Meet the Mutts!: A Real Plan for Making the New York Mets Respectable
While fans throughout New York City and Northern New Jersey celebrate the 27th World Championship of the New York Yankees, there is a strong and awful odor coming from somewhere nearby.
People stop in the streets, sniff the air, put that "this-is-gross"-look on their faces, try to hide their noses underneath their shirts, and move as quickly as possible to a car or building, anything that will protect them from the smell of rotten eggs in burning garbage.
The smell wafts across the streets of Manhattan, terrorizing the people like a Godzilla stomping the citizens of Tokyo.
The smell stretches across New Jersey, causing people to run through the streets crashing onto the hoods of cars pleading for help, and jumping through windows like people trying to avoid a gas attack.
From whence is that smell emanating? New Jersey? No! Newark? No! The Governor's office in New York? No! The Giants? No! The Jets? No! A foreign power bent on world domination? No ... not yet.
That smell is coming from Flushing Meadows, Queens, in particular, from a broken down, leaking, creaking, and rusting building that is only a year old. That smell is ... the New York Metropolitans.
Yes, as the dust settles on the euphoria of another Yankee title, and as it becomes disturbingly clear that neither the Giants nor the Jets are going anywhere but home for the holidays, hot stove baseball takes center stage, and, yes, unfortunately that includes the Bernie Madoffs.
For the past three years, the Mets have wowed us with the brilliance of their own ineptitude. First, it was the Choke Job in September 2007. Seven up with 17 to play resonates with Met fans to this day.
Then, it was Choke Job II in September 2008 that was preceded by the firing of the only smart guy in the building, manager Willie Randolph, during a slump in June of 2008.
Once the calendar turned to December 2008, the comedy of errors continued; this time in the front office. First, it was the Bernie Madoff scandal, as it was revealed at the time, that the club lost nearly $400 million in the ponzi scheme followed by the near collapse of CitiBank, the corporation that has its name on the Mets new home.
The Mets denied that the financial losses would hurt them in acquiring players, but they spent the entire offseason playing scared.
They refused to sign Orlando Hudson, refused to trade for Jason Marquis, refused to take a chance at Randy Wolf, refused to throw a few extra dollars at Derek Lowe, and never thought twice about Manny Ramirez.
2009 turned out to be the cruelest of years.
Injuries galore took over, taking out almost every single player in the Mets lineup, including Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana.
David Wright suffered a concussion and started walking around with a helmet big enough to fit five people underneath it, and things got so bad on the field that Jerry Manuel started channeling Art Howe: "We battled." Nice!
The Mets tried to fool their fan base into believing that Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, Oliver Perez, Nelson Figueroa, and Tim Redding were solid starting options in the rotation. And they watched the likes of Daniel Murphy, Angel Pagan, Jeff Francoeur, Omir Santos, and Luis ("I got it, I got it, I don't got it") Castillo lead the way to embarrassment in 2009.
Add to the fact the humiliating episode in which Omar Minaya's deputy, Tony Bernazard ripped his shirt off in the Mets double-A affiliate and challenged the players to a fist fight, and the even more humiliating moment when Minaya accused New York Daily News reporter Adam Ruben of lobbying for a job in the Mets organization.
Larry David, Ben Stiller, and Adam Sandler couldn't write a zanier and funnier script than the one the Mets created throughout 2009.
Will the 2009 offseason be any different? Will 2010 bear better fruits? It's up to the Mets. In the meantime, let's put those red noses and clown shoes aside, and look at a list of demands that the Mets must meet if they want to start building a solid MLB franchise.
1) Pitching, Pitching, and More Pitching
Mets cannot go into 2010 with a rotation of Maine, Perez, Pelfrey, and Redding to follow the brilliant Johan Santana ever again. Some say that the Mets need just one starting pitcher, but the fact remains, they have to add at least two starting pitchers this off-season.
John Lackey , Rich Harden and Marquis are all available this offseason. There are even rumors that the Toronto Blue Jays are still Hell-bent on trading their ace Roy Halladay. The Mets must act.
Lackey proved to be a bulldog in the postseason, and that is exactly what the Mets need. Even though he gave up five runs against the Yankees in game five of the ALCS, he frustrated the Bronx Bombers throughout the games first six innings. When Mike Scoscia tried to take him out, Lackey refused to leave the mound. That is exactly what a team wants from a potential No. two pitcher.
Lackey went 11-8 in 2009 with a 3.38 ERA; he struck out 139 in 176 innings, and walked only 47. He will command a steep price, and it is rumored already that the Yankees are willing to pay him. The Bombers could use Lackey considering that Andy Pettitte will be 38-years-old next year, and the fact that A.J. Burnett is not a reliable No. two starter.
If the Mets should lose a bidding war for Lackey, then they will have to get creative and sign two middle of the road starting pitchers. Rich Harden is not a terrible option. He went 9-9 this year with the Cubs but struck out 171 batters in 141 innings. In 2008 he split time with the Oakland A's and Cubs, going 10-2 in 25 starts. Harden is a nice power arm who hails from that original three-headed monster of Harden, Dan Haren and Barry Zito that was so feared in Oakland earlier in the decade.
