Back in October, the New York Mets once again played the role of the little orphan children looking into the window of an aristocratic family serving Christmas dinner by a roaring fireplace in a Dickens novel. And although we’re already in February, the majority of the team remains interestingly unchanged save for one area – the bullpen.
Let me just state that on paper, the Mets bullpen didn’t need much fixin’. Yes, they were awful down the stretch. Down. Right. Awful. Luis Ayala is not a man who should be pitching meaningful innings. But their collectively terrible performance was an unlikely occurrence. Had the Mets kept the entire corp in tact, I’m confident that the pen would have been better in 2009. You can’t keep rolling snake eyes for that long.
But Mets fans wanted a change and a change is what they got. Francisco Rodriguez was signed to take over the closing duties. New York traded for J.J. Putz, who may actually be the team’s best reliever, and they received groundball machine Sean Green in the same deal. They also signed Tim Redding who will most likely be the long man, and acquired Connor Robertson by dumping Scott Schoeneweis on Arizona’s lap. For better or worse, the Mets bullpen will have a very different look in 2009.
At this point in the post I should point out that 2008 was a fluke, and bullpens are almost never as big a factor as they were in last season’s NL East race. While the Mets pen imploded, the Phillies enjoyed a perfect season from Brad Lidge. How often do such extremes occur? The majority of a single baseball game is played with the starters still on the mound, so more often than not, it’s the guys taking the ball at the onset of the game that makes the bigger impact.
The Mets brought in some new names on the starting pitching front but whether they’re better than their replacements is unclear. Gone is the ever-entertaining-unless-he’s-on-the-mound-at-that-moment Pedro Martinez. His spot will most likely be taken by Freddy Garcia, who signed an incentive-laden deal that could be worth as much as $8MM. Although just giving the keys to Jonathon Niese may have been the more cost-effective move with the same payoff, Garcia should be fine as a back of the rotation pitcher.
But the team also re-signed lefty Oliver Perez to a three-year $36MM that I knew was coming the moment Derek Lowe signed with Atlanta. Once the Braves ponied up, the Mets lost a ton of leverage in their negotiations with Scott Boras. Oliver Perez is a league average pitcher. And apparently, this still costs you $36MM. I kind of want to weep.
For all the Mets’ moves, the fans are fixated on the player the team didn’t sign — Manny Ramirez. The team currently plans on sending out a platoon of lefty Daniel Murphy and righty Fernando Tatis into leftfield and to say that neither is of the caliber of Ramirez is quite the understatement. However, if the Mets were to get involved in the Manny hunt, the organization would dramatically increase Boras’ leverage once again. Ramirez has already turned down $25MM/1 and $45MM/2 offers – and that’s with only one team (Dodgers) actually bidding.
The true motivation behind the Mets’ refusal to become involved in the Ramirez sweepstakes is unclear. Are they wary of signing a 36-year old to a three-year deal worth what could be $75MM? Did they determine that his bat isn’t worth his antics? Or did the Madoff ponzi scheme (Mets co-owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz reportedly lost hundreds of millions) drastically change any plans Omar Minaya had drawn up?
The only excuse that won’t sit well with me is #2. Clearly, Manny did not prevent the Red Sox from winning two championships. Joe Posnanski thinks he’s a winner. And that’s good enough for me. While his defense in left may be comedic, how much worse is he than Tatis or Murphy – neither of whom were outfielders before 2008?
Added: Francisco Rodriguez, J.J. Putz, Freddy Garcia, Sean Green, Livan Hernandez, Tim Redding, Cory Sullivan, Rob Mackowiak, Bobby Kielty, Valerio de los Santos, Alex Cora, Jeremy Reed, Casey Fossum, Connor Robertson, Rocky Cherry, Darren O’Day
Lost: Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou, Aaron Heilman, Scott Schoeneweis, Endy Chavez, Joe Smith, Luis Ayala, Mike Carp, Jason Vargas, Ambiorix Burgos, Damion Easley, Orlando Hernandez, Ricardo Rincon, Matt Wise
C: Brian Schneider
1B: Carlos Delgado
2B: Luis Castillo
3B: David Wright
SS: Jose Reyes
LF: Daniel Murphy/Fernando Tatis
CF: Carlos Beltran
RF: Ryan Church
SP1: Johan Santana
SP2: Mike Pelfrey
SP3: John Maine
SP4: Oliver Perez
SP5: Freddy Garcia/Jon Niese/Livan Hernandez/Tim Redding
CL: Francisco Rodriguez
I suppose it’s to Omar Minaya’s credit that he didn’t push the panic button after two consecutive late-season failures. Then again, the Mets didn’t have many tradable assets. The only area of the team that received much attention was the bullpen, which is, on paper, improved quite a bit. However, the Mets cannot count on Murphy and Tatis to perform as well as they did last season. And the clock is ticking on Carlos Beltran, who is no longer young. Plus Delgado, Schneider and Castillo are past their primes and in decline. If logic holds, the Mets will not score as many runs this year as they did in 2008.
So the question becomes: can they prevent more from scoring? Johan Santana is still among the elite. While he had a very strong 2008, Mike Pelfrey needs to prove that it was no fluke. John Maine is coming back from shoulder surgery and Oliver Perez will continue to give fans occassional major headaches. So the key once again may be in the hands of the bullpen. Anddue to the nature of relievers – having so few innings to perform at a high level – that is always going to be a crapshoot.