This is the last in a series of posts in which we flout teams for their farcical offseason foibles and felicitously flatter them for their formidable fancy footwork. This message has been brought to you by the letter “F”.
If you google the words “Mets” and “collapse”, you end up with over 494,000 results. If you google “Mets’ historic collapse”, you get 108,000 more. Needless to say, I was tired of hearing it and reading it. But all winter-long the sportswriters here in New York would not let it die. The team was broken, the scribes wrote. They were demoralized, downtrodden, and despaired. Sometimes you didn’t even know they were writing about a baseball team. They could have easily switched a few words around to make into the script from the movie “Platoon“:
“Day by day I struggle to maintain not only my strength but also my sanity. It’s all a blur. I have no energy to write. I don’t know what’s right or wrong anymore. The morale of the men is low, a civil war in the platoon. Half the men with Willie Randolph, half with Billy Wagner. There’s a lot of suspicion and hate. I can’t believe we’re fighting each other, when we should be fighting them.” – Mike Lupica
But rationality has to take over at some point. Consider this:
- The Mets lost 12 of their last 17 games (.294 winning percentage)
- The Phillies won 13 of their last 17 (.765 winning percentage)
- Both of the above happened. And the Phillies were still only one game ahead at the end of the season.
- At the Major League level, even the best teams have a hard time winning 60% of their games over the course of a full season, and even the worst can’t mess up badly enough to lose that much more than 60%.
So what happened to the New York Mets in the last three weeks of the 2007 regular season was incredibly unlikely, if not improbable, and I never saw this as a team that needed a total overhaul. That’s not to say that they were perfect, of course. They may have been good enough as they were constructed to win a division title in 2008. But if they wanted to go head-to-head with the AL powerhouses, they needed to upgrade.
And upgrade they did. For the last two seasons, this was a team without an ace. Tom Glavine was no longer Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez was healthy enough to only pitch 160 2/3 innings during that time. If it wasn’t for the emergence of John Maine and the reemergence of Oliver Perez, it would’ve been an ugly sight indeed. With Johan Santana replacing Tom Glavine and his 84-mph fastball in the Mets rotation, a weakness turned into a strength.
The other major addition(s) can’t really be called an upgrade. While I still believe that having Ryan Church instead of Lastings Milledge will pay more dividends in 2008, next year, all bets are off. And Brian Schneider is Brian Schneider. I believe he’s already broken records in the NY media for how many articles have been written about his ability to “handle a pitching staff” because there’s nothing else he can do (the previous record was held by John Stearns) . By the way, you know who must be really angry right now? Ramon Castro. The guy goes and slugs .556 in 144 ABs in 2007, only to have the team go out and fail to acquire Yorvit Torrealba, trade for Johnny Estrada, then trade for Brian Schneider. Brutal. But lucky for us, we’ll never know if he’s hanging his head despondently or if it just looks that way because his neck can no longer support his massive dome (If I disappear mysteriously within the next couple of weeks, just know that I probably deserved it).
The bullpen remains mainly unchanged, and I’m OK with that. While many pointed to the relievers for the Mets failures, I tend not to get too worked up over it. With the departure of Guillermo Mota, the only Mets arm that frightens me to see him on the mound now is Jorge Sosa. It’s not that I believe in Scott Schoeneweis. It’s more that I believe he’s a better pitcher than he was in 2007. I do have some concerns about Billy Wagner (who, according to this photo, likes to indiscriminately throw bagels onto the ground…), since he’s turning 37 during the season. The fastball just isn’t what it used to be, and Wagner himself seems to realize this as he’s apparently working a curveball into his repertoire. The Mets will benefit from having Duaner Sanchez back after an injury he sustained in a car accident back in July, 2006, followed by a fracture in his shoulder during Spring Training last year that ended his entire season. If Sanchez can perform as well as he was capable of a couple of years ago, he and Aaron Heilman should be a capable set-up duo.
