By Mike Steffanos
If WFAN's resident blowhard Mike Francesa ever decides to switch careers and go into marriage counseling, I predict an immediate increase in the Metropolitan area's divorce rate.
Apparently, el hombre gordo feels the Mets must trade one or more of their core players or be doomed to perpetually missing out on the playoffs on the last day of the regular season. In fact, the pompous pea-brained porcine pontificator actually feels that Wright or Reyes must go and the team needs to be torn down and rebuilt.
I know he is not alone in this line of thinking, but I sincerely hope that cooler heads prevail. Neither Wright nor Reyes is even in his prime right now. Indeed, these are the type of young, talented emerging stars that we could only dream of when Steve Phillips regime came crashing down earlier this decade.
For my purposes here I will leave Carlos Beltran out of this particular discussion, because he is an entire discussion by himself. My quick point here is that we all know Beltran is not the fiery leader type, but he is a terrific baseball player who has shown the willingness to play hurt. To my mind, you need to surround Carlos with the right complementary players rather than demand he become someone he clearly is not.
My contention has been and continues to be that the Mets do need to take a hard look at the veteran leadership of the club. That would include Carlos Delgado, Brian Schneider, Ramon Castro, and some of the other bench players. That doesn't mean that all of these guys go, but some undoubtedly will. Moreover, you have to pay attention to who you bring in.
Also, management needs to stop talking about making this club younger and more athletic and make it happen. Even guys who I like and respect like Damion Easley, Marlon Anderson and Castro have to be looked at critically.
Easley will turn 39 in a month and has been injured in two consecutive Septembers. Castro will turn 33, which is old for an overweight backstop, and has not managed to even approach the 250-300 AB the Mets would dearly love to see him accumulate. His offense is undeniable when he is out there and healthy, but that doesn't happen often enough.
Wright and Reyes need to be surrounded by the right kind of veteran leadership that will take the pressure off them. Before we go off the deep end and run these two young players out of town on a rail, keep in mind that if any one of the following things had turned out the Mets way they would probably be in the playoffs right now:
- If Billy Wagner, even in a somewhat diminished capacity, was able to pitch in September.
- If Aaron Heilman was healthy enough to pitch at the effectiveness level of last season.
- If Moises Alou managed to stay on the field and accumulate 350-450 AB.
- If Pedro hadn't injured his hamstring in his first game and had a chance to really settle into the season.
- If Church didn't miss half the season.
- If John Maine didn't get hurt.
Even smaller things played a part. Matt Wise barely pitched out of the bullpen before going down for the season. He might have been able to stabilize the sixth and seventh innings enough to secure another win or two. What if Fernando Tatis hadn't separated his shoulder, taking his surprising production and competitive fire out of the mix at a crucial time?
Don't get me wrong here. You don't win championships based on "what ifs", but you need to take them into account before you trade young stars just approaching their prime because you don't think they're tough enough.
Why hasn't Francesa been demanding that the Yankees consider trading Jeter or Cano or Rivera? After all, despite the highest payroll by far the Yankees haven't won in 8 years. Maybe they're not tough enough. Sure, Jeter and Mariano have rings, but that's ancient history now.
Of course the above paragraph is ridiculous, but that's the point. Francesa's scatter-brained proclamations about the Mets aren't any less so.
As far as the Jon Heyman interview where Francesa confided "inside knowledge" about Ryan Church hating the team and the city, I'll believe that when someone produces an interview with Church where he states that. Too often over the years Mike Francesa has been willing to make statements like that with absolutely no corroborating evidence. I can't be bothered taking him seriously.
If you're inclined to agree with Francesa's take on this team, keep in mind that this was the same man who confidently asserted that David Wright would never be an adequate major league third baseman defensively, and the Mets would eventually be forced to move him. Gold Gloves are sometimes overrated, but Wright is certainly now one of the best defensive third baseman in the game.
I've already offered the opinion that I believe Wright fell into some bad habits that he couldn't shake this season, specifically becoming pull-happy and introducing a pronounced uppercut in his swing. I believe this made him much more vulnerable to outside pitches and also forced him to guess pitches more with two strikes. In turn, he was much more vulnerable to the better pitchers you face late in the game, and this contributed to his struggles in important situations.
These problems are fixable, especially considering he had a pretty good year despite them. I'd be surprised if we didn't see a much better David Wright in 2009 -- provided no one panics and ships him out.
As for Reyes, I thought he did a good job of bouncing back this year. He wasn't great in September, but he wasn't awful. I still think he has a chance to become the best player in baseball, and I'd dearly love to see him do that as a Met.
I'm as frustrated as any of you with these past two Septembers, but I refuse to believe that the first step in fixing something is getting rid of key parts that weren't broken in the first place. Mike Francesa is a silly man. Do yourself a favor and don't take him seriously.