What happens next?

I asked the same question a year ago, after a heartbreaking ending to the season, albeit about 3 weeks later in the year. I was hoping to avoid answering this question in September, but that’s where we stand today. Let’s take a look at who’s safe, who’s on the bubble, and who’s gone with another disappointing Mets season completed.

Catcher

Both Mets’ catchers are free agents. Paul Lo Duca had a miserable 2007. He posted career lows in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. His batting average dropped 45 points over last year, which contributed to most of these losses, and he turns 36 in April. His defense isn’t good enough to make up for his hitting deficiencies, either. He has to be let go. Ramon Castro completely outhit him this year, but he isn’t young either (he turns 32 in March) and it’s questionable if he can repeat this. It may not be a bad idea to bring back Castro on a 1-2 year deal, maybe sign another non-big name free agent catcher (Rod Barajas?) to push him for the job in spring training, and hope for the best. That won’t win any headlines on the back page of the New York Post, though, so expect the team to target Pudge or Posada, and bring back Lo Duca as a backup plan.

Infield

David Wright is safe. As an aside, David Wright has better numbers than Jimmy Rollins, led his team in the clutch more often than Jimmy Rollins, and was one of the few reasons this team stayed in first place even as long as they did. He’s not going to win the MVP because the Mets’ pitching staff completely imploded down the stretch. It’s not fair, but what can you do? Hopefully, this is the start of a series of MVP-calibre seasons for Wright, and he’ll be able to win one in years to come. Just wanted to point this out before I got to the rest of the infield.

The biggest question mark is a guy who isn’t going anywhere, and that’s Jose Reyes. No, the Mets are not going to trade Jose Reyes, but after a great first half, an MVP-calibre first half, Reyes crapped the bed in the second half, particularly in September. He was swinging at bad pitches, he wasn’t waiting for his pitch, he walked less, and set what may have been a Mets record for pop ups in the month of September. Either the rest of the league has caught up to him, and knows how to pitch to him, or something is wrong. I want to believe it’s the former, because that’s an area where he can make adjustments, but there’s no questioning that there was just a different look to how Reyes played in the second half. He didn’t have that same spark. While the Mets’ offense wasn’t the reason for their September collapse, there were enough close games mixed in there to where a steady Jose Reyes would have greatly added to this team’s performance, and likely would have given them the one win they needed to stay alive. Whatever ails Reyes, one of the big things this team needs to do this off-season is find out how to correct it, or else Reyes will not live up to his potential.

Second base is in play. Luis Castillo is a free agent, and probably won’t be back, as slap hitters who rely on their speed who lose their speed tend to not be in great demand. Ruben Gotay performed capably at second base when called upon, but the team showed a lack of faith in him by acquiring Castillo to begin with. Damion Easley was lost for the season with an injury, which saw the team bring in Marlon Anderson to replace him. The smart money would seem to be on Anderson being retained, and the Mets using Anderson to push Gotay for the starting job in spring training. Jose Valentin’s option for 2007 didn’t vest with too few at-bats, and I don’t suspect he’ll be back, as he did nothing to warrant bringing him back pre-injury. I also should not completely rule out a Luis Castillo return, but I just can’t see it being worth the risk at this point.
Carlos Delgado has one year remaining on his contract. In theory, he’s not going anywhere. In practice, he just had the worst season of his career, and to add injury to insult, broke his wrist in the final game of the season. There’s just no denying it – he isn’t the player he once was. I think the Mets accepted this when they traded for him, that the player they were getting in 2006 won’t be the same player in 2008. The problem is, we’re now in 2008. The guess is he doesn’t go anywhere, and hopefully playing for a new contract in 2009 will help aid in a bounce back in 2008. But big, slugging first basemen don’t tend to age well, so don’t be surprised if his slide continues next year as well.

Outfield

There are some questions here once you get past center field (Carlos Beltran ain’t going anywhere). Beltran didn’t have the kind of year he had in 2006, but he still played very well this year. He’s never going to be a favorite of Mets fans, because he wasn’t developed here, and he is naturally shy, which I think causes people to think he doesn’t care, when I think he just doesn’t express himself very well. That said, he was the 2nd best hitter on this team this year, and more often than not, was a bright spot for this team.