But the 500lb gorilla in the room is that the injuries are already piling up. First, Carlos Delgado had an MRI on his bothersome hip. Then Marlon Anderson and Ryan Church collided while chasing a ball during a game last week. The next day, Ruben Gotay injured his ankle. Orlando Hernandez is changing his entire pitching mechanics because of pain in his foot (goodbye, leg kick), and now we find out that Jose Valentin actually has a dead guy’s ligament in his knee. As usual these days, Luis Castillo is still running like he’s been shot in his thigh. Moises Alou is out 4-6 weeks with a hernia. Not to mention that Carlos Beltran just played his first game this spring yesterday as he continues to recover from offseason surgery.
And I didn’t even mention some others. I’m not kidding. There’s more.
This has, fairly or not, been the main criticism of the Mets as they are currently constructed. No one was overly surprised to hear that El Duque, Delgado and Alou were already hurt, and yet, there isn’t anyone around that can replace their production – especially offensively. If Hernandez isn’t ready to go (although as the #5 starter, the team probably won’t need him for the first couple of weeks) for his first turn in the rotation, Mike Pelfrey would most likely step in and probably won’t perform much worse than Duque would have. It won’t be so cut and dried as to who should start in left in Alou’s absence, however. Technically, Endy Chavez is the team’s #4 OFer, but in actuality, he’s best suited to be a late-inning defensive replacement. The other options are Marlon Anderson and Angel Pagan. The latter is a “gritty” and “aggressive” player who probably doesn’t belong on a big league roster, and Anderson is a player who Mets fans probably think is better than he actually is, thanks to the .906 OPS he posted in 69 ABs for New York in 2007. The team has been rumored to be targeting Marcus Thames of the Tigers but he’s an out-making machine. It’s more likely that they stick with what they have and start the year with either Anderson or Chavez in Left.
ADDITIONS: Johan Santana, Ryan Church, Brian Schneider, Matt Wise, Angel Pagan, Ruddy Lugo, Steve Register
LOSSES: Tom Glavine, Lastings Milledge, Paul Lo Duca, Shawn Green, Carlos Gomez, Jeff Conine, Guillermo Mota, Brian Lawrence, Aaron Sele, Phil Humber, Chan Ho Park
PROJECTED BATTING ORDER:
1. Jose Reyes – SS
2. Luis Castillo – 2B (ugh)
3. Carlos Beltran – CF
4. David Wright – 3B
5. Carlos Delgado – 1B
6. Moises Alou – LF (once healthy)
7. Ryan Church – RF
8. Brian Schneider – C
1. Johan Santana
2. Pedro Martinez
3. John Maine
4. Oliver Perez
5. Orlando Hernandez
CL: Billy Wagner
SU: Aaron Heilman/Duaner Sanchez
OFF-SEASON GRADE: B-
Had I written this report one month earlier before all the injuries, I most likely would have given this team a higher grade. But I can’t simply ignore the likelihood that this team’s lineup and rotation will remain in flux for a good portion of the season due to the various ailments facing its players. I really don’t mind having Pelfrey in the rotation, but neither Alou’s nor Delgado’s production can be replaced effectively as it now stands – and that’s saying something because Delgado especially can no longer be relied upon to post above-average numbers for a first baseman.
Despite this, I still see the Mets as the favorites (on paper) to win the division. I’m not one to think that some voodoo magic has been cast upon the entire roster due to the demoralizing defeats last September. They landed the best pitcher on the planet without giving up top-notch prospects (primarily because the Mets didn’t really have any). Brian Schneider may be a black hole offensively, but he’s replacing the nearly as anemic Paul Lo Duca. As long as Jose Reyes produces at the level he’s capable of, the Mets offense should be able to produce as much as they did in 2007. IF health were not a factor, I actually think that this Mets team would be at least several games better than any of their NL East rivals. While it’s unlikely that this injury bug will continue to permeate the clubhouse at this rate, there is a seed of doubt here. But that’s the only thing that could really keep this team out of the playoffs.
NOW LET’S PLAY BALL!