Jan 24

Jan. 24.10: Let’s big-picture this.

MR. MET: Can he really be happy about things?

MR. MET: Can he really be happy about things?

In 2006, the Mets finished 97-65, winning the National League East by 12 games. It would be fair to say that is when the window was open at its widest for this core of Mets. And, we’re talking David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado. While that core has remained largely productive, the rest of the team, in particular it’s pitching, has not.

The strength of the 2006 team was arguably its bullpen, which picked up the slack for a consistent, but hardly spectacular rotation.

Despite signing Billy Wagner, at the time an All-Star caliber closer, Omar Minaya let two significant keys to that pen, Darren Oliver and Chad Bradford, get away. The Mets have been struggling to get a bullpen chemistry since. An argument can be made the chemistry started to fizzle with the decline of Aaron Heilman, who was so good in 2006 save that pitch to Yadier Molina.

Even so, the team started strong in 2007, taking a 34-18 record into June. Would we all agree that 2006 and the first two months of 2007 was when the Mets’ star burned its brightest?

They finished 54-56 the rest of the way in 2007, including a collapse in which they blew a seven-game lead with 17 to play. Much of the downward spiral was traced to a bullpen bridge that could not get to Wagner.

Since June 1, 2007, the Mets are 20 games below .500 – including another collapse in 2008 – and the refrain was the same after each season: The pitching is the problem. The 2008 team, by the way, blew 29 save opportunities.

It’s a double-edged sword: The bullpen is overworked and ineffective. But, the reason it is overworked is because the Mets aren’t getting quality innings from their starters.

For those who think I’m being too negative, those are the numbers.

I realize 2009 was a unique season because of injuries, but even under the assumption the core offensive players return to form this season, there remains largely the same pitching staff. Never mind the team’s hot start one-third into the last season, more representative of their performance was the remaining two-thirds.

Getting Johan Santana was a significant gesture of improvement, but he makes 34 starts a year. The pennant is won or lost in the remaining 128 games, and this is where the Mets are weak and have not improved.

Even Santana is a partial question as he’s coming off surgery. The team says he’ll be ready, but said the same thing about John Maine. Maine’s durability, along with his presence, are questions. We don’t know what we’ll get from Oliver Perez inning to inning, much less game to game. And, Mike Pelfrey has regressed. And, well, there is no fifth starter, yet.

Yes, Jason Bay will improve the offense, but in reality aren’t we subbing his numbers for that of a healthy Delgado? And, there’s another hole with the loss of Beltran. So, just how much better is the offense, really? And, what if Wright doesn’t regain his power stroke? Can we say for sure Reyes is back?

Bottom line: We can’t say the core is back to normal or will get that way.

In that case, it falls again on the pitching, which is the same pitching that failed miserably the last two-and-a-half seasons.

Jan 23

Jan. 23.10: What’s the plan?

SHEETS: Would he make the off-season?

SHEETS: Would he make the off-season?

It’s strange asking this inside a month before spring training, but do the Mets have a plan to get better? With all their talk about pitching and defense/speed to complement Citi Field, what exactly have the Mets done to become that kind of team?

The best available pitcher in the market went to the Red Sox, with hardly a whimper coming from the Mets’ camp. Come to think of it, all of the available pitchers on the market went elsewhere or are lingering in the discount aisle.

Of course, adding Ben Sheets changes that to some degree. Sheets is still an injury gamble, and even with him, there are three more questions in the rotation. But, it’s better than remaining stagnant.

The biggest acquisition is an outfielder, with reports now coming his former team wanted to redo its offer because of health concerns. Adding Jason Bay without improving the rotation doesn’t improve the team dramatically, at least not to where they should be considered legitimate contenders.

Gary Matthews Jr., only illustrates there’s nothing in the minor league levels to promote in case of emergency. Don’t you think if Fernando Martinez were ready it would have been him?

The bullpen remains a mess and the rotation is Johan Santana and the Four Questions.

