March 29, 2010, 8:00 am
Q.& A.: Mets Bloggers Assess the Coming Season
By JUSTIN SABLICH
As opening day draws near, The Times will be previewing the Yankeesí and Metsí seasons from all angles, with analysis from Tyler Kepner, Ben Shpigel, David Waldstein and others. But with so much happening this off-season there are a lot of opinions to go around. As we did last season, we have reached out to some Yankees and Mets bloggers for their thoughts on the 2010 season.
In 2009, the Mets had no need to worry about a September collapse. They had plenty of other issues. Injuries derailed a season plagued by bad play and bad luck. In the off-season, they landed a star in Jason Bay, but major questions remain about their starting pitching and some of their key offensive players.
With opinions on these and other Mets-related issues are Matthew Cerrone, lead writer of MetsBlog.com on the SNY Blog Network; Greg Prince, who blogs at Faith and Fear in Flushing and whose book of the same name will soon be re-released on paperback; Jason Fry, who co-founded Faith and Fear in Flushing with Prince; and Sam Page, a blogger at Amaziní Avenue.
Q. What off-season move do you wish the Mets had made and why? And what move do you wish they hadnít made?
Matthew Cerrone: Well, first, I think itís important to note that Omar Minaya could have reacted and traded players like Jenrry Mejia, Ike Davis and Fernando Martinez. He didnít, and he should get credit for that. I would not have spent a ton of money on Jason Bay, which is not to say I think heíll be a bad signing ó not at all. I think Bay will be good. Itís just, I would rather have seen the Mets spend on a collection of role players, like Jason Marquis and Mark DeRosa. Their problem the last few seasons was not a lack of stars. They have stars. Their problem was a lack of depth, and role players who would allow their stars to shine.
Sam Page: I wish the Mets had signed one of Chone Figgins, Orlando Hudson or Felipe Lopez to play second base. Replacing Luis Castillo at second would have been a great boon to the Metsí defensive cohesiveness and their pitching staff, with little risk of an offensive downgrade. Supposedly, the Mets held off signing any of the three because they could not trade Castillo and his salary, which is puzzling since Hudson and Lopez signed for less than the Metsí reported offer to Bengie Molina.
I wish they hadnít traded for Gary Matthews Jr. Granted, he is just a temporary backup, but he plays center field poorly and a more defensively versatile player would have benefited the Mets with Beltran out and Bayís suspect defense. Also, having to pay $1 million to cut him next year is a drag. This move being my biggest complaint probably only proves the Metsí inaction this off-season was a lot more offensive than anything they did do.
Greg Prince: I wish they had cut their losses on Castillo, but I guess thatís like wishing for Santa Claus to shimmy down the chimney on opening day. Then again, at least Santa reportedly swings by once a year. Castillo is an endless reminder of not just the dropped pop-up that symbolized the breadth and depth of the disaster of 2009 but also the organizationís severe lack of judgment in signing the wrong players to the wrong contracts. Heís been here forever and heís only been here two and a third years, ya know? No, Castillo wasnít the Metsí worst problem of 2009 and he wonít necessarily be the leading cause of their problems this year. But having to watch him settle not quite under pop-ups and get close only to select grounders throughout 2010 and 2011 is not an enticing proposition.
Jason Fry: Iím less disturbed by individual moves or their absence than I am by the fact that there isnít a lot of evidence that the Mets went through the off-season with a plan. Who exactly were they bidding against for the services of Alex Cora, for instance? Meanwhile, thereís far too much evidence that the baseball operations department is incompetently run. Joel PiŮeiro ó who would have made a suspect rotation look a lot better ó reportedly wanted to come here, only to move on because the Mets were busy with other priorities. Then the Mets picked a messy public fight with Carlos Beltran over his knee operation, unwisely reminding us that their own players donít seem to trust the way their employer handles injuries. The Mets have had a run of buzzardís luck, to be sure, but to paraphrase Casey Stengel, theyíre going to be unlucky their whole lives if they donít change.
Q. Starting pitching is arguably the greatest area of concern for this team. After Johan Santana, there are a lot of question marks. And the Mets couldnít land a significant free agent to help stabilize the rotation. Can the Mets survive with their current crop of starters and do you see any of those guys (Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, Oliver Perez, Fernando Nieve or Jon Niese) emerging as a reliable No. 2?
Cerrone: Couldnít, or chose not to? I mean, in the end, they didnít want to overcommit to John Lackey, and time will tell on that. The majority of people who read MetsBlog said PiŮeiro would not be worth the contract that was needed to sign him. The Mets were not trading for Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee. So, their options were limited, which was a shame, because I am not 100 percent sure they can survive with this rotation. It can be good, but it can also be bad. I believe Pelfrey has the most potential to step up, and I look forward to seeing what Niese will provide. But, basically, Santana can never have a bad game.
