I guess it's easy to have animosity toward a team that has missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons—twice in heartbreaking fashion, once in utter embarrassment—especially when they have the second-highest payroll in the bigs.
When an organization has an inordinate amount of money at its disposal, but fails to succeed, the blame can generally be attributed to one thing:
The combination of General Manager Omar Minaya and skipper Jerry Manuel might be the worst management duo in baseball. And when I say might be, I'm most certainly being generous.
I don't have the time nor the inclination to turn this into a step-by-step dissection of Minaya and Manuel (Jerry's a different discussion for a different day); instead I'll be focusing on one disaster that serves as a perfect microcosm of our decision-making woes...
Our starting pitching.
I'm always the first to congratulate Minaya on his highway robbery of Johan Santana, but the organizational philosophy on our two-through-five starters has been downright offensive. I cannot believe that we are hanging our hat on Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez, and John Maine again this year. (I'm aware that the Mets may add a starting pitcher before the end of the offseason, but none of the options are culture-changing.)
I don't know about you, but here's what I value in starting pitchers:
1. Consistency and reliability
2. Command and/or control (preferably both)
3. Baseball-specific intelligence
4. Swing-and-miss "stuff"
Take a look at that list, and then think about Pelfrey, Perez, and Maine. If the words "consistent" or "reliable" come to your mind regarding any of those guys, it better be something like "Pelfrey was reliably bad last season" or "Perez is consistently unbearable to watch."
Then I'd agree with you.
Perez and Maine are injury concerns that can walk five batters on any given night. Pelfrey has had issues with command in the past, but even when he's hitting his spots he gets hammered like Charles Barkley in Vegas.
Two interesting stats: One, in 2009, Pelfrey had only 107 strikeouts in over 184 innings of work. Two, in the process, he became the first starting pitcher in the history of the Mets franchise (born in '62) to put in enough work to qualify for the league leaders and finish with an ERA over 5.00.
Talk about a dubious distinction.
Ultimately, here's my problem: they made an awesome trade for a legitimate ace and instead of turning starting pitching into an obvious team strength, they've half-assed the rest of the rotation with question marks, what ifs, and guys who would be in AAA with better organizations.
The worst part is, they keep doing it. Are we going to hope it "all comes together" for Pelfrey, Perez, and Maine every, single year?
Roster construction should be an exact science; it shouldn't be a guessing game or a cast of the dice.
The Perez contract was a killer. Derek Lowe wasn't spectacular for the Braves last year, but at least he stays healthy, throws strikes, and keeps his team in games. Instead of hoping Perez would straighten himself out, why couldn't the front office just play it safe and sign the reliable veteran?
Well, that's because they're not very good at their jobs.
We have the same scenario again this offseason, as we hope that some combination of The Three Stooges, Jon Niese, Fernando Nieve, Nelson Figueroa, and Pat Misch will successfully fill our two-through-five rotation spots.
Lowe should have been the No. 2. Jon Garland should be the No. 3. It's really that simple. Two guys who are always willing to take the ball, attack the strike zone, think while they pitch, and go out there and do the same, exact thing the next time around.
Having reliable hurlers like Santana, Lowe, and Garland would allow the Mets to take a flier on a wild card like Ben Sheets. There'd be no pressure on him to get healthy and perform well, but if he did...wait for it...we'd actually have a strong rotation.
The type of rotation that makes you think, "Ahh, now I can sit down, relax, and enjoy tonight's game comfortably."
Instead of, "Hmm, I wonder how many Oliver Perez sliders will hit the dirt and roll to the backstop tonight? And do I have enough blood pressure medicine to survive the evening?"
Control. Command. Reliability. Durability. Simple. Easy.
But as the truest of Mets fans know, with our team it's never easy, and never simple.
Maybe that's management's fault.
(John Frascella is the author of "Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land," the first and only book centered on Boston's GM Theo Epstein. Check it out on Amazon or follow John's Twitter @RedSoxAuthor).