Like all loyal and lifetime New York Mets Fans 2009 will certainly go down in Mets history as the most injury plagued season in their entire 48 seasons of National League play. Everybody knows that every member of “The Core” players were down for various amounts of time during the season and if the core played together for ten games all season long that would probably be an exaggeration.
Dirt was thrown at everybody from the ownership down to and through the medical staff, the Minor League organization and most obviously the Manager Jerry Manuel and the General Manager Omar Minaya . Nobody was as critical of these two so called professionals than me. I gave them some credit for their valiant try to finish on top in 2008 and even went so far to say that the team overachieved in getting down to the last day to decide their fate for the playoffs.
I wrote at least four articles on websites for the Mets to resign Pedro Martinez. Their rotation was a disaster coming out Spring Training and although I like and enjoy the World Baseball Classic it’s timing last season couldn’t have been worse for the Mets as 17 players left camp to play for their countries. Was it a big surprise that so many of those players who did go to the WBC come down with critical injuries during the season? I will address the WBC situation at another time.
The Mets fans and media as well wants the Mets to make a splash in the off season for two reasons. One, many of us feel the Mets still need help in a few areas including left field, second base, and adding depth to an already suspect rotation. The second reason for the need to make a splash is for the Mets ownership to show the fans that they willing to do what it takes to pay for high quality free agents and compete with the other big money teams in pursuit of these players.
For all accounts prior the the winter meetings the Mets were going to be all in on pitcher John Lackey, as well the two top outfielders, Matt Holliday and Jason Bey in the free agent market. What they didn’t expect was these players just might not want to come to Citi-Field and have their offensive numbers wind up somewhere around mid-toilet.
Do I want the Mets to pick up either Matt Holliday or Jason Bay? Of course I do. Do I now think they are going to get either one of them? The answer is No. There are lots of secondary outfielders out there that have power and lack defensive skills necessary to play in a big ball yard. On the flip side there are excellent gloves that could make the starting outfield the best defensive unit in baseball but they can’t hit their weight.
So, what are the Mets to do? In what appears to be in a no win scenario, I am going to propose a plan which is going to be vastly unpopular with my guess being around 97% of Mets fans and media coverage out there.
Let’s talk specifics. I believe the club needs both youth and experienced veterans who are willing to run through walls if necessary to get the job done. A guy who can hit .280, knows how to move a runner from first to third, can steal a base, lay down a good sacrifice bunt and willing to bust up a double play. When a veteran like Alex Cora with two busted thumbs does that, guys like Fernando Martinez take notice. There are plenty of those gritty type players out there that won’t bust the Wilpon bank, but will put people in the seats into a ballpark that will lose many visitors if 2009 is even remotely duplicated.
Let’s break this down and remember you’re not going to to like it. I think Daniel Murphy has the potential to be an excellent defensive first baseman, hit third in the order and remind people of Keith Hernandez. Will he do all this in 2010? No. The answer here is to re-sign Carlos Delgado. I can hear the screaming starting now. Carlos Delgado is as proud a man than just about any ballplayer I have watched for the past 60 years. No clearer indication of that was in 2008 when finally recovered from a wrist injury where he compensated not to re-injure his wrist, He put on a second half performance the likes of which hasn’t been seen south of the Bronx in a very long time.
He started off 2009 where he left off the previous fall and if he had played a full season his numbers would have duplicated 2008. But of course that never happened. Carlos is exactly like Pedro. He feels his mission in New York will not be complete until he has a ring. Have him play 130 games at first base and let the Super Sub Daniel Murphy fill in not only there, but he can be occasionally back up David Wright, and yes even stick him in left or at second for a game or two. Could it be any worse then having Tatis at those positions?
Next, at second base we must say goodbye to Punch and Judy, Luis Castillo. Having as good a year that was possible for him, he now has value for some teams who need players who can get on base. My problem with Castillo believe it or not was not his bat in 2009 but his defensive play at second base. It was, to put it in one word, awful. He has lost his range and played the game with his head not always on his shoulders. He did prove his point and gave the Mets a spark they needed last year and for that I hope another team sees value in him. If Orlando Hudson is available and he’ll take a two year contract then by 2012 Reese Havens should be ready for Major League play.
I’m not at all concerned about the left side of the infield. I expect David Wright to have that bounce back year and with his partner Jose Reyes getting on base, stealing bases and keeping everyone on the edge of their seats we will once again see the old David Wright smashing the ball all over the yard. Jerry Manuel however has to be smart and not change where he places David in the lineup. If it’s 3rd then keep him there. If it’s 4th or 5th, then keep him there. One of Jerry’s biggest shortcomings last year was juggling that lineup so badly everyday that no one knew their role.
The catching situation is already out of hand and it looks like their next move is to have an open casting call for all catchers to try out for the Mets. Right now they have four catchers. Santos, Thole, Coste, and Blanco. Wonderful, and Bengie Molina is trying to secure a three year deal at 35 to be the next catcher. Oh my!
I say right from opening day to go with the youth, and platoon Santos and Thole and if either one of them breaks out of the gate fast let’s stick with him. Thole in his short stay looked no better or no worse than the more heralded Matt Weiters of the Baltimore Orioles. Thole should and could be the Mets catcher for the next ten years.
I would have no problem with a one year deal for Pat Burrell or Marlon Byrd or Johnny Damon or any number of other second level left fielders. Personally I would like to see, if healthy, Fernando Martinez in left field on opening day. He has been our top prospect for 5 years, and now may be a good time to see what he’s got for us or to showcase him as major trade bait.
Beltran and Francoeur can roam the outfield for the next 4-5 years and provide the power and defense we need in spacious Cit-Field. Angel Pagan is a very serviceable 4th outfielder and some may argue that he deserves a starting spot in left field for opening day. Personally I’d rather see Martinez there.
So here is my opening day line up.
If you’re already mad at me and think I’m ridiculous you’re really not going to like this. There are only two starting pitchers out there in the free agent market that I would even entertain a look at. They are Joel Pineiro and Ben Sheets. When healthy, and I think we can say that about any pitcher, these two guys could do a great deal to solidify the staff. I’d also keep on eye on Wang, Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang. But let’s say the Mets don’t get any of these pitchers for whatever excuse they come up with, then this is a do or die year for the Mets rotation.
Santana can’t make 162 starts so where does that leave us? I believe John Maine is more of a number 2 than Mike Pelfrey. I would push Pelfrey down to the 4 spot and allow Oliver Perez to move to the number 3. If I am sure of one thing this off season it is that Oliver Perez will come to camp in the best shape of his life. He has been working vigorously in the off season on both his physical and mental sides.
That leaves the number five spot open to some very healthy competition for Jonathon Niese, Bobby Parnell, Pat Misch and Fernando Nieve. Once again I believe we could do no wrong signing Pedro Martinez to a two year deal. I think he certainly proved himself down the stretch for the Phillies and he can not hurt this team. His veteran leadership in the Mets clubhouse can not be measured. This rotation last year before the season started was picked by many to be enough to compete with the Phillies for the NL East.
With Roy Halladay now just 90 miles south and for the Mets to have to face him at least 4-6 times a year is an uphill battle at the least but in a head to head with Johan Santana I’ll take my chances.
Finally, if the Mets get out of the gate slowly I would look to replace Jerry Manuel after 40 games. As much as I feel that he caused many of the on the field problems for 2009, I am willing to give him just enough rope to hang himself. And as far as Omar is concerned, unless some miracle can be pulled out of a hat, this will be his final year for sure.