Mike's Mets

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Catching Up On Some Mets News

With the free agent push starting diehard Met fans begin to put together their own personal shopping lists for who they want to see wearing the blue and orange next year. As likely as it is that players will be added via free agency, it is an absolute certainty that some current players will depart.

Mike Piazza is almost certain to go to a team that is willing to give him more than just a part-time role, probably in the American League. Braden Looper will find a team that will offer him the closer role, because there just aren't that many quality options out there. Felix Heredia, Doug Mientkiewicz, Mike DeFelice, Gerald Williams, and Jose Offerman are all unlikely to return and unlikely to be missed. (Undeniably Williams brings a nice clubhouse presence, but his skills both offensively and defensively just aren't there anymore.) The Mets have bought out Danny Graves and he has filed for free agency to almost universal indifference on the part of Met fans. Kaz Ishii has a buyout in his contract and is likely to be shown the door, also.

Steve Trachsel's option for next year will undoubtedly be picked up by the Mets. Miguel Cairo has already filed and seems to be gone. It's amazing how completely many fans have turned against him, after practically canonizing him early in the year. I still think he can be a valuable bench player. Marlon Anderson has also filed, most fans including myself would like to see the team resign him and reliever Roberto Hernandez. I had assumed that Chris Woodward was on a one year contract, but I haven't seen him on any list of potential departures. I would definitely like to see him back in 2006.

Can Trachsel and Zambrano both be traded?

In today's Daily News Adam Rubin states that the Mets will look to trade both Steve Trachsel and Victor Zambrano along with Cameron in the off-season. Somehow that was something that I never considered, but if that is indeed the case it would make some sense of the talk that the Mets plan to use Heilman as a starter in 2006.

Rubin also mentions the possibility that the Mets might look for a cheaper catcher than Hernandez or Molina; that makes sense when you consider the money these two will be looking for and all of the holes the Mets need to fill.

Pedro's Toe

Earlier in the week Newsday's David Lennon had a piece on concerns over Pedro's injured toe. Apparently, it's slow to heal and there is still the possibility that it may require surgery.

Gordon & Hoffman?

I've been reading that the Mets are looking to sign both Trevor Hoffman and Tom Gordon. I'm curious who will be the closer in this scenario, or if they believe they can sign both as set-up men for someone like Wagner or Ryan -- unlikely given the cost. Personally, I'm not a big fan of Tom Gordon in pressure situations, even as a set-up man. (See his games vs. the Red Sox while with the Yankees.) I'd have to admit, though, having these 2 in the pen would be a significant upgrade. I'll be following this story with interest.

An apology

The quality of writing in this blog has been pretty spotty lately. As I've stated in the "What We're About" page, part of my reason for doing this blog is as "therapy" for some chronic Lyme disease symptoms I am going through: i.e. dizziness, headaches and fatigue. I've come to realize in the past week (should have seen it sooner) that I need to step away from this when I am experiencing more severe symptoms. I make no pretense of being a great writer, but I have great respect for the craft, and in the future will do my best to make sure what is posted here meets certain minimum standards. I have too much respect for anyone who elects to spend their time reading my thoughts to do any less.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Mets Hot Stove Preview: Position Players

I've decided not to spend a ton of time on this, as other writers have covered it both well and thoroughly. The needs of the team are fairly obvious -- a first baseman with some pop; a second baseman that can get on base, catch the ball, throw the ball and stay healthy; and a catcher to replace Mike Piazza.

How the Mets go about filling these needs is going to be influenced by their success in pursuing the top free agent closers. If they manage to sign a Wagner or a Ryan this will obviously use up considerable budget. If they wind up going cheaper on the closer, they might be inclined to spend more on the offense.

First Base: Mike Jacobs showed a lot down the stretch, but even those of us that are highest on the kid are a little leery of handing him 500 ABs next year. Unfortunately, the free agent market features Paul Konerko and not much else. Konerko will be 30 next year, coming off 2 straight 40 HR / 100 RBI seasons and a great post-season this year. Needless to say, he will be hotly pursued by several teams. What I've heard about him so far doesn't give me a lot of hope that he's coming to Shea, but we'll see.

After Konerko, the market drops steeply to Kevin Millar: 34 years old, coming off a bad year, and not a very solid defender. I'd be leery of Millar in a big ballpark like Shea. If it came to Millar I'd rather see the Mets give Jacobs the job and sign some veteran insurance in case he falls on his face. Ditto to the Jeff Kent via trade rumors. I know Dallas Green is no longer the manager here, but I don't think Kent was a New York typr of guy, either.

There are also rumors about Carlos Delgado being available in a trade -- next moment you hear that he is not -- be that as it may, although I think his left-handed power bat will provide a huge lift to the offense, he didn't want to come here last year. It was obvious he never had any use for the Mets beyond driving up the price elsewhere, and I'm always nervous about getting a guy that doesn't want to be here. You have to believe the asking price would be steep.

Second Base The free agent pickings are very slim here, featuring washed up vets like Brett Boone and Mark Bellhorn. Mark Grudzielanek is out there if the Mets want another infielder that doesn't walk. You also hear rumors that Furcal would accept being a second baseman in New York – I tend to doubt that he really would, though. As tempting as it would be to have him and Reyes at the top of the lineup, I doubt the Mets want to invest that kind of money in a second baseman when they have so many other needs.

Basically, when it comes to free agent infielders, I'd rather see the Mets resign Woodward, Cairo and Marlon Anderson for their bench than pursue any of these. If the Mets do upgrade at second base it will probably be through a trade. In-house options for replacing Matsui include Jeff Keppinger (coming off a serious injury + he doesn't walk) or Anderson Hernandez (who looks like he's not quite ready for prime time).

Catcher: Bengie Molina and Ramon Hernandez are the free agent names that matter, with Hernandez rumored to be the object of Omar's affections. Neither will come cheap. If the Mets fail to land one of these two, there are thoughts that they might consider picking up a solid backup and using Castro as the starter, although there is some sentiment that Castro would be exposed offensively if you try to give him too many ABs.

There has been some talk of using a platoon of Mike Jacobs and Castro, but from what I've read Jacobs has some serious issues throwing out baserunners. In a division that features speed this would be a problem. In addition, if the kid really struggles defensively you worry it might affect his offense. In any case, you don't get the idea that the Mets are really considering this option.

Let's Make a Deal

I have a feeling that the Mets are as likely to acquire a key player through a trade as through free agency. There are just so few top free agents out there and so much demand for their services. I'm sure there will be a lot of talking this off-season between Omar and the other GMs. You hear talk that the Ramirez trade is still alive despite the fact that Manny -- at least for now -- doesn't want to come here. Whether this goes down or not, I have a strong personal opinion that we will see some sort of major trade in the off-season.

Summing it Up

Although the free agent pickings are slim, I'd be very surprised if the Mets didn't get anyone. My worry is how much they will have to overpay to get someone, especially a closer. They really, really, really have to get serious about coming up with viable closer candidates in their own system in the coming years. And if they can't sign any of the quality guys, I'd like to see Heilman get a chance.

Last year Omar made a couple of major pickups in Beltran and Pedro, but this off-season is going to really show if he has what it takes to take this team -- and it's much maligned management -- to the next level. There is going to be a lot of pressure on him to make high-profile moves, but with so few impact free agents out there the moves might not be there to be made. The fear is that there will be so much pressure to do something that moves will be made that don't make absolute sense.

This will get me in trouble with a few of you out there, but I'm not absolutely convinced that the Mets are only a player or two away from being a threat to win it all. They have many guys who bring as many questions as they do answers. So far at least Omar has avoided making the big move just for its own sake, and I hope he'll continue that. As I mentioned previously, I share with other Met fans a distrust of the team's management, and as much as I understand the importance of bold moves to improve this team, I want to see them avoid those moves that don't necessarily make sense -- the type of moves the Mets have made all too often in the past 15 years.

One of the first things doctors are taught is "do no harm," in other words, make sure the cure isn't worse than what you are trying to cure. This is a good thought for a baseball GM to keep in mind, too. Enough worry, talk and speculation -- the 15 day window has started; soon the free-agent feeding frenzy will begin in earnest. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Moment of Silence for the 2005 Season

Congratulations to the Chicago White Sox for winning the World Series. Now we'll have one less silly curse to hear about. As a Met fan I've always identified with these guys a little, since they play second fiddle in their hometown, too.

And now we go without baseball for a few months as we head into another winter. The hot stove will be heating up in a couple of weeks, and we should certainly have something to talk about, but I always feel a sense of sadness and loss when I know I won't have baseball to watch.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Mets Odds and Ends

I'm still working on my Mets Hot Stove Preview on position players. I'm sure everyone is impatiently waiting for yet another look at what the Mets should do this off-season. In the meantime, I had a couple of things suggested by my reading of other bloggers:

Bullpen Candidates

When I was listing potential free agents for the closer role, I left out a couple of names:

Bob Wickman
He'll be 37 years old next year. He's been really solid this year, but he's got a lot of mileage on him. I also heard he really wants to return to Cleveland. I can't see how he would be a huge upgrade over Looper, and his age makes him a gamble.

Todd Jones
He'll be 37 next year, also. He was a superb pick-up for the Marlins this year, having the type of season we only wish Looper had. The thing is, if you look at his previous years, last year was a career year for Jones. If you sign Jones, you're gambling not only with his age -- you're betting that last year wasn't a fluke.

The last candidate is a name that never occurred to me. Kudos to Vinny from No Joy In Metsville for this idea:

Octavio Dotel
He's obviously a risk, coming off Tommy John surgery, but if you can't get Wagner or Ryan Dotel is the kind of guy that you could take a chance on striking gold with. I don't think I would feel comfortable with him as a closer, since he has struggled in that role, but he was great as a set-up guy, and if you can agree to a fair contract with incentives he'd be worth a shot. Plus he's pitched in New York. You might strike out with him, or you might strike gold like the Marlins did with Todd Jones last year. There is going to be so much competition for Wagner and Ryan that a fallback plan is a necessity.


In his "Great Turncoats In History" posting today, Metstradamus points out that Doug Mientkiewicz' statement that the Mets organization doesn't have a clue shouldn't just be written off as sour grapes. To quote Metstradamus directly:

The Mets? Until they can consistently show a commitment to winning and a solid organizational plan, they have to overpay for free agents and hope that they work out...which 99% of them haven't.

