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 19

Jan. 19.10: The Mets Hall of Fame.

STRAWBERRY: Leads four into Mets' Hall.

STRAWBERRY: Leads four into Mets' Hall.

The Mets will announce today that Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Davey Johnson and Frank Cashen will be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame. All good choices, all deserving.

Cashen was the architect, Johnson the manager and Strawberry and Gooden the hitting and pitching faces from the 1986 team.

Do you agree with the choices? I, for one, am glad to see the Mets honoring their past. There will be a Hall of Fame and team museum in the Rotunda in what used to be the team store.

Strawberry, Gooden, Johnson and Cashen join Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and Mookie Wilson from the 1986 Mets in the team’s Hall of Fame.

In other news:

* Jeff Francoeur avoided salary arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $5 million contract. The Mets and Francoeur aren’t done as they are considering a contract extension. The Mets traditionally avoid arbitration and continue talking with Pedro Feliciano, Sean Green and Angel Pagan.

* NESN.com reported the Red Sox and Jason Bay agreed to a four-year, $60 million extension last June, but it fell through when a MRI showed problems with both knees. The Mets signed Bay to a four-year, $66 million contract with a vesting fifth-year option. Does that give the impression the Mets were truly bidding against themselves?

* Carlos Delgado is batting .280 in winter ball with one extra base hit and two RBI in eight games. Reports are he’s still sluggish running. But, with Carlos Beltran out, there’s need for left-handed power and that enhances the chances of him being re-signed.

Jan 12

Jan. 12.10: Mets and Molina getting closer.

With reports catcher Bengie Molina is willing to take a two year deal (FOX Sports made the report), it enhances his chances of being signed by the Mets. If signed, he’ll share time with Henry Blanco which would enable Josh Thole to play at Triple-A.

If signed, the Mets have upgraded their offense with Molina, Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur. However, they still have not upgraded their rotation.

Jan 08

Jan. 8.10: Looking at the Mets’ prospects.

John Sickels, author of the 2010 Baseball Prospect Book, is high on Fernando Martinez and Jenrry Mejia, but lukewarm with John Niese.

Most scouts believe Mejia has the stuff to be a starter, but needs time in the minor leagues – maybe two more years – to refine his secondary pitches. The worst thing the Mets could do is to push the envelope with him, but that’s the fear, that they will rush him as they did Mike Pelfrey.

Sickels also believes Martinez is being regarded too harshly considering his age, but is concerned about his durability. The acquisition of Jason Bay makes it clear the Mets don’t believe Martinez is ready this year. Perhaps by the end of the year he may have put himself in position to help.

As far as Niese goes, if his hamstring is sound he could help the Mets this season, but Sickels doesn’t see much of a ceiling for him, calling him a “classic number three guy.’’

If you’re highest minor league level pitching prospect is a No. 3, that’s not encouraging.