Showing posts with label Classic Ballclub. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Classic Ballclub. Show all posts

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Happy Prattiversary!

It is the 10th Anniversary of what I consider to be the single greatest Baseball Game I've ever attended. In recognition, I'm reaching into the Annals of the Ballclub and pulling up a classic piece that originally appeared as Part IV of the "20 Days In October" series that chronicled the Mets journey through the 1999 Postseason.

Take a step back in time with me, friends, to Saturday, October 9th, 1999.
* * *
Saturday, October 9
Game 4

It was probably about 8AM when I woke up. I was too amped up to sleep that night, and I was too amped up to stand around at home before I headed out to Shea. I arrived at around 10:30.

I was meeting my friend, who had the tickets, at around 11:30.

So, stand and wait. It was unseasonably warm for early October. The banners outside the stadium, which all season had read the Mets slogan of "ARE YOU READY..." now triumphantly read "ARE YOU READY...FOR THE POSTSEASON!" Everything seemed a little more electric this late morning.

This was real.

My friend finally arrived, with a handful of extra tickets. How he managed to get so many, I'll never know. He had his ways. But he was intent on going around and selling off as many as he could. I wanted no part of it. I was going into the stadium.

Mezzanine Reserved, Section 12, Row K, Seat 20. That's where I was.

First look. D'Backs BP.

Nothing but a simple NLDS logo on the outfield fence. The bunting was up. I'm a big fan of bunting. John Madden said it best: "That's when you know it's a big game. When they get out the bunting, that means it's gotta be a big game."

The scoreboard tells me everything I need to know. Only 3 games today. This 1:10 start time would coincide with Game 4 of the Braves/Astros series, with the Braves looking to put away Houston in the Astrodome. What a matchup that would be, the Mets and the Braves in the NLCS. The bad blood that had been festering since late September was already beginning to brew.
Still, more important things to take care of before we can worry about Atlanta. The Diamondbacks are tough, and certainly won't go away easily. The crowd knows this, and as game time approaches, the crowds coming out of the Subway, back when you could still easily exit the subway, grew larger and larger.

And inside the stadium, it just got more and more electric. Keith and Mookie throw out the first pitches, and we're ready.
All season long, the Mets had used the intro to Pink Floyd's "Time" as their pregame entrance music. For the Postseason, they switched the song. The outro from The Beatles "A Day In The Life" built to its crescendo as the Mets take the field... way to Bruce Springsteen's "Rosalita," as Al Leiter warmed up. Leiter deservedly was given a hero's welcome, pitching for the first time since his sterling 2-hit shutout in the Wildcard Play-In game last Monday. He would be opposed by Brian Anderson for Arizona, in a somewhat controversial move by D'Backs manager Buck Showalter. The logic dictated that he should hold Randy Johnson back for a potential Game 5 in Arizona, on his normal rest. But trailing 2 games to 1, there's no guarantee that there will be a Game 5. Still, Showalter went with Anderson, a lefty, on this afternoon.

Todd Pratt still starts behind the plate. It's unknown to me, although they mention on ESPN that Mike Piazza's thumb has not improved. It's wrapped so heavily that it's unlikely he's able to even pinch hit should the case present itself. Little do we know the role Todd Pratt will play on this afternoon. What we know is that Tony Womack is stepping in to lead off, and begin what will be a most memorable day at Shea Stadium.

At 2-2 to Womack, the entire crowd, jammed to the rafters, is up and screaming. We're on every 2-strike pitch. Womack hits a screamer into left-center. Darryl Hamilton, in a rare start against the lefty, races back and runs it down.

Hamilton is in there based solely on a hunch Valentine has. He's in for defense behind Leiter, a fly-ball pitcher.

With 1 out, Jay Bell draws the walk. He's running on the 1-1 pitch to Luis Gonzalez, but Pratt's throw is right on the money, and Bell is thrown out. Gonzalez flies to center to end the inning. Off to a good start.

But Anderson will prove to be just as tough in the early going. Only an Olerud single in the first, and through the first 3 innings, that's it for either team in what has clearly started out as a pitchers duel. Leiter continues by setting down the D'Backs 1-2-3 in the top of the 4th.

But Edgardo Alfonzo leads off in the 4th and promptly hits one out, a long, high fly ball out into the left field bleachers. Fans are jumping off the walls as Fonzie rounds the bases, the conquering hero. It's his 3rd HR of the series, and the Mets have the lead, 1-0.

But the lead is short-lived. Still working on a no hitter, Leiter has one out in the 5th when Greg Colbrunn, the righty half of the D'Backs first base platoon, hits a shot even higher than Fonzie's, deep into left field, hooking towards the wall, and the D'Backs bullpen. Rickey gives chase, jumps at the wall, but it's gone. First hit, first run, and a 1-1 tie.

But after a single from Steve Finley, Leiter settles back down and retires the D'Backs. But Anderson continues to mow down the Mets in the 5th. In the 6th, Leiter hits Bell with 2 outs. But nothing comes of it, and the Mets bat in their half of the inning with the top of the order against Anderson.

Rickey leads off the inning by making Anderson completely nuts. After working the count to 2-2, Rickey begins swinging at everything Anderson throws, and Anderson simply refuses to give in to Rickey. Foul after foul after foul. Finally, on the 14th pitch of the at bat, Rickey punches a flare into right field for a hit. After Alfonzo pops out, Olerud follows by ripping a single in between Finley and Gonzalez, moving Rickey all the way to 3rd. Now we're talking.

Agbayani follows it up by smashing a long double off the wall in right center, scoring Rickey, and moving Olerud to 3rd with 1 out. Here's the ice-breaker, the rally we've been looking for all afternoon.

But the Mets can't cash in on the opportunity. Ventura grounds back to Anderson, and Pratt follows by grounding out himself. After all that, it's still just a 2-1 game.

But Leiter continues to be well in control. Through the 7th, nothing, and he appears poised to cruise through the 8th as well. With 2 outs and nobody on, he's cruising. But, uncharacteristically, Leiter walks the pinch hitter Turner Ward on 4 pitches. Womack follows that up by hitting a chopper towards Fonzie. Fonzie seems to have it, but all of a sudden drops it, and that split second's difference is enough to allow Womack to beat it out for an infield hit.

Still, seems no bother. But Leiter is done for the afternoon, and leaves to an ovation larger and louder than the one he received at the outset. Leiter tips his cap to all corners of the stadium as he exits. Benitez is coming in to face Jay Bell.

On ESPN, Ray Knight warns of Bell's power. "Jay Bell loooooooves the fastball, middle in!" he states.

And on the 2-1 pitch, that's exactly what Benitez throws. And Bell hammers it, deep, deep to left. And as the ball flies, the air is sucked out of Shea Stadium. It's off the wall. Melvin Mora, in the game for Rickey, has the ball bounce away from him, and not only does Ward score, but Womack flies in behind him. All of a sudden, the D'Backs, who had looked dead all afternoon, have stormed ahead 3-2.

Shell shock. I feel like crying. Total, out of nowhere sucker punch. Gonzalez is intentionally walked. Matt Williams follows by lining a sharp single through the hole and into left. The Meltdown continues. But this kid Mora charges up on the ball as Bell rounds third, and his throw home is strong, but slightly up the first base line. But Pratt manages to grab the ball and lunge back towards Bell. The tag is barely in time. Bell is out. The rally is stopped. The inning is over.

Funny how it's the guy you least expect making the key play. Mora's throw was huge.

The Twilight Zone is about to begin.

The D'Backs switch their defense around in the bottom of the 8th. For one, Womack moves from Shortstop to Right Field, out in the sunlight. Gregg Olson takes over on the mound, trying to bridge the gap to closer Matt Mantei. Alfonzo leads off, looking to atone for his momentary bobble. Fonzie fouls off a couple of close pitches, but works out the walk. With Olerud up, Showalter immediately summons his lefty, Greg Swindell.

I don't know if Olerud's time at bat was as long as it seemed. Sitting at Shea, it feels like Olerud is at bat for 10 minutes, working the count and fouling off Swindell's pitches. Perhaps Swindell was slow. Perhaps he kept throwing to first to keep Fonzie close. But Olerud keeps himself alive before swatting a long, deep drive out to right. Off the bat, it seems an easy play for Womack. But the ball keeps carrying further and further out to right, and Womack keeps drifting, and drifting after it. And for a split second it might be over his head...But no. Womack appears to settle under it...

...And it bounces out of his glove! He blew it! Finley scampers over in a dead panic, and fires back in, just barely able to hold Fonzie at 3rd and Olerud at 2nd. Just the break the Mets needed in this particular spot.

