Sunday, December 21, 2008

Classic Ballclub: The 2001 Mets

I promised this about a week and a half ago, however, the recent signings and assorted tidbits of information that filtered in during that time have delayed this until now.

The 2001 Mets really were the team that wasn't. Much like the 2008 Mets, things seemed to always turn out wrong with them because, as a team, they were never quite right. Sure, the pieces seemed to be in place for the team to make a run at a World Series, and after they got there in 2000, there seemed to be no reason to think otherwise. If anything, 2001 proved that the Mets might have overachieved in 2000 by reaching the World Series; many of the key players from that team either failed to perform at previous levels, were injured, or weren't on the team anymore. And the players that were brought in also didn't inspire the same confidence or character that existed on the 2000 team. What ended up happening was that the Mets really struggled to get themselves going for much of the first 4 months of the season, and when they did finally get their act together in September, it was just too little, too late. And the reactionary moves made following the season by Steve Phillips were ill-advised and ended up setting the team back even further.

So, here's my capsule from 2001. As always, it is presented unedited from its original writing, with comments added in italics.


As the season draws to a close, it does so on a sour note for us Mets fans. Four and a half months of playing with their heads up their asses, and then a few weeks of brilliance, which made us all wonder where they were hiding. At any rate, I'm going to do us all the service of breaking down the team, grading everyone, and starting several arguments amongst each other. But that's why we're sports fans, isn't it? Here goes:

Bobby Valentine - B.
The downfall of the team, I think, really can't be blamed on him. He managed the team as he always would have. Loses points for sometimes not sticking with starters long enough, and relying too much on Benitez. (In retrospect, who else could he have gone to?)

Mike Piazza - A-.
Really nothing wrong with his performance. Slumped horribly in May, but returned his usual strong self. Hit a number of huge HRs, as he usually does. A little too stubborn as far as the moving positions is concerned. A move to first would certainly help, but the man wants to catch. So long as he continues to put up numbers, can we really complain? (I was relatively new at this whole team breakdown thing, and as you can see, most of my comments are pretty terse and rudimentary. It wasn't until the following season that I started to flesh things out a bit)

Todd Pratt - C-.
Didn't hit until he was dealt to Philly in July. His D was solid as usual.

Vance Wilson - B.
Hit more than Pratt and was a surehanded, capable backup. I like seeing him in the Mets future plans.

Gary Bennett -
Does anyone really care? (He did finish his Mets career with a 1.000 BA)

Todd Zeile - F.
By time he started getting some key hits, it was way too late. Otherwise, he basically killed rallys and hit into a lot of double plays. And to make matters worse, the Mets may be stuck with him next season. (They weren't, as somehow he was parlayed into a mishmash involving Jeff D'Amico and Jeromy Burnitz, who was basically Zeile from the left side. Somehow, I thought this was a good move at the time, since Zeile, I believe, became the first man to ever hit into a Double Play with the bases empty in 2001)

Mark Johnson - B.
YES, GABE, I KNOW HE SUCKS. BUT...he performed admirably off the bench, hitting close to .420 as a PH, and had several key late inning hits. (This comment, for some reason, sparked a huge argument from one of the guys in my circle who felt that Johnson just needed a chance to play. But, the reality was that Gabe was right. Johnson was a strikeout waiting to happen. He did, however, hit .407 as a PH)

Edgardo Alfonzo - B-.
Played hurt most of the season and it really showed. Should have spent more time on the DL than he did. But his walk year is next season, and I think he'll rebound nicely. He's too good not to. (He did, but management had soured on him by that point and he was sadly allowed to walk away.)

