Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Classic Ballclub: The 2003 Mets

Last week, I mentioned that I was considering digging into my archives and digging up old Mets Report Cards that I had written, back in the days when I was simply circulating e-mails amongst friends. As the past few weeks have been rather quiet on the Mets front, I thought that now would be a good time to step into the proverbial wayback machine and take a trip back to a bygone era. This era being the year 2003. 2003 was, for the most part, a forgettable season, at least in the sense that we as Mets fans would prefer to forget it ever happened. The 66-95 Mets languished in last place in the NL East, an embarrassing 34.5 games out of first place. The end of the season was met with relief, more than anything else, since it meant that the Mets could no longer make us miserable. This capsule was written at or around the season's final weekend, and I present it to you here, unedited and unrestrained. Current footnotes are in italics.


As the season draws to a close, it is time, once again, for my mass email grading of the Mets and their season. Unlike last season, certain people who root for another team occupying our City will not be receiving this email, and therefore will not subject us to his frontrunning rants. (In past seasons, I had included some Yankee fans on my e-mail list. This blew up into a bit of nastiness following the 2002 season, so I decided it better to not include them anymore) That said, let us begin...

SO as many of us surmised, it was mostly the same batch of noodnicks, plus a few new faces, gracing the field for the Mets on March 31, and they promptly picked up where they left off last season, bumbling about while the losses piled up and the payroll mounted. But then something happened. All these overpaid, overweight dunces started getting hurt, or complacent and traded, and at some point when nobody was paying much attention, the youth movement that we all thought the Mets needed so badly was happening. The team was graced with young, hungry Rookies who busted their asses on a daily basis, and although they took their lumps, they were, at the very least, fun to watch and we knew they were playing their hearts out. There were some bright moments, even a few wins, and suddenly, this began to look like a team that could, once again, lead the Mets to respect in 2004, and perhaps more in 05-06. (After 2002 and 2003, could I really be blamed for such wishful thinking?) Sure, there can always be improvements. But it is indeed clear that the 2003 Mets spent the season laying the foundation for the future, and I don't think anyone can argue that. (At least, not until many of the so-called prospects flopped in '04)

Now, the fun part.

Art Howe - C
Sure, it was a rocky first season for Howe, used to managing bright, up and coming prospects and now on a team of high priced players. Howe didn't exactly do the best in-game managing job, making some strange pitching moves and some equally strange offensive moves. By midseason, I was yearning for Bobby V. But, the veterans broke down, and the kids persevered. Now, however, he is back in a situation similar to what he had in Oakland: youth and inexperience. It will be interesting to see how things unfold in year two.

Mike Piazza - B-
Mike struggled through what was probably the toughest season of his career, a season which was marred by the Groin injury he suffered May 16, which effectively knocked him out for 3 months, just as he was beginning to right himself from an awful April. He came back strong, but slumped mightily after the first week back, which leaves many of us to wonder when he'll break that godforsaken Catching HR record and finally move to 1B so all this nonsense can be put to rest.

Vance Wilson - B
Vance was having his usual stellar backup catcher season until Piazza's injury thrust him into a starting role, where he continued to be a defensive master, but also demonstrated that he probably won't generate enough offense to be an everyday player. Nonetheless, he's an absolute asset to the team in whatever role, and could have some trade value should the Mets decide not to keep him on. (This supposed trade value currently leaves the Mets with Luis Ayala. Wilson is out of the Majors. Was I right?)

Joe DiPastino - Remember him? 2 at-bats in Houston. Went back to the Minors where he will probably never be heard from again.

Mo Vaughn - F
Oh, that F could stand for so many things. Perhaps for how FAT he is, or how he somehow FAKED us into believing he had lost all that weight over the offseason. Or for how FOOLISH we all were for believing it. What a PH(F)ONEY. Maybe it is for the $18 million FLOP he was since joining the Mets. Oh, wait, I have it. It's for how FUN the team became to watch once he was FORCED out of the lineup with his knee, and spared us another season of him FUMBLING ground balls and FLAILING at pitches.

