Tuesday, October 2, 2007

2007 Mets - Your Season Is Gone

I have usually written one of these team capsules each season after the Regular season has ended. I've shared it with a group of friends. This year, you all get to read it.

2007 is undoubtedly going to be looked back on as one of the darkest seasons in Mets history. This team appeared to be unstoppable on paper, and after the first few weeks of the season, they looked to be just that. But something happened, and nobody can really pinpoint when. I've noted that I thought it was Jose Reyes somehow thinking he was Roberto Clemente, and swinging for the fences after Endy's HR against the Yankees. What happened was that this team, supremely talented and justifiably confident, somehow got complacent. They started loafing, and playing unexciting, unmotivated baseball. The wins were boring. The losses were frustrating and frequent. And yet, they remained ahead because the teams behind them played just as poorly. Yes, there were good streaks mixed in, but overall, you knew this team needed a shot in the arm from somewhere. A midseason coaching change didn't solve much of anything. Holes involving personnel were not addressed and not fixed by the trading deadline. Inconsistency still reigned. But they were still in first place. Even after an inexplicable 4-game sweep at the hands of their closest competitors, they rebounded with another hot streak to stretch out their lead. But just as a second straight division title seemed firmly in their grasp, the bottom fell out. Completely and totally. And what ensued was a wholesale failure by the team to accomplish anything. Confidence abandoned them. Complacency reigned. The lead shrank. The pitching, suspect all season, imploded. And before anybody could completely grasp what had happened, the lead was gone, first place was gone, and shockingly, horrifyingly, the entire season slipped away in one final, awful performance, ending with the entire team getting booed off the field and hanging their heads in shame.

An e-mail from the Mets on Monday afternoon offered scant consolation while offering up a perfect summation for the final result of the darkest hour in Mets history.

"You deserve better results."

We certainly do. But history cannot be undone, and we have to carry this with us through what will certainly be a long winter trying to figure out what happened and think about what could have been.

With that said, the ratings for the 2007 Mets:
Willie Randolph - D
Two weeks ago, while the collapse was unfolding, I wrote a pretty scathing post calling for Willie's head. I'm not going to say that my stance has softened at all, but realistically, Willie won't be fired. He's under contract for another 2 seasons, and has already received 100% support from Omar. I don't want to sit here and damn him all to hell, because Omar is right. He is a good manager and has brought this club a long way. But it's inexcusable for him to simply continue to mumble over and over about how "we're gonna win this thing" when all the buttons he pushed down the stretch continually failed him. His stubborn-ness and his refusal to use, or at least try out some of the younger players on the team ended up, I believe, costing him because he burned out several of his arms in the bullpen and was afraid to use the untested ones. I'm not going to go and say that he needs to re-make himself and become fiery and angry, because then he wouldn't be Willie Randolph. But he needs to know what he has to work with, and he needs to be more willing to spread around the workload. And if he is going to be tough with his players in private, he needs to spread it around. He's obviously tough on the younger players. But sometimes, the veterans need to be read the riot act too. His style worked well in 2006. But he needs to have more of a plan when adversity strikes, because it's inevitable during a baseball season. Spouting cliches and repeating yourself doesn't endear yourself to anybody and makes you out to look like a complete idiot.

Paul LoDuca - C+
LoDuca didn't perform nearly as well all around as he did in 2006. Although I give him credit for having a great September, and for being one of the few players who actually cared and was vocal about the team's problems, not just during the final weeks, but for the entire season. But his defense wasn't quite up to par, and overall, he didn't hit much in the clutch, and contributed a lot of DPs. Plus, he's getting up there in years and once Catchers hit the proverbial wall, they generally don't come back. Free Agent, and odds are, he's not coming back unless the Mets simply have no other options.

Ramon Castro - B-
A pro's pro who has always been an excellent backup. But has also become very injury prone over the last couple of seasons (I can't imagine why, he's in such excellent shape), and back problems can't be good for Catchers. Performed very well offensively when he played, perhaps enough to garner serious talk that he, not LoDuca, should have been the starter. But Castro has proven, over time, that he's not cut out to be a full-time starter, and had he been given that opportunity, that would have likely become evident. Another FA, likely won't be back, which puts the Mets in the unenviable situation of re-building their Catcher position.

