Dec 30

Looking back at 2010

As the clock winds down on 2010, a disappointing, yet transitional season for the New York Mets, let’s take a moment to look back at the significant moments, games and issues of the season.

Spring training began with a myriad of issues and questions that never dissipated during the long and tumultuous summer.

Among the more intriguing moments and issues were:

The turnover: Sandy Alderson in for Omar Minaya as general manager and Terry Collins in for Jerry Manuel as manager. Manuel seemed in trouble from the outset with early reports Bobby Valentine would take over. That didn’t happen, but this will be the year where the Met could have turned around their culture. We shall wait and see. So far, Alderson has played it conservatively in terms of player acquisition. To date, Alderson’s plan is to hope for the physical returns of Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay and that nobody else gets injured. It doesn’t sound like much, but the goal is to build a base for 2012 when deadweight salaries are cleared off the books.

Blanking the Phillies: On the field the Mets had two spurts that pushed them into contention, but nothing stood out at Citi Field like the three-game, shutout sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies, featuring R.A. Dickey, Hisanori Takahashi  and Mike Pelfrey.

Draining the Bay: The Mets’ free-agent splash of signing Jason Bay from Boston busted out. A slow start that never got started flamed out with a concussion that kept him out for most of the second half. The $66 million hire that was supposed to energize the Mets’ offense produced just six homers.

Beltran’s relationship and knees sour: Botched communications between Beltran and the Mets front office over off-season surgery led to a rift that only shows signs of thawing under the new administration. Beltran returned after the All-Star break but never showed consistent signs of being healthy and strong. In actually, this was mishandled at the end of the 2009 season when Beltran should have had surgery instead of waiting.

Reyes never settles: Jose Reyes missed the first month of the season with a thyroid illness, then returned to the lineup as the No. 3 hitter. Manuel stuck when the results were clear it wasn’t working and later conceded it was a mistake. Reyes ignited when he was returned to the top of the order, then strained an oblique muscle and was never the same. This injury was compounded when Manuel rushed him back into the lineup.

Mike Pelfrey’s development: Pelfrey took a major step forward, regressed at midseason then showed recovery signs to win 15 games. With a little bit of luck he could have won 18 or 19. With Johan Santana out at the beginning of the season Pelfrey will have to pick it up again to assume the ace role. The pessimistic feelings about Pelfrey at the beginning of the season were replaced by confidence and optimism.

Oliver Perez and John Maine implode: The Mets had questions entering the season about their rotation that were answered in the negative with Perez and Maine. If one player personified the troubles of the Minaya regime it would have to be Perez, who lost his spot in the rotation, and then refused an assignment to the minor leagues to work on his mechanics. Perez forced himself back on the 25-man roster after a stay on the disabled list, then languished untouched in the bullpen until the last game of the season when Manuel pitched him as a parting gift.

The rise of RA Dickey and development of Jon Niese: Out of adversity, Dickey, Niese and Takahashi stepped up and filled the voids left by Maine and Perez. They kept the Mets competitive until the All-Star break. Dickey was rewarded with a new contract and he and Niese will enter spring training with rotation spots. Takahashi left as a free agent.

Johan Santana injured: The Mets were cooked by the time Santana’ shoulder was injured late in the second half. Santana didn’t pitch with his usual brilliance on a consistent basis and undergoing surgery for the third straight off-season must raise concerns of his durability during the remainder of the contract. If not Pelfrey, the Mets need to start thinking about a No. 1 in their rotation for the future.

The emergence of Angel Pagan: With Beltran out Pagan emerged as a budding star in centerfield and will win a spot in the 2011 outfield. Pagan improved dramatically in his outfield and base running decisions and developed into one of the team’s clutch hitters.

The young kids come through: The Mets’ long-maligned farm system bore signs of progress with first baseman Ike Davis and catcher Josh Thole, both of whom enter spring training penciled in the lineup. Both showed rawness, but enough glimpses to warrant optimism. Ruben Tejada also saw time but will open the season in the minors. As far as young pitchers go, Bobby Parnell improved over 2009 and will compete for the closer’s role.

David Wright goes deep: After hitting ten homers with 72 RBI in 2009 and sustaining a concussion, there were concerns about Wright’s ability to hit the long ball. Those questions were answered with 29 homers and over 100 RBI, production that could have been higher with a healthy Beltran and Bay. There aren’t any questions now about Wright’s power.

Twenty-inning marathon: In a thrilling display of endurance the Mets won at St. Louis, 2-1, in 20 innings. Santana started and was superb with seven scoreless, but the Mets’ bullpen was clutch in extra innings, leaving the bases loaded in the 10th, 12th and 14th innings, and 22 runners overall. Pitching on his throw day, Pelfrey earned the save.

K-Rod explodes: Maybe the ugliest moment of the season came when Francisco Rodriguez punched out his father-in-law outside the family room at Citi Field. Rodriguez was arrested and the Mets sought to void his contract. The two reached an agreement, but the relationship remains tenuous. If Rodriguez finishes 55 games this season his option for $17.5 million will kick in.

