Ice Belongs in the Freezer

In many ways, this 2011 season is reminding me of 2005 — though, in reverse.

In 2005, the Mets were on the cusp of something special, and only a few pieces away from a legitimate contender. Actually, they were just a smidge away from being a dominant steamroller. But, at the time — before Carlos Delgado, Billy Wagner, Paul LoDuca, and other key pieces arrived — it was very clear that the 2005 Mets were pretenders, and had no realistic chance for postseason play.

Please do not misinterpret; I enjoyed that season immensely, mainly because it offered optimism, and also because for the first time in a while, the team had some personality. If you remember, this was the first full season of Jose Reyes and David Wright, and as the 2005 season unfolded it was clear that these youngsters were going to be superstars that the Mets could build a team around. By the end of the year, when the Mets finished four games over .500, we knew that better days were ahead.

Which was why it was so frustrating to watch dozens of at-bats taken by the likes of Gerald “Ice” Williams, Miguel Cairo, Brian Daubach, and Jose Offerman — a group of barely adequate veteran bench players who were not going to be part of those better days. If there were no other options down on the farm, it could have been understood, but there were a number of youngsters who could have been given a look. For example, Anderson Hernandez, Mike Jacobs, Jeff Keppinger, Angel Pagan, Lastings Milledge, and Brett Harper. Granted, in hindsight’s view this group of kids had mixed results in their futures, and maybe a few weren’t truly ready for “prime time”. But the point is that they showed enough so suggest they could be part of those good days ahead, and as long as the big league club wasn’t going anywhere anyway, why not give a few of them a legitimate, extended look?

Which brings us to 2011. After recalling the ’05 team, maybe you now understand what I mean by this team being similar, but in reverse. Like the 2005 Mets, we know it is realistic to think there will be games played in Flushing beyond the first week of October. Also like the ’05 team, these 2011 Mets have a personality unlike we’ve seen in several years. The difference, of course, is that these 2011 Mets are not on the cusp of contention — more likely, the opposite. They are not looking to add a few pieces to complete the puzzle; rather, they are looking to drop pieces and start the puzzle all over again. So it’s even more frustrating to see Willie Harris and Scott Hairston take at-bats away from Lucas Duda, and keep young men such as Nick Evans and Zach Lutz in AAA. Yes, I know Evans has not looked very good in his brief callup earlier this year. But you know what? Hairston didn’t look all that great until very recently, and Harris was barely above the Mendoza Line a few weeks ago. But those two vets were given consistent chances to work through their slumps. Why?

I might be nitpicking, because Harris and Hairston are starting maybe once a week between them. But I’d rather see young guys in there — kids who we still aren’t sure about — than see players who “are what they are”. Don’t get me wrong — I like Harris and Hairston. They are professionals, have a great attitude, are team players, and would have value on a club in need of a bench guy. But the Mets don’t need a bench guy, they need to figure out who is going to play in 2012 and beyond. Now is the time to find out if Dan Murphy and Lucas Duda can hit lefties, rather than mold them into platoon players. Now is the time to see if Nick Evans can adjust to the bench role / platoon player that seems to be his ceiling.

Instead, we are seeing Hairston and Harris get into games in “matchup” situations. Why? How many games are going to be won as a result of playing these matchups? Maybe three or four at most? I’d argue that there’s just as good a chance of the Mets losing as many games because Hairston is brought in to face a lefty, or Harris is inserted against a righty. When it’s all said and done, the very best these two veterans might do is help the Mets go 84-78 instead of 82-80. Or maybe they drop the team down to 80-82. Whatever, the point is it’s negligible. As February 2012 rolls around neither Hairston nor Harris should be anywhere near Port St. Lucie, and you have to guess whether Evans, Duda, etc. are going to be able to fit into roles, rather than know what they can do.

What do you think? Am I being unreasonable? Are you pleased to see Harris and Hairston getting playing time over youngsters? If one of those vets goes down, should the Mets consider bringing back Ice Williams for one last hurrah?

Let me know in the comments.

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.
  1. dave June 28, 2011 at 2:03 pm
    I find no fault in that logic. The Mets seem to have some potential creeping up in the minors, it makes no sense to not
    play some of them regularly and see what they have. The team is a couple years from contention, let’s see what we got.
  2. Android June 28, 2011 at 2:26 pm
    Best post you’ve written in awhile, Joe.
    • Joe Janish June 28, 2011 at 10:16 pm
      Thanks ‘droid.
  3. Joe June 28, 2011 at 2:29 pm
    “They are professionals, have a great attitude, are team players, and would have value on a club in need of a bench guy. But the Mets don’t need a bench guy, they need to figure out who is going to play in 2012 and beyond.”