I couldn't have said that better, and I do recommend reading the whole post. As an organization, the Mets have been a bad joke for so long that it is crucial to change this perception. And more importantly, I join Metstradamus and many other loyal Met fans who wonder if the organization really does have a clue. I like a lot of what Omar has said in interviews, but to be honest I still don't really trust him. Maybe that's unfair, but I feel as if this franchise has burned me so badly over the years that Omar and anyone associated with the Mets has to earn my trust back.

But what is more important, they have to prove it to potential free agents and future fans of this team. Are they really on the same page with a real plan, or are they the same old Mets, with the front office split into factions that are more interested in furthering themselves rather than building a winning organization? Those of us that care about this team are certainly watching with interest for the answer to this question.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Mets Hot Stove Preview: The Bullpen

In our previous posting, we took a look at the Mets' starting pitching, where a surplus of talent allows for the possibility of a trade to plug a hole. You don't have to look any further than the team's bullpen to find a hole that needs plugging.

A lot has been written about the free agents that are available, but before we look at them let's see what we already have.

Braden Looper: I guess I'm in the minority here, but I wouldn't mind seeing Looper come back as a setup man. Although he lacks the stuff to close games, he still has decent stuff and the mental toughness necessary to pitch in New York -- a not inconsiderable asset when you look back at how many relievers couldn't handle it. I know that many Met fans feel that it would be in the best interests of the team to cut ties completely and move on, and I understand where they're coming from. It's probably a moot point anyway -- I'm sure there are teams out there desperate enough for a closer than Looper will get a closer role -- and closer money -- somewhere else.

Roberto Hernandez: He had a very solid year as a set-up man in 2005, and definitely falls into the category of someone with the toughness to pitch in New York. The big question is at 41 years old can he repeat what he accomplished this year in 2006. I'd like to see him get the chance to prove he can, and hope the Mets can resign him, but with the shortage of relievers in baseball I'm sure they'll have some competition for Hernandez' services. I think he has another really productive year in his right arm.

Aaron Heilman: He's the interesting wild card in the 2006 bullpen equation. He finished the season so strongly that there are many fans that think he could be a closer for the Mets. Although I think that might be premature, given the enormous pressure and expectations for a Mets closer, I think he deserves a real shot at the eighth inning job, especially if we don't resign Hernandez. I know Omar has talked about trying to pick up a couple of guys in the pen, and who he winds up with will probably have a huge impact on Heilman's role.

The one thing that bothers me a little about Heilman is that, although he has tremendous control of his changeup, he doesn't have great control of his fastball. When he gets in trouble, it is inevitably because he's walking people or he misses with his fastball and gets hit. I know the Mets have him pitching some winter ball to tighten his control a little. Willie also mentioned something about trying to get him to mix in a slider or curve also -- this would seem to me as something that would be more important if you saw him as a starter next year. If he stays in the pen he should tighten up what he already has -- most relievers rely on 1 or 2 pitches anyway.

Juan Padilla: Most of what I read indicates to me that he is not highly regarded by the Mets, despite doing a good job for them down the stretch. He does have very ordinary stuff for a reliever, but he gets the job done when given the chance. Look what he did in September. He seems to be a guy that can help as a set-up man at the major league level. He needs to pitch, though, since he relies on control. In any bullpen there are usually only 3 guys that get enough regular work to stay sharp, the rest are used sporadically. Padilla's stuff isn't going to overwhelm anyone, if he's not sharp I don't think he'll be effective. He'll be an interesting call for next year, but I think he earned a real look at the very least.

Heath Bell: I don't know what he was going through personally at the end of the year, but it was a bizarre finish to a season that showed flashes of real promise. When he was good, he was the closest thing to a real true power arm coming out of the Mets pen in 2005, and maybe if he can get it all together he can give the team something in 2006. You need a guy that can come in and blow it by people. It's just hard to guess which Heath Bell will show up next year.

Royce Ring: I'm still not quite sure how he fell so quickly from a prospect that really contributed in June t0 a guy that didn't even merit a September call-up. His control left something to be desired, but he had good stuff and a good mental makeup. I keep looking around to see if anyone has anything on whether or not he's in the plans for next year.

Bartolome Fortunato, Tyler Yates Two potential power arms that didn't pitch an inning for the Mets this year due to injury. Fortunato looked promising in September 2004, but he's 31 years old, coming off back surgery and only has 25 career major league innings. Yates is younger at 28, but had rotator cuff surgery last year after having Tommy John surgery done in 2002. Both of these guys have to show something quickly or they will just disappear as fast as you can say "Orber Moreno".

Danny Graves, Shingo Takatsu, Tim Hamulack I know that the Mets have some sort of option on Graves for 2006, and the odds of them exercising it are about as good as my chances to date a supermodel. If they can get him into Spring Training on a minor league contract and want to roll the dice one more time on him getting his velocity back, maybe it's worth a try. I wouldn't bet a nickel on him helping us next year, though. If Willie still has that thing for Shingo's "funkiness" he might make an appearance in the spring, too, and I have even less hope for him than for Graves. Hamulack, although he didn't pitch very well with the Mets, might be worth one more look. He's a lefty coming back from arm problems, maybe one more year of getting strength back does that trick. Anyway, out of this trio I have a least some hope for him.

The Marketplace

We've heard Omar saying that he has hopes of picking up a couple of bullpen arms in the off-season. A closer upgrade is a must, and although there are some decent free agents out there the competition will be fierce.

The Top Dogs: Billy Wagner & B.J. Ryan
Either one of these guys would be a good pickup. Neither will come cheap, and the Mets will have significant competition for both. Although it was rumored for a while that Philadelphia wouldn't make a big push to resign Wagner, that's not the case. They are being extremely aggressive in negotiations, and that should surprise no one, really. There aren't many dominant closers out there; Wagner is a proven commodity in the upper tier in baseball. At 34 years old, and with a significant injury history, he is not without risk, but if you are looking for a top closer you'll have to take the risk. Still, if you sign him for 3 or 4 years you have to know that you will probably have a year or two of decline on the back end.

With a much smaller track record but some filthy stuff, Ryan would be a good gamble, too. Supposedly, though, the Yankees want him badly, and allegedly he wants them. The Mets might have to really overpay to have a chance at him.

Taking a Chance: Trevor Hoffman & Kyle Farnsworth
Hoffman has been one of the game's best, but he's closer to his AARP card than to his best days. He's a solid pro, but has not spent his career in the bright lights and media frenzy he will face here. For the kind of money he'll command he's be a real risk. As for Farnsworth, there's no questioning his stuff and that he made huge strides with his command this season. Still, he had trouble handling the pressure in Chicago; I don't think he'll find New York any easier. If you held a gun to my head and told me I had to take a chance on one of these, sign me up for Farnsworth. He's younger, has great stuff, and if you can't get Wagner or Ryan he's the best of the rest.

Not Worth It: Tom Gordon & Ugueth Urbina
If you sign one of these guys, you might as well have just brought back Looper as the closer. Neither one has done well under pressure in recent years; Gordon has really wilted under pressure for his whole career. Urbina had six blown saves for the Phillies down the stretch, walked way too many people and gave up too many home runs. He really doesn't seem to trust his stuff any more. Seriously, why make a move just for the sake of making a move? That's all picking up either one of these would be.

Plan B?

You know, there really aren't many viable free agent closers out there. If the Mets get shut out of Wagner and Ryan, if Hoffman stays in San Diego (where he has been more than 10 years), if Omar isn't sold on Farnsworth, I'm curious to see what he will do. I don't think there is a trade out there for a veteran closer, but maybe someone out there has a young arm or two that is worth a look, maybe in a trade for Trachsel or Zambrano. The bottom line is that it is getting tougher every year to build a contending team through free agency. There are so few quality guys out there, and so many teams looking for help.

One of my pet peeves with the Mets is that they've done a poor job developing their own quality bullpen arms, and because of that they must constantly overpay for guys that we don't even know if they can handle the pressure of pitching here. If the Mets hope to be a solid contending team in the coming years they must address this deficiency. If we learned anything this year, we've learned just how hard it is to contend with a shaky bullpen.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Mets Hot Stove Preview: Starting Pitching

Not much is going to happen until after the World Series ends, but we thought we would start taking a look at what the Mets have and what they might be looking to do once the hot stove heats up. We begin with a look at the Mets starting pitching.

It's no secret that the Mets have an abundance of starting pitching. With all the other holes that need to be filled for this team, it's extremely unlikely that the Mets would make a move to acquire a starter. What will indeed be interesting is the moves they make with the surplus starting pitching they already possess.

Based on what we've heard so far and our own common sense, the first three Met starters in 2006 will be Pedro, Glavine and Benson. There are questions about all three -- Pedro's health, Glavine's age and Benson's stamina (and maybe heart) -- but barring an injury these 3 rotation slots are set. The real interest comes when we look at the last 2 slots. As things stand, the candidates include:

  • Victor Zambrano
  • Jae Seo
  • Steve Trachsel
  • Aaron Heilman
  • Kaz Ishii

As wild cards you can include top prospects Yusmeiro Petit and Brian Bannister, and come up with 7 candidates for 2 positions. In looking at it, both Petit and Bannister will undoubtedly start the year in AAA Norfolk, and the Mets are likely to buy out Ishii's option and let him plague some other team's fans. Although Trachsel is a potential free agent I would be extremely surprised (and disappointed) if the Mets didn't pick up his option. At 2.5 million for next year Trax is a bargain in today's baseball reality. That leaves us with Trachsel, Seo, Heilman and Zambrano as 4 legitimate candidates for the 2 slots.

Although part of me wants to see Heilman get a legit shot at earning a rotation spot, with the state of the Mets pen and Aaron's post-All Star game success this year I believe it would be wise to assume he will be a member of the bullpen in 2006. That still leaves us with 3 guys for 2 spots, and all of them have their strengths and weaknesses:

Jae Seo: At 28 years old he's the baby of the trio, and based on what he did after returning from his exile in Norfolk to my mind and for many other Met fans he is the front-runner for the fourth slot in the rotation. He did show some chinks in the armor down the stretch, getting a little beat up in 3 of his last 7 starts. He has something to prove in spring training. Still, his stuff is better than Trachsel's and his control is far better than Zambrano's. Unless he really disappoints in the spring I think Seo will be in the rotation.

