By Dave Mills
Little has been made of the Mets ascent to first place in the NL East simply because this is a team that is constantly overanalyzed and ripped asunder to the negative.
Early spring twinges in the left arm of Johan Santana led to absurdly out-of-proportion speculation. John Maine, rehabbing from shoulder surgery, wasn't pitching like his old self. Well, of course not. Sean Green looked unhittable.
Lets face it, trying to develop a team in NY is a nightmare. Critics abound and expertise is in short supply, or virtually non-existent when it comes to those who man the microphones of sports talk radio.
So, where are we after 1/5th of the season?
MOST SURPRISING POSITIVE DEVELOPMENT
It has to be Omir Santos. This 28-year old is showing significant defensive prowess along with some pop in his bat. Pitchers love to throw to receivers who are "quiet" behind the dish. Watch this guy carefully. Nothing moves but his hands. A rifle and accurate arm combines with the savvy of a veteran backstop. Put Omir in a reel with a bunch of other catchers, ask a panel of retired hurlers to watch and Santos will come out the favorite. That's what made Jerry Grote such a standout defensive player. Santos has a better bat and far more power. A little less obvious is that the emergence of Santos has made Ramon Castro expendable while he is still a valuable role player to a team in contention or to a team building a pitching staff. And with Josh Thole looking like a quality left-handed bat and backstop of the future, the Mets may also be able to unload Brian Schneider at the close of the season. A platoon of Thole and Santos may serve the Mets well for quite some time.
Bobby Parnell has electric stuff and decent control. From what he has shown so far, he could become a great 8th inning setup guy or a quality starter. Not a bad start for Luis Castillo, who, if used wisely, could be a real cog in this wheel if he keeps it up with proper.
MOST SURPRISING NEGATIVE DEVELOPMENT
The struggles of Oliver Perez might not be that surprising, but considering what the Mets are paying him, it should be considered a tragedy of monumental proportion. No doubt, he should NOT have been pitching in the World Baseball Classic. Oliver is a head case who needs a full spring regiment and coach supervision. Allowing Nelson Figueroa to pitch in the WBC is fine. Any pitcher making big bucks should be banned from such a competition.
Sean Green may actually be the Sean Green of the second half of 2008. ROGGY at best.
BEST METS BENCH EVER?
Always delivers something at the plate, gives 110% at all times, shows some speed, power and can play every position reasonably well. Nice reclamation project by Omar.
Has all the tools and knows what he is doing in every situation. Plays all the infield positions well. Fine addition to the mix from an all-around standpoint.
What's not to like about this guy? Gap power. Contact. Good glove and arm. A throw-in who adds depth.
The jury's still out on this acquisition, but Sheff is still a feared right-handed bat and can play all the corners in a pinch. Something for nothing? We'll see.
The Mets sport the greatest left-handed starter of the past decade and two very promising young right-handers in Pelfrey and Maine. Jon Niese has all the tools and Livan Hernandez has the heart and smarts. B+ to A- staff at the moment. There is also Tim Redding making some noise in his rehab and Perez, who can reemerge at any time. It also seems that Parnell could step up and plug a hole. And don't forget that Figueroa did a very nice job in his one starting appearance. So, the Mets are not really in bad shape when it comes to the arms race.
The bullpen is perhaps a bit better than most of us could have expected. K-Rod has pretty much been lights-out with an occasional scare. Putz has been OK to good, but not great in the 8th Inning. Feliciano is consistent against lefty bats and not so against righties. When will Jerry realize that he is one of the preeminent LOGGYs and nothing more? Parnell and Stokes have been very good and could perhaps be used a bit more frequently. Early glimpses of Ken Takahashi are impressive and, in case no one is noticing, Elmer Dessens has been mowing them down at Buffalo. Could there be a role for him in the near future? The only real problem out of the pen has been Green, who has been awful. Speculation is that his arm slot is off, but this is the same guy who struggled mightily in the second half of last year supposedly due to overwork. Green for Dessens is the call. And of course, Redding might be in the mix soon with Billy Wags now on the 90-day horizon.
Carlos Beltran IS the player all of us assumed he always could be. Johan Santana is not only a great pitcher, but is a competitor extraordinaire. Francisco Rodriguez may have been the best buy of the off-season. However, Ollie was the worst.
In case no one has been paying attention, the Mets have five position players in their minor league system that are potential stars of the future. Fernando Martinez is playing solid ball at Buffalo. Wilmer Flores is a 17-year old phenom with power who is at least three years away. Josh Thole is the Mets catcher sometime in the next two years. Shawn Bowman is tearing it up for the B-Mets, while hitting for average and power with a decent glove. Who knows? Bowman could end up platooning at 1B with Murphy in 2010 or playing some 2B. No matter what, he could be a terrific right-handed utility player a la Wigginton. Lefty swinger Lucas Duda is also among a talented group of first-sackers in the Mets system. Keep your eyes on all of these studs on MiLB.com.
The arms are less clear, but in far greater numbers than the everyday players. Here is my current list:
- J. Niese
- D. Gee
- B. Holt
- R. Coultas
- E. Kunz
- M. Antonini
- S. Shaw
- E. Niesen
- B. Rustich
- S. Clyne
THREE BIGGEST QUESTIONS
What to do with Ollie?
Will Castro, Green or Church be moved?
Can Billy Wags make it back for the last two months of the season?
THE TV EQUATION
No doubt that the MLB Network is Da Bomb. If you love baseball, you have to love the way the game is wrapped and featured on the new network. Terrific commentary from the baseball analysts like Harold Reynolds, Barry Larkin, Dan Plesac, Joe Magrane and Al (the Grimace) Leiter. Strong studio work from the rest of the cast. The mini-field demos in Studio 42 are a blast. Wish the same could be said of SNY, where the Mets games are the only high-quality product due to the profound talents of Bill Webb and Co. and a group of talented broadcasters in Gary, Keith, Ron and Kevin. Bobby Ojeda has not really been much better than Maz. There has to be a better analyst out there somewhere (or did MLB Network get them all?). The rest of SNY's sports programming features Talking (or more aptly--Shouting) Heads who do not not do it for this viewer. Nothing wrong with a show like Loudmouths, with two engaging NY personalities. But why mimic it on the other shows? Adding Joe Benigno to Daily News Live does not add to a discussion that features beat writers and print journalists. Enough with the radio talkers. If we want to hear their take, all we have to do is tune into their daily rants for 15 minutes. Except for Mets games and an occasional Loudmouths, SNY has lost this baseball lover to MLB Network.