Another interesting name is Jarred Washburn . Washburn is a wily veteran pitcher, who could fit nicely behind Santana. Washburn was having a great year with Seattle in the first half of the year, pitching to a 8-6 record and a 2.64 ERA. However, once he got into a Pennant race in Detroit, Washburn faltered. He went 1-3 with a 7.33 ERA with the Tigers. He could come on the cheap. The Mets should consider it, if they can find a taker for Maine or Pelfrey.
Roy Halladay. During the summer, word got around that the Mets rejected a trade for Roy Halladay. That rumor was soon proven false, but nonetheless, if the Mets balked, they blew it, because this time around the Jays will ask for much more than Bobby Parnell, and few other prospects.
In the last two years combined, Halladay won 37 games and struck out 414 batters. That is pretty damn good. If the Mets ever got Halladay and fielded a one-two punch of Santana and Halladay, they would become instant contenders again.
The question is the price. There are rumors that the Mets are talking to the Blue Jays and Cubs about a three-team trade that would send Milton Bradley to the Jays, Luis Castillo to the Cubs, and Lyle Overbay to the Mets.
I will go more into the idea of having Overbay on the team a little later, but the Mets must be ready to sacrifice any prospects they have, including their so-called untouchable short stop in Jose Reyes to get Halladay. If the Mets deem a trade for Halladay too expensive for them again, they will be making a big mistake.
The Mets need a guy like Halladay who could take some pressure off Santana and give the bullpen a break every now and then. Halladay has 49 complete games in his career, which is very unusual for pitchers in this day and age.
This is kind of obvious, but the Mets have to improve the bullpen. No team in MLB has a great bullpen, but the Mets have to find someone to get the ball to Francisco Rodriguez. J.J. Putz was a failed experiment, as the former Mariners closer went down with an elbow injury. Parnell was underwhelming as a set up man, and once the Mets became noncompetitive, they never got a gauge as to who will set up for K-Rod.
Let me push for John Maine . Maine has been troubled by arm injuries each of last two years; a lot of that may have to do with the grind he took as a starting pitcher. Maine might best be served by rebuilding his career in the bullpen.
We have seen starting pitchers go there in the past and succeed. John Smoltz was a brilliant closer for the Braves when he came back from Tommy John's surgery. The Yankees had a lot of success with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes coming out of the pen for them at several points this season. The Mets should consider this: Who know's how good Maine could be coming out in relief. He was a strike out machine as a starter, and his ability to let his velocity fly for one inning every night could help the Mets in the long run.
We know that David Wright will return to man third base for the Mets, but there are questions about the health of Jose Reyes , the reliability of Luis Castillo, and the gaping holes at first base and catcher.
Reyes finally had surgery on his torn hamstring, but there are concerns about whether he will be healthy enough to participate in Spring Training.
For as much of a knucklehead that Reyes is on and off the field, the Mets need his legs. With Reyes stealing bases and running from first to third, it allowed the Mets to play an offense with finesse. Instead of trying to blast the ball out of the ballpark, the Mets would try to hit and run more, utilizing the running of Reyes to put extra pressure on opposing defenses.
The Mets will need Reyes this year, whether the fans like it or not.
As for first and second base, the Mets are thinking of acquiring Lyle Overbay from Toronto in a three-way trade with the Blue Jays and Chicago Cubs. The Mets would rid themselves of Luis Castillo , while the Jays got the troubled Milton Bradley .
Overbay is a nice number six or seven hitter in the lineup. He had 16 homers and 64 RBI for the Blue Jays last year and is a lifetime .279 hitter, which is solid. He is no better than any free agent first baseman on the market. Plus, bringing in Overbay, will allow the Mets to finally sign Orlando Hudson .
Hudson was the leader of the Dodgers in the first half of the year. He hit .283 with seven homers and 48 RBI before the All-Star break. However, in the second half, Hudson's playing time was reduced with the acquisition of Ronnie Belliard. As a result Hudson, still hit .284, but drove in only 14 runs and hit two homers in the second half.
He is a better option than Castillo, who is infamous for sulking around the clubhouse, and dropping an easy potential game-winning pop-up in a loss to the Yankees back in mid-June.
Hudson has expressed interest in playing for the Mets in the past. The Mets have to pay up this time. Second chances don't come very often. Bringing in Hudson now will make up for the boo-boo the Mets made last offseason.
Then again, if the Mets decide not to go through with the Overbay trade, they should instead consider trading for Adrian Gonzalez of the San Diego Padres. The Padres are not going anywhere fast; they are looking for prospects to rebuild that franchise the correct way.
Gonzalez hit .277 with 40 homers and 99 RBI in a pitcher's park that is very reminiscent of Citi Field.
