Will the Mets make a Yankee-like splash?
According to the latest buzz, Mets GM Omar Minaya has been in talks with superagent Scott Boras over the last few days, supposedly discussing one or all of Boras’ top free agent clients Derek Lowe, Manny Ramirez, and Oliver Perez. Reports inidicate that the Mets are most interested in Lowe, with secondary interest in Perez, and either mild or no interest in Ramirez.
My challenge to Omar and the Wilpons is this: why not sign all three?
As of today, the Mets have two healthy Major League-caliber starting pitchers on their roster — Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey. That’s a great start, but there are at least three other spots to be filled — unless the Mets plan to pray for rain the other three days. Yes, John Maine is still on the team, but no one can be certain that he’ll return 100% from shoulder surgery, and even if he does, we’re not sure which Maine we’ll see — the one who seemed on the verge of Cy Young candidacy in 2007, or the one who more resembled Steve Trachsel in 2008. I don’t think it’s a great plan to count on him coming back and being at his 2007 form.
Unfortunately, this is the Mets’ MO. We saw it last year, when they assured us that Orlando Hernandez and Pedro Martinez would come back from their various injuries and be stalwarts in the ’08 rotation. For those who paid attention, Pedro was lackluster in 20 starts, and El Duque never left Port St. Lucie. Similarly, the Mets counted on Duaner Sanchez to be 100% (he wasn’t) and also planned on Moises Alou giving the team at least 100-120 games. The Mets also banked on Luis Castillo coming back from multiple knee surgeries and re-emerging as the top-of-the order hitter and gold glover he was in Miami.
This is what bothers me most — every year, the Mets assemble their team with just enough names to fill the roster, with little or no backup plans in place if their hopes and wishes are unfulfilled. Meanwhile, teams that ultimately make it to the postseason are loaded with surplus in the spring, knowing that they’ll need the extra help over the grind of a 162-game season.
Take the Phillies, for example, who currently have four set starters in their rotation, and FIVE legitimate MLBers competing for the fifth spot. That’s right, they have five guys going for their last spot in the rotation, while the Mets have yet to muster more than three for their entire rotation (sorry folks, I’m not counting Jon Niese — he’s a decent-looking kid but realistically an unknown entity at this point).
The starting rotation will still be a question mark if the Mets sign either Derek Lowe or Oliver Perez. However, it will not be a question at all if they sign BOTH. For those who are worried that Niese will be “stunted” if the Mets begin the season with five starters, I can guarantee that he will still get at least 10-12 starts — probably more — in such a situation. Few pitchers make all 32-34 of their starts per season, and in fact, the 2003 Seattle Mariners are the only team in recent memory to go an entire 162 games without a pitcher missing a start. Things happen over the course of a season — injuries, illnesses, suspensions — so it always makes sense to have “too many” starters than not enough. Consider this: last year, Nelson Figueroa, Claudio Vargas, Brian Stokes, Brandon Knight, Tony Armas, and Niese combined to make 17 “spot” starts. It was not an unusual year — or don’t you remember the days of Brian Lawrence, Chan Ho Park, Jeremi Gonzalez, Dave Williams, and Jose Lima?
If the Mets do the right thing, and sign BOTH Lowe and Perez, they won’t have the best rotation in the NL, but they’ll have enough solid starting pitching to make a run for the playoffs. Signing one or the other, and then crossing their fingers on a second-rate starter such as Randy Wolf or Tim Redding, is defeatist. It might be different if the Mets were an offensive juggernaut — as they were in 2006 — but despite their high run total of ’08, their lineup is flawed. Once again, it’s hopes and wishes filling many of the positions.
For example, the Mets are moving into 2009 on the assumption that Daniel Murphy will continue to hit over .300 and that Fernando Tatis will have six months that resemble last July. Looking at things objectively, it’s fair to say that both players will hit around .270, and combine for somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-15 homers and 80 RBI. Can the Mets afford that kind of production from left field, when they expect to get next to no offense from the catching and second base positions? Again, it’s hopes and prayers that Brian Schneider will hit more like he did in the last two months of the season than he did in the first four, and that Luis Castillo will return to being an on-base machine. In addition, it seems the Mets are taking for granted that Ryan Church will return 100% and hit all year like he did last April. Headaches or no headaches, for those who follow the numbers, Church’s performance in ’08 was exactly in line with his career averages. We’d like to believe he’ll be the MVP candidate he looked like in April and May, but is that really fair?
If the Mets sign Manny Ramirez, however, their offense will have zero question marks. With Manny in the middle, it won’t matter whether Luis Castillo is the second baseman … heck, they’d be fine with Mario Mendoza playing the position. Similarly, it won’t matter if Brian Schneider hits his usual punchless .250, or if Church regresses, or if Carlos Delgado starts the season like he did last year — Manny makes up for all that. Further, having the greatest righthanded hitter of our generation in the lineup takes all the pressure off Carlos Beltran — and we’ve seen how he can flourish when surrounded by stars.
Most importantly, Manny is the exact opposite of what the Mets have symbolized in the last two seasons — he rises to the occasion. Whereas the Mets have become laughingstock choke artists, Manny is the ultimate clutch player, the go-to guy in the most pressure-filled situations. Imagine what might have happened in the last week of 2008 — or 2007, for that matter — if Manny Ramirez were a Met. Never mind the nonsense of Manny being a cancer in the clubhouse, or the “Manny being Manny” tendencies. Sure, he may not mentally show up for 20-30 games, but he’ll still be better than everyone else on the planet for the other 130. And, remarkably, Manny’s been on winning teams that went to the postseason in every city he’s played — despite all his bad qualities. What would you rather have? A distracting force who carries you into the postseason, or a group of aw-shucks perfect citizens who break your heart at the end of every September?
Of course, the Mets would never sign Manny, and they’d never sign both Lowe and Perez, so this article is moot. In fact, there’s a decent chance the Mets don’t sign ANY of the three. After all, they’ve already addressed the the issue that was most obvious in the court of public opinion — the bullpen — so they can go into the 2009 season pretending that they’ve addressed their “major holes”. Indeed, the additions of K-Rod and J.J. Putz are enough to fool most Mets fans into believing that the front office is making an effort to make amends for the last two late-season collapses. However, the rest of us who are paying attention know better — they may have shortened the game by two innings, but there are still seven frames the Mets have to play every day. Looks to me like a third consecutive year of a team that — with some luck and bull-whipping — is just good enough to compete for five months and two weeks, but not quite equipped to finish out the string.
You can prove me wrong, Fred and Jeff. After selling four million tickets, running your own cable TV station, and moving into a brand-new stadium, it’s hard to believe — despite Bernie Madoff — that you don’t have the wherewithal to pull it off, especially in a free agent market that has driven prices to affordable levels. But do you have the chutzpah?