Archive for the ‘Columns’ Category

The Mets Offseason – The Bullpen

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Last in a series about how the Mets will reassemble a team for 2009

A lot can, and has been said about the Mets bullpen in 2008.  If you are looking for the #1 main reason this team failed to make the postseason in 2009, look no further than the bullpen.  Seven times did the Mets take leads into the 9th inning that the bullpen failed to hold – seven times!  One way to look at it – only 91 times in baseball in 2008 did a team that led in the 9th fail to win the game.  The Mets by themselves hold 7.7% of that number.  Only one team lost as many as six games when leading after 8 (the Cardinals) and only four other teams lost 5 games.  Three teams (the Giants, Yankees, and Phillies) didn’t lose a single game after leading after 8.  If your team leads after 8 innings, they are supposed to win.  The Mets bullpen found ways for this team to lose.

It almost doesn’t feel fair to simply blame the late inning relievers, though.  The middle inning guys failed to get it done as well; the Mets had the 11th worst record when leading after 6, and the 3rd worst record when leading after 7.  Please don’t listen to anybody who wants to give any reason for the Mets’ failures before they address the massive issues with this year’s bullpen.  If they had done a better job holding leads, hell, if they had held even one more lead, this team would have made the playoffs.  It’s depressing to think about, yet true.  That’s why before you blame players that had good years for not being even better, you have to blame the bullpen.  They have utterly failed in even the most basic aspect of their job; preventing the other team from scoring as many runs as the leads they have been handed in later innings.

So how do you fix this?  That is the million dollar question going into the offseason.  The good news is…if the team wanted to, they could bring EVERYBODY back for an encore in 2009!  Wow!  Doesn’t that fill your heart with glee?  Every single member of the bullpen could be brought back for 2009 if the team were inclined.  The reality is, that is not going to happen, or else there will be rioting in Queens the likes of which would likely take Citi Field before a single game could be played there.  However, I get the feeling that Mets fans will at least be a little disappointed that the team might not go far enough in completely retooling this bullpen, simply because I’m not sure exactly how many of these guys the team will be able to cut loose and then find a replacement.  Let’s go through the cast of characters one by one.

Billy Wagner – Injured, out for the year.  The one guy from the Mets bullpen who most Mets fans would welcome back with open arms…won’t be returning at all.

Aaron Heilman – Most Mets fans won’t want him back, but I think he’s almost a lock to return.  As I said on Tuesday, I’m not sure we’ll see him back in the bullpen, but we will see him back in blue and orange.  If he was hurt, that could explain a lot of his issues.  If he can find a way to get healthy, and keep the ball in the park, he will be worth keeping around – in particular, his strikeout numbers were strong this year.  A lot of members of the Mets bullpen need to be sent packing, but I think they should try to spend one more year on Heilman before giving up hope.

Pedro Feliciano – He went from a lefty specialist to a guy who was deadly against righties and lefties, back to a lefty specialist.  His days of being counted on to get right handers out are likely over, and thus his days as a legitimate set-up man.  He still probably has value as a LOOGY, and since he’s not yet eligible for free agency, he probably will come relatively cheap for 2009.  The problem is relying on too many Pedro Felicianos and not enough full inning guys, but one or two are probably not a bad idea.

Scott Schoeneweis – If you are only keeping one LOOGY, then Schoeneweis has to go.  He’s been the lesser of the two LOOGYs, and the one who is even more of a strict LOOGY.  Factor in the problems he had at the end of 2008, including his real world issues, and it would probably be best for all involved if Omar Minaya could find another place for Schoeneweis to ply his trade.  It will likely require eating some salary, but when you figure that this team is going to eat a lot more of Luis Castillo’s salary to get rid of him, and it’s really only for one year, it’s probably the right thing to do.

Joe Smith – Your winner of the 2008 Mets’ Best Reliever award.  Please, don’t get too excited.  Smith pitched great early on, hit a wall around June and July, and came back to have a decent August and September.  He gets ground balls and avoids the long ball, which is a plus out of this pen.  The bad part is, he can’t pitch to lefties.  The problem is, with his delivery, he might find it difficult to ever get lefties out consistently, much like Chad Bradford, making him a ROOGY.  Still, there is a value to keeping him around and having him pitch to right handed hitters with runners on base, because his ground ball and strikeout tendencies make him a good bet to strand those runners.

Brian Stokes – Probably a guy worth keeping around as well.  He’s a guy with a nice sinker, but it hasn’t necessarily translated into keeping the ball in the park as much as you’d like.  He’s also one of the few hard tossers in this bullpen.  He also had ROOGY tendencies, but because his delivery is not as unorthodox as Joe Smith’s, I feel more confident that he can develop a pitch to get lefties out more than Smith.  I think Stokes could prove to be a good fit for the 2009 Mets bullpen.  I am cautiously optimistic.

Duaner Sanchez – He never made it all the way back from his shoulder issues following his taxi accident two years ago.  I’m worried that he’s going to get another year, with the team hoping it will take him another year to get healthy and turn back into the dominant player he was in the first half of 2006.  I just don’t think that player is coming back, and it would be a waste of resources at this point.  I am a little encouraged that he was singled out by Omar Minaya in his interview with MetsBlog as a guy who was particularly disappointing, but I suspect we’re going to get at least one more season of Duaner before the team cuts bait, maybe not even a full season.

Carlos Muniz – He is Heath Bell, without the stuff.  There’s no reason for the team to cut him, so they probably won’t, but I don’t think he’s even going to get the limited opportunities he received in 2008 next season.

Luis Ayala – Peace out.  For all the talk about how great Ayala was after the trade from the Nats, he wound up having roughly the same ERA and WHIP as a Met that he had as a National.  How this man was ever the closer, even temporarily, of a team that was in contention in September is mind-boggling to me.

Nelson Figueroa, Brandon Knight – Guys who might pitch in Buffalo next year to fill the AAA roster, but otherwise, nobody who this team will count on.

Eddie Kunz, Bobby Parnell – Guys who should compete for bullpen spots in spring training.  I don’t know that either guy is ready to be part of a major league pen, but they should be allowed to at least compete for a job.  Parnell is a hard thrower who seemed a bit overwhelmed throwing in a pennant race, but seems to be the type of guy who might excel in the pen.  Kunz’s velocity is down a little, but he’s another guy who keeps the ball down and avoids the longball.

Where does this leave the Mets?  Smith, Stokes, and probably Feliciano are worth being brought back in the bullpen (again, the caveat on Feliciano being that he rarely pitch to a right handed batter).  Heilman is worth being brought back, but might be an option in the rotation.  Kunz and Parnell should compete for a bullpen spot, maybe two.  Don’t want to see Duaner or Ayala back under any circumstances, but I have a bad feeling one will be back.  That leaves at least one closer spot, probably a set-up spot (do you feel comfortable with Brian Stokes in the 8th inning, at least initially?), and maybe a few other spots.

Spending money on bullpen help is always a risky proposition – just look at what happened with the Mets and Billy Wagner.  It was the right move to make, but he’s going to wind up missing time for injury on about a third of that contract.  Francisco Rodriguez’s name has been floated around a lot for the Mets, but it feels like they are cold on K-Rod, and rightfully so – he is looking for 5 years, $75 million, and that is a lot of money to give to a guy who won’t pitch more than 70 innings a year.  Even a guy like Brian Fuentes is going to command $11 million a year, which for three years, might be a bargain (he is a good strikeout guy and a groundball pitcher – he was always a significantly better pitcher away from Coors, but could pitch in a high climate).  The trade market could bring in a Joakim Soria or a Huston Street, but they will probably also cost the Mets prospects.

The team is in a hard position here – they clearly need some sort of relief ace going into 2009, a guy who can hold down the 9th inning.  Seven ninth inning losses drive this point home.  At the same time, they are paying the freight on Wagner next year, they have to get at least one, maybe two starting pitchers, and perhaps even a second baseman and a left fielder as well.  That’s a lot of money right there.  At the same time…the team can get by with another year of Luis Castillo (no matter how hated he might be) or mediocre to below average starters in the 4 and 5 holes (they did, after all, get by with mediocre to below average starters in the 3, 4, and 5 holes from August on) if they can just have a bullpen that can hold a friggin’ lead.  Is that so hard?

So while this team might not be happy paying for a premium closer, while paying for one more year of Billy Wagner, they cannot put themselves in a position where they are trotting out a bullpen that lacks a true relief ace.  This team right now does not have a guy who in 2008 proved himself to be a trustworthy reliever.  Whether it be by trade or by throwing a briefcase full of gold bricks at a guy, they need at least one guy who they know can shut the door in the ninth.  Dropping that seven losses in the ninth inning total down to about 3 or 4 would have won the division in 2008.  They are going to have to bite the bullet and spend big bucks or trade a couple of second tier prospects to bring in a real closer.  It would be unacceptable to assume that they have somebody here already who can grow into the role.

Now, as far as a set-up man goes…this is an area where it would be imprudent to spend big money.  You can get by with spending good money on a high leverage reliever because the difference between a good reliever in a high leverage situation and a bad reliever in the same situation is worth the dollars.  To spend money on a middle reliever, though…that rarely works out.  The team needs to scour the waiver wire, look for guys who are looking for a shot at redemption, guys who have flaws, but are salvageable.  Cast a wide net, avoid long-term contracts, minor league free agents, spring training invites…seriously, it would not be the worst idea to come into camp with about fifteen pitchers competing for six spots.  Operate under the assumption that the more relievers you have in camp, the more likely you are to luck into a guy who will give you 60-70 innings of quality relief. 

Look at a guy like Chad Durbin, who had been terrible for his whole career, who came to the Phillies and was suddenly lights out.  That doesn’t mean sign Chad Durbin; that means sign a guy like Chad Durbin, who has had stuff but no results.  He was ill-suited to start, and a move to the bullpen resurrected his career.  The waiver wire is full of failed starters; which of these guys can help the Mets’ bullpen?  The minor leagues are full of failed starters, guys who had teams who tried for years and years to turn into decent starters, but whether it was injury or make up, it never worked out.  Eventually, teams cut these guys loose.  Bring in one of these guys, see if he can hack it in the pen.

These are just ideas for this year, but the organization needs to start to target more hard throwing high school arms and Latin American pitchers for the future.  College starters like Brad Holt are low risk, low ceiling guys who are capable of being decent starters, but won’t necessarily become stars.  The high ceiling guys have a higher risk of failure, but if they throw hard and avoid injury, they might turn into a decent reliever.  It feels like the Mets’ system is devoid of hard throwers right now, which can partially be blamed on the Johan trade, or because of losing draft picks due to free agent signings, but it can also be blamed on the Mets following the slotting system, which does not benefit the team.  They need to get a little greedy here and start to think about the future, and how they can avoid having bullpen messes like the 2008 bullpen.  One way would be to have a systemic devotion to going after hard throwers, and whatever guys don’t turn into starters can be converted into relievers.

