Much like the migration of the birds, leaves changing colors, or new sitcoms on TV unlikely to last six episodes, a New York Mets collapse as the calendar changed to September seemed like an act of nature the last two seasons - giving Phillies and Braves fans an early Christmas gift with Met fans left to wonder if they are actually Cubs fans.
However, with the cooler, rainier weather of June reminding us all of autumn, the team decided to collapse early this year. Injuries, dropped pop-ups, and an ill-advised trade for Jeff Francoeur followed, leaving the Mets with a split-squad spring training roster left in the majors and only the historically bad play of the Nationals left as comfort.
Omar Minaya, who received the dreaded vote of confidence from Fred Wilpon (hardly comforting considering he gave this faith to Bernie Madoff too), recently declared the Mets buyers going into the deadline and was confident the team was headed for a turnaround. No big moves or turnaround occurred.
This offseason (like every Mets offseason) is extremely important, with a number of holes to fill to help fix the Mets for 2010. The good news is that over 40 million in contracts are expiring, and with the economic climate, that can buy a lot of talent, However, there are many holes to fill to get the Mets back up to full strength next season. This slideshow will break down the best options for the Mets to fill their needs and hopefully will help the Mets win more than just next year's off season.
It became evident this season that the Mets' lineup lacked power once Carlos Delgado went down with a hip injury early in the season. Since then, first base has been a disaster for the Mets, with 2008 success stories Daniel Murphy and Fernando Tatis playing ineffectively this year.
Bringing Delgado back is an option, but he will be 38-years-old next season and probably will go to the AL to become a DH - too much risk for the Mets to take.
Not many free agents in the market this year are likely to replace the power of Delgado - Russell Branyan could, and he deserves to be considered, but it is hard to trust a career year at 33-years-old as being "for real." Hank Blalock and Aubrey Huff both have experience, but they likely need to play in the AL to DH. A few years ago, Adam LaRoche and Chad Tracy looked like good hitters, but both have since taken a step back (especially Tracy). The Mets could take a risk by moving the powerful Troy Glaus to first base, but it is unclear if his power will return after his shoulder injury.
The best option is probably Nick Johnson. He has had problems with injuries, which is a problem for a team that gets hit with them, but he is relatively young and is a good fit for Citi Field. Although he lacks 30 home run power, he can hit 15-20 and his ability to hit doubles will play well in the big gaps of Citi Field. He should have quite a few good seasons left at age 31.
This need was fairly glaring this season. The team expected one of their trio of under-30 starters (Maine, Pelfrey, and Perez) to step up and be the #2 starter. None of them did - Maine got injured, Pelfrey took a significant step back, and Oliver Perez did his best impression of Ricky Vaughn in "Major League II." Even Santana couldn't avoid the injury bug.
All of those guys are likely in the rotation next year (even Perez, who will likely be the #5 starter simply because of his salary), but none of them should be relied on to be anything more than decent other than Johan. This means the Mets will need to find at least one more quality starter.
Cliff Lee could be a free agent, but with only an $8 million club option, it is extremely unlikely. The same goes for Josh Beckett, meaning the best option left is probably John Lackey. He will likely go for too much for the Mets (the team has too many needs to give him the #1 starter money he could get), meaning their focus should be on the next tier of starters.
Erik Bedard has looked like an ace when he's been healthy the last few seasons, and that will probably be enough to push him to far too high a price. Rich Harden still has great stuff and is only 28, but signing him is far too risky. Tim Hudson looks more like a #3 starter these days, and is too much of a "name brand" to be the right price.
That leaves Brett Myers as a logical option - he is currently injured and has a career era of 4.39. However, he is on the right side of 30 (29) and has had a tumultuous career in Philadelphia between domestic violence reports, fights with the media, and trip to the minors last season. This means the Phillies may not push hard to keep him, and teams may be reluctant to give him the big money. He is a fly ball pitcher who has a weakness for the home run ball, meaning changing his bank from Citizens to Citi could be a perfect fit. With decent control and good stuff, he could be what John Maine was for the Mets in '07 - a solid, occasionally dominant starter.
Gary Sheffield, Jeff Francoeur, and Angel Pagan have all filled in admirably in the outfield for the Mets this season and can make a case they should start next season. However, due to Sheffield's age, Francoeur's inconsistency and Pagan's injury risk, it would be wise not to trust any of these players to start next season. I would be very comfortable with these men as backups (or just one of them earning a starting job), but the Mets should look to add another player to this group.
Fortunately, this is perhaps the only area with a potentially deep pool of talent in free agency next year. The one name that would be a perfect fit is Carl Crawford, who would be a perfect #2 hitter and an outstanding fit in Citi Field, but he has an option the Rays will probably pick up. Holliday's poor performance in Oakland is a major red flag (although coming back to the NL has picked him up) and Bay's struggles in Boston means I'm not comfortable giving up big money to get them.
Other names include veterans like Damon, Vlad, Abreu, Jermaine Dye, Magglio Ordonez, Marlon Byrd, Randy Winn and the resurgent Andruw Jones, giving the Mets no shortage of options.
This glut of outfielders could leave Mike Cameron as the odd man out - and the Mets should take advantage of that. He could come as a free agent bargain, as he is still productive, but doesn't have the upside of the other free agents. He may be reluctant to team with Beltran after their brutal collision four years ago, but his defense would be a huge asset in right field, and is a reliable 20 HR guy who draws walks and still has some speed.
The Mets are in need of a player who has the versatility to play anywhere on the diamond - a "super-utility" type of player who can fill in for players long-term if they get hurt and who is good enough to play every day when he is needed.
No one can fill that role better than Chone Figgins.
Aside from the chaos he can cause at the top of the lineup with Reyes - Jerry Manuel, a manager who likes to be aggressive on the base paths, would love that - he can play second, third, and all three outfield positions credibly, allowing for the Mets to cover up injuries without a huge hit to their lineup. He could start primarily at second base or left field (covering for either Pagan or Castillo) every day and fill in if players go down during the season.
His speed plus the Citi Field gaps could mean Reyes and Figgins could put up 30+ triples in the 1/2 spots. It's not 40 home run power, but it's still extra bases.
This need is obvious to anyone who has seen a Mets game during the Brian Schneider era - but the bad news for Mets fans is the free agent catching pool is awful. Unless Theo Epstein makes the egregious error of forgetting to pick up Victor Martinez's option, the "big name" on the market is Bengie Molina, who the Giants will keep for an absurd amount of money. This leaves Ramon Hernandez, Jason Kendall, Brad Ausmus, and Pudge. Yuck.
My advice? Sign someone cheap and move on. I'm partial to Gregg Zaun, but it's really up to you.
Those five guys will likely come at less than $40 million, meaning there is money left over (assuming the Wilpons don't expand their pocketbooks, which they will in order to prevent another embarrassment like this season.)
Rather than use this to upgrade one of my suggested options, the Mets need to use this money to sign quality depth. A huge part of this season's problems was due to the fact that when stalwarts like Reyes, Beltran, and Delgado went down, no one could consistently fill in. Adding Figgins could help, but Minaya should not stop there. Eric Hinske isn't the sexiest name on the market, but a guy who can hit and play first, third, and the outfield would have helped the Mets a lot. Bringing back Sheffield, depending on the price, should be considered.
The Mets could use the money to take a flyer on Ben Sheets, who would sign to an incentive-laden deal, and if he comes back anywhere near his old self, he would be an asset in the Mets' rotation.
If these names were signed, would the Mets be an NL East favorite? Probably not - the Phillies with Cliff Lee are a tough team to top - but they would be dangerous, and in a much better position to survive a rash of injuries like this season.