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Looking Back, Looking Ahead (Part 1)

Mike SteffanosThursday, February 18, 2010
By Mike Steffanos

Going into this winter I thought that the Mets had too many question marks to consider themselves a player or two away from being legit contenders, particularly with the Phillies and Braves looking solid.

There were some pundits and fans who thought the Mets could obtain a pitcher and a power bat and be solid contenders for 2010. Others, such as ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, felt like the Mets had to tear it all down and start over.

Personally, I thought a realistic approach for the Mets to take going into this winter would be a 2-year plan to regain contending status. They could have used 2010 as a year get some answers to those questions and while allowing some of their young players another year to mature. I do think there were a significant amount of questions which I will summarize below.

Question Marks for 2010

Starting Pitching
The rotation from one to five is nothing but questions: Can Santana bounce back? Can Mike Pelfrey finally put it all together? Is John Maine the promising mid-rotation starter we saw in 2007 or are chronic shoulder issues going to derail him? Can you count on Oliver Perez? Who is the fifth starter?

Which K-Rod will we see in 2010 -- the dominating pitcher of the first half or the post-All Star break arsonist? Who will set him up?

Position Players
Can Daniel Murphy hit enough to justify a position traditionally reserved for power hitters? Can Luis Castillo milk another year from those gimpy knees? Can Jose bounce back and rediscover the durability he displayed from 2005-2008? Can David Wright rediscover his power stroke? How many games will Carlos Beltran be able to play? Who's the starting catcher?

Do I believe that the Mets can contend in 2010 if things fall together just right? Sure. But there sure are a lot of things that need to work out, and this team hasn't exactly been long on good luck of late.

If the Mets management viewed the upcoming season as I do then their lack of big moves beyond the Jason Bay signing would make some sense, but that's really not what they communicated to the fans. They pledged to aggressively pursue all options, which made it inexplicable to the fan base when purported targets signed relatively modest contracts with other teams.

Whatever the truth might be, the whole of the Mets off-season moves and non-moves gave off the vibe that there was no underlying master plan at all. The team looked indecisive and rudderless, earning it yet another in a series of public relations nightmares. They claim that they will contend in 2010 with what they have, but there aren't many believers among the fans or in the media.

For instance, Baseball Prospectus came out with their NL East PECOTA projections yesterday and have the Mets finishing fourth with a 79-83 record. While I think that might be a bit harsh, it's certainly possible if things don't go right. Conversely, I would be somewhat hard-put to make a reasonable case for 90 wins at this point. It could happen, but a lot would have to go right.

Let's take a quick look at what the Mets did and didn't do this winter:

Major Departures:
Carlos Delgado, Gary Sheffield, Tim Redding, J.J. Putz, Brian Stokes, Cory Sullivan, Jeremy Reed, Brian Schneider.

Major Additions:
Jason Bay, Kelvim Escobar, Ryota Igarashi, Gary Matthews, Henry Blanco, Chris Coste, Josh Fogg, Hisanori Takahashi, Shawn Riggans, Mike Jacobs.

The Mets did the right thing by letting Delgado go, but he leaves a big hole in the middle of the order. Bay will be a solid addition if his shoulder and knee holds up. Still, Delgado's departure changes the dynamic of the Mets batting order.

The lineup, somewhat lefty dominated over the past few years, now finds most of the power coming from the right side with Bay, Wright and Jeff Francoeur. Switch hitting Carlos Beltran will likely provide the only real left-handed power in the lineup, and he's not due back until May. Perhaps that contributed to the thinking behind bringing in Mike Jacobs to compete for a spot on the bench. Switch hitter Angel Pagan and Daniel Murphy can help some if they produce, but neither seems likely to put up big power numbers.

Catcher Brian Schneider didn't do much in two years here, but it's really unclear who's taking his place right now. Henry Blanco will likely be the backup, while Chris Coste seems destined to tutor Josh Thole in Buffalo. Then again, Thole is in the mix for a big league job, and Riggans is supposed to be in the mix, too. The Mets talked a lot about stabilizing the catching situation, but really didn't. In fact, I'm hard put to remember a Mets team that had a chance to contend from years past that had as much uncertainty about who would do the bulk of the catching going into the season.

Another of the big stories of the addition and subtraction from the winter is the bullpen. With Putz gone the eighth inning setup job is wide open. Kelvim Escobar was an early favorite for the spot, but he's already nursing a sore shoulder, and there are even rumors that he is more seriously hurt. Whatever is the case, you're talking about a guy who is 34 and has missed most of the last two seasons with shoulder injuries.

