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December 2009

The 2009 Mets: A Year Of Misery, Injury, And Instability

It was not supposed to be this way. The New York Mets had addressed their biggest need in the off-season by re-tooling their bullpen with the additions of Francisco Rodriquez and JJ Putz. They had a core coming back that included David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, and Johan Santana. They also were expecting the continued development of youngsters like Mike Pelfrey and Daniel Murphy coupled with the fact that a trimmed down Luis Castillo looked great both at the plate and on the field.

But several things went wrong from the start as the team convened in Port St Lucie in mid-February. First of all, they sent a small city of Mets to the WBC limiting the time Jerry Manuel and his coaching staff had to instill fundamentals during the spring. To have players perform on a stage like the WBC so early in the year would prove to be bad news for the Mets when you consider--David Wright, Oliver Perez, JJ Putz, Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran all spent time on the disabled list during the season. And the common thread was they all participated in the WBC--Coincidence? Maybe but I think playing those games curtailed the normal conditioning schedule that most players employ in spring training.

To make matters worse, Oliver Perez returned from the WBC looking very little like the pitcher that left for the Classic. Dan Warthen, Mets pitching coach put it best when he said, "Oliver looks out of shape as he gained weight during the WBC." It was a condition that would have a debilitating effect on the Met southpaw which enraged Met fans when you consider he had just signed a 3 year $39 million contract. It was a situation that he would never recover from as Perez had 2 separate stints on the disabled list culminating with a September 1 surgery to remove scar tissue from his right knee.

The Mets were also planning the unveiling of their new digs-CitiField--but with that came some issues. The Bernie Madoff scandal had many experts wondering whether the team would have budgetary concerns going into the season and there was public pressure exerted on the team in wake of the Citicorp bail out money. Many people questioned how a company getting bail out money could be allowed to allocate millions of dollars to a long-term deal like the naming rights of a new ballpark.

Still, the Mets broke camp with the feeling they could contend and erase the bad taste of the last 2 Septembers and so many experts felt they could challenge the Phillies for supremacy in the NL East. Even Sports Illustrated hopped on the bandwagon as they picked the team to win it all.

So, the Mets opened their 2009 season in Cincy and things could not have gone better as Johan Santana went 5.2 strong innings while the new Met bullpen threw 3.1 scoreless innings to lift their opening day record to 31-17, tops in major league history. Daniel Murphy had a big day as well hitting a homer and driving in 2 in a tightly contested 2-1 win. After winning 2 of 3 from the Reds, the Mets traveled to Florida where they would experience their first of many ugly defensive moments in 2009.

In the rubber game of the 3 game series, Johan Santana and Josh Johnson dueled in a superbly pitched game which the Mets lost because of 2 unearned runs in the second inning after Daniel Murphy botched a routine fly ball in left field. After the game, the Met ace did not pull any punches when he said, "We have to make plays like that because one game could be the difference in our season." It was the first of many defensive lapses the team would have and a glimpse into the future of the 2009 Mets.

But the Mets came home 3-3 all set to open up their new home in the first-ever regular season game at CitiField tangling with the Padres. After the 2 biggest stars in Met history, Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza threw the ceremonial first pitch, Mike Pelfrey took the mound for the Amazins. And all it took was 3 pitches for the Mets to trail as Jody Gerut hit a fastball into the right field stands and they made it 4-0 with a 3 run second inning. A David Wright home run (one of only 5 homers Wright would hit at CitiField all year)tied it but the Padres scratched out a run as the Mets were forced to watch ex-teammate Heath Bell lock down the game in the ninth.

After splitting their first 12 games, the Mets got swept by the Cardinals in Saint Louis with some poor pitching which sent them into a tailspin leaving them at 10-13 trailing the first place Marlins by 3 games as the Phillies started almost as slowly as the Mets. But just like that, the team rattled off seven wins in a row which put them in sole possession of first place on May 10 after a 8-4 win over the Pirates.

Later that month, the Mets embarked on a 3-city, 10-game road trip that would signal the beginning of the end of their season. The trip started out pretty good with 3 straight wins over the Giants but the injury bug was beginning to creep into the Mets clubhouse. Jose Reyes was experiencing discomfort in his lower leg and Carlos Delgado had a painful hip while Carlos Beltran was playing with a painful knee bone bruise. This left the Met lineup severely depleted even with Gary Sheffield picking up some of the slack and so the Mets left Frisco 21-16 but still in first place before THAT game in Los Angeles.

