Hope Springs Eternal, Especially Among Met Fans

Occasionally, all of us become downtrodden, pessimistic, and critical of the Mets. Even the most faithful and patient Met fans have problems with this. We vacillate between positive and negative storylines and opinions in our comments, our radio calls, our blog writing and reporting.  I’d like to take a positive look at what the Mets have done and give hope to all of us for 2010…

The need for good health takes precedent over all our off season moves. We as fans should not forget that this team was pretty good until the parade of injuries that beset this ballclub last year.  Good health is an imperative this season, and except for Carlos Beltran’s setback, our team seems healthy for the first time in a long time. 

Seeing our Mets on the field whether in photos from the Port St. Lucie mini-camp, or video feeds on SNY, provides fans with the first glimpses of spring.  Personally, I don’t need to see a robin or wait for the groundhog.  I see Johan throw and Ollie looking to be in great shape, and the cold winter seems to melt away bringing spring ever so closer.

Although player procurement continues and additions will in all likelihood also continue, let’s see where we are now.

Going around the diamond, lets take a look at each position.  At the end of each we will say whether the glass is half full or half empty or hope for the best…

Position Players

Daniel Murphy – Murph was essentially a square peg in a round hole last season. He was thrown to the wolves in LF. His defense most assuredly was deficient.  His bat work, supposedly the strength of his game suffered. When he became the first baseman after Delgado’s injury and other player’s ineffectiveness, he settled down. He markedly improved in the second half last year both offensively and defensively, most importantly, he’ll only be 25 on April Fools Day. Glass half full.

Luis Castillo – Luis had an excellent bounce back year for the Mets. Offensively, he is just a singles hitter now, but is the best bunter in the game as well.  Defensively, he needs to improve his footwork around the bag.  Luis shouldn’t be admonished for his lack of range, rather, the coaching staff should be chided for not realizing that Luis has lost a step and using better positioning to enhance the range Luis does have left.  He came into camp last year in fabulous shape. Let’s hope he’s in great shape again. Hope for the best.

Jose Reyes – Jose was injured most of the season. When healthy, Jose is one of he best weapons in the game offensively. Essentially, Jose is the most important Met. As Jose goes, so go the Mets. His ability to turn singles and walks to doubles, and doubles to triples, is almost as important as the power that Beltran, Wright, and Bay provide. He has that smile and that infectious enthusiasm that makes Jose who he is. His glove is an asset. With better concentration, it’s easy to foresee Jose winning a gold glove in the future, maybe this year.  Jose may have a chip on his shoulder to prove his leg injuries are behind him.  That’s a good thing. Motivation is a wonderful tool.  Glass half full.

David Wright – David had an off year in 2009. We all know it. Just having Jay Bay in the lineup for protection will make him better offensively. Defensively, David needs to rededicate himself to improving his footwork and his throwing. The “team leader” mantra, I believe, weighs too heavily on him at times. This soft spoken star is not yet ready to lead regardless of the fans and media prodding. CitiField stadium got into his head as well. He will bounce back after a winter to relax and refocus his hitting approach. He’s only 27. Glass half full.

Jason Bay – Jason had a wonderful season in Boston offensively.  The Mets say his swing will translate to strong power numbers at Citi. His defense was questioned, but this is a guy who had no errors and 15 assists. He may not have the best range, but he works hard and gives his best effort every night. He’s easily the best LF we’ve had since the days of KMac in the ‘80’s. Arguably, the best LF we’ve ever had.  Glass half full.

Carlos Beltran – Carlos was injured much of last season.  But when healthy, was there any doubt he was the Mets best all around player? Offensively, he was hitting for a high average. His glove was as good and as gold as ever.  He returned in late ’09 and seemed okay. Then came knee pain in December during workouts. Then came surgery after subsequent examinations proved the need was real. Carlos knee problems are not going away. He, right now, cannot be counted on for a contribution until probably mid-May or June at the earliest. (Don’t kid yourself, the Mets are worried about Beltran hence the GMJ acquisition) Glass half empty.

Jeff Francoeur – Frenchy was a bright spot after being acquired from Atlanta for Ryan Church. His professionalism and enthusiasm were infectious in the Met clubhouse. He played well both offensively and defensively.  Howard Johnson should receive kudos for helping “Frenchy” with his swing.  A solid all around player who appears to have been invigorated by his liberation from Atlanta where he was born, raised and played.  If this guy reverts to his form of his first 2 years, the Mets and we fans will jump for joy.  Glass half full.

Omir Santos – Omir was a total surprise for the Mets. After showing surprising hitting acumen, he forced the Mets into dealing Ramon Castro and defensively seemed to hold his own.  Rumors persist of the Mets being unhappy with his game calling. The signing of Henry Blanco proves the Mets belief in the need for better defense and game calling. Hope for the best

The Bench With the bench, usually it’s better to wait to evaluate when the roster is set at the conclusion of Spring Training, but here’s the “for sure” guys at this time…

Angel Pagan – Angel will either be the starter for Beltran till he returns or be packaged for a starter if performance or health in the rotation dictates such a move. The guy was a revelation offensively, and was pretty good defensively too. His base running gaffes are a joke; the coaching staff and Angel must be better prepared and teach him situational baseball better than he’s been taught.  His 22 doubles and 11 triples in a little over half a season were outstanding. He’s a quality player who may be a late bloomer. Glass half full.