Beyond Escobar there are holdovers Sean Green and Bobby Parnell. After dropping down his delivery Green seems better suited as a situational righty, while the hard-throwing Parnell was really up and down, and could use a dependable off-speed pitch to complement the fastball.

If Escobar can stay healthy and seize the eighth inning job this bullpen slots in respectably behind him. Right now, however, things seem fairly tenuous -- and that's not even counting the concerns about Frankie Rodriguez. I find myself flashing back to September of 2008 when Jerry Manuel was emptying the bullpen every night trying to get the game to Billy Wagner. I think the likeliest scenario for this bullpen to really be solid would involve a couple of unexpected guys to really step up as Darren Oliver and Pedro Feliciano did in 2006.

Of course the biggest (and likely only high-impact) signing of the winter was Jason Bay. If I was the GM and following my 2-year plan I probably would have passed on Bay. Still, I have no real problems with the deal.

I know there's been a lot of talk about the injury concerns that Boston had about him, but I take those with a small grain of salt. Supposedly Johnny Damon was going to fall apart when he signed with the Yankees, yet he exceeded 600 ABs in all 4 seasons with the Yankees. Sure, the option to DH helped, but he was only the DH 4 times last year.

That doesn't mean I have no concerns about Bay holding up for four years (and a possible fifth), but Bay has made over 150 OF starts the last two years, and I don't believe he is likely to fall apart immediately -- jokes about the Mets medical staff notwithstanding.

I still think that while they might be hoping for the best, the Mets have to be looking at 2010 as somewhat of a transition season. By the end of the year they should have a clearer idea of whether Mike Pelfrey, John Maine and Oliver Perez are part of the long-term solution or not. Ditto with Daniel Murphy and possibly Fernando Martinez and Josh Thole.

There are some prospects who have a chance of making an impact on this team as early as next year, depending on what progress they make this year. Some of the young pitchers might see their first taste of the bigs as part of the bullpen solution in 2011.

If Wright and Reyes can bounce back from their difficulties they are still part of a young, solid core going forward. Beltran is signed through 2011. Bay will play most of this coming season at age 31, which isn't all that old even in this post-steroid reality.

In Part 2 of this article we share our thoughts on what we expect for this coming season and beyond.

Read part 2 of this post

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 (8)

That list of "acquisitions" is brutal- other tan bay, who of those is a quality ML baseball player? Disgusting!

It would be nice to think that there is a Met plan, and part of that plan was to get by with what you have, save money and build up a war chest for next year and pick up good free agents to build your team around. Maybe trade some of the core to build up the AAA and AA teams for real backips and future position players. Pitching and more pitching. I could live with that kind of plan and my wife does not have to hide the sharp knives and razor blades from me. I could hang in there, like we all did in the early years.

So Luis, you don't want Coste and Blanco? You'd really rather have Molina?

And other than Lackey, was there anyone else in the free agent market that was a good fit for the Mets? Name me one. Please.

I think the Mets took a look at the free agents this year, and other than Lackey, Holliday, and maybe Wolf, they didn't like much out there. Plus, no one saw the Halladay trade with the Phillies coming. I think the Phils will rue that deal.

The Mets will see how far they can go with this team- and their lineup probably WILL hit (if healthy!):

Jose Reyes .297 BA, 204 H, 37 2B, 19 3B, 16 HR, 68 RBI, 66 BB, 82 K, 56 SB (2008)
Luis Castillo .302 BA, 147 H, 12 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 40 RBI, 69 BB, 58 K, 20 SB
Carlos Beltran .284 BA, 172 H, 40 2B, 5 3B, 27 HR, 112 RBI, 92 BB, 96 K, 25 SB (2008)
Jason Bay .267 BA, 142 H, 29 2B, 3 3B, 36 HR, 119 RBI, 94 BB, 162 K, 13 SB (Red Sox)
David Wright .302 Ba, 189 H, 42 2B, 2 3B, 33 HR, 124 RBI, 94 BB, 118 K, 15 SB (2008*)
Jeff Francouer .280 BA, 166 H, 32 2B, 4 3B, 15 HR, 76 RBI, 23 BB, 92 K, 6 SB (Braves/Mets)
David Murphy .266 BA, 135 H, 38 2B, 4 3B, 12 HR, 63 RBI, 38 BB, 69 K, 4 SB

*I chose 2008 because I think it's a better barometer of what Wright can do in a lineup that can afford to protect him, and Citi's walls are not going to be as daunting as they were this year.