Victor Zambrano: His two big problems are his tendency to lose the strike zone and the unwillingness of some Met fans to let go of the Kazmir trade -- or at least stop blaming him for it. He just turned 30, and because he switched to pitching in the minors his arm has relatively less wear and tear than your typical 30 year old pitcher. He has great stuff when he can get it over, but at times this year his stuff was flat and hittable. Although I still see him as a guy that has the potential to be a real good starter, I wonder if he has the mental makeup to make it in New York.

Steve Trachsel: The oldest of the group, he turns 35 on Halloween. Steve certainly has the capability of being one of the better fifth starters in baseball, although some Met fans tend to overrate him, at least in my mind. To repeat something I posted in late September, Steve's 5 September starts looked like this:

7.1 IP, 4R, 4ER, 7H, 2BB, 2HR -- Loss to Atlanta
5.0 IP, 4R, 4ER, 4H, 1BB, 2HR -- loss to St. Louis
6.0 IP, 5R, 2ER, 9H, 3BB, 1 HR -- Loss to Atlanta
6.0 IP, 0R, 0ER, 5H, 1 BB, 0HR -- ND to Washington
4.2 IP, 7R, 7ER, 10H, 3BB, 1 HR -- Loss to Philadelphia

I like Trachsel, I really do, but let's keep a grip on reality here, people. Steve is one of those guys who is what he is. When he's on top of his game, with all of his pitches working, he's a consummate pro and a pleasure to watch. When he struggles, his games can be every bit as ugly as Zambrano's worst efforts. He takes forever between pitches and the game slows down to an excruciating crawl. I made the point once that Trax and Zambrano are virtually the same pitcher, and I'll stand by that. At the end of the season they're both going to be .500 pitchers with an ERA around 4. I feel the biggest difference is that Zambrano is 5 years younger and has potential to improve.

Because of this, I made the point a while back that I felt it was in the best interests of the team to deal Trachsel and keep Zambrano. When I said that, though, I didn't realize that Trachsel now has 5 years with the Mets and has 10-5 rights to veto trades. (Time really does fly, doesn't it?) Zambrano might have to be the one that gets dealt. Either way, though, the one thing that doesn't make sense to me is to try to use Zambrano out of the bullpen in 2006. I don't think it will help his control any to be used as a long man, and I think you diminish his value in a trade. Right now you could probably get an established middle reliever or possibly a couple of young power arms for the pen in exchange for Trachsel or Zambrano, and to me that would be the way to go.

Some would argue that it might make more sense to keep both, using the argument that you never can have too much starting pitching. I agree to a point, but if as an organization you believe in Petit and Bannister then you have more than enough in reserve to cover the odd injury. It's what a successful organization needs to do -- come up with surplus talent that you can move to fill needs, and have a dependable farm system that can cover you in an emergency. Whether it is Trachsel or Zambrano that gets moved, I think you have to take advantage of their value to fill some holes.

A little vindictive pleasure

As I sat here putting the finishing touches on this post I watched Podsednik's home run beat the Astros and put them down 2-0 in the World Series. I remember Phil Garner walking out to the mound and telling Roy Oswalt to hit Cliff Floyd, and I can only think, "eat it, buddy."

Trading Links

This bog has moved.
Visit us in our new home at www.MikesMets.com.

I'm interested in trading links with other Mets bloggers. If you wish to trade links with my new site (see above), please email me at mikesmetsblog@sbcglobal.net.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

What We're About

This bog has moved.
Visit us in our new home at www.MikesMets.com.

Now that this blog has been up a couple of months I thought I would take the opportunity to tell those of you who might be interested about Mike and Mike's Mets. I started this blog for a couple of reasons -- one, because I got tired of listening to so-called "experts" speak for me as a Met fan; and two, because I came down with Lyme Disease this summer and needed something else to obsess over. I've enjoyed this experience on both counts.

I have no illusion that my writings are devoured by millions, but I was pleasantly surprised that there are quite a few of you out there that stop by and read what I have to say. My old freshman comp teacher taught me that when I was writing an opinion piece to write it like I mean it, so I express my views strongly. This blog's reason for being is to share my personal opinions (hence the name "Mike's Mets), but I do respect those of you that don't share my opinion, and actually enjoy hearing from you when you disagree. I'm really not in love with my own opinions, although I do develop a crush on them from time to time.

As for dealing with the Lyme Disease, writing this has been both therapy and a welcome distraction. My biggest problem -- other than the fact I was misdiagnosed and poorly treated at the stage where Lyme is fairly easy to cure -- is that I deal with constant headaches and dizziness, the kind you get when you come down with a bad flu, except these have lasted for months. I look back at some of my postings and I can tell when I was having a bad day by how disjointed they are, but I really believe the effort to focus mentally and write something coherent is a big help. Also, I don't want to obsess over this stupid disease, writing this blog allows me to obsess over the Mets, which is infinitely more fun.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own. This site is absolutely "unofficial" and is not affiliated in any way with the New York Mets.

F--k You, Manny

I haven't made any pretense about the fact that I believed it would be a mistake for the Mets to pursue Manny Ramirez. I have to be honest, though -- I was convinced that it was going to happen. And then I hear the news that Manny doesn't want to play for the Mets. My first reaction is I have to laugh. My second became the title of this post.

I'll state right now that Ramirez is still one of the top 5 hitters in the game, and his addition to the lineup would have been a huge upgrade for the Mets. The cost would have been outrageous, though, with 3 years at almost $20 million per left on the contract, and the rumor that to approve a trade Manny is seeking another year tacked on at the end. The problem with superstars in this game is how much you have to overpay to get one. You pay through the nose for the production you get when they produce as expected -- and when they flop, as Beltran has, the cost is hard to justify.

Omar, count your blessings. Take the 20 million you would have paid Manny, combine it with the 15 million that Piazza made last year, and you have some real $$$ to spend upgrading this team in several areas. Also, keep working on that farm system, and maybe someday the Mets can field a top-notch team that isn't just a bunch of overpaid mercenaries that have no real tie to this organization beyond their paycheck. Maybe we'll have a few more guys like David Wright, who really seems to care. Maybe there will be a more important difference between the Mets and Yankees other than the Yankees have more money to buy a team. Just a thought.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A Final Look Back at the 2005 Season, Part 4

Part 4 of 4

August 30 -- High Water Mark
Some Mets fans would argue that the Mets hit their high water mark of the season when Trachsel beat the Giants, putting them 8 games over .500 and within a game and a half of the wildcard. To me, it was the game that began the next homestand against the Phillies, despite the 2 losses to the Giants that came in between. The Mets came into the game still only 1-1/2 out of the wildcard with a chance to control their own destiny.

Jae Seo, who had been terrific since his recall earlier in the month, was pitching for the Mets; matched up with rookie Robinson Tejeda. For the first time in 5 starts since his recall Seo didn't really have it as Kenny Lofton and Pat Burrell both took him deep, putting the Mets down 3-0 before their first at bat.

The Mets got a run back in the bottom of the inning as Beltran crushed a 2 out homer to right-center. Seo gave it right back in the top of the second as Jimmy Rollins singled home Mike Lieberthal to put the Phillies up 4-0. After that, although clearly lacking his best stuff, Seo settled down, pitching a 1-2-3 third that featured strikeouts of Abreu and Burrell, then holding the Phillies scoreless in the fourth despite allowing 2 hits to lead off the frame. Meanwhile, the only threat the Mets could mount against Tejada came in the fourth. Victor Diaz' 2 out triple went to waste when Castro's pop out left him stranded.

In the top of the fifth the Phillies threatened to add on. Kenny Lofton, who seemed to be taking out his bad Yankee experience on the Mets this year, led off with a double. Chase Utley followed with a single to center. Lofton, who had been experiencing leg problems, tried to score. Beltran made a great throw home, and though Lofton seemed to beat it he was called out at home. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel got tossed in the ensuing argument, but on the replay Lofton was clearly out, his slide leg bouncing up and over home plate, with Castro's tag coming before he touched home. Despite a single by Burrell with 2 outs Seo managed to survive the inning by striking out Ryan Howard and the Mets still had a pulse.

In the bottom of the fifth Beltran's 2 out single brought home Reyes to help the Mets creep back to 4-2. Heilman came in to pitch the top of the sixth, gave up a Lieberthal single and a walk to Rollins, but retired Lofton on a fly to Beltran to escape that threat. The Mets did nothing in the sixth as Diaz hit into a double play after Jacobs' 1 out walk. In the top of the seventh Chase Utley worked a leadoff walk against Heilman, who got Abreu and Burrell on fly outs and struck out Ryan Howard to keep the Mets within 2.

Ryan Madson came in to pitch the bottom of the seventh for the Phillies. Ramon Castro greeted him with a leadoff double. Marlon Anderson pinch hit for Heilman and flied out deep enough to right to advance Castro to third. Reyes flied out to short left field, nowhere near deep enough to score the extremely slow Castro, and Madsen was an out away from escaping damage. He got ahead of Cairo 1-2, but then hit him. Madsen walked Beltran on 4 pitches to load the bases, then wild-pitched home Castro to put the Mets within 1. Floyd struck out to end the threat, but the Mets had cut the lead to 4-3.

Juan Padilla came in for the Mets to start the top of the eighth, setting the Phillies down without incident. In the bottom of the eighth Ugueth Urbina got the ball, his job to get 3 outs and hand the game to Billy Wagner. He walked David Wright on 5 pitches. Jacobs struck out but Wright stole second, putting the tying run in scoring position with one out.

Urbina, clearly struggling with his control, walked Victor Diaz on a 3-2 pitch. Despite Urbina's struggles the Phillies made no move to get Wagner ready, placing confidence in Urbina. He fell behind Castro 1-0, then tried to throw a slider by him to even the count. Castro admitted after the game that he was looking for a breaking ball, Urbina not only obliged but hung the pitch badly, and Castro crushed it to left-center for a dramatic home run. The crowd went bezerk, the Mets had come all of the way back to take a 6-4 lead. Billy Wagner remained seated in the Philadelphia bullpen.

The Mets sent Looper out for the ninth as Met fans collectively held their breath. Looper began the inning by striking out Rollins, then got Lofton to ground out to Reyes. Chase Utley made us suffer a little longer by working the count to 3-2 with Looper killer Abreu waiting on deck, but Looper finally retired him on a fly ball to Beltran in center.