Jason Phillips - A
As bad as Vaughn was, that's how good Phillips was once he took over the 1B spot in early May. Phillips was a revelation with the bat, and in the field, despite the fact that he'd never played 1B before this season (Got that, Piazza?). We knew he could hit, something he'd demonstrated in several September callups, but finally given the chance to demonstrate it on a regular basis, he hit, and then began to hit with more power and drive in runs, and continue to hit, keeping his average over .300 for most of the season. Has to be considered a large part of the Mets future, although one question is that if he is going to Catch full time, will his offensive numbers suffer? Still, a bright prospect, a bona fide Rookie Of The Year candidate and you gotta love those goggles, perhaps an homage to the great Chris Sabo. (That's a good indicator of how bad things were: Somehow, Jason Phillips was a savior.)

Tony Clark - B+
Tony demonstrated that he will probably never hit enough to merit being a regular again, but he had plenty of pop off the bench. 16 HRs in about 200-250 ABs ain't too shabby. I'd like to see him take over that Mark Carreon/Matt Franco role of key Pinch Hitter.

Roberto Alomar - Q
Yes, I am giving Roberto "Bobby Bonilla Reincarnated" Alomar a Q, because an F simply isn't a poor enough grade. I once again cannot say how happy I am to have this absolute doofus off of my team and out of my life. No more head-first slides into 1st base, no more lollygagging after ground balls, no more bunting with a 1-2 count and 2 outs with runners on the corners, NO MORE! The White Sox can go win the World Series with him for all I care. All that matters to me is that this complacent, overratted joke of a ballplayer and a human being is not a New York Met. Good Riddance! (I spent the better part of the 2003 season sending around Joe Benigno-esque rants about trading Alomar for a bag of balls. That's about what the Mets got for him.)

Joe McEwing - C+
Joe again hustled and played his heart out all season, and again suffered through some mighty slumps, and worked his way through it, re-modeling his batting stance so that you don't even know it's him batting anymore. Still a class guy and a fan favorite, and no better 25th man for this team.

Rey Sanchez - C
Basically an indistinguishable season for Rey, who continued the streak of Opening Day SS named Rey, and I think he did a pretty good offensive impression of Ordonez, as he was hitting something like .210 once he was dealt. But he was, basically, signed as a one-season stopgap anyway so nobody really expected that much.

Danny Garcia - Too soon to give him a grade, however he rocketed from AA to the Majors this season, and despite some early struggles, looks like he has the talent to hack it at the Major League level. Merits a long look next season.

Marco Scutaro - B
Didn't play the OF, didn't misplay any key fly balls, that's a plus, right? Marco also showed some surprise pop too. Fringe player who can't really be expected to be any better or worse than he already is. Not a lock for the future.

Jay Bell - C-
Jay's last hurrah saw him playing all over the infield and manage to hit about .180 with an OBA of around .370. That's some walks there! (Bell actually hit .181 with an OBA of .319. He had 22 walks and 21 hits for the season.)

Jose Reyes - A-
Not bad for a 20-year old, huh? Jose burst onto the scene in June as perhaps the most ballyhooed prospect to come out of the Mets system since Darryl Strawberry. Struggled at first. Looked a little overmatched. He did belt a grand slam in Anaheim, for his first ML HR and RBIs. But he kept playing, stuck it out and eventually, the hits began to fall, and fall in bunches. The steals kept coming and the power flashed a little as well. And some nice defense too (almost good enough to make everyone forget Bozo Ordonez). By the time a sprained ankle (and thank god it was no worse) ended his season August 31, Jose had proved many things. He was indeed ready to come to the majors. He showed everyone why he was regarded as the Best Prospect in Baseball. He showed Mets fans who the starting SS will be for the next Decade or two. And he proved what a huge sparkplug he is to the team, as the Mets went into another tailspin without him in the lineup in September. Maybe he will never develop Soriano-like power and hit 30 HRs, he still stands to be as good, and have as much, if not more, of an impact on his team than Soriano. Right now, I wouldn't deal this guy for ANYONE, and that includes Mr. Rodriguez in Texas. Given the future Jose Reyes has, can you blame me? (This is a really good indicator of how bad things were. There was some talk within my circle of dealing Reyes after '03, and who would be worth giving him up for. I viewed Reyes as such an untouchable, that perhaps I was a little overzealous in considering him on par with A-Rod. Then again, given the way the past 5 seasons have played out, it does seem a little 6 of one, half a dozen of the other.)