Aug 29

Mets Chat Room; Will it ever get better?

Game #130 vs. Astros

I try to look for positives because being negative all the time can be draining. But, right now the positives, at least offensively, are scarce.

This team just doesn’t score any runs, and the odd thing is people are talking about blowing up this group and trading David Wright and Jose Reyes, the Mets’ two best, although inconsistent, offensive players. Doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

One of the season’s bright spots, R.A. Dickey, goes today against Houston. Dickey has been splendid all season and has pitched better than his 8-5 record indicates. He’s pitched deep into games, but has given up two late-inning homers in his last two starts to deprive him of victories. Otherwise, he’d have ten wins. He’d have even more than that with a little run supprt.

We’ve known for awhile now that the playoffs weren’t going to happen, but you’d like to see some form of growth, something to build on. But, right now there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of it.

After today, there are 32 games left. Ouch, where did the season go?

Aug 25

Mets Chat Room; what’s to build on?

Game #126 vs. Marlins

Jerry Manuel still thinks this team can put a run together, and for the most will manage that way for the rest of the season. It is why Hisanori Takahashi is being looked at as a closer before Bobby Parnell. It is we’re not seeing Nick Evans or Chris Carter, but more of Jeff Francoeur.

At 63-62, the Mets are sure to eclipse last season’s 70-92, but the real goal is .500 or better. You see, Manuel has pride and it’s important to him to go out this year with a winning record. Not for the next job interview, because he’s already had two shots.

When a season is reduced to statistical goals, such as 30 homers for David Wright, 20 for Ike Davis and 15 wins for Mike Pelfrey it is about salvaging lost dreams and hopes.

And, that hot streak that has never come? If it does, maybe it will be a reminder of when the dreams were fresh.

Aug 23

Looking at the attack ….

I’d like to thank those of you who read the blog and posted while I was away. It means a lot that you would do so.

Some miserable weather on the East Coast last night and I didn’t get back until today. I heard how the Mets did this weekend, and there’s something fitting about then finally winning a road series against a National League team but losing a chance to sweep behind Johan Santana because the offense disappeared again.

The offense has been dreadful this summer and is largely responsible for the Mets’ fade. It produced in June, but mostly because David Wright sizzled that month. It cooled in July, which is when the slide began.

Last year it was easy to blame the offensive problems on the injuries to Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and Wright’s season-long funk. There’s more to it this season. Without getting into a lot of statistics, here’s the primary reasons for the Mets’ offensive decline this summer.

1) Jose Reyes: Let’s start at the top of the order. Reyes missed significant time in April, then was foolishly forced into the No. 3 slot in the order which took away what he did best as a player. I understood Jerry Manuel’s objective, but it was flawed thinking and disrupted the flow of the batting order. Manuel is known for how poorly he handles the pitching staff, but this showed he did not know how to best utilize his players.

Without Reyes on top, there was limited continuity to the order. Further complicating things was Manuel’s poor decision to rush Reyes back from his oblique injury. Three weeks were literally wasted. Reyes is healthy now, but except for a stretch when he was returned to the leadoff slot has largely been inconsistent this season. And, he’s not running wild on the bases. The Mets are always better when he gets on and runs and there have been too many stretches where he has not.

NEXT YEAR: Whomever manages the Mets next season it is hoped he won’t fool around with Reyes. The assumption is he’ll be healthy again and able to produce from the outset. Reyes remains prone to giving away at-bats and needs to increase his on-base percentage by walking more and striking out less.

WRIGHT: Needs to be more consistent

2) David Wright: His power numbers have improved over last season but not to where he’ll reach 30 homers. He should hit over 20 and drive in 100, but the expectations are 30 and close to 120. Wright remains too streaky and prone to the strikeout. There has been improvement, but not enough as he gives away far too many at-bats.

For the second straight summer, because of the loss of Carlos Beltran, Wright was asked to carry the offense, but I don’t believe he’s that type of player. He’s more of a complementary player in a complete offense, such as 2006, but he’s not one to shoulder the heavy load by himself. Wright is at his best when he’s disciplined and going up the middle and to right field. This is when his stroke is shortest and most compact, which reduces his strikeouts. Wright is on pace for 176 hits and 172 strikeouts.

Wright has also bounced around in the batting order, but he clearly produced best when he hit No. 3 in front of Ike Davis. His next best slot was fifth and his worst was cleanup where he hit .167 in 60 wasted at-bats. Again, a manager not knowing what’s best for his player.

NEXT YEAR: If Wright is able to discipline himself more and cut down on his strikeouts he can again reach the .300, 30, 120 levels. He’s still the best this club has to offer because we don’t know about Beltran.

3) Carlos Beltran: Beltran is moving farther and farther away from his days as an elite offensive force. He missed the first half of the season, which I believe in large part to the foolish way the Mets handled him last year, and has never taken off since his return. Until Beltran is fully healthy, and he’s not, he’s not the same player and will continue to decline. If the Mets’ could unload his $18.5 million contract they would, but since he’s not tradeable his value is in the hope of a comeback.