The Mets Offseason – The Outfielders

Monday, October 13th, 2008

Second in a series about how the Mets will reassemble a team for 2009

Like the infielders, there would not appear to be much the Mets will have to do in the outfield.  Carlos Beltran likely isn’t going anywhere (and I will tell you right now – if he did, the diatribe I write here will be legendary).  Ryan Church probably won’t get dealt either; there was a rumor started by a terrible afternoon drive sports talk radio host that he did not like playing in New York that was quickly shot down by people who had actually, you know, spoken to Ryan Church at some point in their lives.  Endy Chavez will likely be back as the 5th OF, although he is a free agent, but it is unlikely he would be offered more money or a starting job by another team.  Fernando Tatis will also likely be back in some capacity, although he too would be free to sign with another ball club.

That leaves left field as open.  It is unlikely that the Mets will go into 2009 with the Daniel Murphy/Nick Evans platoon in left field again.  If Evans is kept around, he would be better off starting 2009 in Triple-A Buffalo, as he is an unfinished product.  Daniel Murphy has probably earned some sort of spot on this team, but if he isn’t playing every day or platooning, he should probably be playing every day in Buffalo as well.  There has been talk of Murphy at first base, second base, and outfield, but it looks like Omar Minaya is shooting down the second base possibility, at least for now.  That leaves first base and left field.  First base will likely be occupied by Carlos Delgado for 2009, since it would only cost the Mets $8 million to pick up the option, but would cost another team $12 million to acquire him via trade, plus it would require Delgado waiving his no-trade option (which will probably cost a prospective buyer a contract for 2010), and plus, why create an opening when it isn’t necessary?  So figure on Murphy remaining an outfielder for 2009 if he should make the team.

But will he?  It probably wouldn’t be the worst idea to keep him in Buffalo as the first hand on deck in case Delgado, Church, or (fill in the blank) gets hurt.  Of course, if you do that, you have to make sure you have a better outfielder than Daniel Murphy to start the year.  The available free agents can pretty much be summed up thusly:  Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell, and not much else.  You will probably read many begs and pleas for the Mets to sign Manny this offseason, and frankly, it might not be a bad move; he would add a strong power right-handed bat to the lineup, it would erase any holes the Mets would have in the order 3 through 6 to the point where they could bat Luis Castillos second, seventh, and eighth and still score a ton of runs, and it would lead to some fun shenanigans every few games.  It’s probably not a bad idea to look into, although I think in the end, it will be too pricey for the Mets to get done.

I really like Adam Dunn, but he’s not going to sign here.  His value is tied into home runs and walks, and I haven’t ever really felt like the Mets are big believers in Three True Outcomes sluggers like Dunn.  Plus, Dunn would make the Mets too left-handed unless they traded Delgado; a team with even a poor lefty specialist would be able to come in and get Delgado, Church, and Dunn out without having to face any switches or righties other than Beltran.  I’d love if Dunn signed here, since I’ve always admired his ability to mash and draw walks, but that isn’t happening.

Burrell is an interesting option.  He has made his career for being a Mets killer, so the Mets signing him would be a great way to keep one Phillie from consistently destroying them.  He’s put together four really strong seasons in a row for the Phillies, and he has been a good enough hitter on the road to where you can’t necessarily say it’s all the ballpark (he was, in fact, a better hitter away from Citizens Bank Park in 2008).  The minuses are his defense, which is terrible, on a team that seems to put a premium on outfield defense, important with all of the fly ball pitchers they covet.  Of course, if they retained Endy Chavez, they could use Endy to play left in the later innings, much like the Phillies have done this past season with So Taguchi.  I do think Burrell probably will not leave the Phillies, because unlike when Aaron Rowand left last year, the Phillies do not have a ready-made replacement for Burrell in left field, but if he did explore the free agent market, I could see the Mets getting really involved here.

There is even another option in play here; re-sign Moises Alou.  Now, I know the mere thought of bringing Alou back would cause most Mets fans to recoil, but at a lower salary, in a platoon with Murphy, it might not be a bad idea.  If Alou is open to signing a one-year, incentive-laden contract, it might be a good gamble.  Worst case scenario, Alou gets hurt and the team platoons Murphy with Tatis instead (they could keep Tatis around as a super utility/pinch hitter and see if they can dump Marlon Anderson).  If they could get Alou to sign for one year at, say, $4 million with at-bat incentives built in, it could be a decent option to fill left field.  Then again, maybe it’s time they moved on from Moises; he gave the team good hitting down the stretch in ‘07, but he may not be capable of doing that again.

So that’s where we stand with the Mets’ outfield.  Beltran will be in center, Church will be in right.  We could see a left field platoon of Daniel Murphy and Fernando Tatis or even Moises Alou, or we could see the Mets signing a big name acquisition.  There is also the possibility of a trade, much like the one that brought Ryan Church to Queens last fall.  It’s not readily apparent what the team will do to fill the left field vacancy, but it will be a story worth following.

The Mets Offseason – The Outfielders

Monday, October 13th, 2008

Second in a series about how the Mets will reassemble a team for 2009

Like the infielders, there would not appear to be much the Mets will have to do in the outfield.  Carlos Beltran likely isn’t going anywhere (and I will tell you right now – if he did, the diatribe I write here will be legendary).  Ryan Church probably won’t get dealt either; there was a rumor started by a terrible afternoon drive sports talk radio host that he did not like playing in New York that was quickly shot down by people who had actually, you know, spoken to Ryan Church at some point in their lives.  Endy Chavez will likely be back as the 5th OF, although he is a free agent, but it is unlikely he would be offered more money or a starting job by another team.  Fernando Tatis will also likely be back in some capacity, although he too would be free to sign with another ball club.

That leaves left field as open.  It is unlikely that the Mets will go into 2009 with the Daniel Murphy/Nick Evans platoon in left field again.  If Evans is kept around, he would be better off starting 2009 in Triple-A Buffalo, as he is an unfinished product.  Daniel Murphy has probably earned some sort of spot on this team, but if he isn’t playing every day or platooning, he should probably be playing every day in Buffalo as well.  There has been talk of Murphy at first base, second base, and outfield, but it looks like Omar Minaya is shooting down the second base possibility, at least for now.  That leaves first base and left field.  First base will likely be occupied by Carlos Delgado for 2009, since it would only cost the Mets $8 million to pick up the option, but would cost another team $12 million to acquire him via trade, plus it would require Delgado waiving his no-trade option (which will probably cost a prospective buyer a contract for 2010), and plus, why create an opening when it isn’t necessary?  So figure on Murphy remaining an outfielder for 2009 if he should make the team.

But will he?  It probably wouldn’t be the worst idea to keep him in Buffalo as the first hand on deck in case Delgado, Church, or (fill in the blank) gets hurt.  Of course, if you do that, you have to make sure you have a better outfielder than Daniel Murphy to start the year.  The available free agents can pretty much be summed up thusly:  Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell, and not much else.  You will probably read many begs and pleas for the Mets to sign Manny this offseason, and frankly, it might not be a bad move; he would add a strong power right-handed bat to the lineup, it would erase any holes the Mets would have in the order 3 through 6 to the point where they could bat Luis Castillos second, seventh, and eighth and still score a ton of runs, and it would lead to some fun shenanigans every few games.  It’s probably not a bad idea to look into, although I think in the end, it will be too pricey for the Mets to get done.

I really like Adam Dunn, but he’s not going to sign here.  His value is tied into home runs and walks, and I haven’t ever really felt like the Mets are big believers in Three True Outcomes sluggers like Dunn.  Plus, Dunn would make the Mets too left-handed unless they traded Delgado; a team with even a poor lefty specialist would be able to come in and get Delgado, Church, and Dunn out without having to face any switches or righties other than Beltran.  I’d love if Dunn signed here, since I’ve always admired his ability to mash and draw walks, but that isn’t happening.

Burrell is an interesting option.  He has made his career for being a Mets killer, so the Mets signing him would be a great way to keep one Phillie from consistently destroying them.  He’s put together four really strong seasons in a row for the Phillies, and he has been a good enough hitter on the road to where you can’t necessarily say it’s all the ballpark (he was, in fact, a better hitter away from Citizens Bank Park in 2008).  The minuses are his defense, which is terrible, on a team that seems to put a premium on outfield defense, important with all of the fly ball pitchers they covet.  Of course, if they retained Endy Chavez, they could use Endy to play left in the later innings, much like the Phillies have done this past season with So Taguchi.  I do think Burrell probably will not leave the Phillies, because unlike when Aaron Rowand left last year, the Phillies do not have a ready-made replacement for Burrell in left field, but if he did explore the free agent market, I could see the Mets getting really involved here.

There is even another option in play here; re-sign Moises Alou.  Now, I know the mere thought of bringing Alou back would cause most Mets fans to recoil, but at a lower salary, in a platoon with Murphy, it might not be a bad idea.  If Alou is open to signing a one-year, incentive-laden contract, it might be a good gamble.  Worst case scenario, Alou gets hurt and the team platoons Murphy with Tatis instead (they could keep Tatis around as a super utility/pinch hitter and see if they can dump Marlon Anderson).  If they could get Alou to sign for one year at, say, $4 million with at-bat incentives built in, it could be a decent option to fill left field.  Then again, maybe it’s time they moved on from Moises; he gave the team good hitting down the stretch in ‘07, but he may not be capable of doing that again.

So that’s where we stand with the Mets’ outfield.  Beltran will be in center, Church will be in right.  We could see a left field platoon of Daniel Murphy and Fernando Tatis or even Moises Alou, or we could see the Mets signing a big name acquisition.  There is also the possibility of a trade, much like the one that brought Ryan Church to Queens last fall.  It’s not readily apparent what the team will do to fill the left field vacancy, but it will be a story worth following.

The Mets Offseason – The Infielders

Friday, October 10th, 2008

First in a series about how the Mets will reassemble a team for 2009

The infield looks to be a place of little flux this offseason.  Clearly, the left side of the Mets infield isn’t going anywhere, despite the pleas of talk radio hosts desperate for ratings.  The Mets will likely pick up the option of Carlos Delgado, and even though there have been calls to trade him, I don’t think he’s going anywhere; the team does not have a ready-made replacement for him unless they think Daniel Murphy is ready to play every day (and he probably isn’t).

That leaves second base and the reserve spots open.  There is no guarantee Luis Castillo is going anywhere, but I have to believe that it is a priority for this team to get rid of him.  He fell out of favor by the end of the season, to where 38 year old Damion Easley was playing every day instead, and fans actually believed that Argenis Reyes was a legitimate replacement.  At some point, the team just has to move forward and realize that a player isn’t a good fit; Castillo was a bad signing, and to continue to keep him here compounds the mistake.

