2008 Preview: New York Mets
Over the next 30 days (give or take a day or two around the beginning of March) I am going to offer an offseason assessment and 2008 prediction for each team. I’ll start with the Senior Circuit, go from East to West, and then move onto the Junior Circuit (also known as where all the best players are.) This is partly due to the fact that I’m an N.L. guy at heart, and partly that I’m waiting for the Erik Bedard trade to be completed. Anyway, onto the Mets!
2007 record: 88-74, 2nd place
Wish we could do that twice: Trading nothing of immediate use for Johan Santana. As has been written virtually everywhere, this was a great trade for the Mets. I find no reason at all to disagree. I’ll analyze the Twins portion in a couple weeks when it’s their turn, but Santana had his worst season in four years in 2007, and still managed a 9.1 wins above replacement. Meanwhile, the back-end of the Mets rotation was the definition of replacement. In other words, even with another “down year” from Santana, the Mets have gained a conservative seven wins from last year’s team. That’s huge. And signing him to a six-year deal is icing on the cake, as this will continue to help the Mets in their lifelong quest to unseat the Yankees for New York dominance. It’s quite affordable for them. And they really gave up nothing that they’ll miss for at least a couple years.
This won’t look pretty when the beer goggles come off: Trading Lastings Milledge for Brian Schneider and Ryan Church. I understand that Milledge had worn out his welcome, although some of that responsibility lies at the feet of Willie Randolph for not running a better clubhouse such that a 22 year-old reserve outfielder could become a problem to everyone. Lastings Milledge has way more talent than Schneider and Church, and he’s cheaper. Schneider is an okay catcher, in part because there is a plethora of mediocrity at the position these days. I like him more than LoDuca, so he’ll be an upgrade. But at the time of the trade, they’d already re-signed Ramon Castro, and traded for Johnny Estrada (whom they subsequently released, and who has now signed with the Nationals in a moment of irony.) The difference between Estrada and Schneider is negligible, although I suppose Estrada is glacier-slow, whereas Schneider is just catcher-slow. Still, Schneider wasn’t nearly worth Milledge, lusterless or not. Getting back Church was nice, in that he should now occupy Milledge’s right-field spot, which is better than relying on Endy Chavez full-time. But as a Met fan, and as a baseball-guy, I’d have far preferred Milledge and Estrada to Church and Schneider. When Milledge starts his run of all-star game appearances in 2010, I’ll sigh for him like I do Scott Kazmir.
Why didn’t this happen?!?: I liked him when he was brought in, and I liked when he was given an extension last January, but Willie Randolph needed to be fired. While it’s difficult to quantify a manager’s value, and I’ve tried, it’s safe to say that his primary responsibility is not in-game decisions (there’s but a couple moments in a game where a manager can have an actual effect), although Randolph made some very questionable decisions, specifically with regards to his usage of Billy Wagner in the last 6 weeks. Rather, it is in the daily preparation and motivation of his players. Clearly, the Mets were not playing with any level of professional confidence or composure over the last three weeks, and that was Randolph’s responsibility to prevent. He failed, and should have lost his job.
Thanks God this didn’t happen!! Some reports had Kyle Lohse possibly signing with the Mets in a four-year, $40 millon deal. Since this didn’t happen, there’s no way to know how close it was to reality. But Lohse is at best a league-average innings muncher, a la Steve Trachsel, and at worse someone you release outright (as pretty much happened in 2006.) As a one-year rotation plugger, he’s fine. But for four years and a whopping amount of money, he’s insanity personified.
That guy who needs to step up: Mike Pelfrey. The Mets front four of the rotation is underrated beyond Johan Santana. Pedro Martinez looked dominant at times last September, and a full offseason of health should allow him to have a great year by most pitchers’ standards. John Maine and Oliver Perez have their moments of inconsistency, but were both capable of anchoring the staff at times. But the fifth spot is questionable, between Pelfrey, Jorge Sosa, and Orlando Hernandez. Pelfrey taking this role over in Spring Training would be a godsend, as El Duque is better suited for a bullpen role at this point in his career, which is fine considering the bullpen struggles at Shea last year. Sosa is someone who relies mostly on luck to get by, with poor strikeout rates and poor walk rates. Pelfrey being a solid #5 guy all year would save the Mets from overpaying for a starter mid-season or next winter.
What else needs to be done: A little more help in the outfield wouldn’t be bad. Church is a platoon guy with injury issues, and Chavez is best as a fourth outfielder than an everyday player. Moises Alou is great when he plays, but to expect more than 400 at-bats is really just wishcasting. What happens when Alou goes down for a month? That presses Chavez into an everyday role and deprives Church of a platoon. The Mets will get by with their present lineup, but would excel with a real rightfielder. Maybe Lastings Milledge.
Where will they finish? Aside from the last three weeks of the season, the Mets were the class of the NL. They could have done nothing and had a reasonable expectation of winning the division. Locking up Santana assures them of first. If Pedro is healthy at the end of the year, and Wagner isn’t worn down, they have all the pieces to be a favorite entering October.