So far, this has been a compelling playoffs with the possibility of all four series going to a deciding fifth game. Major League Baseball is thrilled, and hopefully this trend will continue in the League Championship Series and World Series.
That’s what baseball should be about.
Hopefully, the Mets are taking notes. Four of the teams in the playoffs – Oakland, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Washington – have payrolls less than the $100 million the Mets shelled out this year for the joy of finishing 14 games below .500.
Here’s what the playoff teams have that the Mets lack:
1) Pitching: Both starting and bullpen are vital to winning. Always has been, always will be. That’s why I get frustrated when I hear complaints about the Mets’ lack of power. Home runs are the great eraser and the Yankees proved that last night. But, they were in position to win because of pitching. Three games against the Orioles and their starters reached the eighth inning each time. Unheard of. All of the teams have solid pitching and a good bullpen. As I wrote earlier today, Baltimore’s Darren O’Day is making $1.35 million this year, so it can be done inexpensively. However, that requires an aggressive front office and superior scouting, two areas where the Mets need improvement.
2) Strong minor league base: It would be foolish to say each of these teams were built solely on their farm system. Detroit and the Yankees all acquired significant talent from the outside, but there is core home grown talent from all. Just look at Matt Wieters, Joey Votto, Matt Cain and Bryce Harper. I would have mentioned Stephen Strasburg, but the Nationals pulled him from the playoffs. It could bite them in the butt, and what if the Nationals never get back here? It is possible. That is why it was encouraging this summer when several times the Mets fielded a full home grown-lineup and why I am opposed conceptually to trading Ike Davis. The Mets have a home product who hit 32 homers this year. Those don’t come along often, and rarely for the Mets. Davis is a start, along with Jon Niese, Matt Harvey and Ruben Tejada, not to mention David Wright. Bolstering the farm system and improving the scouting are essential for long-term growth. Free-agent signings should be to complement what’s already there.
3) Strong catching: Wieters is clearly the catcher with the most upside in the group. Regardless of how Russell Martin has played in October, the idea of pursuing him is outlandish and it was a ridiculous idea in the first place. Obviously, a slow news day. Martin is too old and too expensive for a rebuilding team, and let’s not kid ourselves, that defines the Mets. I was initially optimistic about Josh Thole, but those feelings have waned. He’s not hit for average or power and his defense has regressed. And, let’s not blame R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball for it. Catching is an issue, but I don’t believe it is as high on the Mets’ priority list as adding outfielders and relievers.
4) Timely hitting: It doesn’t get more timely than what Raul Ibanez did last night. The Mets were clutch in the first half, but their hitting with runners in scoring position disappeared in the second half. It all fell on Wright after the All-Star break and he couldn’t handle the strain. Each of these teams has an offensive core, hitters that concern an opposing manager. After Wright, and at times Davis, who is frightening in the Mets’ lineup. Scott Hairston had a good season coming off the bench, as Ibanez did, but after hitting 20 homers for the first time he might be too expensive to bring back.
5) Home field advantage: So far, it hasn’t helped San Francisco and Cincinnati, but nonetheless each of the teams in the postseason had a winning record at home. The Mets can’t ever be a serious contender until they learn to use Citi Field as an advantage. I understand the Catch-22, that part of that advantage is having people in the stands. The Mets need to improve the first four before this will take root. When Citi Field opened the Mets were vocal in saying they would build around pitching and defense, so naturally the first thing they did was sign Jason Bay. That’s the final lesson I hope the Mets learn …
6) Have a plan: Where are the Mets headed? If they don’t bring back Wright and Dickey, then it is back to square one. The team is operating as if they have no money and that’s a discouraging sign. GM Sandy Alderson said the team had the resources to add at the trade deadline, but waited until the team had fallen out of contention before deciding it was too late. On one hand, the Mets are singing the praises of their young pitching, but on the other it is exploring trading Davis, and could not bring back Wright or Dickey. What gives?
Other than a lack of overall talent, there’s never just one reason why a team fails to win. The Mets began the season projected for the basement, with some corners speculating 100 losses.
So, at 74-88, 14 games below .500, and in fourth place, the Mets did better than expected, but in the end were still disappointing and kicked a promising season away with a dismal second half.
The Mets were 46-40 at the break, but ended the first half on a sour note by losing two of three at Citi Field to the Cubs. This coming after losing two of three to the Cubs at Wrigley Field a short time earlier.
You can’t consider yourself a serious contender when you lose consecutive series to a team that lost 100 games. You just can’t do it.
So, what went wrong?
