Forget Power and Acquire Speed
Everyone from Jerry Manuel to Mike Francesa to the guy on the street is crying that the Mets need more power in their lineup — specifically, someone or someones who can hit home runs.
First of all, putting the thought of slugging homeruns into the current Mets hitters’ heads is a bad idea. Anyone whose played baseball at any level knows that the minute you start thinking about hitting the ball over the fence is concurrent with the beginning of a slump. Sure, once in a while an elite player may be able to look for a particular pitch and try to send it sailing over the wall, but generally speaking, when batters start thinking longball, they “muscle up”, pull off the ball, and hit more grounders to short than they ever did before.
But, we’re going to give Jerry Manuel the benefit of the doubt and assume his request for power was directed more at Omar Minaya than at his players. Certainly the man who instituted the revolutionary “opposite field curveball drill off the pitching machine” drill would be sending mixed messages by asking for homers.
Would the Mets really benefit that much from the addition of a homerun slugger? I’m not sure. Certainly, we’ve seen that Carlos Beltran and David Wright tend to get better pitches to hit when Gary Sheffield’s in the lineup. A similarly potent presence would presumably further that phenomenon.
But there are two problems with that solution. First, there aren’t many big boppers available on the market, and the Mets likely don’t have the chips to bring one to Flushing. Second, of the few sluggers available, only one won’t be affected by Citi Field, and that’s Adam Dunn — a player who the Mets probably can’t pry away from the Nats, and may not have interest in.
Wouldn’t it make sense to build the team for its home park? To take inspiration from the KC Royals of the late 1970s / early 1980s and the Cardinals of the early to mid 1980s? David Wright already “gets it”, with his 14 stolen bases and 3 homeruns this year — ironically, Wright is being lambasted by the media for his lack of homeruns, but it may actually be by design. The expansive outfield and 15-foot wall in left has been aptly termed “Death Valley East” by Bob Klapisch. It would be insane to fight the dimensions, so why not work with them?
Add in the fact that PEDs testing has changed the game from what it was only a few years ago. Look around and tell me if you’re still seeing second basemen hitting 25+ homers a year. As a result, power is at a premium these days, but speed — like on-base percentage ten years ago — is relatively cheap. Instead of emptying the farm system for a big fly guy, the Mets may do better to acquire some flyers. Forget Aubrey Huff, Jermaine Dye, or Adam Dunn, and start thinking Joey Gathright, Scott Podsednik, and Willie Bloomquist. Maybe not those players in particular, but you get what I mean.
For example, there’s no way you’re going to find an affordable shortstop with Jose Reyes’ combination of speed, defense, and power. But you know what? Seattle has been looking to dump Yuniesky Betancourt for months, and he’s decent defensive shortstop and a burner on the basepaths. If only someone would spend five minutes teaching him how to get a lead and a jump, he’d steal 50 bases in two months. Similarly, the Marlins are souring on speedster Emilio Bonifacio, who can play both middle infield positions as well as the outfield. I’d ask the Fish for him rather than the lead-footed Jorge Cantu.
Already the Mets are using the athleticism and speed they have, and I say keep running with that idea (pardon the pun). Get more burners, players with game-changing speed, and cut them loose on the bases. For once, this would put the Mets ahead of the curve, and afford them more options than the hard-headed organizations who still think walks and homeruns win ballgames in the post-PEDs era.
Chicks don’t dig the long ball when it’s caught at the warning track.