Mike DiFelice - B-
Still prickly, still hideous, and yet in the week or so that he had to start, I think he might have hit better than he ever did at any other point in his career. Go figure. Aging career minor leaguer who could very well be back and surprise the hell out of me when they recall him and I realize he's still on the damn team.

Sandy Alomar, Jr.
El Guapo and I were at one of the games he started. What a neat little coincidence!

Carlos Delgado - D
I know Carlos was one of the few people who did open his mouth and voice his displeasure, but in all honesty, action on the field speaks a hell of a lot louder than words, and Carlos did very little as far as that was concerned. I don't know whether it was the offseason wrist surgeries he had, but he not only hit smaller, he also looked smaller (which may be calling the dreaded "S" word into question). The hot streaks were scattered, if best. Signed through next year, and I don't know if he could be dealt. Getting up there in years, too. It's hard to say what he has left, but when you consider what he brought to the team offensively last season, he has to be one of the primary culprits for the team's struggles. Poor situational hitting. Poor at bats. Popping out with runners in scoring position. .238 with men on base, .218 with RISP, .188 with 2 out and RISP. Bad job, bad season.

Luis Castillo - B
I don't know if it was a popular move, since I was pretty much incognito when the deal went down, but I liked the Castillo trade. It cost the Mets pretty much nothing, and it solved one of the things I liked the least about this team, which was the incessant revolving door at 2B. He provided some sharp defense and hit well in the #2 hole, and it always seemed like he was on base. Also one of the few Mets who didn't go down the toilet at the end. Played through some injuries to his knees that had him running Cliff Floyd style. That said, I'd be happy if they brought him back. But then again, I wouldn't be too broken up if they didn't bring him back, provided a more solid option were acquired.

Jose Reyes - D
Here's the main culprit as far as position players are concerned. At the beginning of the season, the comparison was Reyes and Jeter. Now, the comparison is Reyes and Rey Ordonez. I know that Jose had to have worked hard and shown a lot of determination and discipline to put together the kind of complete season he had in 2006, and he gave all of us every reason to think that that would be the norm from him for years to come. And as I've said, maybe it was the Chavez HR and media crush getting in his head, or something else, or just a regression from a 24-year old kid, but he turned back into that young, raw, inexperienced rookie with little polish and little discipline. But more alarming was the poor attitude he seemed to show. The smile was there, but at the wrong moments. Pitches that last year were being driven in the gaps were popped straight up in the air. Ground balls weren't run out. I don't know if Willie ever sat him down and spoke to him, I know he was benched in that one incident in Houston, but instead of teaching him a lesson, it seemed to make things worse. After 2 months in which he looked every bit an MVP candidate, Jose spent the last 4 seasons undoing everything he had put together, as his power dropped and his batting average plummeted. And in that final, awful month, he just didn't show up at all. So disappointing, and so very, very frustrating to watch. We all saw what he could be last year. We know what he can be. I don't know if it's got to be Willie, or Omar, or someone else, but someone needs to go down to the Dominican Republic this offseason, sit down and have a long talk with him about what's going on, and how this can be fixed. When you count on someone like this to carry the load and be the linchpin to the entire team's offense like Reyes is, you simply cannot afford to have him regress the way he did over the final 4 months of the season. It's simply not acceptable. And if he comes back and performs like this again, you can fully expect more widespread booing and Omar shipping his ass out of town.

David Wright - A
Because he cared. Because he pulled himself together after a miserable April and put together one of the most dominant offensive seasons this side of Mike Piazza. Because when nobody else was hitting, he hit. Because he clearly was pained by the team's collapse. Because he never stopped giving his all, even when it seemed like every bit of hope was gone. Because he's truly become the voice and the face of this team, showing the poise, discipline and polish that seems to be beyond Reyes. Because for all the talk and all the hype, this guy is the real deal.

Ruben Gotay - B-
I'm not sold. He was a very nice addition off the bench, and came up with some key hits and filled in nicely in Valentin's stead to a certain point. But for a while, he played over his head. His defense at 2B is subpar, and he's yet another switch hitter who for some reason can't hit lefties at all. I'd bring him back, but only as a bench guy and a spot starter. I think he'd be very valuable in that role.

