By Dave Mills
The All-Star break has come and gone and the greatest fear of all Mets fans was front and center. Wags had the game and the World Series home field advantage on his arm and blew the opportunity.
Had the game gone on and David Wright actually pitched with the World Series issue on the line, the already strange, but exciting, game would have been flat-out goofy.
However, nothing was more ridiculous than the most exciting player in the game being left off the team. Jose Reyes set historical offensive "before-the-break" records and may well finish the season with some mind-blowing numbers. Before the break, he had 119 hits (MLB#4), 43 of them of the extra base variety, add 42 BBs, 68 runs (MLB#5), 43 RBI (from the leadoff slot), 192 total bases (MLB#12) and 32 stolen bases (MLB#5), and we are looking at a potential season totals of profound proportions. Perhaps Reyes being rested for three days will inure to the benefit of the Mets, but if they reach the World Series, would his presence at the All-Star charade have been beneficial?
The system of choosing players for the All-Star roster is completely off the mark. Let the fans choose the starting eight and let the managers choose everyone else. I can even live with the fans choosing the last hitter on the roster, but the current mix and match of fans and players leaves almost nothing to the managers, who certainly have the best grasp on the players throughout their league.
If Bud Selig, in his questionable wisdom, wants no tie games, there has to be more arms (pitchers, not third basemen) on the roster. No harm in having 15 pitchers with a plethora of relievers. Since no one wants to have someone who threw 90+ pitches on Saturday or Sunday pitch, let rested starters pitch the first four frames or so and move to 7 or 8 relievers for the balance. There were plenty of deserving bullpen types who could have and should have been in The Bronx.
If anything has become apparent since the change of managers, it is Jerry Manuel's ability to manipulate his personnel and reward role players for a good day's effort.
It doesn't take too much analysis to notice that Manuel plays his entire roster, which in 21st Century baseball consists of only 13 position players/hitters on any given day. And on the Mets, he has had many-a-day with only 12 of those players available due to walking woundeds like Castillo, Church and Schneider, all of whom Omar has often been reluctant to DL.
Since June 17, when Manuel took over, the Mets are 17-9, mostly due to the current nine-game win streak. But the bench players have thrived and in many ways have carried the team. No one can argue the contributions of Endy Chavez, Damion Easley, Fernando Tatis and Ramon Castro. Big contributors all, to the surprise of many.
The calls were out far and wide from mid-May to mid-June to replace the Mets "aging" bench. Where are these commentators now?
The bench was quite literally rotting away with Randolph at the helm. Willie learned from his Highlander roots that you play the big money guys until they drop. In my opinion, this was his greatest flaw. Manuel believes the role players are key to success over the long haul and the only way to keep them fresh is to play them, not just give them a pinch-hitting appearance every other day or as a 9th Inning defensive replacement.
Chavez, who may well be the best defensive outfielder in baseball, is making a statement with his bat, legs, glove and arm while providing stellar defense to a team with too many fly ball pitchers. Given the chance to play has made this Met fan reconsider an earlier piece, where I suggested Endy could have some value on the trade market. Having this guy as a platoon player in left and backup to Beltran and Church is the best option. Since June 17, Chavez is batting .346 with a .386 OBP and .385 Slugging.
Easley is a step above the average utility man. He is slightly above average defensively and hits with aplomb from anywhere in the lineup. He can put it in play on the ground, on the line or in the air and even shows flashes of power. A smart hitter and baserunner, who rarely makes a mental error, Damion is your prototypical seasoned role player. Since June 17, Easley is batting .343 with a .397 OBP and .457 Slugging.
Tatis is a hustling player with the will to survive. Banishment to the hinterlands did not sit well with Fernando, who plays with the abandon of a politician who has lost and just won again. He can play all the infield positions and left field, but is best in the corners of the infield. He has mostly been used by Manuel as a counterbalance to Chavez in left and Delgado at the first sack. Surprisingly fleet of foot, Tatis has mastered the "I'll do anything the skipper wants, any time he wants me to do it" line. Since June 17, Tatis is batting .333 with a .355 OBP and an impressive .533 Slugging.
Castro has won at least a true platoon with the lighter hitting Schneider. Perhaps he will even split the duty more than a platoon usually indicates? Ramon has a powerful arm and is a very competent receiver. Ramon's lack of speed, common to most catchers, is more than mitigated by his gap power and overall power. Pitchers seem to like pitching to him and he supplies a Roger McDowell looseness to the clubhouse. The question is whether he can stay healthy for the stretch drive? Since June 17, Castro is batting .289 with a .341 OBP and .500 Slugging.
My guess is Manuel will continue to play Chavez, Easley, Tatis and Castro in platoons and as often as possible. Why not?
For Marlon Anderson, it hasn't been easy to find the right mix. Defensively challenged and swatting from the left side of the plate, the opportunities are limited for this usually focused pinch-hitter. Nick Evans could play an important role if the Mets do not make a deal. If Pagan and Church can't play this season, in September we may find an FMart/Evans platoon in LF and Chavez/Tatis in RF. The Mets can do much worse.
Sidebar to the past 30 days:
Jose Reyes is batting .336 with a .403 OBP and .513 Slugging.
Carlos Delgado is batting .263 with a .354 OBP and .576 Slugging.
OMAR, SHOW SOME RESTRAINT
Keeping the few gems of the Mets system in the system should be the first priority for Omar Minaya. FMart, Jonathan Niese, Eddie Kunz and Wilmer Flores should be untouchables. Argenis Reyes, Dan Murphy, Nick Evans, Mike Carp, Sal Aquillar and Robert Parnell are in the next tier. All except Flores are potential Mets for 2009 and/or 2010. Short of picking up a right-handed hitting stud with a reasonable contract to play LF, there is not much that should deter the Mets from seeing these guys mature. With the overblown contracts of Alou, Delgado, Martinez and El Duque (almost $50 million in 2008) falling off the books at the end of the season, the usual tendency is to spend in anticipation of the blessed event.
Two things about SNY Mets coverage are hard to fathom. What's with the revolving pre- and post-game analysts? And why are there days with no analysts. Matt does a fine job as host, but Maz is only so-so and Strawberry should be a no-show. So little insight from the Straw that it brings the entire network tumbling. Harold Reynolds and Ron Darling are superb, so why not go with the best and not the rest? And lets have an analyst in the chair at all times.
Someone has to do something about all the air time Derek Jeter gets on SNY, especially during Metscasts. I really don't care about Ford using him as a spokesman. Get a Met or get someone from another sport, but to have to watch that Highlander 8-10 times each game (including pre and post), and often back to back, is causing follicle challenges I cannot afford. Get him outta there! Please.