If the Mets can throw in Castillo, along with a handful of decent prospects, and maybe find a third team to get involved in a deal to sweeten the pot for the Padres, the Mets should do it. Gonzalez would give the Mets a legit cleanup hitter, something they did not have without Carlos Delgado in the lineup.
Gonzalez would bat ahead of Carlos Beltran, and in front of David Wright and Jeff Francoeur. Plug in Hudson behind Reyes in the No. two slot, and, voila, the Mets have a deadly lineup again.
Matt Holliday has been tabbed as the Mets number one offseason priority once the regular season ended in early October. Holliday was once the face of the franchise in Colorado, spearheading the Rockies run to the World Series in 2007. The Rockies traded their star to the Oakland A's last winter, and, in turn, Holliday was sent to St. Louis this summer.
Holliday can still rake. He hit .313 with 24 homers and 109 RBI in his two stops in 2009. However, his season will best be remembered for dropping a fly ball in the outfield of Dodgers Stadium that cost the Cardinals game two of the ALDS, and ultimately the series.
I guess that means Holliday would fit right in with the Mets, who love to drop easy fly balls in their spare time. Even though he had a bad October, Holliday will command a steep price, much like John Lackey. The Mets must be willing to pay up if they are to land baseball's biggest free agent.
Other free agent outfielders include Jayson Bay and Vladimir Guerrero . Neither figures to be of interest for the Mets, although Guerrero was once targeted by the Mets back in 2002, when he was a free agent with the Expos. However, Guerrero doesn't have the "it" factor that he used to have.
Anybody except Brian Schneider would be an upgrade for the Mets. Two years ago, they went after Ramon Hernandez and lost out to the Orioles for his rights. Hernandez is a free agent again. He is not a great hitter, batted only .258 last year, but if the Mets answer the problems in left, first and second, then they won't need an All-Star behind the plate.
Bengie Molina is available from the Giants. 2009 was one of Molina's best years, as the usually light hitting catcher blasted 20 homers and drove in 80. Molina is a nice option if the Mets fail to acquire a solid first baseman or outfielder. In short, losing out on Molina is not such a bad thing.
The Mets may be better served sticking with Omir Santos who provided some nice clutch hits in 2009, such as his two run homer off Jonathan Papelbon in Fenway Park. Josh Tohle is the Mets top catching prospect, but he is still a year or two away from being a part of the discussion.
The Mets cannot move forward with a bench of Santos, Angel Pagan, Jeremy Reed, Nick Evans, Dan Murphy, Anderson Hernandez, and Fernando Tatis. It just can't happen.
There are a couple of Yankee free agents that should be attractive to the Mets that could help their bench: Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui .
As crazy as it sounds, having a veteran like Damon or Matsui on the bench could be a boon to the depth of the Mets outfield and leadership in the clubhouse. Damon and Matsui were as clutch as can be for the Yankees in the World Series, highlighted by Matsui's six RBI in game six of the World Series, which won him the MVP.
That said, Damon and Matsui are looking for big starting contracts, something the Mets may not be able to provide. Plus, the Yankees will likely pay up around Christmas. Finally, Matsui's knees are still a concern, as Joe Giradri never used him as an outfielder in an NL park during inter-league play and the W.S. Damon can still play the outfield, but I find it hard to believe that he will leave the Yankees.
Outside of the two Yankee outfielders, there are others who could help. Marco Scutaro had a big year as the Blue Jays shortstop. If Reyes is not healthy, having a guy like Scutaro, who can create as much havoc on the base paths as Reyes could be a plus. Scutaro could play second, short, and third, which makes him very versatile.
Mark De Rosa is an excellent bat off the bench for any team. De Rosa, who hails from Passaic, N.J., hit .250 with 23 homers and 78 RBI in split time with the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals in 2009. He has always been a solid fill-in player who can provide some much needed power. De Rosa can play both infield and outfield positions, which is fantastic.
In the outfield, the Mets could look to a Eric Hinske (F.A. NYY) or a Gabe Kapler (F.A. Tampa Bay) to provide some much needed left handed power off the bench, if they should inquire about either player.
At the end of the day, the Mets have to find a way to rid themselves of the albatross that was the 2009 season. It won't be easy to rid themselves of the contracts of Castillo and Oliver Perez, but if they can get rid of both of them in some kind of trade, even it is for prospects, the Mets have to do it.
This is a big year for both Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel. First, they have to succeed in improving the franchise in the winter, then they have to win. If neither happens, and 2010 turns into a replay of 2009, some guy, who did not get the Cleveland Indians job, will be waiting at ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut.
That man is Bobby Valentine! If the Minaya/Manuel combo foul it up, don't be shocked to see good 'ole number two back in Flushing.
The Mets are at a crossroads. Like the poem by Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken," the Mets have to take the road less traveled by, and re-create a franchise that used to be one of baseball's premiere teams. For far too long have we seen the Mets go down the road of a loser and play the fool. It is time for Omar Minaya and the Mets, to open up the wallets, even when the economy is worsening, and pay up, or just shut up!
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