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The Top Ten Offensive Seasons in Mets History – Second Basemen 6-10

Monday, November 24th, 2008

For the catchers and first basemen, click on the links.

Even before Luis Castillo, the Mets have not had a tradition of second basemen who could hit.  The offensive statistics you are about to see for the second baseman are not quite at the same level as those held by Mets first basemen and catchers, and for good reason; teams have traditionally sacrificed hitting in favor of defense up the middle.  In fact, many of the good Mets hitting seasons have come by platoon players and mid-year acquisitions.

That said, a few seasons do stand out as particularly good, and we will highlight some of those seasons here.  While the lower reaches of this list may seem pedestrian compared to other positions, there are still some excellent seasons to be found here, and the following players should be respected as great players.

Honorable Mention:  Wally Backman (1982), Ron Hunt (1963)

Both of these players will have future seasons on the list, so I see no reason to waste space here other than these seasons were mostly unnotable.

Dishonorable Mention: Doug Flynn (1978-1981)

I have to point out how horrible a hitter Doug Flynn was in his four seasons as the Mets starting second baseman.  Flynn put up OPS’s of .566, .582, .600, and .539 in his four seasons as starter.  The team had to try to justify Flynn’s existence, since he was part of the Tom Seaver bounty, but he put up the worst, second-worst, fourth-worst, and eighth-worst second base seasons in Mets history, a position where the Mets have had some dreadful hitters.  I mean…imagine a hitter worse than Luis Castillo starting four straight seasons.  I shudder to think.

#10: Wally Backman, 1988

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
44 89 12 0 0 17 41 .303 .388 .344 .732 9

Wally Backman was a great platoon player who was stretched as an everyday player; his career splits show a 128 point gap in batting average, 105 point gap in on-base percentage, and a 160 point gap in slugging.  While Backman was technically a switch-hitter, he simply could not hit left-handed pitching.

By this point in his career, Davey Johnson had realized this; Tim Teufel was acquired in 1986 to hit lefties while Backman hit righties.  While this seemed like a good idea in practice, it didn’t really work; Teufel was bad in 1986 and 1988, but great in 1987, while Backman was good in 1986 and 1988, but awful in 1987.  This would be Backman’s last season in New York, as he was traded to Minnesota the following season.  He continued to platoon around the majors until he retired after being released by Seattle in 1993.

#9: Wally Backman, 1986

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
67 124 18 2 1 27 36 .320 .376 .385 .761 13

This was the first season where Davey turned Backman into a platoon player, and it made a difference.  Restricted to only 62 plate appearances against lefties, Backman hit his slugging high water mark and also saw improvements in batting average and on-base percentage.  He had fewer steals in fewer attempts, but otherwise there are no complaints.  Even with Teufel’s below-average season, the Mets got more out of their second basemen than they had received since the days of Ron Hunt in the 60’s.

#8: Jeff Kent, 1995

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
65 131 22 3 20 65 29 .278 .327 .464 .791 3

No Mets fan wants to see Kent on this list, but between a lack of truly good hitting Mets second basemen and numbers that scream “just good enough,” Kent makes the list.  The impressive number here is the 20 homers – this was only the second time a Mets second baseman had hit 20 homers in a season (he had done this 2 years earlier, though this season was 18 games shorter).  Kent showed power potential, though I don’t think any Mets fan could predict what would happen in San Francisco, and he was never a good defensive player.

That said, the Mets front office clearly gave up on him early.  Kent had started to come into his own as a 20 home run hitter, while Baerga’s numbers were on the decline.  Neither guy was particularly patient at the plate, but Baerga was a guy who had to hit .300 to have a good on-base percentage.  The Mets did get a year younger with Baerga, and he had the better career to that point, but Baerga was finished as an everyday player, whereas Kent would become a Hall of Famer in San Francisco.  I guess sometimes you just never know, but when I see Kent’s numbers, I see him as a guy who was slowly getting better, whereas Baerga was getting worse; I wonder what Steve Phillips saw in 1996.

#7: Jose Valentin, 2006

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
56 104 24 3 18 62 37 .271 .330 .490 .820 6

Pink Panther Mustache makes the list!  It is partly a testament to how bad Mets second basemen have been, but people forget how good Valentin was after he replaced Kaz Matsui at second base; it was a year where he became very valuable because he was able to hit above .240-.250 range.  With a passable OBP and some real slugging contributions (18 homers in 432 plate appearances), Valentin gave the NL East champions good, unexpected production.

This production is something the Mets have missed since Valentin injured himself during the 2007 season.  The Mets were forced to roll with a platoon of Damion Easley and Ruben Gotay, and that worked well until Easley himself was injured.  The Mets didn’t trust the inexperienced Gotay as the everyday second baseman, forcing them to trade for Luis Castillo.  The Mets haven’t had a good second baseman since.  If you are looking for reasons why the Mets have been unable to win the NL East since 2006, below average contributions at second base have to be on the list.

#6: Tim Teufel, 1987

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
55 92 29 0 14 61 44 .308 .398 .545 .943 3

Tim Teufel had a complete anomaly of a season in 1987.  Before and after this season, Teufel would be an average to slightly below average hitter.  His OPS would hover around the .700’s, he’d hit some home runs, draw some walks, but never hit for a high enough average to be a true regular.  He was a good 20th-25th guy on the roster, but that was it.

But not in 1987 – in 1987, Teuf hit the stitches off the ball.  He set career highs in home runs, RBIs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and (obviously) OPS.  And on top of all of this, he created the biggest dance craze in New York in 1987, the Teufel Shuffle!  What a year!

He really should have been playing every day, as Backman had a dreadful year and Teufel hit both lefties and righties, but Davey kept the platoon all season.  If given a full season, Teufel would probably have ranked #1 on this list, but I am keeping him at #6 because he played just barely half a season at second base.  It’s a shame.  After this season, injuries and Gregg Jefferies would rob him of playing time, but Teuf can always look back at 1987 with pride as this was a truly remarkable season.  If only he could have gotten another 200 plate appearances…

Up Next: The Top 5

The Top Ten Offensive Seasons in Mets History – First Basemen 1-5

Friday, November 21st, 2008

To read the top ten offensive seasons at catcher and the first half of the first basemen lists, click on the links.

Five spots, three players – who had the best season by a Mets first baseman in franchise history?  Let’s take a look.

#5: Keith Hernandez, 1983

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
43 98 8 3 9 37 64 .306 .424 .434 .858

Mex’s 1983 would be a candidate to be ranked higher, but he arrived in New York in mid-June, so much like Piazza’s 1998, we are penalizing it just a little.  But make no mistake – this is a fine season.  His .424 OBP set a Mets record that would not be broken for 15 years, and while his extra base hit totals were low, he was an on-base machine on a team that lacked any semblance of an offense.

Keith’s bat is also getting some extra credit, because his arrival, coupled with the promotion of Darryl Strawberry, started a new era in Mets history.   An era where the Mets had…above average hitters.  Those early 80’s teams were some of the worst hitting teams you’ll ever see.  1983 saw a bottoming out; other than Mex and Straw, the team didn’t put a single good hitter on the field.  The times, they were a-changing.  Keith Hernandez and his .858 OPS were the start of that change.

