Posts Tagged ‘New York Mets’

How Steven Cohen can make the Mets winners

November 9, 2020

Dear Cousin Steven,

Mazel tov on your purchase of the New York Mets. For Met fans, it’s only fair that a hedge fund billionaire has rescued our team from Fred Wilpon, the schlepper whose investments with Bernie Madoff forced a decade of austerity. We believe you want what we all want: a consistent winner worthy of Met fans, with an ethos worthy of New York.

Maybe Aunt Sylvia never told you about me. Like you, I grew up rooting for the Mets, and we were both 13 when they won their first championship in 1969. (Sorry you weren’t invited to my bar mitzvah.) Unlike you, I didn’t make billions managing money. Instead, after attending the same high school as Omar Minaya, I began covering baseball in the 1980s. Over the decades, I’ve worked with and picked the brains of some of the game’s top players, managers, executives and statistical analysts.

Since you’re a multi-billionaire, everybody expects you to spend big on free agents to improve the team. History shows, trying to buy a championship is rarely a winning strategy.

Players become free agents after completing at least six years in the major leagues. At that stage of their careers, usually pushing 30, most free agents are unlikely to match or exceed their pre-free agency peak productivity. We’ve seen notable exceptions in New York, including Dave Winfield, Carlos Beltran and (with help from performance enhancing drugs) Alex Rodriquez, the latter two reaching free agency before age 28.

With any first time free agent, you’re paying for their top performance, and you’re unlikely to see it repeated. You’re more likely to receive diminishing returns, particularly over the course of a long term contract.

Albert Pujols was the best hitter in baseball when signed his 10 year free agent contract with the Angels, a deal that he began at age 32 in 2012. Pujols has steadily ascended the all-time leader lists, passing Willie Mays in home runs and A-Rod in RBIs in 2020. But Pujols has been a below average hitter for the past four seasons at cost of $110 million – his paycheck and pedigree blocking the Angels from replacing him with someone better – and has one more year left at $30 million. The Angels have reached the postseason just once during Pujols’ tenure.

The other history making hitter of that generation, Miguel Cabrera, signed an eight year, $240 million contract after his age 32 season in 2015 and has logged only one outstanding season since. The Detroit Tigers still owe Cabrera $94 million for the next three seasons.

This off-season’s premier free agent, catcher JT Realmuto, will almost certainly get a long term contract. But he turns 30 in March and plays the most demanding position in baseball. Mets Hall of Famer catchers Gary Carter and Mike Piazza had their last outstanding seasons at age 32 and 33 respectively. Any commitment to Realmuto beyond three seasons carries high risk, including potentially blocking a more able replacement, such as Mets prospect Francisco Alvarez, who turns 19 on November 19.

Realmuto happens to be the best catcher in baseball right now, and catcher is a key need for the Mets. But too often free agents don’t fit your team’s top need or aren’t good enough to make a difference.

Many of baseball’s best players don’t become free agents in their primes because teams give them long term contracts. Last year, the Mets signed Jacob deGrom to a contract that extends through his presumed prime years before he could become a free agent. The Angels did the same with centerfielder Mike Trout, the Rockies did it with third baseman Nolan Arenado, the Dodgers did it with rightfielder Mookie Betts after the Red Sox failed to sign Betts and traded him to Los Angeles.

Too often, teams get seduced by availability and overpay for a good, but not great, free agent that won’t make a significant difference. Houston Astros centerfielder George Springer, a free agent this winter, is a good hitter – very good in the postseason – and middling fielder at a key defensive position, and he turned 31 in September. As a free agent, Springer will get a top tier contract for mid-range skills likely to deteriorate over the term of his deal.

The lure of availability also can induce teams to cast free agents in unsuitable roles. The Boston Red Sox pursued star infielder Hanley Ramirez to play a different position, leftfield, particularly challenging in quirky Fenway Park with its 37 foot high wall. The Red Sox committed $88 million over four years to an experiment that, in year one, yielded Ramirez’s career worst offensive season along with predictably shaky defense. Ramirez didn’t play outfield during the rest of his Boston tenure and was released in June of his fourth contract year.