Jose Valentin - F
As one of our preseason 5 key Mets, Valentin was one (along with the Bullpen) who fell flat on his face and made us look silly. I know I'm repeating myself, but I don't like to be made to look silly. Valentin played poorly, got hurt, came back and played poorly again, and then got hurt again, and was done for the season. Shouldn't be back and hopefully will be cut loose. One of the problems with this team is there are too many creaky old guys in the Valentin mold blocking the playing time for young guys who could be more durable and useful.

Damion Easley - B+
Damion was another one of the creaky old guys, but unlike Valentin, Easley actually played well, coming up with several late, clutch hits, playing a lot of good, heady defense and really filled in well when Valentin initially got hurt. Went on a power streak in mid-May that surprised the heck out of all of us. But when he went down with a sprained ankle in August (an injury that just hurt to watch), that was one of the truly sad moments of the season. Future unknown.

Julio Franco - D
Only because he hit a HR off of Randy Johnson. Little else to speak of otherwise and thankfully was cut at the All Star Break.

Jeff Conine - Whatever.
Brought in because the team needed another 40+ guy after they cut Julio, I guess.

Carlos Beltran - B
By now, you know what you're going to get out of Beltran. Beltran is basically a .275 hitter who hits a bunch of HRs because he can go on raging hot streaks. In 2006, Beltran spent most of the season on a hot streak. This year, he was banged up quite a bit, and still managed to put together a solid season overall. But, like several other players on the team, he was a victim of the poor situational hitting that plagued the Mets. He was merely decent with RISP, hitting .277, but driving in 72. But a paltry .224 with 2 outs and RISP. And in between his injuries, he went on a couple of extended streaks where he just didn't hit at all, and it really hurt the team. Carlos is obviously withdrawn and not necessarily the leadership type, but we did get some quotes from him down the stretch, and the fact that he played it out on some severely banged-up legs shows his guts.

Moises Alou - B+
We knew what we were getting into with Alou. We knew he was going to miss time. And we weren't disappointed with what we got when he was on the field. For someone to keep plugging away and plugging away, and put together a 30-game hitting streak that seemed to come out of nowhere is just a testament to what a professional hitter Alou has been. I think the clutch tag might be a bit much (.222 with 2 out and RISP), but he'd certainly be welcome back in my book, especially if it gives Gomez a chance to develop a bit more in the Minors. Then again, he does boil down to another old, creaky guy, similar to...

Shawn Green - B
Gets this high of a grade because we had all given up on him completely before the season began. His power is pretty much gone, but he still came up and hit the ball all over the place in April, and did so again later on in the season, playing in spot starts and filling in at first for Delgado in September. The foot injury he suffered in Florida really undercut his season, and he struggled quite a bit after he came back from that. But overall, considering what we expected out of Green, you have to be pleased with the end results. Which begs the question: Where, exactly, was he that final day, once Willis came out of the game?

Endy Chavez - B-
Bench player supreme, no matter how much everyone loves him and believes he should start every day. Parlayed The Catch into his own bobblehead night. Pulled a hammie and missed a significant chunk of time, and was sorely missed as the sparkplug off the bench. Also hit that notorious HR that ruined Jose Reyes. Should be back and probably will be back.

Lastings Milledge - B
Played well for quite a bit of time, and proved that he's Major League ready. He'll scuffle a little bit, and for some reason is stuck in Willie's doghouse, probably because he's an exciting and excitable young player and for some reason that doesn't jive with him. I have this sick fear that the organization as a whole just doesn't like him and will probably end up dealing him. I seriously hope not. He's going to take his lumps, but I think he's ready to take over the RF position full time, and in a couple of seasons, he'll blossom into a star. So what if he showboats after hitting a HR. Who the hell doesn't?

Carlos Gomez - C+
Flashes of brilliance, flashes of youth. Clearly over matched at times at the plate, and ranged between brilliant and frightening in the outfield. There is quite a bit of obvious talent with Gomez, but he's not quite there yet. He could use more seasoning, but it's not a given that he could handle Major League pitching on a consistent basis. He could be part of a Left Field platoon if Alou doesn't return. Or, he could be a trade chip. Remains to be seen.

Marlon Anderson - A-
Great bench presence who we probably shouldn't have let go after '05. Came back and came up with tons of key hits throughout the second half. If the team as a whole hadn't fallen apart, Anderson would be hailed right now as the unsung hero of the season. Problem is, someone will probably try to give him a job as an everyday player, which he's not really cut out for. I'd have no problem having him back as the key lefty bat on the bench.