Cedeno follows, having entered the game as a defensive replacement for Agbayani. And Cedeno hits a long fly ball of his own, towards a similar spot. But this time, Finley will have none of Womack's staggering around. He takes charge from the start, and cuts in front of Womack to make the catch. But it's too deep for him to be able to throw out Alfonzo, Olerud takes 3rd, and once again, the game is tied, 3-3. I can breathe again. Which was good considering that things were only starting to get interesting.

Ventura would be walked intentionally, and following this, Showalter would make his most puzzling move of all. He brings in Mantei, his closer, into a tie game. Not only that, he double switches Mantei into the game, moving Lenny Harris to 3rd, and removing Matt Williams from the game. Williams, his best hitter and best fielder on the infield, had made the last out in the top of the 8th, and you would figure Showalter wouldn't pitch Mantei for more than 2 innings. So why make the switch when you would just as easily have hit for Mantei when his spot came up? Not that I was complaining; better to not have Matt Williams come up in a spot where he could beat us.

Pratt is up, with a chance to get that big hit. But he can't. On a 1-1 pitch, Pratt slaps a grounder right back at Mantei, who charges home and tags Olerud in a rundown. 2 outs.

Darryl Hamilton follows. On 1-1, it appears that Ventura has himself picked off second. But Arizona's catcher, Kelly Stinnett, has no idea where he's going with the ball. He charges out from behind the plate and double pumps twice before finally uncorking a wide throw to second, and Ventura is able to scamper back in safely, averting disaster. Hamilton will work the count full before hitting a slicing line drive down the left field line. It's hooking, but it looks like it might drop in...

...But it hooks just foul. Barely foul. Down the line, the crowd starts cheering as if it were fair, but Charlie Williams, the LF umpire made the foul call.

Cookie Rojas does not agree
. He shouts at Williams, and is immediately ejected. Rojas then flips out completely, charging at Williams before Valentine can come out to restrain him. Williams and Rojas continue shouting vehemently at each other. Valentine holds out his arms to restrain Rojas. But it's not enough. Williams nudges Rojas, and Rojas responds by shoving Williams in the chest. It will take a crowd of Valentine, Ventura and Mookie Wilson before Rojas is finally calmed down enough to return to the clubhouse.

In the booth, Berman and Knight argue over the call. Knight is adamant that the ball was fair, and that Williams had baited Rojas. Replays show that the ball was just barely foul, perhaps by an inch or two. Knight still isn't convinced.

Meanwhile, the Mets are in need of a 3rd base coach. In the chaos, Bobby Valentine takes over at 3rd. He begins by glaring directly at Mantei, as he finally resumes pitching to Hamilton.

"Oh by the way, it's Ball Four." is the call from Berman, as Mantei's pitch is wide.

Ordonez hits next, and Ordonez fouls off a few pitches himself before striking out to end the inning.

After all that, there's still more to be played? Man. I take a few deep breaths just to make sure I'm still alive.

Benitez resumes in the 9th and survives with no drama. 2 strikeouts, and the D'Backs are done. In the bottom of the 9th, Mantei remains in the game. He has to, now. He begins by facing Matt Franco, batting for Benitez. Franco will work out the walk to put the winning run aboard. Melvin Mora is next, and as he would make a habit of doing over these few weeks, he does the little thing. His bunt is perfectly placed between Mantei and Bell, and with no chance to get Franco at second, his sacrifice is successful. And so it's down to Fonzie, and we're all convinced that Fonzie, who has carried the Mets through this recent stretch, come up with every clutch hit and driven in every big run, will deliver the hit here to win the game, and win the series.

But he doesn't. He pops out. And after Olerud is intentionally walked. Cedeno grounds into the fielders choice to send an already crazy game into extra innings.

"Gosh, I love this game!" Knight yells in the booth.

In the 10th, John Franco comes on for the Mets. He strikes out Stinnett. Harris follows by hitting a high chopper between the mound and first base. Alfonzo charges in, but it's Franco leaping off the mound to glove the ball and make the toss to first. Womack grounds out.

Mantei, whose spot still hasn't come up in the batting order, is still on in the 10th. But as a closer who has already thrown 35 pitches, one has to wonder how much he's got left in the tank. Ventura helps him out by swinging at the first pitch and popping out to Womack. Pratt is next, and Mantei's first pitch is a curveball of the 55 foot variety, bouncing into the seats.

* * *

There are certain events where you think back and wonder where you were, and what you were doing at that particular moment. What went through your mind?
As the ball left Todd Pratt's bat, I could see it was hit well. For some reason, I took that moment to reach for my camera. I watched Finley go to the wall and jump. I saw him come down. What happened after that, I'm not quite sure. As the crowd at Shea erupted, I snapped pictures. I remember thinking distinctly to myself "Did I really just see that? Did he really just do that?"

Oh, that's hit well to Center Field! Finley goes back...back...back...(cheers) IT'S OVER! IT'S OVER! TODD PRATT! ONE OF THE MOST UNLIKELY HEROES HAS HIT IT TO DEAD CENTER FIELD! THE METS HAVE WON IT IN 10, 4 TO 3!

Chaos erupts on the field. Mets are jumping all over the place. Rey Ordonez and Luis Lopez run clear across the infield, ready to jump Pratt as he comes around 3rd base. Diamondbacks players are glumly walking off the field. Security personnel are running all over the place. Mounted police line the outfield. Fireworks begin booming beyond the center field wall. And the familiar refrain of L.A. Woman is blasting throughout the stadium.

Mantei's 1-0. And a high fly ball, deep to center field! Back goes Finley, going back! Warning track, at the wall! Jumping! Aaaaaaaaaaaaand...IT'S OUTTA HERE! IT'S OUTTA HERE! PRATT HIT IT OVER THE FENCE! FINLEY JUMPED AND HE MISSED IT! THE METS WIN THE BALLGAME!

-Gary Cohen

The scoreboard reads in big, block letters, CONGRATULATIONS NEW YORK METS ON ADVANCING TO THE NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES!!! And just above that, we see that in Houston, the Braves have wrapped up their series with the Astros. After taking a 7-0 lead, the Braves are able to hold off a fierce late rally and win the game 7-5.
On ESPN, a closeup of Pratt reveals him to be totally awestruck. He can barely describe his feelings in a brief interview, only stating that he was sitting dead red, that he thought Finley had caught the ball, and "We're going to play the Braves!"
Bobby Valentine puts it more succinctly. "Character. It's all about Character (points to Leiter) This here's a character, with character...(tips his cap) Todd Pratt! Todd Pratt! Mike Piazza will be back, but so will Todd Pratt!"

Replays showed that Finley just about had it. But when he jumped for the ball, it appeared that his glove hit the wall, impeding his jump. Had his glove not hit the wall, he might have come down with it. But his glove hit the wall, and the ball just grazed his glove before he landed, looked down, and slumped against the wall; the picture telling the entire story.
For Pratt, it's sweet. Triumph after so many years toiling in the minors, being out of the game, and barely being noticed as little more than Mike Piazza's backup. For John Franco, it's even sweeter. Already having waited so long just to reach the postseason, he picks up his first postseason victory. For the fans, who had stuck by the team and waited so long, it's vindication. Nobody seems to want to leave. PA announcer Roger Luce (who had taken over for Del Demontreux, who had recently been felled by a stroke) announces triumphantly that "The next Mets Home Game will be Game 3 of the National League Championship Series!"

With that, the bile, and the pent up hatred towards the Dixieland Braves begins to pour out. Coming down the ramps, the mock tomahawk chops, and the chants of "LARRY SUCKS!" begin to echo throughout the stadium.

The Braves seem to be biting their tongues. Interviews on ESPN show them to reveal very little. The Mets will hold nothing back. After the indignities they suffered at the end of the regular season, there's no love lost. That's mainly because there was no love to begin with between these two teams.

It's fucking on.

