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.

Dec 15

No need to panic

Sandy Alderson said Philadelphia’s stunning signing of Cliff Lee will have no great bearing or impact on his plans for putting together the Mets for 2011. Nor should it.

Alderson says the Mets can be competitive, but there’s room for interpretation on what that means. Will the Mets make a run at the wild card or just play tight, close games they’ll more often than not eventually lose? With the way the roster is compiled and limited spending to them, it is probably the latter.

The Mets talked bravely about the Phillies being better on paper, which is undoubtedly true, but they still have to play the games. That’s the way to slip into cliche mode. Adding Chris Young or Jeff Francis isn’t going to make a world of difference for the Mets. Fact is, with the Yankees losing out on Lee I can see them swooping down on Young to bring into camp. The $4 million he wants is chump change to the Yankees.

Alderson can’t write off 2011 entirely because he still has tickets to sell and he needs to change the culture by improving the remaining product on the field. A panic signing now, with all that payroll coming off the books later, does the team no good.

Just get used to it. This will be a rough year, but it is the needed medicine to cure the ills of the previous regime.

Dec 14

Phillies land Lee in stunning turnaround

On a day Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said Johan Santana won’t  be available until July at the earliest and Oliver Perez had a chance of going to spring training with a chance to compete for a job, the Philadelphia

LEE: Back in Philly

Phillies stunned the sport by bringing back Cliff Lee.

Ouch.

Lee left money and years on the table to return to Philadelphia, the place where he was most comfortable, now even more cozy because he’s joining  a rotation that includes Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt. The Phillies’ team he left is better now than when he was there, and now arguably is the best in baseball.

Never mind that the Yankees were spurned. No tears for them as they’ll sign Andy Pettitte as a stop gap and add somebody at the All-Star break. I feel a little for the Texas Rangers, but they probably made off better in the long run by not being saddled with a huge contract. With Lee, they might have become the Mets in four years.

The Mets and Phillies are close in payroll, but there’s such a disparity in talent. So much so, that adding Lee wouldn’t have put them over the top. Adding Santana didn’t put them over the top, either.

You can try to convince yourself  Halladay and Lee are 32, that Oswalt is showing breakdown signs, that Lee had a bad back, and Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, that Jayson Werth is gone so there is a closing window in Philadelphia. Maybe so, but before it slams shut the Phillies will have played a lot of October baseball games. Maybe even spilled some champagne.

For the past four years the Phillies have been more aggressive and smarter than the Mets, and eclipsed them in the standings despite similar resources. The Mets have spent money since 2006, but not wisely. The Mets, in essence are starting over with a plan to make up for the poor choices of the past. The Phillies’ choices in that span have worked and they continue to feed the monster.

Maybe, when it is done eating, the Mets will be in position to do something. But, it won’t be anytime soon.

Dec 13

Are you ready to sacrifice 2011?

Sandy Alderson insists the Mets will compete in 2011, but at the same time acknowledges limited resources and holes in the rotation and bullpen. The plan is for those injured to bounce back healthy and the others to play at the top of their game.

Don’t expect Johan Santana before the All-Star break at the earliest. We’ve known since he joined the organization this would be the case, but it is sinking in after coming home with scraps from the winter meetings. Yes, the Mets needed a back-up catcher and another bullpen arm, but that’s not enough to get it done.

Alderson said today he’d like seven or eight arms to compete for starter roles but came up with only Mike Pelfrey, RA Dickey, John Niese, Dillon Gee and Pat Misch. Jenrry Mejia, he said, isn’t ready. Alderson didn’t say where the other arms would come from. Chris Young is somebody they are looking at, but he’s a project and wants more than what the Mets want to give.

Everything has to break right for the Mets to have a competitive season. That much Alderson has told us. He just hasn’t said how this is to happen.

Dec 09

Mets coming home with scraps

Scott Boras was right, Carlos Beltran will start the season with the Mets. The Red Sox signing Carl Crawford put an official end to that wishful thinking. So, with the exception of second base, two slots in the rotation and the bullpen, the Mets are set for 2011.

Sandy Alderson said he wouldn’t make a splash and he has been true to his word. Alderson said last night it would be highly unlikely the Mets would leave Orlando today with a starting pitcher. There’s still interest in Chris Young, but he’s thinking $5 million a year while the Mets are thinking less than half that. They are talking with Freddy Garcia.

The Mets have added a mediocre arm to the bullpen and a mediocre back-up catcher. The Mets are hoping three key players – Beltran, Jose Reyes and Jason Bay – are healthy and two starters will fall out of the sky.

All along, we’ve been looking forward to 2012, and this week just underscores that sentiment. Alderson did say the Mets would be competitive this season, but that’s vague. Everything has to break right for the Mets to be competitive and how often do things always break right?