The year 2011 is shaping up to be quite an important year for the New York Mets. While it might seem silly to be jumping the gun on this, considering the Mets just finished 2009 and haven’t even played 2010 yet, there are several factors that make 2011 quite the pivotal season. Here’s a look at some of those things.
Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category
OK, this is a short post, but I can’t take it anymore. I thought bad announcing reached a new low with Eric Karros on the FOX Game of the Week yesterday, but Steve Phillips’ continued character assassination on Carlos Beltran has become too much to bear. Are you upset, Steve, that Beltran has worked out better than every single free agent signing you’ve ever made? Are you upset that Omar Minaya picked up a great player, who hits for power, gets on base, and plays a great defensive center field? Would you prefer that the Mets start Timo Perez out there? Tsuyoshi Shinjo?
I don’t need to defend Beltran’s record, because it speaks for itself, but I can’t take listening to Steve Phillips complaining about a few small issues with Beltran’s game, when he’s been so great in 2009, a legitimate NL MVP candidate. Congratulations, Steve, you have been so utterly stupid, you made Joe Morgan into the voice of reason in the ESPN booth, a man so bad at his job, a website called FireJoeMorgan.com was once prominent on the internet. You have made Eric Karros sound like Vin Scully by comparison. Can we please get Gary, Keith, and Ron back as soon as possible? Please?
I have never really hidden my dislike of Willie Randolph here on this site. I was not a fan of his moves, particularly his bullpen decisions, which often seemed ill thought out and not creative. He was also an amazingly dull postgame press conference, with one tired cliche after another, contempt for anybody who dare question his questionable baseball decisions, and an undeserved arrogance. He hated playing rookies, and probably deserves a lion’s share of the blame that led to Heath Bell being given away after the 2006 season. I thought he should have been fired after 2007, and was vindicated when he struggled so mightily to start the 2008 season, with the team taking off immediately after he was fired. Good riddance.
I welcomed the change to Jerry Manuel. His postgame press conferences were entertaining, and he rarely seemed to make the wrong decision in games. Sure, the bullpen didn’t work any better for him than it did for Willie, but he did the best with what he had, and he had nothing. Daniel Murphy and Nick Evans were given the chance to shine, where they would have been buried by Willie. It was a looser atmosphere, a better atmosphere, and I felt that a presense like Jerry Manuel made Mets games more fun to watch in a purely non-baseball sense.
That said, the American Gangsta has been making decisions that have been driving me crazy as of late. The most egregious example is his love of the bunt. Despite what you have been taught to believe, bunting is bad baseball. Sure, it makes sense for pitchers to sacrifice; they probably aren’t going to get on base anyway, so the sacrifice bunt sort of makes sense. And sacrificing as the home team in the 9th inning or later of tie games also makes sense, since you’re only playing for one run; moving the runner to second base and hoping one of your next two hitters can get a single is good baseball.
But sacrificing with position players in the top of the ninth of a one run game? That is not good baseball. If you play to score one run, you will only score one run. Last night was a perfect example. In the 9th inning, on the road, the Mets had a one run lead and Jose Reyes was on first with a single, with Murphy coming up to bat. What sense does it make to take the bat out of the hands of Daniel Murphy, a guy who is pretty clearly only on the major league team right now because of his ability to hit? Wouldn’t you rather try to have him advance the runner on a single, or even score Reyes from first with a nicely placed double? Even a walk puts two on and nobody out. Why give up the out there? Outs are the most precious commodity in baseball; as long as you have outs, you have a chance to score. To give up an out in that spot makes no sense.
And don’t let the outcome fool you into thinking it was the right decision. If anything, the outcome proves my point. Chipper Jones had Jose Reyes dead to rights at second base; the sacrifice attempt had failed. The Mets were bailed out by Chipper throwing the ball away, and then by Yunel Escobar deciding not to cover second after the throw sailed into the outfield. The outcome was Murphy and Reyes standing on second and third with nobody out, the same outcome that could have been achieved by not taking the bat out of Murphy’s hand and letting him hit there. Nine times out of ten, the fielder makes that play cleanly and the batter is out. It was pure luck that Reyes and Murphy were both safe on that play, and it turned out to be doubly lucky for the Mets, as they needed both Reyes and Murphy to score in order to win the ballgame.