#4: Keith Hernandez, 1984

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
83 171 31 0 15 94 97 .311 .409 .449 .858

The change continued in 1984.  With a full season to do some damage for the Mets, Mex delivered in spades, setting his Mets high water marks in batting average and RBIs (if you’re into that sort of thing) and slugging percentage and walks (if you’re into that sort of thing).  This year, the Mets bats were a little less lousy, and the team scored 77 more runs over the year before.  Part of that was from better seasons by guys like Hubie Brooks and George Foster, but part of that was a full season of Keith Hernandez.

#3: Keith Hernandez, 1986

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
94 171 34 1 13 83 94 .310 .413 .446 .859

The culmination of the change.  The 1983 Mets didn’t have any above average hitters outside of Mex and Straw; the 1986 Mets had all above average hitters except Rafael Santana.  The 1983 Mets scored 575 runs, won 68 games, and finished with the worst record in the National League; the 1986 Mets scored 783 runs, won 108 games, and finished with the best record in the National League.  Three years, big changes, and it all started with Mex.

Sadly, this will be the last time you’ll see Keith Hernandez on this list.  He was still good in 1987, but he took a small step back.  Likewise, 1988 was also a good year, but a year where Mex would miss time due to injuries.  1989 saw a more drastic erosion in Mex’s skills, and he lost time to Dave Magadan, and was gone the next year.  But 1986?  Mex finished 4th in the MVP voting, he hit well over .300, drew 94 walks just for good measure, and led his team to a championship.  Not too shabby.

#2: Dave Magadan, 1990

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
74 148 28 6 6 72 74 .328 .417 .457 .874

“Wait a second,” you’re probably wondering.  “Dave Magadan had the second best season by a Mets first baseman in history?  And not Keith Hernandez?  What?  How?  What’s wrong with you?  Also, your list has no credibility and you are a total fraud of a man.”

Well, first of all, thank you for reading my blog, Keith.  I appreciate your support and I love your commentary on SNY, so I sincerely hope you do not think of this as a slight.

It just so happens that the man who replaced you had a really, REALLY good year.  He would have had to, in order to knock your 1986 season down to #3.  The reason he rates so high is his on-base percentage; take a look at that.  That .417 is quite high, higher than any full season you have on the list.  So is that .328 batting average as well as that .457 slugging percentage.  He even threw in six triples; you had 10 in your entire Mets career!  So give the guy some credit.

Sadly, Magadan was never able to really sustain this level.  The lack of power at first base was a concern; Magadan never topped those 6 homers in a season.  Even in the early 90’s, you had to hit at least double digits in homers to play first base.  After an injury-plagued 1991, Magadan was moved to third base when the Mets signed Eddie Murray, and then became the first significant free agent acquisition by the expansion Marlins in 1993.  Today, he is the hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox, where he would seem to be a perfect fit for their emphasis on plate discipline.

#1: John Olerud, 1998

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
91 197 36 4 22 93 96 .354 .447 .551 .998

Surprised?  I wasn’t kidding before when I talked about Olerud being underrated.  Frankly, Olerud’s #1 ranking on this list isn’t even close; only Carlos Delgado ever OPS’d higher than .900 at first base, and Olerud is almost 100 points ahead of him.  That .447 OBP is 20 points higher than any OBP at first base (beating his own 1999 season), and the slugging is also higher than any Mets slugging percentage in history.

Those 62 extra base hits stood as a Mets record by a first baseman until his old Blue Jays teammate Delgado broke the record in 2006 (and as an aside, can you believe that the lead-footed Olerud had 4 triples?  I mean, he only hit 13 for his career!).  197 hits, 31 doubles, 22 homers, 96 walks…everything about this season was excellent.  It is hard to imagine any Mets hitter topping this season, it was that good.

So here’s a debate for you: who was the best hitting Mets first baseman of all time?  Olerud has the breadth; Mex has the depth.  Mex’s 1983-1986 seasons all appear on the list, and his 1987 and 1988 were close.  Olerud only played here three years, but all three are on the list, including holding down #1.  Mex does get extra credit for winning a World Series, and more MVP finishes (although I am loathe to give BBWAA any credit for anything ever).

In the end, it’s probably Mex (so please do not bombard me with hate mail, Keith) but Olerud makes this a tighter race than you might think.  He doesn’t have the ring and he doesn’t have the longevity, but Olerud’s peak on the Mets was very, very good, and his best season ranks with the best season by any Mets hitter.  This list is proud to give the man his due.

BlueAndOrange.net endorses…Brian Fuentes

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

One campaign season may be behind us, but another one has begun; the campaign for the next Mets closer.  Much like our most recent presidential election, while there may technically be other candidates on the ballot, when it really gets down to it, we’re left with two choices; Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez and Brian Fuentes.  Everybody in the Mets blogosphere has been quick to endorse one candidate or another; we here at BlueAndOrange.net have been slow to give our endorsement.  Well, it is time to be wishy-washy no longer.  And while our endorsement may not carry the same weight as, say, a Colin Powell, we’re at least on par with the Christopher Buckleys of the world, no?

So it is our pleasure to announce that BlueAndOrange.net has decided to endorse Brian Fuentes to be the next closer for the New York Mets.

Brian brings with him an impressive resume.  Over the course of his eight-year baseball career, Brian has more strikeouts (480) than innings pitched (422), good for an impressive 10.2 K/9 rate.  Unlike other closers on this market, Brian’s strikeout rate also improved from 2007, striking out a ridiculous 11.8 batters per nine innings.  Brian may not have a fancy nickname that involves the letter K, but that doesn’t mean he is a stranger to the statistic.

In addition, Brian has shown excellent control over the course of his career, walking a mere 3.8 batters per nine innings.  Brian is almost 3 times more likely to throw a strikeout than walk a batter over the course of his career, an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio.  This rate has improved over the course of his career; last year, Brian’s K/BB ratio was 82-22, making him almost four times more likely to throw a strikeout than a walk.  This improvement would make him a valuable asset in any bullpen.

Then there is Brian’s success in keeping balls in the yard.  Despite playing most of his career in Colorado, in the most home run-prone ballpark in the majors, Brian has allowed less than one home run per nine innings, a rate of 0.87 per nine.   Brian’s success in high altitudes would make him a safe bet to continue that success closer to sea level, in a ballpark that figures to favor pitchers more than hitters.

What about Brian’s success against righties?  Well, despite being a lefty, Brian hasn’t had problems getting righties out.  Right handed hitters have managed a mere .690 OPS against Brian for his career, including a mere .320 OBP-against.  To put this in perspective, last year Damion Easley had a .692 OPS, including a .322 OBP.  Brian Fuentes essentially turns right handed hitters into Damion Easley, while turning left-handed hitters into Luis Castillo.  Any pitcher who makes opposing hitters look like the Mets’ failed second base platoon of 2008 has to be pretty good, right?

Brian Fuentes also does not come with an injury risk.  Despite having turned 33 years old this season, Fuentes last pitched fewer than 60 IP in 2004, his second full year in the majors.  Since that time, he has been a safe bet to reach 60 or more innings pitched, without any noticable drop in velocity.  Fuentes’ age is also a benefit; because he is a little older, he is less likely to be in a position to demand a high number of years on this contract, making him easier to insure in case he does suffer an injury.

