Jun 02

Johan Santana Thundered For Mets Before Rains Came

It poured last night, and even if that smudge on the left field line was rubbed out, nothing could wash away what Johan Santana did in throwing the first no-hitter in Mets’ history.

After 8,020 games, and the likes of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Dwight Gooden and David Cone throwing magic for them the previous 50 years, Santana just missed throwing the Mets’ 36th one hitter.

SANTANA: Waving to crowd (AP)

We know the numbers because the no-hit streak became a part of franchise lore, to be announced nearly every day after the opponent’s first hit. It will be interesting to hear how the Cardinals’ first hit today will be broadcast.

Who knows, maybe the Mets will throw a few more in the coming years, but there is nothing like the first. Jon Niese, R.A. Dickey and John Maine came close in recent seasons, but it was special because it was Santana, who showed extraordinary focus against the National League’s premier offense and overcame the tendency to wander and shift into cruise control with an 8-0 lead.

He was aided by an umpire’s blown call – the streak would be alive today with instant replay – but for one night baseball karma was with the Mets, the way it was during the Summer of 69 and on that crisp October night when Mookie Wilson’s grounder snaked up the first base line and scooted underneath Bill Buckner’s glove.

Perhaps karma was with the Mets because after so many snake bites and near misses – many with Santana on the mound – they deserved to have one to go their way. Logically, it isn’t supposed to work that way in sports, but the Mets always defied logic, just as Santana’s comeback from serious surgery came against conventional medical wisdom.

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Oct 19

Reyes: Time to move on.

There’s a lot of swirling issues around the Mets’ decision to bring back Jose Reyes, but it really comes down to one burning question: Can the Mets win with him?

Based on Reyes’ tenure with the team, the answer is no. That the Mets with Reyes are a better team is little doubt, but they are not a playoff caliber team as they are presently constructed. Nor are they a serious contender.  Even if the Mets decide to bring back Reyes, there are too many holes to consistently compete with Philadelphia and Atlanta in their division, and San Francisco and St Louis outside it.

We also know Washington and Florida will be more aggressive financially than the Mets.

And, that’s the short list. Nine National League teams and 18 teams overall had a better record this summer than the Mets. Will bringing back a frequently-injured player – who twice went on the DL last season – with a long-term, $100-plus million contract make the Mets substantially better?

No.

Rebuilding is a long, arduous process to which I don’t have all the answers. I do have the keys, however, and that is strong starting pitching and a bullpen, and defense. Those qualities, which the Mets’ don’t possess, will not be readily obtainable if a bulk of their resources are spent on a speed player with leg issues who will undoubtedly break down during his contract.

I like Reyes. He’s always been one of the more personable Mets to deal with, but that doesn’t make him the right answer, the right fit, at this time.

The trade value for Reyes was highest after the 2008 season, but that wasn’t going to happen because the Mets believed they would remain a contender with a few offseason tweaks. They had Johan Santana fall into their laps the previous winter, but after going through a second late-season collapse and a managerial firing, thought minor tinkering would be enough.

They were wrong.

The 2008 season was the last healthy, full-season for Reyes. It was the last winning season for the franchise, which believed its fortunes would turn in a potential gold mine in Citi Field.

However, there would soon be injuries to David Wright, Santana, Carlos Beltran, Billy Wagner and Carlos Delgado. The pitching collapsed as Oliver Perez, Mike Pelfrey and John Maine didn’t develop as antiticpated. Hoped for lightning-in-the-bottle signings such as Pedro Martinez, Jason Bay, Orlando Hernandez and Shawn Green fizzled. There were other miserable signings in Perez, Luis Castillo, Moises Alou, Scott Schoeneweis and Guillermo Mota that made the Mets look foolish and desperate.

The Mets made one GM firing and two managerial firings since Beltran took that called third strike in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Cardinals, who are playing in their third World Series since 2004.

The window slammed shut on the Mets and Reyes.

What we remember and cherish about Reyes was his unabashed enthusiasm and running as an unbridled colt from 2005-08, but he’s three years removed from being that player because of injuries.

Reyes’ stolen bases have steadily declined, and he wasn’t even a threat to steal after his second stint on the disabled list. Reyes wasn’t the same player, and with the competitive part of the season dwindling away, he didn’t run as to risk injury which could have cost him his precious batting title and money in free agency.

That he removed himself from his last game isn’t enough to cut ties with him, but it is enough to get an accurate glimpse of his priorities. Lots of players turn it on in their walk years, and that’s the lasting impression Reyes left us.

His injuries contributed to the fall, but wasn’t the main reason the team fell to its depths of mediocrity and helplessness the past three years.

The main reason was, and remains, its inadequate starting pitching. There are no assurances of a healthy return from Santana or Pelfrey improving, and all five spots in the rotation have significant questions attached, as do the six or seven spots in the bullpen.