There is no guarantee that they will be able to orchestrate a salary dump, but surely some team would be willing to take Castillo provided the Mets paid the freight for most of the remaining three years.  It might behoove the Mets to find a team looking to dump a bad relief pitcher contract but needs a second baseman.  Relievers are fickle enough to where a change in scenery is often beneficial, and it would kill two birds with one stone.  I’m not exactly sure what the best fit here would be, but I’d have to think that this would be the best way to kill the proverbial two birds with one stone.

If the team does dump Castillo, the team will need a new second baseman.  Forget about internal options for now.  Daniel Murphy likely isn’t a second baseman; he’s never played a position as challenging as second in his career, and there is no reason to expect he can develop the necessary range required of even an adequate defender at the position.  Argenis Reyes does have the range to play second, but belongs nowhere near a big league lineup, not with that bat.  You can get by sometimes with a below-average bat with great defense, but Reyes’ bat would have to improve a lot to simply become below average.

That means if Castillo is gone, the team will have to find a new second baseman.  Orlando Hudson is the big rumor; Ken Rosenthal has reported that Hudson wants to be a Met.  Evan Roberts claimed on WFAN earlier this week that Hudson cried when the team signed Castillo, because it meant that he likely would not be a Met.  Who knows if this is true or not.  The big question is, would Hudson be worth it?  He turns 31 years old in December, so he’s not young; for comparison’s sake, Castillo just turned 33.  He has played a good defensive second base in the past, but was not as good defensively in 2008 as he has been in the past; is this the start of a decline or an aberration?

Hudson also has shown pretty big home/away splits since being traded to the Diamondbacks in 2006; playing half of his games at Chase Field, he has hit .315/.391/.509/.900 in the desert, and .274/.336/.392/.729 away from cacti.  He is clearly somebody who has benefitted from playing in a hitter’s park.  He is going to be making a jump from 90 games in strict hitter’s environments (including 9 games at Coors Field) to playing 108 games a year in pitcher’s parks (Citi Field projects as a pitcher’s park, plus Atlanta, Florida, and Washington all favor pitchers). 

If the defense wasn’t a one-year aberration because of injury…Hudson is a guy who can quickly turn into a lemon if he was playing on the Mets.  I’m a little wary here.  Will he be better than Castillo?  Probably initially, but I wouldn’t give him more than 3-4 years.  Is there a great risk for the Mets to pick up Hudson here?  I think there is.  He’s better than Castillo, but is he really that much of an upgrade that the team should dump Castillo and then give him 4-5 years?  Probably not. 

The bad news is, unless Jeff Kent tickles your fancy, and I suspect most Mets fans want no part of Kent (and he wants no part of us), Hudson is the best of the lot.  It’s either keep Castillo around and continue getting nothing out of second base, or pay Orlando Hudson $40 million over 5 years (and that could be low) plus some other team $18 million to take Luis Castillo…and get a marginal upgrade.  These aren’t good choices for the Mets.  Then again…the Wilpons are about to get richer than God during a financial crisis thanks to the new stadium, so why not spend the money on a small upgrade?  It’s not a great move or a brilliant move, but it gets rid of a player they clearly don’t want and gets them a guy who will at least be a little bit better, with potential of an extra base hit now and then.

Anyway, that’s best case scenario at second base.  Worst case scenario is the same scenario we had last year.  In between?  Adam Kennedy is available via trade; too bad he’s terrible.  Free agency would yield the likes of Felipe Lopez, Mark Grudzielanek, Ray Durham, Mark Loretta…none of these guys are any good, certainly not worthy of eating Castillo’s salary just to acquire them, but would be slight improvements.  Bringing in a Lopez or a Loretta might not be a bad move, because the team could keep Castillo around and use one or the other in a job-sharing role at second base, and have a younger and better utility guy to replace Damion Easley.

That brings up another issue; a utility infielder.  At this point, Damion Easley is likely too old to be considered for this role on a championship team.  He doesn’t have a particularly great bat, and isn’t particularly good defensively either.  Sure, he can “play” shortstop, but that doesn’t mean he actually should “play” shortstop, considering he doesn’t even play a good defensive second base.  I’ve always liked Felipe Lopez, and would like to see the Mets pick him up, particularly since he should be available cheap.  But Easley needs to go; I’ve liked him, I think he’s intelligent, he’s usually a decent post-game interview, but he’s done.

Since we need to throw the catchers somewhere, might as well throw them here; I doubt we will see any change in catchers for 2009.  Schneider isn’t a very good hitter, and Castro declined offensively last year, but I just don’t see where they are going to get the kind of upgrade they need in this market.  Hopefully, the plan to make Reese Havens a catcher pans out and he turns out to be a good one down the line, but for 2009, expect more of the same behind the plate.

Next:  The Outfielders

A look back at my 2008 predictions

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

I thought it would be fun to take a look back and see if I nailed anything this year, or if my preseason predictions were completely and utterly wrong.  It’s hard to predict anything more than six weeks in advance in baseball, much less six months, but hey, maybe I lucked into something.  I will only look at my own predictions; if Joeadig wants to go over his own, he can do so on his own.  Let’s take a look.

How great will Johan Santana really be?
Johan Santana will be the best pitcher in the National League in 2008 and will cruise to his third Cy Young Award.  The impact he will bring to this Mets team will be enormous; last year’s team tended to run hot and cold a lot, with really bad months in June and (obviously) September.  With a stopper like Santana, plus Pedro Martinez around more often than not to be the Robin to his Batman, long losing streaks will be fewer and far between for the 2008 Mets.

Well, Pedro was not the Robin to his Batman, but Santana was pretty damned close to the best pitcher in the NL in 2008.  The only other pitcher who has a real argument is Tim Lincecum, who had more strikeouts but allowed more runs and pitched fewer innings.  He probably won’t cruise to a Cy Young Award, but he did add enormous impact; without the Johan trade, this was an under .500 team.

Will we see Fernando Martinez in the major leagues in 2008?
Called up in September, not before.  This is a big year for F-Mart, he needs a good year in Binghamton to keep his status as the Mets’ #1 prospect after a disappointing injury-plagued year last year.  I think he’s going to do it, and will be rewarded with a major league promotion when rosters expand, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he started a few games to rest Moises Alou and/or Carlos Beltran before the playoffs.

We didn’t.  He also didn’t stay healthy, although he showed signs of getting better before his latest injury.  He’s probably going to start in Binghamton for a third straight year next year, but it’s too soon to call him a bust; he’s still only going to be 20 years old, and he seems to be suffering more freak injuries rather than anything that will linger on as his career develops.

Who will start more games in the 5 hole:  Mike Pelfrey, Orlando Hernandez, Jorge Sosa, or somebody else?
Orlando Hernandez will start the most games, but he will miss extended periods of time throughout the year.  Sosa might start the year as the #5, but it won’t take the team long to remember why he was banished to the bullpen last year.  Pelfrey will be called back up at some point, but he will spend most of his year in New Orleans as the team tries to figure out what’s wrong with him and how they can try to fix him to get him ready for a full-time shot at the roster in 2009.

The answer was A, Mike Pelfrey.  Neither of the other two, in fact, started a single game for the 2008 Mets.  Pelfrey didn’t pitch a single game in New Orleans and by the end of the season, he had established himself as a legitimate 2-3 starter.  Orlando Hernandez spent the entire season on the DL and never sniffed being healthy, and Jorge Sosa was released on May 21st after seven weeks of ineffective relief.

Will Pedro Martinez stay healthy?
Pedro Martinez will stay healthy for most of 2008; he might miss a start here and there or get pushed back in the rotation, and he won’t pitch more than 5-6 innings too often, but I don’t think he will spend any time on the disabled list.

WRONG.  Pedro was injured 3 innings into his 2008 campaign, and while he did spend more time with the team than he did on the DL, he did in fact miss time this year.  Not that he was much better than the Nelson Figueroas or Tony Armases that started in his place.

Will the bullpen take a step forward from last season?
Yes – I like the moves the Mets made this year as opposed to last year.  They were low risk moves like signing Matt Wise and avoiding long-term contracts, that more resemble the way the 2006 Mets bullpen was constructed than the 2007 Mets bullpen.  Plus, Willie Randolph won’t be able to keep bringing Guillermo Mota in for big spots, which is always a plus.  Overall, I think we will see an improvement this year, and while the 2008 bullpen won’t quite reach the heights of 2006, it won’t be nearly as bad as it was in 2007, either.

Wow.  Other than suggesting that the Mets should trade Jose Reyes, I may never have said anything more wrong in the history of this website.  There was no step forward, only steps back.  Guillermo Mota may have been an improvement over Aaron Heilman had he not been traded.  Matt Wise threw exactly seven innings, most of which were terrible.  The Mets didn’t pick up a single player who improved this bullpen, either.  My optimism was highly misplaced.

Next, the question was posed “Will the following Mets repeat or exceed their play of last year, or will they regress a little bit?”.  My answers for each are below.

Jose Reyes
I am excited for Reyes’ 2008, because I think this is going to be a huge year for him.  Lost in all of the hype about his final two months is the fact that he’s still a player who is young and has made enormous strides since coming to the big leagues.  I think he will have something to prove after last season ended so poorly for him, and with a renewed focus and a little more maturity, he’s going to have a big year for the Mets in the leadoff position.

I needed a win after that awful bullpen quote, and I got one here – Jose Reyes was great this year.  I think I was hoping for more OBP from him than what we ultimately got, but overall, he had a terrific year.  Yet I still think the best is yet to come for Reyes; I am excited for what we will see from him in the future.

David Wright
But Reyes won’t be the Mets’ best hitter, because that’s going to be David Wright.  It’s scary that Wright keeps getting a little bit better every year, and he came into the league pretty damned good.  Last year, he lost out on some hardware because the Mets’ pitching staff folded down the stretch.  This year, with the rotation solidified with a true ace for the first time since Mike Hampton’s one-and-done season, and with some further small improvements, Wright won’t be denied his first MVP.

Ummmm…yeah, he will be.  He did regress a little bit in 2008, but he still had a fine season.  Much has been made of his lack of “clutchness,” but the truth is, he was probably a little bit unlucky this year; his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) with two outs and runners in scoring position was 40 points lower than it was overall; when he was putting the ball in play, fielders were getting to the ball more often.  That’s luck.  His line drive percentage also increased over 2007, but he had a lower overall batting average; again, that’s just fielders catching line drives.  He’s hitting the ball well, but right at fielders, which is going to mean fewer hits.  Not much he can do once the ball leaves his bat, right?

Carlos Beltran
I’m expecting a little decline from Beltran this year – his offseason knee surgery will sap him of some of his great range in center field, and perhaps some of his power as well.  He will be moved to a corner sooner rather than later, and will evolve into something of an all-or-nothing power hitter – but not right away.  He’ll be good, but he won’t be as good, and by the end of the season, he will be the Mets’ third-best hitter.

