Written By: Bobby Harrington
OUCH. That pretty much sums up the sentiment in Queens for the 2009 Mets season. The fans felt the pain from the stands as a team that was supposed to contend for NL East title crumbled before their eyes. The players felt the pain in the form of busted hamstrings, bone spurs, and torn rotator cuffs. Both New York teams started the year with bang by opening two new stadiums. Unfortunately for Mets fans, it was a barely audible bang compared to the Bronx.
So what exactly went wrong? The enormous confines of Citi Field held the Mets to a measly 671 runs, which only comes out to 4.14 runs per game, 6th worst in the league. Converted 1B Daniel Murphy led the team in home runs with…..11? Considering the question coming into the season was whether or not the pitching staff could compliment the strong lineup, it’s not hard to figure out why the Metropolitans amassed a disappointing 70-92 record.
However, the 2009 Mets will best be known for the fact that their Disable List lineup was superior to the one that took the field. Throughout the season Reyes, Delgado, Wagner, Perez, Santana, Keith Hernandez, Maine, Putz, Beltran, Nieve, the hot dog vendor, Niese, Wright, and Mr. Met all spent significant time on the DL. While some of them only missed a few starts, in the case of Santana, others such as Reyes and Delgado missed 130+ games. For a team that was already up against the defending World Series champs for the division title, the plethora of injuries quickly destroyed any hopes.
“The darkest hour is always before dawn” in mind, lets turn our eyes to the 2010 season. A slow offseason, at least by New York standards, was highlighted by the Mets signing of OF Jason Bay. On December 30th, the Mets got a late Christmas gift when the coveted free agent agreed to a 4 year/ $66 million deal. A lifetime .280 hitter, Bay posted 36 HRs and 119 RBI in Boston last season. Although I’m a fan of Bay, I have some concerns with the deal. The towering fly balls that escaped the Green Monster in Fenway are going to be long outs in Citi Field. Also, Bay has never been known for his glove, which could lead to Daniel Murphy like adventures in Citi’s giant outfield. Bay is certainly a good hitter, but to me, the deal seems like desperation.
Although this winters free agent pitching class didn’t turn many heads, one has to wonder if GM Omar Minaya has made a giant mistake by not addressing the rotation. While I don’t believe Lackey was worth the $82 million the Red Sox gave him, it would have been nice to see the Mets talk to some of the other names. Guys like Pineiro and Wolf would have been reasonably affordable additions to a rotation that is full of question marks. Either way, it was a very quiet offseason for a GM who many people believe is on the hot seat this season. Whether he is displaying wisdom or just plain stubbornness, will be addressed in time.
Other than Bay, however, the 2010 Mets lineup will not look too much different than the 2009 one. The notable absence will be that of Carlos Delgado, who appears headed towards retirement or possibly a reduced role with another club. At age 37, I think it’s wise for the Mets to part ways with the lefty slugger and see if they can’t get (former Gold Glove winner, Hairclub for Men spokesman, and Jerry Seinfeld pal) Keith Hernandez to keep working with Murphy as the future 1B of the team. Billy Wagner got dealt late last year and won’t be returning as he wants to be a closer, and no one in their right mind would put the shaky lefty in there in the 9th inning instead of K- Rod.
Once Beltran returns probably a month into the season the Mets lineup should like something like this:
1. Reyes SS
2. Castillo 2B
3. Wright 3B
4. Beltran CF
5. Bay LF
6. Murphy 1B
7. Franceour RF
8. Santos C
9. Santana P
That is certainly a lineup that can give opposing pitchers troubles night in and night out. Reyes is the ideal leadoff guy, Castillo is solid as a #2 hitter and then Wright, Beltran, and Bay are going to be responsible for raking in the RBI’s. After that, there’s an obvious drop off, and I think both Murphy and Franceour are going to be crucial to the team’s success this year. With the rumor that the CF wall is going to be cut down from 16 feet to 8 feet and a healthy lineup, I’d look for this group to be a top 5 offense in the NL.
But then there’s the pitching, and that’s where the real question marks are for this team. I’m going to project a rotation of Santana, Pelfrey, Maine, Perez, and then probably Niese with Nieve as a viable alternative. Pelfrey was the only guy of the 6 who didn’t spend a decent chunk of the 2009 season on the DL. Flushing is going to live and die on Johan’s left elbow, which I think (hope) will be fully recovered by opening day. After Santana, however, there is no sure thing in the rotation. Pelfrey seems to be maturing but is surely not reliable at this point. Maine has shown flashes of being a great but remains unproven. Perez is like a twisted game of Russian Roulette where there are 5 bullets in the 6 chambers and just about everybody loses. Niese and Nieve have both shown promise but have so little experience that it’s hard to know what you’re going to get from them on any given night. The common theme here is that just about everybody has the potential to be good and contribute between 12-15 wins. If Santana can notch 17-20 wins and the other 4 starters can all muster say 10-13, which I truly believe each of them is capable of, the Mets are going to be in great shape. If that doesn’t happen I believe the U.S Open will once again be the only meaningful sporting event in Flushing this summer.
So lets make some predications, shall we? I’m not going to get crazy and hit you with “OMG METS WORLD SERIES CHAMPS 2010 YAY!” (Ask Sports Illustrated how that pick went last season). But this team is not as bad as some people are saying. Yes they won 70 games last year. Yes there are a mountain of question marks. But I defy any team to make the playoffs with the injuries they suffered last year, and every team in the league is filled with question marks. The Mets, when healthy, are still serious playoff contenders. Will they win the NL East? I don’t believe so. The Phillies are the team to beat, and until someone does so they deserve to be the favorites. But I look for guys like Reyes, Beltran, Maine, Pelfrey and Bay to come into this season with big things to prove for various reasons and lead the team to a 87-75 record and serious Wild Card contenion.