10 Things That Went Wrong for the New York Mets Since Their 2006 NL East Title
In 2006 Bryce Harper was still in middle school. Now he is one of the arch nemeses of a team that has been mired in mediocrity for the past six seasons.
Since that time, the team has faced a variety of painful public relation disasters, on-field embarrassment and organizational rhetoric that has led the fan base to wonder whether the owners are interested in winning.
While the future does look brighter than in recent years, they have taken a plunge regardless, and here are the 10 events that has led to it, based on level of significance as opposed to chronological order.
10. Omar Minaya's "Band-Aid" Approach
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During his tenure as general manager of the New York Mets, Omar Minaya often made headlines with high-price acquisitions that made the team the favorites to win the NL East.
In some cases, such as Carlos Delgado and Billy Wagner, the moves worked.
In virtually every other situation the moves not only backfired, but put the team on the hook for poison long-term contracts.
The tactics of Minaya pleased the fans for the most part. After witnessing the team have starting pitching troubles, who did not want to see Pedro Martinez or Johan Santana leading the rotation?
After witnessing the bullpen trouble, who did not want Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz at the back end of the bullpen?
The problem was that these acquisitions were often made to fill the needs of the previous year, neglecting depth across the roster.
After the inevitable injuries and under-performing, the Mets' roster was left barren with an inflated payroll.
While this "band-aid" method garnered the team attention and above-.500 seasons for a few years, it put them in the unenviable position of waiting on contracts to expire with a weak farm system.
9. Two of the Worst Free Agent Signings of All-Time
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While every team in all sports has been burned by long-term contracts, the Mets have a painfully long list of high-profile flops.
In consecutive years—2009 and 2010—the team signed two players that cause Mets' fans to cringe at the mere sight of their names.
Oliver Perez was always regarded as an enigma. He made an immediate impact in the big leagues by recording 239 strikeouts in 196 innings at age 22.
Perhaps overuse or lack of desire caused his demise; he bottomed out in 2006 when he posted a dismal 1.79 WHIP with the Pittsburgh Pirates prior to being sent to New York for Roberto Hernandez and Xavier Nady.
He continued to be erratic but flashed glimpses of his brilliance over the next two-and-a-half seasons, winning 26 of his 46 decisions.
For that, the Mets rewarded him with a three-year contract worth $36 million.
They immediately regretted it, and he posted a 3-9 record with a 6.81 ERA over the next two seasons prior to being released during spring training in 2011.
Jason Bay was signed prior to the 2010 season by Omar Minaya with the hopes of providing power to a Mets lineup that possessed very little punch.
Through his first three seasons, Bay has provided offensive production that would make it difficult for him to earn a tryout for the Long Island Ducks.
Aside from his positive attitude, he has provided the team with zero return on their $66 million investment and is a shell of the player that hit 36 home runs as a replacement for Manny Ramirez.
The fans would love to see Bay released as Perez was, but the team may be more inclined to hope he can provide a right-handed presence off the bench.
8. The Development of the Phillies' Mini-Dynasty
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Once upon a time, the Philadelphia Phillies were best known for their epic collapse in the final month of the 1964 season, and the distinction of becoming the first professional franchise to lose 10,000 games.
History cannot be undone, but they have certainly reversed the course of their franchise in recent years.
The team began their revival once Larry Bowa took over for Terry Francona and changed the culture. He turned the team into a contender, but they hit their peak under the tutelage of Charlie Manuel.
Once their core players developed into bona fide stars, such as Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard, they became a formidable team with a penchant for late-game heroics.
Beginning in 2006 when they won 85 games but finished in second place behind the Mets, the team increased its win total each year until 2011, culminating with a 102-win season.
During that time, the Phillies turned into a National League powerhouse, won five consecutive NL East titles and two NL pennants and stopped the Mets dead in their tracks.
The Mets caused much of their problems on their own, but without the resiliency of the 2007 Phillies, the landscape of the Mets' franchise could be very different.
The 2012 season was a mediocre one for the Phillies, falling to an 81-81 record that could finally signal an end to their NL East domination.