There was a little decline, but not much.  His defense remained superb, to the point where moving him to a corner seems ridiculous.  He also hasn’t begun to evolve into an all or nothing power hitter; he still shows great on base instincts and works the count well.  He was probably the team’s second best overall hitter behind Wright if you consider the months of April through September.

Carlos Delgado
I am coming in with low expectations this year – something around a .260/.330/.480, which would be better than last year, but still not exactly what the Mets were hoping for when they traded for him.  I’m also expecting at least one stint on the DL.  I hope I am proven wrong.

I wasn’t that far off:  .271/.353/.518.  No stints on the DL, either.  Delgado was a weird case; so many people remembered his June through September to the point where they forget just how bad he was in April, May, and the beginning of June.  He really belonged nowhere near the MVP discussion, and the fact that the Mets didn’t make the playoffs will likely keep him miles away from the award, and rightfully so.  This team had four MVP candidates, and none of them were Delgado.

Luis Castillo
I am predicting that by the end of 2008, Omar Minaya may already regret signing Luis Castillo to a four year deal.  He underwent double knee surgery over the offseason, and he’s a player primarily known for is speed – if he can’t beat out infield hits to keep his batting average up, he isn’t going to get on base, and it’s not like he’s going to hit for anything resembling power to make up for it.  I believe this offseason, the Mets will once again be on the look out for a new second baseman.

Substitute “end of 2008,” with “end of April,” and I completely nailed this one.  Indeed, the Mets are already rumored to be considering Orlando Hudson or other options for 2B for next year.  I can’t give myself too much credit for this one, as this was an easy call; anybody could have seen that four years of Luis Castillo was a bad move.

Moises Alou
He will be similar to last year – he won’t hit .341 again, but he will give the Mets good production when he’s in the lineup, which unfortunately won’t be often enough.

Nope; he wasn’t similar to last year because last year he played in some games.  He wasn’t in the lineup often enough, because save for 15 games, he wasn’t in the lineup at all.

John Maine
Maine has a chance to be a real unsung hero for this team – he won’t be as flashy as Pedro or Santana, but he will be a solid, consistent #3.  If he can avoid wearing down like he did last year (and I suspect that Peterson and Willie will more closely monitor his innings this year), he could be a sleeper Cy Young candidate.

This was overly optimistic from the start, although I was trying to convey that he could pile up wins on a good team to enhance his Cy Young resume, but he was an average starter until being shut down for the year in August.

Oliver Perez
Can you really predict what Oliver Perez will do from week to week, much less season to season?  Since the answer is no, I’ll just predict that he gives the team exactly what he gave them last year, and hope it comes to pass, because it’s sure better than him being worse.

He remained unpredictable, although he was probably a little bit worse in 2008 than he was in 2007.

Billy Wagner
I feel an injury to Wagner coming – he’s been “unavailable” for games here and there the past two years, but he’s been lucky to avoid the DL, and he’s been a guy who has battled injuries in the past.  He’s not getting any younger, and I feel as though we Mets fans may feel almost too “safe,” for lack of a better term, so I think he’ll miss around a month somewhere in the middle of the year.

He would miss two months at the end of the year, and this probably did as much to submarine the Mets’ playoff hopes as anything.  Kinda wish I had been wrong on this.

Aaron Heilman
He’ll close for a little while when Wagner is out and will perform well – enough to where the Mets can add “potential closer” to the list of other things Heilman does well should they try to trade him this off-season.  But he will stay with the Mets at least through this year.

He did get a shot at closing, and did not perform well, matching his performance in non-closing situations.  If they do try to trade him this off season, it will be at a discount for whomever acquries him.

Pedro Feliciano
He’ll give the Mets a solid year of relief – hopefully they’ll monitor his innings too, because he’s another guy who wore down in September.

He did not give the Mets a solid year of relief.

Jorge Sosa
He’ll split time between the rotation and bullpen without doing either particularly well.

He was in the bullpen, and did not relieve particularly well, and was cut before long.

Scott Schoeneweis
Scott Schoeneweis will not finish the year in a Mets uniform – he’ll get traded for something before the year is out.

Sadly, not only did he finish the year in a Mets uniform, he finished the year for everybody wearing a Mets uniform when he gave up a solo home run to Wes Helms in the final game of the season at Shea Stadium, taking the loss in relief that ended the Mets’ season.

Who will be the Mets’ best hitter and best pitcher in 2008?
Pretty easy question for me:  David Wright will not only be the Mets’ best hitter, but the best hitter in the National League, and Johan Santana will not only be the Mets’ best pitcher, but the best pitcher in the National League.

I was right on Wright and Santana being the Mets’ best hitter and pitcher, not necessarily about them being the best in the National League, although Santana was pretty damned close, and Wright was probably closer than most people think.

Next was a series of league-wide questions.  Some of these awards have yet to be decided, but I can probably guess how close I will wind up being for each award.

Home Run leaders
AL:  Alex Rodriguez (45)
NL:  Ryan Braun (50)

The AL leader in home runs was Miguel Cabrera with 37; A-Rod finished two out with 35, although he missed a couple of weeks due to injury.  The NL leader in home runs was Ryan Howard with 48; Ryan Braun would finish tied for fourth with 37.  Not too bad; both finished top 5.

Batting champs
AL:  Ichiro Suzuki (.340)
NL:  Hanley Ramirez (.332)

Joe Mauer won the AL batting title by hitting .328; Ichiro finished 7th by hitting .310.  Chipper Jones won the NL batting title by hitting .364; Han-Ram finished outside of the top 10, hitting .301.  Not so close here.

Teams that will surprise
AL:  I like the Devil Rays to contend, but not make the playoffs.  But they will be a hard team to play and none of the contenders will want to play them in September, and they have an outside shot at a Rockies-type season.
NL:  They won’t be taking anybody by surprise after a .500 year last year, but I think the Brewers can make the playoffs in the NL Central.

Both of these teams surprised.  The Devil Rays, in fact, made the playoffs, and are currently in their first LCS in franchise history.  The Brewers can and did make the playoffs in the NL Central, at the expense of the Mets.

Teams that will disappoint
AL:  The Yankees may fail to make the playoffs (which by their definition, is a disappointment), but if they do, it will only be a one year aberration, and I can see them rolling off another title within five years.
NL:  The Dodgers have the talent to win the NL West, but going with Juan Pierre in left field, among other roster goofs, will help them underachieve for a second straight season.

One out of two.  The Yankees did in fact disappoint, and finished in third place in a tough AL East.  The Dodgers did have the talent to win the NL West, and in fact did win the NL West, although they would have fallen short had they not resolved the situation with Juan Pierre playing left by trading for Manny Ramirez at the deadline.

MVP
AL:  Picking A-Rod is too easy given last year; I’ll go with Miguel Cabrera
NL:  How can I not pick David Wright after I devoted 5,000 words to why he deserved it last year?

Neither of these two will likely finish in the top ten in MVP voting.

Cy Young
AL:  This is a lot more open without Santana in the league.  I’ll take Beckett over Sabathia, since I see the two of them being close, and voters may feel obligated to reward Beckett after giving Sabathia the award last year.
NL:  Johan Santana might put up PlayStation numbers this year in the NL.

Josh Beckett will not win the AL Cy Young Award; truthfully, I wouldn’t have picked Cliff Lee to finish top 50 for the AL Cy Young.  Johan probably won’t win the NL Cy Young, but probably deserves at the very least second place; he probably won’t get it.

Rookie of the Year
AL:  I was going to pick Evan Longoria until he got sent down, so I’ll give it to Ellsbury over Longoria, but I do think Longoria could make a Ryan Braun-like run at this award if he gets called up soon enough.
NL:  I don’t feel great about this pick, but I think Johnny Cueto could grab this.

Longoria will probably win the AL Cy Young even after being sent down.  Johnny Cueto won’t win the NL Rookie of the Year; in hindsight, I really should have picked Soto since I took him in many fantasy leagues this year expecting him to have a strong year.

Next up was division pickings.  Originally, I started with the NL, but I’ll start with the AL here.

AL East:
Red Sox – 98-64
Yankees – 90-72
Blue Jays – 83-79
Devil Rays – 82-80
Orioles – 64-98

Boston did not win the AL East, but they did take home a wild card.  The Yankees fell one win short of 89.  The Blue Jays finished fourth instead of third, but actually won more games than I had predicted.  The Rays took home their first AL East division title en route to a 97 win season.  The Orioles were only a little bit better than I had anticipated.

AL Central:
Tigers – 93-69
Indians – 91-71*
Royals – 75-87
White Sox – 75-87
Twins – 74-88

You can almost inverse this order and it would be right; I had no read on the AL Central at all this year.  The Tigers were closer to 93 losses than 93 wins.  The Indians battled back to finish at .500 but were nowhere close to the division title.  The Royals did not, in fact, finish third in the AL Central, although they did win 75 games (the first team I nailed on win totals).  The White Sox and Twins did not finish fourth and fifth, but first and second, with their inverse of my predictions being close than what I had picked.

AL West:
Angels – 90-72
A’s – 80-82
Mariners – 79-83
Rangers – 72-90

I picked the Angels to win the division by 10 games, and was still off by ten wins on my projection.  The A’s probably would have finished second had they not traded Rich Harden and Joe Blanton before the trading deadline.  Everybody was high on the Mariners before the season, and I didn’t know why; it turns out, my 79 win projection for them was optimistic.  The Rangers were better than I thought they would be too, and were a fun team to watch.

NL Central:
Houston 89-73
Chicago 85-77
Milwaukee 85-77
Pittsburgh 73-89
St. Louis 72-90
Cincinnati 67-95

Both the Brewers and Cubs won more than 87 games; the Cubs won 97 and the NL Central, the Cubs won 90 and the NL Wild Card.  Both were playoff teams, as predicted.  The Reds were nowhere close to .500, as I had forgotten how bad of a manager Dusty Baker is when he doesn’t have Barry Bonds.  The Cardinals were better than anybody could have expected thanks in part to a full season of Albert Pujols and surprise contributions from guys like Ryan Ludwick.  The Pirates stunk worse than I expected, winning 67 games (although they traded 2/3 of their outfield at the deadline).  It also looks like I underestimated the Astros, although they had a negative run differential and appeared to capitalize on playing the Pirates and Reds a lot.

NL West:
Diamondbacks – 88-74
Dodgers – 86-76
Rockies – 84-78
Padres – 80-82
Giants – 64-98

The Diamondbacks did not win the NL West and in fact only won 82 games.  The Dodgers did win the NL West by winning 84 games.  The Rockies finished third, but with far fewer wins than I anticipated (74).  The Padres were a worst team in baseball contender for much of the year (although they did sweep the Mets at Petco), and only won 63 games.  The Giants failed to be as historically awful as I had thought they would be, but were still not very good at all, only winning 72 games.