Moises Alou has a team option for 2007, and while he’s going to be 42 next year, he still showed that there is a lot of life in his bat. With a lack of available options and questions in the other corner outfield spot, he should be brought back. He’s not going to play a full season, so expect Carlos Gomez to be brought up at some point again in 2008 if the team does retain Alou. With a severe lack of corner outfielders in this free agent market, picking up Alou’s option resolves one issue with this team, and keeps the team’s third best hitter to boot.

Right field is going to be interesting. Shawn Green probably won’t be back, as the team would have to pick up his option to retain him. They could resign him after declining his option, and it may not be a bad idea, actually – again, the free agent crop for right fielders is weak. Lastings Milledge continues not to win friends with this team, but unless he is traded, he is the future of this team. By the end of the season, Green and Milledge were platooning in right field. This was actually a really good idea – Milledge hits lefties very well (.317/.388/.550), but struggles against righties (.254/.313/.402), and Green was a very effective hitter against righties (.326/.383/.482), and is Anderson Hernandez against lefties (.194/.264/.288 This could ease Milledge into playing every day and he could play left field when Moises Alou needs to sit for his various aches and pains. The more I think about it, a Green/Milledge platoon makes a lot of sense. We’ll see if it happens.

Endy Chavez will be the fourth outfielder. Carlos Gomez will be the first call-up from New Orleans in case of emergency. Fernando Martinez was hurt for most of 2007, and probably won’t see his first Mets action until September callups at the earliest, and will probably be dangled as trade bait. With Manny Ramirez allegedly back on the market, expect that rumor to make its return this offseason.

Starting Pitching

Three of the five spots are set in stone locks; Pedro Martinez, John Maine, and Oliver Perez are not going anywhere. El Duque is signed through next year, but there have to be serious questions as to whether or not he can pitch an entire 150-200 inning season. He has not pitched more than 165 innings since 2000. Personally, I’d like to see them bring him out of the bullpen and help shore up that problem, as I think he can be very effective as a bridge to Wagner in the 7th or 8th innings, but I’m not sure the team is thinking out of the box like that. Most likely, he’ll be given the fourth spot in the rotation.

The team has a mutual option on Tom Glavine. Even before today’s disaster of epic proportions, I would have deemed it unlikely that he would be back. Now? I’d say it’s out of the question. Last year, the Mets had question marks on Maine and Perez, Pedro was going to be out for at least a year, and the team looked like it lacked a legitimate ace. Things have changed. Glavine looks a lot more expendable after Perez and Maine showed that they can be serviceable pitchers, and Pedro came back reasonably close to where he was before. The next crop of pitchers are coming through, and Tom Glavine would be a living, breathing reminder of the collapse that took place this year. I suspect he will likely retire, or if he does pitch in 2008, it will be as an Atlanta Brave.

That will leave Mike Pelfrey and Phil Humber to battle in spring training for the fifth spot, with the loser spending time in New Orleans until the other one falters. The team has been more patient with Humber than Pelfrey, as he has pitched more minor league innings despite being drafted a year earlier (in fairness, this is partly due to Tommy John surgery, but that would have been the case regardless). Personally, I feel as though Humber may be more advanced at this point than Pelfrey, and lean towards Wednesday being more of an aberration brought on by rustiness. If the team hadn’t let him rot in the bullpen for most of September, they may have been able to get something of use out of him in that game, but no sense harping on that now. If I had to handicap it, I’d say that Humber would win the job out of spring, and Pelf spends some much-needed time in New Orleans where maybe he can get further instruction and learn to harness his stuff better. Also of note – one or both of these guys could be trade bait. I also would not be morally opposed to both of these guys pitching in the rotation and El Duque coming out of the pen, as noted.