The date was May 18th and if one day defined the Met season it was this one as the team played perhaps their worst game in team history. I remember sitting with the great Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully who said to me, "Rich I thought we were all in a time tunnel and it was 1962." A tightly contested game went into extra innings and in the 11th, things got really bizarre. Ryan Church scored on a Angel Pagan extra base hit or at least, he thought he scored but Church missed third base and an appeal play overturned the run. Then in the bottom of the inning, Carlos Beltran and Angel Pagan let a routine fly drop in because of a lack of communication and then Jeremy Reed, who was inserted at first base because of injuries, committed a throwing error, the Mets fifth miscue of the game, to cough up the contest.

Kirby Lee/US Presswire

This game insured the fact that both Ryan Church and Jeremy Reed would remain in Jerry Manuel's doghouse for the rest of the season. In fact, the Met manager referred to Church as "that guy" in his post-game media session further cementing the rift between the two. Later that week, things got worse as Jose Reyes re-injured his calf and Carlos Delgado would be forced to surgically repair his painful hip.

So, the Mets went to Boston in search of a way to right their ship as Jerry Manuel now had to find a first basemen and a shortstop because of the injuries to Reyes and Delgado. The situation was further exacerbated because back up shortstop Alex Cora was also on the injury list and so Ramon Martinez was forced to play out of position at shortstop. Things looked bleak as the Mets pulled into Fenway but their star pitcher and their back up catcher saved the day.

Johan Santana out dueled Dice-K in the opener while the next night, Mike Pelfrey gave up only 2 runs to the high octane Red Sox before leaving the game trailing the game 2-1. But in what might have been a glimpse into the Red Sox future, Omir Santos hit a 2 run homer off Jonathon Papelbon in what was originally ruled a double but was overturned by an instant replay review. Strangely enough, JJ Putz closed the game and not K-Rod as it was revealed that the Met closer was suffering from back spasms so severe he could not even tie his own shoes.

K-Rod's condition was not serious as he was available the next day but JJ Putz clearly was pitching hurt as the velocity on his fastball was down 5-6 MPH and his elbow precluded him from throwing his splitter at all. The series in Boston energized the Mets and they followed it up with a 4 game winning streak that put them back in first place on May 29th. Unfortunately for them, it was the last time the Mets would reside in the division penthouse.

As the team entered June, they were surviving but anyone close to the club could see they were teetering on the edge while the impossible seemed to continue to haunt the team. In the first week of June while in Pittsburgh, a SNY staffer was rumored to have the Swine flu and that sent shockwaves through both the press box and the Met clubhouse. That feeling only intensified when Carlos Beltran was rendered so ill he did not leave the hotel raising speculation that the Met star centerfielder was afflicted with that particular strain of the Swine flu. It turned to be a false alarm but was he first of many "medical reports" the team issued that confused many of the Met beat reporters including myself.

June was a brutal month for the Mets on the field as well as they dropped 6 of 9 games before heading into Yankee Stadium for the first encounter with their dreaded cross-town rivals and on June 12th the team's shoddy defense showed its ugly head once again. With the game tied in the 8th inning, the Mets got a clutch David Wright RBI double off Mariano Rivera to take the lead and so K-Rod strode to the mound, to try to lock down the game.

After a 2 out walk to Mark Teixiera that put 2 out and 2 on, Alex Rodriquez stepped to the plate and he popped a 3-1 pitch high into the infield sky at Yankee Stadium and then the impossible happened. Luis Castillo backpedaled and looked a little unsteady but after all this is just an infield pop so he will catch it. Right? Wrong--Castillo dropped it scoring both Derek Jeter and Teixiera pinning a brutal loss on K-Rod who also absorbed his first blown save of the season. For Met fans, it was a punch in the gut that forced one to say,"I hated that place across the street and it has taken me exactly one night to hate this place."

To Castillo's credit, he answered every question after the game and was very contrite about his misplay. Still, as much as that Dodger loss defined the season, the season officially ended for the Mets on this night. They were never quite the same emotionally after it. The back story of this game included a comment the next day from Yankee reliever Brian Bruney who insisted he was elated this happened to K-Rod. It was something that would precipitate an on-field altercation between Bruney and the Met closer in which Mike Pelfrey and Derek Jeter both restrained K-Rod which precluded it from going any further than a shouting match.

By the end of the month, the Mets had fallen to 37-39 but were still only 3 games off the pace in the NL East and were looking forward to getting some players back after the All Star break. They felt even better after a Mike Pelfrey shutout in Milwaukee and a 9-8 extra inning thriller in Pittsburgh which put them a mere 1 game behind the Phils heading into a Fourth of July weekend series at Citizen Bank Park.