There is no question, there are some fine closers on the market this year.  However, Brian Fuentes is the finest.  He brings an electrifying blend of power and control to a team that desperately requires it.  There are other closers on the market with marquee names, but Fuentes brings the same quality, perhaps more, at a more reasonable price.  That is why BlueAndOrange.net is proud to endorse Brian Fuentes to become the Mets’ next closer.  We only hope Omar Minaya and the Mets staff feel the same way when they go to the polls this fall.

The Closer Conundrum

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

With yesterday’s article by Ken Davidoff in Newsday, I had to start seriously thinking for the first time that maybe the Mets wouldn’t end up going after Brian Fuentes or Francisco Rodriguez, but rather they’d trade for Bobby Jenks.  I’m still not totally convinced one way or another, but I feel compelled to actually think about things on a more statistical level for the first time.  So I’ve compiled the stats for the three most likely candidates to be the 2009 Mets closer. 

First, I’ve eliminated Trevor Hoffman from the mix because I really don’t see him as a New York guy.  The only reason to even consider him would be as a one-year option to keep the door open to possibly give the closer mantle for 2010 to one of the two young arms in the minor league system, Bobby Parnell or Eddie Kunz. But I highly doubt that the powers that be would allow all the closer on the market right now to go to other teams.

Second, I’ve also eliminated Kerry Wood.  Again, he doesn’t strike me as a New York guy.  He’ll most likely go to a second division team on a one-year deal to show that he can stay healthy.

Third, I’m comparing the three players based solely on the quantitative categories that don’t rely on having decent arms around you in the bullpen. The numbers below are only here to show the effectiveness of the individual closer.  So here we go.

Bobby Jenks:
2008:  57 games, 61.2 IP, 51 hits, 3 HRs, 38 Ks, 17 BBs, 30 saves
2007: 66 games, 65 IP, 45 hits, 2 HRs, 56 Ks, 13 BBs, 40 saves
2006: 67 games, 69.2 IP, 66 hits, 5 HRs, 80 Ks, 31 BBs, 41 saves

Francisco Rodriguez
2008: 76 games, 68.1 IP, 54 hits, 4 HRs, 77 Ks, 34 BBs, 62 saves
2007: 64 games, 67.1 IP, 50 hits, 3 HRs, 90 Ks, 34 BBs, 40 saves
2006: 69 games, 73 IP, 52 hits, 6 HRs, 98 Ks, 28 BBs, 47 saves

Brian Fuentes:
2008: 67 games, 62.2 IP, 47 hits, 3 HRs, 82 Ks, 22 BBs, 30 saves
2007: 64 games, 61.1 IP, 46 hits, 6 HRs, 56 Ks, 23 BBs, 20 saves
2006: 66 games, 65.1 IP, 50 hits, 8 HRs, 73 Ks, 26 BBs, 30 saves

Including saves here is possibly a mistake, because having a high save total is contingent on being placed in games in which your team is winning.  It’s been well reported that Francisco Rodriguez was placed in games only in save situations, whereas the other guys (and all other closers in the game) often find themselves in blowouts or four-run leads.  But it’s worth it if for no other reason than to see how each player responds to pressure. 

Bobby Jenks is young and could possibly be locked up for a couple of years at a very low salary, as low as $1 million per.  With that extremely affordable price tag, you have to consider that it would probably cost the Mets some pretty high-level minor league talent.  Fernando Martinez is the most likely to be traded, but young Wilmer Flores, a 17-year-old who finished the season at Class A Brooklyn could be a target too.  Losing either guy would be a hard blow for the already bereft system.

The big worry with Jenks is that his strikeout total has gone down in each of the last three seasons, and by a pretty dramatic margin. His innings are also down, though not by much, and you have to consider that he spent a good bit of time on the DL in 2008.

Francisco Rodriguez has numbers that speak for themselves.  There’s no need to remind readers that he set the single-season saves record in 2008, or that he’s thrown more innings over the past three years than any of the other closer candidates.  Also, it’s been well-documented that his pitching motion puts a lot of stress on his arm, and that stress worries a lot of scouts about his potential for long-term health. 

With all that said, Rodriguez is undoubtedly the cream of the crop.  His strikeout-to-walk ratio is great and he has proven to be a guy who isn’t bothered by stress.  There is little doubt that he’ll adjust to the pressures of playing in New York, and he will be among the top closers for at least a few more years. 

But despite his agent’s claims that he’s willing to be creative with his contract demands, most in the industry believe that KRod will command the highest annual salary ever for a closer.  He’ll probably ask for something in the neighborhood of $13-15 million per year, and that’s just insane, especially when you add on the $10 million that Billy Wagner will be paid for his rehab time in 2009.  And when you consider all the other bullpen upgrades that the front office will have to pay for, Rodriguez’ price may be too high to make him the first choice.

And that brings us to Brian Fuentes, the free agent who will most likely not be hired back by his old team since the Rockies traded for Huston Street. Fuentes brings a very solid arm and one of the best strikeout-to-walk ratios in the game.  Add that he played for a lousy Rockies team in 2008, and he could easily have saved another 10 to 15 games for a contender. 

The only real downside with Fuentes is that, like Rodriguez, he’ll probably command a huge contract. I’ve not read any expected contract demands yet, but I assume he’ll go for somewhere around $10-11 million per year for maybe four to five years. For all I know, my estimates could be way off, but they’re still high numbers any way you look at it. 

So which of the three would be the best fit for the 2009 Mets?  It’s hard to say.  All three have their upsides, and all three pose certain risks, either financial or health or prospect cost.  It seems that any of them could do the job efficiently, and any of them could be popular figures in Flushing.  I guess all that matters is what Omar thinks is best.

The Top Ten Offensive Seasons in Mets History – First Basemen 6-10

Monday, November 17th, 2008

The Mets have been fortunate to be gifted by some pretty good first basemen, not only offensively but defensively as well. Keith Hernandez, John Olerud, Dave Magadan…all could handle the glove as well as the stick.  That said, we don’t care about defense here.  We’re just looking at offense.  And offensively…those three stack up pretty well compared to other Mets’ first basemen.  Here is a list of the top ten first base seasons in Mets history, looking strictly at offense.

Note: because the catcher piece wound up being so long, I have decided to split these up into two parts, not only to make them easier to read, but to drag this out even further to get even more mileage out of this gimmick column.  Win/win, in my opinion.

Honorable Mention:  Donn Clendenon, 1970; Lee Mazzilli, 1980; Ed Kranepool, 1971; Dave Magadan, 1989

Donn Clendenon, a former Pirates slugger, put together his last big year in the majors for a third place Mets team in 1970.  Lee Mazzilli is more famous for being an outfielder, but logged 88 starts at first in 1980 and obliterated the Mets first basemen stolen base record while he was at it (he had 41; next highest is John Milner in 1974 with 10).  Ed Kranepool has many Mets career batting records because he played more games as a Met than anybody in history; 1971 was one of six seasons out of 18 where he was an above average hitter.  It was 1989 when Dave Magadan wrested the first base job away from Keith Hernandez, and he acquitted himself well; he would peak as a hitter in his next season.