Before moving to the bullpen, I have to bring up Johan Santana, because he’s in play, and because the Mets will want to make a big splash in the off-season to distract people from the disaster that took place over the last month of the season. The Mets have high-level prospects to move here, with Pelfrey, Humber, Gomez, Milledge, and Martinez all being highly-regarded players. Any trade would have to include at least 2-3 of these guys, probably two of the outfielders and one of the pitchers. Obviously, if the Mets trade for Santana and keep El Duque in the rotation, the need for a Mike Pelfrey or Phil Humber wouldn’t be as great, so trading one wouldn’t be a horrible idea.

A Santana deal could hurt the Mets’ outfield, as trading Milledge and/or Gomez would leave the Mets seriously depleted out there and would force them to sign a legitimate right fielder, instead of a Milledge/Green platoon. It would also have less of a safety net in case Alou does go down, although as far as safety nets go, Gomez hasn’t shown to be much thus far. Fernando Martinez is more of a long-term prospect, and would be the one to move there to prevent the outfield from becoming a complete mess. The team seems really high on Carlos Gomez, and it would seem unlikely that they would move him, despite less than stellar results in the majors so far. Milledge seems to have pissed everybody off, and is probably the most likely to be moved, but as the outfield prospect closest to being a contributor to the majors, and a real need for a right fielder, it would be a mistake to me.

Of course, all talk about Santana is hypothetical, and really the Mets’ rotation seems to be the least of their problems, assuming Pedro is ready to go in 2008 and can hold up over the entire season. But after a disaster like 2007, the team is going to want to do something major, and the two options that would classify as major are Santana and Manny. Manny is older and far more of a question mark, so Santana would seem to be the one they will be targeting, but so will every other major market team in baseball, and in the end, the Mets may not be willing enough to part with what it would take to make Santana a Met. I’m not saying they should trade for Santana, I’m not saying they will trade for Santana, but with the way this team thinks, and with the way things ended today, one would think Omar Minaya will at least have the conversation with the Twins.

Bullpen

This is a mess. Repeat: THIS IS A MESS.

Let’s get through the knowns first: Billy Wagner, Aaron Heilman, and Pedro Feliciano will be back in 2008, barring a puzzling trade. I suppose it’s possible the team could move Heilman or Feliciano in a move for a big name, but I’d call it a longshot at this point. But I’d call it highly unlikely that any of those three are moved next year, and September aside, none of them probably should be. Wagner can at least use the excuse that he was bothered by back spasms, and Feliciano can use the excuse that his manager is an ass with no idea how to use him.

As to who’s gone: Aaron Sele is not signed through next year, and did not prove himself to be a Darren Oliver-like reclamation project (incidentally, Oliver, after a rough first half, had an excellent second half, posting a 2.00 ERA over the second half, down from 5.79 over the first half, and making him the opposite of every Mets’ reliever). Guillermo Mota can’t be brought back. He had himself one of the worst reliever seasons in the history of the New York Mets, and was being loudly booed every time he took the mound by the end of the season. They will dump his contract on some poor, unsuspecting team, and will probably give them a minor league reliever for their troubles that will turn out to be an effective piece of some other team’s bullpen in 2008.

What’s unknown: Scott Schoeneweis has two years left on his contract, and while he pitched poorly most of the year, he may have pitched just well enough in September for the team to avoid trading him. Besides, like Mota, they would wind up eating most of the contract just to get rid of him, and if they do this with Mota, and if they fire Willie Randolph, they may not be anxious to tie up more dead money in Schoeneweis. He really does need to be more of a strict lefty specialist, though, as he gets absolutely killed by righthanders. Hopefully, whomever manages the team next year will use him like this.

Other unknowns include Jorge Sosa, Joe Smith, and Ambiorix Burgos. Sosa and Smith pitched very well when they were used at the start of the year, then both ran into rough patches when the league caught up with them. Smith is young and will probably be given another chance next year, and could eventually become a pretty good reliever. Sosa isn’t particularly young, and while he has pitched well in stretches, he’s never shown a real ability to stay good over a long period of time. He could be non-tendered, he could be given another chance. Burgos underwent elbow ligament surgery and will be gone for a while. But hey, it isn’t like Brian Bannister pitched extremely well in Kansas City or anything. Alright, enough about “Omar Minaya pitcher trades that went horribly, horribly wrong.” One more wildcard – 2007 Mets supplemental draft pick Eddie Kunz, a college reliever who could be in the majors at some point in 2008.

