Archive for the ‘Derek Lowe’ Category

How the Mets bungled their postseason

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

The Mets had done everything well up until this point.  They handled the bullpen situation as smartly as one could hope, bringing in the best available free agent closer, and then trading for another closer without giving up anything of real value.  The bullpen was one of their biggest problems last season, and in two nicely done moves, they solved both of them.  Nobody can take that away from them.  This was an excellent way to kick off the offseason, and Mets fans were suitably pumped up, as the team seemed intent on paving a road to a championship caliber ballclub.

But to think that addressing the bullpen alone would bring this team a championship is foolish.  The starting rotation last year was thin outside of Johan Santana, and to a lesser degree Mike Pelfrey.  John Maine is coming off of an injury, and was not particularly effective before the injury.  Pedro Martinez was pretty bad last year, although he is a free agent.  And Oliver Perez was maddeningly inconsistent, going from looking like a worldbeater one game to getting destroyed in another without any rhyme or reason.  He was also a free agent, and a Type A free agent at that, a free agent that will bring the Mets back a first round pick should he sign with another club.

There is also a problem with the offense.  Carlos Delgado probably isn’t going to repeat his 2008 again; he is more likely to resemble first half Delgado than second half Delgado.  Luis Castillo and Brian Schneider were two of the worst everyday players in the majors last year, combining terrible offense and lousy defense.  Between Ryan Church’s recovery from a serious head injury and the planned Fernando Tatis/Daniel Murphy platoon (which should be good, but it is likely neither will be close to as good as they were last year), the corner outfield spots are far from certain.  While the team should rely on continued good seasons out of players like David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran, every other position has at least a question mark, and some have both a question mark and an exclamation point.  And the bench stinks.

So what have the Mets done to improve in these other areas since solving the bullpen problem?  Well…um…nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  This team remains as flawed as it was after the J.J. Putz trade, where they were improved but certainly no lock to play October baseball, and with Derek Lowe signing with the Braves today, it appears unlikely that the team will make those necessary moves towards a World Series.  Add this to the Wilpons’ refusal to even consider bidding on Manny Ramirez, an impact bat that would instantly make the Mets’ lineup the best in the National League, and it appears as though the team the Mets take to war next year will once again fall short of expectations.

The move to make was sign Derek Lowe.  I have gotten over the fact that the Mets simply will not sign Manny; that’s fine.  Twenty million dollars for a late 30’s slugger probably wouldn’t be the best investment by year 3 anyway.  But Lowe was different.  The Mets simply needed to sign one of the three best starters on the market.  CC Sabathia was always a pipe dream, since the Mets are already paying Johan Santana the kind of money Sabathia would want, and Santana is better.  AJ Burnett was the next best starter available, and considering the years he would want, he probably wasn’t the best investment for the Mets.

That leaves Lowe.  As I discussed last week, he’s good at getting ground balls, and above average at striking batters out.  He avoids walks.  He’s fairly unspectacular, but that is exactly what the Mets needed in their rotation!  They didn’t need somebody who was going to wow you with his power; they needed a guy who avoids mistakes, pitches 200 above average innings a season, and gives the fanbase little to worry about.  That’s what you get out of Lowe.  There is a real value in what he gives his teams.  For the Mets, he fills out their rotation perfectly.  Even being a Type A, which would require giving up a first round pick to the Dodgers, the Mets could recoup that pick by letting Perez sign with another team, giving the Mets two picks in the top 50.

The problem is, the Mets tried to dictate the pitcher’s market to Scott Boras.  You can dictate the market to an agent like Paul Kinzer; you can’t dictate the market to Scott Boras.  The moment John Smoltz signed with Boston, Boras saw an opportunity to get the Braves involved for Lowe and pounced.  By sitting back and letting Boras work the market, the Mets allowed the opportunity for another team to get involved in the starting pitcher’s market.  By doing so, it cost them the best starter still looking for work after the winter meetings, a guy who would have slotted in perfectly.