Free agency works best when you identify special situations where the market improperly evaluates a player. As a 29 year old free agent after the 2018 season with an all-star resume as a Colorado Rockie, second baseman DJ LeMahieu faced doubts about replicating his sky high performance beyond the thin air of Denver. Signed at a relative discount, LeMahieu defied skeptics with two career best batting seasons for the Yankees. Note, it wasn’t the discount that made the signing a success, it was LeMahieu’s outstanding performance. To paraphrase renowned baseball fan Warren Buffett, a great player at a good price is better than a good player at a great price.

With Covid-19 reducing 2020 revenue by forcing a truncated schedule without spectators and no certainty about fans returning to stadiums in 2021, this off-season promises many special situations. Teams are not offering contracts to many players with two-plus years of major league service, releasing them to avoid the arbitration process that usually raises salaries regardless of performance. Many teams are reducing budgets, jettisoning potentially costly players and shunning premium free agents.

More available players and limited competition mean unprecedented temptation to flex your checkbook muscle. But under any free agent market conditions, the same guidelines apply: avoid buying unproductive years; focus on need, not availability; and seek special situations.

Consider a team we both know well, the 1986 Mets. The most important free agent contributor to that team was… Rafael Santana, a footnote to its success. Dwight Gooden, Daryl Strawberry, Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra and Wally Backman were homegrown. Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Bob Ojeda, Jesse Orosco, Ray Knight, Tim Teufel and Howard Johnson were obtained in trades.

With trades, you’re not restricted to the sliver of often flawed talent available in free agency. Rather than trying to determine the best free agent third baseman, your baseball operations executives should determine the best third baseman, period, and work to acquire him.

As with free agency, trades require rigorous data analysis to identify needs, finding the right fits and recognizing special situations, such as distressed assets. Aunt Sylvia says you already know something about data analysis and trading.

Kol hakovod, and Let’s Go Mets!

Cousin Muhammad

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming, a contributor to Forbes, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

‘Going, going, gone, goodbye’ to Ralph Kiner

February 7, 2014

A Hall of Fame slugger who dated Hollywood stars and made it big in New York, Ralph Kiner, who died Thursday at age 91, lived a life that others dream about. Yet unlike so many other big name athletes, Kiner knew the world wasn’t all about him. Like his baseball royalty contemporary Yogi Berra, Kiner had an innate sense of humility that comes not just from excelling at game where failing seven out of ten times makes you a star but from being comfortable enough with who you are that you don’t need to prove anything.

One of the most revealing things about Kiner, which I didn’t see in any of the tributes to him, was the story he told about an autograph seeker who asked him, “Didn’t you used to be Ralph Kiner?”

Kiner led the National League in home runs for his first seven seasons with the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates. After one season, Pirates general manager Branch Rickey presented Kiner with a contract calling for a pay cut. According to Kiner, Rickey told him, “Son, we can finish last without you.” Kiner became an ardent campaigner for improved pensions for players,

I grew up with Kiner in his role as one of the New York Mets original broadcasters, along with Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy. Referring to a Philadelphia Phillies outfielder, Kiner made another lasting addition to the baseball lexicon: “Two-thirds of the earth is covered by water. The other third is covered by Garry Maddox.”

There wasn’t any aspect of baseball and good living that Ralph Kiner didn’t cover, and the game was greatly enriched by his association with it. Now, stay tuned for Kiner’s Korner.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Business wisdom from Dr Willie Mays

October 27, 2009

I started out at the bottom of the baseball world – I was a fan. I became a baseball writer, covered several World Series and wrote a couple of books as well as countless articles on America’s national pastime before I moved on to television and business reporting. At one stage I was a columnist for the award-winning shareholder rights website Occasionally I found lessons for investors from baseball history and legend. Here’s a column I wrote in December 2000 that I’d like to share on the eve of what promises to be an exciting 2009 World Series. (A note on the headline: a couple of years ago, for no apparent reason, my alma mater Yale awarded an honorary doctorate to Willie Mays, baseball’s greatest living player.)