The Mets had climbed back to 7 games over .500, were only a half game out of the wildcard and were coming off a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the wildcard leader. I remember thinking at the time that they had the look of a team that was ready to play a little over their heads and make a true playoff run. Unfortunately this was as good as it would get. Pedro got beaten up the next day as the Mets fell 8-2, then Lieber beat them 3-1 as the calendar turned to September. Then the 2-8 road trip finished them off. But for one late August night the Mets were as close as they had come in years to mattering in September.

September 18 -- Glavine goes the distance
When Steve Trachsel and the Mets fell to the Braves 7-4 on September 17, they had truly hit bottom. In less than 3 weeks they had fallen from 7 over .500 to 4 under; from a mere half game out of the wildcard to a laughable 8 games out. With apologies to Yogi, it was truly over for the team: from high water to low tide in the blink of an eye.

As Glavine faced off against John Thomson the Mets were reduced to playing for intangibles: pride, building something for the future, and Glavine's own quest to reverse Atlanta's dominance over him personally. In fairness, after a bad loss to the Braves in April when he was really struggling, Glavine had pitched well against Atlanta the next 3 times he faced them. Still, he had nothing to show for it except 2 losses.

Glavine got off to a good start, setting the Braves down 1-2-3 in both the first and second innings. In the third Brian Jordan singled for the Braves' first hit, but he got Estrada to hit into a double play and then struck out Thomson. The Mets, meanwhile, wasted leadoff hits by Floyd and Wright in the second, and mounted no other serious threat as the game moved quickly along.

Furcal lead off the fourth with a walk, but then got thrown out by Piazza attempting to steal second. In the fifth Andruw Jones lead off with a single, then went to third one out later on Adam LaRoche's opposite field double. Glavine got Brian Jordan to pop out meekly to second, then loaded the bases with an intentional walk to Estrada before striking out Thomson again to end that threat. The Mets went down meekly 1-2-3 in both the fourth and fifth.

Then in the sixth the Braves broke through on a home run by the vomitous Marcus Giles. The way the Mets had been going offensively Glavine had to wonder if that single run was going to cost him another loss to the Braves. He got his answer quickly in the bottom of the frame. Jose Reyes walked to lead off. Diaz doubled on the next pitch over Jones in center to drive in Reyes and tie the game. On the next pitch Carlos Beltran doubled home Diaz to put the Mets ahead 2-1. Then, on the next pitch Cliff Floyd crushed a home run to put them up 4-1. In a span of four pitches in the sixth: ball four to Reyes -- RBI double by Diaz -- RBI double by Beltran -- 2 run HR by Cliff -- the Mets had all the cushion Tom Glavine would need to take the game and series from the Braves.

It wouldn't come so easy, though. In the seventh Glavine was in trouble immediately. Francoeur doubled to lead off, LaRoche followed with a single to put runners on second and third and Brian Jordan at the plate as the tying run. Willie stayed with Glavine, who rewarded the confidence by striking out Jordan and getting Estrada to hit into another double play to end the threat.

After the Mets failed to pad their lead in the bottom of the seventh, Willie sent out Glavine to pitch the eighth, and he quickly retired Betemit, Furcal and Giles. Despite the fact that he was already over 100 pitches, Willie again sent out Glavine to start the ninth. Larry Jones led off with a groundball to Reyes that took a terrible hop, but somehow Jose stayed with it and threw him out at first. Then Andruw Jones lined out to Wright for the out number 2, leaving Glavine 1 out away from his second victory against Atlanta. Fittingly, Jeff Francoeur grounded a 1-0 pitch back to Glavine, who threw to first to seal the victory.

Although the game had zero playoff implications for the Mets, it was important none the less. After coming home from their awful road trip the Mets rolled over and died for three games against the Nationals. It was starting to look like a typical Shea September collapse, but it never came. The 2 of 3 they took from a Braves team still working to clinch their own playoff spot turned it around and began a nice stretch of games against contending teams for the Mets. And Tom Glavine, using the cutter, curve and slider that complements the fastball and changeup in his new repertoire, pitched a complete game victory over the team that has owned him.

September 26 -- Repaying the favor
With less than a week to go in the season the Mets rolled into Philadelphia for a 3 game series with the Phillies, who were only a game behind the Astros in the wildcard race. The previous week the Mets had taken 2 of 3 from the Marlins in a series that spelled the beginning of the end of Florida's wildcard chances. They were looking to do the same to a team that had started them on their slide to oblivion four weeks earlier.

Jae Seo pitched for the Mets; Brett Myers, who had dominated them in the August 31 game that began their slide, started for Philadelphia. The Phillies came into the game on a hot streak, winners of 4 of their last 5. The Mets were playing their best ball of the year, winning 2 of 3 from the Braves and Marlins, and then sweeping 3 games in Washington.

As in the August 30 game, the Phils jumped right on Jae Seo, as Rollins lead off with a HR and Burrell later singled in Utley for a 2-0 lead. The Mets answered on Mike Jacobs' opposite field HR in the second to cut it to 2-1, but Philadelphia went back up by 2 in the bottom of the frame when the red-hot Rollins doubled home Lieberthal. The third and fourth innings passed by uneventfully for both teams.

The obnoxious Kenny Lofton led off the bottom of the fifth with a walk, stole second, went to third on Utley's single to right, and scored on Abreu's sac fly to put the Phillies up 4-1. The Mets went quietly in the top of the sixth. In the bottom of the sixth Ryan Howard led off with a single, knocking out Seo. Willie inexplicably brought Danny Graves in to face David Bell. Even more inexplicably, Graves actually retired Bell for the first out.

Flushed with unanticipated success, Graves hit Mike Lieberthal with a 1-2 pitch to put runners on first and second. He managed to get Brett Myers on a groundout, with the runners advancing to second and third. Determined not to give Jimmy Rollins a hit or a walk, Graves succeeded (well, sort of) by hitting him to load the bases. Willie had finally seen enough, and brought in the great Kaz Ishii to pitch to Lofton, who was so overeager given the chance to hit against Ishii that he could only manage a fly out to Beltran. The Phillies had blown a golden opportunity to pad their lead against bad pitchers.

Meyers finally struggled a little in the top of the seventh, issuing a 1 out walk to Wright and a single to Piazza that gave the Mets runners on first and third with one out. Mike Jacobs followed with a soft grounder to rookie Ryan Howard that he tried to turn 2 on. Piazza was out at second, but the slow Mike Jacobs beat the throw to first, allowing Wright to score to narrow the lead to 4-2. In the bottom of the seventh Willie, who seemed determined to use every bad reliever he had, brought in Shingo Takatsu to face Pat Burrell. Shingo rewarded his manager's faith by allowing Burrell to crush a funky home run and put Philadelphia back up by 3 at 5-2.

In the top of the eighth Charlie Manuel decided to repay Willie for bringing in Graves, Ishii and Takatsu by bringing in Ugueth Urbina to replace Brett Meyers. A Marlon Anderson double and Jose Reyes walk put runners on first and second. Cairo's double scored Anderson and advanced Reyes to third. Urbina finally made a good pitch, got Beltran to ground to second, but Chase Utley rewarded him by throwing the ball away, scoring both Reyes and Cairo and tying the game.

Now Manuel had seen enough, bringing in leftie Aaron Fultz to face Cliff Floyd. Fultz rewarded his manager by giving up a solid hit off the wall to Cliff, putting runners on first and third. Manuel brought in Madson to face Wright, a move that actually worked as Wright went down on strikes, but before Manuel could pat himself on the back Madsen plunked Piazza with a pitch to load the bases. Jacobs, who had already driven a pair in for the Mets, crushed the first pitch to the deepest part of the park in center, coming close to being a grand slam but winding up as the go ahead sac fly. 6-5 Mets.

Philadelphia would have 2 more at bats to stave off a devastating loss, and they would face Roberto Hernandez as Willie decided he might actually want to win the game. He got David Bell to ground to Reyes, struck out Michael Tucker who pinch hit for Lieberthal, then retired Shane Victorino who was hitting for Madsen. The Mets went quietly in the top of the ninth, the Phillies were coming up for their last chance to avert disaster, and they would again face Hernandez going for a 2 inning save.

Hernandez struck out Jimmy Rollins leading off, then got Kenny Lofton to ground out to Reyes. Chase Utley doubled to keep the game going. The Mets elected to intentionally walk the left-handed Abreu and take their chances with Met-killer Pat Burrell. It paid off as the over-eager Burrell meekly grounded the first pitch he saw back to Hernandez. It was a stunning loss for the Phillies, compounded by another loss the next day as Padilla and Heilman held them at bay for the last 4 innings of a 3-2 Mets win. Philadelphia actually pulled it together enough to make one last run, finishing a solitary game out of the wildcard, forced to think about what could have been.

Thank you for joining us in our look back at the 2005 season.

We hope that you enjoyed reliving a handful of games from the 162 that bring back some good memories. For me, these games captured some of my favorite themes from a baseball season:

Aaron Heilman, who had gone from first round draft pick to punch line, finding himself against one of the best pitchers and baseball and one of the best line-ups in the National League.

The enigmatic Mr. Koo embarrassing the humorless Randy Johnson.

Cliff Floyd -- who had to hit not one but two HRs in a single at bat -- to win the Mets' greatest victory of the season.

Pedro Martinez, proving on more than one occasion that some big ticket free agents are worth every penny.

Jae Seo, who came back from banishment to become, with Tom Glavine, the Mets most dependable starter over the last couple of months.

Tom Glavine, a sure Hall of Famer, who the game seemed to pass by early in the year. He had to reinvent himself as a pitcher at a time when most are retiring, and in the process finally won the respect of most Met fans.

And finally, a team that fell out of it badly, in as ugly a manner as a team can fall out of the race, but somehow found a way to come back an finish the season with some dignity, and hope for seasons to come.

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Final Look Back at the 2005 Season, Part 3

Part 3 of 4

August 20 -- Woodward bails out the pen
After a western road trip that featured the Beltran/Cameron collision in San Diego and Pedro losing both his no-hitter and the game in LA, the Mets returned home 4 games back in the wildcard race and in real danger of falling out of things completely. They righted the ship somewhat by taking 2 of 3 from the Pirates, then Jae Seo was magnificent again in a 1-0 victory over the Nationals. The Mets faced the Nationals again in a Saturday night game, trying to keep the good vibes going as Pedro matched up against the tough Livan Hernandez.

After a scoreless first, the Mets jumped all over Hernandez in the bottom of the second. With one out, Wright singled and Marlon Anderson walked. Ramon Castro took an 0-2 pitch deep for a 3 run HR to put the Mets up 3-0. Then with Diaz on second and 2 outs Reyes homered to extend the lead to 5-0. David Wright's 3 run shot in the bottom of the third sent Hernandez to an early shower and seemingly sealed an easy win for the Mets.