Final Score
Mets - 4
Diamondbacks - 3
(10 Innings)
Mets win series, 3-1

* * *

Did you like what you read? If so, the entire "20 Days In October" series can be read here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Classic Ballclub: The 2006 Mets

The 2006 Mets were the Championship Team that wasn't. They kicked off a wild ride that began with aspirations of serious contention for a playoff spot, and ended up taking off with such a fury that, by Mid-June, it was apparent that they were going to run away with the NL East. And, they did. They did not have any serious challenges from any other team in the Division, though there were moments that Atlanta and Philadelphia came close. But as the season went on, things just got more and more fun as the Mets proved themselves to be in every game they played, and got outstanding performances all around, from David Wright, to Carlos Beltran, to Jose Reyes, to Delgado, to unexpected guys like Jose Valentin, Endy Chavez, Chad Bradford and Darren Oliver. The mix of talented youngsters and wily, experienced veterans meshed perfectly, the team playing with constant joy and flair. And it culminated on September 18th, when they nailed down the NL East and touched off a Wild Celebration. In the Postseason, they faced off against the Dodgers, and whenever it seemed that LA would dance and jab, the Mets would respond with a haymaker, eventually overwhelming their opponents and shoving them off the dance floor in a 3-game sweep. Things looked unstoppable. But the injuries and inconsistency finally caught up with them, ending on October 19th in a game of Beautiful Misery. But it was a team that made it fun to be a Mets fan again, and a team that made us Believe.

This capsule, of course, was written shortly after the Mets had won the Division, before the Postseason began. As always, my comments are in italics.


With the season winding down, but certainly far from over, I offer to you my team capsule for the 2006 season.

Although we certainly all had high expectations for the Mets this year, for once the Mets actually exceeded that by leaps and bounds. The team won games that for years they never would have. The players had fun, and made fun of each other, and the togetherness showed on and off the field. And the wins continued to pile up, with everyone contributing. The lead in the division grew and by the All Star break, the Mets were actually running away with it. And finally, after 18 seasons, after suffering through more bad and sometimes embarrassing than good, the Mets nailed down the Division title, and seem poised to roll on through the playoffs with the best record in the League. Sure, there were the obvious moments of trepidation. With the recent
history of the team, how could their not be. But once the Mets got going, there wasn't much that could stop them.

Coming into the season hoping to contend for the Wildcard and ending up running away with the Division, you have to consider the season an overwhelming success. But because the Mets were so dominant at times this season, just a Division title isn't enough. The playoffs will be interesting, indeed, and will certainly determine how this Mets team stands against some of the best teams in club history. (This team does stand up as one of the best singular seasons, I believe. But until they show themselves capable of recapturing this particular magic, the era as a whole has to be considered a disappointment.)

And with that said, the part you have all waited for:

Willie Randolph - A-

Willie definitely learned from his mistakes this season. Where last year, he never seemed to light the fire under the team when they were struggling, he kept the team focused and got them to the point where you began to believe they were never out of the game, no matter how many runs behind they were. There were certainly some questionable player moves (Lima), but then, with the lead in the Division squared away by July, Willie had the flexibility to mess around a little. And sometimes, his spare parts just weren't there. He's probably deserving of Manager of the Year this year, but that will likely go to Joe Girardi. Personally, I'd rather have the Division title and best record in the National League. (Willie just had the touch that season.)

Paul LoDuca - A-

Planted in the 2nd spot in the order, LoDuca really did a great job. He took pitches allowing Reyes to steal bases, and would often follow that up by inside-outing pitches into right field to move Reyes over, or score him. Performed solidly behind the plate and did a great job coaxing some of the younger pitchers through games. No, not anywhere near the galvanizing force of Piazza, but definitely a solid player and a great clubhouse presence. You have to respect a player who answers to the nickname of Captain Red Ass. (It was easy to over-romanticise LoDuca after this season, because he was so good, pretty much all season long. When he regressed to his career norm in '07 and was let go, there was really a large outcry of support for him. But he wasn't going to get any better than he was in '06)

Ramon Castro - B

Yeah, Castro was buried behind LoDuca and didn't get quite the playing time he did last season. But when he went down and we saw what was behind him, well, I for one really missed Castro. Should be back soon and be around for the Postseason. And back as the backup next season as well.

Mike DiFelice
The hell is he doing back here?

Kelly Stinnett
I remember in the 10th Grade I got a super short-print baseball card of Kelly Stinnett. Gabe made fun of me for weeks. (The card in question was a 1994 Topps Stadium Club First Day Issue. A card to forget, no doubt. But I still have it, believe it or not.)

Carlos Delgado - B+
Much like Donn Clendenon in 1969, Gary Carter in 1986, Robin Ventura in 1999 and Mike Hampton in 2000, Delgado was the missing piece that put the Mets over the top. Yes, he slumped badly in June and July, but he was enough of a force that he made Beltran and Wright better. And then when Beltran and Wright slumped, Delgado simply picked up the slack. Now, he's going to the Playoffs for the first time. This should be very interesting, indeed. (Delgado really proved himself the difference maker for the Mets that season, and since then, he's proved that he can be whenever he's going good. He, of course, responded to the October Bell by having an outstanding Playoffs, including a HR off Derek Lowe in Game 1 of the NLDS that's still flying.)

Jose Valentin - A
At the end of April, I know we were all wondering what the hell Valentin was even doing on the roster, washed up, done, barely able to hit his weight. And then he did a complete 180, starting off with the weekend in Milwaukee, and never looked back. Shoved Matsui out the door and took off, belting key hits and displaying power he hadn't shown in years. No, you wouldn't expect
him to do this again, but with the pieces around him, he was certainly a welcome, surprising force at the bottom of the lineup. (Part of the problem with the 2007 Mets was that Valentin was counted on to repeat this success, and there was no real plan B for when he inevitably faltered.)

Jose Reyes - A

Professor Reyes es Rapido! Jose put it all together this season. Maybe the OBA isn't as high as Gabe predicted it would be, but he'll wind up with one of the greatest offensive seasons in team history. Close to 200 hits, over 50 SB, close to 20 3Bs. But even more impressive than that were his 19 HRs and 80 RBI, numbers unheard of for a leadoff hitter. Obviously, the power that we thought he had in the minors was there, he just needed a few years to develop. But, of course, most importantly, beyond the power, the RBIs, the steals and the defense, Jose got on base and scored runs in buckets. 119 is the current count. And how many of those 119 gave the Mets early leads? Without Reyes leading things off, the Mets aren't nearly as dangerous a team. Muy Bueno! (This particular season for Reyes showed just how tantalizingly good he can be. We can talk about the reasons he hasn't quite reached these numbers in '07 and '08 to death.)

David Wright - B+
Captain America took the league by storm in the first half of the season, and looked like a surefire MVP candidate before slumping badly after the All Star Break. The overall picture for the season will still look pretty damn good, which goes to show you just how good he was over the first half. For a good chunk of time, Wright basically carried the team to a number of victories, and big, clutch, late game hits were the norm.. Also turned the All Star Game into the David Wright show, where we learned many things about him, such as his penchant for "Rocking the pastel shirts." (I wish I could find that clip on YouTube, but I can't. And it's not worth discussing how he cocked up his swing in the HR Derby and never really got it back.)

Julio Franco - C-
Gets this high of a grade because he continues to play it out despite being older than the Stadium he plays in, and because he has been a major presence in the clubhouse. However, his bat control and speed have deserted him, he can't really run the bases, he's a double play waiting to happen, and for Christ's sake I can't take hearing the Christian Rock they play whenever he comes up to bat! (Again, too much faith in a player who was past it.)

Chris Woodward - C-

Playing with a torn labrum and didn't tell anyone. Still playing it out. Good bench guy, but he hasn't hit at all this season, and can't be counted on as a key pinch-hitter. If the choice were between him and Anderson Hernandez, I would take Hernandez.

Kaz Matsui

Getting rid of this dunce was about as joyful as when the Mets got rid of Alomar or Benitez. I would have taken a bag of beans for him, and that's about what Marrero amounted to, but just to be rid of him was good enough. Of course produced his only highlight of the season in his first AB, with an inside-the-park HR in San Diego. (Kaz had a passably good '07, but there was no way in hell he was ever going to find success in NY, especially the way the crowd would get on him.)

Anderson Hernandez
True, when Hernandez got hurt, it wasn‚t much of a loss offensively because he hadn't hit at all. BUT, his defense is top-notch and he and Reyes make a spectacular DP combo up the middle. I'm still not sure if he'll ever hit at the Major League level. That remains to be seen. If he can produce at all—and I don't mean like Rey Ordonez—I mean some tangible big hits, and not someone who you're afraid will come up in a key spot, but actually hit, I think he can become something. Remains to be seen. (He never showed an ability to hit, be it consistently or at all.)

