The story of the New York Mets 2008 season was all about another September bullpen-led meltdown that cost the team a shot at the postseason.
The Mets pen was historically bad, blowing more games after the seventh inning than any other team. As a result, the story of the Mets 2008-2009 offseason has been all about pitching.
The Mets did a great job pretty early in the Hot Stove season of fixing their most glaring need: the back-end of the bullpen.
By signing former Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez to a reasonable three year, $37 million contract and trading for J.J. Putz in a 12 player, three-team deal to pitch the 8th inning, the Mets believe they have fixed their Achilles' heel.
Mets GM Omar Minaya has repeatedly said that his only focus during this offseason is adding arms to the bullpen and starting rotation.
Minaya has stayed true to his word thus far, gutting the 2008 Mets bullpen by trading submariner Joe Smith to Cleveland, Scott Schoenweis to Arizona and exiling Aaron Heilman and his batting practice pitches to Seattle.
There are still moves to be made to the starting rotation (I would love to see the team roll the dice on the injury plagued Ben Sheets and his ace-like stuff), but as for the offense the Mets' lone additions are...wait for it...OF Jeremy Reed and IF Alex Cora.
Not exactly championship caliber players. Sure, some of you may argue that the offense will be fine, being that it scored 799 runs last season, good for second best in the National League. But that number is a bit deceiving.
The bullpen woes were the easy scapegoat, but those of you who watch consistently know that the Mets were a disaster in a big spot last season; most notably that late September game against the Cubs when Daniel Murphy was left on third base with nobody out in a must-win game (the Mets ended up losing in extra innings).
I have some serious concerns with five of Mets eight position players entering 2009:
1) 1st Base: Carlos Delgado was a monster during the second half of the 2008 season. Many were calling for his job by June 1. Three months later, those same people were giving him "MVP" chants.
He finished with some serious offensive numbers, including a .271 average 38 Homeruns and 115 RBI. What are the chances that he carries his red hot 2008 second half into 2009? You can lock it up that he will not repeat those numbers this offseason.
2) 2nd Base - Yikes. Luis Castillo...where to start? After showing up to spring training overweight, Castillo was plagued by injuries during the season. When he actually wason the field, he displayed the range of an 80 year old man in the field and took more strikes on a 3-1 count than any other Met. His at bats were embarassing, usually resulting in him slapping at a pitch and dribbling it into the infield grass. Castillo vows to report to camp this spring in better shape, but let's be real here. This guy is shot and should receive quite the greeting by Mets faithful when they open Citi Field.
3) Catcher - We know what Brian Schneider is. And for his standards, he put up some decent offensive numbers and even came through with some clutch hits. The primary purpose for him being here however, was his supposedly outstanding defense. Schneider did indeed do a nice job throwing baserunners out during the 2008 campaign, but let an alarmingly high number of pitches get by him, often resulting in runs. Ramon Castro has the offensive abilities to be the team's starting catcher, but his durability is an issue as it has been down the stretch the past 2 seasons. An upgrade is certainly welcomed.
4) Left Field - Daniel Murphy showed some unbelievable plate presence after his August call up in Houston. He displayed veteran-like patience and came up with some big time, much needed hits. Hopefully the skills he displayed were no fluke and he turns out to be the real deal. As for his supposed platoon-mate Fernando Tatis, look he was a great comeback story in 2008. Minaya did a fantastic of picking him up off the scrap heap and watching him contribute much more than anyone could have ever imagined. But can we expect similar production (.297 BA, .369 OBP, 11 HR 47 RBI) again? Both Tatis and Murphy provided a big, unexpected boost for the club in 2008 but the Mets might benefit more by bringing one or more off the bench.
5) Right Field - It is difficult to argue with the fact that Ryan Church was the Mets best all around player in 2008 up until his 2nd concussion suffered on the final play of a loss in Atlanta (there were quite a number of those) on May 20. The Mets mishandled the injury miserably, which had a longer effect on Church than first anticipated. He was clearly not the same player after that, hitting just 3 of his 12 home runs from May 20 on and he also saw his average dip from over .300 down to .276. Hopefully with a full offseason of health Church will be able to stay on the field and produce similar to his pre second concussion numbers indicate, but it is not something the Mets can rely on.
So what am I suggesting? Well once Omar figures out which pitcher he wants to bring in to solidfy the rotation (the enigma that is Oliver Perez or the previously mentioned Sheets), he has got to provide the offense with an insurance policy or two. Here are 5 names that would offer the Mets lineup some needed relief while securing the above positional concerns:
1) LF Manny Ramirez : I'm on the fence about LF Manny Ramirez. I worry that the deal he winds up with is not what he wanted and as a result will not be as motivated as was as a Dodger playing for big bucks. However, there is no denying the impact Manny would have on this lineup, especially for the big guys in the middle of the order.
2) 2B Orlando Hudson : The market for Hudson seems to be pretty bare which is odd considering he's only 30 and a proven All Star. There were reports in December that he wants to play in New York and would be an excellent fit here. Unfortunately, Minaya's ridiculous 4 year contract to Luis Castillo last offseason is nothing more than an anchor at this point. Because they are unable to move Castillo, it is tough to see the Mets paying two guys at the same position a lot of money.
3) RF Bobby Abreu : Abreu does not necessarily fit the gritty mold of player that the Mets need because he has the reputation of being soft, but his patience and on base percentage would not hurt.
4) 1B/OF Nick Swisher : Entering the offseason, I thought Swisher was the perfect fit for the Mets for a variety of reasons. He can play all 3 outfield positions along with first base, he provides some pop with his bat, and is one of those gritty players that the Mets fragile psyche sorely lacks. Unfortunately, the White Sox dealt Swisher to the Yankees making it difficult to image the Mets and Yanks coming together on a trade.
5) C Jason Varitek : It is obvious that Varitek is not the same player he was 4-5 years ago. However, his lack of offense could be offset by his winning mentality, influence in the clubhouse and the way he handles his pitching staff. Teammates have raved about Varitek's leadership and desire to win for years now...two qualities these Mets have failed to show the past 2 seasons.