My problem with bunting with position players in this spot (and I’m not harping on something that has only happened one time; Manuel has called for the bunt with every position player not named Wright, Beltran, and Delgado this year) is run expectation. Take a look at this run expectation chart. Looking at 2008 stats, a team with a runner on first and no outs would be expected to score roughly 0.90024 runs in that inning. A runner on second and one out would be expected to score roughly 0.69465. A sacrifice bunt COSTS teams runs, because the fewer outs a team has, the more likely a team is to score. By giving away an out, a team is making it less likely to score, even with the runner being 180 feet from home plate instead of 270 feet. A runner on first with no outs is more valuable than a runner on second with one out; teams should be looking for ways to not make outs in that spot, rather than giving them away.
The Mets were ready, willing, and able to give away their chances of having a big inning in the top of the ninth so that they could maybe score one run. After the disaster that was the bottom of the ninth, this could have cost the Mets the game. Mets fans may not particularly like Chipper Jones, but they should make sure to thank him for winning this game for the Mets with his error (although, it doesn’t make up for the dozens of times he has beaten them).
As for Jerry Manuel, the bunting is starting to sour me on him. He’s still an engaging personality, and he seems to get the bullpen better than Willie, but as long as he’s bunting with position players who should be allowed to handle the bat, that is going to drive me crazy. Daniel Murphy is in the major leagues literally for no other reason than his bat. If you are relegating him to a pitcher in that instance, what purpose does he serve? Let these guys hit!
Now, I realize writing a column called “Why I hate Mets fans” on a blog about the New York Mets may seem, well, stupid. I myself must be a Mets fan, right? So do I hate myself? What’s up with this?
I have just reached a breaking point with Mets fans. It started last year, when Shea Stadium became at times a very unpleasant place to play. Unfortunately, that wasn’t for the road team, but the home team, which was often lustily booed for the smallest of miscues. Never mind the fact that the 2008 Mets won 48 games at home, good for almost 60% of their home games. But the team got off to a lousy start, and coming off of the collapse of 2007, this was unacceptable. Even players like Aaron Heilman, who were admittedly lousy, deserved more leeway than what they received (by the way, Heilman pitched hurt the entire year and, now healthy, has gotten off to a great start in Chicago).
Fast forward to April 2009. The Mets are off to another slow start. This slow start has come after the second straight late-season collapse, so Mets fans seem even testier than usual. Of course, we’re talking about a sample size of 21 games, or roughly 13% of the long season. It’s the equivalent of giving up on an NFL team after 2 games after a 1-1 start, or giving up on an NBA or NHL team after 11 games after a 5-6 start. This is a very, very small part of the schedule, with a lot of baseball left to play.
And yet, Mets fans with an undeserved sense of entitlement are now filling Citi Field with boos for the team’s best player, the face of the franchise, David Wright. It’s bad enough booing fringe players who aren’t any good; I’ve never understood the point of booing your own team unless they demonstrate a noticable lack of effort. You do not boo your team’s best player, ever, period. That is just classless and it embarrasses me as a fan of the Mets. David Wright may be the best player that has ever come through the Mets’ minor league system, a franchise cornerstone the likes of which this team has never seen before. You do not boo that player. If you boo that player, you are saying, “I don’t care about the great things that you have done in the past, you just struck out in this largely meaningless game and you are an asshole!”
David Wright isn’t playing to his full potential; I would be foolish to say otherwise. That said, I wouldn’t say he has been actively bad; he’s hitting .280 with a .372 on base percentage and a .390 slugging percentage. His power is way down, which is where the problem lies. We can’t even blame that on Citi Field, because four of his six extra base hits have been at home. He’s not making outs at a high rate, which is a very good thing. His “clutch” stats don’t look like much right now, but despite foolhardy sports talk radio hosts and newspaper writers who say otherwise, Wright has always been a fine player in the clutch, as good or even a little bit better in those situations than in meaningless ones. The problem is, folks tend to remember the failures much more than the successes, and that game against the Cubs with the tying run at third and nobody out still runs through the heads of many fans.
It’s this reactionary BS that has caused a rift between me and a large segment of the Mets fanbase. I’m not doing a jig over the slow start, but I’m not losing my mind over it, either. This is a good team. David Wright is a good baseball player. So is Carlos Beltran. So are Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, Ryan Church, Daniel Murphy…even Luis Castillo is playing well at the moment. Johan Santana is the best pitcher in baseball right now. While John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, and even Oliver Perez are not pitching well, they aren’t so old or far enough removed from good seasons to where we shouldn’t expect them to get better. I’m not making excuses for the team at all, I just think this has been a bad month and they will rebound and play better ball; there is too much talent for them not to do so.