Carlos Beltran - A+++++++++++

Before the season, I watched Beltran blast a monster HR against Cuba in the WBC. I turned to El Guapo and said, "Good. Now I want to see that 30-35 more times this year." And he certainly did that. After being lustily booed for the first few days of the season, the Real Carlos Beltran showed up, and showed why he deserved the money he got. The clutch hits and the big smiles that were absent all last year became routine as Beltran put an assault on the team record books that, although he may not reach, were still enough to put the Mets over the top. Case in point: On August 22nd, the Mets trailed the Cardinals 7-6 in the last of the 9th. 1 out. LoDuca had singled off of Isringhausen. Beltran came up. And everyone in the stadium was up because they knew Beltran was going to do something big. He cranked the first pitch out into the bullpen in Right. Mets win, 8-7. (I said it at the end of the '08 season, and I'll say it again here: It's time to get off Beltran's case for the way things ended in '06. It's funny how quickly people forgot that if it wasn't for his standout season, the Mets weren't in that position in the first place. Because of the circumstance, this particular failure is magnified, but I hope that at some point we realize how lucky we are to have this guy on our team.)

Endy Chavez - A
Now we know why everyone loves Endy! He just isn't an everyday player, but use him as a pinch hitter, defensive replacement and spot starter and this guy is All-World! I can‚t tell you how many times this season I've seen Endy do something big. Whether it was a key pinch hit, a spectacular catch in the outfield, whatever. Endy was a huge addition to the club this season, and I expect him to be a major contributor in the Postseason and beyond. Totally surpassed any expectations anyone had for him. (Major Postseason Contribution? Oh, did he ever.)

Cliff Floyd - C+
When Cliff comes up to bat at Shea, they play the theme from "Sanford and Son" over the PA system. It's fitting, because Cliff's legs are in such bad shape that whenever he has to run down a ball in the outfield, he looks like Redd Foxx. Terrible dropoff from his gaudy numbers of last season, but considering his injuries catching up with him it's not too much of a surprise. (El Guapo and I both felt bad, because Cliff really wanted to do well, and he really was a class guy. But by the end of the season, it was clear that he couldn't play it out on a daily basis and was becoming a liability defensively.)

Xavier Nady - B
Too bad he got dealt, but with the injury to Sanchez, I suppose it had to be done. Played great while he was here, although he was a bit streaky. (At the time, I didn't think much of it, and I figured it opened the door for Milledge to play full-time. Milledge, at that point, wasn't ready, though, and the trade ended up turning out to be rather un-necessary, though it did net us Perez. But the point of the deal was to get Hernandez, not Perez, and Hernandez turned out to be vastly useless for us in the Postseason. On the other side, having Nady around in the postseason as another righty bat, when the Mets struggled so badly against lefties, might have been more helpful than we realize.)

Lastings Milledge - C+
Still needs more seasoning. Flashes of brilliance, flashes of youth and inexperience. Still only 21, and just had his first drink last week after the Mets clinched. Has all the makings of a stud, but the Mets need to be careful not to shuttle him back and forth too much. It‚s OK for now, but the
next time they bring him up, they need to decide that he's going to be up and not going back. (It didn't happen until the following July, but he did play passably well. Unfortunately, character questions continued to dog him until he ended up being traded away.)

Shawn Green - C-

The Hebrew Hammer really isn't what he used to be. It looked like he was about to turn a corner against Atlanty, but it appeared to be a mirage. Still, I like him having around, but he could turn into a major liability unless he puts a little bit of a hot streak together. Very John Olerud-esque, even going back to his days with Toronto.

Michael Tucker
Yeah, fine, whatever.

Eli Marrero - B
Only gets this high a grade because Colorado was willing to deal him for Matsui.

Victor Diaz - F
Oof. Too bad that Victor got buried. But, he had the opportunity to win the RF job in the spring. He didn‚t perform well, and I wonder if this was a side effect of constantly being shuttled between AAA and the Majors. Well, he's gone now. I can see it now. Victor ends up the starting LF in Texas next season, and while he hits .220 with 150 Ks, he‚ll hit 25-30 HRs in that bandbox and everyone will be up in arms about how stupid a deal it was. Not really. (Not really was right. VD didn't hit a lick with Texas and Lord only knows where he is now.)

Ricky Ledee
Someone I work with said to me the other day, "What the fuck is Ricky Ledee doing on this team?" (He said the same thing when Ledee mysteriously resurfaced with the Mets in 2007. Bringing up Ledee is basically tantamount to throwing up your hands and admitting "We give up!")

Tom Glavine - B+

For 3 months, Glavine looked like a totally remade pitcher. Not only was he coming up with key, quality starts, he started striking out guys like he never had before. He hit a wall around midseason, and there was the blood clot scare, but he‚s rebounded and looks strong and poised for the playoffs. Will be back next season and only needs 11 wins (and still a start left this
season) for 300 wins. (Before he basically undid all the good he did with the Mets with his gutless performance in the '07 finale, Glavine really carried the Mets in a pair of brilliant outings in the Postseason. At that particular point, Glavine was the only starter the Mets could count on, and he delivered twice when the Mets really needed him to come up big.)

Steve Trachsel - C+
Trachsel is your typical "Bad ERA but tends to win" pitcher, much in the mold of Freddy Garcia. Problem is, Trachsel was getting so routinely hammered in games that you knew that if the Mets didn‚t score a ton of runs, they were screwed. But that's been Trachsel's story for years. He'd do the absolute minimum to win a game, and was still eating innings, but he was bad or otherwise boring. Except for the start he made the night the Mets won the division, which probably earned him a Postseason start, for better or worse. That was his big clutch outing to this point this year. But I don't know if he'll be able to duplicate that in the Postseason. Hold your breath and keep
your fingers crossed...(...and watch as Trachsel shits the bed.)

Pedro Martinez - B
Pedro was Pedro. I think the fact that he was injured for most of the second half of the season was probably a blessing in disguise. The Mets won without him. Let him muddle through a few starts now, get him sharp and he'll be ready to answer the bell for the Playoffs. Then unleash him. I often feel as though Pedro plays possum an awful lot during the regular season. Sure, be
injured, be ineffective, cry in the dugout. And then when it matters most, he'll turn into Badass Pedro and start ripping off 92-95 MPH fastballs, knee-buckling curves, and sliders from hell, and dominate. (Yeah, this was before we knew about that whole rotator cuff thing.)

Orlando Hernandez - B+
Rock Solid ElDuque was a major cog in the middle of the rotation all season. Sure, he had his bad starts, but the one thing about ElDuque is if he doesn't have it, you know from the first inning, and you can get him out of there quick. But lately, he's been lights out, and his Postseason track
record speaks for itself. I love that we can trot out a horse like this every few games for the Playoffs. (He probably would have helped, too.)

Aaron Heilman - B+
True, he was terrible for a good chunk of May, June and July, and he pouted about not getting to start. But Heilman was so good out of the bullpen early, and especially late (as he was last season), that you can't justify taking him out of the bullpen with the glut of starters that exist on the team now (even though he may be better than most of them). Definitely someone who can be trusted in key spots for now. Also bonus points for using The Clash as his entrance music. (Heilman was, once, an excellent and trusted reliever. He was so good just about all season, and especially after Sanchez got hurt that he got a pass for the Molina HR. There was no argument that he should have been out there at that particular moment. But he hasn't really rebounded from that too well.)

John Maine - B+
True, I'd prefer to have him start in the playoffs over Trachsel. But I'd also like him as the long man (along with Oliver) out of the bullpen in the playoffs as well. Maine looks like he can be a key swing man in the playoff push, and also looks like he can be a very solid mid-rotation starter for the future. Only problem is that he can sometimes struggle with command and gives up a number of walks, often at bad times, and this can lead to him getting hit around a little bit. This can be chalked up to inexperience, though. He's also looked flat-out dominant at times as well. Could be Glendon Rusch from the right side with better upside (Remember how big a
role Rusch played in 2000...). Hopefully the long term results will be better. (Before you kill me for comparing him to Rusch, just think about how many times Rusch came into a game in the 2000 Postseason and held the line. Course, I didn't figure on 2 starters getting hurt and Maine being thrust into the spotlight in Game 1 of the NLDS. But Maine pitched admirably well that day, and again in Game 6 in the NLCS. His efforts and fearlessness endeared himself well to the Mets and their fans, and it was good to see him build on it in '07.)

Darren Oliver - A-
Added to the team as an afterthought, Oliver was huge for the Mets all season. Used primarily as the long man out of the bullpen, Oliver pitched in with some key efforts, eating up innings in a number of games where the Mets looked to be done, only to come back and win. Oliver kept runs off the board and if it weren't for him, the Mets don't win a number of the games they end
up winning over the course of the season. (Would have been better to have around in '07 than Aaron Sele.)

