By Dave Mills
As we turn the corner on another decade, the Mets find themselves at another sort of crossroad. Should (or better put--can) they go for broke, or be clever and prudent and see exactly what they have in-house? If the latter, all they need is to complete a few minor deals or signings.
The pundits (from TV, to radio, to print, to bloggers) are all over the place on these issues. Season ticket holders seem to be in the 'wait-and-see' mode, which is perfectly reasonable for those who shell out considerable bucks for what is a questionable product at the moment.
But what goes with all the pessimism and bashing of virtually everyone in the Mets organization? From 2006-2008, the Mets averaged 91 victories a season and spent all but a few weeks out of first place in the NL East. Is there anyone out there who think the Highlanders or Phillies (or other postseason participants) could have won without their first baseman, shortstop and centerfielder, not to mention their #3 and #4 starters, missing the same amount of games as Delgado, Reyes, Beltran, Maine and Perez? No way. Come on, get real.
There is still plenty of time and plenty of talent from which to craft a winning ballclub.
All along, it has been this scribe's observation that due to a very good core, some talent that has to be given a chance to show their wares, a few prospects who are ready now and others who will be ready within the next year, Omar/Jeff should go the clever and prudent route.
Let's take a look on a position to position basis...
It seems that the Mets, like some of us, think that Daniel Murphy deserves an opportunity to play the first sack in 2010 and at least against right-handed pitching within a platoon. Considering the Mets have Ike Davis perhaps a year away, it is well worth seeing some other talent in 2010. Don't look for the Mets to sign Delgado since there is not much of an upside. Murph was hot for most of the last two months of the 2009 campaign and made big strides defensively, showing good range and quickness. It appears he is a doubles machine and should hit perhaps 20 HRs and drive in an acceptable 75-90 RBI while keeping strikeouts reasonably low and increasing his base on balls. Here a re a couple of the best options for a right-handed hitting platoon partner:
In the system: Nick Evans - Can play some LF and 3B and needs some seasoning. Should it be in The Show against lefties?
Young veteran: Ryan Garko (FA) - Nice power and experience and likely a reasonable contract. Limited to 1B.
Aging veteran: Nomar Garciaparra (FA) - Once great. Is there anything left? Leadership and can play some 3B.
Known commodity: Fernando Tatis (FA) - Can he do any worse than the others?
Chris Coste - Perhaps Jerry & Omar are thinking of Coste against righties and a 3rd receiver at the same time.
In the wings: Ike Davis, Lucas Duda
I've said it before, I'll say it again: Whether its Castillo or anyone else, this position will not make or break the Mets. In fact, with Reyes leading off, Luis is about as good a two-hole hitter as can be found. He makes contact, is a great bunter and is willing to give himself up to move the runner. And he does it from both sides of the dish. Granted, Phillips/Lopez/Hudson would all be an upgrade. Alex Cora can effectively spell Castillo at least once a week and certainly in every day game after night game against right-handed pitching.
In the system: Anderson Hernandez - Not the answer, but good to have at Buffalo in a pinch.
Young veteran: Felipe Lopez (FA) or Brandon Phillips (trade) - Either would be a big defensive lift and add a touch of power.
Aging veteran: Orlando Hudson (FA) - Still young enough, but petered out in 2009 after a great first half.
Known commodity: Luis Castillo - gets on base and fields adequately.
In the wings: Ruben Tejada
Jose Reyes is the key man on this team. If he is healthy and plays decently everything will fall into place. If he plays very well, the Mets will be formidable. Problem is, if he doesn't play due to nagging injuries, there is no one to fill his shoes and the Mets will falter. Jose must play 150 games for the Mets to be competitive. With a fly ball pitchers on the mound, Alex Cora will fill in admirably a dozen games or so.
In the system: Anderson Hernandez - Certainly not the answer, but good to have at Buffalo in a pinch.
In the wings: Ruben Tejada
David Wright had the best worst year that a player ever had. With virtually no protection in the lineup after the first 37 games, he still hit over .300 with 39 doubles and 27 SB. With Reyes and Castillo in front and Beltran and Murphy/Francoeur behind, is there any doubt he would have been more productive? The higher strikeout and lower BB certainly were part and parcel of the lack of protection. What Citi Field may have wrought will also be mitigated by having a complete compliment of personnel.