#10: Keith Hernandez, 1985

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
87 183 34 4 10 91 77 .309 .384 .430 .814

Get used to seeing Mex on this list – he appears more times than any other Met.  His first appearance on the list is a pretty typical Keith Hernandez season; his career lines were .296/.384/.436/.820, so add a home run or two and you’re right there.  The ‘85 Mets were a curious mix of guys having their best Mets seasons (Gary Carter, George Foster, Doc Gooden) and some really bad hitting at 2B, 3B, and SS.  Keith Hernandez, in a way, stood out by being normal; he just chugged along and did what he always did, which is play an excellent first base, hit for a high average, walk at an above average pace, and hit doubles like it was nobody’s business.

Going through the seasons, one thing I came to appreciate about Hernandez is that while he never hit home runs like a first baseman is supposed to, he would always have 30 or more doubles every year.  Those doubles add up, and added to his on-base percentage, which was regularly in the high .300’s/low .400’s, plus first base defense well above the rest of the league, Keith was really able to make up for the fact that he never hit 20 homers a year.  Put Mex at third base, and the lack of home runs is considered more acceptable, and he might make the Hall of Fame, or at least would still be on the ballot.  Alas, he will have to settle for being one of the best Mets of all time.

#9: Carlos Delgado, 2008

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
96 162 32 1 38 115 72 .271 .353 .518 .871

A lot of folks think Carlos Delgado lost out on an MVP award because the Mets didn’t make the playoffs.  I am not one of those people, but that said, Delgado’s 2008 has to be the most remarkable year on this list.  Going into June, Delgado’s career looked to be over.  After a disappointing 2007 campaign, Delgado opened 2008 in a dreadful slump, and a Mets team expected to win the NL East was miles out of contention, sitting well below .500.  Rumors were going around that Delgado would be released at the All Star break, and his future looked to be very much in doubt.

Then, Willie Randolph got fired.

Now, I’m not saying that one event has to do with the other, but Delgado took off after Willie’s departure.  Delgado completely destroyed the National League in the month of July, to a tune of .357/.445/.714/1.160.  He cooled off a little in August and September, but continued to hit the living daylights out of the ball in a way he hadn’t in over a year.  If we were ranking top ten half-seasons in Mets history, Delgado’s second half of 2008 may very well rank #1.  Alas, we have to count his abysmal first half as well, so Delgado’s 2008 only ranks 9th.

#8: John Olerud, 1997

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
90 154 34 1 22 102 85 .294 .400 .489 .889

This was Olerud’s first season with the Mets, and it was a good one.  The 1996 Mets, despite good production out of guys like Bernard Gilkey, Lance Johnson, and Todd Hundley, chose not to rest on their laurels, going out and upgrading at first base from Butch Huskey, Rico Brogna, and Roberto Petagine (total OPS at first base: .742) to a guy who had finished third in the MVP race as a 24 year old just four years earlier.  And all it cost them was Robert Person.  Pretty good deal, right?

A lot of folks look at the Mike Piazza deal as a turning point in Mets history, but it really began with the Olerud acqusition the year before.  The lineup in 1997 saw fewer holes than the year before.  Bernard Gilkey and Lance Johnson took steps backwards, but Olerud, Huskey (now in right field) and Todd Hundley helped the offense score even more runs than they had in 1996.  Throw in surprisingly good pitching out of Rick Reed and Bobby Jones, an improved bullpen, and a managerial upgrade from Dallas Green to Bobby Valentine, and you have a 17 win improvement over the previous year.  The stage was set for improvement, and it was started by the acquisition of John Olerud.

#7: John Olerud, 1999

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
107 173 39 0 19 125 66 .298 .427 .463 .890

If there is anything I hope to achieve with this list, it is that John Olerud may very well be the most underrated Mets position player ever.  This list doesn’t even factor in Olerud’s great defense and all three of his Mets seasons still make the top 8.  The reason Olerud is so underrated is that he only played three years in New York; imagine how much different Mets history had been if they had re-signed him after 1999?  He had four more pretty good years in Seattle; at worst, the Mets still make the World Series with Olerud instead of Zeile, they probably win 4-5 more games in 2001 (which wouldn’t have put them in the playoffs but they’re still competitive), and keeps them from trading for Mo Vaughn in 2002.

Add those four above-average years to Olerud’s resume, and people are talking about him as the best first baseman in Mets history, and he is much more fondly remembered around here.  It’s too bad.  Still, there was a lot to like about Olerud’s last year in New York.  High on-base percentage (second highest in club history), high number of walks, 58 extra base hits for a guy not considered a slugger…other than speed, there wasn’t an area of the game of baseball that Olerud did not excel in 1999.  After this season, the Mets would not have a regular first baseman who could give them Olerud production until they traded for Carlos Delgado in 2006.

#6: Carlos Delgado, 2006

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
89 139 30 2 38 114 74 .265 .361 .548 .909

Hey, speak of the devil!  Carlos Delgado’s arrival in 2006 gave the Mets middle of the order slugging they had lacked for years.  Add Carlos Beltran’s resurgence, and suddenly this was a Mets team that had some power; the 2006 Mets hit 25 more home runs than the year before.  Delgado was a big reason for that, as his 38 homers were thirteen more than the combined total of his predecessors in 2005.  Throw in 56 points of on-base percentage and 138 points of slugging, and there’s no question that Carlos Delgado once again made first base an offensive position for the Mets.  Much like John Olerud in 1997, his arrival was a big factor in this team’s turnaround from its previous year.

I often wonder about Delgado’s legacy.  His 2006 was very good on a pretty good Mets team, but it was a small step down from his previous seasons, and he wasn’t the “star” of that team; the stars were Beltran, Wright, and Reyes.  Then there was the disappointing 2007, and the incredibly slow start to 2008, which saw many Mets fans boo him vociferously.  Then came the second half of 2008, where he was hitting exactly like the Toronto version of Delgado, and when fans really started to come around on him in a way they hadn’t in 2006 or 2007.  Delgado should be one of the most fascinating players to watch in 2009; history says that he probably can’t do that 2008 second half again, but if he’s drawing walks and hitting for power out of the 4 hole, he will still be a valuable member of this team.

Up Next: The Top 5

The Pedro Problem

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

By the end of Tom Glavine’s five years with the Mets, he was getting booed.  When Mike Hampton comes back to Flushing, people forget that he lead the team to the World Series and went on to be a huge financial bust when he left as a free agent.  Hearing Al Leiter broadcast for the YES network makes any Mets fan pine for Suzyn Waldman (well, maybe not quite…).

But Pedro Martinez was never booed.

How many players have the Mets given huge contracts to over the years, only to have their time in blue and orange spent on the DL?  And of the players who haven’t been hurt, how many have simply underperformed? (early ‘90’s ringing any bells?) By and large, those players had to eventually be traded, released, or ignored to save them from the wraith of the Shea faithful.

But Pedro Martinez was never booed.

So the question must be asked: should the Mets bring him back for one more year?