Billy Wagner - B+

Enter Sandman. Sure, Wagner had his moments, but for the most part, he was huge in the closer role, providing stability, and certainly kept the angst of the Franco/Benitez era to a minimum. (At least when he wasn't facing So Taguchi. Prompted El Guapo, Shirts vs. Blouses and myself to start slamming shots of Maker's Mark during the 9th inning of Game 6 of the NLCS.)

Chad Bradford - A-
Same as Oliver. Bradford is another one of those pitchers who never gets a lot of ink, but he's out there making key effort after key effort. Another one who allowed very few inherited runners to score. Also dropped in the ever popular 63 MPH curveball which always kept hitters off-balance. (His success netted him a ridiculously large contract from the Baltimore Orioles, who would subsequently cut him in 2008, where he would end up playing a key role in the Postseason for the Tampa Bay Rays. His replacement, Scott Schoeneweis, was given a similarly ridiculous contract and did not fare quite as well.)

Pedro Feliciano - B
Feliciano did his griping, he and Willie talked it out and Feliciano had a great year, building on the success he had late last season. (Yeah, it's weird how that incident basically got glossed over. When Feliciano started pitching really well and as a crossover guy in the late innings, it was easy to forget it had happened.)

Duaner Sanchez - A

Memo to all players: When you are playing on the road, and you're in your hotel room and you get hungry, and it's about 2AM, PLEASE, just go across the street to the White Castle. Don't get into cabs and drive around Miami looking for Caribbean food. You have no idea what will happen.

Seriously, it sucks what happened to Sanchez, especially considering how good he had been all season. Lights out all the way. All wishes for a speedy and complete recovery so he can be back as the key 8th inning guy next season. (Not to be dramatic, but at this particular point in time, it's not outlandish to say that this injury may well have wrecked his career.)

Alay Soler - C

Not impressed. Except for the two really good outings in LA and Arizona, Soler battled everything everytime out. Unless he really puts it together, I don't see him being a key player in the Mets future. (Which is why I was surprised that there was such an outcry when he was cut in '07. You haven't seen him on the roster of another Major League team since then, and there's a reason for that.)

Brian Bannister - C+
Bannister is very much like Pelfrey without the stuff. Bannister had the knack of getting into and out of trouble in the same inning. Lots of agita and high pitch counts, Lost for most of the season with a hamstring injury when it seemed like he might be beginning to put it together. Deserves a
good look next season so we can know for sure what he is. (Or we'll deal him to KC in another un-necessary deal for a reliever who throws really hard and really flat who will blow out his elbow, get arrested for beating up his girlfriend, and become a suspect in a Hit and Run car accident.)

Heath Bell - D
OK, I'm sick of Heath Bell. I don‚t want to hear about him, or his family and his house in Florida, and I don't want to see him coming into games anymore and either turning leads into squeakers or blowouts into bludgeonings. He's terrible. He's inconsistent. He's ugly too. Goodbye. Go hang out with Mike Stanton and Doug Henry. (I still contend that this was the right move. Bell wasn't ever good with the Mets and never displayed that he would be good.)

Dave Williams
Somehow put together a number of really solid starts. I'm as surprised as the rest of you.

Oliver Perez
If he can throw a few more games like he did against Atlanty, he's golden. Still a reclamation project, but with the upside, it's worth the gamble. Doesn't have the best head for pitching, so it remains to be seen, but Peterson has certainly gotten some encouraging results so far. (Doesn't have the best head for pitching is a very nice way of saying that Ollie is a giant fucking headcase who can throw a brilliant game under the most glaring of spotlights and then stink it up the next time out. But he sure as hell came through in the Playoffs that season.)

Mike Pelfrey - Inc.
Can't say yet. The stuff is there, but he needs to get his command together, and most importantly, his feet under him. Definitely a bit of living dangerously in his few starts. But I think he can dominate someday, and maybe soon. (Soon is here.)

Philip Humber - Inc.

Hasn't pitched yet, although I wonder if Willie would give him a cookie start the last weekend. (He didn't get that cookie start until about a year later, when it wasn't a cookie start, it was a last resort.)

Jorge Julio - C-
Three really putrid outings early in the season really spelled his doom. He was very reminiscent of Armando Benitez which scared the bejeesus out of everybody. Threw really hard, but also flat and straight. Yet somehow was dealt to Arizona for ElDuque, which was a major heist. Julio would perform admirably for Arizona, but ElDuque was much more of a key cog for the Mets
than Julio would have been.

Victor Zambrano - F
He wins the idiot award for continuing to pitch with a bad arm and not telling anyone. He wins the Wilson Alvarez award for multiple Tommy John surgeries. I wonder if he'll actually be a decent pitcher once he's healthy. Of course, since he's a FA, I can't imagine the Mets will possibly bring him back. On the bright side, Kazmir missed a good chunk of the season with a
shoulder problem. The bitch of it is, I actually feel bad for Zambrano. He felt so much pressure from the media and the fans to perform that he basically ruined his arm in the process.

Jose Lima - Z-
Much in the vein of wondering why in the name of God Kaz Ishii was allowed to make 16 starts last season, I am left wondering the same as to why we had to experience Lima Time 4 times this year. Between the blond hair and the kissing all his teammates...Lord. El Guapo and I were at his last start. It was spectacular. Not only did he give up 5 rockets in a row to the bottom of the Marlins lineup, littered with names like Jeremy Hermida, Robert Andino and Billy Mangina, he followed that up by giving up a monster of a Grand Slam to Dontrelle. The kicker? WILLIE LEFT HIM IN FOR ONE MORE BATTER!!! (Yeah, this didn't work so well.)

Roberto Hernandez
So we went out and brought him back, and then basically buried him in the bullpen. True, he doesn't have to be counted on quite as much as last season. But I might have preferred to keep Nady rather than have 'Berto back in a panic move.

Jeremi Gonzalez - F
Almost as bad as Lima. Not as magnified because the Mets came back in a couple of his lousy starts. Mostly I'll remember him pitching the day that Mike and the Mad Dog called the game on WFAN, and Mad Dog exclaimed loudly, "This Gonzalez is singing for his supper here today!"

Guillermo Mota - A-
Great pickup and even better since Piazza isn't around anymore. (Juicing.)

Royce Ring
I'm beginning to think that Ring is just Grant Roberts from the left side. Tons of potential and a 10-cent head. (And he has done nothing to disprove this theory.)

Henry Owens
I wonder what the plan is for Owens? He definitely has good stuff, but his command wasn't there during his week or so in the Majors. I'm interested to see more...

Bartolome Fortunato
Apparently he pitched for the Mets this season. Is there proof of this?

SO there you have it. What to do for next season? Well, first of all, learn from the team of 2000. Don't stand pat. Get better. Get a LF to replace Floyd. Carlos Lee is a FA, Soriano is as well. Get a 2B. Soriano anyone? Get Barry Zito. Get Barry Zito. Get Barry Zito. Build a dynasty. The Mets have the pieces in place to do so. Smash the flea with a Sledgehammer. Become the new Braves. Own the Division for a few years.

But first, On to the Playoffs!

The potential to own the division for a few years was definitely there. I was really hot for Barry Zito, but not at the asinine price the Giants ended up paying for him. In retrospect, letting him go was the right move. However, the moves the Mets ended up making were, for the most part, wrong. The core of the team was led by some younger players, but the team itself was mostly comprised of older players, and rather than taking the route of restocking the farm system and bringing in younger players, the Mets instead brought in even older guys, and injury-prone subs. While Moises Alou, Damion Easley and Marlon Anderson had some positive contributions, they weren't long-term solutions. Other players, like Schoeneweis and Sele, were just catastrophically bad and contributed heavily to the undoing of the Mets in '07, where one of the strengths of the '06 team—the Bullpen—became a glaring weakness. The other problem was that after the ease at which the Mets ripped through the season in '06, the Mets got cocky and rested on their laurels in '07, playing lazy and complacent Baseball for much of the season. They coasted for a while, but eventually it caught up with them, and by time they realized it, things had spiraled completely out of control. In '08, the problem was that the team seemed all too conscious of the way '07 had ended, and appeared to play out the last few weeks wound far too tightly. But the core of the team remained, and remains the same. And I began to wonder, at some point, if it wasn't so much that the Mets underachieved in '07 and '08, but that they really overachieved in '06 and just weren't that good. I'm not totally convinced.