The Phillies dominated a depleted Met lineup minus Reyes, Delgado, and Beltran and outscored the Amazins by a combined 13-3 in a 3 game series that seemed to send the Phils on their way and at the same time, send the Mets down the chute. By the time baseball convened in Saint Louis for the All-Star game, the Mets were 6.5 games back and, despite their promise some injured players would return, many experts figured they were done.

After the break, we all found out the promise of the return of those injured Mets was greatly exaggerated as Reyes and Beltran were both still experiencing a high degree of pain and Delgado had barely begun his rehab. A 4-6 road trip to start the second half put the Mets in a deeper hole as the Phillies found their stride. The end of the month found the team 10 games back of the Phils and for all intents and purposes, they were officially done.

As things cooled down on the field, stories began brewing off the field. Largely because of a scathing article written by Daily News beat writer Adam Rubin about Tony Bernazard, the Mets launched an internal investigation on the embattled team executive. And on July 27th, they concluded that the only course of action would be to terminate him. While announcing that decision to all of us at a press briefing, Omar Minaya stated that Rubin may have had ulterior motives in moving on this story. It was the most bizarre moment I experienced in a season full of bizarre moments. And the story would not die until the team issued not 1-not 2--but 3 apologies for the incident.

As the Mets entered August, there were dead in the water on the field with news that injured players Jose Reyes and JJ Putz had suffered setbacks in their rehab and it appeared highly likely that Billy Wagner would return before any of the other injured players. After a 10-19 August, the team staggered into September at 59-72 assuring them of their worst season in the Omar Minaya regime and after the Rubin incident, criticisms of the Mets general manager abounded in the media.

Injuries continued to plaque the team as Johan Santana, Oliver Perez, and Alex Cora would all require season ending surgeries while Reyes, Delgado, and Putz would never return. Carlos Beltran did come back in September and looked very good which bodes well for 2010. Ryan Church was shipped out to Atlanta in exchange for Jeff Francoeur who provided some offense and became a very stabilizing force in the Met clubhouse.

David Wright, who struggled all year in the power department despite hitting .300, got beaned by Matt Cain in an August game but did return in September. Players like Angel Pagan and Cory Sullivan got extended playing time and Daniel Murphy had a good second half which might land him the first base job in 2010.

But the 2009 season was perhaps the most disappointing in Mets history as heavy expectations were put in place for the team that had the highest payroll in the National League. In fairness to them, they had more of that payroll on the disabled list than they did on the active roster for most of the season. Still, the Mets are missing that special sauce that all teams need to win a title. Players like Santana, K-Rod, Beltran, Francoeur, and Wright seem to have it but they must find that tenacity the Phils have EVERY single day.

Jeff Wilpon promised the team would be active players in the off-season free agent market but a thin market has made that a tough task. Jason Bay and Bengie Molina remain targets for Omar Minaya but they may have to overpay if they want both of them and that may not be the wisest course of action when the 2010 Free Agent class might be considerably deeper than this year's class.

Getting healthy is the best Christmas gift the team could give their fans and all signs point to successful rehabs for Reyes, Beltran, and Santana. Oliver Perez seems to be hell bent on earning his multi-million dollar contract by rehabbing in Arizona instead of going home and that could enhance the team's chances as well.

The division has gotten better as the Braves added 2 proven relievers in Wagner and Saito while the Phils now have the sport's best pitcher in Roy Halladay. But baseball is a strange game and things change in a hurry and we have all learned that from the last few baseball seasons. There is however one thing we are all sure about--no group of people in this city will be more happy to say goodbye to 2009 and see the ball drop than the New York Mets. Because 2009 was a nightmare that refused to end and maybe turning the calendar to 2010 will be the best thing to happen to the Mets all year.

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Vazquez To Yanks - How Will That Affect Mets?

With Javier Vazquez going to the Bronx, it will have a domino effect on the market for both free agent starting pitchers and the left field duo of Jason Bay/Matt Holliday. For the Mets, its is a like a good news-bad news day because it could help them land a starting pitcher while it might re-define the market for Jason Bay.

First the good news--Getting Vazquez effectively takes the Yankees out of the market for a starting pitcher and when you consider high payroll teams like the Red Sox, Phillies, and Cubs are not looking for pitching and add in the fact the Dodgers are not looking to add a dollar to their budget you get the sense the Mets might be able to grab a Joel Pinhiero for far less than the market price had escalated to during the Winter Meetings. It might also bring the price down for a guy like Ben Sheets who might finally realize a pitcher coming off an injury is in no position to ask for the moon. Even a skilled hurler like Sheets.

