If these walls could talk: Change at Citi?
GM Alderson might consider altering outfield dimensions
NEW YORK -- If only the walls at Citi Field had ears -- and if they could talk as well, perhaps they could confirm this. Alas, the walls are too far away to be of much use. Regardless, amid the noises of the Big Citi on Saturday night were whispers of moves the Mets are considering, that would likely increase their home run output and probably undermine their pitching.
The dimensions of the playing field and the height of the outfield walls might be changed after this season. Operative word: might. Nothing official. But after years of thinking big, the Mets might be thinking smaller in an effort to make a bigger splash. Less can be more on this scenario.
If this were Wrigley Field, we might say we heard it through the vine. But here in Queens where home runs are regularly consumed by the generous acreage, it is merely hearsay that has suggested the possibility of change. No blueprints certainly, not yet; but considering change is said to be on the to-do list of general manager Sandy Alderson, who was responsible for reducing the dimensions of PETCO Park when he pushed the buttons for the Padres.
People familiar with Alderson's thinking say he wanted to watch a full season before making any determination. Alderson occasionally has described his responsibilities as making the Mets more successful and more entertaining. Baseball purists who enjoy the subtleties of 3-2 games are in the minority. The masses prefer baseballs regularly disappearing into the stands. He knows that.
Alderson's comment about all this Saturday night was a first-rate non-denial denial.
"It's premature," he said.
The door to change remains wide open.
If the whispers carry fact, the height of the wall that stretches from the left-field corner to where it intersects with the center-field wall would be reduced by as much as half, and the distances from the plate to some of the more distant corners would be chopped as well. The Mo Zone, however, might survive because of its popularity. Citi wouldn't become Citizens Bank Bandbox or challenge the Friendly Confines in terms of coziness. The Wilpons have final say, and Fred still prefers 3-2 to 11-7.
If changes come to pass, David Wright and Jason Bay will rejoice. Johan Santana, Jon Niese and their pitching brethren may become a tad unsettled. But then whatever added Mets run production that might result from diminished dimensions would help their cause. Moreover, more slugger-friendly dimensions might make Citi Field a more appealing venue for position-player free agents if and when the Mets are in position to invest again.
Citi Field is widely regarded as an unfair park, unlike its predecessor. Shea Stadium was seen as quite fair. Hit it, and it will disappear in to the dark. For the Mets at Citi, it's hit it, run to first base, turn right and grumble.
The whispers became audible before the Mets' game against the Braves on Saturday night, less than 24 hours after the Mets provided more evidence of the need for greater home run production at home. Their 4-1 loss to the Braves on Friday night included two long well-struck fly balls that probably would have reached the seats in most ballparks. Wright crushed one that merely reached the wall in left-center field for a run-scoring double in the first inning. Six innings later, Lucas Duda hit 370 feet of out to right-center field.
The Mets hitters haven't campaigned for changes. They haven't wanted to be seen as whiners. But they have privately groused about the pitchers' park that the Wilpon family ordered, almost since the day it opened in 2009. But even without a campaign, what Justin Turner did against Braves starter Tommy Hanson on Saturday night must be considered contrary to the cause. He hit two home runs, one into the bullpen, the other into the left-field stands. Of all nights!
And Turner was responsible for only half of the Mets' home runs. Bay crushed one deep into the left-field stands, and Josh Thole also reached the bullpen with his shot. Maybe these were the Amazin' Mets.
In 2 1/2 seasons playing at Citi, the Mets had hit four home runs in a game twice -- Jeff Francoeur and Rod Barajas (two each April 9 last year) and Barajas and Ike Davis (two each May 7 last year). And now this just as the whispers reach some other ears.
But for the most part, Citi has been unpopular with hitters. The first time the Braves played here in 2009, Chipper Jones smoked a pitch to right-center field. It was caught. As he ran off the field and passed by third base, Wright offered a telling two-word commentary: "Nice park." Opposing power-hitters often commiserate with each other here. Opposing pitchers occasionally share a laugh, or even a cackle.
Earlier this season, when the Mets' best shots found nothing but leather, Wright offered this footnote: "They wanted a pitchers' park, and they got it."
The Wilpons resisted when the first private complaints reached their ears two years ago. They saw Carlos Delgado reach the Shea Bridge -- before it was the Shea Bridge -- in 2009. They saw Adam Dunn hit farther. They knew it could be done. And they noticed when Ike Davis took long sips of Pepsi. But so many more pedestrian but well-struck fly balls have fallen short.
"There's no reward for crushing it here," Francoeur said before he was traded. "Of course it gets in your head."
So maybe the Wilpons are open to change now. Perhaps Alderson will advocate changes. Maybe it's no longer such a long shot.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.