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.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Classic Ballclub: The 2005 Mets

A couple of weeks ago, I went picking through the History Books and brought you my Mets team capsule from 2003. This week, I have dug into the great, lost Archive (which doesn't actually go back that far) and bring you yet another historical Team Capsule, this time from the year 2005.

It's been mentioned here before, that 2005 was sort of like the preamble to the current era of the Mets. Although they were billed as "The New Mets," a phrase brought to us by Carlos Beltran, they were really a mixture of the junk leftover from the Phillips/Duquette regime (and Mike Piazza) and the new faces that Omar Minaya had brought in to try to create some excitement following several down years. The team had some bright new faces, but an overabundance of question marks and several holes, particularly in the right side of the infield and the bullpen (sound familiar?). Too many band-aids were used in favor of actual tangible solutions, and though there were some tantalizing moments, the Mets would ultimately fade out at the end of the season. As usual, this capsule was written shortly after the Mets were eliminated from the Wildcard race, and is presented to you unabridged and unedited. Current comments in italics.
With the Mets now officially eliminated, and the season coming to an end in a few days, and with all the e-mails flying around, it is now time for me to offer for the consideration of you all my annual Mets Team Capsule for 2005.

The 2005 Mets were uneven at best. There were hot streaks that were short-lived, and cold spells that came and went. The team hovered around .500 all season, basically living up to the expectations placed before them. Thing was, just about everyone else in the NL was hovering as well, and so the Wildcard never slipped too far out of reach. The team played well at home, although rarely in games that El Guapo and I went to, and poorly on the road (I believe my record for the season was 7-11. Far too often, it seemed, I would be going to games where the Mets just showed up because the schedule said they had to). But they always kept it interesting. And then they went to Arizona and San Francisco, and the bats lit up and the pitching was holding together, and all of a sudden, we were looking at meaningful games in September…And then the bottom fell out just as quickly (If you recall, the Mets went to Arizona in late August and absolutely pasted them in a 4-game sweep where they outscored the D-Backs 39-7. They came home and beat Philly on a late Castro HR, and were closing in on the Wildcard, and then they basically just fell apart). But just when it looked like the Mets would unravel completely as they did in the Uncle Art years, the Mets pulled it together and kicked some teams like Florida and Philly in the nuts, so that at least they wouldn’t get to the playoffs either (This was scant consolation, but at least Willie made sure they played out the string).

Overall, you have to think that they performed as expected. We didn’t think much more than .500, but then the team did just enough to entice us into believing there could be more. But that didn’t happen. There are still holes in the team that need to be filled, and questions that need to be answered before the team can make The Leap. The offseason will hold quite a bit.

Now, the part you’ve all been waiting for:

Willie Randolph – C+
Maybe I’m being a little tough on Willie. After all, it was his first year, and overall, he did OK. But that’s all he did. OK. He kept the team together, and they all played for him. But he showed his inexperience as a manager, and I think it was an issue most of the season. He botched the double switch in Cincinnati, he never got fired up, he insisted on keeping the same lineup, burying Wright down in the order most of the season, and don’t even get me started on the Bullpen. I do not, however, overlook the importance of how Willie got the team to rally around each other all season. It’s key, and hopefully the nucleus of the team will continue to grow together and the new parts will meld. But next season will be telling as to whether or not Willie will lead the team to the next level. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. (As we would see, Willie was able to lead the team to the next level in '06, but it seemed like once he got there, he forgot what he had done to get him there. It's unfortunate, but Willie never really was able to finish the job he started.)

Mike Piazza – B+
In all honesty, we couldn’t have expected much more from Mike this season. The years of catching have caught up with him, and as we learned from Gary Carter, once you fall off, you don’t come back, especially as a Catcher. But through it all, and through the uncertainty surrounding where he’ll be next year, Mike performed as he always had, with class and dignity and he still came up with a few big hits. And, guess what, he leads the NL in HRs and RBI by a Catcher.

With all that said, and again, we don’t know whether or not he’ll be back next year, but it is indeed time to take a step back and look at Mike’s place in History with the Mets and over his entire career. You can’t help but think about how May 22nd, 1998 will go down as a monumental day in Mets History, as the Mets acquired Piazza, and in turn, Piazza became one of the most important and beloved players the team has had. In addition to putting some fear into a lineup that, at the time, had Butch Huskey as its big power threat, he also brought credibility and excitement to a team that had spent most of the 1990s in a fog. And although in 1998, the team fell short, Mike was convinced that he wanted to spend the prime of his career in New York, and with the Mets. And in 1999 and 2000 he put the team on his back and carried them, willing them to wins time and again, battling through a thumb injury in the 1999 playoffs that likely would have put him on the DL had it not been the postseason, and though he struggled, he nailed a HR off Smoltz in the 6th game that erased deficits of 5-0 and 7-3, tied the game, and extended the game (and we don’t need to discuss the end), only coming out when he physically could not play any further. And remember how frustrated he was when that series ended? He ended up getting in his car and driving around the South for 3 weeks just to clear his head from all of it. And in 2000, he was the driving force behind what would be the hottest team in Baseball throughout the Summer, deserving of an MVP before a September swoon. But he rebounded in the playoffs, blasting a couple of key HRs vs. St. Louis, and leading the team in a victory lap around Shea Stadium when they won the NLCS. Or perhaps his most poignant moment, the HR against Atlanta in the first game back after 9/11. I remember being at that game and how the crowd went from listless to jubilant with the crack of his bat. Sure, 02, 03 and 04 were bad years, and Mike battled through a lot of injuries, and an ill fated position switch, but Mike kept his date with destiny when he broke Fisk’s HR record for Catchers and extended it through this season. (I'd lionized Piazza even back then. I had a feeling that too many people in my circle had gotten down on him after he'd had a few down years, but you can't ever overlook what he meant to the team. He made the Mets important again.)

I guess you could name them on one hand, impact players that took the Mets to another level. Guys like Seaver, Hernandez, perhaps Strawberry. Maybe Mike didn’t bring home a Championship, but even falling short, he couldn’t have brought us much more. Truly the greatest Met we have ever seen, and someday soon we’ll see his #31 hang in the left field corner in Shea. (This was, of course, when Bankruptcy Field was but a gleam in Fred Wilpon's beady eye.)

Ramon Castro – A
Castro shined all season in a backup role, and came up with a number of clutch hits. But he struggled offensively when he was pressed into a starting role. I wouldn’t count on him as the full time starter next year, which is why I’m a fan of, if Piazza will re-sign for a reasonable price, having them split time at C. Solid D all around. Also wins the award for the largest head in Mets history (This was before he'd proven himself incapable of staying healthy for a full season.).

Mike DiFelice – Because the Mets needed to fill their dirtbag thug quota for the season. Fortunately, he never played.

Doug Mientkiewicz – D
I’m disappointed. I really expected Dougie to have a better season. But his average was in the low .200s all season, although he did pop a few HRs here and there. His D was solid, but not the spectacular level he displayed in Minnesota. Also griped a little bit late when he was losing playing time, although he really didn’t deserve it (The playing time, not the lack thereof). Won’t be back.

Miguel Cairo – C
Cairo was great off the bench, but really spit the bit in a full-time role. He was able to cover it up playing in a loaded Yankee lineup but he was pretty bad and inexplicably continued to hit 2nd in the order. Even worse was his propensity to swing like he was trying to hit the ball off the Whitestone Bridge. We need a better full time 2B, but he’ll be good off the bench (Not sure where I was going with this. Cairo was .251/.296/.324 for the season and consistently looked terrible at the plate. I know he started because Matsui was either hurt or terrible, but even then, I can't believe I advocated keeping him after this season).

Kaz Matsui – F
Forget it. I worked with a fellow from Japan over the Summer, and when the show was over, I asked him if he could take Matsui back to Japan with him.

Jose Reyes – B+
As Fran Healy beat into our heads all season, “THE NEW YORK METS 22 YEAR OLD SHORTSTOP IS CREATING ALL KIND OF EXCITEMENT!” He really did too. Healthy for the first time in his career, Reyes was a major sparkplug, turning doubles into triples, and singles into doubles with his speed. Still needs to learn to work the count more, but I see no reason why he can’t do this. Also improving on Defense. If he can raise his walks and keep stealing bases, I don’t think we have to worry about SS for a while. Actually, either way, I don’t think we have to worry about SS for a while (We've since seen the best and worst from Reyes. He proved he could work a count, but this is a habit that seems to desert him at inopportune times).

