By Dave Mills
Upon the revelation that Omar Minaya is about to be extended four more years, it is time to reflect on the still to be determined 2008 Mets campaign.
Nothing is more obvious than the high quality pitching delivered start in and start out by Johan Santana. Not since Tom Terrific have the Mets seen such an extraordinary moundsman with guts and guile. Santana does everything, from hitting, to bunting, to baserunning, to fielding his position. And he does it all so well that it is an honor to watch him do his thing every fifth day. With a little luck, he should have been 25-4 rather 15-7. The 2.64 ERA and 60 BB to 197 Ks speak volumes. Listening to Johan articulate his pitching philosophy is also quite illuminating. Barring injury, this man, only 29 years of age, should be the ace Mets fans have desired since the demise of Dwight Gooden and premature departure of David Cone. Nice pickup by Omar. Of course, the jury is still out on the talent pool traded to the Twins, but the real deal will pitch opening day at Citi Field.
What can we say about Mike Pelfrey? Just about anything and everything predicted is coming to fruition. He'll end the year with 32 starts and about 200 innings and with an ERA in the neighborhood of 3.70. Better yet, has anyone pitched 200 innings and yielded only 11 long balls? Answer: Only Tim Lincecum has done better, giving up 11 dingers in 220 innings. Pelfrey should compliment Santana for many years to come. Holding on to Big Pelf and nurturing his considerable talents must in some ways be attributed to GM Minaya.
Picking up Oliver Perez has certainly helped the Mets, but letting him walk will test the Minaya mettle. No way Oliver will be worth more than $10 million per, and more than a three-year deal is risky. Same can be said of Pedro. No real upside to keeping Martinez in the fold. Frankly, Santana, Pelfrey, a solid lefty in a deal, Maine and a fifth starter from a pool of Niese/Parnell/Knight/Stokes/Armas could fill the bill quite nicely.
Some of Omar's best moves have been signing, holding on to and developing the likes of Daniel Murphy (who we touted here for some time), Nick Evans and Jonathan Niese, along with Big Pelf. He has also put together an interesting bench led by Damion Easley and Endy Chavez. But bringing Fernando Tatis into the system and letting him regain his major league footing saved the Mets 2008 season, no matter what happens this week. Retread backup backstops, like Raul Casanova and Robinson Cancel were less exciting, but played a positive as well.
The Milledge for Church and Schneider trade was a good one for the Mets and should continue to be for some time. Had Church not suffered the two concussions, especially the one on May 22 in Atlanta, there is little doubt that the Mets would have had four players with 100 RBI and more than 25 HRs. And Church is a superb outfielder, which Milledge is unlikely to ever be.
Of course, letting Heath Bell get away for nothing and signing Luis Castillo to a four-year $28 million deal is impossible to explain, but no one makes them all work. I think the little misses of letting Darren Oliver and Chad Bradford sign elsewhere were even more consequential.
Besides Murphy, Evans, Niese and Parnell, the Mets have a few other gems down on the farm. Lets not forget Fernando Martinez, Mike Carp, Chris Aguila, Eddie Kunz, Carlos Muniz and their prize possession -- Wilmer Flores.
Speaking of Daniel Murphy -- Look for the Mets to make sure he has no more than 130 AB this regular season, so he can qualify for Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 2009. Shouldn't be a problem to hold him to 16 AB during the last five games. The inside scoop is that Manuel would like to try Murphy at 2B next season if the Mets can move Castillo.
The 2009 Free Agent list is pretty sparse when it comes to right-handed hitting outfielders and the Mets could do a lot worse than letting Tatis, Evans and Aguila duke it out, with Endy as a lefty compliment and late inning defensive replacement. Pitching is where the Mets need to spend the big bucks, which is not implausible if they let Oliver and Pedro walk. A.J. Burnett and Kyle Lohse are the quality right-handers. CC Sabathia and 46-year-old Jamie Moyer are the southpaws. Sabathia is too pricey for the Mets, but Moyer could be a terrific choice at a reasonable price. Just take his five victories against the Mets away and we win the division going away. The bullpen choices lead with closers Francisco Rodriguez (mucho $$$$), Brian Fuentes and Brandon Lyon. Middle relievers include southpaws Will Ohman, Joe Beimel, Jeremy Affeldt and Darren Oliver. Quality right-handers are in short supply as free agents and will have to be dealt for creatively. Right now, only Joe Smith is a lock.
Keys for 2009:
- A healthy John Maine
- A dependable closer (Could it be Maine?)
- Delgado's resurgence to continue
- Restructured bullpen with some live arms
- Rehire Jerry Manuel (or hire Wally Backman)
How Manuel and Minaya will shape a pen for the 2008 post season is anybody's guess at this point, but it is clearly the Mets' Achilles Heel.