NL East:
Mets – 93-69
Phillies – 85-77
Braves – 84-78
Nationals – 74-88
Marlins – 68-94

I saved the worst for last.  The Mets fell four wins short of 93, three wins short of winning the division, and one win short of making the playoffs.  The Phillies’ bullpen was much better than I had anticipated, which probably accounts for most of the seven win difference between my projection and their actual total.  The Braves abandoned ship at the deadline and won nowhere close to 84 wins, although a good percentage of their eventual 72 wins came at the expense of the Mets.  The Nats also won nowhere close to the 74 win projection I made, winning a mere 59 games to clinch being far and away the worst team in baseball.  The Marlins, meanwhile, surprised most by getting over the loss of Miguel Cabrera with some really good pitching and won a solid 84 wins to finish third place, with win #84 ending the Mets’ season.

Even though the post season isn’t over, I will share my postseason predictions, because none of them have a chance of panning out.

Divisional Series
Mets over Brewers in 3 games
Cubs over Diamondbacks in 5 games
Indians over Red Sox in 5 games
Tigers over Angels in 3 games

League Championship Series
Mets over Cubs in 7 games
Tigers over Indians in 7 games

World Series
Mets over Tigers in 6 games

The Mets will not be winning the World Series by defeating the Tigers in six games.  None of that other stuff is going to happen, either.  After hitting on six of eight playoff teams in 2007, I only hit on four in 2008.

Overall, it looks like I was overly optimistic about the Mets, mostly because of Johan Santana.  I did not anticipate the bullpen being as lousy as it would turn out to be, for certain.  It’s explainable, because they had been so close and made such a big acquisition.  Nevertheless, I’m not sure I will be quite this optimistic again in 2009, but we’ll see what happens.

Point/Counterpoint: Omar Minaya

Monday, October 6th, 2008

It should come as no surprise to long-time readers of that website that Joeadig and I would disagree on a topic. I think we have thus far disagreed on every topic ever written about the Mets, and will likely continue to do so. With that in mind, we are starting a new feature today called “Point/Counterpoint.” Why is it called Point/Counterpoint? Because I couldn’t think of a more original name or format. Anyway, our first topic of conversation here is the Omar Minaya contract extension. My comments below are in blue, and Joe’s are in black. Enjoy!


  

Jose Reyes was drafted by the Mets in June of 2003 by Steve Phillips.

Technically incorrect – Jose Reyes was signed as a Latin American free agent in 1999 and called up to the major leagues by Jim Duquette in 2003. Omar Minaya was the Mets’ assistant GM when Reyes was signed, and credit for scouting and development should probably go to the entire front office, and not Steve Phillips by himself, since Steve Phillips probably never even saw Reyes play when he was signed.

My point isn’t that we need to credit Steve Phillips—it’s that we CAN’T credit Omar Minaya for signing Reyes.

And my point is that we CAN credit Minaya – he was part of the Mets front office at the time. Staffs should be credited for international signings and drafts – Omar was a part of this staff.

David Wright was drafted by the Mets in July of 2004 by Steve Phillips.

Again, technically incorrect – Wright was drafted in 2001 and called up to the major leagues by Jim Duquette in 2004. Again, Omar Minaya was the assistant GM when Wright was signed, and credit for scouting and development of young players should probably be shared by the entire front office. Minaya was a big part of the scouting department until he took the GM job with the Expos in 2002.

Pedro Martinez was signed by the Mets in December of 2004 by Omar Minaya—the Mets were the only team willing to give him a guaranteed 4th year (how’s that work out?)

This turned out to be a bad contract – Pedro generously gave the Mets a year and a half of good baseball out of a four year deal. One of Omar’s big problems seems to be giving players one year too many on these contracts, which is how he often wins their services, but leaves the team holding the bag in that last year (the Wagner deal is another example).

Carlos Beltran was signed by the Mets in January of 2005 by Omar Minaya—he allegedly wanted to go to the Yankees so badly that he was willing to go there for less money; Omar simply got him because he threw a ton of cash at him.

Are we going to hold it against Omar that he got a deal done? That’s what he’s supposed to do as GM – he’s supposed to get things done. He identified a need to add a big bat to the lineup (the 2004 Mets finished 12th in the NL in runs scored), so he went out, identified the best use of resources would be to “throw a ton of cash” at Carlos Beltran, and got the deal done. That’s a good move.

I’m not saying that I don’t like the deal: quite the opposite, actually. I really like having Beltran in CF. What I’m saying is that ANYONE could have said to Beltran’s agent, “Hey, we’ll give you more than anyone else to come play here for us.” Signing Beltran hardly makes Omar a good GM.

Omar got the Beltran deal done. That was something his predecessors had continually failed to do. I think there is more to free agency than simply “throwing cash at a player and hoping he signs” – Houston’s offer was competitive, if you remember. The Yankees were involved. Omar going after Beltran and letting no price get in the way of preventing a done deal is a feather in his cap – it made the team better and he deserves credit for that.

Billy Wagner was signed by the Mets in November of 2005 by Omar Minaya—his teammates in Houston and Philly didn’t want him back, so Omar got him by throwing a ton of money at him.

While his teammates may or may not have wanted Billy back in Philadelphia, the Phillies sure did; they had made a contract offer after the Mets made their offer. Billy chose the Mets’ offer. You think the Phillies might have preferred to have Tom Gordon as their closer in 2006 rather than Billy Wagner? Again, I’m not going to hold it against Omar that he got a deal done, albeit a deal that again went a year too long.

Johan Santana was acquired by the Mets in January of 2008 by Omar Minaya—Omar was the only GM willing to part with both good prospects and the GNP of a small developing nation.

Again, we’re holding this against Omar? He identified a problem (no ace in the starting rotation), saw a lack of options on the free agent market, and made a trade that was beneficial for the team. He should be lauded for trading a package of three future mid rotation starters (and that’s their ceiling) and a speedy OF who may or may not ever pan out for the best pitcher in baseball, then getting the contract done and making the team better.

I’m not holding it against Omar at all. What I’m saying is that just about every single beat-writer in NY had already proposed that exact deal that Omar made—so how can we say that Omar did anything special? Again, any GM could have done what he did here.

But no other GM *did* what he did here. Cashman could have beaten this offer, and has been ripped to shreds for not doing it. Theo Epstein could have beaten this offer, and didn’t. Also, if you remember, the first “rumors” of such a deal involved Jose Reyes, who wasn’t traded, and the Mets managed to complete this trade without dealing their top hitting prospect at the time as well. I don’t think it’s fair to Omar to say “anybody could have gotten this done,” – the fact that he got the best pitcher in baseball without dealing their best prospect or best young player is a coup. Lastly, you don’t think that the beat writers were proposing that exact same trade because they knew that’s what the offer was? C’mon now.

We can all agree that the above players constituted the change from the dead years of 2001-2005 to the consistent playoff contender of the last few (and next few) years. We can all argue that Pedro was not the Pedro of his Red Sox/Expos days, but he helped bring about the change.

I won’t agree that Pedro did anything to “bring about the change.” He was a good pitcher in 2005 and then was a non-contributor to every other team after that.

I can’t ignore your short-sightedness. Pedro’s stats may not have warranted that huge contract, but his presence, his attitude and his prestige did. He wasn’t an ace, but he had the presence of an ace, and that helped to change the feeling of the team. You were just as excited to have him as anyone.

I hate the “Pedro turned everything around!” talking point. What exactly did Pedro do that changed things around? The team was at its best when he wasn’t in the clubhouse every day. Also, you should remember this – after the Pedro signing, I wrote a scathing E-Mail hating the Pedro signing, in the days before MiracleMets.net (if I can find it, I will reprint it here). Why do you seem to give Pedro more credit for the Mets’ turnaround than Omar Minaya? You and I agree that the contract was a bad one, and when other moves definitely made the team better, this one did not.

With that in mind, you can clearly see that all Omar did was rely heavily on the two young studs that were in his farm system (Reyes and Wright), and then throw a ton of cash at each years’ crop of free agents (and Johan).

What major free agent acquisitions did Omar make post-Wagner? Alou? Also, what was Omar supposed to do, not sign Beltran? Not sign Wagner? Those were good moves that improved the team. You’re going to hold it against the guy that he made moves to make the team better?

No, but I’m going to hold it against the guy that he DIDN’T make the smaller, complimentary moves that helped the big guys do their thing.

Free agency is the worst way to build benches and bullpens. It’s OK to overpay for star players via free agency, but it’s exactly the wrong way to find role players, because you wind up diverting resources towards players who don’t add that many wins, when players as good or better are often available for a minor league deal.

Anyone, myself included, could have thrown a ton of money at the free agents each offseason—and make no mistake about it: the Mets were the top bidders for all of the acquired top-level free agents— so to give Omar credit for acquiring any of them is a mistake.

Um, why? That’s his job. His job is to field the best possible team year in and year out, and with a lack of internal options to fill certain positions, he made some smart moves that made the team better (and a couple that didn’t pan out).

But WHY was there a lack of internal options? Where were all the Rule 5 guys that he let slip away? How many mid-level players have gone on to play important roles on contending teams over the past three years? The GM’s job is the “field the best possible team” but a team consists of 25 guys PLUS a minor league that can supplement the big guys.

The lack of internal options can at least be partially blamed by poor drafting and Latin American scouting by the Mets before Omar got here. We just finished Year 4 of the Minaya regime, meaning most of the fruits from his drafts should be just ready to come to the majors now (outside of guys who were rushed, like Pelfrey and Joe Smith). The Latin American guys will be even longer, since they are signed younger. If there are still a lack of internal options 2-3 years from now, it’s fair to blame Minaya, but not yet. Also, remember that a lot of the high minors pitching prospects who could have aided in the pen were traded to get Johan Santana – call me crazy, but I’d still rather have Johan.

In addition to this core nucleus, what has Omar Minaya brought in to help this promising nucleus? Let’s take a look:

Orlando Hernandez – Signed as a free agent in January of 2005— not counting a half-season with Arizona, he has been on the DL six times, including the ENTIRE 2008 campaign. For his “services” he has been paid upwards of $28 million.

He was acquired by the Mets for Jorge Julio a quarter of the way through 2006. He gave the team 250 good innings over two years in exchange for a lousy reliever that would pitch in the minor leagues for most of 2008. This was a good move; the bad move was signing him through 2008.

Oliver Perez – Acquired with Roberto Hernandez for Xavier Nady in July of 2006; a good deal for both teams so this is a wash.

Agree on this one. This was a good trade.

John Maine – Acquired from Baltimore in January of 2006 with Julio for Kris Benson. This will go down as the best move that Omar Minaya ever made, since Maine was basically a throw-in.