Yet the negativity that surrounds this team makes me sick. It’s like the perfect storm; take Mets fans living in the shadow of the latest Yankee dynasty, throw in a rabid New York media all-too-willing to throw gasoline on a fire to sell a few newspapers or radio ads, and add back-to-back heartbreaking ends to the season, and it seems that Mets fans have been pushed up to a new level of insanity. Honestly, it’s embarrassing. There are good, passionate fans out there, but they seem to be getting yelled over by the knuckleheads who just want to hate. All that does is make Mets fans look like the worst fans in baseball, a fanbase that doesn’t deserve to witness a championship team, and a fanbase who no player in their right mind would want to play for. It makes me feel embarrassed to wear my Mets jerseys, because I don’t want to be lumped in that segment of Mets fans.
It’s these sort of slow starts where Mets fans become obsessed with things that just don’t quantitatively help win ballgames, like hustle and grit. Do people really think that the superstars on this team don’t hustle? Jose Reyes had his issues with hustle last year, but Jerry Manuel nipped those in the bud and now I rarely, if ever, notice him failing to run out a ground ball. Mets fans want to try to figure out a reason why so much talent isn’t winning, with answers ranging to “the team has too much talent – who’s going to bunt guys over???” to “this team doesn’t care if they win or lose!!!!” both of which seem absurd when you really think about them.
How did the Mets manage to find not one, not two, but twenty-five separate guys who don’t care if they win or lose all at once? What are the odds of that even happening? You don’t become an elite, major league caliber talent without a drive to win every single game; lack of effort tends to weed players out by the major league level, if not shortly thereafter. As for “too much talent,” that’s ridiculous. The team hasn’t been losing because of a lack of sacrifice bunting; heck, Jerry Manuel has already bunted far more than I’m comfortable with, since I hate one-run strategies. Trust me, in the annals of baseball lore, there has never, ever been a problem with teams having too much talent. Ask fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates or Kansas City Royals if they’d rather have too much talent or no talent; those guys are all a bunch of scrappers because most of their players stink.
There’s basically one reason why this team isn’t winning ballgames right now; the starting pitching after Johan Santana stinks. John Maine is the only starter with two quality starts. Oliver Perez has been dreadful, Livan Hernandez is utterly finished, and Mike Pelfrey is struggling through injury and command issues. Hopefully, this will improve, because the offense has been largely very good so far. But that’s the reason. The hitting has been good, the bullpen has been largely good (although I am concerned about Putz’s velocity and strikeouts both being down). The starting pitching has stunk. At some point, either Ollie, Maine, and Big Pelf are going to have to get better, or changes are going to have to be made. Simple as that.
To answer my above question, no, I do not hate myself. But it’s hard to consider myself a fan of the New York Mets when so many Mets fans are letting negativity run their perception of this ballclub. I haven’t been happy about the way they have performed, but I have not once thought of booing another player on this team, and if I was going to start (after smacking myself in the head with a hammer a few times), I don’t think I’d start with David Wright. He’s done too much for this ballclub to be deserving of such treatment. I may be a fan of the Mets, but I’m no Mets fan. If you’re content to boo the team’s stars because of your own frustrations with the team, then feel free to call yourself a Mets fan. Just know you make those of us who don’t wish to be party to such negativity hang our heads in shame for being associated with the likes of you.
Mets fans are not taking this mediocre start well. I guess after last year’s poor start, and after the way the last two years have ended, it is somewhat understandable, but it seems that the overreaction to this poor start is even worse than in years past. This morning, MetsBlog posted a note from the New York Post that Omar Minaya will have some payroll flexibility this season to make an acquisition should he need to do so (probably at the trading deadline), along with a list of players who may be available at the trade deadline. So what’s the topic of conversation on my way to work today on WFAN? Joe Beningo and Evan Roberts discussing ways for the Mets to bring Roy Halladay to New York!
I mean, can we please relax for a minute? Not even bringing up the reasons why a Roy Halladay trade is unrealistic (the Mets won’t take on that much salary, it would require completely emptying the farm system to acquire him, he’s 32 years old and about to leave his prime, etc)…I mean, it’s only April guys. I alluded to this in Travis’ post below, but we’ve played 7 games. That’s like 4.3% of the schedule so far. That’s absolutely nothing. Would I like to see them with a better record? Sure, but…I mean, as I mentioned yesterday, 3 of their 4 losses came on an outfield error, a bloop, and a balk. Is this anything to get upset about? Is that anything to worry about? No.