Look at the facts before jumping to a resounding “NO!” as I’m sure your gut is telling you to do.  He signed in 2005 as a totally different pitcher.  He had a fastball/changeup combo that was among the best in the NL.  He was still a couple years removed from his Cy Young years, and he’s not going to be in that conversation any more in the years to come.  But in 2005, he pitched really well, going 217 innings to a 2.82 ERA.

Since that time, he’s pitched only 260 innings and not even approached that level of efficiency in terms of ERA. He pitched in 23, 5, and 20 games in each of the last three years, respectively.  That’s not good.  Nobody will have the gull to say that Pedro Martinez earned his salary with the Mets.

But the difference between Pedro and everyone else is still huge.  People love him.  The players on the field treat him as a mentor, the fans in the stands treat him as a showpiece, and the writers of the newspaper columns treat him as a go-to guy on all baseball issues great and small.  That sounds like a guy you’d want on your team, as long as it’s understood that he’s not your ace any more. Perhaps the problem in 2008 was that the management was counting on Pedro to be a number 2 starter, and he’s just not that anymore. But if there was a more realistic number 2 option, Pedro could have been more of a number 4 or 5 starter, and that would make it easier to bear his injuries.

Your intrepid Blue and Orange staff, one of whom is wearing a jheri curl wig. Can you guess which one it is?Nobody is saying that Pedro should be brought back to be the Mets number 2 starter behind Johan Santana, and to count on him for 200 innings would just be foolish.  But with Jonathan Neise and Brandon Knight and Bobby Parnell showing signs of reliability in the minors, why not take a flyers on Pedro in 2009?  Slot him in as a fifth starter, and give him a chance to succeed.    If he doesn’t there are plenty of guys who could fill in at the bottom of the rotation.

If Pedro would settle for a contract in the neighborhood of $4 – $5 million or so, that’s a gamble to take.  If he flops, the Mets can eat that money.  If he succeeds, Omar looks like a genius for giving a guy who everyone has written off a chance.

The Top Ten Offensive Seasons in Mets History – Catchers

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

With the offseason now upon us, there are going to be days, weeks, and perhaps even months between now and February where there is simply nothing going on in the Mets blogosphere.  So what’s the solution to these troubled days, where there is seemingly nothing to write about?  Why, gimmick columns, of course!

The first series of gimmick columns you will be able to read right here at the newly-rechristened BlueAndOrange.net is the top ten offensive seasons in Mets history, position-by-position.  Why only offensive?  Defense is harder to quantify; it is only within the past few seasons that baseball numbers folks have been able to begin to develop reliable measures of a player’s defense.

Because we’re going back to the inception of the New York Mets, it’s hard for me to determine if, for example, Jerry Grote’s defense was good enough to justify his below-average bat behind the plate.  The metrics simply do not exist.  We can look at offense, because while the way we look at offense has changed since 1962, the numbers recorded are still pretty good.

I’m looking at some basic numbers; batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, some counting numbers.  I did use OPS+ as a method of comparing similar seasons, because OPS+ can be a useful tool in breaking “ties,” so to speak; if two players have identical numbers in different seasons, but one has a higher OPS+, that player likely faced a harder hitting environment.  A minimum of half the games played in that season at catcher were required to make the list.

This system does short change Gary Carter in particular, so I do want to stress that this is NOT a list of the top ten best catching seasons in Mets history.  Simply looking at offense, here is what the top ten seasons in Mets history looks like at catcher.

Honorable Mention:  John Stearns, 1982; Gary Carter, 1986

#10:  John Stearns, 1978

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
65 126 24 1 15 73 70 .264 .364 .413 .777

Did you know that before John Stearns joined the team in 1977, the most home runs hit by a Mets catcher in one season was 8, by Duffy Dyer in 1972?  For the first ten seasons in team history, the highest home run total hit by a Mets catcher was 7, and for the first fifteen seasons, that total was 8.  Stearns hit 12 in 1977, and followed up with 15 in 1978.  With Stearns only 26, it looked like he was ready to usher in a new era of Mets catchers who could handle the bat.

Sadly, this would be Stearns’ best season; he had other good seasons, but it looks like he had injury issues (just a guess based on games played after ‘78, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong in the comments).  Stearns gets lost in the cracks by the catchers that followed, which is why I’m glad he made it onto the list at #10; for the first 23 seasons in Mets history, this stood as the benchmark for catchers, and he deserves some recognition for that.

#9: Todd Hundley, 1995

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
39 77 11 0 15 51 42 .280 .382 .484 .866

The first of three straight great seasons out of Hundley.  Before 1994, Hundley was not much of a hitter.  In 902 career at-bats, Hundley hit 19 home runs in the majors.  He hit 16 in 291 at-bats before the strike ended the season.  He still wasn’t much of a hitter, only hitting .237 with a .303 on-base percentage, but suddenly developed power he clearly lacked before.

While he hit one fewer homer in ‘95, his other hitting abilities caught up to this new power.   The result was a much more complete season, hitting .280 with more walks and fewer strikeouts.  In his age 26 season, he showed breakout potential for a team that needed an offensive star, and unlike Stearns, his career did not peak at 26 (it peaked at 28).  Hundley’s 1995 season ushered in an era of great hitting Mets catchers; for the next eight seasons, Mets catchers would post an OPS greater than .900 every year.

#8:  Mike Piazza, 2002

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
69 134 23 2 33 98 57 .280 .359 .544 .903

Another guy who will be making multiple appearances on this list, Mike Piazza will go down as the greatest offensive catcher in Mets history.  This season was probably the last year Piazza was truly an elite hitter for a full season; the next two seasons would be marred by injury and the move to first base, and his 2005 season was nothing particularly special, at least by his standards.

It is almost sad looking at Piazza’s 2002; it was his last season with more than 30 homers, his last season with more than 90 RBIs, his next to last season slugging over .500 (he slugged .501 for San Diego in 2006), last season with more than 400 at-bats as a catcher.  He even won his last Silver Slugger in 2002.  Piazza would remain good after this season, but 2002 was his last year as an elite offensive player.

#7: Mike Piazza, 1999

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
100 162 25 0 40 124 51 .303 .361 .575 .936

Piazza only disappointed in 1999 compared to his otherworldy 1998 and 2000.  His 40 home runs are the second-most by any Met in a single season. His 124 RBIs are a Mets single season record (tied this year by David Wright), although RBIs are a horrible stat.  Piazza helped carry the 1999 Mets into the postseason for the first time since 1988, where they lost a heartbreaker to the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS.  It feels like I am even shortchanging this season ranking it 7th, but that is a testament to the seasons that followed rather than an insult to this great season.

#6: Gary Carter, 1985

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
83 156 17 1 32 100 69 .281 .365 .488 .853

On one hand, Gary Carter is definitely getting short-changed on this list; if we included defense, his 1986 season would have found its way onto the list, and this season would be a top three season rather than a top ten season.  It also feels like Gary Carter should be on here more, but the truth is, after 1985, his hitting declined sharply; he was merely good in 1986, and was not a good hitter after that point.