Now the not so good news--We have all been desperately trying to figure out who this mystery team is that is pursuing Jason Bay. Up until today, I firmly believed that was pure fiction orchestrated by his agent to drive up the price on the Mets. But losing $11 million dollars off their payroll makes the Braves a player for another bat plus with Cabrera likely in right and McClouth in center, there is a spot for Bay in the Braves outfield. If history has taught us anything about the Braves, they act quickly once they dump payroll.

This might also help Matt Holliday and Johnny Damon whom it seemed had limited options just 24 hours ago as Damon may now be in play in the Bronx while Holliday may get a sniff from the Braves. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Holliday may also get a call from Brian Cashman or even Bay.

Things just got a little trickier for Omar Minaya thanks to his friends across the river but he must still proceed with caution. I feel the same about Bay and Holliday as I have all off-season--they are very good players but not difference makers and neither is worthy of more than a 4 year contract. You may be able to re-sign Carlos Delgado and get the same RBI production for less dollars and less committed years. And you can put that money into pitching which is the primary need of this team.

Not the Christmas present Met fans are looking for but it would be the right course of action for the Mets.

Are The Phils Unbeatable Now?

The defending two-time National League Champions sent shockwaves throughout baseball yesterday by closing in on a deal for the prize pitcher in baseball-Roy Halladay--but the question remains how much better are the Phils now than they were yesterday. The long-term effect on their payroll and the loss of Cliff Lee could become a steep price to pay for the Jays righthander.

If the Phillies were able to land Halladay AND keep Cliff Lee I think this deal could have made them nearly unbeatable but giving up Lee is no small issue here. It is hard to believe, as good as Halladay is, he could have pitched any better than Lee did down the stretch or in the playoffs last year. Now I fully understand that the Phils felt their ability to re-sign Lee after the 2010 season would have been a huge question mark as he seems determined to test the free-agent waters and so locking up an ace beyond 2010 is a sound strategy.

However, another thing to consider is the Phillies payroll as they have indicated that they would like to hold it firm at $140 million but this deal coupled with the Placido Polanco signing will likely put their committed dollars for 2010 at $128 Million. And that figure does not include arbitration numbers yet to be determined for Shane Victorino, Carlos Ruiz, Joe Blanton, and Chad Durbin. It also does not include allocations for the rest of the bullpen (minus Lidge and Madsen who are already signed) and the bench. That leads me to believe that Blanton will likely have to be moved as his arbitration figure should be at least $7 million. And this could hurt the depth of their starting rotation as Blanton, Lee, and Pedro Martinez would comprise 60% of their 2009 rotation and despite the addition of Halladay, 2 of those spots will need to be filled by somebody.

The bottom line here is the Phils did indeed improve their team as Halladay is a stud but only time will tell if the upgrade is worth dealing Lee, the #1 pitching prospect in the organization, and losing some depth in their starting rotation.

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Mets Offer Contracts to Molina And Bay But What About Lackey?

The New York Mets have made initial contract offers to both Bengie Molina and Jason Bay but it makes you stop and think whether the Bay offer is an attempt to gauge the true interest that John Lackey has in pitching at CitiField.

Signing Molina is a no-brainer because he will help a Met pitching staff get better with his superior ability to manage the game from behind the plate and he will also provide a little offense in the lower part of the team's batting order--which was severely lacking a year ago. The offer to Bay is a bit confounding and you really start to wonder if this serves a few purposes. First of all to float an offer to Bay in the wake of Scott Boras' comments about the Mets might hurt the chances of his client, Matt Holliday, getting the Mark Teixiera-type money he desires as the Mets might of actually set the market for the leftfield position with this initial offer.

More importantly, this may indirectly gives Omar Minaya a true indication on whether John Lackey wants to pitch in New York or if he intends to use the New York suitors to increase the contract offer he may get from the incumbent Angels. It is clear that the Mets have adjusted their budget in wake of the insane money given to both Brad Penney and Randy Wolf but the question remains how much they have adjusted it.

My sense is there is enough Wilpon money in the new budget to sign either Lackey OR Bay but it is hard to believe they could sign them both and I would think Lackey's agent, Steve Hilliard knows that as well. That being said, I would think the Met braintrust would rather rope in Lackey since they have made starting pitching their top priority this winter. And so that leads me to believe that this offer may be designed to gently nudge the Lackey camp to come clean with their client's true feelings about pitching in the Big Apple.

Once Omar finds that out for sure, he can make a firm offer to Lackey in the 5 year $90 million dollar range which would be a bit higher than the contract the Yankees offered AJ Burnett a season ago.

