Revamped 'pen has Mets ready for '09
New acquisitions, move to Citi Field has organization thinking big
NEW YORK -- When the Mets pulled the surprise of the Winter Meetings -- acquiring J.J. Putz in a 12-player trade just hours after inking a fresh contract for Francisco Rodriguez -- it had an effect similar to that produced by the acquisition of Johan Santana one offseason before.
Up until the Mets traded for and subsequently signed Santana, their 2007-08 offseason was widely considered a bust. They had done little to upgrade the team that finished one game behind the Phillies a season earlier, and they had done almost nothing to correct their most noticeable flaws.
Then they acquired Santana, a mediocre offseason became a notable one, and excitement for the upcoming season exploded from a simmer to a boil.
Roughly 10 months later, the Mets have planted themselves in an eerily similar situation. They did virtually nothing over the first two months of the offseason -- though, to be fair, few teams did. Then, lacking a closer, Mets general manager Omar Minaya acquired two of them, instantly putting a positive spin on last season's negative conclusion.
"All I kept hearing in the streets of New York when you go to get bagels in the morning was, 'Please, address the bullpen,'" Minaya said shortly after acquiring Putz, Sean Green and outfielder Jeremy Reed from the Mariners. "Well, to you Mets fans, we've addressed the bullpen."
Yet the difference between this year and last year -- other than dollars, of course -- is that the Mets still have plenty of time remaining in their offseason. They traded for Santana in early February, almost two months later than they acquired Rodriguez and Putz.
This year, the Mets have all of January to search for a starting pitcher, their new primary need. They have all of January to acquire an outfielder, a utility man and a left-handed reliever. And despite the fact that they still lack those parts, the Mets are building excitement for a season that they hope -- again -- will be better than the last.
"I know what's happened here the last couple years has been disappointing," Putz said during his introduction at Citi Field. "And hopefully, having Frankie and myself here will change that."
Season in Preview
A lot can change by Opening Day, but as 2008 becomes 2009, this is who is projected to take the field for the Mets:
Where he spoke those words was almost as significant as what he said. Certainly the most tangible difference between this season and last season will be Citi Field, the team's new $850 million stadium. And perhaps a change of scenery is precisely what the Mets need. After finishing a combined two games behind the Phillies in each of the past two seasons, the Mets are aching for any sort of change.
Rodriguez and Putz should provide it. Two of the American League's top closers over the past three years, they will try to redefine a bullpen that absorbed much of the blame for last season's demise. And almost equally as significant is who is gone -- Mets COO Jeff Wilpon's publicly advocated "addition by subtraction" has seen relievers Aaron Heilman and Scott Schoeneweis find work elsewhere.
So when the Mets finally do open their 2009 season on April 6 in Cincinnati, they will do so with a markedly different roster than the one that stepped out of Shea Stadium last September. That's by design. Once again, the Mets want to forget about last season and usher in a new attitude through a new group of personnel.
"I like to win, of course," Rodriguez said recently, doing his best to stir the recent war of words between his Mets and the Phillies. "And if they ask me who's the ballclub that's going to win the National League East -- it's going to be the Mets. Easy question."
It's a grand plan for change. And perhaps this time, it will work.
Grading on a curve: The swiftness with which the Mets revamped their bullpen was rather impressive, especially considering the necessity of it. Over the span of two days, the Mets traded away three of their late-inning relievers, replacing them with two of the best closers in baseball. Yet to grade the team on those transactions alone would be premature. The Mets still need a starting pitcher, perhaps even two. They still need a backup infielder. They still want a corner outfielder and a left-handed reliever. Certainly, the Mets could not have scripted their bullpen acquisitions better, and for those, they deserve a 10 out of 10. But until the rest of their winter is complete, they'll have to settle for an 8.
Arrivals: RHP Green, RHP Putz, RHP Connor Robertson, RHP Rodriguez, OF Reed.
Departures: OF Endy Chavez, RHP Heilman, LHP Schoeneweis, RHP Joe Smith.
The Road Ahead: Look for the Mets to continue their search for a starter into the new year. That's their first priority, and their only significant remaining hole. They would like to add an outfield bat -- though that's more of a luxury -- and the acquisition of a backup infielder, though necessary, shouldn't consume much energy. Already, Minaya has classified this as a "great" offseason, speaking only about his bullpen acquisitions. The addition of a middle-of-the-rotation starter would make it even more impressive.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.