With the General Manager's Meetings kicking off today, this seems like as good a time as any to begin analyzing why things went so terribly wrong in 2009, and to figure out what needs to be done to ensure that the Mets' 2010 season bears little resemblance to the disaster that came to an end five weeks ago in half empty Citi Field.
Most fans of the New York Mets are die-hards, so the strong reactions that have been echoing from them have been expected. However, it seems that way too many (fans and the media alike) have quickly forgotten that from 2005-2008, the Mets (with their returning core of Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran) averaged around 90 wins a year. Last season was so awful that it's been clouding people's judgement.
According to the fans that have lost all hope, other teams have struggling young players who will reach their potential, while the Mets have washed up 24 and 25 year olds who will never meet theirs. The sentiments have been insanely overly pessimistic. People are so angry at the disaster that was 2009, that they refuse to accept the fact that it was one thing that sabotaged the season. To them, it's much easier to condemn the organization as a whole than to face the facts. Yes, the Mets played sloppy ball at times. Yes, they couldn't hit home runs. Yes, they made tons of baserunning mistakes, and saw a potential game winning single turn into a game ending triple play.
With all that happened to them, the reason the 2009 Mets finished 70-92, was because their players were knocked off the field at a rate that was so absurd that it became comical by August. The Mets didn't get decimated by injuries because they had too many old players, or because of a lack of conditioning, or because players were dogging it. They got hurt in ways that ranged from annoying to ordinary to plain frightening. Let's analyze the afflicted (in rough order of when their injury happened):
Johan Santana - His elbow acted up in March, causing him to miss some time in Spring Training. By most accounts, he pitched hurt the entire year before going down for good in August and going under the knife.
Oliver Perez - Also went down in Spring Training with knee issues. After roughly 3 months, he came back and pitched hurt before being shut down for good.
John Maine - Went down in June, and missed pretty much the rest of the season with shoulder issues.
JJ Putz - The man who was supposed to be the Mets' setup man, went down with elbow problems in late May and never returned.
Francisco Rodriguez - Missed time with back spasms in May.
Jon Niese - After showing promise, ripped his hammy from the bone while covering 1st base.
Fernando Nieve - Much like Niese, went down in July after showing tons of promise.
Carlos Delgado - Hip trouble sidelined him in May. He never returned.
Jose Reyes - A multitude of lower body issues cost him the final 4 months of the season.
Carlos Beltran - Missed nearly 3 months with knee trouble.
David Wright - Missed 2 weeks after getting drilled in the helmet by Matt Cain.
Alex Cora - A torn thumb sent him out in May and ruined the rest of his season.
Gary Sheffield - Missed nearly half the season with various ailments.
Fernando Martinez - I bet most people forgot he was even injured. Missed the last 3 1/2 months of the season.
...I left off Brian Schneider, Tim Redding, Angel Pagan, Ramon Martinez, Omir Santos, Ryan Church and Jeff Francoeur...It was getting too painful to recount these atrocities.
After reading that list, anyone who attributes the Mets' 2009 season to an overall organizational failure is delusional. Any team that loses 5 of its 7 starting pitchers (depth chart wise), 3 of their MVP caliber core players for the vast majority of the season, and the 4th MVP caliber player to a beaning, their setup man, their top prospect, their starting catcher, TWO backup shortstops, 2 different right fielders (Church and Francoeur), and a host of others is screwed. There's not a single team in baseball that would've been able to deal with the amount of injuries the Mets suffered (considering the severity of the injuries and the players they happened too). Any other team would've been just as screwed as the Mets. Say it again. Any other team would've been just as screwed as the Mets.
With that in mind, I'm obviously not of the opinion of some others - which is that the Mets should rebuild. That notion is absurd. A team that has a core of David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana and Francisco Rodriguez does not rebuild...especially when there's a very taleneted crop of minor leaguers on the horizon. Among those that may be ready to contribute in 2010 or early 2011 are Fernando Martinez, Ike Davis, Josh Thole, Jon Niese, Brad Holt, Jenrry Mejia, Kirk Niuwenhuis, Ruben Tejada and Reese Havens. Lots of "experts" continue to claim that the Mets have a terrible farm system. That claim is false.
Since it's 70 degrees today in New York (making me hungry for a baseball game I know won't come for over 4 months), and I'm on my lunch break at work, I'll continue this post instead of cutting it in half. Above is why I believe the Mets can contend next year. Below is what I feel should be their course of action this offseason.
Immediately after the season ended, Jeff Wilpon stated that the Mets would continue to have one of the highest payroll's in the National League. The Mets probably have around $30 Million to play with (before taking into account any potential trades that could bring substantial salary relief). They have declined JJ Putz's option, and are preparing to cut ties with Carlos Delgado.
Now, Rational (sometimes) Mets Musings' Plan:
Catcher: The rumors are that the Mets are looking into Bengie Molina and Rod Barajas. Pass and Pass. Molina is 36, and Barajas isn't good.
Your 2010 Mets Catcher Solution: Platoon Omir Santos and Josh Thole. Some think Thole needs some more seasoning behind the plate, which is an accurate take. However, with Reyes, Wright and Beltran returning, and the Mets upgrading the offense in other areas, there's no need to go after Bengie Molina.