Still, this was a great year.  Remember Stearns’ catcher record 15 home runs in 1978?  Carter wrecked it, setting a Mets’ catcher record that stood for 11 years.  While his numbers don’t look as good as those put up by Hundley and Piazza ten years later, I am giving him extra credit due to environment.  It was harder for a catcher to hit up 32 homers in 1985 than it was for a catcher to hit 40 homers in 1996, so this feels like the right place to put Carter.  His offensive ranking may be low, but Gary Carter was still one of the best players to put on a Mets uniform, and should be recognized as such.

#5: Todd Hundley, 1997

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
78 114 21 2 30 86 83 .273 .394 .549 .943

By this point, Hundley had established himself as one of the best hitters at any position in all of baseball.  Yet, within a few years, Hundley would suffer an elbow injury that hastened the end of his Mets tenure, and his career was never the same.  Of course, Hundley’s name popped up on the Mitchell Report as a player who received steroids from Kirk Radomski.  Now, I’m not going to cast aspirations on Hundley, but here was a guy with 50 career home runs through 1995 who suddenly hits 41 and 30 out of nowhere?  I’ll just say it looks fishy.

That said, Hundley had a fine year in 1997.  He posted his career-best on-base percentage, thanks to greater respect by opposing pitchers (he drew walks at a level he would not again repeat).  His lower extra base hit totals are deceptive; he had over 100 fewer plate appearances than he had in 1996.  It’s arguable that this was actually his finest season, but…

#4: Todd Hundley, 1996

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
85 140 32 1 41 112 79 .259 .356 .550 .906

I’m going to give his 1996 recognition as his best.  Why?  First, he stayed on the field more; playing more games means he ultimately gave the Mets more.  Then, there’s the team-record 41 home runs he hit, a team record he still holds today (though he now shares it with Carlos Beltran).  Strangely, the Mets records for hits, singles, doubles, triples, and home runs in a season were all set in 1996 on a team that went 71-91.  Hundley’s 74 extra base hits rank 7th in Mets history and are the most by a Mets catcher ever, which seems amazing considering the catcher who followed.

So why isn’t this season #1, or even top three?  Well, take a look at these seasons:

#3: Mike Piazza, 2001

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
81 151 29 0 36 94 67 .300 .384 .573 .957

Spoiler Alert:  Mike Piazza has the top three seasons on this list.  I am sorry to ruin the suspense here, although I suspect most of you would have guessed that Piazza topped the list.  Looking at his 2001, you can see what set him apart is similar to what makes David Wright great; his ability to hit over .300 consistently, with power and patience at the plate, drawing walks and finding his pitch to hit.

By that standard, 2001 was vintage Piazza; .300/.384/.573, fairly close to his career averages of .308/.377/545.  Another 36 homers, 94 RBIs…this just feels like a typical Mike Piazza season, right around what your expectations for a good Mike Piazza season should be.  Just think…if this is what a regular Mike Piazza season feels like, imagine what a really good Mike Piazza season looks like…

#2: Mike Piazza, 1998

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
67 137 33 0 23 76 47 .348 .417 .607 1.024

Wow.  The counting numbers don’t jump out at you, but look at those rate stats.  Remember, Piazza spent the first six weeks of 1998 with the Dodgers, followed by a week with the Florida Marlins that I’m sure he will remember fondly.  He played OK over those seven weeks, but once he came to New York, Piazza completely dominated.

What he did for that Mets team was more than just tear it up; he made them relavent again.  The previous seven seasons saw the Mets trot out one bad team after another, with the morale-crushing strike thrown in just for kicks.  The 1997 Mets drew just a shade over 1.75 million fans; the 1998 Mets drew just under 2.3 million.  Piazza made the Mets matter in New York again.  If Piazza had played the full season in New York, this season probably ranks #1.  But since he didn’t…

#1: Mike Piazza, 2000

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
90 156 26 0 38 113 58 .324 .398 .614 1.012

It’s a simple formula: full season + 1.012 OPS + 38 homers = best offensive season by a catcher in Mets history, in a position that looks safe for quite a while.  He posted Mets highs in slugging percentage, just missed in on-base percentage, threw in 64 extra base hits just for good measure…Mets fans couldn’t ask for more (well, maybe more thrown out basestealers…).

The Mets have been blessed by some truly extraordinary hitting out of their catchers, particularly from 1995 to 2002.  Granted, almost every team saw offensive explosions during those years, but what the Mets had was truly special.  You could argue that Todd Hundley might be the second best hitting catcher in Mets history (somewhere, Gary Carter is FUMING right now), but unquestionably, #1 is Mike Piazza.  It almost feels like the Mets are settling for second-best with the likes of Paul Lo Duca and Brian Schneider behind the plate after so many great years of Piazza, but it’s only because nobody could realistically compare to Piazza.  The man was a hitting machine, as this list proves.

Top Free Agents: Who Should the Mets Go For?

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

Ben Reiter at SI wrote a very interesting (if pure fiction) article on cnnsi.com earlier this week that ranks the top 50 free agents and predicts where they might end up.  According to the author, the Mets will wind up with Oliver Perez, Bobby Abreu, Juan Cruz, Orlando Hudson. Hmm… I’m not too thrilled with this list.  So I’m making my own.  Here’s the top 15 free agents (according to this article) and my opinions about how adamant the Mets should be in their pursuits.

1. CC Sabathia- Imagine a rotation with Santana and Sabathia…. And then put it out of your mind and forget about it. It ain’t happening!  Granted, I would love to see CC and his .247 batting average against pitching game 2 of the season at Citi Field, but if he wants to stay in the NL he’ll go back to the Brewers or off to the West Coast, and if he wants to go East, he’d be dumb to turn down the mint that the Yankees will throw at him. I’m not holding my breath here.

2. Mark Teixeira- If the Mets hadn’t picked up Carlos Delgado’s $12 million option, I would make the case that he’s the most important missing piece to the lineup.  But since there’s such a small chance that the Mets will deal Delgado and then sign Teixiera that I won’t waste my time.

3. Manny Ramirez-  Personally, I would LOVE this signing.  I know that Manny has had his issues, but 1700 RBIs and 500 HRs… and he’s not slowing down at all?  I’d be perfectly fine seeing his right-handed bat in the cleanup spot behind or in front of David Wright for the next four years. If Omar can sign him for $20 million per, this would be a big plus for the lineup.

4. Francisco Rodriguez- The pros and cons of Rodriguez have already been well-chronicled on this and many other sites, so I won’t bother with the stats.  BUT I will say this: if he commands more than $10 million per, spend the money on Brian Fuentes instead.  I’m going to assume that he’ll want more $12-15 million per, and I’d rather see Fuentes closing games and that extra cash thrown at a bullpen upgrade.

5. AJ Burnett- He’s had his health issues in the past but the Mets are losing Pedro and Hernandez, so the health of the starters won’t be as much of a worry in 2009.  With that said, when he opted out of his Toronto contract, he catapulted above Derek Lowe on my starters wish list.  His ERA isn’t stellar but his high strike out totals and career .237 batting average against show me  a lot of promise. Throw him in as a third starter behind Santana and Pelfrey and before Maine and we’ll be watching a really good show. A four-year deal for $12-15 per is the range I’d be comfortable with.

