As the long-obvious reality of the 2011 season finally sets in for even the most optimistic of Met fans, we must consider the very, very difficult road Sandy Alderson has ahead of him.
It’s comforting to talk about the injuries, but let’s face it—the Mets started the season 5—13, and this was with Reyes, Wright, Ike, Beltran, KRod, etc. on the field. Even with zero injuries, this was not a serious contending team.
Terry Collins has definitely done all that could be expected of him and more, getting roughly .500 play from a group of players which includes quite a few retreads, minor leaguers, and mediocrities. As wild card hope is now just about totally extinguished, we will see if the team continues to play hard, or begins to mail it in, as they did the last two years.
Regardless, when considering the overall picture, Met fans will need to hope that Sandy Alderson is indeed the baseball genius many believe him to be.
The NL East appears to be on the verge of becoming just like the AL East—two teams among the very best in baseball, and the Nats possibly poised to be a .500+ team ready to finish third. The Phils are not declining, and the Braves are back. That leaves the Marlins and the Mets. The Marlins have been without Josh Johnson much of the year, and Hanley Ramirez has been awful. And just as the Mets can point to the 5—13 start and dream of what could have been, were it not for the Marlins’ 1-18 stretch, they’d be thinking wild card too.
The bottom line is that the Mets are not in good shape. Another year has seen injuries to many of the supposed top prospects in the minors (FMart, Mejia, Havens, Nieuwenhuis) and there are not really any players surely ready to come in and help in 2012.
Jose Reyes? He’s been hurt three years in a row and five of his nine in the bigs, and his MVP year has turned into another gigantic injury-based question mark. Should the Mets invest the big deal in him? David Wright? It’s three years since he was a hugely feared hitter, and he may never be again. Jason Bay? He’s a mediocre player now with little realistic chance to be anything more. Angel Pagan? A great fourth outfielder and nothing more. Daniel Murphy? A good, clutch singles and doubles hitter with no fielding ability and terrible baserunning instincts.
Is Thole a serious everyday catcher? Will Duda hit and field enough to be an everyday OF? Are Turner and Tejada potential 150+ game players? Will Ike Davis become what he seemed to be becoming before the freak injury?
And the really sad part is that the pitching is clearly the major problem.
R.A. Dickey has surely pitched better than his record shows, but do teams fear him? He’s a fine guy, and an innings eater, but he’s not a top 3 rotation guy for a serious team. Niese? Once again, we are at the backstretch, and his numbers are where they always are—mediocre ERA, mediocre WHIP, and another guy who is a decent pitcher, but not a front of the rotation arm. Pelfrey? What can be said? This space has supported him, but as he becomes more expensive, his tremendous regression from 2010 is very alarming. But if the Mets let him go, who takes his spot? Capuano? Sure, a nice comeback, but overall? Mediocrity and nothing more. Which leaves Gee. He has been a nice surprise, has thrown some great games, and is surely a major league starter. But a 4 or a 5 most likely.
And it’s the bullpen where the biggest issues reside.
Jettisoning KRod was a seemingly necessary financial move, but it weakened the pen with a domino effect. Everyone moves up a notch, to a role they are clearly not fit for. Sure, Izzy has been maybe the team’s best surprise, but is he the 2012 closer? Parnell, as this space has pointed out, has never, ever been lights out anywhere except for his rookie year in low A ball. He turns 27 soon. Will he become Heath Bell if we let him get away? Heath Bell had some great minor league numbers. Parnell didn’t. It seems as though Parnell simply is what he is—a classic example of the old adage that no matter how hard you throw, if you don’t fool the batters somehow with various pitches, changes of speed, excellent location, etc., you are not going to be a seriously successful MLB pitcher.
There’s really not much of a front line nature in the pen. Beato, Byrdak, and Buchholz could make a really nice set of 3-4-5 guys out there if you have a great closer and a serious setup man, but just as Angel Pagan is clearly overexposed when masquerading as a leadoff hitter and everyday CF, these guys are just not top notch 7th or 8th inning guys.
The overall pitching staff really is the epitome of the .500 nature of this team. Sure, there’s some talent, but all of it is second or third tier. If the team had one or two really good starters, and the rest of the guys filled out the remaining rotation spots, and if there was a fine closer/setup tandem, this staff would be at the least very, very good. But the lack of even one top notch arm dooms the overall pitching to mediocrity or worse.
What to do? Be patient. That’s really all we can do. We don’t have a Vance Worley or a Tommy Hanson ready for 2012. Every week and month that passes makes it even more clear how wrong those of us were who gave credit to Minaya for absolutely anything other than being able to sign expensive free agents. And even this was simply due to having the most money to spend on players who were almost always past their prime and ready for the DL. Omar left this team in abominable shape.
As Confucius might have said were he a baseball fan, a journey to the playoffs begins with a single trade. Let us hope that Beltran for Wheeler was that single trade. A young hard-thrower, Wheeler has yet to light up the minors, but he does not turn 22 until next spring, scouts rave about his stuff, and the Giants have an unparalleled recent record of developing pitchers.
Should Mejia and Havens recover, they could be two more nice pieces. But barring a return to health (and to Queens) from Reyes for 150+ games, a return from Wright to pre-strikeout king form, a return to the promise of 2010-2011 from Ike, a return to simply being a nice number 3 starter who can actually take the mound for an entire year from Johan, and a final departure of the seemingly never-ending injury cloud that hangs over this team, it is hard to envision a return to contention in the next year or two.
But teams are not often built overnight. The Phils drafted and traded wisely for years before turning into what they currently are. As did the early-to-mid 1990s Yankees before they won the WS 4 out of 5 years. Let’s remember, those teams were anchored by homegrown players—Jeter/Pettitte/Mariano/Bernie/Posada—all drafted or signed as amateur FAs. They went 14 years without the postseason before becoming a juggernaut.
There’s hope. There’s always hope, and with Alderson there is—at this point at least—serious hope for a resurrection, but it’s not going to happen in a year, and maybe not in two years. It’s going to take time. Possibly a lot of time.
But with Terry Collins at the helm for at least another year, we can at the very least hopefully count on continued hard-nosed play, continued efforts by the players, and the continued use of the roster in ways designed to maximize their abilities.
It’s tempting and an easy way out to just go negative and to think that right now that the Mets are the Orioles or the Blue Jays—simply forever buried behind infinitely better teams. At the moment, they are. And the Nats with their improvement, with Davey Johnson, and with Strasburg and Harper, are poised to continue getting better.
But baseball, as a wise man once said, is a funny game.
Surely it is possible that over the next two years Wheeler, Mejia, Havens, Duda, Harvey and others will develop into fine and productive players for the Mets, and/or be used in trades to bring in some veteran pieces.
This is what we must hope for.
The days of blaming failures on injuries or feeling that the team is “one or two players away” are dead and buried for the reasonable fan. The darkest period of orange and blue night is over; reality has been faced and the removal of Ollie, Castillo, Beltran, and KRod has definitively signaled the true turning of the page from the Minaya era of error.
Yes, it is indeed early morning in Met Nation. But it could be a very, VERY long time until it is afternoon.