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 01

Timetable for Santana?

Mets manager Terry Collins, speaking on WFAN, threw out the first timetable on Johan Santana, saying maybe around June. Does anybody have any faith it will be sooner than that?

SANTANA: Collins saying June.

The Mets must prepare for life without Santana for this year, and possibly longer, consider the nature of his injury and this is the third straight year in which he’s been injured and has become a annual health issue.
The Mets can’t afford this year, or next, to assume Santana will automatically be an ace. They won’t spend anything this winter, but after the books are cleared they have to be thinking about landing a big time free-agent for the 2012 season.
The free-agent pitching market is thin, and the Mets have two holes to fill in their rotation. With the loss of Hisanori Takahashi and likely Pedro Feliciano, they also have considerable work to do in their bullpen.
On a positive note, Collins said he will approach Carlos Beltran about playing right field and the health reports are good on Jason Bay. Second base, he said, is wide open.
Sandy Alderson said the Mets could be competitive this season, but everything has to break right, and that means the healthy returns of Beltran, Bay and Reyes, and consistency in the starting rotation.
Hopefully, next week at the winter meetings Alderson will make a big enough splash to fuel optimism.
Nov 12

Bringing back Feliciano not a given

One of the Mets’ most interesting off-season decisions will be what to do with Pedro Feliciano. The departure of Hisanori Takahashi doesn’t necessarily mean bringing back Feliciano is a formality.

FELICIANO: Not a given he'll be back.

Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel wore down Feliciano, pushing the envelope with him against right-handed hitters over the past three years. Feliciano led the league in appearances for three straight seasons with 86, 88 and 92 in 2008, 2009 and last year, respectively.

“The Mets over used him because they didn’t really have any other better options against right-handed hitters,” one scout said. “There were signs he was wearing down. He’d be better off strictly against lefties.”

He’ll be 35 in 2011 and if he doesn’t have more of a refined role, there are concerns he could wear down. In three more innings pitched last season than in 2009, Feliciano’s ERA rose by a third of a run, and he gave up 15 more hits and 12 more walks.

Feliciano, as much as he wanted an expanded role, proved vulnerable against right-handed hitters with a .336 average against compared to .264 from the previous year.

Feliciano’s pre-All-Star ERA was 2.34, but his post-All-Star ERA was 4.50, including 5.23 in July and 6.75 in August when the season slipped away from the Mets.

The shelf life of a reliever is short to begin with, and considering his age and that there are breakdown signs already, don’t be surprised if the Mets cut him loose and looked for a younger, cheaper arm elsewhere.

Nov 09

Mets laying a good foundation

I really like what the Mets have done so far as it shows thoughtfulness and the implementation of a real plan as opposed the quick-fix mentality.

Sandy Alderson was the best available general manager candidate and has not disappointed with the hires of Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi to the front office.

The Mets are laying a strong foundation, one that will carry them beyond the checkbook mentality of free agency. While it is premature to say theirs is the best front office in baseball, it isn’t to suggest they are showing signs of putting together a unit that could become one of the elite.

They are doing all the right things also in their managerial search and not giving into jumping at the hot name. The names being interviewed are solid candidates who could thrive in the right organization. The hiring of DePodesta to work the minor league system could open the door for Terry Collins to move out of that area and move into the manager’s seat.

Not caving into Hisanori Takahashi’s demands was also the prudent way to go. Giving into Takahashi, at his age and with only one year in the majors, would have been duplicating the acts of the previous regime.

As much as I like what Takahashi did last year, giving him three years would have only burdened the Mets with another contract they might want to unload in a year.

The Mets will still be bogged down in 2011 with a heavy payroll, but at least they are putting themselves in the right position to roll when they finally gain some financial flexibility.

So far, the first impression has been a good one.

Nov 05

Tonight is deadline for Takahashi

The Mets have until midnight tonight to sign Hisanori Takahashi or lose the right to negotiate with the left-hander until May 15, which would be moot because he’d be gone by then.

If reports are true, that Takahashi wants a three-year deal at $4.5 million a season, then it is a sure bet the Mets will let him walk. The Mets want to offer a one-year contract with an option with a total value of $3 million.

So, the difference between what the total Takahashi wants (at least $13.5 million) and what the Mets want to give ($3 million) is $10.5 million. Despite how versatile and productive Takahashi was for the Mets last season, considering the potential dollars he wants and his age at 36, I can’t see the Mets bringing him back.