6. Derek Lowe- If (and only if) Burnett is off the table, the Mets must go hard after Derek Lowe.  He may not be the guy to get the win in the big game, but he’s the guy who can get the team to the big game—and after two straight September collapses, we need a guy who is consistent and experienced.  He’s been on winners and his offspead stuff would be nice to put behind the power of Pelfrey in a rotation.  A three-year deal would be great for $12-14 per.

7. Rafael Furcal- No.

8. Orlando Cabrera- Cabrera is noted as a high character guy, and even if he wasn’t he’s not Luis Castillo so he’d be welcome in Flushing.  But unless the Mets find a taker who would swap a bad contract for a bad contract, Castillo will be the starting 2B on opening day 2009.  Oh well.

9. Oliver Perez-  I’ve got no problem retaining Perez, but it’d have to be for the right price.  He’s shown that he’s got a very high upside, but his inconsistency is too frustrating to be truly worth big-time money.  He’s fine as a forth starter making $8-9 per for three years or so, but not much more than that. And personally, I don’t think that that sort of money will get it done.  Someone will offer him more and he’ll take it.

10. Adam Dunn- So a powerful right-handed bat in right field would be nice.  But it seems to me that Dunn is basically a clone of Carlos Delgado.  Neither will hit for a high average but they’ll both drive in guys and hit long balls.  Dunn does get in base a lot, but his high strike out totals will negate any potential for moving guys along—one of the Mets big flaws has been their inability to advance runners and be unselfish, and it seems to me that that is exactly the definition of Adam Dunn.  I’d be okay with signing him, but not ecstatic.  Maybe a short-term deal for $8-10 per, but no more.

11. Brian Fuentes- Since the numbers are pretty comparable except save totals, I’d rather see Fuentes as the closer than Francisco Rodriguez.   Since he’ll command less money to sign, his high strikeout totals will be very welcome at Citi Field for a four-year deal for $10 million per.

12. Kerry Wood- This is a tough one.  I don’t seem him leaving Chicago, but if he does he could be a big hit in New York.  But should he be?  He’ll strike out a lot of guys and he’ll be a good presence in the pen, so if Omar can get him for less than $10 million per, this could be a good signing.

13. Pat Burrell-  Though he’s toned down his status as a Mets-Killer over the years, he’s a strong righty bat that is a touch older than Adam Dunn, though I’m not sure if the age is a positive or a negative.  Neither can plan the field well, but with Endy Chavez able to come off the bench as a defensive replacement late in games that may not be a huge deal.  So is Burrell a better fit then done?  Simple: Yes.  He’s played in Philly and gotten booed (a lot) over the years, yet he’s come alive when it matters.  Without him, the Phillies don’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs.  If Omar can get him for $10-12 million per, this would be a good upgrade.

14. Bobby Abreu- The Mets do NOT need another aging left-handed bat, and since Abreu has diminished from the player he once was in his prime, I have to believe that he’ll only get worse.  He’s not a bad player, but he’s also not worth the money he’ll command.  Leave this one alone, Omar.

15. Ryan Dempster- His 2008 ERA was nearly a run and a half better than his career average, so I have to assume that his paycheck will be higher than his worth.  But he’s got experience as a starter and as a bullpen arm, so his value could be big for this team. But if the price is high, Dempster doesn’t belong in Flushing.  Maybe three years for $8 million per? Beyond that and let him go elsewhere.

The Mets Offseason – The Summary

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Last in a series

So what exactly should the Mets do this offseason?  I have gone over their open and problem positions:  second base, left field, most of the bullpen, and two starting pitcher spots.  I’ve thrown out some suggestions as far as free agents who will be available who the Mets should consider pursuing.  What sort of game plan would I pursue if I were Mets General Manager Omar Minaya?

First, after having time to think about it, I would stay away from Orlando Hudson.  His home/away splits and drastic defensive drop scare me.  Plus, he’s not particularly young, and will require a 4-5 year contract.  He would definitely be better than Luis Castillo in 2009, 2010, and 2011, but not by a significant enough margin to where the team should think of acquiring him.  I have a feeling Hudson will be a lemon wherever he lands, and could go down as one of the worst contracts awarded in the 2008 offseason.  The Mets need to stay away.

Instead, if the Mets can’t acquire Hudson, they should inquire about Brian Roberts from the Orioles.  Roberts has long been an underrated player, who would bring good speed and on base skills to the top of the Mets’ lineup.  His career stolen base percentage is 80% (226 of 283 attempts), and would slot in nicely between Jose Reyes and David Wright in the Mets’ lineup, particularly since he’s a switch hitter.  His defense has steadily declined the past three years, but nothing like the sudden drop-off experienced by Hudson.  I’m not sure what the Orioles would want in return here, but I would at least make a call and listen, because Roberts is better than any second baseman who will be available on the open market for the Mets.

Should a Roberts trade look infeasible, I would seriously think about some sort of job sharing arrangement between second base and left field with Fernando Tatis, Daniel Murphy, and a spare outfielder or infielder.  Murphy’s bat profiles really well at second base, though he may not be able to handle the position defensively.  While stories have been positive coming out of the Arizona Fall League, I haven’t heard much about what sort of range he has at second there.  Tatis might not be any better, and it might behoove the Mets to find a good defensive second baseman who can OPS better than .700 (hint: not Argenis Reyes).  I’ve liked Felipe Lopez for a long time, although he’s not great defensively, so he might not fit here.  But it looks like the Mets’ cheapest alternative would be to bring back Tatis, bring up Murphy full-time, and find a super-sub type who can play LF or 2B capably, either via trade or free agency.

If the Mets do decide to spend money on a strict LF, the choice I’d go for is Pat Burrell, but only if Endy Chavez is brought back as a fifth outfielder/Burrell caddy.  Burrell would slot very well into the 6th hole in the Mets’ lineup, between Beltran and Church.  He’s a right-hander, which would improve a lineup that seems a bit too left-handed, and his numbers against left-handed pitching would keep teams from bringing in a lefty to face Delgado and leaving in that lefty until they face Church.  He would also add another 20-35 home runs to a team that finished 7th in the NL in home runs in 2008.  Just as important to what he would add to the Mets, bringing Burrell to New York would also take away a pretty big part of the Phillies’ offense as well.  There is an issue with defense, and for that, you would have to keep Endy around to play the later innings.  But considering some of the left fielders the Mets started in 2008, defense clearly is not a huge priority for them in left.

As far as the starting rotation goes, I would like to see the team make a play for Derek Lowe in free agency.  He’s not going to blow you away with anything he does, but he doesn’t miss starts, he gets ground balls, he doesn’t allow a lot of home runs, he doesn’t allow a lot of walks, and he strikes out a fair number of batters.  He is about as good a #3 starter as you will find.  The problem with Lowe is, he turns 36 next year, so signing him long-term would be a mistake, and plus it looks like several teams will bid on his services.  But he’s a guy I’ve always liked, and I’d like to see if the Mets could figure out a way to add him to the rotation.

Short of signing Lowe, I would stay away from the high bid guys like Sabathia and Burnett and I’d like to see the Mets bring in two low-cost, one year contract types who might be looking for another shot.  Another solution is picking up a guy in a salary dump for Castillo.  Sometimes a lousy player just needs a change in scenery, and the Mets would seem to offer a good one; good defense on the left side of the infield and in center and right fields and a likely pitcher’s park in Citi Field.  The benefits of good defense and a ballpark conductive to pitching could help a pitcher who struggled last year turn things around in a hurry.