Clearly, what Mets pitcher isn’t without a concern, either physically or performance wise?

Wright has been in decline since the Matt Cain beaning, Bay never produced, and Ike Davis missed more than half the season with an ankle injury. That puts questions at third, in left, and at first. Lucas Duda will be getting a chance to play his first full season in right, Angel Pagan regressed in center, and who will play second if Ruben Tejada takes over shortstop?

Where can you look on the field to find solace and comfort, knowing that position is in good hands?

Reyes is only one player, and not a healthy one at that.

To those who suggest the Mets might be even worse without Reyes, you are probably correct. But, we all know the Mets’ house-of-cards finances will preclude them immediately getting better in the free-agent market. And, don’t forget, with or without Reyes, the payroll is to be slashed by up to $30 million.

We also know what passes for pitching in the free-agent market are mostly mediocre back of the rotation answers and there is little help from the minor league system.

Record-wise, the Mets are roughly in the bottom third with few immediate answers. With or without Reyes, that’s where they are, and their only hope of moving up is to use the money earmarked for Reyes and attempt to plug holes.

Because, if that myriad of holes remains empty, so too will be the seats at Citi Field. At one time, Reyes represented the future of the Mets. Now, there’s no future with him.

 

Jan 13

Mets and Chris Young getting close

The Mets appear to be nearing a deal with injury-scarred pitcher Chris Young for about $1 million plus incentives. Yawn.

Wonder what the incentives will be to the fans to watch him?

At 31, he should be in the prime of his career, but he’s made only 18 starts in the past two seasons, including just four last year because of chronic shoulder problems. He hasn’t started 30 games since 2007, and is 22-20 over the past two seasons.

At his best, he’s no better than a No. 5 starter, and fits in with what the Mets figure to become this year.

Meanwhile, John Maine is drawing interest from the Phillies. If healthy, I can see a bigger upside from Maine than I can Young, but it had become clear Maine had run his course with the Mets.

With spring training just 34 days away, Young is about as good as it is going to be for the Mets as far as improving their pitching.

Jan 12

No multi-year deal for Dickey?

DICKEY: Won't get long-term deal.

R.A. Dickey was a feel-good story for the 2010 Mets, but not good enough where his dancing knuckleball will warrant a multi-year deal.

At 36 and coming off a career-best 11-9 season, Dickey is seeking a two-year contract, but among the arbitration eligible Mets, the one most likely to get a multi-year extension is Mike Pelfrey. The Mets will play hardball with Dickey, who has a career 33-37 record.

Dickey did a remarkable job in a patchwork role in the rotation after Oliver Perez and John Maine flamed out. He was a major reason why the Mets were competitive in the early part of the season. Unquestionably, he deserves a spot in the rotation entering spring training, but his age and career record will preclude the Mets from doing more than arbitration.

And, they shouldn’t, either.

Dickey was good last year, but still not much more than a .500 pitcher. The Mets have been through this before, being seduced by one good season and rewarding with a multi-year extension. What if Dickey turned out to be a fluke? The last thing they need is to be saddled with an unproductive contract.

As much as the Mets need pitching, making a gamble investment for 2012 isn’t a good idea.

Oct 28

Mets’ Alderson has a long list ahead of him.

It won’t be an easy task for Sandy Alderson to turn around the Mets. Naming a manager is on everybody’s mind now, but that’s just one of the issues on a lengthy things-to-do list.

ALDERSON: A long list of things to do.

No doubt all these things were discussed during the interview process:

1) ORGANIZING HIS STAFF: John Ricco is already on board as assistant general manager, but Alderson has thoughts of his own for the remainder of his staff. Alderson’s reputation is having his hands in everything, and that means surrounding himself with people he trusts.

From scouting to minor league operations to the medical staff, Alderson has his own ideas and won’t blindly inherit Omar Minaya’s staff and the remainder of the Mets’ organization. You might see in the upcoming weeks, perhaps even ahead of naming the manager, announcements on Alderson’s staff.

There’s little doubt Alderson hasn’t already begun the evaluation process, and there should be a minimum of time before naming any new pieces.

Is it possible for some of the Mets’ organization to stay in place? Absolutely. He’s been around; he knows who’s good or not from the existing staff. Part of the process will depend on his conclusions as to how much Minaya was responsible to the existing mess.

2) NAMING A MANAGER: I appreciate the sentiment naming Wally Backman might cause the perception the Wilpons are still calling all the shots, but the former Mets’ second baseman is reportedly on his list.

Alderson already has his short list, which he’s keeping close to the vest. Jerry Manuel was too passive in many areas, and the choice should be someone with a firmer hand. That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean a dictator.

A candidate without a Mets’ background will also be one of the things he’ll consider. Alderson, by himself, represents change, so I don’t think they’ll name a manager just to sell tickets. That is part of the rationale in Backman.

BACKMAN: Don't count on him.

