Mets Need a Gamer

Let’s not think about the starting rotation for a moment — it’s too depressing and stressful right now. Instead, re-focus on another missing piece of the Mets roster: a gamer.

The Mets came within one swing of the bat from the World Series. Ironically, it was not the pitching that kept them out, but the hitting. Unfortunately, hitting will always be a crapshoot — the 2006 New York Yankees a prime example. But there was one more element that the Mets missed: another “gamer”.

A “gamer” is a guy like Tim Foli or Phil Garner on the old Pittsburgh Pirates teams of the late 1970s. Bill Buckner was a gamer, despite his folly in the 1986 Series. Or Paul O’Neill and Scott Brosius from the championship Yankee teams of the late 1990s. These are guys that fight, kick, scream, break, and bleed in order to win. They play with sheer passion, and singlehandedly fire up a team. Sometimes they’re relatively untalented guys who overachieve, like a David Eckstein, and sometimes their talent equals their grit — such as a George Brett or Don Mattingly.

The Mets had a few gamers in 2006. Paul LoDuca was the most visible one, and Endy Chavez was close. David Wright looks like he might develop into one, but didn’t quite live up to the label after falling on his face in the postseason. Carlos Delgado is also close, as is — don’t laugh — Shawn Green. Unfortunately for Green, his talents are eroding too quickly to be seen as a gamer in the twilight of his career.

So outside of LoDuca, there isn’t a starting player who fits the mold of the hard playing, sonofabitch-tough scrapper that every World Series Champion inevitably has in their lineup. The fire and passion of a gamer is an intangible that rubs off on the other players and can push the team as a whole to a higher level.

The 2007 Mets need a Ray Knight, a Wally Backman, or a Lenny Dykstra — geez, when you look at that ’86 team it’s loaded with gamers. Again, David Wright might be close, but even still the Mets need to add a little more passion to their starting nine. There doesn’t look to be anyone on the current roster who fits the bill, so they’ll need to obtain new blood.

Earlier in the offseason, there were a few gamers available — most for a song. Craig Counsell, Frank Catalanotto, Adam Kennedy, Mark DeRosa, and Marcus Giles are all Tim Foli – types who would have fit right in at second base (it’s funny how middle infielders tend to be gritty; it must have something to do with hanging in there on double plays). Jim Edmonds is the epitome of a gamer, but may not have been willing to leave the comfort of St. Louis, or move to a corner outfield position. Darin Erstad is still available, but it’s pretty unlikely the Mets are interested in his services. Too bad, he seems just the type to stir things up a bit in the groovy, relaxed Mets dugout.

However, Mark Loretta is still available.

Loretta may not be the epitome of a gamer, but he’s close. In fact, he’s a lot like Paul LoDuca or Ray Knight, when you look at his overall game. First, he is impeccably fundamentally sound — he can hit and run, bunt, run the bases well, is solid defensively, and is a patient, contact hitter. Second, he’ll do whatever is necessary to help the team win. For example, he’s played nearly every position on the field, as needed, and even volunteered to pitch an inning in a laugher while with the Brewers. He’ll rarely overwhelm anyone or make the headlines, but is appreciated over the course of the year for his consistency. He’s pretty tough, doesn’t complain, and willing to play hurt, when necessary.

While Omar Minaya has stated on several occasions that Jose Valentin is the Mets’ starting second baseman, we have to believe that obtaining a guy like Loretta can only help everyone. Valentin’s epiphany last year could well be a swan song as he ventures toward his 40s, and can’t be expected to start 140-150 games and produce numbers similar to last year’s. Plus, everyone is aware of Valentin’s inability to hit lefthanders — something that’s been an issue his entire career, to the point that he once gave up batting righthanded altogether. Adding a righthanded bat such as Loretta’s in a platoon situation makes perfect sense — not to mention the fact that Loretta can also back up all three of the other infield positions, is probably athletic enough to play the outfield as well, and can provide a contact bat off the bench.

Signing Mark Loretta makes so much sense, from so many angles, it seems remarkable the Mets haven’t been more aggressive.

They may have lost out on Barry Zito, Jeff Suppan, and some other big names, but the Mets can end the offseason with a tiny splash that may swell into a tsunami by the time the 2007 season ends. He may not singlehandedly win any games, but Mark Loretta could be the impetus of the ripple effect that pushes the Mets over the edge and into a World Series.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
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