Gary Matthews Jr. – Junior is insurance against a prolonged injury to Beltran. Don’t be fooled however, if Pagan is needed in a trade for a starting pitcher during the spring GMJ will be starting in CF till Beltran is ready, or Fernando Martinez will be the starter and Matthews Jr. will stay in the role best suited for him. Let the arguments over his acquisition end. For a 4th or 5th outfielder, he’ll do fine. He’s a better choice than Cory Sullivan or Jeremy Reed.  Glass half full.

Henry Blanco – Henry is still a superior defensive catcher but is still 38. Offensively, Henry is a great defensive catcher, enough said.  Blanco’s expertise may be in helping Josh Thole and Omir Santos learn to call a game better. He’s definitely an improvement over Brian Schneider, especially defensively. Glass half full.

Alex Cora – Alex was brought back as much for his leadership and intangibles as his baseball skills. He is a pretty decent utility man. Last year he was overexposed, of this there can be no doubt. If used judiciously to rest Reyes and Castillo, he will prove to be acceptable. Glass half full.

The Rotation

Johan Santana – Johan is simply one of the top starters in the game. Injuries are the only thing that can stop a future date in Cooperstown. He’s now healthy and the undisputed leader of this pitching staff. Glass half full.

Mike Pelfrey – “Big Pelf” was a bit of mystery in ’09 after a breakout ’08. Pelfrey has excellent stuff but needs to mature mentally.  He really just needs to stop worrying about painting the corners and trust his stuff.  If he gives up a hit or a fielding error occurs behind him, he goes to pieces. This lack of mental maturity is as much to blame as anything. His body language on the mound last year screamed of the player putting too much pressure on himself.  Still, he is only 26, and will improve.  Glass half full.

John Maine – John has a problem. He’s his own biggest critic. He needs to stop analyzing every pitch in every start and just go out and throw. His high pitch count early in games may be attributed more to the movement on his pitches than missing his spots. He’s healthy this year and feeling good. Perhaps he’ll have better mechanics with no more pain; in turn this will improve his pitch location and reduce his pitch count, which will reduce the stress on his arm, which also helps the pen. John is still only 29. Glass half full.

Oliver Perez – “Ollie” is healthy now and seems more mature and focused in his interviews. After a lost season and the heaping helping of criticism he received, maybe he’s finally begun to mature, as his off season workouts may indicate. Ollie has great talent, a rubber arm, and the attention span of a gnat. He needs to find his proper arm angle and replicate his delivery consistently, start after start. If he does so, he’ll be in the mix for “comeback player of the year”. He is still only 28. Glass half full.

Fernando Nieve – Fernando showed great promise in his few starts for the Mets. He was 3-3 2.95 ERA. If he can throw strikes consistently, he has enough ability to stick either as a number 5 or long man in the pen. Nieve throws hard and has a power arm. He is only 27. Hope for the best.

Jon Niese – Jon has ability. Jon Niese is ready. Niese who had mastered a cutter last season was brought up to plug the injuries for the major league staff. He was bitten by the same injury bug as quite a few of his teammates, tearing his hamstring tendon.  Niese appears to have turned a corner in Triple AAA last season. He’s lefty, and he’s only 23. If his injuries are behind him, he’ll contribute in 2010. Maybe not right away, but at some point for sure. Glass half full.

The Bullpen – The bullpen, like the bench, usually changes but a quick evaluation of those that will probably be there is worth a look.

Francisco Rodriguez – “Frankie” is still a great closer. He did struggle a bit the second half of last season, but can that be attributed more to the teams standing or is Frankie losing something? I think Frankie needs the adrenaline rush of a pennant race to become effective again. Closing in meaningless games seemed to affect him mentally. His WHIP was only a tick higher. His ERA was a full run and a half higher over the previous season. Lest we forget, most players have a near 1 year adjustment period in New York. Ask Carlos Beltran. Frankie is only 28 this season. Let’s hope for the best. Glass half full.

Ryota Igarashi – Ryota is a reliever that has a power arm and wicked splitter. The soon to be 30 year old can be viewed throwing over at YouTube. He appears to have a fastball that explodes up and in to right handed batters. His split is obviously his “out” pitch. Hope for the best.

Kelvim Escobar – Kelvim is coming off shoulder surgery. He’s been a starter out in LA for the Angels, but will be a reliever in NY as he was early in his career with Toronto. Escobar has always had good movement on his pitches. Now pain free, he’ll be more effective as a setup man at this point in his career. Hope for the best.

Sean Green – Sean had an uneven, inconsistent year with the Mets. Another player who was overexposed last season due to injuries, He did terribly early, and made adjustments later in the season.  Sean is a situational reliever, not a setup man. If used as such, He should prosper. Hope for the best.

Pedro Feliciano – Pedro was very good last season. The soon to be 34 year old was used in 88 games and threw 59 + innings. His WHIP was only 1.16. Most important is his status as our primary LH reliever.  A quality pitcher, the Mets need another season like last year from Pedro to return to their winning ways. There is no reason to think Pedro can’t be successful again as long as he’s not overused. Glass half full.

Bobby Parnell – Bobby” had an up and down season last year and was force fed on the major league level. His true calling appears to be as a reliever. He just doesn’t have enough quality pitches beyond his fastball to be considered a starter.  He does throw very hard. I watched games where he hit 99 on the JUGS gun. If he had better movement with that pitch and learned a splitter, Bobby could be devastating as a short reliever. Glass half full.

If you look at things objectively, the Mets could be very good this year.  Or bad again. It will depend on health and bounce back seasons from almost everyone on the team.  Younger players need to progress, and veterans need to return to form.  Indeed, hope springs eternal optimism, especially in baseball, especially with our Mets.