The most underperforming players on the team so far have been Mike Pelfrey (who has forearm tendinitis) and Oliver Perez (who is Oliver Perez). Everybody else is playing mostly well. The problem has been the fickle hand of luck so far, which should solve itself over the remaining 155 games. The Mets will surely win more than a few games they did not deserve to win, much as they lost a few games early on that they probably did not deserve to lose. Everybody needs to settle down and relax and try to keep the season in perspective. This is a good team, and things are going to be fine. They do not have to trade the entire farm system, plus their starting left fielder, to acquire Roy Halladay, even if he would be a nice addition to the team. Just relax.
I was reading Hardball Times while at work today, and saw a link to an article written there a year ago called “Five Questions: New York Mets.” It’s weird what you can take in from an article written a year ago. Following a baseball team day to day, week to week, month to month, you forget things as the season goes along, particularly things from spring training. Anyway, go back and read that article if you have a chance, and take note of the following:
- Last spring, Luis Castillo and Carlos Beltran had not taken the field before March 15th. This year, both were healthy and ready to go at the start of spring.
- Carlos Delgado was still recovering from a hip injury, and was having a dreadful start to spring which would carry over to the regular season. This year, Delgado has played well, including some nice hitting in the WBC.
- Ryan Church suffered his first concussion after the collision with Marlon Anderson early in spring training. Other than a minor knee injury, he has been healthy all spring this year.
- Brian Schneider didn’t have much of a chance to catch his new starting staff at the start of spring due to a sore hamstring. This year, he has been a regular in the lineup and has a year of catching this entire staff under his belt.
And so on. A lot of these seemingly minor issues, which you don’t think about at the time, let alone by season’s end, have not been problems this season. This year, other than an elbow scare with Johan Santana (which hopefully will not rear its head again), everybody is healthy. Not everybody has been in camp, of course, thanks to the WBC, but the guys who need to play every day are, and those who would be counted on to play key reserve spots are also getting work. Health-wise, everybody is doing well so far (knock on wood).
Another issue revolves around Johan Santana. Last year, he was the key news story for the team in spring training, as he had been acquired only a month beforehand. Every reporter, every camera, every fan was documenting his every move. This year, while he did become a story because of the elbow, he hasn’t been the overriding story. Now, he’s a true part of the team, his simply being a Met is no longer a story. Everything about his spring is more familiar than last year. The Mets don’t have a calibre of star who has had anything like that join the team this year, not even K-Rod. The story is on the team and how they can play better than last year.
I think we’re silently working our way into a good spot. Last year, we all had expectations, even as spring training sort of became something of a disaster. A rough spring spilled into the regular season, and after a bad start, Willie Randolph lost his job. Jerry Manuel righted the ship, brought the Mets back into playoff contention, but ultimately the bad start was too much to overcome. A lot was made of the way the Mets finished the season, but if the Mets hadn’t started the season so poorly, there is a good chance that the Mets would have made the playoffs.
This year? Spring is going well. Don’t pay attention to the record; most of those games have been played by second string hitters. Our hitters are healthy, they are just playing for scattered WBC teams across the country. Everybody is healthy, most of the players are doing OK, and if things continue to progress as they have, the Mets will have a full, healthy roster going into the season. The guy managing the team isn’t Willie Randolph, another plus. Things just feel like they are moving in a better direction this year.
Yet, most Mets fans will say that they are not optimistic. The collapses from the past two seasons definitely still linger in most people’s minds, and this offseason ultimately felt unfulfilling after a promising start. Last year, the Mets made their big move on the eve of spring training; this year, they made their big move in November. It changes the psychology of how the fans look at their team. There is optimism to be found on the 2009 Mets, just as there was reason for pessimism for the 2008 Mets that most Mets fans chose to overlook. Personally, I just hope that they can stay healthy and enter the year at 100%, because a good start could be what makes the difference for this team.