Beltran is also hitting out of place in the order. As he was rushed back he was force fed the clean-up slot. Truth is, the Mets were at their best in June when Ike Davis was hitting clean-up.

NEXT YEAR: He’s coming back, presumably healthy. It will be interesting to see if they move him to right field which should take a toll from his legs and consequently help him at the plate. Once a dangerous base stealer, I don’t see that anymore.

BAY: Way too little celebrating.

4) Jason Bay: It was a lost season for Bay, who’s likely won’t be back for this season. Year one, clearly was a bust, but he has produced before and I am willing to give him the benefit of doubt. The over/under for his homer total was 30, but he won’t hit 10. Bay hustled, but it still amounts to being thrown out by a step. Like Wright, he was a strikeout machine.

The decision to move Reyes was in large part to get Bay going. But, it amounted to screwing up two spots in the batting order. Initially, to jump start him he should have hit either second, fifth or sixth. There was just too much pressure for him in the clean-up slot.

NEXT YEAR: Assuming a healthy Beltran, Bay should hit fifth. I thought there were other priorities other than Bay last season and I haven’t changed from that spot. He has a track record of being productive, but he’s not a big bopper and won’t ever be at Citi Field. With a clear head, the numbers should get better. That he’s not an excuse-maker and hustles works in his favor.

5) Jeff Francoeur: Francoeur got off to a hot start because he opened the season with patience and selectivity. He ever walked a few times. However, as the season progressed he continued to fall into bad habits and gave away a lot of at-bats.

Francoeur strikes out roughly 20 percent of the time. And he’s an oddity in that he hits over .300 when swinging at the first pitch and less than .220 when the count reaches 3-0. At 3-1 and 3-2 he’s almost a sure out.

When the Mets traded for Francoeur, he immediately produced, but this year demonstrated why Atlanta thought he was expendable and why the Mets are sure to not bring him back.

NEXT YEAR: The assumption is Francoeur won’t be back unless there’s a re-injury to Beltran that changes everybody’s thinking. The Mets will need a fourth outfielder, but I don’t believe Francoeur wants that role. Hell, he could be gone on waivers by the end of the month.

6): An unsettled order: I’ve touched on it a few times, but the Mets were their best when there was some consistency in the batting order. Players hit out of position, and other players were buried. There’s a delicate balance to the perfect batting order and there was too much inconsistency. A early flaw was not taking advantage of Rod Barajas’ power in the early months by not batting him higher. Another was sticking with Bay at clean-up way too long when it was obvious he wasn’t going to produce. Yet another was not moving Angel Pagan to second earlier. He was obviously not a lead-off hitter.

NEXT YEAR: Things change, they always seem to for the Mets, but if everybody comes back healthy there should be more consistency in the line-up. Unless the impossible happens and they are able to unload Luis Castillo, the second baseman, Ruben Tejada, should hit eighth. We’ll also see more of Josh Thole next year, presumably seventh.

Aug 18

Questions for 2011

Let’s face it, we’re down to miracles and hoping for historic comebacks now. The Mets lost with their ace last night and find themselves 11 games behind Atlanta.

How many days before spring training?

As far as I’m concerned the next six weeks should be about laying the ground work for 2011, a time to find some answers. Here are the most important issues:

JENRRY MEJIA: Mejia is pitching in Double-A, experiencing no shoulder problems and will be recalled when the rosters expand Sept. 1. He should immediately be slotted into the rotation to find out what is there. And, if he takes his lumps, well, that’s part of the learning process.

PELFREY: Can he finish strong?

MIKE PELFREY: Once again, Pelfrey has shown us two personas. After a 9-1 start he’s 1-5, but has pitched well in his last two games. It is important to see if he learned anything during his horrid July that he can build off of.

JON NIESE/R.A. DICKEY: Just keep on doing what they’ve done. Two of the bright spots need to build on their success.

RUBEN TEJADA: Can this kid hit in the major leagues? Let’s give him steady playing time to find out. No need to platoon with Luis Castillo as we know all about him.

CARLOS BELTRAN: It would be nice if he finishes strong and ups his trade value, but who are we kidding? Who’s going to trade for that $18.5 million contract? I’d see what he’s capable of doing in right field.

JASON BAY: It is a lost season for him. There’s no need to bring him back. What’s he going to accomplish? Hit 10 homers? Make sure he’s healthy and start again next year.

HISANORI TAKAHASHI/BOBBY PARNELL: As of now, it appears Takahashi is the closer. If that’s the case, leave him there and let him take his lumps and see what is there. The assumption must be made that Francisco Rodriguez is not coming back. If the Mets decide Parnell is a better fit long term for the closer role, then give him the ball. The goal should be to end the season with an idea of your closer for 2011.

IKE DAVIS/JOSH THOLE: Both these guys will start next year so give them the time. I especially want to see them hit against left-handed pitching. No more platooning in that situation.