Call me crazy, but I think that getting the best pitcher in baseball for three low-end starters/middle relievers and a potential fourth outfielder might trump the John Maine trade. Also, it’s worth pointing out; 60% of the Mets’ rotation for part of 2006 and all of 2007 was acquired in exchange for Mike Cameron and Kris Benson. And that 60% was really good, too.

Agree with the last part of your statement, but your first point is just wrong.

Unless one (or more) of Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey, or Delois Guerra should become the best starting pitcher in baseball, or unless Carlos Gomez becomes Carlos Beltran, the Johan deal was a much better move. Acquiring a #3-4 starter for an older #3-4 starter is nice; acquiring the best pitcher in baseball for the pu-pu platter was nicer.

Moises Alou – Since his signing in November of 2006, Alou has played in exactly 102 games, and been paid $20 million.

He signed for one year too long, a Minaya problem; he was still a good acquisition for 2007. The problem with Alou wasn’t signing Alou, but not having a good backup in place for the inevitable injury – I feel like that the big Minaya shortcoming when it came to Alou was the idea of relying on him to play 162 games when that clearly wasn’t happening.

What’s that? You’re admitting a “Minaya shortcoming”? Wow.

Awww c’mon, that’s not fair, I’ve admitted plenty of Minaya shortcomings.

Carlos Delgado – Acquired in December of 2006 for Mike Jacobs, Yusmeiro Petit, and Grant Psomas. His July and August aside, Omar traded Jacobs (32 HR, 95 RBI on a lousy team) for an aging cement-handed first-basemen (38 HR, 115 RBI). I’d say the future for Jacobs is much brighter (and MUCH cheaper) than Delgado, and heading into 2009 I’m much rather have Jacobs, especially when you consider the money difference.

I disagree – Delgado has outplayed Jacobs all three years of the Delgado contract. Jacobs is in his prime and has a lot of the same problems Delgado has; he’s not a good defensive player and he’s not a good hitter against lefties. The Mets traded the poor man’s Lyle Overbay, without the defense; is that really such a bad trade? Also, those 32 homers by Jacobs will lead to a nice arbitration raise this offseason, narrowing their gap in salaries.

You’re the numbers guy. Look at them, and then compare salaries, and then tell me Jacobs isn’t heads-and-tails above Delgado in the real world (i.e., not fantasy leagues).

What? Delgado’s numbers are better across the board each and every year he’s been under contract (Delgado’s rates: .265/.349/.505/.854; Jacobs: .258/.314/.483/.796). Throw in the fact that Jacobs is even poorer defensively than Delgado, and this isn’t even a contest – I’d much rather the Mets pay Delgado more to be better than Jacobs than save some bucks at first base and be a worse team. And this is post-prime Delgado vs. current prime Jacobs, and Delgado is still out performing him. You’re the one citing fantasy numbers like home runs and RBIs, and even there he falls short of Delgado’s production.

Luis Castillo – Signed to a FOUR-YEAR deal less than a year ago and he’s already being shopped around? Good call Omar. Really.

This one didn’t work out, to say the least. The problem was, the team didn’t have a second baseman; the only two on last year’s market were Castillo and Kaz Matsui (who realistically, Omar could not bring back to New York). The Astros had offered Castillo three years; in order to get Castillo, he had to offer four. It was still a bad move, but it was a justifiable bad move.

I’ll remember to quote you that this was a “justifiable move” in three years when he’s done getting paid his $24 million.

I said “justifiable bad move.” It was still an utter failure, but at least there was a thought process behind it. It was either bring back Castillo, bring back Kaz Matsui (which wouldn’t have worked), or option 3, which is to start a sub-Matsui, sub-Castillo option at second base. Besides, he won’t be on the team next year, let alone three years from now, so I doubt I will care.

The bullpen – I don’t need to say anything.

The bullpen has been lousy the past two years, no question. He did a good job in 2006, bad job since. I do think you get lucky with bullpen construction, but the organization should start targeting hard throwers for the system who either pan out into good starters who turn into relievers; the upper part of the farm system currently lacks players like this.

And whose fault is that?

Steve Phillips? Jim Duquette? Johan Santana? To be fair, Bobby Parnell and Brian Stokes do fit the bill here, and will probably (hopefully?) be a part of the next good Mets’ bullpen.

Daniel Murphy/Nick Evans – Both drafted in June of 2006—it remains to be seen if these two are anything more than good late-season call-ups. My gut says Murphy pays off but Evans is never heard from again.

It’s too soon to tell what will be of these guys. Neither were prospects before this year, Murphy made himself into one, Evans less so. But who can tell? Surely neither is can’t miss.

Brian Schneider/Ryan Church – Traded for an ornery Mets top prospect (Lastings Millidge) in a move that was pretty much universally questioned by everyone; couldn’t Omar have gotten more for this once untouchable kid?

You’d think they could have gotten more, although Church looked good in his first season. I think history won’t be kind to Minaya for this trade, although it’s too soon to tell; it depends on if Milledge ever pans out. Clearly, the team didn’t think he would.

Mike Pelfrey – Like I said before, when a draft pick goes well for a team, the scouting and development staff deserves the credit, so it doesn’t all go to Omar here, but he was the GM when Big Pelf was drafted, and so far, so good.

Pelf deserves credit, and so does Omar.

Small moves, the ones that fill the middle relievers and bench players, are the ones that a GM should be judged by. As seems pretty clear to me, the “smaller moves” that Omar has made during his tenure with the Mets have been less-than stellar.

This seems like an arbitrary criteria, given that the big moves Omar has made have by and large worked, and have been the difference between a 60-70 win team and an 80-90 win team. I mean, think about it…when a GM hits on the small moves, and misses on the big moves, you know what you have? The 2001-2004 Mets, teams that whiffed on major free agent signings and trades that failed to make the team better while generally having decent benches and bullpens.

That’s a lame excuse. The Mets wouldn’t “whiff” on major free agents no matter who the GM is if they keep offering to outspend everyone. So why can’t they do that PLUS do well with the small moves?

They were outspending everyone on guys like Tom Glavine, Cliff Floyd, and Mike Cameron. That doesn’t win games; hell, it didn’t win games. That was my point. The change in philosophy, to spend top dollar and getting top free agents instead of spending high dollar and getting mediocre free agents was not a system that was working. Credit for Omar for knowing who to go “all in” on and generally staying away from costly mistakes (Castillo nonwithstanding).

Plus, while Omar does have the reputation for being a GM who nails the big moves and misses on the small moves, what about 2006? Every small move he made that year worked – Darren Oliver, Chad Bradford, Pedro Feliciano, Jose Valentin, El Duque, Maine, Ollie, Duaner Sanchez, Guillermo Mota, Endy Chavez – all of these were small pickups, guys who weren’t on the 2005 Mets that helped give the team the extra few wins they needed to become a great team. It just happens that the guys they brought back from that group, with a few exceptions, generally fell off a little bit (or in Mota’s case, a lot), whereas the guys they let go continued to pitch well for other teams and were replaced by lousy guys (I’m looking at you, Scott Schoeneweis).

So what I’m learning from the above paragraphs is that you want to give the guy credit for moves he made in 2006? Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t it 2007 and 2008 where the Mets crashed? And now you’re okay with giving the guy a contract through 2012 (all guaranteed money, by the way)?

My point was, you get lucky with small moves more often than not. I cited those guys from 2006 as a point where Omar has found luck with smaller moves in the past. As another example, I think the Phillies have gotten really lucky with guys like Greg Dobbs (who was terrible in Seattle before the Phillies acquired him), JC Romero (who was released by the Red Sox in the middle of a pennant race and turned into an unhittable lefty stopper), and Chad Durbin (who had never posted an ERA under 4.72 before coming to Philly). I would say a failing of the Minaya regime has been signing guys like Schoeneweis and Marlon Anderson to multi-year contracts when players who are at worst just as bad, but at best hold more upside, are freely available. That said, Omar got it right in 2006 (probably because the team was more desperate going into 2006 than it has been since) and I think he can get it right again.

But with little moves, there is a lot more luck than skill involved; with big moves, you’re bringing in impact guys who can make an immediate impact and help turn things around. With little moves, it’s more about casting a wide net, bringing in a bunch of players, and hoping a few of them pan out into something useful. To judge Minaya solely on the little moves without talking about the big moves that really helped turn this team into a perennial playoff contender isn’t fair.

I absolutely agree that there’s a lot of luck involved in making small moves pay off; to disagree with that would be ignorant. But you’re telling me that it can’t be done? Look at the 90’s Braves and Yankees—those teams were made by a small core of All Stars and a whole revolving boatload of bit players. Those teams were consistently filled with guys who went elsewhere and faded away, but their GMs saw the potential and acted and made their teams winners for a long time. It’s not impossible to do.

On the contrary, I cited some of his smaller moves that worked as an example that I think he can get it done again. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t endorse him for GM. What I am saying is to judge him on the whole; has he made this team better? The answer is yes. I think, given a change in philosophy back to his old philosophy, some hard work, and a little bit of lady lucky, Omar will get this team where it needs to be.

I’m not saying that I don’t like Omar Minaya and want him fired. But I am saying that I would have been a LOT more hesitant to extend the contract of the man, given all of the team’s flaws over the past two seasons.

The team had two options here; extend Omar or fire him. They could not let him go into 2009 as a lame duck because he might be too desperate to kill the future of this team in order to get a contract for 2010. I have no problem with the decision to extend Omar rather than let him go, because it establishes continuity in the front office. This basically gives Omar 2-3 years to show real improvement on the major league level, or else he’s done. It was the right thing to do.

On Shea Stadium

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

A lot of folks have written great Shea Stadium eulogies this week, with Ted Berg from SNY.tv standing out in particular with an excellent read, so I don’t want to get too much into Shea, since you can read so much about it elsewhere.  I don’t have too many childhood memories from Shea, as my dad was not a baseball fan and thus was not overly eager to sit in rush hour traffic to get to the games, and stadium traffic getting out of them.  Most of my stadium memories came as an adult, who could see some of the physical problems of the ol’ ball yard. 

But that wasn’t what was important to me – what I liked about Shea was pretty simple; I could go there and see my favorite baseball team play, be it on one of the many Opening Days I attended, or the various Mets/Yankees games I went to, or even just a mid-summer game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Sure, I could go to a Mets game in Philadelphia (which has traditionally been a closer ride for me, until I moved recently), or elsewhere on the road, where they have “nicer” stadiums or more historic stadiums…but you know, I like going to Mets games where there are a lot of Mets fans.  I like being one of many cheering when a Met hits a big homer, or when a Met makes a nice catch, or whatever.  It seems simple, but it’s true; I hate being the only Mets fan cheering when they accomplish something good, and I hate being in the minority when the other team does something well and everybody else cheers.