Spring training has begun, and with it a wave of optimism has run through the Mets camp in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Everybody looks better than ever. There is everlasting hope that lays before the Mets, because the season has yet to begin. We don’t know exactly what lays ahead of us, so we have every reason to hope that this will be the season where everything breaks the Mets way and they win that elusive World championship.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than the articles written about Luis Castillo this spring. He’s dropped 17 pounds! He’s playing with a new-found intensity! He’s got something to prove! The hop is back in his step! Maybe, just maybe, he’s back to being the old Luis Castillo!
Well, I hate to be the turd in the punch bowl, especially this early into spring training, but I would be slow to jump on the Luis Castillo bandwagon. The fact of the matter is, while it’s fantastic that Castillo decided to show up for spring training in shape this season, he still has a lot of fundamental flaws in his game. Simply being in shape for the first time since signing his large contract extension with the Mets will not make these flaws go away.
First, there is Castillo’s lack of power. This isn’t new, obviously; Luis Castillo has never been a power hitter. He has fewer home runs for his career than were hit by David Wright and Carlos Delgado last season. He’s also not much for hitting line drives; over the past five years, only once has Castillo hit higher than 20% of his balls in play for line drives. Basically, when Luis Castillo hits the ball in the air, it is more likely than not to be caught.
What has made Luis Castillo a .300 hitter for much of his career is not his power, but his speed. Castillo’s value has been tied to his ability to beat ground balls for singles. If Castillo can’t beat out a grounder, he can’t be a good hitter. Unfortunately for the Mets, he had double knee surgery shortly before he signed with the team, which has helped to sap him of much of that speed. Even in better shape this season, he can’t regain the mobility lost in those knees.
Then there is Castillo’s defense. This is an area that has dropped off significantly the past few years. Frankly, if Luis Castillo can’t play a passable second base, he can’t play in the major leagues. His bat is not nearly good enough to play any other position, and if he can’t handle second base or shortstop, he has no role in the majors anymore. Last year, his glove played worse at 2B than anybody who played significant time there. If he is in shape, and his knees aren’t bothering him, best case scenario means he’s passable as a second baseman. Anything less, and he’s an expensive sinkhole.
What I don’t understand is why the Mets never got involved on Orlando Hudson. I can understand their reluctance on Manny. He’s very very expensive, he’s getting old, and while I think his personality issues have been grossly exaggerated, that issue is on the table too. He would be awesome in this lineup, no doubt, but there are enough legitimate red flags to where I could see passing him up, especially at $25 million a season.
But Orlando Hudson just signed for one year and $3.4 million! That contract is not going to put this team over the luxury tax threshold even if he hits all of his bonus clauses. While I went back and forth on him this offseason, my biggest problem with a Hudson signing was that I figured he would command too many years for the production he would be worth. But for one season? To make Luis Castillo irrelevent? Why not get involved?
That said, I do think that moving Castillo to the leadoff position could benefit him. The Mets blogosphere has seemed pretty cold to this move, as have the media, but it makes sense if you look at the numbers. Castillo still possesses a keen batting eye, and is very capable at drawing walks. While Reyes has made improvements in this area, Castillo still has the better batting eye, and getting more walks from the leadoff spot would benefit the team.
In addition, Castillo’s offensive game is ill-suited for a #2 hitter, because he hits a high percentage of ground balls. More than 60% of the balls he hits are on the ground. If Jose Reyes is on first base, Castillo’s high percentage of ground balls becomes a severe detriment, opening himself up for double plays, or forceouts. The best possible result in this scenario is an error. Even if Castillo’s knees are fully operational, his high percentage of ground balls makes him ill-suited to bat behind Reyes, or really anybody.
Are the benefits of moving to a Castillo/Reyes/Wright top of the batting order that great? Probably not, although it would line the players up in a more ideal fashion and maximize the team’s run scoring potential. It would have been nice if the team understood that Luis Castillo is a sunk cost, that they have wasted $24 million on a player who will return little if any benefits. It would have been nice if they had made the call to upgrade a position where they received nothing last season, and earned themselves an extra win or two just by having competency at second base.
They failed to do that. I understand trying to find hope when the season seems so far away, but there’s a difference between hope and foolishness. Luis Castillo should be better than what he was last season, but that’s because he was the worst everyday player in the majors in 2008. The Mets should be expecting more out of second base, particularly if they really do have dreams of competing this season.
