Although I often cringe at the MMO posts that are almost an hour-by-hour barometer of the current state of the Mets (lose a few in a row, we’re terrible/win a few in a row, we’re pennant contenders), I couldn’t resist starting to write this as Johan Santana dejectedly trudged off the mound after the lambasting the Phillies laid on him in the fourth inning tonight. Because here’s the bottom line: If Johan Santana cannot take a 5-2 lead and bank it in the victory column–even against a REAL team like the Phillies–it’s time to wonder if we can kiss this season goodbye right now.
This is not about any pitcher, no matter how great, having a bad game. This is not a knee-jerk reaction to “one bad outing.” There were elements of Johan’s game tonight that encapsulated all the problems we’ve seen from him so far this season. His smarts and competitiveness and the mediocre National League offenses allowed him to produce decent numbers up until this game. But even in the early-season victories, there were alarming signs: the lack of command, the decreased velocity on the fastball, the abandonment of the slider and curveball, and the continuing inability to consistently get good lefthanded hitters out. Believe me, the rest of the National League will be going to school on the videos of this performance and if Jerry and Dan and Johan don’t figure this out soon, the Mets will be toast.
Because–and I will say this for the last time–Mike Pelfrey IS NOT YET NUMBER TWO STARTER MATERIAL, Jonathan Niese is a rookie, John Maine is a basket case and Ollie Perez is worthless. Without great starting pitching–or at least consistently good starting pitching coupled with an explosive offense (sound like the Phillies or the Yankees?), then come post-season you’re team is on the golf course.
This doesn’t mean all is lost. It’s possible that Johan is just still getting his act together post surgery and that he’ll heat up when the weather does. It’s also possible that he’ll never hit more than 90 mph on the jugs gun again and will just be a good starting pitcher, not a dominant one. But either way what it DOES mean is that Omar Minaya must figure out where to get another top quality starting pitcher to slot in between Johan and Pelfrey, whether it’s Roy Oswalt or Cliff Lee or even Bronson Arroyo, even if it costs–in the case of Oswalt or Lee–Fernando Martinez. Why risk trading F-Mart? First of all, he is still proving to be injury prone. Second of all, this league has proven to be mediocre enough that the Mets could conceivably steal a wild card, but only if they have a deep, consistently good pitching staff.
Now for Jose Reyes. At the risk of writing something that might be a sacrilege in these parts, it’s time to consider trading him after this season or at the point this season when the team may be out of the race. I have been advocating trading Reyes since before last season, so this is no sudden reaction to his slow start this year post-injury. Jose Reyes is the shortstop version of Nuke LaLoosh–a billion dollar talent with a 10-cent head. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I see no evidence that this guy will ever grow into a mature, level-headed major league player. I’m not saying Reyes has to be Derek Jeter, but on a winning team a shortstop has to either be an intelligent leader type in addition to having great talent or a terrific fielder who is fundamentally sound and will do no harm. Need I remind you that the 1986 Mets had the weak-hitting Rafael Santana at shortstop and that the 2000 National Champions won with Rey Ordonez and Mike Bordick? When the player you identify as the most exciting and talented on the team also plays a vital leadership position on the field, he can’t nullify all that by being a complete airhead. After four full and three partial seasons in the big leagues, Jose Reyes still hasn’t learned to identify pitches, doesn’t know how to work a count, still strikes out too much to be a great leadoff hitter or a solid number three hitter (Ike Davis is the three hitter of the future), and still makes the kind of bone-headed baserunning and fielding mistakes that are unacceptable for any great player, let alone a guy playing shortstop who is looked upon as one of the core stars. Let me put it this way: the Mets will never win a championship with Jose Reyes as one of their key players (and frankly, it’s possible he’s already reached his peak and/or will be prone to leg injuries the rest of his career).
One of the reasons I think this team has a chance to contend (if we bring in that other top starter and improve a horrendous bench) is because those dour, passive personalities of the two Carloses have been replaced by guys like Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur. Now we have to rid the club of guys who really don’t know how to play the game. Major League baseball history is replete with guys who had amazing natural ability but didn’t have any baseball intelligence. You can’t win with guys like that. As much as I hate to say this–just look at the Yankees the past dozen years or more. You think it’s an accident that they always win or at least contend? It’s not just the talent; those guys are fundamentally sound baseball players who always want to win.
It boils down to this: If Santana is Santana (or at least close to it) and Jose Reyes becomes a LEADER as well as a talented athlete (and we’re still waiting to see if that even returns), this can still be an entertaining season. But if this team doesn’t make the post-season, Reyes has to go. I’m sure that whoever replaces Omar at the end of this year will agree.