The lineup can and will hit this year; the pitching is my concern. I'm sold on Johan, and I think Pelfrey will be more like his 2008 form. I think Maine, if healthy, will be fine. Perez and the #5 are my concerns. I thik the 'pen will be fine- Parnell was up and down largely because they moved him (stupidly, IMHO) to the rotation.

I think the Phillies will take a step back this year. The Braves will pitch very well (although Jurrjen's injury worries me) and the Marlins and Nats will take up the cellar.

Mets will probably make mid-season deals for a pitcher (Harang? Arroyo? Oswalt? Webb?) if they're seriously in contention. That's why they didn't splurge in the offseason for a Jon Garland or Doug Davis. I expect Murphy to mature at first base, and also as a hitter. Francouer won't have a great OBP, but he'll hit quite well otherwise....and maybe even get more than 20 HRs for the Mets. We'll wait and see on Ike Davis, Fernando Martinez, Josh Thole, Jerry Meijja, Dillon Gee, etc. as well.

If the Mets are healthy, they're the 85-90 win team from a few years ago. If not, well, 2011 is a good free agent market.

I am happy the Mets did not go out and try to make a brand new team for 2010. They had no idea what they had since the team had so many problems last year. The pitchers that all the fans wanted so bad were average at best. I would not think any of them were better then what we already had if healthy. I think what the Mets are forgetting is the Mets were contenders at the start of 2009. If you read the list of who left and who we gained, I do not see how we are a 79 win team. Bay will help, Reyas playing an entire season will really help. Heck I went to a game in Baltimore last season and I did not even realize 3/4 of the players who were playing for the Mets. Everyone was injured. People say Frod had a bad second half of the season, the team stunk the second half of the season. You need a winning team to be able to save games. Up until we lost Reyas last year we were right with the top teams. If healthy, there is no reason we can not win this year. If at the end of the season are pitchers show they are awful, then it will be time to replace them, but I think they will be ok.

any one can gather bits and pcs from what every one else is writing and go down the list of each met player and show the weaknesses

you would not have anything to write if the mets had stayed healthy why not let a true met fan write the column

Hi Fred,

I didn't realize that I listed the weaknesses of each Mets player, but then again I also thought I was sharing my own thoughts rather than copying others. Thanks for setting me straight on both counts. You obviously are the final judge of who is a true Mets fan and who isn't. I hope you find another blog written by a true Mets fan worthy of your time.

Mike--you wrote: "Going into this winter I thought that the Mets had too many question marks to consider themselves a player or two away from being legit contenders, particularly with the Phillies and Braves looking solid."

It's certainly true the Mets were more than a player or two away from being legitimate contenders, but in truth that will not be what keeps them from contending. They were in fact about five players away from being legitimate contenders, but considering they were willing to spend over $40 million acquiring players this offseason, those five (and more) players were well within the Mets budget. We can debate the order of the following, but the team needed:

1) SP
2) OF
3) SP
4) C
5) RP
6) 2B
7) 1B
8) 4th OFer

The top six slots here could have been filled for around $35 million. Four of those could have been:

Joel Piniero 8m (2/16)
Jason Marquis 7.5m (2/15)
Gregg Zaun 2.35m (1/2.35)
Felipe Lopez 4m (1/4, estimating)

That's $21.35. These would all be/have been reasonable signings. Pineiro and Marquis both claimed the Mets were their preferred destination. Zaun, whose $2.25m option was not picked up, could likely have been had for the first solid offer over $2m. Felipe Lopez is still waiting for a decent offer. None of these signings is unrealistic. Add a million to Piniero's or Marquis's offer if you think that would have been required. In any case, that leaves another $15 million to pick up an OFer and whatever else on that list (or your own) you think is important. I would have added Blanco just as the FO did, and I thought signing Coste was smart. With a platoon mate against lefties I'm willing to live with Murphy at 1B. And so on.

My long-winded point is that the Mets have a core of stars and a bunch of glaring weaknesses. That's exactly the kind of team that's easiest to improve. You fill in the weaknesses with as many average major leaguers as you can afford. A 2010 Mets team where the rotation is a strength rather than a weakness, for which Jon Niese is the 7th starter rather than the 5th, is a good team, a contending team. Getting two decent starters pushes Maine and Niese--both of whom need to rebuild arm strength--to the pen at the beginning of the year, exactly where they both belong for now. Suddenly the bullpen is looking a lot more solid.

With the over $40m the club had available in what was the greatest buyers' market since collusion there was no reason not to build a solid contender. No reason except incompetence.

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