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Posted: Friday January 15, 2010 2:31PM; Updated: Friday January 15, 2010 2:32PM
Tim Marchman
Tim Marchman>INSIDE BASEBALL

Hot Stove Report (cont.)

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Another New York mess

Carlos Beltran
Carlos Beltran missed more than two months last season with a knee injury.
Brad Mangin/Sports Illustrated

The Mets are fantastically embarrassing. On Thursday the team convened a conference call with assistant general manager John Ricco to proclaim that their ace center fielder, Carlos Beltran, had undergone knee surgery without their permission, and that they were going to... not do anything about it. Within hours, the player was flatly stating that he had talked to general manager Omar Minaya about the procedure and had been wished well. Beltran's agent, Scott Boras, went one better and suggested not only that he received consent from both Minaya and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon before the operation, but that Beltran's surgeon had been in touch with the Mets' physician and head trainer. According to Boras, he only heard objections from Mets brass the next day, while the surgery was ongoing.

Fans who think Boras is the devil would, believe me, think differently after spending an hour talking baseball with him. (The next best thing would be to read this terrific profile of the man.) So far as I've ever been able to figure, the whole secret to his success is his integrity; the man just doesn't outright lie, which oddly makes it easier to play on greed and desire. He'll arrange facts in ways that lead people to the conclusions he wants to draw, and let people infer what they want from things he isn't actually saying, but this is what lawyers do. On issues of fact there might not be anyone more trustworthy in the sport. If he says he got consent, he did.

Either the Mets didn't realize that they'd given it, or they did realize that they'd done so and then basically changed their minds. It's hard to tell which of the two possibilities would reflect more badly on them, but I'd go with the second. Either way, they've provoked a war with their best player, essentially challenging his honor, on the basis of what was at best a mistake. They've also made themselves look utterly impotent, exposed that the team functionally doesn't have a general manager, and drawn attention to an incredibly sketchy history of treating injuries. The best of it is that given the Willie Randolph firing, a shirtless V.P. challenging minor leaguers to a battle royal, the Adam Rubin Incident, the Ryan Church Incident, Oliver Perez generally, etc., this may not be one of the top five Mets fiascoes of the past 18 months.

On the field, what matters is that Beltran is going to miss at least a month and maybe a lot more, and that there's no assurance that he's going to return from surgery the same player he was, especially defensively. Of course, knowing that their best player is a center fielder who's about to turn 33 and has a long history of leg and knee injuries, the Mets signed a statuesque left fielder to an expensive contract, meaning not only that Beltran is locked into center but that he'll have extra responsibilities there. The season may not be dead, but they're smiling in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Miami.

I recommend the White Sox to grieving Mets fans. They have the same sort of inferiority complex that the Mets do, but are run by much more competent and entertaining people. The Nationals are also a good alternative, since New Yorkers can get down to Washington to catch games without much trouble.

Random stat of the day

Since statistics are so important in baseball, it's always good to be reminded that they shouldn't be taken too seriously.

A correlation coefficient measures how closely related two numbers are, with +1 meaning a perfect linear relationship and -1 meaning the inverse. The following just shows how closely several factors correlated with team wins in 2009. This isn't especially meaningful... it's just interesting (particularly the difference between fielding percentage and UZR).

On-base average: 0.48
Opening Day payroll: 0.47
Fielding percentage: 0.39
Market size: 0.35
Unemployment rate as of November 2009: 0.33
Batting average with runners in scoring position: 0.24
UZR: 0.23
Random number: -0.17

In other news

• You used to hear talk from time to time about the Jody Reed Award, named for the so-so shortstop who was once inexplicably offered a three-year, $8 million deal by the Dodgers, even more inexplicably turned it down, and ended up signing with the Brewers for the league minimum. I'm not sure it should be renamed for Adam LaRoche, but it's a question worth pondering. After reportedly turning down a $17 million offer from the Giants, he signed with the Diamondbacks this week for $6 million guaranteed.

• The beneficiary of LaRoche's negotiating savvy was Aubrey Huff, who will cost the Giants just $3 million. This might not be the best fit, as Huff's proper use would be as a first-rate bench player on a championship-level team, but he won't hurt the team in a regular role at first.

• The Marlins signed Josh Johnson to a four-year, $39 million deal, which honestly seems a bit pricey for a pitcher who has qualified for the ERA title once. Of course Florida is so cheap that central baseball and the union united to slap them this week, the baseball equivalent to the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants putting aside their differences to fight Sentinels, so it works from that angle.

• Sometimes you think there's no progress in the world, and then you see that Jose Valverde, a closer who led the National League in saves in 2007 and 2008 and then ran up a 2.33 ERA last year, signed with Detroit for two years, $14 million. Not that I like the deal, mind you, as Valverde will cost the Tigers a draft pick. Still, it wasn't so long ago that a guy who ran up a lot of saves would have been viewed as a great prize worth much larger sums of money.

• Another reason for Mets fans to embrace the White Sox: Their longtime backup Ramon Castro, who hit the ball like it owed him money during his years in Flushing, will be playing in Bridgeport again this year.

• If you're keeping track, I have no problem at all with Mark McGwire and will have none so long as he does nothing to screw up Albert Pujols' swing.

Tim Marchman lives in Chicago and can be reached at tlmarchman@gmail.com.

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