The more I think about the Oliver Perez signing, the more convinced I become that the Mets were utterly worked over by Scott Boras. Think about it: was there ever really a market for Oliver Perez? He was a Type-A free agent, meaning any team that signed him would have to give up a first round draft pick in order to do so. Throw in Boras as his agent, who was clearly gunning for an eight figure per season deal, and the cost was prohibitive to just about every other team in baseball. There was no market for Oliver Perez. All of the teams that supposedly had interest, teams like the Cardinals, Rangers, ”maybe the Rangers,” never even made an offer.
So why did the Mets offer so much money per season? Omar got played by Boras. Right from the start, when the Mets were negotiating with Derek Lowe. If the Mets had signed Derek Lowe, that would be the worst thing for Boras’ bottom line, because even if the Mets had offered Lowe the exact same package the Braves had offered, no other team out there would have offered Perez the 3 years/$36 million offered by the Mets. Boras had to find another team other than the Mets to take Lowe, and caught a break when the Braves became desperate when John Smoltz signed with the Red Sox. That gave him the opening he needed to set this up to be a lucrative postseason even before Manny Ramirez signs.
Then, somehow he leverages the Mets into offering Perez $12 million a season despite a lack of interest from other clubs. Seriously, who out there was going to offer Ollie Perez eight figures? The economy is killing baseball’s middle class right now. The Cardinals and Brewers could use another starting pitcher, but only if Perez became available at a discount. Both would have had to forfeit a first round pick to sign him. The Rangers were mentioned at one time as a possibility, but they are always mentioned when a Boras client is involved, and they seem to have zeroed in on Ben Sheets. Who else was seriously pursuing a starter? So why did the Mets even budge off of 3 years/$30 million?
They even tried to leverage the situation by entertaining the idea of pursuing Sheets. But was this ever seriously discussed? There was never even any talk of bringing Sheets or his agent to town, and you would think that if the Mets were really looking to sell Sheets on New York, they would bring him in, take him to a show, maybe a basketball game, maybe out to the suburbs. They never did any of this. As far as I know, they never even really spoke to his agent. I mean, I can’t even tell you who his agent is, because I don’t ever remember reading anything about Sheets where his agent was mentioned. If he was a serious option, don’t you think they would have had serious dialogue with his agent, something that would have been reported somewhere?
Knowing Boras, he probably saw through all of this. After all, if there is one person who knows how to leverage through the media, it’s Boras. Nobody seem to buy for one minute that the Mets had been shaken off of their pursuit of Perez, even with pitchers available who are as good, or in the case of Sheets, better (but injury-prone). Perez ultimately got his money. It reminds me of a Steve Phillips move, where the Mets paid top dollar for a mid-level player. One thing Omar had always been good at doing is avoiding high-priced mistakes for mid-level talent. Under Omar, the team’s credo seemed to be, if you are going to overpay, overpay for the best. The Mets overpaid for Perez, but are only getting a mid-level talent in return.
This is all just speculation on my part, of course. I could just be a paranoid fan. But the way I see this scenario, Scott Boras played the Mets to perfection, and got what he wanted. And hey, good for him. That’s why he’s the best at what he does. I don’t hate him as a result; in some small way, I admire what he does, because he gets results that other agents don’t. Sadly, it came at the expense of our beloved Mets. And that is unfortunate.
I apologize for going dark for a few weeks. Frankly, since the Lowe negotiations fell apart, there has been little to talk about. The Mets continue to make offers to Oliver Perez; he continues to believe they are too low. The Mets have flirted with Ben Sheets, but he seems content to use their affection to get the attention of another team. Jon Garland signed, and thank goodness it wasn’t with the Mets. Randy Wolf is waiting for the Mets to establish the midrange starter market before fleecing the Dodgers out of money. It’s really been very boring.
Let’s assume for a minute that they do bring back Oliver Perez, which seems like a reasonable assumption at this point. Where does that leave the 2009 New York Mets?
Well, other than the upgraded bullpen, it feels a lot like the 2008 New York Mets, the team that fell three games short of winning the NL East and one game short of the Wild Card. There has been no movement to tinker with the lineup whatsoever, which had four offensive black holes at times last season. The starting rotation is largely the same, with only the upgrade from Tim Redding to Pedro Martinez (and sad as it is to say, that is an upgrade).
The bench is largely the same, with Jeremy Reed representing a small offensive upgrade and a rather large defensive downgrade from Endy Chavez, and Alex Cora an upgrade over Damion Easley. Marlon Anderson is still a Met, unfortunately. And the bullpen should be a lot better going from Heilman, Smith, Schoeneweis, and a half a season of Wagner to Putz, Green, a full season of Stokes, and K-Rod.