Sadly, Mets fans know all too well it is seldom easy. While Pedro scattered 6 hits over 6 innings and kept the Nats off the board the Mets offense decided to take the rest of the night off. Willie Randoph made the curious decision to lift Martinez after 6, having thrown only 78 pitches. Then he elected to let Danny Graves start the seventh. I was watching the game, and remember telling my girlfriend I had a really bad feeling when I saw Graves in there. Sadly for me, my Mets radar was working.

Graves is awful from the start, committing the cardinal sin of walking Brian Schneider on a 3-2 pitch to start the inning. He got Tony Blanco to ground out for the first out as Schneider went to second. Cristian Guzman hit a ground ball to Reyes that should have been the second out, but Reyes' throwing error put 2 on with only 1 out, and the inning took on nightmarish quality from that point.

Senior citizen Carlos Baerga pinch hit and smacked a double that scored Schneider and moved Guzman to third. The rapidly disintegrating Graves walked Brad Wilkerson, then gave up a run scoring single to the weak-hitting Jamey Carroll. Willie had finally seen enough of Graves, and brought in Mr. Koo, who struck out Nick Johnson for the second out. I crossed my fingers and hoped we could get that third out and escape with only a couple of runs worth of damage. Not to be...

Ryan Church's single scored 2 and made it 8-4. Aaron Heilman came in the game and promptly hit Preston Wilson to load the bases. Brian Schneider, who had led off the inning with a walk, singled to center to make it 8-6. Tony Blanco mercifully grounded out to end the inning, but I don't think there was a Met fan watching that wasn't holding his breath the rest of the way.

Heilman pitched a strong 1-2-3 eighth, then the Mets wasted a leadoff double by Victor Diaz in the bottom of the inning, again failing to pad their lead. Looper came out for the ninth and looked good getting Jamey Carroll and Nick Johnson for the first two outs. Then all hell broke loose as the third out refused to come. Ryan Church and Preston Wilson singled to put runners on first and third. Brian Schneider followed with a double that just missed being a home run that would have put the Nats up a run, instead it tied the game at 8 as Met fans serenaded Looper with a cascade of boos. Looper got pinch hitter Gary Bennett to fly out to Floyd to finally end the inning, and left the field to more boos.

The Mets went meekly in the bottom of the ninth, then Roberto Hernandez came in to try to hold Washington in the top of the tenth. He made it interesting by allowing a Guzman single and walking Jamey Carroll, but got Nick Johnson on a fly out to end the threat.

The Mets came up in the bottom of the tenth, desperately needing something to go their way in a game that was once an 8-0 laugher. With one out Gerald Williams worked a walk out of Gary Majewski, but Kazuo Matsui flied out and it looked like another zero for the Mets. But Jose Reyes worked out a walk, and put the tying run on second with 2 outs. Chris Woodward pinch hit for Roberto Hernandez, and on a 1-1 pitch hit a hard grounder up the middle, just out of SS Cristian Guzman's reach, bringing Gerald Williams home with the game winner. Mets fans let out a sigh of relief at the time, and in retrospect I believe this was an important game for the Mets as they try to become a winner; coming back in a game where everything went wrong.

August 26 -- Trachsel Returns
The Mets began their weekend series with the Giants after an impressive 4 game sweep of the Diamondbacks in Phoenix. They looked to Steve Trachsel, making his first start of the season, to keep the momentum going against Kevin Correia. As so often happened to the Mets when they faced a young pitcher with little track record, their offense was almost non-existent, with David Wright's second inning homer accounting for their lone run.

With little support Trachsel proved to be more than equal to the task, holding the Giants to no runs on only one hit through seven. Even though Trachsel was making his first start and was approaching the 100 pitch mark, Willie decided to stick with him in the eighth, even after Edgardo Alfonzo led off the inning with San Francisco's second hit, a single past Reyes at shortstop. J. T. Snow sacrificed Alfonzo to second, and pinch runner Todd Linden replaced Alfonzo. Trachsel got Mike Matheny to ground out to Reyes for the second out as Linden went to third, but then walked pinch hitter Michael Tucker to put both the tying and go-ahead runs on base.

Willie had Roberto Hernandez warming up and ready, but in a move that was ripe for second-guessing stayed with Trachsel, who was clearly gassed and starting to miss up in the strike zone. Fortunately for Willie and the rest of us, Trachsel retired Randy Winn on a fly to Beltran, and Looper shut the Giants down in the ninth after allowing a leadoff double to Omar Vizquel. The win put the Mets 8 games over .500 (a mark that would be their best for the season) only 4 games behind the Braves in the division and 1.5 games behind the Phillies in the wildcard race.


We conclude a final look back at the season with part 4.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

A Final Look Back at the 2005 Season, Part 2

Part 2 of 4

July 10 -- Pedro bails the Mets out again
The Mets were staggering into the All-Star break. They dropped 2 of 3 to the Marlins at Shea, but then managed to take 3 of 4 from the Nationals in D.C. With 3 games in Pittsburgh against the lowly Pirates to close out the first half things seemed promising. It looked even better in the first game when Victor Zambrano dominated the Pirates for 8 innings, leaving with a 5-1 lead... that Heilman and Looper promptly gave away in a crushing loss. The next day Ishii, Bell and Graves were just awful, and the Pirates pasted the Mets 11-4 in a game that was even less close than it sounds.

In their last game before the break the reeling Mets turned to Pedro to salvage a little dignity and momentum. He didn't disappoint. While the Mets beat up Kip Wells for 5 runs in 5 innings Pedro just toyed with the Buccos, tantalizing them with a variety of breaking pitches, changeups and just enough fastballs to keep them honest.

When Pedro left the game after 7 innings and 94 pitches with a 6-1 lead the only suspense was whether the Mets' bullpen would dare to blow another gem. Fortunately, Hernandez and Looper were up to the task, and thanks to Pedro the Mets salvaged a little something heading into the break.

July 17 -- How's that Atlanta School System, Mike?
The Mets came back from the All-Star break with a nice 6-3 win over the Braves at Shea, then proceeded to drop games 2 and 3 if the series by managing a solitary run in the two games, including being blanked over 6 innings by Tim Hudson in his first start off the disabled list and being held scoreless in 5 innings against Atlanta's awful bullpen.

For the Sunday finale of the series Pedro Martinez was facing the eternally hated Mike Hampton, who left New York as a free agent because he didn't have the guts to pitch in the spotlight, then compounded it by not having the guts to admit the real reason he was leaving. Hampton was also returning off the disabled list without any rehab starts. The Mets were facing the prospect of dropping 3 of 4 at home to the Braves, and losing for the second day in a row to a pitcher coming off the DL, and one who most Met fans hate.

Fortunately, that was an indignity we didn't have to face. After Reyes scored a run in the first on a Beltran groundout, the Mets pounded Hampton in the second. Wright led off with a single and then Woodward followed with a double that put runners on second and third. Wright scored on Miguel Cairo's groundout and Woodward moved to third. After Pedro struck out Reyes doubled home Woodward, then Cameron followed with a 2 run homer putting the Mets comfortably ahead 5-0. That was all the cushion Pedro and 3 relievers would need as the Mets cruised to an important win.

July 23 -- Reyes runs Mets past LA
After sweeping the Padres the Mets faced the Dodgers at Shea in a weekend series that finished a ten game home stand. After losing game 1 of the series Pedro and the Mets tried to even up the series the nest day in a game televised on FOX. Unfortunately, Pedro didn't really have it from the start -- giving up a walk and a couple of hits in the first, being aided on a good play by Cameron, getting burned when Betran lost a well-hit fly in the sun that should have been the third out but wound up going as a double and 2 RBIs for Olmedo Saenz. The Mets were down 3-0 before their first AB.

Jose Reyes led them back in the bottom of the first, singling off the first pitch he saw, then stealing 2B and moving to third on Jason Phillips' throwing error. Cameron drove him in with a base hit, then stole second and scored on David Wright's 2 out single, bringing the Mets back to 3-2 after one.

They tied it in the third when Reyes scored his second run on a Ciff Floyd ground out, but Pedro couldn't hold the lead. The Dodgers went up again in the top of the fourth when Jason Phillips singled home Jayson Werth, then padded their lead to 5-3 when Olmedo Saenz homered off Pedro in the sixth.

The Mets shaved a run off in the bottom of the sixth when Wright doubled and scored on Castro's ground out. Willie asked the struggling Martinez to get through one more inning, and Pedro obliged by holding the Dodgers in the seventh. As the Mets came up in the bottom of the seventh, they had a chance to repay Pedro for some great starts that he didn't get a win if they could pull this one out for him.

Marlon Anderson, pinch hitting for Martinez, led off with a walk. After failing miserably in an attempt to bunt the tying run to second, Jose Reyes atoned by driving a 2-2 pitch that was barely a foot off the ground into the right field corner for a triple that tied the game. After Cameron failed to get Reyes home, Beltran came through with a single that put the Mets up 6-5. Pedro could actually get a win if the bullpen could hold the Dodgers for the final 2 innings.

Roberto Hernandez did his part in the eighth, allowing the Dodgers nothing. In the bottom of the inning Reyes capped his great offensive day (3-5, 3R, 2 RBIs, 2SB) by driving in Cairo with an insurance run, and for once Looper took the suspense out of a game, allowing nothing and striking out 2 in the ninth in his most impressive outing of the season.

August 6 -- The Return of Jae Seo
The Cubs rolled into New York right after the disastrous Brewer series where Roberto Hernandez (and Willie) blew 2 games in a row. Fortunately for the Mets, the Cubs were reeling even more. The Mets bombed rookie Rich Hill for 7 runs in just 1-1/3 innings en route to a 9-5 triumph in game one of the series, then turned to Jae Seo to keep it going in game 2 of the series. Seo had just been called up to replace the excruciatingly bad Kaz Ishii in the rotation, answering the prayers of Met fans that didn't enjoy basically giving away every fifth game. This wouldn't be an easy return for Seo, as he would be facing Greg Maddux, who has owned the Mets his entire career.