David Wright – A-
The new face of the franchise. Period. Although his defense was spotty, he did tail off a bit late, and he took a number of good pitches, which only helped to solidify his reputation as a great 2-strike hitter, Wright’s first full season has to be regarded as a resounding success. Hit well over .300 for most of the season, over 20 HRs and close to 100 RBIs at age 22, and moronically buried at 6th or 7th in the order for the majority of the season. Has an uncanny ability to adjust to the situation while at the plate, and absolutely hammers mistake pitches. Once he matures, he’ll certainly hit higher in the order and a lot of those 2Bs will turn into HRs. Also plays defense with a reckless Lenny Dykstra-esque abandon, and will throw himself into the stands if he has to. He’s already the best pure hitter on the team, and you know he’s only going to bust his ass harder to get better as he continues. As I’ve said before, he stands a very good chance of breaking every meaningful Mets offensive record by the time he turns 30. I wouldn’t bet against him (I still wouldn't bet against him. He got his 100 RBI that season and has done so every year since. The numbers continue to go up, even if his failures have become more and more spectacular.).

Marlon Anderson – B
Lots of clutch pinch hits early on, plus a monumental inside-the-park HR off of Rodriguez in June. Fizzled out a bit when he, like Castro, was pushed into the starting lineup on a regular basis, but another one I really like coming off the bench (So they let him go and he was middling with Washington and LA. They brought him back in '07 and it was like he'd never left. So they retain him for '08 and he was horrible. Bottom line: What the hell do I know?).

Chris Woodward – B+
Woody was very much like Anderson. Came off the bench and played very well, and reminds us all of Super Joe, except that he can hit a little bit more.

Jose Offerman – D
El Guapo and I were at a game against Atlanta in July, and with Wright on 3rd, 2 outs, Atlanta up 3-2 and the pitchers spot coming up, we expected a pinch hitter. George says to me, “Who’s #35?” I reply. “Jose Offerman.” I then see him walking to the plate. “GOOD GOD, JOSE AWFULMAN!” Jose promptly shut me up by nailing a single to tie the game. That was pretty much it for Jose, who stuck around and played far more often than he ever should have been allowed to. Bonus points for pulling the idiot play of the season and running back to first on a rare Kaz Matsui single against Washington, with the crowd yelling “GO, GO, GO,” and El Guapo and I gouging our eyes out (That play might have been one of the single worst things I've ever witnessed on a ballfield. Matsui hit a clean single up the middle, so Offerman ran back to first and was thrown out at 2nd by 30 feet. That summed up the 2005 Mets.).

Mike Jacobs – A-
Sweet Swingin’ Jacobs came up and lit everyone on fire during the week in Arizona. Then he came back to earth and Willie then decided we would all be better off with the platoon system of Marlon Anderson and Jose Offerman at 1B, while Jacobs sat the bench. Finally, he played and did well again. Unless we get a bigtime gun at 1B, Jacobs deserves a real long look there (IE dealing him to Florida for Carlos Delgado). He’s going to play winter ball and work exclusively at 1B to improve his defense. I like his future (Still do, but he's another 100K season away from becoming a left handed Dave Kingman).

Brian Daubach – This would be the equivalent of the Red Sox calling up Roberto Petagine to solidify their bench. I wouldn’t trust Daubach to solidify anything except maybe a bowl of jello (Someone in my circle was really upset by this remark, and gave me a long speech about how Daubach could help the team, he just needed the chance to do so. I'm still waiting.).

Anderson Hernandez – I’d like to say he could go somewhere with the team except that Willie seems to refuse to play him (He did go somewhere. That somewhere was Washington).

Carlos Beltran – C-
True, the expectations on him were ridiculously high. And true, there was no way he was going to hit like he did in the Commie AL and in Houston and their ballpark on steroids. But still, Beltran never put together a solid offensive string. He showed signs of breaking out of it, and then would go 0-4 the next night. His clutch hits were too few and far between, and all too often, he would look meek in key spots. However, I point to one past case where a marquee player came to the Mets, struggled in key spots in his first year, pressed a lot, and was booed. He then came back the following year, settled down and posted a few monster seasons in a row. That was Mike Piazza. Maybe Beltran won’t put up Piazza numbers, but I’d be shocked if he didn’t rebound in a big way next season. Then again, I still have Baerga/Alomar nightmares…(He's been OK since then.)

Cliff Floyd – A-
Cliff is like the Corey Dillon of MLB. For years, Dillon was stuck as the lone good player on some awful Cincinnati teams and complained about it. He got a rap as a headache. Then he went to New England, won, and was highly regarded as a great clubhouse presence. Cliff is the same way. Injuries and bad teams over the past couple of years led Cliff to voice his displeasures. But healthy for the first time in years, and hitting at an unconscious pace early on, and Cliff won everyone back. True, he probably hit his ceiling this season, and true, he was very streaky, but now we know what he’s capable of if he’s healthy and protected in the lineup (notice how he hit a lot better with Wright behind him as opposed to Piazza/Mientkiewicz/Shemp) (Turned out that this was really Floyd's last hurrah. He was injured in '06 and by the end of the season looked like he was pretty much past it. Still, I was pretty sad to see him go and part of me has to think that he could have at least matched the production we got from Moises Alou, and probably would have played the same number of games.).

Mike Cameron – B
Mike had some marginally productive months in a season bookended by injuries, and ended by the ghastly collision in San Diego. He started off hot, then cooled, but he kept his strikeouts down, and performed well hitting out of the #2 spot. Still, may be the odd man out in a crowded OF, and could very well be dealt. But I wouldn’t be too upset if he were back (Cameron was dealt for Xavier Nady in November in what was essentially a salary dump and by Opening Day 2006, I'd actually forgotten that he was ever with the team. That's how much of an impression Mike Cameron made on me in his 2 years with the team.).

Victor Diaz – B-
I’m not 100% sold on Diaz yet. He reminds me a lot of Pedro Cerrano from Major League. He will absolutely hammer fastballs, but he can’t hit a damn breaking ball to save his life, and he has a knack for showing some horrendous bat control. And playing full time, this was exposed to the point of embarrassment. Started off on a tear, but after a few weeks, pitchers caught up to him, and then he bounced up and down, and rotted on the bench for a while until Cameron got hurt. This may also have been a problem as he never really got a chance to work out his problems. Also, suspect in RF, but as the season progressed, and once it was determined that he would indeed play RF for the long term, Diaz’s defense improved vastly over the latter part of the season, so that rather than gasping and covering your eyes on a fly to right, now, you merely just hold your breath. He should work on it in the offseason, and I agree with Gabe, once he knows that he’s going to be at a single position for a full season, and can relax, I think the full package will come around. The key for Diaz’s future is learning plate discipline and not throwing his bat at sliders off the plate. Once he does this, he certainly has some major upside (I really had a major hard-on for Victor Diaz. In retrospect, I'm not sure why.).

Eric Valent – Finally, management wised up and got rid of this lunkhead. I wish him luck in his future career in the car wash profession.

Gerald Williams – Ice man back with a brand new edition…

(And we brought him BACK?????????)

Pedro Martinez – A
No, he wasn’t the dominant badass Pedro like he was in 99 and 2000, but we knew he wasn’t that pitcher anymore. I’ll admit, when the Mets signed him, I was very skeptical, but Pedro won everyone over pretty quickly with a blazing hot start and although he mixed good outings with bad, he would every so often whip off games like he did in LA and late in the season against Atlanta just to let you know he could still do it. He can’t throw 90 anymore, and on his bad nights he’ll barely crack 80, but so-so Pedro is a hell of a lot better than a lot of guys best stuff. And he is often symphonic on the mound because he’s such a smart pitcher, and he will often invent pitches on the spot, and throw them for strikes. His record would have been better, but half the time he got no run support, and the other half, Willie took his stupid pills and pulled him too early and the bullpen blew wins for him. Any talk of his imminent demise was obviously premature and I see no reason why he won’t be the same next year. Another big bat and a better bullpen and he wins 17-20 easily (Or he gets hurt. I still maintain that this was a risk/reward signing that the Mets had to make at the time.).

Tom Glavine – B
Languishing at midseason, Glavine somehow managed to reinvent himself and become a productive starter again. For the first time in as long as I’ve been watching him, Glavine actually IMPROVED in the 2nd half. Some early season bombings may still leave him with some ugly numbers, but for the most part, he pitched well and kept the team in a number of games, usually falling up short because of a lack of offense (a recurring theme).

