By Dave Mills
The 2008 Mets season has been a bit ho-hum, but still enlightening for those of us who see the glass as half full rather than half empty.
In spite of the minions of repulsive boo-birds, there is much to be pleased about early on, and a few things of which to be wary.
Sure, injuries to Moises, Pedro and El Duque have had an impact, but they have also opened the door to some interesting situations and stories. Clearly, those three players are unlikely to have a future with the Mets after this season. If one of them is re-signed, it would be a big surprise. All it takes is a look at the replacements to see why.
Angel Pagan is certainly not going to hit in the high .300s with an OBP of over .450, but he is just as likely NOT to lose his considerable skills. What a pickup by Omar! And a fascinating aspect of Pagan's performance is that Endy Chavez is relegated to almost no role at all, which could make Endy excellent fodder for a multi-player deal. More on this below.
The roles of Pedro and El Duque are being nicely filled by Mike Pelfrey (Yes. He is the real deal with nasty stuff honed by Schneider's commanding presence behind the dish) and Nelson Figueroa (his first start was the feel good story of the early season for the Mets).
For those of us who garner pleasure from seeing those drafted by the Mets organization prospering, the emergence of Pagan, Pelfrey, Figueroa and Joe Smith is quite compelling. Of course, Reyes, Wright and Heilman add significantly to this impressive batch of home-growns.
Other highly positive developments
Carlos Delgado is going the other way with regularity. This will lose him some long knocks, but will bring his batting average back to respectability. In fact, when Alou returns, Delgado in the 6th hole delivers a heck of a batting order.
The deal that sent Lastings Milledge to the Nats and Ryan Church and Brian Schneider to the Amazins' was a fine deal for both teams. Church and Schneider are the types of pros that every team needs to be well-rounded. Every good team has guys like these--Johnny Callison, Bob Allison and Bill Freehan come to mind. These are solid players who might make a once in a career All-star appearance.
Joe Smith has assumed that fascinating role that he had for the first two months of 2007. The Mets are high on this guy for a number of good reasons, not the least of which is the incredible (mostly downward) movement on his pitches, which tend to induce ground balls and baffle righthanded hitters.
Duaner is back and that (combined with Smith's resurgence) cannot be a bad thing for the Mets pen and Willie Randolph's job security. However, it might not be good for Aaron Heilman's Mets' career.
The Mets are seeing southpaws to a greater degree than any other team in MLB. Five straight this week. Yet, they are raking them with some aplomb. David Wright is a one man wreaking crew when it comes to lefties, but he is getting lots of help from the lefty bats of Church, Delgado and Schneider. This is why the Mets lead the National League in batting average against southpaws.
Even without Pedro, El Duque and Duaner, Mets pitching ranks 4th overall in MLB. Lets face it--there is no real depth of pitching at the major leeague level. We probably have at least four teams too many and there will always be a lack of arms. Santana, Perez, Maine and Pelfrey have pitched well above average in multiple starts. Right now, I think it is fair to say the Mets have one of the three best starting staffs in the NL, with the potential of being #1. The bullpen has been credible and not as good as most of us would hope, but serviceable nonetheless.
It is pretty apparent that David Wright is turning into a perennial MVP candidate and the naysayers regarding his fielding prowess are downright ignorant. For every off kilter throw, David makes three to four exceptional Brooks Robinsonish plays at the third sack. Many third basemen develop about five years into their major league careers. Robinson, Nettles, Schmidt and Boggs all come to mind. Brooks made 21 errors in his third campaign (his first as a full-time third baseman). Nettles averaged 20 errors over his first seven seasons at the hot corner (1970-76). Schmidt averaged 20 errors during his first 11 full seasons from 1974-1984. And Boggs, surprisingly enough, made only 18 errors per-season from 1983-1990. While Schmidt and Boggs were formidable hitters and very good fielders, many would say Robinson and Nettles were formidable defensively and better than average hitters. Wright may well turn out to be the best of the bunch, as his offensive stats for his first four seasons in the Bigs leave the rest of that field in dust.
Luis Castillo is painful to watch. Not because he is a bad player, but because he has bad knees and is not fooling anyone. If he says he needs to rest twice a week--Willie, are you listening? Easley and Anderson are more than adequate fill-ins and need to find some playing time.
As much as Gil Hodges liked to platoon and LaRussa likes to shuffle his lineups, Randolph seems to play his regulars to exhaustion. While the Mets entire outfield is playing well, finding some playing time for Chavez and Brady Clark is imperative. Same for Anderson, who can fill in at 1B and 2B at least once a week. There is also no reason that Schneider has only sat for one game. I suspect Castro will play against most lefties when he returns.
Middle relief has shown a bit of vulnerability. That can change with a healthy and effective Pedro or one good deal. A healthy Pedro, will mean Figueroa can move to the long relief role. I am not sold on Sosa or Wise, but still willing to wait and see. Clearly, Feliciano and Smith have defined roles that also can extend to more than one inning, but far less than three. Schoeneweis also appears to be on the right track. The lack of consistency from Heilman, Sosa and Wise are the issues that must be resolved.
Dealing from strength
Heilman and Endy Chavez may well be turn out to be two of the more expendable members of the Mets. They are also be highly prized by other organizations. In fact, it is hard to imagine another team that would not like to have these two on their roster. What are the Mets looking for in return? Well, that depends on how Pelfrey and Figueroa perform. If they do well, the Mets are looking for a first baseman of the near future and another quality arm for the current pen. Does anyone think that the Pirates would not trade Xavier Nady for Heilman, Chavez and one of the Mets second-tier prospects?
A re-grab of the X-Man would allow the Mets to use Nady to backup both Church and Delgado for the balance of this season and then platoon him at 1B with Fernando Martinez, should they decide to move FMart to 1B. Nady also supplies righthanded power to compliment and then replace Alou.
Shame on the Shea faithful
What good does it do to incessantly boo Mets players? Does it help them to perform better? No way. If you are angry with ticket price increases, send a letter to Freddie Skill Sets or stay away from Shea in protest. If you are disgusted with last year's collapse, get over it. Yes, the players make outrageous sums of money and some may feel that is enough to sustain, but most play hard and want to win. I cannot identify a Mets player who didn't seem to be making an effort. Every time I watch Aaron Heilman pitch, I have no doubt he is totally involved and giving his all. What more can we ask? Perfection does not exist.
In fact, the vast majority of knowledgeable baseball minds and observers cannot tell us why the Mets collapsed. Personally, I think it all goes back to the taxi cab ride taken by Duaner Sanchez one early Miami morning in late July 2006.
Time to move past it. Duaner is back, Johan Santana is in the park and all can be redeemed with a little patience and support.
Stop the booing now!