Plan?

The plan was to wait for everybody to get healthy and better and hope for the best. I wrote that last October. That was shot when Carlos Beltran went down. There is no real plan, at least nothing of substance.

I wonder if they have any new concession stands this year?

Jan 22

Jan. 22.10: Mets still looking for pitching.

Published reports have the Met serious about pitching, and have contacted Ben Sheets. They also have interest in former Yankee Chien-Ming Wang, who is coming off shoulder surgery and won’t be available until May 1. The team is also reported to be interested in John Smoltz and Jon Garland.

The word is very encouraging about Wang, who has been throwing pain free for seven weeks. Because of the abundance of off-days in April, the Mets can afford to wait until Wang is ready.

Sheets, who missed all of last season following surgery, is also throwing without difficulty. Reports are he could go for $8 million for one year.

I like the idea of Smoltz for the bullpen and buying time for Wang.

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Elsewhere, the Mets are considering adding the often-injured Chad Tracy as well as bringing back Fernando Tatis. The Mets are also looking at bringing back Carlos Delgado, who has played winter ball mostly as a DH, which doesn’t answer the basic question about his durability.

Dec 31

Dec. 31.09: Forecasting the Mets roster.

As I sit here and watch the snow fall, I can’t help but think about how nice spring training sounds. The Mets need some work to do before finalizing their roster. Here’s what I have for the Mets right now regarding their 25-man roster.

CATCHER
1. Omir Santos
2. Henry Blanco
Comment: If they land Bengie Molina, they’d send out Santos.

INFIELD
3. 1B: Daniel Murphy
4. 2B: Luis Castillo
5. SS: Jose Reyes
6. 3B: David Wright
7. INF: Alex Cora
8. INF: TBA (first base platoon)
9. INF: TBA
Comment: They need a RH bat to platoon with Murphy at first base. Ryan Garko would be perfect. They also need another utility infielder. A guy who could play both infield and outfield would be ideal.

OUTFIELD
10. LF: Jason Bay
11. CF: Carlos Beltran
12. RF: Jeff Francoeur
13. OF: Angel Pagan
Comment: They’d like somebody who could come off the bench with some power.

STARTERS
14. SP1: Johan Santana
15. SP2: Mike Pelfrey
16. SP3: John Maine
17. SP4: Oliver Perez
18. SP5: TBA
Comment: Yes, they might go short with the off-days in April, but they’ll need five eventually. In the interim, look at what they have now. I’m not thrilled.

BULLPEN
19. Francisco Rodriguez
20. Kelvim Escobar
21. Bobby Parnell
22. Pedro Feliciano
23. Sean Green
24. Brian Stokes
25. Ryota Igarashi
Comment: If they could find a utility player to play both infield and outfield, they could add another reliever.

Dec 28

Dec. 28.09: What to do with Parnell?

Since the Mets have Kelvim Escobar plugged into the set-up role it leaves them with a decision to make on Bobby Parnell.

PARNELL: What to do with him?

PARNELL: What to do with him?


Do they leave him in the bullpen in a less pressurized role, or if their long-term projection is for him as a starter, do they send him to the minors in that capacity?

The Mets bounced Parnell around last year from a seventh-inning reliever, to set-up reliever when JJ Putz was injured to the rotation when the roof caved in.

Parnell has a starter’s arm, but is lacking in the development of his secondary pitches. That was apparent in his stint last September as a starter. Parnell did not pitch well, but with the season lost, I thought the Mets should have stayed with him longer in the rotation. It could have only helped in his development.

I don’t know where the Mets’ thinking currently is on Parnell. If they like him in the pen, then keep him in the pen on the major league level where he had some success. But, if they believe he’s a starter, then they should have him start the season in the minors in that capacity.

However, and this is where the Mets’ lack of depth hurts them again, their bullpen is so weak they might not have any other option but to use him in relief, further delaying his development as a starter.