Tommie Agee, centerfielder and leadoff hitter for the 1969 world champion New York Mets, died of a heart attack Monday at age 58, too young. I last saw Agee about 15 years ago, in the offices of New York’s Queens Borough President, where he was trying to find funding for a program for the underprivileged. A native of Mobile, Alabama, Agee embraced the city that embraced him, and as an alumnus of baseball before free agency, he needed to earn a living after his playing days and opted for a town where he remained a famous name.

Agee was the offensive leader on a team that won an unlikely championship with pitching and defense. After Agee sparked a victory over the Chicago Cubs, the team that looked to be running away with the National League’s Eastern Division in the summer of 1969, Chicago’s pitcher threw at Agee’s head in his first at bat the next day. Agee dove headlong into the dirt to avoid the bean ball, dusted himself off, and tripled, a symbolic moment that showed the Mets would not go away.

In Game Three of the 1969 World Series, Agee had what might have been the greatest day in Series history. (And as a 13 year old cutting school for a seat in the upper deck at the first fall classic game ever at Shea Stadium, it was certainly my greatest day in World Series history.) Agee homered leading off against the Baltimore Orioles’ Hall of Fame pitcher and underwear model Jim Palmer, then singlehandedly made that run stand up. In the fourth inning, Agee sprinted, back to home plate, to catch a slicing drive high above his head, backhanded, that saved two runs. In the seventh inning, his diving catch on the warning track with the bases loaded saved at least three runs. The Mets won 5-0, for a 2-1 Series lead, and put the Orioles away within 48 hours to win a most improbable championship.

But this Commentary is not about Tommie Agee or the indomitability of the human spirit that made the 1969 Mets the flesh and blood version of the little engine that could. Agee’s grabs drew immediately comparisons with the greatest in World Series history: Sandy Amoros’ mad dash in 1955 through a vacant leftfield in Yankee Stadium to pull in Yogi Berra’s bid for an opposite field home run; Brooklyn’s Al “Gionfrioddo goes back, back, back and makes a one-handed catch against the bullpen; oooh, doctor,” as Red Barber called it, to pluck Joe DiMaggio’s drive in 1947 (in a rare display of emotion on the field, DiMaggio kicked the dirt as he rounded second base, his sure home run transformed into out number three); and what is generally regarded as the greatest robbery ever, Willie Mays—whose 1972 acquisition by the Mets ran Agee out of town temporarily—on Vic Wertz in the 1954 classic.

Tie game, eighth inning, two men on. Indians slugger Wertz already has three hits off Giants’ starter Sal Maglie, so New York manager Leo Durocher calls for a relief pitcher, lefthander Don Liddle. Wertz says he never hit a ball harder, into the vast expanse of the Polo Grounds’ centerfield, where the fence was nearly 500 feet from home plate and the steps up to the clubhouse were in play. Mays chased down the drive like a wide receiver, made the catch with his back to the infield about 460 feet from the launch point, then threw a strike that kept the runner on second from scoring. Many witnesses (including Mickey Mantle worshipper Bob Costas) place Mays’ play in the realm of the impossible; there is no way a ball hit that hard and far could be caught.

The lesson for investors doesn’t come from Mays or Wertz, but from the pitcher, Liddle. After the catch, the Giants manager Leo Durocher went to the mound to remove Liddle, since he’d given up a blast that would have been a home run in any other park, including Yellowstone. As was the custom in those days, Liddle waited on the mound until his replacement came in from the bullpen. When the new pitcher reached the mound, Liddle offered these words of encouragement: “I got my guy.”

Sometimes the bottom line doesn’t quite get to the bottom of things.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

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