Minyana Closing in on Molina and Surveying Pitching Options

Omar Minaya came to the Winter Meetings in search of help for his team and truthfully, the Met General Manager has had some of his greatest moments during these annual meetings roping in players like Pedro Martinez and Francisco Rodriquez. This year,he may indeed leave with help behind the plate and a clearer picture of who might be in his starting rotation.

One of the more underrated problems on the Mets last year was their lack of leadership behind the plate and how that affected a pitching staff that served up more walks than any Met team in recent memory. Offensively, the position provided very little other than a dramatic May home run by Omir Santos off Jonathan Papelbon.

The best option on the free agent market is Bengie Molina whom the Mets like a great deal because he can provide leadership both on and off the field and add offensive pop to a Met lineup badly in need of it. And Omar Minaya is set to make an offer for him with the Molina camp wanting a 3 year deal but Minaya wanting to sign him to a one year contract with a 1 year team option. My guess is they will finally land on a 2 year deal possibly even before Omar leaves Indy.

The pitching issues are a bit more complex as the Met hierarchy is a bit divided over whether to offer John Lackey a long term contract. The issue has become further complicated by the fact that the pitchers viewed as a step below Lackey seem to have a much higher price tag than the Mets originally thought they would go for due mainly to the lack of quality free agent arms. If Joel Pinhiero for instance wants a 4 year deal, why not go the extra yard for Lackey?

It could preclude the Mets from going "big" on other issues but it seems the team has put a priority at settling the catching position and positioning themselves in a spot to pounce on Lackey if the timing is right, and then and only then look to fill the left field void. That could also have a big impact on the first base position which could go to Daniel Murphy by default unless Carlos Delgado impresses the team enough in a winter ball stint that will begin in about 10 days.

Do not be fooled by the lack of news coming out of the Met war room better known as the Minaya Suite. If history has taught us anything, this is the time of the year when he generally returns to New York with what he needs. My sense is he has spent the last 2 days in Indy building the foundation for making those moves.
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The Mets Must Resist the Temptation to Overpay for Players

The team is coming off a woeful season in which they lost more games than they had in any year since Omar Minaya took over the baseball operations of the club. The fans are screaming on the airwaves to spend, spend, spend and the team needs something to jumpstart ticket sales. But the Mets must be very careful not to overreact to these factors.

Both their general manager and field manager will be under the microscope early in the 2010 season but the problem is the free agent market is razor thin and so signing a John Lackey will cost big money and will preclude the team from improving in other areas. Throw in the fact that the Mets might be looking at a much better crop of free agents next year--Josh Beckett, Cliff Lee, Joe Mauer, and Roy Halladay for starters--and restraint might be the better course of action this off-season.

Running the Mets in this town is a slippery slope because you are constantly compared to the Yankees who have no budget but when you look at what the Wilpons spend, they always have committed serious dollars to their payroll and last year no National League team invested more in their team than the Mets. Still, the public perception is the organization does not spend enough and I have always thought that was an unfair criticism.

I honestly believe if the Mets core players return to health 80-90% of the team's problems are solved from a year ago. Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are star players in this league and losing hitters of that type for an extended period of time would send any team down the chute. It also had a spillover effect on David Wright who was asked to do more than any one batter should be asked to. So, I expect all 3 hitters to put up serious numbers in 2010.

So what does all this mean for Omar Minaya and his off-season plans? It means that the changes need to be more subtle than dramatic but that course of action will not be easy. The fans and sports talk show hosts will have a field day criticizing the Mets as being too passive and it could have an impact on ticket sales. But overpaying for talent will have a more debilitating effect on this organization because next year's free agent crop could be the best group in years. It will also give the Met lower level prospects like Ike Davis and Josh Thole one more year of seasoning before they are ready to contribute.

Does this mean I think the Mets can not win next year? Absolutely not and I think they will make additions that will help them and more specifically, be tailored to the spacious confines of CitiField. Signing Bengie Molina, re-upping Carlos Delgado, and having a full year from Jeff Francoeur will all help the offense rebound and adding an outfielder can be done under their current payroll benchmarks as well. It will not be Matt Holliday or Jason Bay but there are plenty of other serviceable outfielders who will put a lot less economic strain on the team and will provide similar, if not exact numbers to those 2 high-priced bats.

They could also add a pitcher but likely not John Lackey whom I think will cost at least AJ Burnett type numbers and that's just too costly at this point in time. I think a Rich Harden or Ben Sheets could provide the same numbers as Lackey at far less money. Now the rub here is they are both coming off injuries but they both have enough pedigree in their right arms to take a chance on. At the same time, you monitor the Roy Halladay talks because the Yanks and Red Sox could get cold feet as they did 2 years ago when Johan Santana became available.

