By Dave Mills
At the midway point, disappointment surely reigns, but the less-than-Amazins are amazingly in the running to win their division.
ALL-STARS (or not)
The fact that David Wright (.287/15 HR/64 RBI) is the only Mets position player without a doubt deserving of an All-Star nod, pretty much says it all. An argument could be made for Jose Reyes in spite of the abuse (some self-inflicted) he is taking. Had Ryan Church not been injured, he would have had impressive numbers greater than those of Carlos Beltran and might have had a shot. Billy Wagner should be a shoe-in and Johan Santana is actually deserving, in spite of the won/loss. Don't look for more than three Mets and likely only two to be in the Bronx.
KEY POSITIONS KILLING THE METS
As much as no one in the Mets organization wants to admit it, the fabulous nine RBI game against the Highlanders notwithstanding, Carlos Delgado should be released. No one will deal for him. If he as any value, it may be to an AL club looking for a left-handed hitting DH platooner. Forget his erratic offensive production, or lack thereof, Delgado is killing the Mets defensively with his lack of range and stone glove a la Dick Stuart. With talented youngsters on the left side of the infield with vast range and Castillo more erratic with his arm than I can believe, the Mets need a slick fielder who is a more than competent hitter.
The talk centers on signing Mark Teixeira as a FA after the season, but the cost will be through the roof. That money might be better spent building a deep pitching staff and a bench of great role players, especially since the Mets system is actually loaded with 1B options. Here is a brief rundown:
Prospects (all of these players are having good to excellent minor league campaigns):
Dan Murphy - This 6'3" lefty swinger is a 3B who is tearing up AA pitching. A real prospect, but can he glove it at 1B?
Nick Evans - Righty with versatility (3B/1B/OF). Overmatched in The Show this year, but a highly rated prospect.
Mike Carp - Just turned 22 and a big lefty bat/righty thrower who can rip. Tearing up AA as mostly DH. Plays some OF.
Michel Abreu - This Cuban has never lived up to his billing, but he is probably a viable righty 1B platoon option now.
Ike Davis - Lefty bat and fielder could be quite a target at 6'5". Top draft pick playing OF at Brooklyn, but has played 1B.
Jose Jimenez - Righty all the way, but with some power.
Lucas Duda - USC standout bats left/throws right from 6'4". Has always played the sack and is a legit power prospect.
Retreads also in the mix:
Fernando Tatis & Andy Phillips
Some have proposed moving David Wright to the first sack. It is certainly an intriguing notion, since his errors are mostly of the throwing variety. However, it is difficult to imagine replacing Wright at 3B, since he has all the tools of a great one and the great ones seem to blossom late. Murphy would be the likely candidate for the hot corner and would be a counterbalance there with his lefty bat. He is also taller and supposedly has Wright-type quickness, so 1B may be the best place. There has also been a little talk of turning Fernando Martinez into a first sacker. One thing is for sure...the Mets have one of the greatest defensive first sackers of all time in the broadcast booth in Keith Hernandez. Perhaps he can work with all these young players and help bring them along?
The four-year contract for Luis Castillo is hanging over Shea like a noose. Lets face it, Omar was generous with Luis to attract his buddy Johan to Queens. Right now, there is no one in the system to replace or platoon with Castillo. Best guess: Omar looks for a strong middle infield backup for the next two seasons and Wilmer Flores (an ultra-talented 16 year old now in at Kingsport) is ready to be the man by 2011. Keep your eye on this kid!
Not much going on here due to the "Waiting for Moises" scenario that has been in play for two seasons. With the lefty swinging Church in right, the natural move here is to have a strong right-handed bat in left, but the Mets best options are Fernando Martinez and Endy Chavez, both of whom swing from the left side. Chris Aquilla and Val Pasccucci are the best righty power bats in the entire organization right now. If Alou goes down again, Aquilla seems like a good choice for a platoon with Chavez or Nixon. If he performs well, he should get a shot for 2009. Nick Evans could have a shot as well. Otherwise, picking up a FA under 30, who swings from the right side, like Matt Holliday (not a good defender) may be a tall order.
Schneider is not looking as good defensively as the buildup. Perhaps nagging injuries are affecting his play. One thing is for sure: Jerry must implement a regular platoon with Castro playing against all lefties. These are the Mets backstops for this year and next and the system is void in the catching area. That being said, the switch-hitting and experienced Cancel and Casanova are a nice tandem to have at AAA.
JOSE TAKING IT ON THE CHIN?
Joel Sherman makes a good point when he says Paul O'Neil was one the most demonstrative players of all time. He would cuss and throw anything, anytime, anywhere. For that he was called "The Warrior." Jose doesn't want to be yanked for a runner or throws his glove and is called "The Baby."
For those who think the Mets should deal Reyes--What do you think Jose would do in a market with two newspapers and four TV stations? Take him out of this crazy magnifying-glass market and he would put up amazing numbers. Don't think for a minute that Carlos Gomez would be doing as well with the Mets as he is with the quiet market Twinkies and the nurturing of one of the best managers in baseball.
Frankly, the Mets have little to deal from their ML roster. If Heilman shows some spunk for the next 30 days, he could be the best man to deal for prospects on July 31. Endy Chavez is also a player that contending teams could use with his great glove and overall speed. Oliver Perez can only be dealt for another rental player or prospects. The only other players Omar can deal are "A" List prospects like FMart, Murphy, Flores, Niese, Kunz, Evans and Carp. As far as I see it, only the last two are expendable along with some "B" List prospects.
Funny, but Xavier Nady is exactly what the Mets need to make a run. With his big righty bat and versatility between the corner OF positions and 1B, he may be just what the doctor ordered as insurance in LF or RF (in case Alou or Church visit the DL again) and at 1B (platoon with Delgado or Murphy/Carp). Can Omar get him back?
MAKING THE RUN
Staying healthy and peaking contemporaneously is the key. A couple of key acquisitions or callups will also be necessary. No doubt, no one had a career first half, so the likelihood that anyone will have a worse second half is probably not so likely. If Wright, Reyes and Beltran play as well as in the first half; If Church, Alou and Castillo can stay healthy; If Schneider and Delgado pick it up; If Perez and Pedro can find some consistency; If Santana can find some wins; If the starters can deliver more innings; If the fans can tone down the boos and be more supportive...That's a lot of "if's!" Perhaps too many?