Ben Johnson
He played this season. No, seriously, he did! I saw him with my own eyes!

Ricky Ledee
I often feel like whenever a team brings up Ricky Ledee, that is basically tantamount to admitting "WE GIVE UP!"

David Newhan - F
I don't know one positive thing he brought to the club this season. He had an RBI triple once, in a blowout loss. He didn't hit at all otherwise, and proved himself little more than a 4-A guy who happened to get lucky and have a good Spring, which he managed to parlay into far more ink than he ever deserved.

Chip Ambres - A
Had a Game Winning hit! He's Awesome!

(Ok, ok. He got sent back to AAA the next day and wasn't heard from again. But still, that one shining moment made him the talk of the town for a couple of hours)

Tom Glavine - C-
Before you rip him apart for his last few starts, you have to examine the entire season, which for the most part was good. Glavine had several classic Glavine games over the first several months of the season, counting down to his 300th victory in August. He was pitching well and looking solid, like the Glavine we had slowly but surely come to trust over his 5 seasons here. And then, it all came crashing down at the worst possible time, just like everyone and everything else around him, culminating with the final, epic stinkbomb he threw up on the season's final day. Whether or not this is it for him remains to be seen. I'm sure he wouldn't want to go out like he did. But his reaction, lukewarm and milquetoast, as if it didn't much matter that he failed to show up in the biggest game of the year, certainly soured his relationship with the fans, and has to damage the chances of him being brought back. I don't know too many people who do.

John Maine - A-
Yes, he ranged from uneven to terrible at times in the second half, and he obviously had hit a wall. But given that this was Maine's first full season in the Majors, 15 wins and a 3.91 ERA is pretty damn good. Of course, we all know how good he was in the first half, along with copping Pitcher of the Month awards and garnering serious All-Star credentials. But here's what I like the most about Maine that nobody ever seems to notice. Think about how many times Maine took the ball in a big game. And there were several times. And think about how many times he pitched great in those games, and you'll realize it was most of the time. And when he took the ball in the biggest game of the season, he came through with an outing that was equal to the magnitude of the day. Maine won't ever be an ace, but he'll certainly be a mainstay as a #2-#3 type guy on this team. He comes after hitters and doesn't let up. He pitches with guts and emotion, and is able to learn from his mistakes. He's truly got a good head for pitching, and that counts for a hell of a lot more than one might think.

Oliver Perez - B+
Oliver's season easily mirrored Maine's as far as statistics are concerned. Maine's ERA was a little higher, and Ollie had more walks and Maine more strikeouts. Ollie also took the ball and pitched really well in some key games of his own. But Oliver often got blown up because he has a tendency to get frustrated and lose his concentration. And when he doesn't have his right arm slot, he starts walking guys and getting killed. It's to the point where you can't really be sure which Oliver Perez will show up, but you'll usually know by the 1st or 2nd inning. He's inconsistent and frustrating. But he made some significant strides to right himself and find his proper mechanics, which is a testament to how hard he works and how much he wants to do well. He basically resurrected his career after basically being handed over to the Mets last season. And when he has his good stuff, he flat out dominates.

Orlando Hernandez - B-
When he was good, he was very good, and when he was bad he was horrible. Such was ElDuque, who was exactly who we thought he would be. He had a great start to the season, got hurt, came back, was good, if inconsistent, got hurt again, came back, was terrible, and then sat out some more before coming out of the bullpen. Another one of the old, creaky guys who I could do without, but he does bring some good experience.

Jorge Sosa - B-
Human Yo-Yo. Miserable in Spring Training, and then somehow managed to come out of nowhere and pitch lights out for a month in the starting rotation, even supplanting Pelfrey. Then, the batters caught up to him, and he was eventually moved to the Bullpen, where he pitched well, except for this annoying habit he had of getting absolutely lit up by lefty hitters to the tune of a .326 BAA. Not good. Yet through it all, he was somehow one of the more dependable guys coming out of the bullpen, so long as Willie didn't insistently use him day after day after day until his arm falls off. Perhaps that was part of the problem...

Aaron Heilman - D
The act is getting pretty tired. We know, we know. You want to start. Just remember. You got a pass for Yadier Molina because of the team's offensive failures. But this season, you offered very little in response. I've seen enough. Time to get rid of him.