As for the rest of the bullpen, it’s likely that Omar Minaya will do what he has mostly done over the past few years; scour the waiver wires for veteran relief pitchers who need a change of scenery, bring them in under minor league deals, and see who pans out. Hopefully, he will avoid panic signings like the Schoeneweis contract, which has hurt the team by tying up money in areas it wasn’t needed. Great bullpens aren’t created by throwing money at mid-level relief pitchers; they’re built through creativity and common sense. Paying Scott Schoeneweis $4 million a season when there are literally dozens of Scott Schoeneweises available does not help the team; hell, they traded a potential Scott Scheoneweis when they sent Royce Ring to San Diego. Look at how the 2006 Mets bullpen was built; they threw a lot of money at Wagner, but brought in guys like Feliciano, Oliver, Chad Bradford, Duaner Sanchez, and even Guillermo Mota without giving up anything of use. This year, they did the opposite, trading good relief pitchers and getting nothing of use in return. Hopefully, with the tough task ahead of rebuilding what turned out to be a disaster, they will remember what made them good to begin with.

Management

Here’s the big one, and where I think we are most likely to see a major shakeup.

We’ll start at the top with the General Manager. Omar Minaya probably isn’t going anywhere. Still, 2007 wasn’t his best year, as he made several offseason deals that seemed harmless at the time, but wound up costing the team real pieces for the pitching staff that could have been effective solutions to what turned out to be their biggest problem this year. Not signing Barry Zito turned out to be a blessing in disguise, but the overall decision of staying pat will be criticized. Really, the only big blunders were trading Bell, Lindstrom, Bannister, and Ring without anything of use to show for it. I suspect that this offseason, he won’t stand pat, it’s just a matter of what he goes after and how will it help the team.

It will almost certainly have to be done through trade, with a lack of marquee talent available in free agency, so expect to say goodbye to at least 2-3 highly regarded Mets prospects this winter. Unfortunately, the Mets only have 5 highly regarded prospects right now; one area where Minaya may want to throw more work into this coming year is international scouting and the amateur draft. Drafting college relievers in the first round when the team lacks long-term solutions at catcher, first base and second base seems shortsighted to me. Sure, the bullpen also wound up being a disaster area, but that is an area that can be more immediately remedied through means other than the draft.

Willie Randolph has to go. I hate saying that anybody deserves to lose their job. I hate to be that person. But facts are facts, and Willie has failed this team. In 2005, the Mets should have been a playoff team. In 2006, the Mets should have been a World Series team. In 2007, the Mets should have won the NL East. Each year, a talented team is falling short of expectations. At this point, don’t you have to blame the manager? The players’ talent isn’t an issue. What is an issue is bullpen management and team relations. These are the most important aspects of a manager’s job.

Willie has shown an inability of how to manage a bullpen, and failed to find a way to reach Jose Reyes, and has alienated younger players by going to veterans over the rookies even after the veterans fail time after time. When the team needed a spark to get them going late in the season, with the playoffs on the line, Willie came up short. The only thing that can save his job is his contract, as he is owed two more seasons and after paying out Bobby Valentine for 1 year and Art Howe for 2, the Wilpons may not be in a hurry to do so again. But somebody has to take the blame for this team failing to live up to expectations, and it will have to be Willie. I like Willie as a person, he seems like a good guy, and I hate to call for a manager’s firing, but in this case, it needs to happen. It may have already happened by the time you’ve read this.