First Base: Adrian Gonzalez is out there. He's young, plays great defense and has tremendous power. There's no doubt that he'd be a tremendous addition for any contending club that's in need of a first baseman. However, there are two big reasons why the Mets shouldn't trade for him. First of all, since he's still under contract for another two years, he'll cost a fortune in prospects - prospects the Mets don't have to deal since there are power hitting options available via free agency. Second, one of the Mets' top prospects (Ike Davis) should be ready to contribute at the big league level by midseason.
Your 2010 Mets First Base Solution: A Daniel Murphy/Troy Glaus platoon, which eventually gives way to Ike Davis around midseason. Yes, I got the Troy Glaus idea from Marty Noble. I think it's a great low-risk option - especially with Ike Davis waiting in the wings. Do I think Daniel Murphy would be better suited being a jack of all trades (1B, 2B, 3B, PH) off the bench? Perhaps...and if Davis continues to hit, that's exactly where Murphy will end up.
Second Base: As of now, the Mets are still locked into Luis (I love bunting more than sex) Castillo. Castillo DID have a decent year - his lack of range and terrible baseball IQ not withstanding - so teams in need of a second baseman could be interested.
Your 2010 Mets Second Base Solution: Trade Luis Castillo for two lower level prospects...eat a couple of million dollars if it's necessary. Sign Orlando Hudson. After becoming invisible in Los Angeles, Hudson should come cheap.
Shortstop: Jose Reyes
Third Base: David Wright
Left Field: The Gary Sheffield experience is over. Fernando Martinez is coming off of season ending surgery (though he still has tons of potential). Moises Alou is peeing on his hands somewhere else. Hideki Matsui is a DH at this point of his career. Manny is staying in Hollywood. The Mets need some more toughness. The Mets need some more power.
Your 2010 Mets Left Field Solution: Sign Matt Holliday (6 years/96 million). Holliday is 29 years old, and he's a perfect fit for the Mets. The vast majority of his homers and doubles were pulled, and according to Bill James, it was 10% easier to hit homers to Left Field in Citi Field than it was in the other National League Parks. Invite Holliday to Citi Field on November 20th. Have David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Francisco Rodriguez and Johan Santana greet him in the rotunda. Get it done.
Center Field: Carlos Beltran
Right Field: Jeff Francoeur - The additions of Orlando Hudson and Matt Holliday should drop Francoeur to 7th in the batting order - which is exactly where he should be.The Starting Rotation:
1P: Johan Santana
2P: Roy Halladay is a beast. Roy Halladay is available. However, much like Adrian Gonzalez, Roy Halladay will cost a fortune in prospects. He will also be seeking a 7 year contract extension worth $20 million dollars annually. At this point in his career, Mike Pelfrey is not stable enough to serve as a # 2 starter. John Maine has the stuff to do it, but has legitimate health concerns. Randy Wolf isn't a bad pitcher, but he's not a #2. Neither is Jason Marquis. Rich Harden has tremendous upside, but can't be relied on.
Your 2010 Mets # 2 Starter Solution: Sign John Lackey (5 years/$85 million). Lackey will be 31 on Opening Day. He has the same mentality as Johan Santana, but comes at you from the right side instead of the left. His ERA's the last 5 years in the American League have been 3.44, 3.56, 3.01, 3.75 and 3.83. He won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series, and has a career Postseason ERA of 3.12. He screamed and cursed when the ball was taken from him in Game 6 of the ALCS. I'd love to see him screaming and cursing while getting taken out of a game by Jerry Manuel in 2010.
3P: John Maine
4P: Mike Pelfrey
5P: Jonathon Niese/Oliver Perez - Here is where lots of Mets fans will start to scream. "You can't trust the 3 through 5 spots of the starting rotation to question marks," they'll say. My response? With Johan Santana and John Lackey at the top of the rotation, you have more room to take chances. There are NO guarantees in baseball. The Mets are NOT the Yankees. They're not going to commit over $200 million dollars to payroll. If the Mets acquire Matt Holliday and John Lackey, they'll be adding roughly $35 million dollars. After that, it's time to get creative and to put some trust in the players you've developed.
Closer: Francisco Rodriguez
Setup: JJ Putz - Potential glutton for punishment scenario? Yes. Best option since the Mets will have very little to spend if Holliday and Lackey are acquired? Probably. JJ Putz wants to close. JJ Putz is also coming off back to back injury plagued seasons (that very well may be completely behind him after having surgery this fall). Lock him down with an incentive laden deal, and give him and Frankie the do-over they deserve.
Lefty Specialist - Pedro Feliciano - Ideally, someone will emerge in the Rule V draft or from the Minor League System who can partner with Feliciano.
Middle Inning Righties - Bobby Parnell, Fernando Nieve
Long Man - Nelson Figueroa
Catcher: Omir Santos/Josh Thole
Infield: Daniel Murphy/Troy Glaus
Infield: Alex Cora
Outfield: Angel Pagan
Outfield: Xavier Nady - The final bench spot goes to Nady, who should be affordable coming off an injury plagued couple of years. On days when Troy Glaus starts, Nady would offer some needed pop off the bench, and could fill in for Holliday and Francoeur as needed.
....That's it. That's the plan. Nothing too insane, since nothing insane is really necessary. The Mets need a power bat (Holliday). The Mets need a legitimate #2 starter (Lackey). The Mets need a Major League quality bench. Most of all, the Mets need to be healthy and to have some things break their way for a change. I don't want accolades if the 2010 Mets closely resemble the above idea, and I don't want to be ridiculed if the above idea isn't close to what the team is come Opening Day. The only thing I want is a winning ballclub. The offseason bell has rung...get at it.