No clear answers, but Mets seek fixes
Return of regulars, hopefully healthy, should help cause in '10
NEW YORK -- Once the Mets' unrewarding 1991 season was complete and the team's sequence of successful seasons ended at seven, co-owner Fred Wilpon said to new general manager Al Harazin, "We can't have another season like that." And the Mets didn't. Their 1992 and '93 seasons were significantly worse, as if diabolical forces at work in Port St. Lucifer twice steered the team into the abyss.
The Mets of 2009 appeared to be under similarly strong and evil influences. And now, after 90 losses and a fall to fourth place and National League East irrelevance, the organization faces not merely repair, rebuilding or renovation as it did after 1991, but reconstruction, a tearing down of what was and replacing it with what will be.
Of course, the composition of the finished product -- the team that will engage the Marlins on April 5 at Citi Field -- is an unknown at this point. But so is the starting point. Working to replace Shea Stadium with the shiny new Citi a year ago was a challenge, too. But that process included planned and orderly demolition executed while blueprints were followed for the final stages of construction.
Fixing the Mets now is more daunting an undertaking.
In some ways, righting the big league team might be the least challenging phase, involving time, a belief that the worst-case scenario has run in course and weeks of finger-crossing. Fixing the foundation, i.e. the Minor Leagues and player development, can't happen so quickly -- or quickly enough.
So long as Johan Santana, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Jeff Francouer, John Maine, Jon Niese, Fernando Nieve, Fernando Martinez and Oliver Perez -- included in order of importance -- are fit and able to perform come April, the Mets' level of talent will be restored. And that alone will make them more competitive than they were the last three months of the '09 season.
Addressing the other needs requires more than a return to good health. The Mets need a genuine power bat no matter what they decide about Carlos Delgado, at least one more starting pitcher and one reliever and a catcher if they don't bring back Brian Schneider. And the addition of another one or two players -- regulars or reserves -- with Francoeur's energy and makeup would constitute progress.
Moreover, a turn toward more fundamentally sound baseball is essential.
Where the Mets go to fill the voids and how one personnel solution impacts another are the imponderables. Acquiring a power bat/left fielder would be a nice fix. But how many sluggers have the speed and skill to patrol the spacious outfield of the Citi? Kevin McReynolds or the 1990 version of Barry Bonds would work. Would Mike Cameron serve as a fix until Martinez is better-suited for the big leagues?
And what about their rotation? No one who started a game for the '09 Mets would begin Spring Training without some issues -- Injury-health: Santana, Maine, Niese, Nieve. Performance: Mike Pelfrey, Tim Redding, Nelson Figueroa, Pat Misch, Bobby Parnell. Injury-health-performance-resolve: Perez.
The issue underlying all others is that of finances. Revenue for '09 probably was less than anticipated, even with attendance exceeding 3 million. Not all seats and parking spaces were used in the final weeks.
A payroll comparable to the $143 million of '09 isn't likely.
So who can tell? The Mets believed they were a starter away after 2007 and added Santana. They thought they were a closer away after 2008 and signed Frankie Rodriguez. After an '09 season in which they were passed by the Braves and Marlins and finished significantly closer to last place than first, they know they need more than a one-player fix. How it all can be accomplished doesn't seem clear or particularly easy to do.
Free agents: Alex Cora, INF; Carlos Delgado, 1B; Elmer Dessens, RHP; Ramon Martinez, INF; Wily Mo Pena, 1B; J.J. Putz, RHP; Tim Redding, RHP; Brian Schneider, C; Gary Sheffield, OF; Fernando Tatis, INF-OF.
Eligible for arbitration: Pedro Feliciano, LHP; Jeff Francoeur, OF; Sean Green, RHP; John Maine, RHP; Angel Pagan, OF; Jeremy Reed, OF; Cory Sullivan, OF.
Player options: None.
Club options: J.J. Putz, RHP, $8.6 mllion, $1 million buyout.
Non-tender possibilities: Lance Broadway, RHP; Sean Green, RHP; Anderson Hernandez; INF; Pat Misch, LHP; Carlos Muniz, RHP; Jeremy Reed, OF; Argenis Reyes, INF; Wilson Valdez, INF.
Omir Santos, .260 BA, 7 HRs, 40 RBIs
Brian Schneider, .218, 3 HRs, 24 RBIs
Josh Thole, .321 BA, 0 HRs, 9 RBIs
Schneider is certain he won't be pursued as a free agent, Thole needs more work on his receiving. Santos was a midseason revelation who has his moments. But more veteran presence and more offense -- preferably left-handed -- is needed.