Ty Wigginton - B+
Boy, how can you not root for this guy! Proved that he can field in the Majors, and eventually became very solid with the glove at 3B. Hit, and showed some pop, despite a long midseason slump. Bowled over several catchers, and played the game with a general Football mentality. And, of course, he's another one of my boys from Binghamton (Phillips). 20-25 HRs and 80-90 RBI seems like a real possibility once he becomes more seasoned in the majors. (Believe it or not, I had heard the name David Wright before 2003. However, he wasn't exactly on the radar screen as he performed only middling in High-A ball in '03. Nobody expected him to rocket to the Majors like he did in '04, and once that happened, Wigginton was expendable.)

Jorge Velandia - After several years of September callups, Jorge Velandia finally broke that 5-year hitless streak and laced his first hit as a Met on September 3rd. Congratulations, Jorge!

Cliff Floyd - A
Perhaps this grade is a bit high, but Floyd played it out on one leg all season, until he finally bowed out for surgery in August, and when he was about to shut it down, he played as if there was no pain at all. He'll be healthy and hungry by next season, and there's no reason why he shouldn't have a huge season. A gritty, gutty team player, and I'm proud to have a guy like him on this team.

Roger CedeƱo - D
Once again, Roger bumbled his way through most of the first half of the season, didn't get on base, didn't play good defense, didn't steal bases, and finally was benched until a thin OF forced him back in once the team was hopelessly out of the race, and of course, he started to hit just as he did last season. Another overpaid fool I can do without.

Jeromy Burnitz - B+
Jeromy, before being dealt to the Sad Dodgers and basically falling into the offensive vortex that is Chavez Ravine, won back everyone who had written him off following his miserable 2002, and re-gained his power stroke. Was dealt, basically, because of his desire to return to California via Free Agency this offseason, and to not let him just walk away. Nonetheless, he was the only major flop of the previous season to show any of us that that was an anomaly, and not the real Jeromy Burnitz. (No, that probably was the real Jeromy Burnitz, now that I think about it.)

Jeff Duncan - C+
Made the jump from AA to the Majors a few times this season. Started out like a house afire but then the pitching caught up with him, he slumped, lost confidence and the outs piled up. Very fast, though, and played some nice defense. Could be better with some more seasoning in AAA. (More wishful thinking. Apparently, I considered anyone under age 25 a blessing at this point.)

Timo Perez - C
Timo didn't really impress anyone this season, not like last year when he had several clutch hits. (Do you remember these clutch hits? Me either.) Missed a good chunk of time with injuries and was also buried behind Outfielders who were as mediocre, but made more money, than he did. Bench player for the future, with some spot starts.

Raul Gonzalez - D
Whatever he did or didn't do this season, I will always remember him for belting a 2-run double in the comeback vs the Yanks, and then managing to get himself thrown out between 2nd and 3rd, thus lynching the comeback and allowing us to be swept by Yankee-doos.

Tsuyoshi Shinjo - F
Poor Shinjo lost it the 2nd time around. He didn't play enough, when he did, he never hit, didn't display any of the flair and clutch performances of 2001. Was eventually sent to the minors because nobody else would take him. (And subsequently sent back to Japan to do underwear ads.)

Prentice Redman - Hit his 1st ML HR off Mesa in Philly, tying a game in the 9th. Has some pop, some speed, and perhaps a bright future ahead? (Any negative comments in regards to this statement are well-deserved.)

Tom Glavine - F
Yeah, we all had our reservations about him. Too old, Former Met killer, Ex- Brave...And, really, he still killed the Mets, didn't he? Right from that 4-run 1st inning in the Opener vs. Chicago. 2nd half surge or not, Glavine flat out blew when it counted. I hope, and I mean I really HOPE, that this was simply due to jitters from new surroundings. 0-4 vs Atlanta? That had better not happen again.