STREAKY BAD: The Mets’ longest winning streak in the second half was four, accomplished twice. Conversely, they had five such losing streaks, including dropping six straight three times. When a team is streaky bad like that players begin to press, which is what happened in July and August.
STAYING WITH A PAT HAND: GM Sandy Alderson said several times the team had the resources to add talent if they were in contention at the trade deadline. But, that doesn’t meaning waiting until July 31. The bullpen had shown signs of breaking down in late June and early July, and there was a woeful lack of power with Ike Davis, Jason Bay and Lucas Duda doing nothing, but Alderson was content to believe things would get better and was satisfied at the break with a 46-40 record. The Mets opened the second half with two losing streaks of at least five games and by that time it was too late.
INJURIES: All teams have them and the Mets were no exception. It’s hard to win when three-fifths of your rotation goes down. First, Mike Pelfrey, then Dillon Gee and Johan Santana. The Mets simply didn’t have the replacement parts they needed, although the got more from R.A. Dickey than they could have wished for and Matt Harvey made a good first impression.
THE BULLPEN COLLAPSED AGAIN: The wasn’t bad in April, but was non-existent in the second half. The pen’s failures can be summarized by just 36 saves, and a 20-22 record in one-run games and 3-7 in extra innings. Clearly, they couldn’t slam the door late. The problem wasn’t really the closer as much as it was the bridge leading to the closer.
NO OFFENSE: The Mets had three players with 20-plus homers, but that’s not enough. The Mets went 15 straight home games in the second half where they scored three or fewer runs which lead to a minus-56 runs differential. If Davis had any kind of a first half he might have finished with 40. David Wright couldn’t carry the team from July on and one wonders if he’ll be a 30-homer player again. The Mets received very little from Bay, Duda, Josh Thole and Andres Torres. Who would have thought Scott Hairston would lead the outfield with 20 homers?
That’s a lot of money for a supposedly cheap team out of contention to shell out the final week of the season. Other teams in similar situations have pulled the player so they wouldn’t have to pay the bonus.
Young, a free-agent this winter, logged 115 innings, his most since 2007, and there will be some contender in need of another arm that will be interested. There’s no shortage of teams that could use a reliable arm such as Young’s.
“All in all, there were some really good things,” Young said of his season last night after giving up two run in six innings in a very quality start. “It was a great year, to bounce back. … When I decided to have the surgery and rehab, I knew it would be a long process. I knew there would be some bumps in the road.
I keep hearing, “Will the Mets re-sign David Wright?” and “What will it take to keep David Wright?” and “How can the Mets not afford to bring back David Wright?”
All very good, pointed and legitimate questions. Here’s some more: “What if David Wright wants to leave?” and “What’s keeping David Wright tied to the Mets?”
Unquestionably, Wright is the face of this franchise, he’s the most popular, he’s their best player. And, he’s still young enough where the team can build around him. But, what if Wright doesn’t want them to build around him anymore?
Seriously. Mull that over for a moment.
Jose Reyes is gone and so is Carlos Beltran, the latter whom is having a great season. Those were the position-player building blocks the team had around Wright. They are gone and if published reports are to be believed, might Ike Davis be next? Afterall, outside of their young pitching Davis figures to bring back the most in return.
Sandy Alderson has already said not to expect a winter spending spree, so realistically, the 2013 Mets will be vastly similar to this year’s second-half collapse model, with the hope being improvement from within, notably a strong first full season from Matt Harvey. Even so, the Mets are probably two or three years away from serious playoff contention.
Wright will be 33 in three years and perhaps nine years removed from his last playoff appearance (2006). Don’t you think he might be tired of being pitched around, losing and making public relations appearances for a team not going anywhere?
By that time, if not traded or having left as free agents, what will the 2015 Mets look like?
Just last week Wright said there are no moral victories and it is all about making the playoffs. At the same time, R.A. Dickey said “you’re kidding yourself if you think we’re more than one piece away.”
Wright said he wants to remain a Met, but hasn’t said he can’t say he’ll stay a Met regardless. He’d be crazy to say such a thing because it would limit his bargaining power. As it is, Wright won’t come close to hitting 30 homers, a milestone he’s reached several times, most recently in 2008. It has been part injuries, part Citi Field, part being pitched around and part bad habits that have led to Wright’s drop in power.
Wright has an option for next season which the team will undoubtedly pick us as to not risk heading into the ticket-selling offseason without their key player. If the Mets fail to sign him to an extension and then aren’t able to trade him as they didn’t Reyes, Wright will be a free agent and his phone will ring.
And, if the Mets don’t add some pieces around him soon, he’ll listen. He’d be a fool not to.