Now that we’re done rooting against both the Yankees and the Phillies, and the Yanks have held their stupid parade up the stupid Canyon of Heroes, we can officially begin looking ahead to 2010. Some will say that began at around the All-Star game last season, but we are optimists here. So let’s take a look at what the Mets need to do to get back to the post-season in 2010, or at least not be an embarassment again.
Something must be done about Citi Field. All of the team’s problems in 2009 can’t be blamed on the new spacious ballpark, but it obviously had an effect on the team’s hitters. When your leading home run hitter has 12 homers, something is clearly very, very wrong.
The Mets hit just 49 home runs at Citi Field, actually more than the 46 they slugged on the road. But many players said they changed their entire approach to hitting because of Citi Field’s dimensions. Opponents hit 81 homers at Citi Field, showing that the ball can be hit out. But overall, Citi Field yielded the sixth fewest homers in baseball. Clearly, it is not a hitters ballpark.
Many say the fences should be moved in. An article in The New York Times has a better idea, advocating moving home plate up ten feet. This would give Citi Field similar distances to Shea Stadium, which was known as a fair field for hitters and pitchers alike. This would also increase foul territory behind home plate, which currently is the shortest in all of baseball. The article points out one more thing:
Moving home plate forward would also be far cheaper for the Mets than unleashing bulldozers on the outfield walls and rearranging any number of seats. The integrity of the stadium’s design would not be affected, and many fans might not notice much difference at all.
If the team decides not to change the field configuration, one thing they might want to consider is just lowering the outfield walls. Players seemed to complain more about the high walls than the distance to them. They range from 8 feet to 18 and a half feet high. If they were 8 feet high all around like at Shea, there would be plenty more home runs, as well as exciting Endy Chavez-type catches.
Having said all of this, I highly doubt any changes will be made to Citi Field. That would mean the Wilpons would have to admit they made a mistake. And we all know that never happens.
The Mets seem set on Daniel Murphy (left, making his incredible behind-the-back flip) at first. Hell, he was the team leader in homers in 2009 (see above). While I like Murphy and think he will develop into a good hitter despite a somewhat disappointing season, he is not the answer at first base — not for this team, not right now. Since it’s unknown whether David Wright will regain his home run swing, the Mets need power wherever they can get it. And first base is a good place.
The options are not great. There is talk the Brewers are thinking about dealing Prince Fielder. If that is the case, the Mets should trade anyone and everyone short of David Wright and Johan Santana to get him. But it’s extremely doubtful Fielder is going anywhere. Adrian Gonzalez might be on the trading block, but do the Mets have enough to get him? There’s always free agent Nick Johnson — an injury waiting to happen. Do the Mets need more injury-prone players? Carlos Delgado? No thanks. Murphy could not only end up being the best option, he could be the only option.
Omir Santos was a nice story in 2009. He came out of nowhere to catch the majority of games, and provided a few highlights in an otherwise dismal year. But is he starting catching caliber? The Mets apparently don’t think so, as they are reportedly targeting several free agent catchers, including Rod Barajas, Bengie Molina, and even Yorvit Torrealba. Of course, Torrealba is the same guy to whom the Mets made an offer a couple of years ago, only to pull it at the last second. He still has a grievance pending against the team, so it’s unlikely he’ll be on the Mets next season.
This is the one place where a major upgrade is possible. Matt Holliday and Jason Bay are out there for the taking — all the Mets have to do is open the vault and let them in. But why would a power hitter want to sign with the Mets and play in Citi Field, where home run balls go to die? If they can’t nab one of the big free agents — and it says here they won’t — they could always try to trade for Adam Dunn, whom they should have signed last year. He’s proven he can hit the ball out of Citi Field. Sure, he strikes out a lot, but he also walks enough that his OBP is over .400. Carl Crawford is another trade option, but he’s not a power hitter. If they can swing a deal for a power hitter at first, then maybe Crawford would make sense. Fan favorite Xavier Nady is a free agent, but he’s coming off a second Tommy John surgery. And, can he play left? The same question goes for Jermaine Dye.
The starting pitching is a mess. Right now they have Johan Santana and four question marks. Santana himself is no sure thing because he’s coming off surgery, but he should be okay. John Lackey (left, who certainly won’t get number 41 if he signs with the Mets) would be the perfect addition, but he will command big bucks, and it’s not not clear how much the Mets would want to spend. I think there is a chance the bidding will not get as high as expected, because the Yankees and Red Sox will likely sit this one out, and with those two teams out of the bidding, the price may stay reasonable. Remember Frankie Rodriguez?
Roy Halladay or Roy Oswalt (or anyone else named Roy) would be great as well. Both could be dealt, especially Halladay. But the Mets probably don’t have the prospects to nab either one. Then again, they didn’t have enough to get Santana, and somehow he ended up in a Mets uniform.
Then there are the likes of Jon Garland and Randy Wolf, either of whom the Mets should have signed last year. Both are solid, middle-of-the-rotation guys. The free agent list is packed with guys like these.
Here’s what I say should happen — the Mets should bring in two new starters, preferably one of those front-line guys and a second-tier pitcher, or a Plan B of two of the second-tier free agents. Then, have an open competition in spring training for the final two spots between Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez, John Maine, Jon Niese, Bobby Parnell (who should remain in the bullpen), Fernando Nieve, Pat Misch and whoever else is around. And if Perez doesn’t make it, just admit your mistake, cut him a $24 million dollar check and wave goodbye.
But here’s what I think will unfortunately happen — the Mets will miss out on the aces, sign only one of the second-tier guys, give rotation spots to Pelfrey and Perez, and have a competition for the fifth spot. Which means the Mets will have basically the same rotation as 2009. And that is a recipe for disaster.
Jerry Manuel will start 2010 at the helm of the Mets, but the shadow of Bobby Valentine will be lurking. If the Mets get off to a slow start, the fans will start clamoring for Valentine (left, with his famous fake moustache). It’s actually pretty incredible that a potential manager could fire up a fan base, but Valentine has that allure. He was perhaps the best manager the Mets have ever had — definitely the best since Davey Johnson — and the majority of Mets fans simply love the man. The same reportedly cannot be said about management. Valentine has the kind of abrasive personality that wears thin after a while, and from all accounts , the Wilpons are all worn out. But if 2010 picks up where 2009 ended, and the Mets are desperate to keep their fans happy, rehiring Valentine will do the trick.
The prognosis does not look good, I’m afraid. The Mets don’t have the prospects to deal for a major talent. They could, of course, follow the example of their crosstown rivals and just buy the best players available. But knowing the Mets history, that is not something they will do.
Maybe Omar Minaya will surprise us, and pull off a Santana-type swindle, or make a shrewd K-Rod-type free agent signing. All we can do is hope. If you’re a lifelong Mets fan, you’re used to it.