In the system: Daniel Murphy/Nick Evans/Shawn Bowman.
In the wings: several highly regarded 3B prospects at lower levels
Stay away from fat Jose, Molina that is. No reason henry Blanco and Omir Santos can't split the duties with Chris Coste in reserve and Josh Thole honing his skills on the farm. I thought Josh Bard was a good fit for one year, but he signed with Seattle yesterday.
In the system: Chris Coste - Will be first call from Buffalo (or is there another plan in mind?)
In the wings: Josh Thole - He can rope, but can he cut the mustard behind the dish?
Jason Bay and Matt Holiday are not good enough defensively to man the huge expanse of Citi Field that constitutes left field, especially at the salaries that are being bandied about. By all accounts, Chris Carter, acquired for Billy Wagner, is ready to hit major league pitching now; With Fernando Martinez perhaps less than a season away (if he can stay healthy); With all the great hitting prowess shown by Angel Pagan; And with all the interesting free agents rearing their heads for 2011 (especially Carl Crawford, a perfect fit for Citi Field), it seems the only thing the Mets really need is a right-handed hitting platoon candidate.
In the system: Nick Evans - Perhaps a better platoon match at 1B with Murphy to build up his value.
Young veteran: Jonny Gomes - This guy may be just the right fit and the right price for a year (or two).
Aging veteran: Jermaine Dye - Leadership, good glove and bat. And a lot healthier than Gary Sheffield.
Known commodity: Angel Pagan - No doubt he can hit and catch, but can he run and throw?
In the wings: Fernando Martinez/Kirk Niewenhuis - both lefty swingers of the future.
Carlos Beltran may well be the best CF in baseball when he is healthy. Problem is, he is no longer healthy. His internally bruised knee is likely to need a rest on day games after night and for a week to 10 days a couple of times each year plus he will be the DH in AL parks. Sorry, those are the facts. This will cut down on his and the Mets running game, but 130 games where Beltran is effective is probably all they need with Pagan as the caddie.
In the system: Angel Pagan - Could be the key role player on the Mets and CF could be his spot for 40 games or so.
In the wings: Fernando Martinez/Kirk Niewenhuis
The Mets can do much worse than Jeff Francoeur. He defends the terrain way above average with a rifle arm. He has adequate power and drives in runs. Sure, he strikes out quite a bit and hardly walks at all, but what a great attitude and teammate. So, lets give Omar a little credit, this guy was a terrific pickup and a good trade for the Mets. Not as good as the Santana swindle, but pretty darn good.
In the system: Angel Pagan - Can spot Francoeur against tough righties once a week.
While the Mets could easily go to Spring Training with Johan Santana, John Maine, Oliver Perez, Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese, Fernando Nieve, Pat Misch and Nelson Figueroa competing for five spots, signing one of the previously injured hurlers like Ben Sheets (too pricey) or Chien Ming Wang (could be a worthwhile sleeper) along with a trade (How about Pelfrey, Bobby Parnell, Sean Green and Castillo for Carlos Zambrano?) could deliver some serious depth to the staff. There is also a possibility of adding Bronson Arroyo or Aaron Harang (and Phillips) for a similar package.
Here is where Omar has made a few very clever pickups. Darren Oliver would have been nice in the long LOOGY role, but he's gone. Add Chad Bradford to the current mix and it's the best pen in baseball, with a nice mix of arm types from K-Rod to Escobar to Igarashi to Feliciano to Stokes to Misch and/or Figueroa. Escobar, Stokes, Misch and Figueroa can go multiple innings.
Let's say Omar/Jeff make a deal for the real Zambrano, signs Gomes or Dye and Hudson or Lopez. They can find a right-handed hitting fist sacker from Dye/Coste/Evans and give several young players a chance to grow. Pretty good team, don't you think?
As we've been saying... plenty of time and still plenty of available talent. Sit tight, take a deep breath and let things fall into place.