Al Leiter - C+
Al, unlike Mo-jumbo, actually did lose some weight this season, during a stay on the DL for a balky knee, and it helped him greatly, as he became a much better pitcher once he returned. However, the Al of the 1st half of the season was quite mediocre, and he has to shoulder part of the blame for the Mets miserable early showing. He's also probably very close to the end of the line, he's signed through next season and has intimated that this would be his last contract. After that, say hello to future NJ State Senator Al Leiter (R).

Steve Trachsel - A-
It was a rough year for the Mets. But don't blame Steve Trachsel. Resigned in the 11th hour, Steve responded with a career year of sorts, outpitching some pitchers with bigger contracts and better reputations. He was, without a doubt, the most consistent starter on the staff all season, and even threw 2 one-hit games. He even pitched well in his losses, many of those coming when the team couldn't score him any runs. Not bad, huh? It's been said (mainly by Gabe) that he really isn't that good, is pitching over his head and should be dealt while his value is high. Perhaps this is a valid argument. He probably won't duplicate this season again, but think about this: Trachsel's 1st half of his 2001 season was beyond pathetic before he was sent to the Minors to retool. Since he has returned, he has been an absolutely rock solid bottom end of the rotation pitcher. Never spectacular, but always consistent, and he has won games. Perhaps the Mets should deal him, but I'd like to keep him around, as I think he will continue to be a valuable 3rd or 4th starter. (Steve Trachsel was the Mets best starter in 2003. That's a good indicator of a 66-win team.)

Jae Seo - B-
Aside from Trachsel, Seo was probably the Mets 2nd most consistent pitcher for the season. Problem is, he was consistently both good and horrid. From Late May - mid June, Seo was lights out, then struggled through July, and got hot again in August. In his better moments, though, he showed some real guts and got himself out of some big jams against good lineups (see June 6, vs Seattle). Seo, I believe, has done enough to earn a spot in the rotation for next season, and I think he can improve on what he has already done. Again, like Trachsel, I'd count on him to be a solid 3rd or 4th starter. (Or not.)

David Cone - B+
Gets this high of a grade simply for proving he could take a year off and come back at age 40, and win his 1st start back. Unfortunately, his comeback was curtailed by injuries, and he finally decided to hang it up for good. It was nice to see Cone back in a Mets uniform, though, and that he was able to retire with the team with which he first tasted success. Next stop, Cooperstown?

Aaron Heilman - C-
Heilman debuted in June with about as much fanfare as Reyes, but it became clear rather shortly therafter that he wasn't all he was cracked up to be. He was dreadfully inconsistent, constantly worked from behind and also took several shellings before losing his spot in the rotation and basically left to sit out the last month of the season. He's had time to prove himself in the minors, and I'm not quite sure if more time would help him, or he's just never going to be as good as he was touted to be.

Jeremy Griffiths - B-
Griffiths season rather mirrored that of Jerrod Riggan in 2001. Griffiths made his debut out of the bullpen, straight from Binghamton, complete with the deer in the headlights look, took a few shellings, and went back. Returned in August, and was much better, even winning his 1st game in a start vs. St. Louis. Also pitched real well against Atlanta and Philadelphia. He did fizzle out a little bit after that with some poor outings, but he's another one with a lot of guts, and a lot of toughness, and some really good stuff too. I'd like to see what he could do with a full season in the Majors. Perhaps, just perhaps, he has the stuff to turn into the front-end of the rotation guy that Heilman was hyped to be.

Pedro Astacio - F

Scott Strickland - C-
Missed most of the season following Tommy John surgery, which was probably why he wasn't very good before he went down.

Pedro Feliciano - C+
Solid long relief man out of the bullpen, however got lost in the shuffle and hardly ever got used, to the point where I forgot he was even on the team. (Oddly, Feliciano is the longest-tenured Met, even if his tenure is non-consecutive. He went from lousy to good and back to lousy in 7 seasons, so I guess he's really come full circle)

Armando Benitez - Z
Well, if Alomar gets a Q, Benitez certainly deserves worse, right? Well, can't get much worse than a Z, although maybe a ZZ would do him more justice. It was bad enough when he blew key games against the Yankoos and Atlanta, bad enough to blow games to Arizona, but when he started blowing games against Houston, Milwaukee, San Diego, etc and in APRIL? Man, I couldn't wait to have this 10-cent wonder off the team. Shipped to the Yonkees, where he promptly blew several more games for them (scant consolation) before being shipped to Seattle. A Free Agent following this season. Who would want him? (I know! I know! San Francisco!)

