By Mike Steffanos
There was a lot of hoopla over Jayson Stark's "break it all down and start over" prescription for fixing the Mets at ESPN.com last week.
I don't think Stark got everything wrong, but the piece read very much like it was written by a Phillies beat writer, which is indeed what Stark used to be. Stark's core assumption that the best route going forward is to trade the team's talented players and try to put together a scrappy bunch of "gamers" (i.e. Eric Byrnes types). While I have no doubt this might be a fun team to root for as they try not to lose 90 games, I think I'll pass on that experience.
Look, there is no doubt that it will require more than the return of Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran to make this team a legit contender for the championship that seemed so possible three years ago. There are fundamental flaws in the way this club is constructed that need to be addressed.
The problem with the Mets for so many years is that when they have contended there has always been somewhat of a "slapped together" aspect to their clubs. (Remember the outfield of the 1999 and 2000 clubs?)
The Mets have never been able to follow an organizational plan for any length of times since Frank Cashen's early years with the organization that lead to the 1986 championship and several years of contention.
One minute the plan is to build with speed, defense and youth. Then next thing you know you're crossing your fingers and hoping for 500 at bats from 40-year-olds. Next they're trading a ton of young players to have J.J. Putz and Shawn Green as set-up men. Not that the bullpen didn't need to be fixed after last season, but a trademark of the Minaya era of leadership has become the art of finding the really expensive way of plugging a hole.
I would argue with those who believe the core of this club is the problem. To me, the biggest problem with this team is the inability to plug in very many inexpensive solutions that allow a club to have more to spend in other areas. There is a steep drop-off in talent from the stars on this club to the rest of this roster, and that to me is the biggest weakness -- and it has been for the last 3 seasons.
The 2006 club featured a bunch of guys like Jose Valentin, John Maine, Duaner Sanchez, Aaron Heilman, and Xavier Nady who complemented the team's stars without breaking the bank. Chad Bradford, coming off a season limited by back problems, was a relatively cheap pickup who paid dividends all season long.
Contrast that with some of the players supporting the core of the club now. I genuinely like Luis Castillo, and he has been one of the few bright spots for the team in the lost season. Still, I have to wonder who the Mets were competing with when they signed the gimpy 32-year-old to a 4 year, $25 million contract before last season.
Most of us were excited at the prospect of a solid closer like J.J. Putz filling the eighth inning setup role after watching the bullpen blow so many games in 2007. Still, the Mets gave up a ton of young players to bring Putz and Shawn Green over from the Mariners.
Moreover, if you add the salaries of Billy Wagner ($10.5 mil), Frankie Rodriguez ($8.5 mil) and Putz ($5 mil) together the effort to lock down the eighth and ninth innings was costing this club an astounding $23.5 million dollars this year alone. While clubs like San Diego always seem to manage to put a solid bullpen together on the cheap, the 2009 Mets bullpen was decidedly a high-rent district. Having Putz go down was only the icing on the cake.
Think about that $23.5 million though, and where it might have went if Minaya and company were more creative and frugal in putting together a bullpen.
I think my biggest worry now is that Minaya will again try to patch this team into competition next season and once again forgo trying to follow a plan. The NL east has become a pretty tough division, and frankly with the possible exception of the Nationals, the other clubs are better run than this one.
I don't think the Mets need to follow a 3- or 4-year plan to get back to legitimate contention as Stark has tried to say, but I do believe giving themselves a couple of years would be a sensible way to do it. They could make some sensible decisions on some of the guys they already have and work on building a stronger supporting cast for their core players.
I'll be back tomorrow with more specific analysis on where I see this club now and what I think they need to do to avoid the dark future Mr. Stark seems to see as inevitable.