A wiser fellow than I once told me, "A fish stinks from the head."
Those words always come back to me when a baseball franchise just seems lost, for year after year after year. Maybe it's not the manager, or even the general manager; maybe it's the general manager's boss. Which usually means the owner. Sure, it's fun to enumerate the many mistakes of Ned Yost and Dayton Moore ... but what about the managers and the general manager before them? Hasn't the common thread for many years actually been David Glass, who's controlled the franchise since 1993? When the history of the Kansas City Royals is someday written, doesn't most of the blame for this interminable postseason drought -- the longest in major professional sports, I believe -- go to the man who's made all the big decisions for 20 years? Was placing all three of his children on the Royals' board of directors really the best possible thing for the franchise?
I'm sorry. This wasn't supposed to be about the Royals. It's just that they're such a good example of so many things. Terrible things, yes. But still quite instructive, in their own special way. I got to thinking about owners and stinky fish the other day when I saw this interview with Mets owner Fred Wilpon. Like Glass, Wilpon handed a fair amount of power to his son. I don't know if that's a good thing or not, in the Mets' case. Generally speaking, I suspect that nepotism isn't the best way to run a business. I'm sure it can work sometimes.
Wilpon certainly can't match Glass's brilliant record, either of failure on the field or nepotism. But the Mets are heading for their fifth straight fourth-place finish, and they've reached the postseason once in the last dozen seasons. That's not real hot for a team with the Mets' natural advantages (or unnatural, depending on your opinion of Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption). And because it's the Mets and they're not going to win again this season, the longtime owner's words seem to come with a certain ... hollowness:
"I get it, I suffer with it. I think that we have to see that plan become successful because in today's world, it's not how much money you spend -- although we have invested a lot of money. Some of it has been wasted because right now we have a [$102.2 million] payroll and 50 percent of the payroll is not playing."
Wilpon, 76, was largely referring to the injuries of former ace Johan Santana, who is owed $31 million, closer Frank Francisco ($6.5 million) and reliever Scott Atchison ($700,000). Atchison is close to returning. The Mets paid a lump sum and deferred some of the $21 million due outfielder Jason Bay when he agreed to have his contract terminated last November.
"That's a shame," Wilpon said. "It might be very different if they were [available]. But that's part of life, you have to go on and see how you can address that, and I think as an organization, we're addressing those needs.
Well, Wilpon's missing half the equation here. If Johan Santana and Frank Francisco and Scott Atchison and (heaven forbid!) Jason Bay were actually available, the Mets might be in third place rather than fourth. At 30-42, it's hard to argue that they'd have a winning record if those guys were gracing the 25-man roster.
The real roster/payroll story is actually much simpler: The Mets don't have Santana starting every fifth game or the money they're paying Santana, which could otherwise be used to pay other, actual players (assuming Wilpon didn't just use the savings to pay his many creditors).
With or without Santana or his $31 million, the Mets are a mess.
Even including Zack Wheeler, the Mets' farm system was ranked as the 26th best in the majors last winter by Baseball America. Their first-round pick in last June's draft hasn't done anything in the minors yet, and their first-round pick in the previous draft is still two or three years away from the majors. There's just not a lot happening here. Wilpon can't afford to spend like a New York team should spend, and the farm system's not stocked with hot prospects.
Wilpon finishes with this:
"This franchise is a very big part of our family," Wilpon said. "We are as passionate as any fan out there to want to do well. We can't always pick the players, obviously. Sometimes we've done very well, people who have represented us have done very well. Sometimes they haven't.
"I've been around a very long time. I do get it. I try these days to have two faces of the organization and they're not mine or [son] Jeff's. They're really good representatives -- Sandy and Terry [Collins] are really good people."
Getting it is a good thing. Picking a lot more good players is a far better thing. For some years now, too many Mets players have ... well, they've sorta stunk. Statistically speaking. But I blame the big fish more than the little ones.
Addendum: I'm afraid I've given short shrift to the Mets' farm system, as that No. 26 ranking, which I pulled from the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, seems to have been assigned before the Mets traded R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays. In return, the Mets received the Jays' top prospect, catcher Travis d'Arnaud. He's played only a dozen games this season because of a serious foot injury, but is expected back in action at some point this summer. In the same deal, the Mets added pitcher Noah Syndergaard, and he's a fine prospect, too. This spring, Baseball America released a new set of rankings, and the Mets leapfrogged from 26th to 16th. Progress!