That isn’t all I will take away from Shea, of course – I went to many fine ballgames there as well.  Games like Game 4 of the 2000 NLDS, where Bobby Jones threw a one-hitter to beat the Giants and advance the Mets to the NLCS (the one time I went to Shea where it was literally ROCKING).  Or other games that have been lost in the sands of time…Shane Spencer’s game-winning infield single that beat the Yankees, or Tsuyoshi Shinjo’s debut on Opening Day and the weird energy surrounding him, or the rain-delayed, extra inning game on Mother’s Day pitched by Steve Trachsel, where I left the ballpark at 6:30 with the game still tied in the 12th (game was scheduled at 1), or Mike Piazza’s home run to beat the Yankees when my friends and I were on the subway on the way home (the game was running late and we were worried about being stranded at Penn Station).  These games probably don’t mean much to many people, and they may have been ultimately irrelevent (the Mets failed to make the playoffs in any of these seasons, or even come close), but they hold a special place to me, and they took place at Shea Stadium.

Getting back to Ted Berg’s column, one item in particular stood out to me, that I’d like to reprint below:

I understand that shaving 10,000 seats in capacity is a sound business decision, and that luxury boxes and high ticket prices at Citi Field will pay for Johan Santana and everything. But Shea’s charm, to me, always rested in how two kids could show up on any given day, pick up a pair of upper-deck tickets on the cheap, and take in a Mets game. I suppose it shouldn’t matter to me now, credentialed for the press box and without my brother to sit with, but it does.

Because to me, being a fan has nothing to do with sitting in cushy seats with reasonable legroom and cupholders and many fine dining options. And it has nothing to do with showing up to see a competitive team, as the Mets seem to field every year nowadays. Being a fan is sticking through the summer of 1995, trying to see promise in failure, finding the purity in a game with no postseason implications, and maintaining hope and passion and faith in a team that’s just not very good.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  This is exactly how I have felt ever since the Mets announced groundbreaking on what would become Citi Field.  For years, I bought into the idea that the Mets “needed” a new stadium – until they actually started building the new stadium.  Then I remembered, the Mets have Shea, and it may not be the nicest stadium, but it served their needs well; it provided the team a place to play ball games, and a place where fans could watch ball games.  The idea that the Mets needed a new stadium to provide fans with better dining options, or nicer amenities…as a person who goes to the games, buys a hot dog, maybe a piece or two of merchandise, and watches the games, all the other stuff isn’t anything I will particularly care about, and I suspect most Mets fans feel the same way.  You can do these things at Shea just as easily as at Citi Field.

The Mets have never had problems selling tickets; at most, they will draw a few new fans in 2009 to see the new stadium regardless of how good the team is (and they will probably be pretty good), and settle back into their usual pattern of drawing well when the team is good, and poorly when it is not.  Meanwhile, the limited seating means it will be impossible to get tickets to big games (it was already impossible to get tickets to Opening Day and the Mets/Yankees series), and hard to get cheap tickets to games less in-demand.  That’s great for the Wilpons, but it’s bad for the fans; it means fans of limited means will go to fewer ball games.  I suppose that’s the way the world moves, but it just doesn’t seem fair to me.

But I will miss Shea.  I understand not everybody will feel the same way about the place; our own Joeadig quickly grew tired of my reminiscing at the game Sunday.  It’s not a perfect place, and I’ll even concede it doesn’t smell so nice (although granted, that could also be just as much because of the area).  It even annoyed me that the field level seats didn’t point towards home plate (which I have since found is because that section moves for football).  But I have so many memories there, and I’ve always enjoyed the idea that if I ever was inclined to attend a game with many Mets fans in attendance, that I could do so without having to spend too much and without having to worry that the game was sold out.  The best thing you can say about Shea is that it is functional; is that really such a bad thing?

2008 New York Mets – March 31, 2008 – September 28, 2008

Monday, September 29th, 2008

It ended far sooner and far more violently than any Mets fan could have wanted, but it’s over.  The 2008 season, which opened with a lot of promise, caught an early roadblock, and then righted itself just long enough to crush Mets’ fans hopes again, is now over, and the Mets are dead.  The cornoner has listed the cause of death as “lousy bullpen,” but has listed other contributing causes on the death certificate.  As much as I might not want to go through the reasons of their demise today, I am going to do so just so we can learn from what happened this year and hope the same mistakes are not repeated for next year.  In order:

Main Cause of Death:  Lousy Bullpen (65%)

Make no mistake – the bullpen is the #1 main reason why this team failed to make the postseason in 2008.  Time after time, the Mets bullpen failed to hold leads, putting pressure on the offense to make up for their inefficiencies late in games.  A lot has been made of the numbers about how the Mets had the best run differential in the National League in the first three innings, and the worst run differential in the NL in the final three innings.  Think about what those numbers tell you; the team’s rotation has mostly been pretty good, the team’s hitting helps get the team off to early leads…and the team’s bullpen promptly blows those leads.

If you read this blog, you know how much I love numbers, so here are some numbers for you:  the Mets’ winning percentage after leading after 6 innings (.849), 7 innings (.843), and 8 innings (.918) are all well below league averages in those categories.  They rank 19th in baseball when leading after 6, 28th in baseball when leading after 7 (ahead of only St. Louis and Detroit), and 29th in baseball when leading after 8 (ahead of only the lowly Seattle Mariners).  Oh yeah, just for fun…if you hear some idiot pundit complaining about how the 2008 Mets lacked heart, remind them of this fun statistic:  the Mets ranked 8th, 1st, and 6th in baseball when trailing after the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings.  The problem wasn’t that this team couldn’t score runs late; it was that this team couldn’t prevent runs from scoring late.  The Mets would have won the NL East by 7 games if baseball was an 8 inning game – think about that.

We all know what happened; Billy Wagner, their closer, was injured in August and will not be coming back.  Aaron Heilman went from being a reliable setup guy to a pitcher who couldn’t pitch to lefties and became extremely homer-prone.  Pedro Feliciano went from being a reliable 7th inning type, a lefty who could pitch to righties, to becoming a strict LOOGY with a tendency to put runners on.  Scott Schoeneweis pitched as poorly in 2008 as he did in 2007, albeit with a lower ERA.  Duaner Sanchez came back from injury a shell of his former self, and is unlikely to ever return to the brilliant form he showed in the first half of 2006.  Luis Ayala was a woefully underprepared pitcher thrust into tough spots.  Brian Stokes had showed an upside, and then a downside.  Joe Smith wore down again in June and July before having a solid August and a good September, the only Met reliever who can say he had a good September.

There will be a lot written about how to fix the Mets bullpen, including here on this site.  As of now, the only relievers I can advocate bringing back are Smith, Stokes (who has shown flashes of ability and could turn into something), and Heilman (who had a bad year but is capable of pitching better).  The only reliever I would count on definitely returning is Smith.  I am almost certain that Schoeneweis will not be back, if only for the way the season ended.  Feliciano could stay or could go; his performance would indicate he needs to go, but they will need a lefty in the bullpen.  The team might think they can rehab Duaner, but it’s probably a waste of time, and they should make that somebody else’s problem.  Ayala is garbage and it would be insane for them to bring him back.

The bullpen must shoulder a huge burden of blame for the reason this team failed to make the postseason.  But there were other contributing causes as well.

Contributing Cause:  Injuries and Preparation For Injuries (25%)

No doubt injuries played a role this year as well.  I won’t even include guys like Orlando Hernandez, Pedro Martinez, or Moises Alou in the equation, because nobody expected them to play a full season.  Granted, I think this team expected some contribution out of Alou or El Duque, but the fact remains, they had to suspect that they would miss at least 50% of the season due to various ailments.  The Alou injury hurt for a while, because it left the Mets without a reliable left fielder until the shocking revival of Fernando Tatis.  The El Duque injury, coupled with the early Pedro injury, meant a lot of questionable starts this year by the likes of Nelson Figueroa and Tony Armas Jr, until Pedro returned and really didn’t give the Mets anything better in that spot.  But let’s not even talk these guys, because nobody expected them to be healthy.

The injuries I’m talking about are the injuries to guys like John Maine, Billy Wagner, Ryan Church, and Fernando Tatis.  The absence of Maine meant that, in addition to starting a borderline 5 starter like Johan Santana, that the team would be forced to rely on fringe starters like Brandon Knight, Jason Stokes, and prospects unready for the big leagues like Jon Niese.  The Wagner injury compounded the bullpen issue; he hadn’t been as sharp as he had been in seasons past, but he was still the best of a bad lot.  Church’s injury compounded the Mets’ corner outfield problems, forcing them to rely on Marlon Anderson and Endy Chavez as replacements until they found Tatis and Daniel Murphy.  The Tatis injury meant the team was forced to use Nick Evans more in the last two weeks, and he really was the lesser of the Mets’ left field platoon.

Injuries by themselves cannot be blamed, of course.  If the Mets had more bullpen depth, the loss of Wagner would not have been a problem.  If the Mets had prepared for the inevitable Pedro/El Duque injuries, not only would they have been able to get through the initial Pedro injury in a better spot, they would have had a better replacement for Maine when he went down.  If the Mets had aggressively pursued a better 4th outfielder option than Angel Pagan, they would have been able to survive the Alou, Church, and later Tatis injuries better (although they may not have found out that Tatis had something in the tank, either).  This team was built as a house of cards; if any key players were to get injured, they didn’t have anything close to an adequate replacement.  No bench, no bullpen depth, no rotation depth.  These are issues that will need to be addressed in the postseason, and signing the best available 38 year old hitter on the market as a professional pinch hitter is not the answer.

Contributing Cause:  Willie Randolph started the year as Mets manager (5%)

Never forget, Willie was a terrible manager.  Never forget this.  The fact that this team didn’t act swiftly to remove him after last season probably helped cause last year’s problems to linger into 2008.  They would eventually overcome this with Jerry Manuel, who proved to be everything Willie was not; likable, thoughtful, engaging, upbeat, funny, and a wiser baseball tactician.  It’s hard to say that the players definitely played better for Jerry Manuel, but this was a much better team without Willie Randolph. 

Contributing Cause:  No hitting in the last 3 games (4.999999%)

I only list this because despite the big two causes, this team still had a shot at making the playoffs going into the final weekend.  In fact, for most of September, again, they had been a playoff team.  Despite an up and down series against the Cubs, they were still tied for the wild card with three to play against a team they knew would not lay down for them; the Florida Marlins, a team who in fact didn’t lay down for them last year, and didn’t do so again this year.  Johan Santana pitched one of the finest games a Mets fan will ever witness on Saturday on three days’ rest; that game is the only reason this team wasn’t swept this weekend and even had a shot going into Saturday.  Over the three games, the team only scored 5 runs (fewer than the Marlins scored in the Friday game alone) and once again found themselves out of the postseason.

