Friday, October 27, 2006

The Mets in 2007...And The Perils of Losing Internet Access

I meant to post this some time ago, but unfortunately, I've been struck with a combination of computer problems at home (we had a combination of a squirrel chewing through the cable line and something I'm not tech-savvy enough to describe, so I'll chalk it up to "computer boo-boo"), and have been buried with work, thus limiting my goof-off time. So, as the St. Louis Cardinals are poised to become the worst World Series champions since the '88 Dodgers (by the way, that's not a dig against the Redbirds; I'd much rather be known as a weak World Series champ than a great team that didn't get there), here's my rather untimely discussion of what the Mets need to do for 2007:

1. Have Plans A through G for the rotation.

As it stands, the Mets are poised to head into 2007 with a rotation that looks something like this: Tom Glavine (who I believe will be resigned for something like 1 year and $12 million), John Maine, Oliver Perez, a free agent to be determined and Mike Pelfrey. Brian Bannister will be waiting in the wings, and Pedro Martinez will hopefully be shoehorned in around July or so. Steve Trachsel will be gone, and Orlando Hernandez may not return, to my wife's chagrin; she loves to call "el Duque" "Dookie"...which might be a more appropriate name for Trachsel, given how he pitched this postseason. It's too bad she's not more schooled in baseball terminology; she could make endless jokes about how he likes to throw the old number 2. (That's baseball-speak for a curveball, for those of you in Rio Linda.)

Here's the thing about that proposed rotation; it's got more question marks than the Riddler. A 41-year old, a guy with 24 career starts, an ultra-talented headcase who posted an ERA over 6, a rookie and an overpriced free agent. Waiting in the wings are the new Kirk Reuter and a guy being held together with spit and bailing twine. Yikes. I'm not saying it can't work; look at the upside: Glavine should have at least one more good year, Maine looks like the real deal, Perez has filthy stuff and appears to have harnessed it (if he can pitch that well in game 7 of the NLCS, he'll be fine), Pelfrey's got great stuff and won't be relied upon heavily and they should have the money to lure one of the top 3 free agents. But still, there's not a sure thing in the bunch.

I've harped on this before, and probably will continue to do so, but the failure to trade for Zito looks worse now than ever. Did that cost the Mets a berth in the World Series? Amazingly, it probably did not; offense, relief pitching and Tom Glavine in Game 5, the team's supposed strengths, were what let them down. It's hard to imagine any starting pitcher doing much better than Maine and Perez did in games 6 and 7. Only Steve Trachsel's complete and utter implosion in game 3 could have been averted, and even then, Jeff Suppan shut out the Mets. So Zito would likely have changed nothing. So why does it look worse? Look again at that rotation; there's not a 200 inning guy in the group. Glavine's a 6 inning pitcher, as is Maine (who I don't believe has the build or stamina to be more). Perez could be, but one has to assume that he'll be prone to the occasional train wreck, thus taxing the bullpen. Pelfrey will surely be on a 100 pitch limit (thankfully, the Mets organization seems to have learned something from destroying Doc Gooden's arm). The bullpen was taxed like a Massachusetts resident this year, and it showed in the playoffs. Zito's 200+ innings would have been a welcome addition. Instead of having a leg up in signing him, the Mets will go in as co-favorites with the Yankees and Padres.

I am not sanguine about Jason Schmidt; that declining K rate spells disaster for a power pitcher. Anything beyond a 2 year contract will be a poor investment. Daisuke Matsuzaka will probably be a Mariner. The other options on the market are uninspiring. Jeff Suppan has been mentioned, for example. If I was to point to one free agent as a "holy crap, he got HOW much?!?" candidate, it would be him. Suppan is a mortal lock to be dramatically overpaid by someone. One playoff series does not a superstar make.

So if the Mets can't get Zito, they need to go for quantity over quality; pick up a bunch of starting pitchers and hope 5 good ones stick. Bringing back Hernandez and keeping the underrated Dave Williams around would be good progress toward that goal.

2. Make a Decision on the Corner Outfielders.

It's hard to imagine that Cliff Floyd will be back. If he can be resigned for a bargain rate, wonderful. But Floyd's injury history, after a fairly healthy 2005 (150 games, his most since 1998), reared its ugly head once again. He's averaged 109 games per year and turns 34 next year, so that trend seems unlikely to reverse itself. Realistically, he should be DH'ing, with the occasional fill-in as a 4th OF. Moreover, the Mets desperately need another power righty bat in the lineup. Carlos Lee would be a perfect fit, but I think the Rangers signed him to a long-term deal. Endy Chavez is nothing more than a 4th outfielder, pinch runner and defensive replacement; as great as his defense was, his bat was a tremendous liability in the playoffs.

In right field, Lastings Milledge proved he wasn't ready for prime time. Will he be next year? The Mets would seem to have little choice but to find out. They decided he was more valuable than Barry Zito, so they might as well play him and let things shake out where they may. Milledge will be 22 next year, but has little else to gain from AAA. With other expensive needs on the roster, a cheap, homegrown option in right field would seem to be the way to go. Milledge will simply have to sink or swim. One good sign: he showed plate patience in the big leagues, after being a very patient hitter in the minors.

3. Find a Second Baseman.

Jose Valentin did a nice job as a fill-in at second base, but isn't a long-term solution. He wore down as the season went on, which shouldn't be a shock considering he's 37 years old. The problem with that is that Valentin struggled mightily as a utility player. So, he can't be played everyday, because he'll wear down, but he can't play sporadically, because he needs to get into a hitting groove. The ideal solution might be to let Valentin man the position for 120 games or so, and work Anderson Hernandez in steadily, in the hopes that his bat will catch up with his glove.

4. Beef Up the Bench.

The Mets' weak bench was exploited in the NLCS. Julio Franco is the team's only reliable pinch hitter, and he can't play forever (or can he?). Endy Chavez and Chris Woodward are valuable players for their defense and ability to play multiple positions, but neither is going to give the team a big hit off the bench. A good right-handed bat who can make the opposition pay for bringing in a left-handed specialist would be very helpful.

Note that I'm not concerned about David Wright. Yes, he was lousy in the playoffs. Yes, he was clearly nervous. Well, why shouldn't he be? He's a young player in the playoffs for the first time. It happens. He'll be fine. I'm less optimistic about Aaron Heilman. The track record of relief pitchers who give up big playoff home runs is not a real positive one, and the psychological scars could linger.

On balance, it's still a very good team, and they should be the favorites to recapture the NL East next year.

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