Mets act fast on ownership tweet, other ‘distractions’

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Fred Wilpon (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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When a sports radio host read a listener's tweet on air earlier this month urging the Mets' owners to sell to Mark Cuban, team management was all over it. 

Mets senior vice president for marketing and communications David Newman, who reports directly to Mets C.O.O. Jeff Wilpon, emailed WOR management about it to ask for a recording, according to a source who viewed the correspondence, and subsequently expressed concern about the fact that the tweet had been read at all. 

Newman refused to comment on why he'd sent the email, but his containing action dovetails with the larger mission for Mets brass these days: In the absence of money to spend on the actual team, work hard at P.R., controlling dissent where possible and otherwise shifting focus from the debt-ridden ownership to any other possible problem, large or small, legitimate or manufactured.

At this point, the list of scapegoats that's been peddled by the team's owners, usually anonymously, is hard to keep track of. It includes the manager, the general manager, a pay-now, win-later business model for ticket sales and payroll (so those no-show fans are to blame), various players' attitudes, and the stadium. 

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Take today's article in the relatively Wilpon-friendly sports section of the Daily News, about the front office seeking to crack down on "distractions" at Citi Field. This story will turn out, no doubt, to have about as much bearing on the team's prospects as previous reports that the Mets were ready to chase Shin-Soo Choo, and that the team would spend $125 million on payroll, if only "the right players" would present themselves. (Actual payroll, with actual players, is around $40 million less.)

It's the periodic culmination of the team's usual narrative cycle: The Mets' readiness to pursue players who will fix the team's problems morphs into explanations of why the Mets didn't pursue those players, followed by nonsequitur discussions of how some problem other than the fact that ownership can't afford enough good players is to blame. 

Of course, the idea that Citi Field's dimensions might be a problem, and that "the team's higher-ups" have worked to eliminate distractions described as "unique ... in a market this large," don't really make sense to begin with. 

The Mets are 9-14 at home this year, and their slugging percentage at home is .322, well below that of any other team.

But the Mets touted their solutions for this problem they haven't solved.

From the article:

For years, Mets players have been asked to multi-task while the team is at home, with some traveling around the city for charity/PR work during mornings, others being trotted out for evening meet-and-greet duty for ballpark VIPs. The team tries to accommodate pregame media requests from print, radio and television, and holds various events, including nights when fan bloggers receive credentials granting field and dugout access.

All of this is standard in MLB, not unique to the Mets. But it is unique to operate in a market this large, with so many more people, media and otherwise, vying for players’ time. So the team’s higher-ups have been quietly paring down the pregame distractions, even reducing access for their official broadcast partners within an hour of game time.

Team employees have also noticed significantly lighter crowds of people standing in the roped-off area behind home plate during batting practice. While the Mets would not confirm that they are in fact issuing fewer field credentials for VIPs, one rank-and-file-level staffer said, “It’s obvious that there are way less people back there this season.” That means fewer autographs, handshakes, and interactions that distract from baseball.

Unpacked, what this article tells us is that a team desperately struggling to draw people to games has concluded that reducing media coverage is a good idea. Also, fan interaction with the players pregame, the kind of moment that binds people to player and team, should be significantly reduced. And those bloggers, who generally consist of people willing to travel to the park on their own dime to write about the Mets on their own time? They're the problem, too.

The current Mets players are a likable bunch, and there's some real talent there. But let's not kid ourselves about what they're capable of as a team. Road players are posting a .719 OPS at Citi Field this year, better than the National League average road OPS of .681. The Mets are losing at home because they are not as good as their opponents at hitting the baseball. 

Previous Mets, on teams that were assembled before the current era of Wilpon austerity, thrived at home.

Jose Reyes put up OPS marks of .882, .790 and .937 at Citi Field in the three years before the Mets let their best homegrown shortstop ever leave for nothing, unable to afford him. In his only healthy season playing at Citi Field, Carlos Beltran managed a .994 OPS at home in 2011. 

Good hitters, it turns out, can hit in this ballpark. Which ought to bring us back to why the Mets don't have good hitters.

But actually examining that wouldn't suit the Mets, since it comes back to ownership slashing payroll, while providing general manager Sandy Alderson an ever-shifting budget that doesn't even allow Alderson to allocate it properly, but instead forces him to evaluate each signing or trade in a vacuum.

As for that low attendance problem: If only more people would come, the Mets say, they'd have the money to spend on players. Because, the Mets don't say, the television money other teams use to bolster their roster is in their case being diverted into annual interest payments on the debts held by Mets ownership.

The Yankees do just fine in this market, distractions and all. The road teams hit well in Citi Field. When the Mets employ quality hitters, they hit in Citi Field.

The farm system has developed good starting pitching. The team's own general manager has repeatedly said publicly, for years now, that the Mets' problem is position players. 

So why haven't the Mets gone out and signed some free agents who can hit? And how much better off might the Mets be with an owner who isn't primarily concerned with hanging on, however devastating it is for the team and its fans?

Don't ask. And if the Mets have any say over your professional circumstances, watch what you retweet, too.