7. Nationals Emerge from Worst to First
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The beauty of sports is that even the worst teams have an opportunity to instantly turn around their fortunes the following season by selecting the best player in the draft and parlaying that into a franchise player.
By selecting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, along with several savvy acquisitions by General Manager Mike Rizzo, the team made the improbable jump from perennial "cellar dwellers" to first place in the NL East in just two years.
The Mets traditionally feasted on the Nationals but went from a 12-6 record in 2008 to a 4-14 record in 2012. The teams played many close contests, but the Nationals generally won thanks to their terrific bullpen and the porous defense of New York.
To add insult to injury, the Nationals are managed by Davey Johnson who led the Mets to their last World Series title in 1986.
They will continue to be an obstacle for the Mets as long as their core is built upon power pitching and young talented bats.
If there is any silver lining, it lies in the blueprint that the Nationals used in order to build a winning club, and perhaps the Mets can emulate that plan.
6. Bullpen Debacle After Debacle
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It is ironic that the area of the team that actually receives the most attention in the offseason has perennially been the biggest culprit of the Mets' failures.
In 2006, the Mets were lauded for their bullpen depth, featuring pitchers of all types of deliveries and styles who were able to record big outs and eat innings.
Since that time, they have been held captive to their late-game inability to hold leads. This trend began in September of 2007 when they were forced to use a bullpen by committee after the injury to Billy Wagner.
They acquired Francisco Rodriguez in 2011 to provide a stable closer, but he was ultimately dealt to Milwaukee in 2011 after blowing 15 saves in his Mets tenure. The single-season saves leader known as "K-Rod," also has the distinction of allowing two walk-off grand slams in 2009.
Bobby Parnell was given the opportunity to step in after his departure, but the role proved to be too large for him as he converted only half off his save chances.
Prior to the 2012 season Sandy Alderson acquired Frank Francisco who proceeded to post a 5.53 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP.
Needless to say, the club has struggled to find a reliable late-game reliever since the departure of Billy Wagner, and it has cost them an exorbitant number of games in recent years.
5. Second-Half Disappearing Acts in Citi Field
Josh Thole squares one up
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It was hard to find a fan that was not excited about the opening of Citi Field in 2009. The $600 million stadium provided not only a beautiful atmosphere to watch Mets baseball, but also an opportunity to move on from the collapses of the previous two seasons.
Each year the team has gotten off to a respectable start, reached the All-Star break as a trendy choice to sneak in as a wild card, only to crash and burn in the second half.
Like clockwork in 2012, the team lost five of six games after the break, which set the trend for the remainder of the season.
The dismal tradition began in 2009. The early part of the year featured feel-good stories such as Omir Santos, Jeff Francoeur and Ken Takahashi. Those positive vibes were thwarted by the dreadful midsummer performances of Mike Pelfrey, Tim Redding and Oliver Perez.
The next three seasons followed a similar script.
Enter the All-Star break feeling good with the emergence of Ike Davis and R.A Dickey in 2010, fall to fourth place thanks to trotting out guys like Ryota Igarashi and Raul Valdes on a nightly basis.
In 2011 the Mets entered the break at 46-45, led by the strong pitching of Chris Capuano and Jonathon Niese.
That was immediately negated once the dreary days of August came around and the Mets were sending guys like Ronny Paulino to bat cleanup.
The team must find a way to sustain its winning over the course of a season. If it was the NBA or NHL, which feature schedules that are roughly half of the MLB, that would be acceptable.
Next year Terry Collins must inspire the team to prove people wrong and win games as the weather is scorching.
4. Injuries Rock the 2009 Team
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2009 was painful in more ways than one. In addition to suffering a 92-loss season, the team also sent 20 players to the disabled list throughout the year.
This had the type of snakebit feel that made you want to plead with Bug Selig to cancel the season before Carlos Beltran got trapped in an airplane restroom.
As a fan, once David Wright got struck in the head with a 94 mph fastball from Matt Cain, I knew the season had gone awry.
Following this season, there was certainly a feeling of ineptitude about the franchise because even the biggest stars such as Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, Francisco Rodriguez as well as David Wright fell victim to injuries at various points.
