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Going Forward

Mike SteffanosWednesday, September 9, 2009
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.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

Comments (4)

This team has to go in a new direction regardless who is running the show or taking the field. The Mets as an organization seem to be in a tailspin, and for some reason no one can take charge of the situation. Of course there has to be some bad with the good, but this organization has underachieved for 4 years running now. I am always going to root for my Mets, win or lose, but the product has to be significantly upgraded. There were too many holes the last 3 season (2009) included to not have foreseen disaster. Injuries, personnel, and the wrong individuals at the helm has caused what we were led to believe, a contender, floundering in consecutive years. I bought into this team believing that it would contend and they would just replace parts as needed, but it has seemed as if some of the wrong parts have been acquired constantly. Who ever is evaluating personnel, talent, whatever, needs to return their salary for the past two years, for they most certainly have not earned it. Yes it could simply be the baseball Gods having their way with us, could be this team is just what it is, mediocre at best. Whatever it is, change needs to come now. Pedro winning games in Philly, just kick me...lol. Go Mets 2010!

The Mets lost 80-95 home runs from their lineup when they lost Beltran, Reyes, and Delgado. They lost more when Perez and Maine couldn't go from the start. That's the bulk of their problems this season; not that they're in a "tailspin"; they got their ass kicked in because they lost too much manpower. That's just Phillies/Yankees talk trying to make fun of the Mets. Let's put it this way: Where would the Phillies be if they lost Werth, Utley, and Victorino? Or the Yanks without A-Rod, Texiera, and Jeter?

The bottom line is that the Mets were a 85-95 win team at the beginning of the year, and that blew up in their face. It happens.

I agree that the Mets should focus on building around the core of Wright, Reyes, Beltran, and Santana (and now also K-Rod). They did some of that, by adding in Murphy and Francouer (who is a nice complement), and I really like the Catching duo of Santos/Thole. Also, it helps that Castillo is making Omar look good (even if his contract is crappy), and Angel Pagan is making me a happy OF fan.

They do need another pitcher not named Ollie and Perez, but it'll be interesting to see where they find that pitcher. And they definitely need another power bat to replace Delgado; best chances for that this year are in free agency, either Matt Holliday or Jason Bay. If the Mets can get the Padres to make a stupid deal for Adrian Gonzalez, I'm also game for that.

But the Mets can also wait on Ike Davis for 1B and maybe also Kirk Nieuwenhuis in the OF. They could take a flyer on guys like Mark DeRosa and Chone Figgins for the IF/OF, who may be able to come in cheap.

Essentially, the Mets are maybe a step behind where they were last year; they need a few pieces to really compete, but they have a team that probably will compete, if healthy.

Can we find some homerun, RBI hitting outfielders for the corners and solid pitching 1 through 4 and we may be O.K. untill the farm starts to produce.And while we fine tune a firstbasemen and a catcher. I am not sure about Murphy anymore?If that kind of outfield could give you a solid #3, #4 and # 5 hitter the rest of the team would fall in place. A healthy Beltran and good corner outfielders, the rest of the lineup can be made with what we have at third,S/S and second, I think nicely, catching leave alone with a platoon and the same can be said about first base.I don't know, just trying to find some light. :~) Welcome back Mike.

Mike your line .... "a trademark of the Minaya era of leadership has become the art of finding the really expensive way of plugging a hole. " is so right on the money....

Lets face it , if Minaya and Co are back next year they are not going to change much. Especially the 'expensive way of plugging a hole'. The guy is out of a job so theres no room for the reset button next year. They have to come down with some sort if big hitter in Left and some sort of pitcher to pair up with Santana. The rest is not as big. Id like to see them throw the money at Lackey from Anahiem.

Might be another year before they open the windows and air out the smell.. I hope not but like Mike says they desperatly need a plan and actually stick to it.

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