By Dave Mills
THE INJURY BUG BITES AGAIN
The sight of Jon Niese sprawled out by the pitchers mound was as disheartening as anything we have witnessed this season. But following the freak injury to Luis Castillo the night before and Sheffield removing himself a few minutes later, there is not much more to say (or do).
Omar Minaya has made a few mistakes, especially lately, but no GM in the history of baseball could possibly mitigate all these sordid injuries. Jerry Manuel, for all his strategic shortcomings (and communications strengths), is not able to put on a real post-season run with so many disabled.
Setting aside the mysterious problems with Oliver Perez and the loss of Billy Wagner last season, the injuries to John Maine followed by Fernando Nieve followed by Niese, all of whom were pitching in one rotation spot, is hard to fathom. The loss of Putz also put a serious damper on the bullpen plan.
Right now, what is the point of rushing Beltran, Reyes, Delgado and Maine back to the lineup? Same can be said for Cora, Castillo and even Wagner. If the Mets have no intention of signing Delgado and Wagner for next season (and how can they?), why allow them to showcase themselves for a future contract with another team? The Mets need to see what the kids and complimentary players can accomplish against major league competition.
Nonetheless, it is possible the Mets can achieve a .500 or better record. The offense has really come alive and the bullpen is performing admirably for the most part. If they finish .500 or better, it will be downright amazing (and worth rooting for)!
Entering the last two months and final 60 games of the season, there were a flurry of deals that seem to bolster the haves and send prospects to the have nots. How many players did the Pirates and Nats deal away this time? In the NL East, the Phillies and Marlins seem to have helped themselves. Picking up Cliff Lee as a fourth lefty for their starting rotation (Hamels/Happ/Lee/Moyer) is a wake up call to teams like the Mets, who are counting on Daniel Murphy, Fernando Martinez and Josh Thole to be important cogs in their wheel from 2010 and beyond. No doubt, the Francoeur deal looks better and better as southpaws sign into the NL East.
The Marlins certainly bolstered their lineup for the stretch run by acquiring Nick Johnson, a professional bat and glove that they have sorely lacked at 1B since Delgado moved over to the Mets. If he stays healthy he will help.
Victor Martinez appears to be the steal deal for the BoSox. V-Mart can hit from both sides of the dish and plays a better than average 1B and catcher. But the acquisition of Casey Kotchman, is rather perplexing. Kotchman is a very good complimentary player for a team that has power at the outfield corners and 3B. The Beantown maulers have Youkilis, Lowell, Kotchman and Martinez for the two corner infield spots. How can you not play V-Mart every day? Perhaps he will spell Varitek behind the dish a couple of times each week? Certainly, that is true today. Youkalis in LF is interesting. Does he have the range and speed?
Cincinnati helps themselves offensively and defensively with Scott Rolen. The Dodgers strengthened the pen with George Sherrill. The Bengals added a quality lefty in Jerrod Washburn. The Giants made some very good moves that could propel them to the playoffs.
METS STAND PAT
As mentioned here recently, the cumulative $700 million losses of Wilpon, Katz and the various Sterling enterprises has completely handcuffed Omar Minaya in a week where he could have used a deal. If the reports are correct, and the Mets could have had V-Mart for F-Mart and Jenrry Meija, this is proof positive that the Mets will be reducing payroll over the next couple of seasons. V-Mart has a $7 million contract for 2010. Quite reasonable, if not cheap, but a heck of a lot more than the Mets will pay their system-bred prospects replacing Delgado and Wagner, who will certainly come off the books.
Frankly, this entire situation may be a blessing in disguise. The Mets prospects are better than most amateur observers think. Look for Thole to be added to the mix next season and a host of prospects ready for 2011. Plus, there is little doubt that the Mets will get Billy Wagner, JJ Putz and Carlos Delgado back for the final 40 games this year. But even if any three of the group returns, the Mets would be hard-pressed to match their potential impact with fodder who would have required prospects in return.
Bringing back Anderson Hernandez is reasonably creative considering what now is a nagging injury to Castillo combined with the nagging injury that Alex Çora has been playing through most of the season. Either one (or both) of those guys could be done for the year. We can learn nothing about either. Castillo had a great year (save one dropped pop-up) and Cora played admirably and injured in a capacity that even he could never have expected. Look for Ruben Tejada to be part of the small September call-ups, along with Nick Evans, Josh Thole, Jesus Feliciano, Eddie Kunz, Adam Bostick and Tim McNab. Hernandez plays both middle infield stations well. In fact, he has better range than Castillo and is much better defensively than Cora and Berroa.