Desi Relaford - A.
Absolutely stellar season. Performed almost every time he was given an opportunity to. Hit with surprising power in several clutch situations and played great defense. I hope to see him as a key bench player again next year. (Left in the ridiculous and inconscionable Shawn Estes trade)

Rey Ordonez - B.
Showed plate discipline for once, and it paid off for him, with a shocking 3 HRs. Still on the fence as to his future. (I, by this point, was resigned to having Rey's offensive mediocrity at SS and living with it. But when his defense went and his attitude with it, it was time to get rid of the bum)

Joe McEwing - A-.
You gotta love this guy! Played everyday for a good chunk of the season, and did admirably well, hitting over .300 for a long while. Kills fastballs, and some weaknesses were exposed once Ps figured him out. Nonetheless, I was always impressed with what the Mets got out of him. (He was scrappy. That was about it. Scrappy works for a while, but it won't win you any titles, that's been demonstrated over and over again)

Jorge Velandia -
No hits this season.

Robin Ventura - D.
Seemed like he was healthy after belting 2HRs on opening day. That, however, turned out to be a mirage, as he slumped basically the rest of the season. Only key hit after that game was his GW HR off Wendell, which was followed by a month without a HR. Defense was also not up to par. Overall a miserable season, which kills me, because he was always one of my favs.

Jorge Toca - Incomplete.
Hasn't played enough for us to know if he's any good or not. (Wrong! He was never any good. Bad job by me for not realizing that.)

Benny Agbayani - C+.
Benny's bat was very, very silent most of the season. And not for any good reason either. Broke his hand Sept 1, and an unmemorable season for him was almost forgotten completely. (It was about this time that we realized that Benny had overachieved for most of 1999 and 2000. We still loved him, though.)

Tsuyoshi Shinjo - A.
Made a near-flawless transition to American baseball. Showed an uncanny ability to perform in the clutch. Also played some spectacular defense. Very quickly became a fan favorite, and I hope to see him play a part in the team's future. (See Joe McEwing)

Jay Payton - C.
Had his season curtailed by a hamstring injury which knocked him out for 2 months. Was hitting .315 and scorching the ball at the time, and came back clueless. Heated up late, but not enough to make his numbers respectable. Needs to stay healthy for a full season, and if he does, I think he'll be a good one. (Again, not sure where I was going with this. I still had some sort of overly-romanticized view of Payton because he was a home-grown guy and he was pretty good in 2000. But he didn't last through 2002 and has sort of bounced around ever since.)

Matt Lawton - B.
Brought some much needed speed to the lineup. I really liked the deal to get him, and I expect him to contribute more next season.

Timo Perez - F.
Quickly proved that he was not the gem he looked to be in last year's postseason. Needs a lot of discipline on all fronts if he wants to do more to help out the team-o. ha ha (Walking around the clubhouse in his underwear didn't endear himself to anyone. Somehow, he managed to stick around until 2004, although he really didn't do too much to distinguish himself during that time.)

Darryl Hamilton - F.
Played lousy, didn't play, pouted and was released. Will not be missed.

Lenny Harris - B+.
Lots of pinch hits. (Lots of pinch outs too)

Darren Bragg -
Does anyone even remember him being on the team? (Wore #56 in honor of Lawrence Taylor. Did not posess anything resembling LT's athletic ability)

Alex Escobar - Incomplete.
Didn't see enough of him to know for sure. Was overmatched when he was first called up, then improved the second time around. Nonetheless, this was merely audition time, and he'll figure big in the team's plans. (He did hit 2 HRs in a meaningless game against the Expos at the end of the season, and that tantalized us. Then he went to Cleveland in the Alomar trade and got injured over and over and over again. Never came around for him.)

Al Leiter - A-.
Pitched hurt and got bombed, went on DL, came back and was, for the most part, the Al Leiter of old. His record suffered because of a lack of run support and some poorly timed blown saves. Chipped in with a key 3B, too. (That triple was probably the highlight of his season)

Kevin Appier - B+.
Performed admirably well in a new league. Had several big outings, which helped cancel out some of his more miserable ones. (He wasn't quite good enough to make up for the loss of Hampton. The subsequent trade for Mo Vaughn turned a bad deal into something that snowballed out of control.)

Steve Trachsel - C+.
Rebounded from an embarassing first half to pitch surprisingly well over the second half of the season. Gave up too many HRs, though, sometimes in key games. If he can continue to build on his strong second half, he could surprise next season. (Trachsel started his Mets career by getting hammered mercilessly every time out. He also ended his Mets career in the same way. I guess you could say he really did come full circle.)