This was the year that officially showed a distinct separation between the Mets and the Phillies, who once again reached the World Series prior to losing to the New York Yankees.
If there was one defining moment of the 2009 season, it was Jeff Francoeur lining into a game-ending unassisted triple play to Eric Bruntlett, which was another painful moment to digest.
3. The Collapse of 2007
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While some things that occurred last week can be a struggle for me to remember off the top of my head, the final month of the 2007 season is painfully clear in my memory bank.
I was in 10th grade, feeling chipper about another postseason run for the Mets, and hoping for an MVP for my childhood hero, David Wright, who was compiling one of the finest offensive seasons in franchise history.
It all turned sour on September 12, ironically just a few days after I was at the Phillies game bragging to the Pennsylvania natives about our seven-game lead.
For that, I apologize.
From that point on, it became nearly painful to watch the season unfold. The team that had been arguably the best team in baseball during the summer struggled to put together a clean game.
If the offense was clicking, the starting pitcher could not make it out of the fourth inning. If the starting pitcher went seven strong innings, the offense made the opposing pitcher appear to be Greg Maddux.
The team's veteran players, such as Luis Castillo, Jeff Conine, Tom Glavine, Aaron Heilman and Jose Reyes all performed their worst in September.
After actually relinquishing the lead, the season was briefly resuscitated in Game 161 when one of my favorite pitchers at the time, John Maine, recorded 14 strikeouts and flirted with a no-hitter until Paul Hoover laid down the world's greatest swinging bunt in history.
Of course, it was for naught as 300-game winner and future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine posted the worst start of career which broke the hearts of Met fans everywhere and allowed the Phillies to storm past the blue and orange for the NL East title.
Some would say the team has never recovered.
2. The Collapse of 2008
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If the previous year seemed painful, this was the equivalent of recovering from a torn ACL in your right knee only to suffer a tear in your left knee in your first game back.
As they did the previous season, the Mets held their largest lead of the season—3.5 games—over the rival Philadelphia Phillies with 17 games remaining.
They had played their best baseball of the season since they hired Jerry Manuel in mid June. They had potentially the favorite to win the NL Cy Young award in Johan Santana as well as the NL MVP in Carlos Delgado, who were both performing on par with the best players in either league.
Once again, their collective team slump, coupled with the extraordinary play of the Phillies, making for a nerve-wracking final weekend of the season.
And once again, the Florida Marlins were determined to make the lives of Mets fans miserable.
If there was one player free of blame, it was Santana as he pitched on three days' rest to throw a shutout in the rain to force a dramatic final day of the season.
Of course, everyone knows what happened as the Marlins feasted on the abysmal Mets bullpen with back-to-back home runs by Wes Helms and Dan Uggla in the eighth inning.
Insult to injury: Former Met Matt Lindstrom records the final three outs in the ninth inning to bury the season and Shea Stadium.
My entire 11th grade was ruined.
1. The Financial Mystery of the Wilpons
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The problem is not that the Wilpon's have not spent money on the Mets, it's that they have not allocated it properly or spent wisely.
The past three offseasons have forced fans to read about notable signings such as Ronny Cedeno or Willie Harris.
Dishing out a $100 million payroll is not being cheap, but forcing the general manager to spend only $10 million on 15 roster spots is nearly impossible.
That rules out adding any player previously deemed to make an impact or any player looking for a significant raise from 2012, again making it difficult for Alderson to find a way to transform the Mets into a winning team.
As far as the financial troubles of the Wilpons, it is hard to get an exact assessment of the situation. Adam Rubin did a terrific job breaking down the settlement involving them and Irving Picard.
Moving forward, the Mets will finally have financial flexibility next season in order to make some legitimate moves in free agency, which of course is considered a weak year in that department.
If the Wilpons want to prove to the fan base that they are committed to winning, they need to allow Alderson to sign impact players who will allow for a sustained period of winning, not having a one- or two-year window prior to being sabotaged with aging, overpaid former superstars such as Jason Bay.