Where does this leave the Mets?  It leads them back to…Oliver Perez.  Think about this; isn’t this EXACTLY what Scott Boras would want?  The last thing Boras wanted was for the Mets to sign Lowe; they were his biggest suitor for Perez as well.  Lowe signing with the Mets for $12 million a season (Carlos Silva money, by the way) hurts his market for Perez too.  The smart money was to get the Mets involved, but not too involved, on Lowe, use them to drive the market up for another team, and then have the Mets sign Ollie at an inflated rate.  Boras played the Mets like patsies.

The thing is, this could have been avoided.  The Mets needed to make a stronger initial offer to Lowe; they knew as well as anybody that three years and $36 million was not getting this deal done.  Three years, $42 million with a vesting option for a fourth year…that is at least in the ballpark of where Lowe and Boras were looking.  By lowballing Boras, they allowed the opportunity for another team to get involved.  They have nobody to blame but themselves for letting Lowe not only slip out of their own grasp, but to go to a division rival no less.  But hey…at least they have Tim Redding to round out the rotation!

So now the Mets are going into 2009, at best with a rotation that will see an upgrade from Pedro Martinez to Tim Redding in the 5th spot (and that disgusts me to write that we now live in a world where Tim Redding is a better pitcher than Pedro Martinez), and is otherwise unchanged from last season.  John Maine’s health is a question mark, and even before his injury, he didn’t look particularly great on the mound.  Mike Pelfrey will be back, and it could be a mistake to assume he will be as good as he was last season; he needs to start striking more batters out before we can assume he’s going to use his tools to their fullest.

And Oliver Perez, in the best case scenario, will now be back for another four years.  Four more years of maddening inconsistency…four more years of walks and fly balls…and to be fair, four more years of high strikeout numbers, but still…four more years of Good Ollie/Bad Ollie drama…and that’s the best-case scenario.  That assumes Boras doesn’t figure out a way for Ollie to wind up on another team, with the Mets forced to explore the Ben Sheets/Randy Wolf “severe injury problem” market.  The Mets’ best case scenario as of right now involves four years of never knowing which Oliver Perez Mets fans will see on the mound.  Does this get anybody else excited?

The Mets blew it.  We all know they aren’t going to make the big addition to their lineup that could give them the help they need.  This is a team in need of a big righty bat, that they aren’t going to sign.  They are stuck with their current unsatisfying solutions at second base and catcher.  The bullpen is better, and should blow fewer games, but that was merely a nice step in the right direction.  There was more work to be done, and the team does not seem intent on doing what they need to do to put them conclusively over the hump for 2009.  Mets fans today should feel disgusted that their team could have made the big move to put them into the playoffs for 2009, but instead chose to play hardball with the toughest agent in baseball, and then acting surprised when everything blew up in their face.

Mets Starting Pitcher Options – Pro/Con

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

With rumors flying over who the Mets might be signing to fill out their rotation for 2009, I thought it would be a good time to look at what each man out there brings to the table.  Here is a list of guys who have been linked to the Mets offseason plans in some form or another over the past few weeks.

Derek Lowe

Pros:  Sinker ball pitcher, does not allow many home runs, shoulders heavy workload year after year (having thrown 180 or more innings a season the past seven years), a solid but unspectacular six strikeouts per nine innings, low walk rates, sinkerballers tend to age well, probably the best pitcher remaining on the market right now.

Cons:  Scott Boras client, currently about $12-16 million difference between perceived value and the contract offer made by the Mets, seeking contract that will pay him until he turns 40, Type A free agent will require first round compensation pick to whomever signs him (which will actually be a second round pick, meaning the Mets won’t pick until the third round of the draft)

Lowe has dominated the headlines for the Mets ever since the J.J. Putz trade was consummated, as he has become their main target.  Most of the concerns surrounding Lowe center around his age and his contract demands, as right now the two sides seem to be $4 million apart per season, and the Mets seem unwilling to go beyond three years.  He is probably the most likely option for the Mets, and I suspect a 3 year/$42 million plus an option year which could be obtained through reaching innings pitched minimums would be the likely ending point should the Mets sign Lowe.

