Oct 27

Today in Mets History: Pop the corks.

I was driving this morning when I heard Bob Murphy’s call: “He struck him out. He struck him out. The Mets win the World Series.”

It was a chilly Monday night. The Giants were at home to the Redskins, but the real show in town was Game 7 of the 1986 World Series. Game 7’s are usually always a gem, and this was no different, as for the second straight game the Mets rallied to beat the Red Sox.

Everybody remembers Game 6 for the Bill Buckner play, and the conventional wisdom was the Boston would be devastated and fold like a cheap tent. Not so.

A rainout Sunday gave the Red Sox another day to get over the lost and give Bruce Hurst another day of rest. What people forget was the Red Sox taking an early 3-0 lead on Rich Gedman’s homer.

But, the Mets scored three in the sixth and seventh, and two more in the eighth to put away Boston, 8-5.

It was after this game when The New York Times’ George Vecsey became the first to mention a Babe Ruth curse. He didn’t phrase it, “the curse of the Bambino,” but he was the first to associate a curse with the Red Sox.

This was a Mets’ team full of brass and it was supposed to win a string of World Series, but it never happened. Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry had drug problems, Mike Scioscia’s homer off Gooden in the 1988 NLCS derailed the Mets that season, Len Dykstra was traded and the team started to unravel.

What was going to be a dynasty never happened and the Mets wouldn’t reach the World Series until 2000 when they were beaten in five games by the Yankees.

Even so, Murphy’s call was the soundtrack for Jesse Orosco striking out Marty Barrett for the game’s final out. Orosco throwing his glove in the air and falling to his knees as he was mobbed by his teammates has been one of baseball’s most enduring images since.

There was no middle-of-the-road with the 86 Mets. You either loved them or hated them. That was the year I moved to New York from Ohio and started following the Mets. They were a cocky bunch which I didn’t like at first, but they grew on me. I loved how Keith Hernandez and Lenny Dykstra played, and grew to admire Gooden’s dominance. Strawberry, I remember, was a player you couldn’t take your eyes off when he came to the plate. After hitting the scoreboard clock in St. Louis, with every at-bat you wondered how far he’d hit the ball.

Some would say this was the Mets’ last great moment, but I dispute that with their pennant run in 2000 and Mike Piazza’s homer after 9-11. The Piazza homer, Endy Chavez’s catch and Carlos Beltran taking a called third strike to end the 2006 NLCS all provided enduring images.

But, 1986 was the zenith for the Mets, and it is true that they haven’t been the same way since. Makes you wonder if the Buckner play started another curse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oct 25

Mets have precious few pieces to trade. Plus poll on dealing Wright.

There are three ways for a team to build: free agency, drafting and trading.

With a stated budget of just over $100 million, Sandy Alderson’s free-agent options are limited, especially if he dives into the deep end of the Jose Reyes pool. He’ll be looking to plug holes in the bullpen and rotation with middle-tier talent. Cheap bench players are always available.

WRIGHT: Most tradeable Met?

There is potential in the minor league system, but it is the lower minors, which the Mets want to avoid delving into. Solid drafting is the best way to lay the foundation and the Mets are making progress in that direction and figure to keep their young talent.

 

That leads us to trading, and things aren’t rosy in that department, either.

David Wright, who has been in decline the past two seasons, has the biggest upside and a manageable contract. He’s a cornerstone, especially if Reyes leaves, and the player who intrigues other teams, believing a change of scenery would benefit him. A Wright trade would mean serious re-building for the Mets, but he’s the player who would bring the most in return.

Trading him is a franchise-defining decision.

Other than Wright, what is the market value for some of the others?

Josh Thole: Young, inexpensive with more potential than production. Thole did not perform to expectations and wouldn’t draw attention from a team wanting a starting catcher. Teams needing a catcher have more experienced options in the free-agent market. It’s hard to believe anybody would trade for him to be a starter.

Ike Davis: Could be attractive, but after missing much of the season with an ankle injury he represents a risk. Young, inexpensive and loaded with potential – if healthy – he’s the ideal piece for the Mets to keep and build around.

Ruben Tejada: Impressed a lot of scouts and would draw interest, but the Mets will need him at shortstop if Reyes goes or at second if he stays. He’s not going anywhere.

Jason Bay: You must be joking. People are saying all the time that the Mets should trade Bay. What planet are they on? Bay has not played well since signing as a Met; he’s been injured and has a hefty contract. Can you see the line forming now? The Mets have two hopes for him: 1) he stays healthy and meets expectations to salvage the final two years, or 2) if that doesn’t happen, then he doesn’t get the necessary at-bats and games for his option to kick in. Two more years.

Angel Pagan: Regressed this year to the point where the Mets might not tender him. He’d sign somewhere as a bench player, but nobody will trade for him.

Lucas Duda: Scouts love his power potential and he played decent defense in right field. He would be part of a larger package, but wouldn’t be someone teams would want to trade for to build around. Besides, the Mets’ outfield forecasts as weak, so he’s getting the full time shot in right.

Fernando Martinez: Had been sought after in previous years, but is a fragile, injury risk whose value has declined. Too bad they can’t turn back the clock two years. If the Mets can swing something with him, they should do it, but his real value to them would be to stay healthy and reach his potential, which is becoming less and less likely.

Johan Santana: Nobody knows how healthy he is, which means he’s staying put for now. Should Santana come back and be solid and healthy in the first half, you could see the Mets trying to deal him if they aren’t in contention. Even if they were, they might pull the trigger on a trade to free up salary. This bears watching, but not until June and July.