Kris Benson – C-
Well, Kris made me look pretty brilliant early on with a string of great outings, and then for some reason inexplicably hit a wall in the 2nd half and made me look really stupid. For most of the season, I expected, and usually got a solid outing, 7IP, 2-3runs, 6-7 hits, 5 Ks, and a win. Then he just got hammered routinely in August and September. I don’t know what happened. Maybe Anna stopped putting out for him (I think it's safe to say that the Mets have gotten the better of this particular divorce.).

Victor Zambrano – C-
I think we can all say definitively now that, whether or not Kazmir does anything, that this was an absolutely asinine deal. When Zambrano pitched at Shea, they would play U2s “Vertigo” when he warmed up. And it was fitting, because he would give you vertigo every time he pitched. He was like Doug Sisk as a starter. He would get an out, walk, another out, a hit, and then one of two things would happen: He would get the strikeout, or he’d give up a long hit. And you could never be sure which. It’s like a passion play. You know that eventually, the shoe will drop. BUT, he willingly accepted a move to the bullpen, and never griped about it. But 10 minutes with Saint Rick Peterson was obviously not enough.

Aaron Heilman – A
Saint Rick went right with this one. Heilman came into the season as a major question mark, and will come away from it as either a future closer prospect or a fine mid-rotation starter. He changed his arm angle and somehow managed to resurrect his career. Also went through a long stretch in August and September without allowing a hit. Idiotically buried in the bullpen for most of the season, but he made the best of his opportunity and was actually one of the few people I could trust coming out of the bullpen (See, there was actually a point in time when Heilman was someone we wanted to see coming out of the bullpen. But remember, he also threw a 1-hitter as a starter that year, too.).

Kaz Ishii – F
Was there some earthly reason he was allowed to make 16 starts this season? Seriously. He would throw 4 shutout innings and then give up 6 runs in the 5th on a routine basis. And yet guys like Seo and Heilman were allowed to languish in no-mans land while this joker was throwing meatballs (I'm still steamed over those 16 starts.).

Jae Seo – B-
A true reclamation project, Seo basically came out of nowhere and reverted into the good Seo of 2003, and strung together a number of great outings. Before we get too excited though, remember that he tailed off late and he also shit the bed badly in 2004 after some success in ’03. I’d pencil him into the rotation, but he’s on thin ice (Seo would return as Duaner Sanchez in 2006. This worked for about half a season, but in reality, the deal was a wash.).

Roberto Hernandez – A-
A- simply for lasting out the season and pitching really well at age 63. After forgetting he was even in the league, he really carved out a niche for himself and had a great, solid season as a setup man. Still, I don’t know how much he has left, so we’ll see what next year holds, but with the way the bullpen looked at the beginning of the season, anything we got was gravy. And he gave us the gravy, the stuffing, the dressing, and the whole turducken (wait, I’m slipping into Madden-speak. Someone shut me up now).

Braden Looper – F
Successfully managed to combine the agita of the John Franco-era 9th innings with the slow sinking feeling of the Armando Benitez 9th innings. Also successfully became the first man in recorded history to blow 2 saves in one game. And this man had the audacity to come trotting into games with Trevor Hoffman’s “Hells Bells.” Wow. I mean, seriously. Wow. He made Benitez look kinda good (This is why we don't pitch hurt, kids. Further galled us with his behavior following the '06 NLCS) .

Heath Bell – C-
Pretty good mixed with embarrassingly bad and not much in between (Bell is similar to Dan Wheeler in the sense that Mets fans like to get all indignant because we gave these guys away and they turned out to be good in their new destinations. What we forget is that these pitchers were HORRIBLE WHEN THEY PITCHED FOR THE METS! Bell was 1-3 with a 5.59 ERA, 56H and 13BB in 46.2IP. Does this sound like the kind of pitcher you want on your team?).

Mike DeJean – F

Manny Aybar – F
When I found out he made the club, I smashed my head into my desk repeatedly for 10 minutes. You can still see the scars (I really did, too).

Jose Padilla – A
A for being amazingly reliable coming out of the pen, which was a breath of fresh air considering the dreck that was routinely being trotted out there. Also wore ridiculous yellow goggles which you have to love. I’d like to see him as a key setup guy next year (One of those "whatif" guys. He had a good head for pitching and it was kind of a shame that he kept getting hurt. I think he would have been useful.).

Dae Sung Koo – F
Takashi Kashiwada would have been better than this dunce.

Steve Trachsel – B
B because he came back from a nasty injury and fought his way into a crowded rotation. Fizzled out with some bad starts but also had some good once. Probably won’t be back but I wouldn’t mind having him as a back end of the rotation guy.

Danny Graves – F
There was an article in the Mets program in July or August about how happy Graves was to be in New York, and how he was looking forward to being a key part in a playoff push. We’re still laughing about that (This was a testament to just how bad the bullpen was in '05. Minaya was so desperate for someone who could get guys out on a regular basis that he was bringing other teams castoffs. The sad thing is, if he'd done that in '08, it might have made a difference.).

Royce Ring – C
I guess he was OK, but again, he never pitched. I don’t know what he is.

Jose Santiago – How’d he end up here?

Mike Matthews – Huh?

Shingo Takatsu – His most memorable moment with the Mets was when Seaver referred to him as “Shinjo Takatsu.”

Felix Heredia – I would like to thank Felix for getting hurt and missing most of the season, and therefore sparing me from having to deal with him all season, because we all know Willie would have trotted him out there no less than 70 games had he been healthy, and good lord I don’t want to think about what that would have been like.

Tim Hamulack – See Royce Ring.

Really, there are two major holes. The offense needs a major bat in the middle of the order, and the bullpen needs to be fixed before I shoot myself in the head. The rotation is fine, I think we have 6 or 7 quality arms to work with. We know that Pedro, Glavine and Benson will be back, so Seo, Heilman, Trachsel and Yusmeiro Petit, and maybe even Gaby Hernandez (who did throw a no-hitter in A ball this season) deserve looks for the remaining 2 spots. Heilman, as I mentioned, could also be a closer candidate. I do not under any circumstances want to see Billy Wagner signed here. That is a disaster waiting to happen (For the most part, I was way off on this assessment. When Wagner came into the game on Opening Day in '06, El Guapo turned to me and said, "So, this is what it's like to have a real closer.).

We’ll likely need a Catcher, unless, as I hope but will probably not happen, Mike Piazza returns. I agree that Hernandez is a good option, but not a great one, he’d likely do no better than solidly balance with Castro. Any of the Flying Molina Brothers would be the same. But if this is the best we can hope for, so be it.

There is a lack of sexy free agents as a whole this offseason, so there will probably be several trades to be made. Shore up 1B, 2B and C on the offensive side. Everywhere else is fine. Retain the key bench players (Anderson, Cairo, Woodward). I still like the idea of bringing in Furcal at 2B, he and Reyes would be one fun 1-2 punch. 1B is a bigtime question mark. I like Overbay, but he looks very pedestrian if you take him out of Milwaukee and especially put him in Shea. He’d still likely hit a lot of 2Bs. If Durazo is signed I will react in a similar fashion to Manny Aybar and my head cannot take that kind of a beating anymore. True, Konerko is available, and I like him, but I don’t like the idea of sticking a hitter like him in Shea. A deal would likely have to be made, but again, please don’t do anything stupid. If we can get a player the caliber of a Soriano or Manny, which I have the feeling Minaya is probably going to push for, I would not complain.

Finally there is the Bullpen and this area was so blatantly and egregiously neglected last season, which is why the pen looked like an old sock at the beginning of the season. This cannot happen again.

True, my observations are terse and rehashed, and I’m not offering much in the way of solutions, but this is the state the Mets find themselves in. There are always holes, but for some reason, this season the way to fill these holes is not as blatantly obvious as it has been in the past. I’ll say it again. Just don’t do anything stupid or reactionary. Keep the key pieces in place and we’ll go from there…I hope.

(It was a lot easier to look to the Free Agent market for solutions. I really didn't know who, if anyone, would be on the trading block, and for the most part, the 2006 Mets were built on several shrewd and smart trades, where Minaya took spare parts and prospects and turned them into the pieces that would carry the 2006 Mets to the Postseason. Wagner was really the only big-ticket FA brought in; guys like Delgado, LoDuca, Maine and El Duque were brought in by trades. Otherwise, Omar basically just struck gold with a lot of non-tendered guys like Valentin, Chavez, Bradford and Oliver. Whatever it was, Omar found that right mix in '06. But to this point, the Mets haven't been able to build on that season's accomplishments. In fact, looking back on it now, it seems like the Mets have basically come back to where they were in 2005: A hole at Catcher, Question marks at 2B and RF, and Bullpen issues that border on embarrassment. )