2014 was supposed to be the year. We’re a week and a half into this young season and Mets fans have little reason to believe this year will be different from the past 5. Okay, Matt Harvey won’t pitch this year–a major setback. But would his presence really make the difference between mediocrity and breathing October air? The payroll remains the same. No solution was reached about shortstop or first, and the bullpen remains a mystery. Even if the Mets caught a few breaks (that will be the day), it still looks a daunting task to reach the coveted 90 win plateau General Manager Sandy Alderson targeted this offseason.
You read that right in the first paragraph–the payroll remains mostly the same. Despite Alderson bragging about how the team was one of the top spenders this past offseason, the Mets payroll is actually slightly less than the $90 million they were at last season. The Mets didn’t add payroll, they simply reinvested money that was no longer owed to Johan Santana and Jason Bay. The contracts Curtis Granderson, Bartolo Colon, and Chris Young received, is the majority lump some of money that came off the books.
Even if the Mets didn’t add payroll, they did make moves in the offseason. So, are they actually any better? Not really. Curtis Granderson is being heralded as a major upgrade in the outfield. Marlon Byrd played very well before he was traded to Pittsburgh in August, and Granderson projects to equal his production, maybe surpassing it by just a little. This was not a significant upgrade by any means. It is a minor upgrade at best compared to the numbers Byrd put up last season.
Now, the saga that is known as Ruben Tejada. The incumbent shortstop has fallen out of favor with the organization and with fans, so his exit looked eminent. It has not happened–at least not yet–and for good reason believe it or not. Stephen Drew is the obvious choice to replace, but Alderson has not given in to the usually overpriced demands of agent Scott Boras. The free agent market for shortstop next offseason is very strong, and Alderson could make a move then. Although another year with Tejada could be rough, it could be beneficial in the long run with big names like Hanley Ramirez and Asdrubal Cabrera set to become free agents in the winter of 2015.
Trade Davis, kick the tires on Duda. Get rid of at least one of them. That was the plea of most Met fans before the season started, and in typical Mets fashion, neither gets moved. However, Alderson has a plan. Yes, Davis and Duda have been disappointments, but there is still hope at this position. If either has a strong first half, a late July trade could be a very realistic option. If not, one of the two may stick around for another year or two. As painful as that sounds, it makes sense. Last year’s first round draft pick Dominic Smith is already one of the organizations top prospects, and it is just a matter of time before he exits the minors for Flushing. Until then, we might be stuck with the unknown of Duda and Davis.
Chris Young has yet to play this season, and has always been injury plagued, and an inconsistent performer when healthy. Bartolo Colon will not produce Harvey like numbers this season. That’s just unfathomable. So, how has the team improved?
The formula for success in baseball changes over decades. For many years quality starting pitching, timely hitting, and strong defense won championships. Heck, that formula still works today (we don’t see it as often, though). The 90s and early 2000s was the era of PED’s and the longball. Now that PED’s have significantly decreased (or so we think), what is the recipe for success? For one things certain, you need starting pitching to win ball games. That’s been true for as long as the game has been played. And with the current starters and elite prospects the Mets posses, it’s a luxury many teams do not have. Moving on, batting seems to be better than it was before the PED era, but not as good since the era ended not too long ago. Depth in the batting order, rather than a few MVP caliber players seems to be the trend. So what does that leave out as a vital aspect of the game in the modern championship formula?
Oh, how could we forget…THE BULLPEN.
Go back to last season and watch the Cardinals and the Red Sox. Most of the arms that came out of their ‘pens threw very hard. Late game cheddar has become crucial to getting K’s in big situations. Just watch Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal work. It’s very difficult for the opposition to connect with his 95+ mph heater. He is just one example of the many arms that help postseason teams in the late innings.
The Mets haven’t had a legitimately solid bullpen since 2006–the last time they made the playoffs. Irony? I think not.
Yes, the Mets did posses the best lineup in the league that year, but their starting pitching was average at best. Tom Glavine had a nice year but was no all star. Orlando Hernandez pitched decently before getting hurt. John Maine and Oliver Perez (imagine that) were two postseason starters. Yes, John Maine and Oliver Perez. Steve Trachsel won 15 games with an ERA near 4.50.
Let’s go over the arms in the 06 ‘pen. Closer Billy Wagner–one of the hardest throwers in the league. Guillermo Mota, Roberto Hernandez, Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez (first half only) all threw hard. Pedro Felliciano and Darren Oliver were soft tossers, but lefty specialists. Chad Bradford did not throw hard but his submarine style made him effective. That bullpen was the best in the league.
Now, look whose in the ‘pen. John Lannan, a soft tossing lefty, Carlos Torres, who does not throw hard, Scott Rice, another soft tossing lefty, not to mention Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde who have decent velocity, but not anywhere close to where they once did. Gonzalez German and Jeruys Familia bring gas but are very inexperienced. Vic Black, who was primed to be the set up man in the pre-season, was sent down because he was very ineffective this spring. Josh Edgin, who has good velocity from the left side, found a fate similar to Black’s. This bullpen has the experience in the wrong places and velocity that doesn’t know where it’s going.
Now, this is where it really gets frustrating. The Mets bullpen has been in the bottom half of the league ever since the 2007 season. The Mets payroll remains largely unchanged, so that means that didn’t really invest into an area of need, while looking for cheap internal options. That plan looks like a nightmare thus far, as the bullpen has looked shaky (generous wording here) thus far. What could have been done this winter? Veterans Ronald Bellisario and Matt Thornton signed for about 3 million each on 1 year deals. It’s time to open the checkbook, and pay for surgery, because the Met bullpen has been broken for the past 7 years.
The overall feeling of the 2014 season is one all too familiar: disappointing. It feels like nothing has changed, despite the new faces in different positions. We sit here and wait, as the Mets continue to try to sell us on Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, and the other talented Met farmhands. What they are selling, I’m not buying. They did the exact same thing last year with Harvey and Wheeler. Don’t get me wrong–I love the young staff that’s taking shape. It has the potential to be one of the league’s best for many years. However, what good is that starting pitching with a lineup that can’t support it, and a bullpen that can’t hold a lead?
This team needs a better shortstop, consistent first base play, another quality outfielder, and an above average bullpen. The Wilpons are losing money each season as ticket prices, concessions, and parking, have been on the decline since Citi Field’s inaugural season. Why should we be confident they will make the proper changes, with a payroll that can’t grow? It’s time to sell the team, but that isn’t likely unless the next commissioner forces a sale of the team.
With a young, and potentially dominant rotation on the horizon, 2015 looks like the year. But wait–didn’t we say that last year? Even with a healthy Harvey, it seems that not much else will change. WIth the Wilpons still in power, Met fans everywhere are waking up in the same nightmare.