I was gratified to read Sandy Alderson’s recent comments regarding a strategic shift in the Mets’ front office. Specifically, his statement to the effect that he feels that it would be worthwhile for the team to begin to add established major league talent to supplement the roster indicates to me that major decisions have been made with respect to the limitations of the organization in its present state.
When trying to assess the strategy of the post-Minaya/Madoff Mets, I have always found it a bit of a puzzler to try to put a finger on when the “money” element of the so-called “Moneyball with money” approach that had been heralded as the defining element of the Alderson/DePodesta/Ricciardi regime would kick in.
Like many, I’ve regarded Sandy’s assertions that the majority of the team’s spending restraint has been his decision alone with a bit of skepticism; after all, part of a general manager’s job is to manage perceptions about the organization as well as its personnel.
Choosing to convey to the world at large that you have accepted the necessity of a period of mediocrity while the team rebuilds is OK, but attempting to maintain the Mets’ role as a big market team along with affording the Wilpon family a degree of mystery as regards their financial strength has resulted in a variety of mixed messages to the fan base. Aiming for the team to remain competitive enough to sustain interest while doing what is necessary to revitalize a barren farm system is an admirable goal, but clearly one that requires a lot of gambles to pay off. Not surprisingly, the results have been desultory, to say the least.
If the team is now ready to rebound from its largely moribund performances of the past few seasons, we should expect that any infusion of new talent to the roster will properly address the weaknesses that are evident to anyone watching. At the same time, we have to hope that the strengths that the team does possess are not unduly compromised by any personnel shuffling that the future may hold. Still, I would expect that most of us are ready to have some eggs broken if the resulting omelet becomes a breakfast of champions. Let’s take a look at how the promised makeover could take shape:
OFFENSE: The team’s run production has been deplorable. Other than Murphy, Wright, and the surprisingly resurgent Byrd, there hasn’t been a dependable bat to be found, leaving the lineup bereft of the elements that can generate enough runs to allow even a pitcher of Matt Harvey’s meager support requirements to win consistently. The time has come to make a judgment on the very legitimacy of some of these player’s claims to a major league roster spot. This would appear to be the case now with Valdespin, who has been given an audition at second base to see if he can inject some life into the top of the order. So far the results have been disappointing, but the sample size is pretty small. With a player like that, it might never really happen or you could have a scenario similar to what has occurred with Carlos Gomez, now a world-beater years after being merely a piece in the Johan Santana trade. I’m not sure if anyone has the patience to see if ‘Spin’s tools have a chance of translating into a consistent offensive force before his lapses on the field and in the clubhouse become too great an issue to abide. Regardless, it might well be that he is being showcased with the intention of returning Murphy to the spot he has worked so hard to master.
What has really jumped out at me this year is the inability of the “supporting” bats, that is, the 5-6-7 hitters, to get a big hit with any regularity when the game is on the line. Even as the team struggles to hold down the opposition thanks to the as-always porous bullpen (we’ll get to them in a bit), there have been instances in game after game where “half rallies” have been staged, with runners getting on only to be left high and dry. There has been no spate of 3-run homers, bases-clearing doubles , or even timely bloops despite what seems to be regular opportunities for the lower part of the lineup. With most of these at-bats seeming to fall to John Buck and Lucas Duda, one is acutely aware of the former’s severe dropoff after his blazing start and the latter’s propensity for restricting his power displays to times when the bases are empty. It is clear that if the heart of the order is reasonably healthy with Wright and Murphy, the lungs and liver are showing signs of distress. Duda is still young enough and shows sufficient potential for me to want to see if he can step his game up as the season progresses, but to be frank, Buck is just killing them at this point. As we likely won’t be seeing Travis D’Arnaud before rosters expand in September, I think Terry Collins would be better off running Anthony Recker out there three times a week if only to give Buck some much needed rest. Ultimately, what we need to see is another legitimate bat find its way into the order behind the 3-4 slots so that somebody starts knocking those runners in. The most obvious spot for this to happen is first base, so the clock is ticking as far as Ike and a possible non-tender later this year.
BULLPEN: Boy, is this getting to be a tired topic or what? Now that Dillon Gee has largely regained his form, the rotation has been one of the few strengths of the team. Still, even if you get a quality start on a regular basis, you can’t have the bullpen cough up a couple of runs as often as this one has and stand a chance of winning with the anemic offense just described. It might be overwork (certainly in the case of Scott Rice), but there are other flaws in the design of the Mets’ pen that can’t be traced strictly to frequency of use. One of these is the seeming inability to get a strikeout when it’s needed. Despite ranking 6th in the league in relief innings pitched, the Mets’ pen is ranked next-to-last in strikeouts. The amount of contact permitted to the opposition has led to a bullpen ERA that is the highest in the league. Mr. Leathersich can’t get here soon enough, but in the meantime, reinforcements must be found in the form of anyone who can miss some bats for a change. I’m hoping that the return of Scott Atchison and possibly Pedro Feliciano can address this need to a degree, but clearly an emphasis on power arms is needed.
Looking farther ahead, if we anticipate a lineup that will eventually be bolstered by the addition of legitimate bats at catcher, the outfield, and first base (not too tall an order, eh?), and yet another makeover of the bullpen, the legitimate resources of the starting staff could be given a chance to make their presence felt in the form of ACTUAL WINS. This ain’t gonna happen overnight, but I’d love to see something start happening soon.
(Photo Credit: Gordon Donovan)