I am not going to kill the offense too much here.  They played well for most of the season; they scored the second most runs in the National League this year despite playing in one of the hardest parks to hit in the National League.  Wright, Beltran, Reyes, and Delgado all had great seasons (well, Delgado had a great half).  They got surprising contributions from Fernando Tatis and Daniel Murphy.  Second base and catcher were problems this year offensively, but generally speaking, you cannot blame the offense for the way the failures of this team.  It was better than any Met fan could have anticipated.

That being said…in the biggest series of the year, this team needed to score more than 5 runs against the Florida Marlins.  Scott Olson was a guy who struggled against the Mets all season; yesterday, he shut them down, his only mistake being a Beltran two run homer.  The Mets couldn’t accomplish anything on Chris Volstad in a must-win Friday game, made more important by the Brewers’ win later that night.  There was too much on the line for this team, and it picked the wrong weekend to drop off the face of the planet.  I loved how well this offense played this year, but man…not the best weekend to drop off.

Contributing Cause:  Perceived flaws of Mets superstars (0.000001%)

Whatever BS excuse you’re hearing about how Johan “wasn’t an ace in the first half,” or Jose Reyes’ attitude problem, or how Carlos Beltran doesn’t love the game, or my personal favorite, “David Wright wasn’t clutch.”  Never mind the thousands of arguments one could produce that support this, or how these guys all had fantastic seasons.  It’s easier to blame the stars, even when they play well, than it is to blame something unprovoking like the bullpen.  It’s easier to generate discussion by throwing out suggestions to trade Wright or Reyes than it would be to think of smart bullpen moves, or ways to improve the bench.

Fact is, the superstars all held their end of the bargain; there were no major injuries, Wright, Reyes, and Beltran all started 159 or more games, Santana didn’t miss a start.  They all performed; they didn’t “compile numbers,” the numbers simply reflect that these guys got the job done.  The problem is, the team around them was poorly constructed, be it with weak replacements for when their injured teammates went down, or a bullpen that lacked a reliable reliever who could be trusted to pitch a complete inning.  The superstars are the reason this team won 89 games; generally speaking, it was the players around them that were responsible for them failing to win any more, although it would have been nice if they scored a few more runs in the last series of the year.  But hey, everybody has bad serieses; it’s just that this team picked a bad weekend to have one.

In the coming days, weeks, months, we’ll talk about what the Mets need to do this offseason, and once the offseason starts proper (believe it or not, that won’t be for another month or so), we will evaluate the Mets’ moves.  The plan is to start making the site more active, with at least an update every day Monday through Friday, some long, some short, so you have a reason to check this site every day.  This is the most important offseason in the Minaya regime; we’re coming off of two straight no-playoffs seasons with talent that should have made it both years.  Factor in the new-found riches to be had from Citi Field, and the likely revenue stream that will come from it, and it is likely that this team will be active from November to January.  Where does the future of this organization lie?  We’ll find out soon enough.

Try not to panic, but prepare for the worst

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Contradictory points, right?  Well, that is where we are with seven games remaining on the schedule.  We have the advantage on winning the wild card over the Milwaukee Brewers, and we certainly are not out of the NL East race yet (although our chances are starting to dim a little bit).  We are still favored to make the playoffs more often than not, and obviously, this Mets team is very talented and should make the playoffs.

Then again…we have been down this road before.  Just last year, we saw a bigger lead than the one we currently hold over the Brewers evaporate in the blink of an eye, against worse teams than the Mets will face this week.  Too many bad signs from last year are rearing their ugly head.  It almost looks too familiar for Mets fans, and that is what is causing so much panic amongst Mets fans as we finish the season.  The bullpen stinks, just like last year.  Our starters are wearing down as the season comes to an end, save for Johan.  Our hitting isn’t getting the job done.  This month just feels too…familiar.

Then again…we had a bigger lead on the Phillies last year than they have on us this year.  They were able to overcome a 2.5 game lead with 7 remaining to win the NL East; why can’t we overcome a smaller lead?  Heck, we have already overcome several division leads by the Phillies this season; we were ourselves 7.5 back at one point this season and we came roaring back to make this a fight.  Why not us?  Why can’t we give them a dose of their own medicine?  The script hasn’t been completely written on this season; there is still time for a few good outings by the rotation, or some good bullpen innings, and for the team to tack on some runs and turn the tables around on the Phillies.

Then again…why can’t the Brewers copy the Phillies and dash our playoff hopes?  If the Phillies can overcome, why not the Brewers?  They’re a pretty good team, and they have the benefit of playing Pittsburgh and a Cubs team that is not likely to start anybody of note this weekend, in order to set up their playoff rotation.  They have CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets each pitching this week against Pittsburgh, lessening their chances of losing a game to the worst team in the National League.  They have a real shot at this.

Then again…why should we be scared?  We have two starts from Johan Santana this week.  That means, as long as the offense doesn’t crap the bed or as long as the bullpen can hold a lead (neither guarantees, but bear with me), that means we only need Pedro, Pelfrey, Ollie, and Niese (starting twice) to go 2-3.  If they do that, the Brewers need to go 5-1 to tie, and 6-0 to win the wild card, and they have not been playing good baseball this week.  We have the edge here, right?

Then again…we have history.  That is the worst part about this for Mets fans.  Whether we want to admit this or not, the thought that another collapse could possibly be in the making is hanging over our heads.  This one may in some ways be even crueler, because this Mets team is better than last year’s.  Plus, this Mets team didn’t complacently hang around first place for most of the year; this team had to battle back to make the playoffs, after many Mets fans were ready to write this season off.  If this team failed to make the playoffs after such a nice run…that would be devestating.

Then again…this gives us a shot at erasing history.  We make the playoffs this year, after what happened last year, and the Mets can put a giant middle finger in the hat where the apple used to be and flash it to everybody who said this team lacked heart last year.  To battle back after last year’s collapse, the first-half adversity and patching together a bullpen that game after game refuses to do the basic job of getting three outs per inning…that’s heart, my friends.  That’s determination.  This week gives Mets fans a chance to not have to worry about collapses or anything like that; at the very least, we can hold on and make the playoffs, and if things break our way, maybe take home a division title this week too.  We are still in this and we can still do some damage.

I like to think every Mets fan is having thoughts like these this week.  It’s hard to be optimistic after last year, particularly since the Mets fan does not have a long history of supporting good teams year after year.  At the same time…I think most Mets fans see that this is a good team, a capable team, and a team that should find a way into the playoffs, bullpen woes aside.  They have the advantage, and it’s not the Brewers who are exactly putting the pressure on the Mets; it’s the Mets who are making it easier for the Brewers to sneak back into the race, thanks to their bullpen being so incredibly lousy.  But the important thing is making it, and the Mets can make it just by playing well this week.  They don’t have to overwhelm the Cubs and Marlins; they just have to go 4-3.  Just barely .500.  That’s all they need to do.  Can they do it?  We’ll know soon enough.

Can we stop the Carlos Delgado for MVP campaign now? And other Mets thoughts…

Monday, September 15th, 2008

A semi-coherent listing of thoughts following the atrocity seen today, unfortunately an atrocity Mets fans know all too well (and I suspect will know again sometime before it’s all said and done for 2008):

  • I have been accused of being a homer on this very site.  So be it.  But I will say this: Carlos Delgado not only shouldn’t be the MVP, he probably shouldn’t even receive a single vote.  I am enjoying that he has gotten hot in the second half.  The Mets wouldn’t be in a playoff race at all without him.  But April, May, and June count, too.  If Delgado is even a league-average first baseman during those first three months, I can see him winning MVP.  But he was probably the worst everyday first baseman in the National League over those three months.  He doesn’t deserve MVP talk over Reyes, Wright, or even Beltran (who is having another quiet excellent season).  But really, the only player who deserves first place votes for the MVP this year is Albert Pujols; he is quietly having one of the best seasons we’ve seen in the National League since Barry Bonds’ salad days, great hitting, great defense at first…and he probably won’t come close to winning.  Proof again that the MVP voting system is completely broken, if the Jimmy Rollins win from last year didn’t demonstrate that enough.
  • After today’s disaster, can we stop pretending that Luis Ayala is a closer, and not a bad pitcher who had a few good outings?  If anything, the Ayala run proved that anybody can close, that one does not need some special mystique to effectively retire three batters with a 1-3 run lead; that so many Mets pitchers failed to do it before him is not proof of anything other than that the Mets do not have many good pitchers in their bullpen.
  • While we are talking bullpen, does Jerry Manuel have any interest in using Al Reyes or Bobby Parnell?  I know Manuel recently decreed that he was going to stop using younger players unless it was necessary, which cost Nick Evans his spot despite playing decent ball of late, so I can understand Parnell not getting much time (even with his 98 MPH fastball and the fact that he, not Eddie Kunz, is more likely to be the Mets’ closer of the future).  But Reyes pitched effectively in relief as recently as a year ago; he strikes batters out, he doesn’t walk the park, and he’s a little homer-prone, but he even has the magical ability to close games that he and a select few walking the face of the Earth possesses.  Can’t we at least give the guy a shot?
  • Once again, it feels like David Wright and Carlos Beltran are going to play big over the last two weeks of the season.  Also, once again, it is feeling like the pitching staff is going to let them down.  Maybe it’s just after a week of some below-par starts by the rotation and a few disastrous relief appearances, but you cannot let a lousy team like the Braves come to Shea, start 2 of your 3 best starters, and come away with only one win.  This series, the Nationals series, and the Phillies series felt like 2007 all over again (although the Mets actually won the Nationals series despite the big comebacks by the Nats).
  • The shame of this recent run of lefty starters the Mets have faced is that it has kept Daniel Murphy out of the lineup.  They really should have considered sitting Church in one of those serieses and started Murphy; Church just doesn’t look like the same player that was so good in the early part of the year and struggled facing the lefties.  I love watching Murphy play; he has great at-bats and gives the Mets a pest early in the lineup that they have seemed to have lacked the past two years.  Only Beltran and Wright grind out at-bats like Murphy.  I don’t know if he’s capable of doing this over a whole season, but I’m sure anxious to find out.
  • I can’t believe Jorge Julio picked up the win in relief today.  God, I hate that man.  And the Mets managed to get 2nd and 3rd with one out against him and couldn’t cash in.  I wish I could count the number of times this team has left runners in scoring position this season; I bet they lead the league.  As well as this team has done in scoring runs (2nd in the NL), it feels like they should have more.  Conversely, the only pitchers who have pitched well this year have been Johan, Pelfrey, and Wagner (Ollie and Maine have been too spotty for my tastes and Pedro has been garbage), and one of those guys will likely never wear a Mets uniform again.
  • Folks, be prepared for a rocky, rocky final 14, and be prepared for anything and everything; winning the NL East, winning the Wild Card, not making the playoffs at all.  I am going to the last regular season home game at Shea, fully prepared that this may very well be the last game ever played in one of my favorite buildings ever built.  Or it may host games 3, 4, and 5 of the 2008 World Series.  Anything can happen, and probably will.