Prince: Unless an epidemic of efficient endurance breaks out, starting pitching may not matter as much as a reliable bullpen (or the burning out of one) in the long run. The Metsí four returning starters have rarely given us seven full innings; last year none of them averaged six innings per start. I canít imagine theyíre all suddenly going to go long now, particularly with three of them returning from injury. Someone deemed the fifth starter isnít likely to exceed their performance either. One hopes for lightning in a bottle to round out the rotation.
Fry: Pelfrey would have a lot better chance of emerging as a decent starter if he had a reliable defense ó like one without Cora and Castillo ó behind him. Iíd like to see what Niese could do over a full season. I donít have an enormous amount of faith in the other three guys.
Page: If the standard is survival ó then, yes, I think this rotation could be adequate enough not to drag the team out of the race. This same basic group contended in 2007 and 2008, albeit with poor end results. It wonít buoy the team, however, if Reyes or Beltran miss significant time, for both offensive and defensive reasons.
I think Niese will emerge as the second best pitcher on the team. Most projection systems already like him better than Pelfrey, the presumptive second starter, and Niese has succeeded at every level so far. In fact, there are reasons for optimism regarding all five pitchers you listed, but also considerable downside and I wouldnít yet classify any of them as ďreliable.Ē
Q. The Mets did sign one star this off-season: Jason Bay. Was this money well spent?
Page: It is money well spent, in that the Mets got a good player, worth his salary, at least for the next few years. In terms of other conceivable uses of $66 million, though, this signing looks pretty uncreative and has a worrisome downside. Minaya and his team would have been better off targeting several cheaper, low-risk/high-reward signings that could improve the Metsí run prevention and help build for the future. Signing Bay does neither.
Prince: If you canít have faith in a guy whoís consistently shown power, whoís consistently driven in runs and who replaced a local legend in a pressure cooker environment (while not being psyched out by an overgrown left field fence), then we might as well not sign anybody. Bay shouldnít have been traded for Steve Reed in 2002. It would be nice to have most of his past seven seasons back, but weíll hope that the next four are representative of what he did in Pittsburgh and Boston.
Fry: I think it was money well spent. The back end of that contract could wind up pretty short on value, but big-market teams can afford these things ó provided they complement such signings with a good farm system and being smart about complementary players and small moves. The Metsí track record there, alas, isnít so good of late.
Cerrone: Itís a safe signing because they had to replace Carlos Delgadoís bat and Bay will never make the Mets regret paying him. But, like I said earlier, the Metsí problem has never been a lack of stars. Their problem has been a lack of depth. Also, if the plan is to build a team on pitching, speed and defense, how exactly does Bay fit into that?
Q. David Wright saw a major drop-off in home runs last season. Why did this happen and can he can regain his power?
Prince: Itís hard to execute a successful home run swing when your shoulders are weighed down from the self-imposed responsibility of carrying an entire franchise and when youíve got organizational geniuses insisting you hit to the cavernous opposite field. Wright had just about nothing but success before encountering one obstacle-filled season. Iíll bet on 2009 being the anomaly and have faith in his stroke returning.
Fry: I think Wright came in, lost some early home runs to high walls and cold weather, let that get in his head and changed his swing. He then got the kind of pitches a guy with zero protection in the lineup gets. I think heíll be fine this year. Or perhaps itís more accurate to say I devoutly hope so.
Cerrone: I am not worried about Wright. Heíll be fine. Heís too smart and too talented to let last season mess with him. I think his struggle was a combination of things, ranging from the ballpark to a lack of protection in the lineup to putting too much pressure on himself. In the end, hopefully, it was a learning lesson and heíll be better for it going forward.
Page: Wrightís power outage was most likely a confluence of factors. Citi Field certainly didnít help. Greg Rybarczyk of hittrackeronline.com estimated in early July that Wright had already hit six balls that would have been homers in Shea that werenít in Citi. His new, ill-advised approach at the plate, however, was likely the bigger culprit, as he seemed unable to make any contact at times, particularly on hittable fastballs. With Tony Bernazard out of the picture, hopefully Wright can return to the approach that made him successful.
Q. How comfortable are you with Daniel Murphy as the everyday first baseman?
Greg Prince: Iím more comfortable with Murphy as the everyday first baseman than I was with him as the everyday left fielder, but not as comfortable as I hope to be with Ike Davis as the everyday first baseman. Murphy is .317/.396/.537 as a pinch-hitter in 48 career plate appearances. Is 25 too young to start transitioning into a latter-day Rusty Staub?
Matthew Cerrone: Iím a lot more comfortable than I was, now that Iíve seen Davis. I like Murphy, and I want him to succeed, and I do believe he can be a popular and useful player for the Mets. But I see him eventually being a Mark DeRosa or a Ty Wigginton type player; someone who can play multiple infield positions, maybe some outfield, always hustling, hitting around .280 with lots of doubles, being a leader and getting 500 at-bats doing a lot of different things.
Jason Fry: Murphy is the kind of gritty player fans with any heart root for, and he did improve a lot defensively over the course of 2009. My question is whether heíll ever hit with enough power to play first. If he canít, where else he can play?
