The Mets currently sit at 23-20, a start to the season which pretty much everyone must agree has been surprisingly good. Despite being 6th in the NL in runs scored and 14th in runs allowed, despite being 15th in HR and dead last in steals, despite being 15th in ERA and 14th in ER and HR, and 10th in BB allowed, the team has persevered and remains very much in contention after nearly 30% of the season. And to ice the cake, the Mets’ run differential of -31 is “bested” by only five teams, none of which have winning records.
The team has again suffered injuries to key players, losing Mike Pelfrey for the year, and Josh Thole, Jason Bay, and Ruben Tejada to DL stints as well. Yet they have not been under .500 this year after the 4-0 start, and each time the squad seems poised for “the” losing streak, they charge back with a few wins to quiet the unruly masses and keep hope alive. They did it after losing 5 of 6 following the doubleheader sweep by SF, they did it after the sweep in Houston, and while the last couple of weeks have been up and down, they have stayed above .500 and avoided any extended losing streaks.
When one carefully examines this team, is it fair to expect much more? The feeling here is that the answer to this is a resounding no.
Based on most sources the 2012 Met payroll is 14th in the game at about 93 million. Johan, Bay, and Wright account for about 56 million, so the other 22 men on the team are being paid about 37 mil—that ain’t much.
A check of many popular blog comment sections shows righteous—and rightful—indignation at the likes of Mike Nickeas fouling the spot where Gary Carter and Jerry Grote once strode. There’s one reason we have a guy who clearly is not a serious major leaguer catching almost every day—and it lies within Fred Wilpon’s wallet. People can criticize Sandy Alderson all they want, but Oakland’s great teams which won three consecutive pennants and a title were not small budget clubs; Alderson obviously was given a budget for 2012 with what has been called the all-time record shrinkage in the history of the game. It’s not Sandy’s fault that he had no money for a catcher.
Yes, the Francisco move was a head-scratcher; this is something almost everyone can agree on. But the team lost KRod and the mostly effective Izzy, and Parnell’s career of mediocrity was further enhanced by his failure in a closer trial last September. Something had to be done, the choices were not overwhelming, and the 2012 Mets arguably were not among the top ten destinations in baseball’s free agent era.
Did Alderson overpay for Frank? Yeah, probably. But when people complain about this, do they ever suggest a realistic alternative? Papelbon? Madson? And fans should remember that for all of his weak outings, Francisco is 11-for-13 in save chances. Not too bad, and better than his career record prior to 2012.
The rotation? After losing Pelfrey, we have seen Schwinden and Batista, as the team desperately clings to the hope that Chris Young will not tear an ACL while brushing his teeth, and that he comes back to give 20 starts. But again, what were the moves which Sandy missed here with no budget?
Angel Pagan has been doing well of late and has his numbers at a pace basically right at his 2010 level. Andres Torres has slowed down after a hot start and Ramon Ramirez has been a disappointment; but when one looks at Ramirez’s last four years, it is just not rational to blame Sandy for wanting to add a pitcher with Ramirez’s track record to what figured to be a terrible bullpen. And the two players he received filled two spots for about half a million more than Pagan cost to fill one.
The fact is that Alderson had an incredibly difficult situation given to him by the Wilpon budget requirements. Before criticizing him, the reasonable fan should put forth a detailed alternative plan.
Among the other elements we have seen amidst the strange brew of surprise and frustration with 2012 thus far has been a serious attempt at revisionism by a segment of the fan base when it comes to Omar Minaya.
Many feel that Omar is a good-to-very-good talent evaluator, and this may be true. But folks must remember that he was not director of scouting or development, he was GM. He was responsible for one of the worst and most costly series of bad signings in baseball history. He gave crazy contracts to players ranging from Pedro to Ollie to Castillo to KRod to Bay and more. Contracts which he was clearly bidding against only himself to award.
Yet some folks talk about “Omar’s guys” as if this team is in first place with great promise for 2012 and 2013; it’s not. Not at all. Not thanks to Omar.
This author has been largely thrilled with the .500+ ball the team has played all year. When revisiting the litany of mediocrity the statistics at the beginning of this article point to—combined with Met residence in baseball’s best or 2nd best division—it can be viewed as something of a miracle that the team has the record it does.
“Omar’s guys?” Thole, Ike, Murphy, Tejada, Kirk, Duda, Niese, Gee, Parnell. Is this the “core” of a great team? Or a nice group of hustling second-tier players waiting for a “core” to lead it? The latter seems a lot more realistic.
