So, This IS It, Afterall

metsAs a Mets fan, it’s easy to be negative, given the history of disappointments — many of them recent — of the team we love.  I’ve been trying to stay positive lately, giving the Mets the benefit of the doubt that management was working on ways to make the team better. But now that spring training is underway, we have to face the realization that this is the team that will hit Citi Field in April. I pray that I’m wrong, but I think we have a long season ahead of us.

On the positive side, the Mets addressed a glaring need — a power hitting left fielder. Omar Minaya is not getting enough credit for signing Jason Bay. He went out and got the best available player he could. And all we read is that the Red Sox backed off on Bay for some reason, that Bay landed in the Mets lap because no one else wanted him. Whatever the case, one of the top free agents is now a Met , and the GM deserves the credit for landing him.

But that’s all he gets credit for. The starting rotation ended the season in shambles, and it begins the season with the same personnel, hence begins the season in shambles. I am stunned, utterly stunned, that Minaya did not go out and get another solid starter. I agree with not paying John Lackey like an ace, but other very good pitchers were available, and it appears the Mets were never serious about any of them.

The lineup is stronger with Bay in the middle of it, but it is still not strong enough. Despite a .300 average in 2009, Luis Castillo is nothing more than a singles hitter. Daniel Murphy may yet turn out to be a solid hitter, but if you’re going to platoon him with someone, was Fernando Tatis the best Minaya could find?

Here’s what I believe Mets management thinking is. And you have to go back to the 2008 season to fully understand it. I think they blamed that collapse on the bullpen. So Minaya went out and rebuilt it. The rest of the team was basically unchanged. The Mets thought they had a true contender for 2009. And they weren’t the only one who thought so — Sports Illustrated famously predicted a World Series championship for New York. Right city, wrong team.

teamIn any case, the season unraveled mostly because of all of the injuries. It’s easy to blame the injuries, but let’s face it, if the Phillies or Yankees had lost their top three players for most of the season, their eighth inning bridge, another top player for a few weeks, and their ace for the final month of the season, they wouldn’t have made the World Series, either. But the injuries gave management a false sense of security for 2010. I think they believe they have the same team that should have contended in 2009, so there’s no reason to think they won’t contend in 2010 when fully healthy.

But here’s the problem — the team probably was not good enough to compete last year. Even without the injuries, they still didn’t have enough pitching. Mike Pelfrey took a huge step backwards, Oliver Perez showed his true colors, John Maine couldn’t come back from injury, and Tim Redding/Livan Hernandez were nightmares.

What makes the Mets think that in 2010 Pelfrey will make a giant leap, Perez will be any good, Maine will overcome injury and the fifth starter will be any better than Redding/Hernandez? The only way to have avoided these questions would have been to change personnel. And they didn’t.

As far as the lineup that wasn’t good enough to win the past few years, Bay is a good addition. Murphy is still a question mark, although I think he will develop into a nice player. And was David Wright’s strange season a one year anomaly, or is it the new norm for him? Everyone says he will bounce back and be his old self (and I tend to agree), but how do they know this? He’s too good a hitter, they say. He’s also too good a hitter to strike out as much as he does, yet that has never changed.

2006The Mets have had basically the same team since 2006, and except for the NL East and the NLDS that season, that team has won nothing. Even if the Mets think that same team is still good enough to win, past history says it is not. They should have recognized this, and gotten at least one, preferably two, more big-time player to put them over the top. Look at the Yankees. Yes, their 2001-2008 teams were good enough to win the World Series, but they didn’t. So they went out and got Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia to put them over the top. The Phillies won the 2008 World Series, and to ensure a repeat appearance, they added Cliff Lee midway through 2009. That put them over the top as well. The only impact player the Mets added (Bay) replaces another one (the old Carlos Delgado). They are still at least one impact player, as well as several starters, short.

I hope I am wrong about this. I hope I have to write a column apologizing to the Mets, saying that they were right all along, that the team was good enough to compete as is. Unfortunately, I don’t anticipate writing that column.

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