I know these are not the off-season moves Met fans are clamoring for but it is a very sound strategy to employ in a down free agent year. The public perception will be the Mets would not be spending but in reality it is the way to go. Re-Tool a team that many felt would win by getting healthy and making minor changes without disturbing your low-level prospects who might be ready in a year or so. Then, you can operate from strength on adding free agents next year because unlike this year, the supply could be higher than the actual demand.

It won't be a popular choice but as the late Howard Cosell once said, "What is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular."
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Mets Holiday Shopping - Part 5 - Team Chemistry

Analyzing baseball and predicting results has become a stat-oriented excursion through Sabre-Metrics and although I do think there is an appropriate level of utilizing statistics in projecting players' numbers, I have always agreed with Vin Scully on that when he said, "Stats can be like an drunk leaning on a lamp post in that they are used a lot more for support than illumination." That brings us to Part 5 of our Met 5 part series--Team Chemistry--and I promise you I will utter one statistic today.

Team chemistry is a hard concept to quantify because when you see it, you know it and when you do not see it, you know it is not there. But what makes up a team's chemistry? Well, I think it starts in the manager's office because he sets the tone. The Bobby Valentine-led Mets always played with passion whether they won or lost. They also knew how to have fun and even in the most trying of circumstances, they let their emotions do the talking. And that was a direct by-product from the manager's office because that describes Bobby V's persona--passionate, focused, and very engaging.

To be perfectly honest, I am not sure what the personality of Jerry Manuel can be characterized as--he is certainly a nice man who is friendly with the media but I sometimes wonder if his messages get through to his players. And I think that level of uncertainty filters down into the clubhouse and may make certain stars reticent to lead which inhibits the growth of team chemistry.

How can he fix that? To be perfectly honest, he should be more direct with his players. Consider the case of Ryan Church. There was something Manuel did not like about Church and it was obvious to all of us-including Church. But he never communicated what it was. What he did do was give indirect remarks to the media who then were forced to play cat and mouse with both Church and Manuel. And it started way back in spring training when he insisted Daniel Murphy was a better all around hitter versus southpaws than Church. A player who had the grand total of 40 career major league at-bats versus lefties.

That type of communication must stop and it may mean that Jerry Manuel will have less friends in the media because it will give the Met beat writers (including myself) less to chew on but in the long run, it will help the team.

But chemistry can not only come out of the manager's office--it needs to come from the players as well. The 2006 Mets got tremendous leadership from Jose Valentin and it was very helpful in their quest for a divisional title. Star players must step forward as well and I think guys like Johan Santana and Frankie Rodriquez provide leadership but you really need an every day player to do it--some one who is on the field every day.

Can it be David Wright? I think he took a giant step forward towards that in 2008 but a sub-par year short circuited those plans last year. Still, David held himself accountable for a poor season and that is first step towards leadership. Jeff Francoeur and Alex Cora were also 2 members of the team that seemed to welcome a position of leadership and the team will need them to step forward.

When you look at the Mets chief competition in the division, you realize the Phillies have a plethora of leadership in guys like Jayson Werth. Shane Victorino, and even a guy like Jamie Moyer whose contributions are now much greater off the field than they are on it. Sure, their star players like Rollins and Howard are "born leaders" but an understated star like Chase Utley leads by example more than anything else and that is OK because there is more than enough vocal leadership from the other corners of the clubhouse.

So, when Omar Minaya begins to assemble the 2010 Mets, he must be keenly aware that in addition to bringing in guys "with the numbers," he must also bring in guys that have the intangibles that this Met team has been missing since 2006. Those players are out there but not always easy to find. Re-signing Alex Cora is a great first step but the Mets need more of those kind of men--leaders that the team can lean on when tough times hit and then accept nothing less than 100% in those moments. It is the secret sauce that all winning teams possess and the Mets must find it this off-season.
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Mets Holiday Shopping - Part 4 - Offense

In Part 4 of the series on the Mets, I look at revamping the offense and you might be surprised at how you hear I might accomplish that...
When you look at the final offensive numbers of the 2009 Mets, it is clear that the team lacked punch when you consider they led the National League in Batting Average but they also were dead last in Home Runs. In fact, they were the only team in baseball to fail to reach the 100 home run plateau and when you consider the Phillies cranked out 224 home runs, you can quickly see the Mets need more offensive sizzle.