Mike Pelfrey - C
Made the rotation with a terrific spring, where he showcased a hard, biting sinker that batters could only pound into the ground. Then, when he came to the Majors, it seemed like he panicked, and started getting that sinker up and he got routinely hammered. Mercifully, he got sent down in May, after going 0-5. Made a couple of spot starts later on, before coming out of nowhere to pitch an outstanding game in Atlanta, which could be proof of what he could be. But he was again uneven over the last couple of weeks.

Billy Wagner - B
Basically undid his great, off the charts start to the season by first blowing several saves in a row towards the end of August, where he began to rely on his slider more and more and get hit hard, rather than sticking with the fastball, which is what made his career in the first place. Then got hit with back spasms at the worst possible time, leading to another bullpen meltdown. I don't know what to make of him. Like any closer, he is a complete enigma and I don't know whether or not to trust him at all.

Pedro Feliciano - B
Great all around reliever who was idiotically wasted as a situational lefty most of the time. The idea was that SCHOENEWEIS should have been the situational lefty, and Feliciano was the guy who could be used in the key spot in the late innings and beyond. One of the few relievers who I'd accept to have back.

Pedro Martinez - A
For coming back and showing heart and guts. Something lacking from most of the other pitchers on this team. Also imparted his knowledge on some of the younger pitchers. I know that people seem skeptical about having a 36 year old with a surgically repaired shoulder leading the rotation next season, but let's face it. Pedro is no ordinary 36 year old. Pedro knows how to pitch better than anyone out there, and he can improvise on the spot to get himself out of a jam. Anyone who doubts that can take a look at his last start against the Cardinals. With the team hanging by a thread, Pedro went out there and simply pitched his ass off for 7 innings, doing everything he could do to will his team to victory. And the rest of the team gave him nothing.

Joe Smith - C+
Good at the beginning, but another one who Willie overworked early on and ended up getting knocked around but good for a while. Rested up for a while in AAA and came back strong. Needs to work on stamina and harnessing his slider, but I think he can be OK out of the bullpen.

Philip Humber - Inc.
I was a supporter of giving Humber the one start when he got it. As if nothing else had worked up until that point. What bothered me was that Humber had been allowed to basically rot away in the bullpen with no work, pitching in all of 2 games for 3 innings before the start on September 26th, another victim of Willie's refusal to use the youth around him. If he was going to be used in relief, then use him regularly, otherwise what the hell is the point of having him there at all?! Let's see what he has, especially if the organization speaks so highly of him. There's something to be said with the way the Yankees brought along their young pitchers, specifically Joba Chamberlain, who was a starter, gently groomed for the bullpen for a few weeks in AA ball, and then unleashed as a dominant setup man who could be called upon regularly. If Humber is as talented as we are led to believe, why couldn't something like that be done with him, especially given the state of the bullpen?

Willie Collazo - Inc.
Ditto Humber. If you're not going to use him, why the hell is he even here?

Guillermo Mota - F
You suck. Next.

Aaron Sele - F
You suck. Next.

Scott Schoeneweis - F
You suck. Next.

Brian Lawrence - F
You suck. Next.

Jason Vargas - F
You suck. Next.

Ambiorix Burgos - F
You suck AND you're hurt. Next.

Dave Williams - F
You suck. Next.

Chan Ho Park - F
He's here just to make you all laugh. I was at the Chan Ho Park game. I think that ball Hanley Ramirez hit is still going.

Carlos Muniz - Inc.
Don't know anything about him. Called up as an emergency arm and yet Willie only used him 2 or 3 times.

Jon Adkins

Lino Urdaneta
You suck and you used steroids. And that didn't help you like it helped Mota.

So, where do we go from here? There are a lot of holes that need fixing, and not so much patching as much as real, tangible fixing. I know we're all still stewing. This will take some time to get over. It's a horrible, horrible day and a miserable feeling we all have. I don't know how this team will respond, those who return, next season. El Guapo made a very good point. As much as the players can try to have a short memory about this, the Media, the jackals that they are, won't let them forget. They won't let us forget. This could make us all crazy by the All-Star Break next season. Unless they win. Funny. Winning heals everything.

Coming up Next: Suggestions and Solutions...

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