Whomever is chosen, he should be a teacher with an ability to work with young talent as the Mets have a core in Ike Davis, Josh Thole, Mike Pelfrey, Ruben Tejada and Jon Niese. The right balance between motivation and patience must be made.

3) DECIDING ON WHERE ARE THE METS TODAY: Are the Mets a .500 team that needs a minimum of rebuilding to be competitive next year or are they a team that needs an overhaul?

Alderson must decide on what being competitive means in 2011. Is .500 good enough or should they wait until 2012 when he has more salary to work with?

The decision on where the Mets will largely be dependent in part on Alderson’s budget. With $130 million earmarked for 2011, just how much flexibility will he be given?

They have the pieces in place to improve if Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran are healthy and productive, but those are just two of several things that must break right. The Mets learned since the end of the 2006 season that hoping isn’t a sound strategy.

There are holes in the rotation, and bolstering the bullpen and bench is a must. They are closer to last place than first place.

The answer to this issue will determine just how much work needs to be done.

4) ASCERTAINING JOSE REYES: He’ll probably stay, but if Alderson decides the team is far away he’ll have to consider whether Reyes is more valuable on the field or with what he might bring in a trade.

You just don’t deal a player like Reyes without considerable thought, and Alderson has to look at the injury history the past two years and whether there’s still a ceiling for him.

REYES: What's his real value?

If Alderson believes dealing Reyes could fill two or three holes, then that has to be on the table. The flip side is having somebody to replace him, and right now they don’t.

Reyes can be, and has been, a dynamic talent for the Mets, but it also must be remembered the Mets haven’t won with him. Ditto David Wright.

5) DECIDING ON A PITCHING COACH: Mike Pelfrey and RA Dickey endorsed Dan Warthen, but that’s not enough. The manager should have the right to name his pitching coach and the rest of his staff.

Assuming Alderson is already reaching out to potential managers, it is a safe assumption the new pitching coach is already on the radar.

The Mets pitching staff statistically improved last summer under Warthen, but how much of that was not having Oliver Perez and John Maine? I would say plenty.

6) WHAT TO DO WITH THE DEADWOOD: I think the sooner they are rid of Perez and Luis Castillo, the better. However, just ditching them as suggested the other day might not be a prudent move.

Alderson needs to change the culture and not having Perez would do that. However, Perez rarely pitched last summer and was coming off an injury. The rational thing to do would be to add to the pitching staff thinking Perez won’t be there, but allow him to work on his mechanics and strength in the winter leagues.

There are no games being played now, and either way Perez will get $12 million in 2011 from the Mets. If they have one more opportunity to see if Perez can turn it around they should take it.

Castillo, at least, wanted to play. The Mets don’t like eating salary, but $6 million is more palatable than $12 million.

7) BUILDING THE ROTATON: The assumption must be made Johan Santana will be out for much of the season if not all.

Nobody thinks they’ll sign Cliff Lee, but there’s no harm in contacting his agent.

The current rotation consists of Pelfrey, Dickey and Jon Niese. Is Dillon Gee a real option? We don’t know, but he’ll get a shot. The prudent thing to do with Jenrry Mejia, since they misused him last year, would have him start in the minor leagues.

The Mets need to add two starters, which is why giving Perez a chance in winter ball is a prudent thing. Then they can attempt to add some middle-tier arms in the offseason so the team would at least be competitive.

8) DECIDE ON CARLOS BELTRAN: It’s highly doubtful Alderson will find a taker for the injured and highly-priced – $18.5 million for 2011 – Beltran.

Any deal they might make would necessitate them picking up a considerable piece of the remaining salary, and with that being the case they are better off hoping he has something left in his walk year.

However, it is clear Beltran, as he is now, can’t play center field on a regular basis. Alderson, with the new manager, must meet with Beltran to discuss a move to right field.

This can’t be a thing to be debated during spring training. The decision must be made before.

9) THE BULLPEN: The Mets’ reaching a settlement with Francisco Rodriguez only tentatively answers the closer question. Assuming things work out for Rodriguez in court then the Mets can address the rest of their bullpen.

The Mets need to make a decision on Hisanori Takahashi by Oct. 31, and it is believed they will offer him two years. An ironclad promise to start can’t be made because they won’t have a manager by then, but bringing him back is important.

Bringing back Pedro Feliciano is also necessary, as is finding a role for Bobby Parnell.

The bullpen has been mix-and-match the past few seasons and this winter will be more of the same.

10) EVALUATING THE MINORS: By most accounts, the Mets are stronger in the lower levels of the minors than they are in the higher classes.

A lot was made after the season about developing a “Mets Way,’’ in the farm system where a certain philosophy and style of play is adapted and taught at all levels.

I would like to see that with the Mets, where it is ingrained in the young players that they play an aggressive, fundamental style of ball. The transition from level to level must be as seamless as possible.

The Mets are starting over with Alderson, and that includes on all levels.