Sam Page: I have reconciled with the idea of Murphy at first for now, though Iíll never be comfortable with it. At least now we can look to Mike Jacobs and realize it could be worse. Murphy flashed some defensive potential at first last year, and while he will likely never have the bat for the position, hopefully he can recoup some value with his glove. He did make a famed adjustment in the second half of the year against inside fastballs, but in so doing, he hit like Jeff Francoeur, with doubles power and no walks. Long term, I think the Mets will make Murphy into a superutility, DeRosa-type, which suits his ďtweenerĒ status. For now, file it as another position the Mets could have improved, but didnít.
Q. What one player or coach, or topic, has generated the most buzz among your online readers heading into the 2010 season?
Page: Francoeur has been the center of many spirited discussions. Heís an interesting player for a number of reasons and the minutiae of his game can be debated endlessly, to the point where people lose sight of the bigger question of whether he should even be a starter. His personality is also very divisive. Some people really take to him as carefree, while others perceive that attitude, because of his very mixed track record, as willful ignorance or sloppiness.
Prince: Itís been a battle of pervading senses, with ďdespairĒ leading hope from the first pitch, but ďhopeĒ getting a couple of runners on base in the late innings of spring training. Everybodyís pulling for ďhope,Ē but ďdespairĒ has been on a roll.
Cerrone: Jenrry Mejia. I know, for me, Iíve been waiting years, decades actually, for the Mets to develop another dominant pitcher, and this kid looks like he could be it. The debate has been whether he should be a starting pitcher in the minors, or a reliever now in the big leagues. I donít know the answer. Iím not a scout. However, what I do know is that the Mets should not jerk him around. Have a plan and do it, and let this kid succeed, because heís going to be good Ė itís just a matter of where and when, and most every fan knows this.
Fry: I think Faith and Fear readers are a bit fatalistic by now about strange Met moves and this ridiculous run of injuries. They just want the season to start, see whatís changed at Citi Field and hope for better luck. Frankly, theyíve helped me be less of a sourpuss about the whole thing. Besides, who canít be excited about Mejia and Davis and Fernando Martinez? Those guys have been a lot of fun to watch.
Q. What are the chances of the Mets retaining Manager Jerry Manuel and General Manager Omar Minaya through the end of the 2010 season?
Cerrone: The same as the chances of their team making the postseason.
Page: Well, I thought those chances were close to zero last season and here we are. Minaya certainly didnít trade the farm (or do much of anything) to build a surefire winner in the short term, which is both sort of admirable and doesnít portend well for his job security. If the team misses the playoffs for the fourth straight year, I canít imagine they get to stick around.
Fry: The Mets were seven games up with 17 to play in September 2007 (you probably heard). If the 30 months since then have taught me anything, itís that my Mets crystal ball doesnít work. I really hope the team does well enough that Minaya and Manuel stick around and everything I say here gets laughed off as gloomy and unfair. Thatís one of the many joys of sports: if youíre a pessimist, your greatest wish is to have to admit how wrong you were.
Prince: Check with the 25 players who will be wearing Mets uniforms. If they do anything at all, I imagine Manuel and Minaya are safe. Ownership doesnít seem in the mood to pay anybody off to not manage or general manage. But if theyíre looking up at the Nationals in May, Iíd say nobodyís safe.
Q. If the Metsí stars can stay healthy this season, will they be in contention this year? Or do their problems run deeper than that?
[b]Cerrone:]/b]] Yes, but itís not just about health, itís about executing and playing smart, fundamentally-sound baseball. The Mets cannot let other teams beat them at what should be their own game in Citi Field, which is good pitching, smart base running and strong defense. If the Mets do these things, and stay healthy, they have the horses to win the N.L. East.
Prince: ďAnything can happenĒ is both a cop-out and completely accurate in this case. The 2010 Mets are more mystery than usual because weíre not sure whether 2009 was the dawn of an abysmal new era or the unluckiest of aberrations. This is not a team we can count on for contention the way we felt entering 2006 or 2007, yet, given the injuries and the presence of several of the key players who had them contending regularly until last year, itís not a given that weíre drifting helplessly into a 2003-style shame spiral. All such disclaimers aside, this doesnít seem like a deep enough team, particularly with two of its three everyday stars out for indeterminate periods of time, to project as unquestionably solid. Their 0-0 record entering April 5, however, looks mighty good compared to 70-92. Itís certainly no worse than the Philliesí, Bravesí or Marlinsí.
Page: If the stars stay healthy, the Mets could easily contend. Their problems do, however, run deeper than that, one such problem still being depth. So if any of the star players miss even a little bit of time or underperforms at all, the teamís chances are slim.
Fry: Well, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are already injured in April, so you could say your question has been answered. Assuming those two return in relatively short order, you canít count out a team built around them, Wright and Santana. But letís say the Mets do compete. Do you trust the people running this franchise to make a sound assessment of the team and pull off the moves that would net the three or four additional wins it might need to make the playoffs? I donít. I think fewer and fewer Mets fans do. Thatís the real problem, and as a lifelong Mets fan it scares me to think about how deep it runs.
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