Reason To Watch

As I’ve been watching our beloved Mets this season, going through cases of Pepto-Bismol and Alka-Seltzer, I’ve still kept an interest in seeing the team win, no matter how many games out of first we’ve been.  Recently, it’s gotten much tougher to get genuinely excited over wins, though having them spaced so far apart does help increase the excitement when we get one.  But, for the first time in a few years, I have a different reason to look forward to late-season baseball for our New York Mets.  It’s not with the hopes of playing in the Postseason, or even to spoil the Postseason for other teams, and it’s not to see the talent that hope to grace Citi Field in 3-4 years; it’s for next year.
For many of the lower-tiered teams, the end of the season represents a time to see what’s cooking in AAA and AA to see what the future holds.  With all of our injuries, we’ve already seen many of those players come and go this year, from prized prospect Fernando Martinez to Jon Niese and Nick Evans.  So, while in a similar position in the standings to those teams looking for their diamonds from the Minors to shine through, we’re instead looking for holes.  Not because of our depleted Minor League system, but because we need to look at what holes actually need to be filled for 2010.

We can all agree that the Mets are set at a few positions for next year: Shortstop, Third Base, Center Field, the Top Spot in the Rotation, and the Closer’s role.  What the final two months brings the Mets is the opportunity to see what the other positions are: holes that need to be filled, or spots that will do just fine.  Daniel Murphy has been playing First Base for a few months now, and while his bat has been in an extended hibernation for this year, his defensive abilities and aggressiveness have shown through.  Many Mets fans are clamoring for a free agent signing to come to Queens next year to boot him from his spot, and these final months of the season represent his chance to prove he belongs.

We know Castillo’s not going to be replaced unless we find someone to eat his contract, but he has a chance to continue to prove his worth to Met fans and quiet us from begging for his removal like we did last year.  He’s been on fire over the last little while, and should he continue that through the end of the season, I’m sure we’ll all be more comfortable with the future of our Second Baseman.

Left Field is a bit of a wild card.  Angel Pagan has looked electrifying at times, and downright disastrous at others.  His baserunning blunders have left us agape, as have some of the routes he’s taken to fly balls.  But his abilities and sometimes-clutch performances could have him playing leftfield full-time for the Mets in 2010.  His biggest issue since the Mets acquired him from the Cubbies has been staying healthy, and while a two-month stint in the Majors with no issues isn’t a sign that he’s past the bug, it certainly couldn’t hurt.  Interestingly enough, I feel that Angel being accepted as our everyday Left Fielder relies more heavily on our Right Fielder than it does on his play, and that’s the reason that I didn’t put Right Field in as a “set” position above.

Jeff “Frenchy” Francoeur has looked nearly like his old self in a Mets uni, and no one seems happier with Frenchy donning the Orange and Blue than he is.  What we are looking for from Francoeur in these last weeks of the season is whether he can return to his 2006 form (kinda strange, no?) and show a homerun swing.  In 2006, Francoeur hit 29 home runs, and while it’s not the 38 that Delgado hit in 2006 and in 2008, it would certainly make the Mets more of a deep-ball threat if Frenchy can somewhat replace Delgado on the power end next year.  If he does (and with 5 HRs in 28 games as a Met entering today — a pace of 29 HRs per 162 games — he’s well on his way), the Mets may not need to fill that power gap in the lineup by replacing Angel Pagan in LF.

Which brings me to Catcher (you’ll see the connection in a second).  Our catcher’s spot has not seemed fantastic, but somehow it has been.  While he may not be The Answer, Omir Santos has filled in very nicely behind the plate this year, and our catcher’s spot as a whole has been near the top of the Majors in RBI this year.  However, our current tandem of Schneider and Santos have combined for just 9 HRs this year, which would qualify as the 14th-most amongst ML catchers if they counted as 1 person.  However, two of the catchers near the top of that list could be available in the free agent market next year.  31-year-old Victor Martinez and his 17 HRs will hit the market if the Red Sox decline an option worth nearly $8MM, and 31-year-old Miguel Olivo and his 16 HRs will hit the market if his mutual $3.25MM option is not picked up by the Royals or if he chooses to leave KC.  What Santos needs to do (more-so than Schneider, who is a free agent after this year) is prove that we need him more than we need Angel Pagan in the field and in the lineup.  The odds of us going after a big-money free agent hitter may not be all that great with the Coupons running the gig, but if we did, it may come down to a Catcher or a Left Fielder.  Omir does not have the greatest bat, and his 44 home runs career at every level combined prove that, but he can prove his worth calling games and defensively.

Now we come to the rotation.  We know Johan’s a lock at #1, so the next little while is all about Big Pelf and Ollie Ollie Auch Sind Frei can show, more-so with Ollie.  Right now, we have a bona-fide #1, and a bunch of #3/4 pitchers.  Right now, our rotation for next year looks like it could be Johan, Pelfrey, Ollie, Maine, and Jon Niese, assuming Mainer manages to regain his arm strength.  However, none of the bottom 4 of that rotation has shown the abilities to pitch in the 2-slot.  With Maine and Niese both hurt, it’s up for grabs between Perez and Pelfrey.  We need to see one of them step it up consistently through the end of the season to prove their worth as a #2, or we will know what hole needs to be filled first.

And finally the bullpen.  While a weak spot in recent years and not the unbelievable force that many of us felt it would be this season, what we should be focused on is the performance and the comebacks of Billy Wagner and J.J. Putz.  This last section of the season is their chance to prove that they are worth the money to set up Frankie Rodriguez in 2010 should they choose to accept that role for another year.  It’s also a chance for Bobby Parnell (should he be rightfully returned to the bullpen) to show if he has what it takes to setup Frankie and free up the money to fill other holes.  It’s also a chance for some other guys to prove that they can join Pedro Feliciano as middle- and long-relief pitchers next year and don’t need to be replaced.

While many are on “Minaya & Manuel Watch” for the rest of the year to see if they deserve to return in 2010, I’m more interested in seeing how the players treat the end of a disappointing season.  That’s why I’ll be watching every chance I get, 1st place or last, for the rest of 2009, because our performance may not matter, but it certainly counts.