Oliver Perez

Pros:  Youngest pitcher on the market, offers the upside of a #1/#2 starter, high strikeout totals, left-handed in a division with big left-handed bats

Cons:  Also a Scott Boras client, looking for a long term deal, has been extremely erratic (to say the least), even in good seasons, will walk a bunch and allow a lot of home runs, does not eat up a lot of innings due to early exits, which are a big part of the Oliver Perez Experience, a Type A free agent who would net the team two high draft picks if he signed elsewhere

That last point might be the most important; had Oliver Perez only been a Type B free agent, I think the Mets might be making more of an attempt to resign him, since he would only net the team a sandwich pick if he signed elsewhere.  But with the Mets having already lost a draft pick for signing K-Rod, allowing Perez to sign elsewhere would bring back two high draft picks in return.  That is the reason why the Mets haven’t aggresively tried to bring back Perez.  Then there is the massive inconsistency from start to start, and Perez’s general flakiness, and it would seem to make more sense to let another team deal with all of this, even acknowledging that he could emerge as a #1 starter elsewhere.

Randy Wolf

Pros:  Not a Scott Boras client, left-handed, good strikeout pitcher

Cons:  Last year was the first time since 2004 where Wolf had even as many as 136 IP, moderately high walk rate, high home run rate (which could be depressed greatly at Citi Field)

Randy Wolf would be a decent option for the Mets as their #5 starter.  Unfortunately, he was just good enough last year to where he seems to be establishing a market above that of a low end starter, despite years of injury problems.  At one point, Wolf looked like a safe bet to emerge as a very good pitcher, but injuries have kept him from realizing that potential.  I’d like him more if the Mets sign either Lowe or Perez, but not as a fallback option if they fail to sign either.  But as I said, his good few months in Houston have likely priced him out of that market.

Tim Redding

Pros: Would be cheap filler for the back of the rotation, solid strikeout rate, ate 182 IP for the Nationals last year, would keep Jon Niese in Buffalo for a little while longer

Cons: High number of home runs allowed last season while pitching half of his games at Nationals Park, high walk rate, wants a two year contract (and might get it)

Tim Redding is not a good pitcher, but for a #5 pitcher, you could certainly do worse.  He was underqualified to be a #1 or 2 in Washington, but slotted against lesser pitchers with a good offense behind him, he would probably have a nice year in New York.  Personally, if I were his agent, I’d want him to sign a one year deal with the Mets, where a good offense and defense behind him will artificially inflate his win totals, making him a good bet to get a 2-3 year deal worth more money next year, where the free agent crop is thinner.  Redding ultimately isn’t anything to get excited about, but would be a good option to fill out the rotation.

Pedro Martinez

Pros: Mets fans still love the guy

Cons: He was really, REALLY bad last year, and is not at all durable

I think a lot of Mets fans would love to see Pedro back in blue and orange, and hell, if he learns to adjust his approach to match his current skillset, he could still be an effective pitcher.  But I think at some point, it’s time to move on.  We are now three full seasons removed from Pedro’s last good season, and expecting him to be that Pedro at this point simply is not realistic.  With Pedro, it’s always a major question of whether he’ll be healthy enough to get through another season, and I don’t really care to go through that again.  I love Pedro, I love his personality and I love what he brought to the 2005 Mets.  But it’s time to move on.

Jon Niese

Pros: Has pitched very well in the minors, will be a future solid starter for the Mets

Cons: He isn’t ready to be that in 2009

The Mets made a mistake in hoping Mike Pelfrey would be ready to give the Mets good innings in 2007, and paid for it with growing pains.  He didn’t really fully develop until the middle of last year.  The team likes to rush their prospects along, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Niese pushed as a potential low end starter next year, but he isn’t ready for the role and would be better off spending the year in Buffalo honing his pitches a little more, and only pitching in Queens if there is an injury to another starter.  Eventually, I think Niese is going to be a part of what the Mets want to do, but he isn’t ready yet.

Top Free Agents: Who Should the Mets Go For?

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Rafael Furcal- No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mets Offseason – The Summary

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Last in a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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