Mike Pelfrey: Has a manageable contract and is young. He regressed this season, but there’s still potential for the right pitching coach. But, if they trade him, he would thin out an already spotty rotation. The Mets will keep him and hope he improves. If not, then it might be time to cut him loose. There could be takers at the trade deadline.

Jon Niese: Coming off an injury and who knows if he’d pass the physical? Mets love his potential, so he’s not going anywhere.

R.A. Dickey: Teams don’t trade for journeyman knuckleball pitchers in the off-season. They wait for the trade deadline. He’s been arguably the Mets most consistent starter, but he’s a No. 4 according to most scouts, maybe a No. 5. He’s somebody a contender might covet in July, but he’s not going to bring back a lot of talent.

Dillon Gee: Surprised a lot of people this season. But, the pitching deficient Mets won’t move him. After a great start, Gee had a rocky second half, which makes him a question to the Mets, not to mention any team with interest.

Bobby Parnell: Young and a power arm is always attractive. Not so much is his command and thought process on the mound. There are no assurances the Mets will make him their closer as there are numerous reports saying that is their greatest need. If Parnell can’t convince the Mets he’s closer worthy, then what must other teams be thinking? Right, he’s a bullpen piece who needs a lot of work. Not a long line here.

 

So, if you look at the Mets’ trade options, dealing Wright would net the most, but you have to wonder what considering he’s several years removed from his best season. There are limited other options to deal and they are most suited for moving at the trading deadline.

Oct 21

The makings of a great World Series.

Two games in and I have the feeling this could be the makings of a great World Series. Could it be because we have two teams playing and we’re not caught up in a traveling circus of the Red Sox or Yankees?

Even without them playing, the Red Sox are always in the news. The Yankees have been pretty quiet, but there is the underlying assumption – perhaps coming from their fans’ sense of entitlement – CJ Wilson will come running to them.

He’s a No. 2 starter, but being the premier arm on the market he will make his money. However, he won’t be cashing any checks bearing Fred Wilpon’s signature.

If the Rangers go on to win, it could come down to a defensive misplay by by Albert Pujols in the ninth inning when he failed to field a cutoff throw which enabled Elvis Andrus to take to second and eventually scored what proved to be the winning run on back-to-back sacrifice flies by Josh Hamilton and Michael Young.

Had Pujols cut off the ball, the Cardinals could be up 2-0.

The first two games have been a study in pitching and fundamentals, and that’s what it takes to win. We should see more scoring when the Series moves to Arlington, where the weather will be warmer.

Close, tense games are only part of what makes a great World Series. There are the compelling story lines of the Rangers trying to win for the first time and the Cardinals attempting to come all the way back from a 10 1/2-game deficit on Aug. 25. It would be one of the greatest comebacks of all time.

Of course, the definitive great World Series has to go seven games. Really, outside of the 69 Mets, whose rise was one of the great baseball stories of the ages, there aren’t many Series considered great that run short.

Football season is in full swing, but I’m not ready to let go of the summer. Here’s hoping this one goes seven.

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.

 

Oct 18

On the eve of the Series …. Alderson knew what he was getting into.

The drive to Ohio is long and tedious, much like a New York Mets summer the past three years. Went back home to visit my father, who was hospitalized, and apologize for the lapse in posts.

My mind was on other things.

I am anxious for the World Series to start, and I would like to see the Cardinals because that would complete one of the great comebacks in baseball history. The Cardinals have what it takes to complete history.

Either way, if the Rangers won, that would also be a compelling story, especially for Mets fans who still have a fondness for Nolan Ryan.

The Cardinals have the best pitcher and player in the Series in Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols, plus the extra game at home. Both teams are sizzling at the right time.

In looking at the two teams, it is easy to see what separates them from the Mets, and, of course, you have to wonder how far our boys are away.

Both teams have a stud hitter in Pujols and Josh Hamilton, reliable starters in Carpenter and CJ Wilson, good bullpens and support throughout the batter orders.

The Mets have David Wright and Mike Pelfrey, holes in the order and are shambles in the bullpen and rotation. If everybody in the NL East stands pat, and you know they won’t, at best the Mets are fourth in the division.

Bringing back Jose Reyes won’t change that, either. So, it was interesting to read the ESPN report of Chip Hale’s assessment, and that of some NL scouts, on Ruben Tejada’s development.

One scout said Tejada is ready to play and the best decision for the Mets would be to plug him in, let Reyes go and spend the money patching their numerous pitching holes.

I’ve been saying that since the trade deadline.

It’s not that I dislike Reyes. To the contrary, he’s been one of my favorite Mets to deal with, but realistically, he has limitations and the team has other priorities. If Tejada was a lost cause, it might be different, but there is promise there.

The Cardinals and Rangers wouldn’t be here without Pujols and Hamilton, respectively. Reyes, and also Wright, don’t carry the same weight with the Mets.

At one time, Reyes and Wright represented the Mets’ core, but times have changed. The team has lost key complementary pieces while both players have declined and have had health issues.

Sandy Alderson was brought in here to rebuild this franchise, and it is becoming clearer that both Reyes and Wright or no longer cornerstones. Too bad, but that is the reality.

Another reality, is Alderson knew the guidelines when he took the job. Not much got by Alderson, if anything, when he was working in the commissioner’s office. He got the job on the strong recommendation of Bud Selig, so he had a strong sense of the Wilpon’s financial issues.

When he came here he said it would take time, rebuilding wouldn’t come over night and the Mets’ culture had to change. That would include handing out massive contracts.

That is why I would be shocked if Reyes was brought back, wouldn’t be surprised if Wright isn’t dealt, and why the team would love to cut ties with Johan Santana and Jason Bay.

We knew 2011 and 2012 would be written off, and we wouldn’t have a clearer idea of the future until 2013 at the earliest.