It’s hard enough for a new manager to field reporters’ questions about the team’s lack of front-line pitching or sluggers making their way back from the injured list. Now add in the pall of financial collapse into the equation and the boat gets a little rocky right from the get go.
The New York Mets (79-83, 4th in NL East) addressed the team’s recent penchant for late-season stumbles that saw them falter down the stretch three years in a row. They spent a king’s ransom on one of the best relief pitchers in baseball a couple of years ago, Francisco Rodriguez, only to find out he has issues with rage and future fathers-in-law.
As another season fell by the wayside, Mets owner Fred Wilpon decided it was time to change the tires on the bus by adding new general manager Sandy Alderson and new manager Terry Collins.
Showing very little interest in the free-agent market sent a clear message that ridding the team of former GM Omar Minaya and former manager Jerry Manuel was the solution to all the team’s ills.
Even if that were the case—which it isn’t—they’re still driving around in the same old bus. But maybe with the new tires they might get better gas mileage and go a little further than in recent years. Good luck with that theory.
But the truth of the matter is this: The Mets are in serious trouble and it doesn’t all begin in between the chalk lines. The franchise is in terrible financial shape and would have probably served itself better if an accountant was hired as the new GM and a spendthrift as the new manager.
The Mets are in an $800-million hole that is growing wider and deeper as we speak. They recently received a $25 million bailout from MLB and this was after they took a $430 million loan from Chase Bank for operating expenses last season.
The Wilpon family is now considering selling off 25 percent of the team and the name of Donald Trump is being thrown around as an interested party. Granted, acquiring the services of Alderson was a step in the right direction as he assembled competitive teams in San Diego and Oakland and is credited with starting the moneyball era.
Collins is a no-nonsense field general who guided both the Astros and Angles to second-place finishes five times in six seasons. Last year, he served as the Mets minor league field coordinator, which should help in the rebuilding project that is about to take place this summer.
On the field, the Mets are a team filled with if, ands, or buts. The pitching staff lacks a front-line pitcher, waiting for Johan Santana to come back from surgery sometime around mid-June. The lineup will feature two aging bats that will try to come back from injury-plagued seasons. Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran need to come back healthy and hope that age hasn’t depleted their home-run swings.
But the cupboard is not bare as 28-year-old David Wright at third base and 27-year-old shortstop Jose Reyes are two of the game’s best talents entering the prime of their careers.
The infield boasts two big boppers at the corners with Wright (29 HR, 103 RBI) and Ike Davis with (19 HR, 71 RBI) as a rookie and Reyes (.282, 30 SB, 83 R) is a run-scoring threat. Luis Castillo is showing his age and with a light stick at the plate might be pushed by rookies Ruben Tejada and Rule 5 pickup Brad Emaus.
It may take a miracle of the ‘69 Amazing Mets proportions for this team to challenge for a playoff spot. It will all hinge on Bay and Beltran to put up significant numbers from the corner outfield spots with Angel Pagan in center field after a stellar rookie season that saw him put up a healthy .290 average, 80 runs scored and an exciting 37 stolen bases.
Scott Hairston and Willie Harris, both free-agent pickups, will vie for the utility outfield role. Both have a wealth of experience and can get the ball out of the yard.
Behind the plate, the Mets will platoon rookie catcher Josh Thole, who showed great discipline at the plate, and veteran free-agent pickup Ronny Paulino.
The Mets will rely on another pair of reclamation projects in pitchers Chris Capuano, a former 18-game winner with the Brewers, and 6-foot-10 former Padres fireballer Chris Young. If both can make a complete comeback from surgeries they will bolster the pitching staff.
Mike Pelfrey will try to duplicate his career year of 15 wins last season and R.A. Dickey proved to be a serviceable arm on the hill, going 11-9 with a team-best 2.84 ERA. Jonathan Niese surprised the team with a 6-3 mark and a 3.61 ERA in the first half of his rookie season only to bottom out at 9-10. Dillon Gee has an inside edge to grab one of the starting spots after a five-game call-up last September that produced a 2.18 ERA.
When Rodriguez isn’t busy punching someone’s lights out the Mets hope he can regain his form that made him one of the most feared relievers in baseball. Only 25 saves last season was not enough to put the Mets in the postseason party.
Bob Parnell and Manny Acosta along with new comers D.J. Carrasco and Taylor Tankersley will team up with Jason Isringhausen, a former Mets favorite who is pushing to make the team to shore up the bullpen.
There seem to be more questions than answers at this point but trying to match up with the solid front-line pitching of the Phillies may be too much to ask for. The Mets’ only hope at the postseason is to have all of the walking wounded come in with a clean bill of health and just hope they didn’t leave any part of their game at the rehab center.
Ken Morse is a contributing writer for the Citizen’s News.