Jay Bruce Traded…Is That All There Is?

I’m really not one to write about proposed baseball trades. I can identify a team’s needs but I don’t know every other teams’ 40 man rosters or minor league systems or what other team’s are offering like a front office’s scouting staff, so how can I really say a one deal is better than another deal…but Jay Bruce for Ryder Ryan, a 22-year old, 30th round 2016 draft pick, Class-A level minor league relief pitcher? I don’t know, there’s something about this deal that reminds me of the late singer Peggy Lee and her classic song, “Is That All There Is.”

Jay Bruce for Ryder Ryan…is that it? Why does this trade feel like more about saving money than getting the best players for Bruce?

By trading Bruce, the Mets saved about $4 million in salary. Supposedly the Yankees offered two prospects for Bruce but the Mets refused to pick up part of Bruce’s salary for the remainder of the season.

With these type of trades of veterans for minor leaguers, the team acquiring the high priced veteran may offer salary relief or better prospects but usually not both to the team trading the veteran. The Mets seem to have chosen the latter.

Ryan was a 30th round draft pick in 2016. If the Mets had offered Bruce a qualifying offer after the season and he chose free agency (as most expected), they’d have gotten draft compensation for Bruce which would’ve involved a signing bonus for a higher round draft pick in 2018 than what they’re paying Ryan.

Presumably Ryan will have a quicker route to the majors than a 2018 draft pick but as a Class-A level pitcher, I don’t think he’ll be helping the Mets bullpen at the major league level in 2018. He throws in the mid to high 90s for a reliever (which seems to be becoming a requirement for the job) but is considered somewhat of a project/high ceiling type of player because he was mostly a third baseman in college. He could very well be a late inning reliever for the Mets but not likely in 2018.

Having only recently converted to being a pitcher has appeal to the Mets because Ryan has less mileage on his arm than minor league pitchers who have weather beaten arms from years of travel teams and pitching showcases. I know from a brief conversation I had with Mets GM Sandy Alderson on the field before a game this season, the Mets consider how much a potential draftee has thrown as a amateur.

Alderson told the press that the Bruce trade was about “creating opportunities for other players;” in fact, first base prospect Dominic Smith is being called up from Triple-A Las Vegas for this weekend’s series in Philadelphia. He said it wasn’t about saving money but to his credit, he said cost was a factor as was the facts that Ryan didn’t need to be added to the major league roster and he had a high upside; he also acknowledged that a deal with the cross town rival Yankees would be complicated but not “prohibitive.”

Will this deal work for the Mets? Time will tell. They’ve stockpiled five hardthrowing minor leaguer relief pitchers in peddling Bruce, Lucas Duda, and Addison Reed in the last two weeks but who really knows how many will contribute at the major league level. Yes, I thought the Mets should’ve re-signed Bartolo Colon so maybe I’m good at spending the Wilpon family’s money but an extra prospect or a higher rated prospect for Bruce would’ve been good to have even if it cost a little more.

Bob Wolff

Being a columnist for the Rockland County Times since 2012 and covering the New York Mets  by literally being on the field  has been a privilege and a joy for me. Yet, my favorite moment as a columnist took place in a living room.

On the Sunday before Halloween last year and eight months before he passed away at the age of 96, I had the privilege of interviewing Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Wolff as part of the commemoration of his calling Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series 60 Octobers ago in 1956.

As a columnist covering the Mets, I’ve grown accustomed to approaching players during their pregame activities and trying to ask questions that’ll get them to open up about what it’s like to be a major league baseball player. I’m talking to people – the players – while they’re working and preparing for competition, so I’m mindful to be to the point and thorough when I ask for their time. Some interviews are better than others,

With Bob Wolff, I sat in his living room overlooking the Hudson River and the Tappan Zee Bridge (and its under construction replacement, the then not-yet-named Mario M. Cuomo Bridge) and we chatted for about three hours about his nearly 80 year career in broadcasting. He was very generous and gracious with his time and very grateful after the article appeared in print.