The problem in identifying a solution is quantifying home much of that lack of power was due to injuries, how much was due to the spacious confines of CitiField, and how much was due to a lack of power. The answer is likely a combination of the three but there were other factors at work as well.

David Wright and Carlos Beltran were hitting the ball well in the first 2 months of the season with both of them in the .330 batting average range but when Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado went down in late May, it became painfully obvious scoring runs would be difficult without the team catalyst AND the team's big home run hitter. Beltran and Wright were able to hold the fort for about a month until Beltran wenf down in late June. In fact, the Mets actually pulled to within one game of the first place Phils by the first week of July before the roof fell in.

Injuries are only part of the story as the dimensions of CitiField should illustrate to Omar Minaya that the priority should be speed and athleticism rather than power. Now do not get me wrong--you need some power in the lineup but the most important thing this Met lineup needs is a player that can field his position, run the bases, and hit in the clutch. In Part 1 of this series, I suggested Bengie Molina at the catcher position which would give the Mets more offense from that position.

I would follow that up with re upping Carlos Delgado for one year provided he looks good enough in winter ball which will enhance the team's power numbers. Then I would work out a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays for Carl Crawford whom I think would be a better left fielder fit for the team than Matt Hoilliday or Jason Bay.

This will also improve the outfield defense as well as provide the team with an incredibly lethal base stealing combination in Reyes and Crawford. With either or both of them on base, it will give Beltran, Wright, Delgado, and Francoeur plenty of RBI chances and will force teams to throw fastballs to 4 incredibly good fastball power hitters. What this will also accomplish is returning the Mets to their 2006 style offense where first inning runs put immediate pressure on the other team both at home and on the road.

These changes will allow the Mets to tailor a team to their ball park and at the same time, give the lineup a much needed balance of power and speed that will help the Mets grind through tough one-run games. These changes will also improve the overall team defense as an outfield of Crawford, Beltran, and Francoeur might be the best in team history with Molina, Reyes, and Castillo providing the great middle defense that all championship caliber teams need. If you can move Castillo and rope in free agent Orlando Hudson, it might even make the defense better but Castillo is still a very serviceable defensive player if you can not swing that deal.

These are not the flashy changes Met fans are hoping for but dollar for dollar gives the Mets the most bang for their buck and will allow Omar Minaya to spend big money on a starting pitcher. For that reason, these moves may not spike season ticket sales but I guarantee they will spike win totals for the Mets and that will be the true barometer of the team's success. And to paraphrase a line from the movie Field of Dreams, "Build the team this way and they will come."
And if you are beginning to think about Christmas gifts, why not something from your favorite team? For Mets fans out there, check out these New York Mets Holiday Gift Ideas

Mets Holiday Shopping - Part 3 - Starting Rotation

Rich coutinho
With all the talk about injuries sending the Mets into a free fall early in the 2009 season, it was also fairly obvious that aside from Johan Santana, there was not one pitcher the Mets could not rely on and that sealed the Mets fate. Given that obvious deficiency, the question remains how do you fix it? The first step will be finding a solid #2 starter to give the team a 1-2 punch at the head of the rotation.

Only 2 pitchers available fit that criteria with Roy Halladay and John Lackey both on Omar's radar but the competition for both will be very intense. Halladay would be the best fit but it remains to be seen if he would accept a trade to Flushing as reports have surfaced that the talented Blue Jay rightie will only accept a deal to the Phils, Dodgers, Yankees, or Red Sox. And even if the Mets overcome that obstacle, the question of whether the Mets could assemble an acceptable package is dubious at best.

Any deal for Halladay would have to include Ike Davis and 2 pitchers at the very least and right now it would appear the Dodgers, Phils, and Red Sox would be able to put together better packages than the Mets. The Dodgers have the most need as they have lost 2 straight years in the NLCS because they did not possess a reliable ace-let alone 2.

I would not necessarily count the Mets out here because we all said the same things we are saying 2 years ago when Johan Santana was made available and Omar was very patient and then acted quickly when the time was right. This situation is a bit trickier because my feeling is the Red Sox may be willing to go the extra yard this time around because it is their turn in the "anything you can do I can do better" contest with the Yankees.

That brings us to John Lackey who certainly qualifies as a #2 but because of the lack of quality arms in the free agent pool, he will cost AJ Burnett-type money and that may prove to be too high a price for the Mets. Still, they will be in the conversation and if Halladay goes to the Red Sox, the Mets do have the financial might to outbid the Dodgers for Lackey. That makes me think Lackey is a better possibility than Halladay.

