By Mike Steffanos
A couple of weeks into training camp, and the Mets are dropping like flies. The team is running up a bill for MRIs that is liable to exceed John Maine's salary for this season. I'm not a big fan of pushing the panic button, but I am a little worried about what I'm seeing here.
I remember when Omar Minaya took over this team and one of his stated goals was to get "younger and more athletic," but trades for Carlos Delgado, Paul Lo Duca, Johan Santana, Brian Schneider and Ryan Church have all shipped out young talent in return for veteran ballplayers for a "win now" team. Trading away both Carlos Gomez and Lastings Milledge virtually ensured that the Mets need to count on Moises Alou for the upcoming season, and now Alou has already injured a hamstring severely enough to warrant an MRI.
The scary thing about the 2008 New York Mets is that they are counting on Alou and Carlos Delgado to be middle of the order bats. Delgado turns 36 in June and Alou will be 41 in July. In fairness, Delado still averages about 140 games a year, but Alou has played under 100 games the last two seasons. His primary backups are likely to be Endy Chavez and Damion Easley -- both of whom haven't been able to play yet this spring. Easley has some decent pop when and if he's healthy, while Chavez is clearly not a middle of the order bat. Easley and Marlon Anderson seem the players most likely to pick up the slack at 1B if Delgado misses time, and while they are both solid hitters you weaken your bench significantly when you need to use them as starters for more than a game or two. We saw that in the middle of last season when Alou was out for a long time.
Add in to the equation that Carlos Beltran is currently hurting and we have no idea how many games we can expect from him this season. Also take into account that, although the Mets seem to believe Ryan Church can hit lefties, his entire track record in this matter is just over 200 ABs with a line of .254/.331/.392. If it proves out that Church can't hit lefties then the Mets could prove quite vulnerable to left-handed pitching, particularly when Alou is out.
My purpose here isn't to be whining about things we all know, but rather to point out that this club as currently constituted is not necessarily what we've seen the last two years -- a powerhouse American league-type lineup. There's a good chance that we may find the Mets by necessity playing scrappy NL baseball if they hope to win.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Depending on who manages to survive this training camp, maybe the Mets make a concerted effort to be more of the offensive team they were in 2005. Play aggressively instead of sitting around waiting for someone to hit a 3-run homer. Even with the injuries they have already endured and those that will inevitably occur during the season the Mets have much better personnel than they did 3 years ago when they managed to win 83 games with Braden Looper as closer, Kaz Ishii and Victor Zambrano starting 40 games between them, an aging Mike Piazza batting cleanup and Doug Mientkiewicz and Kaz Matsui playing important roles.
Maybe the key is to try to be a little more versatile and athletic while bringing the intensity to every game. They obviously can't control who stays healthy this season, but they can choose how they approach the game. If guys like Chavez and Angel Pagan wind up with significant roles on this club then maybe they can provide some energy. No matter what happens, it's always more fun rooting for a team that plays with liveliness and purpose.
Speaking of injuries, it's obvious that Duaner Sanchez' road back isn't going to be without a few potholes. If you were hoping for Duaner to make 70+ appearances you're probably not feeling so great right now. I'm not convinced he'll be in the bullpen coming out of camp, but maybe that's not a completely bad thing. Maybe it's not realistic to expect a guy who hasn't pitched since August 2005 to pick up right where he left off. Maybe he takes some time, avoids the big setback and comes back in May or June. The Mets seem to have some reasonable candidates for the bullpen and could possibly afford to be uber-patient with Sanchez.