By Barry Duchan
In the Mets' history, there have been several periods in which the Mets were barely competitive, where the attraction of going to or watching a Mets game was in hoping the underdog Mets could win and maybe knock off a contender in the process. Unfortunately, despite all the pre-season hopes and the near-misses of 2007 and 2008, 2009 has become another of those seasons. Injuries can of course be blamed for much of the Mets' ill fortunes this year, but although we will never know, I have a strong feeling that even with Delgado, Reyes, and Beltran in the lineup, this team would not be challenging the Phillies and would just be part of the wild card chase. In any event, it's time to turn the page on 2009.
Now there are rumors that the Wilpons might have to sell the team. These rumors are being denied, but is that necessarily a good thing for Mets fans? Wouldn't we rather see the Wilpons sell the team to someone like Mark Cuban who wants to win more than anything else and will spend whatever it takes ? The alternative would seem to be running the club with financial limitations that will prevent the team from spending on top free agents or dealing for players with big contracts. That would almost certainly result in a team that is mediocre at best. It also probably means that Minaya and Manuel will be back not because of the job they've done or that they are the best men for the job and shouldn't be blamed for the injuries, but because they have existing contracts and the Wilpons don't want to have to pay them off and also spend what it would take to bring in their replacements.
So, is the obvious goal of fixing the team to return to contention in 2010 really the Mets' priority, as it should be? For the Met fan, of course it is. Fans want to win, plain and simple. Every fan wants to see his team win the World Series or get as close as possible and especially in a city where the Yankee organization makes it its mission every year to do just that, we expect the same from the Mets. Writers, bloggers and fans everywhere already have their lists of players the Mets might think about acquiring either as free agents or by taking big contracts off the hands of so-called have-not teams. Names like Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Adam Dunn, Chone Figgins, Victor Martinez, and Prince Fielder are being tossed around. I can only hope these suggestions turn into reality. Unfortunately, I would guess the Wilpons' primary goal for 2010 is to make a profit while spending just enough to convince the most loyal of fans that something is being done to improve the team. So, don't expect the Mets to invest $20 or $30 million in a free agent or assumption of an existing multi-million dollar contract. Look for the Mets to bring back Minaya, Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez, and anyone who already has a contract for 2010 rather than eating salary.
No doubt, there will be some change in on-field personnel. Brian Schneider will either be replaced by rookie Josh Thole or the Mets will sign one of those backup catchers who's been with a bunch of different teams to share the job with Omir Santos. If the Wagner rumors are true, Chris Carter, a fine AAA hitter with defensive limitations will join the competition at first base and left field. Fernando Martinez will be hailed as the hope for the future. A few journeyman pitchers will likely be added and assuming he's healthy, look for Jonathan Niese to be given a spot in the rotation. When Pat Misch or Tim Redding has a strong start in September, or Pagan or Sullivan has a 3-hit game, expect Jerry Manuel to tell us that they could be in the mix next year.
So, just maybe if the Mets can be relatively injury-free in 2010, and that's a big assumption, they should be good enough to chase .500 and hold off the Nationals, but then again, maybe not. The gap between the Phillies and Mets has widened to the point where I don't see the Mets contending for a long time.
Overall, I am very pessimistic about the next few years. At least Pittsburgh, San Diego, and Washington have a number of young players already in the lineup or on the horizon that the fans can look forward to. Ultimately, there will be changes in the Mets' front office and I don't expect Jerry Manuel to make it through next season, but I think that standing relatively pat is just putting off the inevitable and wasting another season. Unfortunately, having lived through all of the awful eras in Mets' history, I am preparing for another. If there was a change in management (and I don't mean internal changes like giving John Ricco more responsibility or promoting one of the minor league instructors to batting coach), there might be some hope that a strong effort will be made to put the best possible product on the field but with the Wilpons' financial problems and the uninspiring management team of Minaya and Manuel, I see no reason for optimism. I hope I am wrong, but I think another era of relative success has drawn to a close and the Mets will finish last again before they make the playoffs.