The game began well for the Mets, as Seo set the cubs down 1-2-3 in the top of the first, and David Wright doubled in Miguel Cairo for a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the inning. Seo continued strong, setting down the first 8 cubs until Maddux singled and then embarrassed him with a stolen base in the third. Seo got Matt Lawton to ground to Wright to end that threat. In the bottom of the third the Mets padded their lead when Reyes singled, tagged up and went to second on Cairo's fly to center, stole third and scored on Beltran's bloop single.

After 3 the Mets had a 2-0 lead. It would be up to Seo to make it stand up, as the Mets would get no more hits the rest of the way. He was more than equal to the task. Besides his fastball and changeup, Seo brought back a cut fastball, splitter and curve with him from Norfolk. 71 out of those 107 pitches he threw went for strikes as Seo simply dominated the Cubs over 7 1-3 innings. The only scoring threats for the Cubs came in the fifth when Seo got Lawton to ground out with runners on second and third, and in the eighth when Henry Blanco doubled to lead off the inning. Seo got pinch hitter Todd Hollandsworth to line out to Reyes, then left the game for Mr. Koo.

Koo (of course) walked Matt Lawton on a 3-2 pitch, but then got Todd Walker on a fly out to Mike Cameron. Roberto Hernandez replaced Koo to face the dangerous Derek Lee, and earned redemption for the Brewer fiasco by striking him out on 3 pitches, the last a truly nasty splitter. Looper avoided any further drama with a perfect ninth, making Seo's return a triumphant success.


A final look back at the season, part 3.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Final Look Back at the 2005 Season

Part 1 of 4

We're going to wrap up our look back at the 2005 season by looking back at some of the games that were high points of the year, games that Met fans can actually enjoy looking back on. If you're a "glass half empty type" and looking for a funny recap of the season's low points, Metsradamus has a great one here.

April 10 -- Pedro beats the Braves for the Mets' first win
After Looper blew the opener against the Reds the Mets proceeded to lose the next 4 games in depressing fashion. People were already calling up WFAN and calling for Willie to be fired. The team looked tight. John Smoltz was coming off a bad loss to the Marlins and you knew he had something to prove.

The only scoring through 7 innings was when Estrada doubled home Larry Jones in the fourth. Smoltz looked like he was going to make that run hold up, scattering a few hits and piling up strikeouts -- he wound up with 15 Ks in 7-1/3 innings. Pedro was at least as good after surrendering the one run.

Jose Reyes singled to lead off the top of the eighth, and Cairo bunted him over to second, bringing up Carlos Beltran. Smoltz fell behind 2-0 in the count, then got a called strike. He then tried to sneak a fastball that Beltran lined over the right field wall to put the Mets up 2-1. Floyd followed with another HR, then Doug Mientkiewicz doubled and Wright homered, and out of nowhere the Mets were up 5-1.

Pedro made it stand up, being his own closer with a complete game 2-hitter, and both the Mets and their fans could finally take a deep breath.

April 15 -- Who the hell is this guy?
It was a classic "no chance" pitching match-up. Young, arrogant and dominant Josh Beckett vs. Aaron Heilman, who was pitching his second start of the season for the Mets after getting clobbered for 5 runs in 5 innings by the Braves the week before. The Mets got off to a decent start, scratching out a pair of runs in the first while Heilman retired the first 9 Marlins that he faced.

Then in the top of the fourth, Heilman hit Juan Pierre with a pitch. Pierre promptly stole second base, then advance to third on Castillo's weak infield single. First and third, no outs; Cabrera, Delgado and Lowell coming up. Mets fans had flashbacks to previous Heilman outings that started off promising and came crashing down in one bad inning.

But Cabrera lined out to third, Delgado flied out weakly to Beltran, and Lowell hit into a force play to end the inning, and Castillo's infield single was the only hit the Marlins could manage. Piazza doubled in a pair of insurance runs in the fifth, but Heilman didn't need them, dominating the Marlins completely, going all the way in a game that resurrected his career and made him one of the real feel-good Met stories of 2005.

May 21 -- Mr. Koo vs. The Big Eunuch
After dropping the first game of the Yankees series to Kevin Brown of all people, the Mets were looking to get a little back the next day in a nationally televised game on FOX. The game began well enough, with Reyes and Wright driving in single runs in the 2nd and 3rd while Chris Benson was shutting out the Yankees through 6. Then in the top of the seventh, Rodriguez led off with a single, and the tiring Benson was lifted for Dae-Sung Koo, who got out of the inning by striking out Martinez and Posada.

In the bottom of the seventh, the left-handed Mr. Koo led off against Randy Johnson. Announcer Tim McCarver was in the middle of calling it one of the biggest mismatches of all time when Koo lined a 1-1 pitch over Bernie Williams' head for a double. Jose Reyes bunted Koo to third on a ball that Jorge Posada had to come out and make.

Shocked Met fans gasped as Koo rounded third and continued towards home while Posada rushed back to the plate. Even though he looked out on the replay he was called safe. Posada looked like he was going to cry.

Then Cairo homered off of a reeling Johnson to expand the Mets lead to 4-0. (As a side note, Koo's head-first slide actually injured his shoulder and led to a stint on the disabled list.) They added 3 more against the great Buddy Groom in the eighth, and held on for a 7-1 victory.

June 11 -- Cliff's Improbable Home Run Beats Anaheim
To me, this was the highlight of the season, one of those games that I will remember years from now. The Mets weren't playing very well, riding a 3 game losing streak that included a 12-2 embarrassment to the Angels the night before in which Kaz Ishii, Mike Dejean and Manny Aybar all stunk out the joint.

Kris Benson started the game for the Mets and pitched well, allowing only 2 runs on 4 hits in 7 innings, aided by a fantastic catch by Beltran, robbing Bengie Molina of a two run HR in the seventh. Unfortunately for the Mets, Jarrod Washburn and Scot Shields were even better, combining to hold them to 1 run through 8 innings. Since the Mets were in the throws of one of their prolonged team hitting slumps at the time (the only run came on a bases loaded walk to Chris Benson) I remember watching with very little hope as closer Francisco Rodriguez faced them in the bottom of the ninth.

David Wright struck out on a called strike to start the inning, bringing up Marlon Anderson to pinch hit for Chris Woodward. Rodriguez fell behind 3-1, and then came in with a fastball that Marlon smoked to right-center. CF Steve Finley and RF Vlad Guerrero converged on the ball, then Finley made a somewhat awkward semi-diving attempt to catch the ball which he probably should have had; instead it bounced and then careened off of his knee into the warning track in right field that Guerrero had vacated.

Anderson was off to the races as Finley desperately chased down the ball -- as soon as I saw how hard that ball hit off of Finley's knee I knew he had a chance to score. Finley retrieved the ball and got it into 2B Adam Kennedy, whose relay throw home was weak and to the first base side of the plate, allowing Anderson to just beat Jose Molina's tag and tie the game.

Braden Looper, who had allowed a couple of hits in the top of the ninth but escaped by striking out 3B Dallas McPherson, began the tenth by getting pinch hitter Chone Figgins on a fly out to Cliff Floyd in left. Kennedy followed with a single and stole second, but Looper got Cabrera to ground out for the second out. It looked like he escaped again when he got PH Jeff DaVanon to ground softly to 1B, but Mientkiewicz misplayed the ball for an error, putting runners on first and third, still 2 outs. Darin Erstad followed with an RBI single that David Wright should have played, and the unlucky Mets were down a run again heading into the bottom of the tenth.

Brendan Donnelly came into the game in relief of Rodriguez who had been pinch hit for in the top of the inning. Jose Reyes led off with a bloop single, then Mike Cameron walked on a 3-2 pitch, putting the tying run into scoring position with no outs. But Donnelly struck out Beltran and Piazza. Sloppy defense in the top of the inning and bad situational hitting in the bottom seemed to doom the Mets as Cliff Floyd came up as the last chance. Floyd worked the count to 3-2, then creamed a pitch down the right field line that had a chance. I remember jumping to my feet and begging for the ball to stay fair, but it didn't.

The crowd let out a collective groan as Cliff retreated back to the plate, and you just knew that the baseball Gods weren't going to let you have this one...

Looking back after the game, Cliff said, "I had a chance to look in the stands, and people were standing with the hands on their heads or bending over in pain or covering their eyes. They figured that was my best shot. 'Nice try, Cliff. Thanks for the at-bat.' But I just told myself, 'Don't give in and don't give up'."

After fouling off a couple more pitches, Cliff got hold of a pitch and sent it to deep right-center. Once more I was on my feet, screaming out loud with Dave O'Brian, "He did it!" I remember watching Cliff round the bases, smiling like a little kid, epitomizing the joy of baseball at its best, and thinking to myself, this is why I do it, this is why I watch, why I root for the Mets despite everything...


A final look back at the 2005 season, part 2.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Rating the Season: GM Omar Minaya (Part 2)

Note: this is Part 2 of a two-part post. For Part 1, please click here.

In our last post we discussed the cost, both visible and hidden, of bringing a Manny Ramirez to Shea. In a way we have probably exceeded the scope of what we were writing about: trying to evaluate Omar Minaya on the 2005 season. My point here is simply that after hearing many interviews with Omar over the course of the season I can not say with any certainty what his true philosophy will be as the General Manager of the New York Mets. Although he is thought of as (and has proclaimed himself) a believer in home-grown talent, he has a track record of chasing big names. Actually, considering what was going on with the Expos while he was GM, he doesn't really have a useful track record at all.

Spend money wisely, Omar...

I am not against the Mets acquiring talent from outside the organization. I do not see the Mets operating as a small market team in the manner of the Twins or the A's. But the Mets aren't the Yankees, either, and have never been successful when they have tried to buy their way to success. They will never have the revenue stream that the Yankees possess, consequently the Mets will never be able to throw more money at their mistakes in the way the Yankees can.

The Mets just can not afford to be wrong very often when they spend big money on players. We've already thrown a lot of money at Beltran and Pedro -- now you're talking another 20 million per for Manny. We're already wondering if Beltran is worth the $17 million per that he's getting. What if Manny realizes that he's a chubby guy moving into his mid-30s and begins his decline?

I just believe that a creative General Manager that has money to spend can find a way to bring in talent to this organization without blowing most of the bankroll on just a handful of players. For $20 million per year I'd like to see us upgrade with more than one guy. I want Omar to be the kind of General Manager that is smarter than Steve Phillips. I want him to be the guy that builds a successful organization for more than just 3 years. I just still have no idea who he truly is.