But will upgrading the bullpen alone mean avoiding collapse in 2009? Let’s look at the lineup. Last year’s team tied for 2nd in the National League in runs scored, an impressive feat considering that they played half of their games at Shea Stadium, whereas the top team and they team they tied for second (the Cubs and Phillies) both play in offensively-favorable environments. It’s especially impressive considering that they started guys like Brian Schneider and Luis Castillo over 100 times each last year.
But can this team repeat that? It would seem to be unlikely. While David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran should remain excellent players, the fact is that every other position is a question mark, some bigger than others. Carlos Delgado cannot be expected to repeat his 2008 season next year; age and other factors make him a prime candidate to regress a lot, possibly to his 2007 levels, and possibly lower. It would be extremely optimistic for the Mets to believe that Schneider and Castillo will improve much from offensive black hole status; while it might be hard to imagine either being worse than they were last year, their age and past performance makes it unlikely that they will be much better, either.
Then there is the outfield. It seems likely that some combination of Daniel Murphy, Fernando Tatis, Ryan Church, and “Nasty” Nick Evans will take most of the Mets’ at-bats in left and right field next year. And somewhere in there might be an effective platoon. But it would seem to be just as likely that the Mets and their fans may be overrating Daniel Murphy based on a flukey 120 at-bats, that Ryan Church’s second half was not so much related to concussion issues but that he was playing over his head in the first half, and that it would be extremely unlikely for Fernando Tatis to repeat his 2008.
Tatis and Murphy both somewhat obscured that the Mets had some serious corner outfield problems in 2008. Church’s struggles against righties have made him a better platoon candidate than everyday starter. Murphy played well in the majors, but was never considered to be a great prospect and had never played at a high level at any level until last season. Tatis’ career had long since been dead and buried before he miraculously rose from the dead to become a very competent major league player last year. Are we really going to rely on these three players to remain competent in the majors? Or would now be a good time to hedge our bets, force Church and Tatis into a platoon, and let Murphy work as a four corners sub and find a real corner outfielder?
There are options out there. The big one, of course, is Manny Ramirez. Manny and his agent, Scott Boras, are dragging out negotiations with the Dodgers, hopeful they will ante up the years they are looking for when there aren’t many teams out there driving the bidding. Many Mets fans keep hoping the Mets will eventually get involved in the Manny bidding, but that seems like an extreme longshot, for no other reason than the team does not seem willing to raise payroll next year. Fans can bitch and moan that the team will likely be even more profitable in 2009, even in an economic downturn, with Citi Field opening, but there is likely nothing we can do about that.
However, not targeting an Adam Dunn or a Bobby Abreu…now that just seems short-sighted. True, it would make the Mets too left-handed…if you consider Ryan Church an everyday starter. If Churchy was platooned, and he probably should be, it would only make the Mets too left-handed when facing a right handed pitcher, which is not a bad spot to be in. The bench is also too left-handed at the moment, but pursuing a player like a Ty Wigginton on a 1-2 year deal, to act as the right-handed Daniel Murphy, would be a great way to hedge that bet. This would require giving Marlon Anderson his walking papers, but frankly I don’t understand why this hasn’t happened yet anyway.
I have always been a big supporter of Adam Dunn. He is a great middle of the order bat, a guy who combines power and patience in a potent combo. He’s not a great defensive player at all, and he does strike out a lot, leading to low batting averages, but he regularly posts OBP’s in the .380-.400 range, meaning he avoids making outs (which is very important in the game of baseball) and regularly blasts 40 homers a season. Plus, he would give the team an option at first base after Delgado’s contract runs out after this season. Unfortunately, the team sees Church as a starter, not as a platoon player, and they do value defense in the outfield, so it seems unlikely that they would pursue Dunn.
But they need to do something. They are going to return the same rotation, which should be roughly as good as it was last year, all things considered. The bullpen will be better. But the offense…that is probably going to be worse, and possibly a lot worse. The Mets’ motus operendi in the offseason seems to be to react instead of act. They don’t anticipate problems, the way a team like the Red Sox or A’s might. They wait until a problem presents itself before they look to fix it. This front office needs to take a good hard look at this team, particularly in the corners, where an upgrade could cheaply present itself, and ask themselves if they truly feel comfortable with this team as it is currently constructed. When that answer is no, they need to act on one of these decent power bats on the market.
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.