The 2009 Mets Put the Champagne on Ice (Again)

Mark HandelmanContributor IJuly 20, 2009

NEW YORK - JULY 12:  Mike Pelfrey #34 of the New York Mets pitches against the Cincinnati Reds on July 12, 2009 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

So we are past the All-Star Break, and while there are still a lot of games to be played, it's starting to become apparent that the team you have rooted hard for is not all they are cracked up to be.

Maybe you busted out your football jersey a little early this year, or took up a new hobby in the summertime.

Most fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates or San Diego Padres understood this back in April. Otherwise, you are probably a New York Mets fan who did not expect to spend the summer of 2009 dreading most games.

When the season started, most pundits (rightfully) picked the Mets to have the best bullpen in the National League, along with high rankings in just about every other category.

David Wright, Carlos Delgado, and Carlos Beltran were expected to anchor the offense, and Jose Reyes was supposed to be a solid and disruptive force at the top of the order. John Maine and Oliver Perez were supposed to be solid starting pitchers behind ace Johan Santana, and the tandem of JJ Putz and Francisco Rodriguez were supposed to turn the season into 162 seven-inning games.

One look at the standings will paint a much different picture.

After tonight’s beating in Atlanta, the Mets are 43-48, "good" for fourth place in the National League East and nine games behind the Philadelphia Phillies.

Many of those names mentioned above are missing in action. Combined with David Wright's meager home run total (five), and the inconsistent play of backup players filling in for the patients of Citi Field, the Mets surefire contention for the playoffs has turned from very possible to very mortifying.

With injuries to the team's best source of power (Delgado), five-tool player (Beltran), speed (Reyes), setup man (Putz), and two-fifths of their rotation (Maine and Perez), the Mets have turned into a skeleton crew incapable of matching the Phillies' balanced threat.

For some fans, this unexpected reality may be starting to sink in.

All the hype and all the certainty from spring training has blown by the wayside, and the inherent flaws in the way of the 2009 Mets were built, have been exposed.

Could anyone have rightfully expected Oliver Perez to suddenly stop walking batters this season? Or for Jose Reyes' legs to remain invulnerable?

As a fan, are you supposed to have the urge to walk away from the TV, unless you have a stronger urge to throw something at the TV? Do you tend to talk more negatively about your favorite team amongst fellow fans and (even worse) fans of rival teams? Are you like me and have shirts or hats of other teams that you begin to wear a little more than you used to? Don’t you feel the least bit ashamed of yourself?

Most fans, rather than feel ashamed of themselves for perhaps turning against their team in some fashion, feel ashamed of the people who assembled the team that, in turn, let them down.

That’s not to say that most fans feel they could play or manage better than the people paid to do those tasks, though many in the blogosphere may feel differently. But you have to believe that some of the fans who felt Delgado’s previous hip instability, or Putz’ elbow troubles last season would not go away, feel a little more validated now than they did during spring training.

Manager Jerry Manuel might be a little more “gangsta” than his predecessor Willie Randolph, but the same sort of laid-back, "we’ll work on it" and "we'll get 'em next time" mentality still exists in Manuel.

Owner Fred Wilpon, in contrast to George Steinbrenner in his prime, is a hands-off owner content with leaving his general manager most of the power. One has to wonder how much longer this arrangement will last. Two consecutive late-season collapses, followed by a poor showing this season should at least cause some damage to the existing power structure with the Mets.

Besides anyone affiliated with the team's medical staff and hitting coach Howard Johnson may be an unfortunate, but necessary casualty.

While the Mets are third in the league in batting average after Saturday’s game (.267), which is probably more indicative of problems in the entire National League, they are also last in home runs (52), second-to-last in total bases (1,168) and slugging percentage (.386). But the Mets are also third in on base percentage (.343), which is somewhat peculiar until you discover that they are 12th in runs batted in.

So while batters find a way to get on base, they usually end up getting stranded there.

This makes the Mets passing over current Texas Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo look even worse, when Jaramillo’s Rangers contract expired after the 2007 season. Jaramillo, widely considered the best hitting coach in the majors, even consults with other hitters to fix their mechanics.

Instead of hiring a proven and successful coach from outside the organization, GM Omar Minaya at the time passed on him because Jaramillo previously interviewed for the managerial role that became Randolph's.

Minaya did not want to seemingly have his manager on high alert the entire year, with the team's No. 2 option ready to take over at a moment's notice. Instead, then-bench coach Jerry Manuel was named manager after Randolph's unemployment vacation out West. Rather than instill a manager with new vision and values, more of the same organizational philosophy took hold of the Mets.

The results are well-known and have led to this point.

With the trade deadline at the end of next week, it may already be too late for the Mets to make any sort of last-minute push to win a playoff spot. They may even end up being sellers, with Gary Sheffield surprisingly a possible option to help a team in need of power and veteran leadership. Bullpen arms like Pedro Feliciano and Bobby Parnell are improvements in most bullpens, and Minaya might have to listen to offers that include good young talent to restock the horrendously compiled minor league system.

With the opening of a brand new ballpark and the arrival of an elite closer, the Mets had reasons to brag and even expect a contentious, if not completely guaranteed, battle for a playoff spot this season. But an otherwise-flawed game plan is keeping that 2007 bottle of champagne on ice for another year.

Mets fans everywhere, some already used to the pain and others duped the spin zone emanating from Citi Field, will have to turn somewhere for August excitement, let alone October.


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