Also, as I have said before, I would like to see the team try one more time with Heilman in the starting rotation.  At this point, what do they have to lose?  He has talent, he has pitched well in the past, and he was injured for most of last season.  To trade him now would be to sell low; they would surely get nothing back in return.  Perhaps changing to a new role, a role he has wanted to perform for the past several years, would be very beneficial to Heilman.  I think they need to at least let him compete in spring training for a spot in the rotation.  At the very least, Heilman’s biggest opponent for becoming a starter, Rick Peterson, is gone; what’s the problem with giving him a shot with some other guys?

As for the bullpen, while I would personally argue that spending big bucks on a closer is a bad strategy, I realize that because of how last year left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth, it will probably be necessary here as a public relations move.  That said, I am really wary of giving K-Rod a five year contract.  His strikeout totals have declined the past three years, which is a bad sign, and he blew 7 saves in 2008.  Contrary to what 62 saves says, he was NOT the best closer in baseball last year.  He’s good, but I wouldn’t pay $75 million for a meaningless saves record.

I will say, I really like Brian Fuentes the more I look at him.  He gets ground balls, which is good when you have good infield defense behind you, and it means he avoids home runs.  He’s a guy who will ring up a lot of strikeouts; despite getting older, his strikeout rate has improved over two years ago.  His ERA is artificially inflated by Coors Field, meaning he might not come as expensive as one would expect a guy who has pitched as well as he has; move him to Citi Field, and I think he’s getting a lot of recognition as being a great reliever.  This is the guy who I’d want to throw some money at to fix the bullpen; he will be a better buy for the money required to sign him.

Juan Cruz is another guy I would take a look at, perhaps as a set-up man.  Again, my own personal preference would be to stay away from costly bullpen solutions, but for the purposes of PR, going out and spending big bucks on short-term solutions for the pen while working to fix the systematic problems that have plagued the Mets the past few years.  Cruz is another high strikeout guy; unfortunately, he doesn’t bring the ground ball success that Fuentes has had, and he’s a guy who can get rocked from time to time.  Still, he throws hard, he gets strikeouts, and he is more reliable in throwing complete innings than anybody currently on the team.  I don’t want to spend this money, but if you’re going to do so, this isn’t a bad place to spend it if you can sign him for under 3 years.

After that, it becomes a matter of finding guys out there, freely available, who will take a one year contract or minor league contract/spring training invite.  Much like with the rotation, find guys who have lacked success, see if they can be refound in the bullpen.  Some terrible starters make for good relievers.  Don’t be afraid to take a chance on a guy who hasn’t had success before; guys fighting for a spot in the majors are sometimes desperate enough to work out.  Think out of the box here; the Rays’ bullpen didn’t rebound from the worst in the majors to one of the best by spending huge money, but by going on virtual casting call and bringing some castoffs to Tampa and watching their careers rebound.  That’s what the Mets need to do.

In summary, I would target either Pat Burrell or Brian Roberts (because the team probably can’t get both) as an addition to the Mets lineup, with some flexibility at second base and left field to help out Tatis and Murphy.  Pick up a Derek Lowe or a few different innings-eater types and let them fight for some spots in the rotation, shipping the rest to the bullpen.  Make a splash with a Fuentes signing, but then go after low-cost alternatives to players already under contract to rebuild the rest of the bullpen.  Think smart more than think big bucks.  That’s where the Mets have lost their way in the past, but they can get back to a smarter way of acquiring talent and make this team a playoff team again in 2009, without going too crazy.

Mets in the World Series (2006-2008)

Friday, October 17th, 2008

I’m not sure what the purpose of this particular list is, but I felt it necessary to make anyway.

Since 2006, there have been twelve players on World Series teams that are former Mets. (I’m going to take for granted that the Tampa Bay Rays will be making it to the World Series.) Here’s the list:

-Kenny Rogers (2006 Detroit Tigers)
-Vance Wilson (2006 Detroit Tigers)
-Braden Looper (2006 St. Louis Cardinals)
-Jose Vizcaino (2006 St. Louis Cardinals)
-Timo Perez (2006 St. Louis Cardinals)
-Preston Wilson (2006 St. Louis Cardinals)
-Jorge Julio (2007 Colorado Rockies)
-Kaz Matsui (2007 Colorado Rockies)
-Clif Floyd (2007 Tampa Bay Rays)
-Dan Wheeler (2008 Tampa Bay Rays)
-Scott Kazmir (2008 Tampa Bay Rays)
-Chad Bradford (2008 Tampa Bay Rays)

Kenny Rogers was booed out of New York after walking Andruw Jones with the bases loaded to eliminate the Mets from the playoffs in 1999.

Vance Wilson was traded from the Mets before the 2005 season for Anderson Hernandez, whose biggest Mets accomplishment was being the “player to be named later” in the deal for Louis Ayala. Wilson had become expendable after the Mets acquired Ramon Castro for no good reason.

Braden Looper’s middle name is “LaVerne.” He was doomed from the start. In 2005, he blew saves on Opening Day (Pedro Martinez’s first Mets start), on the Sunday of the Mets/Yankees series which would have given the Mets a sweet, and on a day in which the Mets gave up an eight-run lead to the Nationals. Needles to say, when the Mets refused to pick up his option for 2006, the Shea faithful were not unhappy.

Jose Vizcaino hit .270 in his illustrious 2-year Mets career.

Timo Perez will forever be regarded as the man who single-handedly cost the Mets Game 1 of the 2000 World Series. Personally, I hate him for it.

Preston Wilson was traded for Mike Piazza in 1998. I’m okay with this.

Jorge Julio ended up as the lesser part of the deal that also brought John Maine to the Mets for Kris Benson in 2006.

Kaz Matsui hit Opening Day home runs in all three seasons with the Mets. Unfortunately, that Opening Day would be the best day of his year in each of those three seasons.

Cliff Floyd was a good guy, but when his contract was up with the Mets after 2006. Maybe it’s because he missed 180 games in his four seasons.

Dan Wheeler was traded for Adam Seuss in 2004. Umm… yeah…

Chad Bradford pitched well in 70 games for the Mets in 2006, and then left as a free agent. Bastard.

Scott Kazmir never actually played for the Mets, but it still hurts. But for the purposes of my argument, I’m going to ignore Scott Kazmir’s connection to the Mets.

Cliff Floyd and Kenny Rogers were past their primes when they left the Mets. Chad Bradfor and Jorge Julio were good bit parts in the pen, but neither was a superstar. Dan Wheeler had not shown the potential that he so clearly has by that point in his career. Kaz Matsui and Braden Looper could not have been less comfortable playing in New York and they needed to go. The others were all bit players at best.

So this all begs some questions: why do these players find success when they leave the team, but fail to make an impact with the Mets? What makes a bit player help a team to a World Series? What changes when a player is removed from the spotlight of New York? And why do those same bit players often have career years when they play for the Yankees?

Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for any of these questions. But I’m finding it very interesting that there’s so many players in this category.