So, what to think? The feeling here is that Terry Collins has done a magnificent job. After the injury-plagued 2009, Jerry Manuel looked good for the first half of 2010, but the team collapsed like a Parnell save attempt as the summer wore on and the slack, country club atmosphere of the Manuel era became clear. The 2011 Mets had a similar second-half swoon, but were not long on talent and suffered the losses of Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez, two of their best and most productive players.
Fans often like to pick at every move managers make, and this is an easy parlor game for observers to play. But the reality seems to be that Terry Collins has gotten much more than can rationally have been expected from this mostly bargain basement group of players.
Sure, not hitting Murph Monday night in Pittsburgh was seemingly debatable, as was only allowing Parnell to pitch to one batter against Cincinnati last Wednesday. But with apologies to fans of Bobby and St. Murph, we are not talking about Mariano Rivera and Ty Cobb here.
Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint like the NFL. Baseball managers who prime their teams to play hard and fearlessly and until out 27 every night can be very valuable to their teams. Collins seems to have evolved into this kind of manager.
Everyone likes homegrown players, this writer most definitely included. But we are not looking at a group which rivals Mookie, Wally, and Hubie, or Doc, Darryl, Ron, and El Sid. Sorry folks; Ike and Duda aren’t making the all-star team and hitting 35 HR, Niese is not rising above the mediocrity he has been his entire MLB career, Gee is not regaining the form he had his first couple of trips through the league, Parnell is not harnessing the velocity which has given him a free ride since high school to become dominant, Murph’s not more than a very good singles hitter, and Thole, Kirk, and Tejada are good young players but not stars.
So how are they above .500 in this division? Hustle and attitude, led by Collins, and the excellent performances and examples set by Dickey and Wright.
Omar does deserve credit for Dickey. Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, maybe his very best move. Johan has been good—as it is reasonable to expect for 24 million bucks—but aside from Dickey and the obvious magnificence of Wright’s start, the team doesn’t have another player having even a very good season, with the possible exception of the very one-dimensional Murphy.
So what to think? Is Collins doing a great job preparing and motivating this team? Making them believe that they can win despite the payroll, the injuries, and the expectations under the Big Apple microscope? Using the roster in a way which maximizes each player’s chances to succeed? Continuing the apparently excellent relationships he began developing with many of these players in the minors?
All serious fans want this team to win. But sometimes there just are not good options; the choice of Nickeas as backup catcher being exhibit A. Alderson had almost no money to spend, could not afford to really replace Reyes, Beltran, or KRod, and absolutely had to do something to bolster the bullpen. It is understandable that he did what he did with the little money the Wilpons gave him to spend.
The feeling here is that the ride should be enjoyed for as long as it may last this year. This division is brutal, and figures to remain this way. While those cute li’l sight-challenged squirrels who have been predicting the Phils’ demise since the last out of the 2008 World Series may finally have found their elusive nut, the same folks wishing horrors for the Marlins are sadly mistaken. This division has several clubs with the potential to be very, very good for years to come.
But there is hope. There is definitely hope. The best hope may be in the right arm of Zack Wheeler, who Alderson pried from the pitching-rich Giants for their rental of Beltran. There is hope in what we can only imagine will be a seriously increased payroll in 2013; a .500+ finish and improved attendance and SNY ratings can only accelerate this. There is hope in Wright’s apparent reemergence as a serious star on offense and defense. There is hope in “Omar’s guys” becoming a foundation upon which to build with stars led by Wright, maybe Wheeler, and hopefully another couple brought in by Sandy.
And there is hope in the way this team plays the game under Terry Collins.
.500+ in a very tough division–despite the injuries, despite the bullpen meltdowns, despite the utter lack of power, despite the rotation weakness beyond Johan and Dickey, and despite the often utterly anemic lineups—itself radiates hope after the last few years.
Patience is unfortunately still needed; arguing over Omar’s cast of second-tier players is pointless, as is blaming Alderson for having to work with a historically diminished budget.
There is a lot of love for this flawed, hustling, overachieving team.
Let us hope that the promise showed in the first 43 games of 2012 is not a mirage as first half success was in 2010 and 2011; let us hope that the foundation for a winning team is being poured and cast, and that the re-signing of Wright, and the arrival of Wheeler and a few more Alderson additions will finish the construction of the next orange and blue team worthy of being a successor to the legendary crews of 1969 and 1986.
And let us enjoy the 2012 team—a team that has far exceeded all but the most optimistic fan’s expectations thus far, and a team which believes in itself and truly hustles and fights until the final out every night.
As fans, what more can we ask then that players play up to their level or higher?
The 2012 Mets have done that and more.