In the history of the New York Mets we’ve seen era after era of heartbreak and disappointment. This season is no exception as the predicted NL East leaders fell out of contention in July. Mets fans had a steady few years in which they could reasonably expect their team to make a legitimate push for the postseason, but we may have hit the tail end of that short run.
Due to the devastating injuries, the poor management decisions, and a lack of competitive ball down the stretch, the Mets are looking at the beginning of a new era as the underdogs of the NL East. Oh well, they’ve had a good run. It’s about that time to look to 2010 as the Amazin’s, under General Manager Omar Minaya, look to change the face of an underperforming organization as they attempt to rebuild the team once again.
Half the reason that a Mets fan becomes a Mets fans is in spite of the New York Yankees. There will always be people that are predisposed to support the underdog in any major league sport. The Mets are New York’s underdog and they always have been. While the Yankees were out winning 26 championships the Mets were celebrated for spoiling the real contender’s season. Though the Mets have won two championships in its 47 years as an organization, they earned them 17 years apart and haven’t won another since 1986. The Mets were the “Lovable Losers” in the 60’s, the Miracle Mets were born and the slogan “Ya Gotta Believe” was trademarked by the organization in the 70’s, they let the 80’s slip away with only one championship, they were “the worst team money could buy” in the 90’s, and this decade has been filled with some recent embarrassing collapses. If you’re a Mets fan, you either live in Queens, you simply align yourself with losers, or you are glutton for punishment.
The Mets 2010 season isn’t looking any more promising than their previous forty-seven. GM Minaya is going to have to seriously consider how to handle his team after the disappointments of the 2009 season. One of the first, most glaring issues that the Mets face right now is owner Fred Wilpon may be strapped for cash thanks to Bernie Madoff and his ponzi scheme (though Wilpon has denied this claim). Though the organization may have been able to shell out $137.5 million for Johan Santana, and an added $23.5 million to keep Billy Wagner on the team along with Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz in the bullpen, they were unable to compete for starting pitcher Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays this season and they won’t be able to compete for any of the most eligible 2010 free agents this winter. That is, unless they shed some of the heavy loads on their contracts.
Unfortunately for veteran first baseman Carlos Delgado and catcher Brian Schneider, they are both heavy loads that the higher-ups are most likely ready and willing to shed. Both are free agents at the end of this season and both haven’t really added much to the Mets organization this year. Sure, Delgado hit for 38 homeruns and 115 RBIs last season, but he’ll be 38 next year, and he hasn’t played a game since May. He is paid $15 million a season whereas replacement first baseman, the 24-year-old Daniel Murphy (who is a hard worker and has the potential to be a major player in the league) is playing on a salary just over $400 thousand. Murphy isn’t the answer at this position, but as the team rebuilds (and I believe Minaya must rebuild young rather than buy up former superstars on their way out to plug up short-term vulnerabilities), he will get that precious playing time that really does build the new era superstars. It’s either that, keep Delgado for another season, or play the weak free-agent pool where the 30-year-old Adam LaRoche of the Atlanta Braves sits as the most enticing candidate to pick up (though with 25 homeruns and 76 RBIs this season, we may as well risk playing Murphy and save the money).
Look to see free agent Schneider off the Mets roster next season. The 32-year-old catcher missed much of the season with an injury, and although healthy, has been sitting on the bench for more than a week at a time down the stretch. His .201 batting average, along with his three homeruns and 24 RBI simply isn’t worth the nearly $5 million salary he earned this season. Former backup Omir Santos brought life to this team earlier this season when the injuries shot down the core of the team, but he’s had only four hits in the month of September (ten games). Because of Santos’ ineffective bat the back-up to the back-up, rookie Josh Thole has played in his first 11 games of his career with the Mets. He’s had 11 hits at 34 at-bats and knocked in five RBI. He may not be “the answer” now, but he could be in the long run. He has hit for around a .300 average in his five years in the minors, so though he may not have much power, he’s as good a contact hitter as the Mets have in the minors.
I can see the Mets shedding a few extra contracts before the regular season begins. Look for Gary Sheffield to leave the Mets as a free agent (he’s too old and has too bad an attitude to stick around in this clubhouse). Alex Cora will likely lose his spot on the roster after his injury. He’s going to be 35 next season and hasn’t been the answer to the Mets obvious issues both on the field and at the plate (he has a .251 avg. and 18 RBIs 271 at-bats this season). We may see back-up Angel Pagan stick around on the bench next season, with Jeff Francoeur’s return to right field, but the Mets need to find a solid fielder to supplement Francoeur and Carlos Beltran in left.
I’d like to see young rookie Fernando Martinez make it back on the team next season, but this may be another indication of my bias toward building a young team. This was Minaya’s original idea when he brought in Jose Reyes and David Wright to the team anyway. The problem with Martinez, though he was highly touted as a prospect, is that he’s too young. He’s going to be 21 next season and won’t be valuable coming off a .176 avg. with one homerun and only eight RBI in 91 at-bats this season. He will probably kick around the minors for another year or so before playing for the Mets again (but there’s just as likely a chance he’ll be sent away as trade bait before that time). Instead, I can venture to guess the Mets make a bid for the Boston Red Sox’s Jason Bay or possibly the St. Louis Cardinal’s Matt Holliday this winter. Either way, the Mets management must finally bring together an outfield that actually poses a threat offensively. To this point Beltran alone isn’t cutting it.
As for the core players in Beltran, Reyes, Wright, and now Santana, I don’t see Minaya trading them away anytime between now and next season. Wright is the face of the clubhouse, Reyes is too young with too much potential, Beltran is too valuable both defensively and offensively, and Santana is the only reliable starting pitcher they have on the team (this is an issue with no quick fix). These stars will stick around as the front office toys with all of the question marks left behind in the wake of a terrible 2009 season.
One way or another, we’re in for some big moves next season. Delgado could and should be replaced along with Schneider, Sheffield, and Cora while the management brings in some young talent to develop under fire. It doesn’t matter if the team loses with the young Murphy, Thole, and Martinez. They’ll probably lose anyway. The Mets need to build from the ground up, other wise we’ll see another lost decade. The Mets may be used to being those lovable losers, the underdogs, and the team in need of a miracle, but no baseball team should need to hold on to those stereotypes forever. The Mets should be as good as the Yankees, and they could be, but they need to dog the idea of being an underdog. They must start fresh. But those who root for the Mets because they are the underdogs shouldn’t worry. Before the 2010 season kicks off, most will probably have the Mets fighting the Washington Nationals for second to last place in the NL East.