Rick Reed - B.
Was unbeatable early in the season, and at times the only P who wasn't sucking. Dealt to Minnesota for Lawton. I wish him the best. (I hated to see him go, but in reality, he was pretty much past it by the end of the season.)

Bruce Chen - B-.
Flashes of brilliance, flashes of youth. I really liked this deal, though, and I think with more experience, Chen should really blossom. Has a good head for pitching. (It was a good deal and Chen was a nice prospect at the time, before it became apparent that he was just an overglorified trade chip.)

Glendon Rusch - D.
Inconsistency central. Could not build on anything, and would routinely get blasted, then throw a shutout. Needs to put something together, and I'm not sure what exactly he needs in order to do that. (Somehow, Shawn Estes did a picture-perfect job of replacing Rusch's inconsistent tendencies in 2002.)

Armando Benitez - D.
The 40 saves are nice, but he's unfortunately going to be remembered for blowing those two games against Atlanta. Also turned some big leads into squeakers. Most agree that he'll be shipped out of town this offseason. And if he can't close a big game, he really won't be missed. (He wasn't shipped away. Maybe that was part of the problem in 2002.)

Rick White - C-.
Pitched well for a while, then got into the habit of getting the first two outs of an inning, then simply exploding. Enigmatic as most middle relievers are.

Dicky Gonzalez - C+.
Made some good starts while Leiter was out. Also had a key relief outing in Pittsburgh. Could be worth a strong look next season. (Or he could be traded for a relief pitcher who would get hurt and never return)

John Franco - B.
Still gets it done, most of the time, at age 41. Sometimes got hit hard, and was hurt most of the latter part of the season. (Man, why was I so kind to Franco, especially after the Brian Jordan game?)

Turk Wendell - D.
A bad season for Turk got even worse after he got dealt. Hung WAY too many sliders, and got pounded. (He was toast and so was his arm. Funny thing was he ended up blaming the Mets for ruining his arm, when he was the one who wanted to pitch day after day. You can't have it both ways.)

Dennis Cook - C-.
Didn't pitch that great.

Donne Wall - D.
Hurt alot. Probably good because he was murderous when he did pitch.

Jerrod Riggan - B+.
Was up and down five times, and finally stuck. I really like his stuff, and he's matured a lot. Came up looking like a deer in headlights and finished the year with a lot more confidence. He should definitely be a key member of the bullpen next season, possibly a future closer.

Grant Roberts - A-.
Was stellar out of the bullpen, with several strong long relief efforts. Also a candidate to close. Has really good stuff, and was markedly better out of the bullpen than as a starter. (Also a pothead, as we would come to find out)

Tom Martin -
Who cares? (I didn't)

Mark Corey -
Don't even know if he pitched.

Desi Relaford - A.
Pitched a great inning in a blowout loss. A lot better than Matt Franco was.

Well, that's it. Hope you guys all have some responses, or at the very least, enjoy reading it. And Spring training isn't really that far off, hope springs eternal for 2002!

Hope did spring eternal for 2002, especially after wholesale changes were made to strengthen the offense and pitching. A re-tooled team brought us a lot of excitement, but it became apparent early on that the 2002 team just didn't have it. And it was the fault of the 2000 team. It was, perhaps, the worst possible thing that the 2000 Mets got to the World Series, because it made management think that the team was that good as it was. Rather than making major improvements, small tweaks were made to a good team that wasn't a Championship team, and they were exposed in 2001. So, major reactionary moves were made following the season, and what ended up happening was that the 2002 Mets became a melange of heavy-hitting headcases that collectively couldn't turn into a cohesive unit. It took 4 seasons for the Mets to recover from the mess that Steve Phillips created after the 2001 season, plus a lot of embarrassment and snide remarks. The moves looked pretty good at the time, and you couldn't really argue with a lot of the moves they made. But they were acquiring too many of the wrong kind of players, guys who were in the latter half of their career, with a penchant for playing that AL-style, meathead, 3-run HR baseball, and the plan failed miserably.

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