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.