Please: more than just lip service to developing our kids

There is little doubt that, other than the Yankees, the most successful teams over the long term have farm systems that produce for them. In an interview on WFAN the last week of the season Omar alluded to the need to beef up our own system to compete with the Braves and Phillies in particular. In early September the Mets made a major shakeup to their scouting staff, outright firing some scouts and reassigning others. Although the system has produced Wright, Reyes and a handful of other major leaguers, it is generally conceded among experts that the Mets system is quite thin in talent. Outside of a handful of players like Milledge and Petite their just isn't much there.

Omar can't be held responsible for what has happened before he came here, but he is absolutely responsible for what happens now. When you sign free agents you lose draft picks as compensation; the Mets had no second and third round picks in 2002 (they signed Weathers and Cedeno), 2003 (Floyd and Glavine), and 2005 (Pedro and Beltran). You also spend money that won't be available to sign draft picks.

Case in point -- Why was Jacobs such a shock?

It annoys me when I read something that says basically that Mike Jacobs came out of nowhere this year. He was drafted in 1999 fairly late as a guy who was very promising as a hitter but lacked a position defensively. Like most young guys he had ups and downs, but established himself as a promising hitter with good power, a decent eye and a willingness to go to the opposite field -- pretty much what we've seen.

In 2003 he batted .329 at Binghamton in his first run at AA, with 17 HRs and 81 RBIs in just over 400 ABs. The following year after promotion to AAA Norfolk he sustained a shoulder injury that required surgery and caused him to miss the season. It was the Mets decision to send him back to AA to learn 1B. He certainly didn't have anything left to prove at that level.

My point is that some teams, such as Atlanta, would look at a kid like Jacobs and see an opportunity. They would nurture his eventual success. Why does it seem as if Mike Jacobs eventually is a successful big-leaguer -- and I do realize he still has to prove that -- it will be despite the Mets' player development system that seems to have written him off, not because of it?

I don't know what type of players Lastings Milledge, Brian Bannister and Yusmeiro Petit will become. I don't pretend there aren't trades out there that make sense for us to give up these chips. Trade them wisely though, if you must, because there aren't many in the system.

It will take at least 5 years to build a successful system if Omar and his team do everything right. He won't be getting this grade for a while. Hell, he might not even be here in five years. That's why the easiest thing for a GM to do is to be a Steve Phillips, trading away the farm for proven players. It's easier defend landing a Manny Ramirez, even if he falls on his face, than building something with kids who may or may not become players. The problem is that you never build something that lasts in this manner, which is why the Mets have been so bad so often. I have hopes, based on his own words, that Omar has more courage and vision than those that have gone before him.

The times, they are a-changing

It used to be that when a team like Minnesota developed a Johan Santana, or Milwaukee developed a Ben Sheets, large-market teams could count on the fact that he would be available to them as he approached free-agency. Luxury tax and revenues sharing have enabled teams like the Twins and the Brewers to keep guys like that now. I have to believe that trend will only continue -- possibly with a salary cap down the road.

Even today it's getting harder and harder for contending teams to land a piece of the puzzle as the trade deadline approaches, with so many teams still in contention and so few guys available. Hardly anything happened this year. The few teams willing to part with anything valuable wanted your first-born son in return. Again, since small market teams don't need to engage in fire sales anymore, that trend is likely to continue, also.

It will be vital, even for the large market teams -- yes, even for the Yankees -- to be able to produce their own players, to have young players ready to step in when needed, to provide their own help. Even the Red Sox, formerly the Yankees chief rival in buying a pennant, have quietly built a real farm system that is ready to help as they decide how many expensive free agents they need to re-sign.

It's going to take a different style of management than the Mets have seen before for the Mets to be competitive in the new reality of baseball. Omar will be a huge part of that. If he is what I think and hope that he is -- a man with guts and vision -- he can be the cornerstone of a new day for this organization. If not, he'll be another schmuck that couldn't turn the Mets around. They can team him on ESPN with Steve Phillips while the guy who takes his place is left with the mess. I don't know, maybe it's wishful thinking on my part but I'll bet on Omar.


A final look back at the season.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Rating the Season: The General Manager (Part 1)

Omar Minaya

As with my previous posts regarding Willie Randolph and Rick Peterson, I have to admit right from the start that I do not pretend to have the inside information that would make it possible to do a truly comprehensive review of Omar Minaya's first season as General Manager of the New York Mets. In the case of trades that were discussed but ultimately not made, such as Manny Ramirez, we simply don't know exactly what the Mets were offering.

During the 2004 - 2005 off-season, Omar made a huge splash in the free agent market by signing Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. It must be granted that the primary reason both players signed was the money, but I will still give Omar and his team credit for pulling off the moves that gave the Mets instant credibility. I am not a huge believer in big-ticket free agents, but I was a supporter of signing Beltran last winter, and despite watching him fall on his face this past season I still believe it was the right move.

It's also generally accepted that Omar did a nice job signing support players last winter such as Marlon Anderson, Miguel Cairo and Chris Woodward. And he certainly gets an "A" for effort for signing anyone with a pulse to throw at our bullpen problems, even if none but Roberto Hernandez and Juan Padilla really stuck.

I guess we'll never know just how badly Omar wanted Sammy Sosa, or just how real the rumors were of a Cliff Floyd or Mike Piazza swap were, although I find it hard to believe the Cubs wouldn't have jumped at either deal. I will say that one of my biggest worries with Omar is what seems to be his fixation on big-name, big-money guys. We've been down this road before with the Mets, and just how well has it worked out?

Will the real Omar Minaya please stand up...

I've listened to most of Omar's interviews on WFAN trying to get a true handle on what his philosophy will be. I've heard him speak quite often on the need for the Mets to develop strong scouting and development for the purpose of producing their own talent. After the Beltran signing he spoke of how he hoped that down the road the Mets would not need to sign big free agents as often. This was music to my ears, although I've also heard him speak often about the importance of bringing star players to the Mets, and I'm certain he will actively pursue Manny Ramirez during the off-season. The bottom line is that none of us is truly certain what the Omar Minaya management philosophy will be -- only time and his actions will truly tell.

I know that many Met fans out there are excited at the prospect of bringing in Manny or someone like him. Don't get me wrong, there is a part of me that would enjoy seeing that, too. There is little doubt that the Mets lineup would be vastly improved with the addition of a big RBI guy. But you always have to weigh what you are gaining by what you are giving up. The visible cost of acquiring Manny will be the players you are giving up in the deal: major leaguers like Floyd, Cameron, Heilman, Diaz, and Jacobs; top prospects like Lastings Milledge and Yusmeiro Petit -- it's going to take some combination of these guys to get him, not one or two.

The less visible cost of getting Manny will be what you will be giving up on defense. Manny is a bad outfielder playing the tiny left field in Fenway. At Shea he will be a much bigger liability. Plus, if you keep Cliff Floyd you will need to move him to RF where his defense is considerably diminished. If you start that outfield next year I can only hope that Beltran eats his Wheaties, 'cause he'll be covering a lot of real estate. Manny will definitely give us some runs, but he'll take away, too -- especially with a pitching staff that doesn't strike out many batters.

Even less visible will be the cost of Manny's contract. He'll cost a cool $20 million a year, plus luxury tax. Can we get the Red Sox to eat some of the money? Maybe, but it will probably cost more in what we have to trade for him if they eat much of the contract. If you are one of those that believe the Red Sox are so hot to get rid of Manny that they will take little in return and eat most of his contract, all I can say is you are dreaming.

The bottom line is that money spent on Manny is money that won't be available to upgrade another position, or money available to improve the Mets player development and scouting -- which is vastly in need of improvement. When Omar Minaya is deciding just how much he is willing to give up to get Manny, he will have to keep all of these costs in mind.


Omar Minaya, Part 2

Friday, October 07, 2005

Rating the Season: The Manager

Willie Randolph

Willie Randolph didn't enjoy a long honeymoon with Mets fans. During the 5 game losing streak that opened the season there were already calls in to radio talk shows demanding he be fired. When the team has enjoyed some success this season you heard some positive references to "Willie Ball", at other times Willie took a lot of criticism for sticking with guys for too long.

Personally, I haven't agreed with all of Willie's moves this year. I thought that he stayed with Kaz Ishii in the rotation much too long. Some of his bullpen moves were really questionable -- but be fair, that was a tough bullpen to manage, especially for a rookie manager. And keep in mind that most rookie major league managers at least have minor league managerial experience; Willie was a rookie in the true sense of the word.

For the most part I have supported Willie this year, but my purpose in writing this is not to blindly defend Willie.

What he's done right...

Create a winning attitude.
I know some fans think this is vastly overrated. I couldn't disagree with them more. After 37 seasons of following this team, I'd easily rate the losing attitude of the organization their biggest problem. In 44 seasons the 83 wins the team achieved this season ranks in a tie for 14th all-time. Think about how lame that truly is. Despite relatively short runs of success this is a team that has been programmed to lose.

There were a lot of ups and downs this year, culminating with the road trip that buried our playoff hopes in early September. But the team never packed it in, even after that disaster. They played well down the stretch and built a decent foundation for next year. I have to give Willie a lot of credit here -- to me it was one of his biggest achievements.

Took the pressure off the kids.
I know it was controversial, but I thought Willie was correct to go slow with David Wright. For all of his talent and maturity David was 22 years old. He's going to be a star here for a long time; there was no reason to put the team on his shoulders from the start of the season.

I thought Willie (and his staff) did a particularly good job with Jose Reyes. I think he was right on with his goal of trying to help Jose develop patience at the plate without putting a damper on his aggressiveness. If Jose becomes a true star in this league over the next few years, you'd better believe that his aggressiveness will be a key part of what makes him tick. A lesser manager would have tried to force Jose to take more pitches. Yet there was real progress over the course of the season, and Willie deserves credit for that.

Kept them playing.
Cliff Floyd played 150 games this year. He played banged up, he played day games after night games. Players were expected to be ready to play. How refreshing. Willie did a good job of letting the players know what he expected from them -- supporting them without babying them.

Kept Beltran batting third.
I know a lot of fans thought this was a mistake. I personally liked it. There was a lot of pressure on Willie to put Beltran into the 2 hole in the lineup to "take the pressure off him." Carlos was signed for big money, and will be under pressure for his whole stay in New York. Maybe it didn't pay off this year, but I think in the long run it will help Beltran to realistically adjust to what is expected of him. I thought leaving him in the 3 hole all year was Willie's way of sending a subtle message to Carlos that he will have to find a way to live up to expectations.