    I think your basic sentiment is okay, but the team does need great attitude, team players and professionals. So, though we might not need BOTH Harris and Hairston, having one makes a bit of sense along with Duda.

    The team seems not to like Evans that much. Other teams don’t either, since he cleared waivers. I don’t know Lutz But, with people like Murphy, Turner, Niese et. al. out there, one or two vets very well might help the ball club too.

    • Joe Janish June 28, 2011 at 10:18 pm
      I would agree with you if there weren’t already vets on the team, such as Beltran, Reyes, Bay, and Wright. Those are the leaders of the club and setting examples for the youngins’.
      • Joe June 29, 2011 at 8:13 am
        “I would agree with you if there weren’t already vets on the team, such as Beltran, Reyes, Bay, and Wright. Those are the leaders of the club and setting examples for the youngins’.”

        I’m not sure how much leadership some of these people bring. Wright isn’t here right now. And, repeatedly, it seems bench players bring something extra to good teams beyond the usual stars.

  4. acoustic567 June 28, 2011 at 3:28 pm
    It’s a good post, but I’m ambivalent. The conventional wisdom is that young players, at least those with promise, shouldn’t be brought up to be spare parts, but should be given the chance to play every day. I’m sure there are some exceptions, but the view that “we need to see what the kids can do” really has traction only if you mean to give them a lot of playing time. I mean, Nick Evans has already failed in the occasional start/PH role.

    So the issue is not really whether Lutz/Evans/et al should take the place of Harris and Hairston, but whether the Mets are willing to cut back significantly on Jason Bay’s playing time. For my part, I think the Mets should play Duda every day at 1B once it becomes clear that Ike Davis is out for the season.

    Even though the Mets are not realistic postseason contenders, I think you have to play to win every day until they are much further out than they are now. The fact that they are still hovering on the periphery of contention is part of what is making the team play scrappy, hard-nosed baseball. I would do nothing at this stage to give the players the impression that the organization doesn’t believe they can make a run.

    • Joe Janish June 28, 2011 at 10:27 pm
      I don’t see Evans as an everyday player, but I do see him as having the potential to be a decent platoon player / bench guy — maybe along the lines of a Matt Diaz, though with more power and less batting average. That said he doesn’t necessarily need more at-bats in AAA, but rather, learn to hit MLBers while playing irregularly. As for his “failing” in that role, he had what? 20 at-bats? Tiny sample size, and again, how many plate appearances have Hairston and Harris been given? Harris hit .188 in 37 plate appearances in May after hitting .230 in April — isn’t that failing? Hairston was 1 for his first 18 to start the season. But both kept getting opportunities.

      As for Duda, I want to see him getting regular ABs. There is plenty of room for him, Murphy, and Turner with the injuries to Davis and Wright.

  5. BCA June 28, 2011 at 5:29 pm
    I like to see the young players but maybe it would deplete the Buffalo team too much. Then again that could promote other players down the line too and from what I understand most of the farm talent lies at the single A levels.
  6. Mic June 28, 2011 at 9:48 pm
    You are absolutely correct! But there are a few points i would like to remind you of……
    1. This is when we ‘met’ as frustrated allies blogging on this same point! But that year it was pure willie playing his friends. other clear victims of willie were HEATH BELL AND ROYCE RING.

    2. Expiring contracts. Yes this figured in there too. Franco and leiter were cut early and piazza endured a very uninspiring swansong.

    3. And my ultimate point is fmart, tejada and evans are not rookies. They were not rushed. Tejada was supoosed too stay at aaa, gee had no shot to make the team and murphy took his playing time from emaus, hernandez et al. And has not been near the disaster predicted…playing 3 positions. Ultimately duda i believe is deserving, but i think fmart should be up over hairston. If healthy.

    4. Unlike 2005 i think this team is just a fuel injection away from a playoff run. Beltran is a legit all star again. Reyes is having an mvp year. Gee, cappy, nise and RA are solid. And santana and david wright could return to inject life.

    The waek link is Bay. And thats is not all that weak.

    • Joe Janish June 28, 2011 at 10:32 pm
      I don’t know about a playoff run. Things are going better right now than they have all year, and it’s more likely an aberration than something that will endure. I see their current success as more a result of good timing than anything else — which is exactly what I saw around this same time last year, when the Mets were ten games over .500 and in second place, only a game and a half out of first.
  7. Mic June 29, 2011 at 7:58 am
    1. Anarchy in the line up.
    2. Tenuous and shaky bullpen

    Oher wise we might be wild card leader

  8. Jeff June 29, 2011 at 8:14 am
    Dead-on right. While Hairston can be expected to improve, Harris not so much. Either way, play the best players you have–and Harris isn’t one of them.