The rest of the staff is a question mark. A new manager may want his own guys in there. I suspect the team is going to give a lot of credit to Howard Johnson for David Wright’s second half surge, and he’ll probably be back. Guy Conte is Pedro Martinez’s best friend on the team, so he’s not going anywhere. As for Rickey Henderson, Sandy Alomar, and Jerry Manuel, who knows. They were Omar hires, not Willie hires, so I would assume they would be back, but the teams’ failures may not be blamed solely on Willie Randolph, and one or more of the coaching staff may feel the burn from this.

The interesting person to look at is Rick Peterson. He has received a lot of credit for when the ragtag bullpen pitched well last year, and for reclamation projects like Oliver Perez. But doesn’t somebody have to take blame for the bullpen this year? Doesn’t Peterson get some of the blame for that? I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say he should be fired, just that it seems like he’s being let off the hook awfully easily. I don’t think he’s going anywhere, but it probably says something about his power within this organization where Willie Randolph has taken all of the blame for the bullpen problems, but the pitching coach is made of teflon here. It tells me that Peterson wields some real power in the Mets organization.

We aren’t going to see major changes here. The talent on the field is unquestioned. We all knew going into 2007 that it was going to be more of a race, as the Mets were not as talented this year as they were last year, and many players from last year’s team had career years. But this should have been a playoff team. I truly believe that this team was more talented than the Phillies, but they just folded down the stretch. Some sort of pitching upgrade is a must, and the bullpen will have to be rebuilt again. A real 200 inning starter would also be nice. There will also be holes around the offense that they will have to patch, with a lack of available options to do so. It’s going to be real interesting to follow the 2007 postseason, and see what direction this team takes to put this team back in the playoffs. The key players are young, but the majority of the team is old, so it is imperative that they make the right decisions to avoid squandering the primes of David Wright and Jose Reyes, at least assuming in Reyes’ case that he doesn’t choose to squander his prime himself.

One Response to “What happens next?”

  1. Joeadig says:

    I agree that Willie has to go and I can support that using nothing but today’s disaster of a game as evidence.

    1. The Hanley Rameriz 1st inning at bat. The replays were pretty clear that the ball hit him, but that’s not my beef. Hanley clearly stepped into the pitch. If the umpire thought it hit the bat, it’s a foul ball. If the umpire thought it hit his hands, he should have been awarded first base. The only other option is that the ball didn’t actually tough either Rameriz’s hand or his bat, which would make the fact that the ball bounced off of something pretty impossible. Regardless, neither of those scenarios involve that pitch being ball 3. Somehow, when Rameriz walked after the next pitch, that fact escaped everyone in the Mets dugout. Nobody protested. Nobody questioned how a pitch that hit someone/something could be a ball. In a game as important as this, wouldn’t common sense dictate that you (at the very least) question such a controversial call?

    2. Mike Jacobs’ dropped ball. Forgive me, but I don’t have your memory for detail. Some Met grounded out pretty routinely, but the throw was dropped by Marlins 1B Mike Jacobs. Maybe he held the ball long enough, maybe he didn’t. The replay looked like the ump was correct to call the runner out anyway. But that’s not the point. Another close play in a very important game. Another call that, at the very least, most managers would have questioned. Willie stayed in the dugout. I’m not saying that Willie should have flown off the handle; I’m simply pointing out that in a game in which you trail from the first inning, you need EVERY call to go your way. The team needed some pep, some energy. Willie could have gone out there to argue for no other reason than to let his players see that he cared. Show some fire for once! But no, not calm, cool, collected Willie.

    There are other things I blame Willie for. 1. The insanity that was the bullpen usage. 2. The fact that he doesn’t seem to have any of the players behind him (see Billy Wagner’s latest interview). 3. The fact that he let’s Reyes act like a spoiled rich kid and never kicks him in the ass. 4. His constant use of the Art Howe expression, “we’re battling.” 5. His lack of fire (I don’t recall seeing him get angry at anything– a player, an umpire, a ball girl– this season).

    I don’t know who would be better. I don’t know who could fix Jose Reyes (though I’m pretty sure it ain’t Ricky Henderson!). But I do know that Willie has had his time and has let us down. He’s gotta go.

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