Even if the Mets get one of these power arms, they might need another hurler in the #3 spot so that Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey are slotted in a more appropriate 4th and 5th starter spots. Jason Marquis and Joel Pinhiero have both told friends they would love to come to the Mets and both are coming off big seasons but I might think about something more riskier than could potentially more rewarding.

Ben Sheets and Rich Harden are both pitchers I would offer 2 year incentive-laden contracts in the hope they could rebound off injuries. If they stay healthy, they could be steals for Omar Minaya. Now, you have to have some courage to pull this off because coming off a 2009 season in which every day provided us with a different Met injury update, the public outcry after a signing of this type will be loud and clear. But that should not deter Omar from taking the plunge on one of these pitchers.

These moves would give the Mets a starting rotation of: Santana. Lackey, Harden/Sheets, Pelfrey, and Perez. It will involve a long term committment to Lackey and a follow up bold step but it could potentially re-tool the starting rotation enough to seriously contend in the NL East.
And if you are beginning to think about Christmas gifts, why not something from your favorite team? For Mets fans out there, check out these New York Mets Holiday Gift Ideas

Met's Holiday Shopping - Part 2 - The Bullpen

Today in Part 2 of my 5 Part Series on the Mets I look at the bullpen...

If we have learned anything from the post-steroids baseball era, it is the simple truth that a lock down bullpen has become even more important to winning teams than ever before.

Home runs are down and more and more games come down to how you can effectively close the game with not only 9th inning sure things but an effective corps of relievers that can also lock down the 7th and 8th innings as well. The Tampa Bay Rays are a great case in point to that--in 2008 their corps of relievers did the job en route to a World Series appearance but just a year later that same cast of characters betrayed them and the tough AL East ate them alive.

The Mets have a huge edge on most teams in this department as Frankie Rodriquez remains one of top 3 closers in all of baseball and more importantly has the mindset of a closer in the toughest of all cities to be the ninth inning guy. K-Rod embraced the New York challenge last year enough to earn an All-Star appearance and despite a less than stellar second half, he remained accountable for his mistakes and hell bent on being better. I also think he had a greater impact on others in the pen than his predecessor Billy Wagner who tended to talk more than lead. Frankie spends a lot of time with other relievers and has mentored them about approach and commitment.

But as I stated earlier, a bullpen is more than a closer and many of the other pieces that the Mets need may be staring at them right in the face in regards to the 7th and 8th innings. Brian Stokes and Pedro Feliciano have both shown the ability to get hitters out and very well could share the 8th inning duties. Feliciano is devastating against left handed hitters and with southpaws like Utley, Ibanez, Howard, McCann, and Dunn all residing in the NL East he could be a very important weapon late in the game.

Brian Stokes is a very interesting option as well as he throws an assortment of pitches that combine speed and location but still remains the forgotten and sometimes under appreciated hurler in the pen. He allowed just about 1 hit per inning in 70 innings pitched and also showed a durable arm making you believe he could be the workhorse that all bullpens need. In many ways, he deserves this chance because of all the righty set up guys he performed the best last year.

So what does the bullpen need? Simply put another lefthanded specialist and some righthanded depth as well as a long man or two. I firmly believe that Elmer Dessens and/or Nelson Fiqueroa will assume the long man role but the 2 other pieces could come from outside the organization. Names like Rafael Soriano, Fernando Rodney, Mike Gonzalez, Jose Valverde, and Kevin Gregg are on the free agent lists and one or two of them could end up in Flushing if the timing and the price tag is right. But my feeling is Bobby Parnell will be a year older and a year wiser and can serve the role as an effective 7th inning guy. He has great stuff but just needs more consistency as I feel the pen is a better place for him than the rotation.

The last piece here might be the way Jerry Manuel handles the bullpen and by that I mean how he defines roles, communicates those roles, and manages the workload so pitchers are not overworked and yet get enough work to stay sharp. In particular, K-Rod should NEVER and I repeat NEVER go more than 2 days without appearing in a game. And if Stokes or Feliciano are the 8th inning duo, let them know that so they could put together a routine EVERY night of preparing themselves for that role and ONLY that role. In fairness to the manager, he got used to mixing and matching at the end of the 2008 season because of injuries and no reliable closer but he has one now so roles should be easy to pinpoint.

For Omar Minaya, very little money should be spent on the pen if any because this can be a very good one if it is managed correctly and you show confidence in guys like Feliciano and Stokes who deserve it.

And if you are beginning to think about Christmas gifts, why not something from your favorite team? For Mets fans out there, check out these New York Mets Holiday Gift Ideas