal to the Giants for Vogelsong and Armando Rios back in 2001. The game only featured five total hits and the Mets had three of them. Aaron Heilman pitched his best major league game of his career and went seven innings and allowing only two hits, one homerun, three base on balls and five strikeouts. That is his second solid start in a row, lets see if he can boost his trade value and put two more solid starts together.

    The second game of the double header featured Kris Benson getting tuned up by his old team. He went six innings while giving up six runs and the Mets lost 6-1. He did manage to strike out seven Pirate batters in the game. It's almost as if you can feel his 2005 salary go up and down with each start. Fact is, Benson still has major questions marks surrounding him since he has yet to put up a consistent solid major league season. David Wright picked up two hits as did Jeff Keppinger and Todd Zeile finally picked up his 2000th hit. Only 85 major leaguers have 2000 hits, so this is a pretty good accomplishment for Todd to achieve in his last year. Victor Diaz in his second major league start went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.

    In an effort to make light of the situation and search for a bright spot on an otherwise dismal day, Tom Glavine offered this:

    "Aaron threw well and Todd got his 2,000th hit," Glavine said, searching for a third entry. "And ... and ... the water's go- ing down."

    Heath Bell continues to make a case for a bullpen spot in 2005.

  • Notes from the Post:

    Duquette says a Bobby V. signing is unlikely, but I think we already knew that.

    "I'm not ruling out anybody or anything, but it's probably not likely," Duquette admitted.

    Duquette still remains hopeful of a Kris Benson signing.

    "We've got a long time," Duquette said, noting that Benson can't negotiate with anybody else until 15 days after the World Series ends. "We're not pushing it to have it done by the end of the season. If we can get it done [by then], that'd be great."

    Duquette also said he's "hopeful" that Al Leiter will return next year which means getting younger in the rotation is not likely to happen. Something has to give. Leiter, Trachsel and Glavine cannot return.

    Howe expressed hope that both Jose Reyes and Kaz Matsui can return on the Mets' home stand next weekend.

    Jeff Keppinger is happy to be a Met.

    "I didn't know what I had to do in that organization," he said. "Three months into the season, I was hitting .400 and I couldn't even get a promotion to Triple-A. I'm definitely happy to be over here."

  • As Newsday painfully points out, 29 percent of Wigginton's 21 RBIs with the Pirates came in seven at-bats against his former team. Take that.

  • Howe plans to use Craig Brazell at first base in Montreal. After Todd's 2000th hit, I think everyone figured he would get some more playing time.

  • Jose Reyes is set to play winter ball with Bartolome Fortunado, Wilson Delgado, and Mike DeJean.

  • Looks like Victor is going to see more playing time. Manager Art Howe said Cliff Floyd, who left Saturday's game with a strained muscle under his right arm, would be re-evaluated Tuesday in Montreal, but "it's going to be awhile."

  • Jason Bay's homer, his 24th, surpassed a Pirates rookie record held since 1946 by Ralph Kiner.

  • Damn Yankees took two of three effectively taking any hope Boston had of taking first place and flushing it down the toilet.

  • Scott Kazmir got tattooed by the Blue Jays on Sunday. He gave up seven runs in two innings. He is still keeping his K/9 up over ten though. His K/9 is 10.88.

  • The Mets get a day off on Monday before resuming play in Montreal. The match ups against the Expos will shake out like this:

    Tuesday - Al Leiter vs. Livan Hernandez
    Wednesday - Steve Trachsel vs. John Patterson
    Thursday - Tom Glavine vs. Sun-Woo Kim

  • The Giants are in the process of locking up Barry Bonds at least through 2006.

  • Jeromy Burnitz is considering retiring after this season.

    "That would be the reason, to concentrate on being a father and husband," said Burnitz, who has been playing professional baseball since 1990. "It's just another thing to consider."

    After the two year 20 million dollar contract he signed back in March 2001, he would certainly look like he has the money to pack it in. Burnitz expressed some interest in going home to California to play ball, so if someone does not show interest in return, it could be quits for Burnitz. Burnitz has been in the majors for twelve seasons and came up through the Mets organization. He has had stints with Cleveland, Milwaukee, LA, Colorado and the Mets twice. He is a career .254 hitter and has 274 career homeruns. His career high in homers was 38 back in 1998 with the Brewers and he looks poised to break his own personal best this season thanks to the thin air in Denver.

  • Everyone is trying to get a piece of Johan Santana these days. After notching his 19th win this season, it is not hard figure out why everyone is trying to take credit for him.

  • I was thinking to myself that even if Piazza puts up his worst numbers of his career over a full season next year and has .265 batting average, with 22 homeruns, and 70 RBIs, he'll basically be Jorge Posada.