Graeme Lloyd - C-
Will probably only be remembered as the 2nd Australian-born player in Mets history, and may not even be remembered for that much.

John Franco - A
Like Cone, Johnny gets an A solely for being able to come back from Tommy John surgery and pitch tolerably well at age 207. And he'll probably keep pitching until he can't anymore. Johnny is truly a Met Lifer, and, for better or worse, he's got to be a Met as long as he is still pitching. (I'm not sure where I was going with this overly sentimental crap. I can't say I ever had much of a soft spot for Franco, but it was nice that he was able to come back after the surgery)

Grant Roberts - B-
Grant now finds his career at a crossroads. This could have been the season where he took off, and became an ace reliever. Problem is, he's now officially got the dreaded INJURY PRONE tag as he missed half the season with shoulder tendonitis. And he can't be counted on as an ace reliever because his arm doesn't bounce back enough to pitch every day. Which is an outright shame because, when he does pitch, he's brilliant. So what is to be done with Grant? Starter? Perhaps it's his best option. WE shall see... (Yeah, no we won't. My guess is he's back in Binghamton smoking grass, which is about all there is to do in Binghamton.)

David Weathers - C+
Stormy Weathers indeed. Has to have done the best job of keeping his ass mostly out of the fire despite an opponent's 1st batter faced BA of .973.

Dan Wheeler - B-
Another solid though unspectacular reliever used mainly when the games didn't count. (I love how, after he left, he had some sporadic success with Houston and Tampa, and Mets fans were all up in arms because we dealt him away. It's easy to forget that he was patently awful when he was here, and had an ERA near 5 when he was dealt in '04.)

Mike Stanton - D
We're not in Yankeeland anymore, Toto.

Orber Moreno - Once again, we learn that Minor League hype does not equal Major League success.

Jaime Cerda - Line usually read like this: K, HR, K, HR, 6-3.

Mike Bacsik - Stunk in spring training and was promptly pushed into the collective unconscious of all Mets fans. (Before he became famous for allowing Bonds' 756th HR.)

Jason Middlebrook - Blah blah blah

Pat Strange - He is strange, isn't he?

Jason Roach - Blasted in one start in Anaheim. Stands to be as memorable as Brett Hinchcliffe.

Hector Almonte - Better to have him than friggin' Alomar.

Jason Anderson - Better to have him than friggin' Benitez.

So what do the Mets do this offseason. Well, this is Jim Duquette's first big test. Given the Mets history of high-priced Free Agent flops, does he go for Vladimir? Or does he go the Beltran route? A starter is certainly needed, Millwood anyone? The infield is going to be OK, with Piazza probably finally breaking that godforsaken HR record and mercifully moving to 1st, and hopefully Garcia will ascend and succeed at 2B. Reyes and Wigginton will anchor the left side. The OF is full of question marks, aside from Floyd in LF.

We learned, from 2002, that the best laid plans blah blah blah. We thought the Mets couldn't be much worse this year than last, and while the record will be worse, at least it wasn't with the same crew as last season. Yes, rebuilding is a bitch, especially with the Yahooees across town (Was I bitter towards the Yankees? Hell Yes! Everyone who wasn't a Yankee fan was sick of them at this point), and you don't want this to go on too much longer. The existing cast that will take the field next season is a promising group, and will hopefully continue to grow and band together. You can't ever know what will happen, but it looks like there will be better days ahead...

(It took a while, but, yes, things did get better. Thing is, by time they did, the only guys remaining from the 2003 Mets were Reyes, Heilman, Feliciano, Floyd, Trachsel and Glavine, and by Opening Day 2009, Reyes and Feliciano stand to be the only guys still on the team. '03 ended up not being the start of anything. If nothing else, this was probably Rock Bottom for the Mets. Man, there was a lot of crap on this team.)

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