Friday, August 05, 2005

New Notebook: Manny/Mets Mashup

I've got a new Notebook piece up at Baseball Prospectus, this time about the cross-town rivals. Here's a taste:

As the Mets proceed, Manny-less, down the stretch, the team is a grab-bag of good news and bad news. Pedro Martinez is leading the NL in strikeouts, and on a pace to eclipse the 220 inning mark for the first time since 1998. On the other hand, Beltran isn’t even living up to his tenth percentile PECOTA projection, with an EqA of .260. Jose Reyes leads the majors in outs made, but at least that means he has stayed healthy enough to lead the league in a counting stat. When the surprises are so evenly mixed with the disappointments, it’s the earmark of a .500 team.

The main focus of the piece is the "Manny Ramirez to the Mets" non-trade. It's a matter about which I'm of two minds: on the one hand, Manny's about my age, which means--in most cases-- that he's likely on the decline. Given Ramirez's skills--he's a slow, big masher--his decline could be quick and ugly, when it comes. Add to that the Mets surrendering the top guys in their farm system, after throwing away Scott Kazmir last July, and it's hard to stomach the whole idea, unless the team has a very clear shot at first place.

But on the other hand, it's Manny Ramirez. He's simply one of the deadliest righthanded hitters in baseball. When ALCS games 4 and 5 went to extra innings last Fall, every time the Yankees didn't score, it would send me into a state of horror "No matter what the Yanks do when (if!) they come up to bat next, Ramirez and Ortiz will come to bat again before this game is over. Kill me now." They were just a problem for which you had no solution in the middle of that Red Sox lineup. One of the things that Omar Minaya has done right as Mets GM is that he has the team shopping off the top shelf: they acquired a real ace (Pedro Martinez) rather than a wannabe (Carl Pavano). When they go looking for in-season help, they're looking at Manny Ramirez, not Eric Byrnes.

This is why I laugh whenever someone complains about Ramirez's flakeouts and episodes. When you go to get a guy like Ramirez, you know that you're getting a nutjob, but a nutjob who 1) doesn't seem to be malicious, and 2) can hit like no one's business. Every team has its nutjobs from time to time, and most often you've got to live with them.

As long as your nutjob isn't getting your teenaged ace pitcher hooked on crack, or leading an open mutiny against the manager, I don't buy that you have to get rid of the guy. True, Manny misses the odd game, apparently because he doesn't feel like playing, and he sometimes will dog a few plays during the season. That has a tangible detrimental effect on your ballclub. But at this stage of his career, he's a diagnosed nutjob. Any team that has Manny knows that these things are going to happen. It's no different than acquiring a player that you know has a chronic injury--you know he's going to need the occasional day off, maybe a defensive specialist to spot him in the field. Barry Bonds' knee, Manny Ramirez's brain, same difference.

When I think of Ramirez, I shamefully tend to think of DB Sweeney's performance as Joe Jackson in Eight Men Out. Like Manny, reports differ as to Shoeless Joe's mental acuity, but the Sweeney's portrayal made Jackson out to be a borderline retarded manchild. At one point in Eight Men Out, it's the eve of the World Series, and the White Sox have already agreed with the gamblers to fix the series. Jackson, feeling guilty about the fix, talks to his manager to try to beg out of the lineup.

"Ah dohn wan' play," Sweeney's Jackson tells Kid Gleason in a small, childlike voice.

Whenever Manny pulls one of these stunts, or demands a trade, I think the proper reply is that given by Gleason, as thunderously delivered by John Mahoney: "Oh, you'll play Jackson! YOU'LL PLAY!"

It worked in the deadball era, why doesn't it work now? :)

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