Daniel Murphy, .266 BA, 12 HRs, 63 RBIs
Carlos Delgado, .298 BA, 4 HRs, 23 RBIs
Fernando Tatis, .282 BA, 8 HRs, 48 RBIs
Murphy didn't show home run power consistent with the position he took over when Delgado went down, but he does produce doubles. He is an aggressive first baseman who still is prone to errors. But first appears to be his only position. Tatis plays everywhere else but center field and behind the plate.
Luis Castillo, .302 BA, 1 HR, 40 RBIs
Alex Cora, .251 BA, 1 HR,18 RBIs
Anderson Hernandez, .251 BA, 3 HRs, 37 RBIs
Castillo made the most of his chance at redemption, but with Reyes and Beltran missing most of the season, his small-ball production didn't have the impact it might have had. Cora was forced to play most shortstop than expected. By playing shortstop, Hernandez proved second base is his position.
David Wright, .307 BA, 10 HRs, 72 RBIs
Fernando Tatis, .282 BA, 8 HRs, 48 RBIs
Wright endured his most trying season. His strikeout total (140) is alarming and the dropoff in home runs -- an average of 29 for four seasons to 10 in 2009 -- undermined his overall run production and the team's. The Mets express confidence he will bounce back. Tatis is an adequate and seldom-needed understudy.
Jose Reyes, .279 BA, 2 HRs, 15 RBIs
Alex Cora, .251 BA, 1 HR, 18 RBIs
Wilson Valdez, .256 BA, 0 HRs, 7 RBIs
The prolonged absence of Reyes was the most debilitating problem the Mets endured. Cora, as fundamentally sound as he was, could do only so much. And Valdez made a positive impression.
Carlos Beltran, .325 BA, 10 HRs, 48 RBIs
Jeff Francoeur, .280 BA, 15 HRs, 76 RBIs
Angel Pagan, .306 BA, 6 HRs, 32 RBIs
Jeremy Reed, .242 BA, 0 HRs, 9 RBIs
Cory Sullivan, .250 BA, 2 HRs, 15 RBIs
Once he returned from his extended DL assignment, Beltran appeared to be pretty much the player he had been -- with some rust. Francoeur provided energy, more run production -- before the Braves traded him to Mets -- and solid defense. He is an asset the team needed. The Mets want to sign him for three years. Pagan is a double-edged sword, so skilled and so prone to make unwise decisions and poor plays. Manager Jerry Manuel seldom used Reed who performed well when asked but found use for Sullivan.
Johan Santana, 13-9, 3.13 ERA, 166 2/3 IP
Mike Pelfrey, 10-12, 5.03 ERA, 184 1/3 IP
John Maine, 7-6, 4.43 ERA, 81 1/3 IP
Oliver Perez, 3-4, 6.82 ERA, 66 IP
Tim Redding, 3-6, 5.10 ERA, 120 IP
Jon Niese, 1-1, 4.21 ERA, 25 1/3 IP
Nelson Figueroa, 3-8, 4.09 ERA, 70 1/3 IP
Fernando Nieve, 3-3, 2.95 ERA, 36 2/3 IP
Bobby Parnell, 4-8, 5.30 ERA, 88 1/3 IP
Pat Misch, 3-4, 4.48 ERA, 62 1/3 IP
Even when his elbow wasn't right, Santana was a horse. Neither Pelfrey nor Maine made progress in '09. No one knows what to make of Perez. He remains the Mets starter most likely to allow seven runs in two innings. Redding did a nice job once he was back in the rotation. Niese and Nieve had their moments and are more likely to be in the 2010 rotation than Figueroa, Parnell or Misch.
Francisco Rodriguez, 3-6, 3.71 ERA, 68 IP
Pedro Feliciano, 6-4, 3.03 ERA, 59 1/3 IP
Brian Stokes, 2-4, 3.97 ERA, 70 1/3 IP
Bobby Parnell, 4-8, 5.30 ERA, 88 1/3 IP
J.J. Putz, 1-4, 5.22 ERA, 29 1/3 IP
Sean Green, 1-4, 4.52 ERA, 69 2/3 IP
Elmer Dessens, 0-0, 3.31 ERA, 32 2/3 IP
Ken Takahashi, 0-1, 2.96 ERA, 27 1/3 IP
The Mets didn't provide K-Rod with nearly as many save opportunities as they had hoped, and he didn't respond as well as he might have to the irregular use and diminished workload. Feliciano became more reliable and effective. Stokes and Parnell had their moments, good and bad. Putz would be expensive to bring back under his current contract.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.