What struck me about Bob was how he was able to generate the same enthusiasm talking about the high school star of the week in 2016 that he did interviewing an all time great like Babe Ruth in 1947. As I write this now, I realize he accorded me the same enthusiasm as an interviewer that he would have accorded any of the big name people he knew (and in many cases, mentored).

Thank you, Bob Wolff. Rest in peace.

Harriet and the Disappearing Complete Game

2017 marks 11 years since the passing of Harriet, the 176-year old tortoise who belonged to Charles Darwin while he studied in the Galapagos Islands in the 1830’s. Therefore, what better time than commemorating Harriet than to discuss the evolution of the complete game.

When Harriet was a relative youngster in the 1880s, she’d have seen future Hall of Famer “Old Hoss” Radbourne toss 678 innings and complete 73 out of 73 starts for the Providence Grays in 1884.

During Harriets’s prime earning years over the course of the 1890s through 1927, she’d have seen baseball’s top two winning pitchers, Cy Young  (still the best pitcher to never win a Cy Young Award…wait a second…) and Walter Johnson pitch. On their way to winning 511 and 417 games, respectively, Young and Johnson completed 92% and 80% of the games they started.

As Harriet entered her middle years in the 1930s, she’d have enjoyed the exploits of star pitchers Lefty Grove of the American League and Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants in the senior circuit. Winners of 300 and 253 games, respectively, Grove and Hubbell managed to complete 65% and 60% of their games.

Just as the 1950s rolled around and as Harriet began to wince at all the kids listening to that infernal rock and roll music, crew-cut wearing and World War II hero Warren Spahn would’ve given her solace. Spahn not only completed 57% of his starts on his way to winning 363 games, a record for a lefthanded thrower, he also found time to save 28 career games. Rest must be overrated.

As Harriet began to enjoy retirement despite having to tuck her head into her shell more often to block out the noise of those jet planes, Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton were winning over 300 games from the 1960s into the 1980s and completed 36% of their games started.

As Seaver and Carlton left the scene in the mid to late 1980s, another group of pitchers who would win 300 plus games over the ensuing two decades took their place on the mounds of the major leagues. Harriet couldn’t hear so well but she enjoyed catching games on television. Roger Clemens and Mike Maddux won over 300 games and completed 17% and 15% of the more than 700 games each started.

As the 1990s turned into the 2000s and Harriet started watching games in a third century, she couldn’t help but notice that even premier pitchers weren’t completing as many games. For example, in winning 300 games over the course of 682 starts, Tom Glavine had fewer complete games (56) than Tom Seaver had shutouts (61) while Andy Pettite completed only 26 games (5%) over a two decade career that ended in 2013. In contrast, fellow lefthander Steve Carlton completed 30 games in 1972 alone when he won 27 games.

When Harriet passed away in 2006, there were a combined 144 complete games in the major leagues versus 1,089 in 1974. Ten years after Harriet passed away, that figure of 144 had fallen to 83.

What happened? The game certainly has changed over the course of 130 years. Old Hoss pitched from a mound that was only 55 feet from home plate; nearly all of Young and Johnson’s combined 928 wins occurred during the dead ball era while Hubbell and Grove pitched all of their games east of St. Louis and and nearly all of them in the daytime.

One thing is certain, the numbers have been trending down. We lionize Seaver and Carlton for completing 36% of their starts but I wonder if Lefty Grove and Carl Hubbell shook their heads about “pitchers these days” when they were in their 70s in the 1970s.

Time marches on and things change so in this era of specialization, I guess the dominance of relief pitching, the emergence of 7th inning and 8th inning pitchers, and the disappearing complete change are just part of the evolution of baseball. I suppose we should embrace change but as pitchers continue to get hurt even with their pitch and innings limits, I wonder if we’re starting to see a de-volution of baseball. I wonder what Harriet would think.