What he's done wrong...

I won't spend as much time on Willie's faults, as I think they've been pretty well documented:

Stayed too long with some guys.
Kaz Ishii. Danny Graves. Manny Aybar. Need I say more? Loyalty is good, but needs to be earned. Keeping Piazza in the clean-up slot too long is much more forgivable than giving Ishii 16 starts. Piazza earned some loyalty here.

Managing the bullpen.
Managing a relief corps is an art for the most experienced of managers -- even when they have a solid bullpen to work with. Willie lacked both the experience and the horses. I have a feeling he'll have more to work with next year, but he'll need to pick up his game, too.

You have to second-guess yourself to learn.
This one might be a little unfair, but from the distance of a fan this is what scares me about Willie a little. He seems to avoid second-guessing himself to a fault. Just once I wanted to hear him say something like, "I screwed up on that move," or even "I guess I should have told Shingo Takatsu that I didn't want him to throw Cabrera a fastball."

Keep this in perspective...

You've got to give a guy who has never managed on any level a little time to learn. I know this was a frustrating team at times this year, and some of Willie's moves were hard to defend. I think Willie made some progress as a manager this season, and I believe he will be a much stronger in-game manager next season.

I don't think we'll ever stop second-guessing him or whoever eventually replaces him as manager. In my opinion, some fans give a manager way too much credit or blame for an individual game. To me, 99% of managing is done while no game is being played, and even the best (or worst) managers have any significant effect on a very small minority of games.

And no manager is strong in every aspect of managing. Davey Johnson was an incredibly mediocre in-game manager, and not particularly good at managing a pitching staff. His teams were below average fundamentally, especially in defensive positioning. Yet he managed the team to our last Word Series victory.

Bobby Valentine, for all of his ability and charisma, often let his own ego get in the way of managing the team. Bobby is the type of guy who always is going to be brilliant at first wherever he manages, but is going to wear out his welcome before too many years go by. But he is without question one of the finest and most effective managers we've had in Flushing.

No manager will ever please all of us. Even if he manages to win a title here he will find that the love fest will play itself out some time during the ensuing April. It's just the nature of managing in a town where people really care about baseball (and wash their hands after using the bathroom). But I think Willie has earned next year, although it will be fair to judge him more harshly in 2006 with the year's experience under his belt. I know that I, personally will grade him on a much harsher curve, as ultimately it is results that are all that matters for the manger of the New York Mets.


Omar Minaya

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Rating the Season: The Pitching Coach

In our next three posts, we'll take a look at Rick Peterson, Willie Randolph and Omar Minaya. After a lot of thought on this point, I have decided to forgo giving out letter grades to these three. Simply stated, lacking the inside information to judge all the variables that affected their decisions this season, assigning a grade to these men would be just vanity on my part. Like most serious Mets fans I do have an opinion after watching these guys in action, the following is one fan's opinion.

Rick Peterson

It's rare that a coach can inspire almost as much controversy as a team's manager. In fact, in 37 years of following this team I would have to think really hard to even remember a handful of the pitching coaches this organization has had. For better or worse, I don't think I'll ever forget Rick Peterson.

Looking at the numbers, it's hard to argue that he hasn't done a decent job with the pitching staff. The Mets have improved greatly in two years under Peterson. In fairness, they have improved the quality of the pitchers available to him rather dramatically. Also, it's difficult to say looking on from the outside, even in the case where a pitcher shows marked improvement, just how much credit the pitching coach deserves. For instance, how much of Jae Seo's improvement is due to Peterson's input as opposed to Jae gaining maturity and the work of the Triple A coach? There is no real answer to that.

What I do respect about Peterson is his ability to work with both veterans and young pitchers. He doesn't seem to try to force anything down the throat of a Tom Glavine for instance, but it does seem that he was able to convince Glavine to alter a pitching style that has him headed to the Hall of Fame but wasn't working any longer. At the same time, he really seemed to make a lot of progress with Victor Zambrano this year, despite the bad ending. And he gets major points for Roberto Hernandez' comeback, too.

I think Peterson's biggest problems are twofold. First, the Mets picked him up in an off-season where they knew they weren't going to be good. They tried to make a big story out of a genius coach coming in and single-handedly resurrecting our staff. Just like Kaz Matsui was burdened with unreasonable expectations coming in, so was Peterson.

Secondly, he was painted as one of the bad guys in the Kazmir trade, with the infamous line about "fixing" Zambrano now legendary. I can't speak to how much of the responsibility that Peterson should bear in this matter, and frankly I don't care. The front office shoulders the responsibility of any trade, if it goes wrong blame the person that made it. (I still throw something at the TV every time I see Steve Phillips.) If a GM makes a bad talent evaluation it's on him -- it's up to him to evaluate the advice he gets and make a final call on a deal. If it makes you feel a little better about that awful deal to kick Peterson over it, no problem. I'll always hate that deal, but I've moved on.

My feelings on Rick Peterson are simple -- if Willie, for as long as he is manager, is comfortable with Peterson as pitching coach, I'm fine with it too. I will avoid both giving him too much credit when things go well and too much blame when they don't. But after watching him for two years I think the Mets have a much better-than-average pitching coach who is an asset to the organization.


Willie Randolph

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Rating the Season: The Pichers

We continue our year-end wrap-up by rating the Mets starting pitchers and relievers on their 2005 performance.

Pedro Martinez

I have to admit I didn't understand this signing back in November. I thought that Pedro should have gone to a team like the Yankees or Cardinals that was built to win in 2005 and that the Mets should be looking at younger pitchers. Boy, was I wrong. the buzz that he brought back to Shea, for the instant credibility he gave the Mets, I have to hand this one to Omar: a great signing.

Injuries slowed him down quite a bit after the all-star break, but with a real bullpen and a little more support we could have had a 20 game winner. He was a great mentor to the younger pitchers all season and kept the mood of the team light during some of the rough stretches.
Grade: A

Tom Glavine

Glavine was so awful for the first 3 months of the season even he was wondering of he was done. Every batter came up to the plate looking to drive that outside pitch, and Glavine couldn't or wouldn't come inside enough to keep them honest. It was ugly.

Fortunately for Met fans, in July aliens abducted Glavine and replaced him with a clone that was programmed to throw a curveball on occasion and an effective cutter inside. A 2.50 ERA in August and a 1.71 ERA in September were the result. Sure, now he requires human flesh to survive and will eventually overthrow all earth governments, but that's a relatively small price to pay.
Grade: B+

Kris Benson

Kris had the flip side of a year from Tom Glavine. After starting the year on the DL he came back in May and was our second best pitcher through the all-star break. But then things got a little ugly. With vague rumors of an injury being tossed around, Kris was mostly ineffective in August and September. He had trouble keeping the ball down, giving up 15 HRs in only 65.2 innings during that span.

He finished up strong with a nice game against the Rockies his last start, but for me the jury is still out on whether he can be an effective pitcher for the Mets over the full course of a 162 game season. Still, he did make progress as a pitcher this year and it is reasonable to hope that he can become more consistent.
Grade: C+

Victor Zambrano

Early in the season he was neck-and-neck with Glavine in the race to see who could pitch himself out of the league quicker. Then he turned it around at the end of May and he had a stretch of 11 games where he pitched to a 2.42 ERA and really seemed to be poised to become an effective starter. Incredibly he only went 2-5 during that stretch as the Mets failed to support him with runs and the bullpen blew leads.

Then he reverted to the evil Victor again and became the ineffective enigma some Met fans love to hate. Banished to the bullen for Steve Trachsel, he came back to finish the year by ruining Mike Piazza's farewell game. Showed enough to be in the starter mix for next year, but many fans who can't get over the Kazmir deal just want him gone.
Grade: C-

Jae Seo

We can argue from now until the cows come home as to whether or not Jae Seo would have been the effective pitcher that he proved to be without the time in Norfolk that he spent developing new pitches. What is undeniable to me is that he should have been called up a month earlier. It's water under the bridge, anyway.

When he was pitching in New York he was great, and he opened eyes. It remains to be seen if he can be that effective over the course of a full season, but he has definitely earned a fair shot next year. To me, along with Heilman and Jacobs he was part of the real feel-good stories among the players.
Grade: A

Kaz Ishii

Why in all that is sacred did we waste 16 starts on this guy? Be gone!
Grade: D-

Braden Looper

You can't mention his name in a room of Met fans without evoking strong reactions. He gets credit for pitching through pain this season and doing a decent job for the most part. It all fell apart in September along with the season.

I think he can help us next year, but not as a closer.
Grade: C

Roberto Hernandez

As much as the bullpen struggled this year, it's scary to think of where we'd have been without him. Even the low point of his season, the Milwaukee series, was Willie's fault more than Roberto's. I hope he's back next year.
Grade: A-

Aaron Heilman

Back from the dead and squarely in the middle of future pitching plans for the future, the only real question is starter or reliever. To me, he was a little wild with his fastball to be a reliable closer, but that is one of the things he is working on in winter ball.

Probably needs to develop some type of reliable breaking pitch whatever his future role with the team.
Grade: A-

Juan Padilla

He pitched great down the stretch after Looper was basically shut down. He walks too many guys for a control pitcher without overwhelming stuff, but some of that was probably related to not being used consistently until mid-September. He seems to possess the self-confidence a reliever needs. I think he's going to be a real candidate for a seventh inning role next season.
Grade: B+

Steve Trachsel

Steve pitched rather ineffectively down the stretch after taking over the fifth starter roll, pitching to a September ERA of 5.28. I think this is more reflective of missing most of the year rather than a decline in skills. You know what you get with Trachsel, who has been solid if not spectacular for the past three seasons.
Grade: C

Heath Bell

Heath looked pretty good at time this year. I'd like to know what happened in September. I think there might be something there with personal issues, but who knows. For all that, here is a young power arm that can help next year.
Grade: C-

Danny Graves

It made sense taking a chance and signing him, but I don't think many Met fans are looking forward to more of him. Unless he gets a lot of velocity back, I wish him well in his next career. Can you say "Do you want cheese on that?"
Grade: F

Mister Koo

Thanks for the Randy Johnson game. Now please go away.
Grade: D-

Royce Ring

If anyone knows why the Mets seem to have completely soured on this kid, please email me.
Grade: Incomplete

Tim Hamulack

Didn't see enough of him to decide.
Grade: Incomplete

Shingo Takatsu

Please be funky somewhere else next year.
Grade: D-