Trying to pull in some low A and B prospects for Livan Hernadez, Sheffield, Schneider, Reed and Tatis would behoove the Mets. Perhaps one or two can go to a contender during the balance of August?
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED ABOUT THE ROSTER
The acquisition of Jeff Francoeur combined with the outstanding play of Luis Castillo and David Wright, as well as the emergence of Angel Pagan, Daniel Murphy and Omir Santos, has really changed the equation for the organization. The play of Pagan and Murphy has also created a bit of a conundrum in terms of a power scenario or lack thereof. Murphy has shown some excellent reaction and ability at the first sack. He will also be more of an offensive force as he learns to adjust to pitchers who adjusted to him. Likely, he will also hit for more power, but more likely in the 15-20 HR range (a la Keith Hernandez), which is lower than most teams require at a power corner.
Pagan is really opening eyes with speed, contact, good defense and aggressive play. However, he also lacks power at a power position. Like Murphy, his ceiling is likely to be in the 15-20 dinger range. Should Beltran not be as badly injured as some reports indicate, the Mets will not necessarily be able to afford Pagan's lack of power in LF. However, the door is truly open for the switch-hitting Pagan to be a premier 4th outfielder with plenty of playing time. By spelling Beltran in CF for day games following night games and playing the corners at least three games weekly, he would get at least 450 at-bats and add a significant dimension to the face of the offense and defense. On the other hand, a true power-hitting first sacker would allow Pagan to play everyday, adding radical speed to the top of the order. All this adds up to one thing--the Mets need a power bat.
TWO PLAYERS TO TARGET
If the Mets are committed to Francoeur, as it appears, they really need a left-handed hitting outfielder in LF or a power-hitting first sacker.
Adam Dunn is only 29 and averages 40 HRs per-season for the past six seasons and will reach that mark this year as well. He is also having his best all-around season offensively with a .280 BA. Barely a competent fielder, if Pagan is the backup, Dunn could fit in very nicely and supply guaranteed power. His contract with the Nats runs through next season at about $10m annually. Wouldn't it be nice to package Fernando Martinez, Maine, Kunz (or McNab), and other prospects, for Dunn and John Lannon? Four lefties with Pelfrey in the middle would be very nice.
Adrian Gonzales, 27, is another option, but at 1B. This would free up LF for Pagan. It would also mean that Murphy, F-Mart and a pitching prospect would have to be packaged to the Pads. Gonzales is cheaply signed through next year and has a $5.5m team option for 2011.
One way or another, the Mets have to add a power bat. Murphy, F-Mart and Pagan all seem to be the 15-20 HR type players no matter how good they become otherwise. While Gonzales may be the better all-around player, my gut tells me that Murphy has the better upside against F-Mart and the Mets can get Dunn for a less than it would take to bring Gonzales onboard.
Assuming a far more healthy roster in 2010, there will undoubtedly be a shift to a much younger stable of personnel. Gone will likely be Delgado, Wagner, Hernandez, Sheffield, Cora, Dessens, Tatis and Schneider. That means that Castillo at 35 and Feliciano & Beltran at 34 will be the senior Mets. This is a positive development.
We can also look forward to starters selected from a pool of Santana, Pelfrey, Niese, Parnell, Maine, Nieve and Perez, all of whom would almost certainly have to enjoy a better year than they had in 2009. Yes, including Santana.
Even if the Mets stand pat and feature a line-up of Pagan, Castillo, Reyes, Wright, Beltran, Francoeur, Murphy and catcher, that's a lot of speed, good batting averages, at least 110-120 HRs and much improved defense. Backups like A-Hern and Sullivan deliver better defensive and speed than Cora and Reed. A utility guy like Evans could even prove valuable in the above scenario. A lineup like this is actually built for Citi Field. While HRs will suffer, my guess is the Mets will be right up there with the power teams in extra base hits and lead the world in steals.
The bullpen appears to be on track with K-Rod (getting more work), Putz, Feliciano, Stokes and Parnell and/or Nieve in the mix.
On the farm, prospects like Thole, Evans, F-Mart, Tejada, Flores, Meija, Holt, Gee and others will be moving up the ladder, and two or three may well be knocking at the door.
No one has had a career year on this Mets team (except perhaps Feliciano), but breakthroughs by Pagan, Santos, Nieve and Parnell, and Murphy as a first baseman, are encouraging. Virtually everyone HAS to be better in 2010 and there can not possibly be this many injuries.
The problem with running a team in NY are all the doomsayers and nitwits who can't see the big picture and understand the marketplace. I repeat, no one and no cavalier spending could have saved 2009 for the Mets.
Lets see what develops, be patient and have fun watching the prospects play meaningful (for them) baseball in September.