Many factors led to the New York Mets' embarrasing meltdown in the fall of 2007. The Mets, as we all know by now, botched a seven-game lead with 17 games left to play. It was the worst collapse in Major League Baseball history.
Poor starting pitching, an ineffective bullpen, sloppy play in the field, a lack of clutch hitting, inappropriate on-field behavior (i.e., Lastings Milledge's suspension for continuously arguing with an umpire), a lack of clubhouse leadership, and even some questionable dugout decisions made by Willie Randolph, all factored in New York's dramatic downfall.
Omar Minaya ought to share blame for the Mets demise last season, too. He amassed an old pitching staff and made some bad personnel decisions that adversely effected the overall depth of his team. He also has a tendency to be too close to his players, and not give Randolph enough support when the stars like shortstop Jose Reyes fail to run out grounders.
It's somewhat surprising, given all these problems, that the Mets were even in contention at all.
Luckily, Minaya has made some interesting moves this offseason to address the Mets needs in 2008.
By now, everyone has heard that the Mets have surprisingly acquired Johan Santana (assuming he agrees to a contract), arguably the best pitcher in baseball, to bolster their solid staff. He traded the talented but immature Milledge for two solid "young" veterans; let the egotistical Paul Lo Duca, the aging and infeffective Tom Glavine, and the unproductive and slipping Sean Green leave via free agency. These moves were simply additions by subtraction.
However, another player the Mets ought to have said adios to was Carlos Delgado.
Aside from the fact that Delgado has been prone to injury, the veteran first baseman showed absolutely no leadership skills in guiding this talent-laden team to the playoffs. Where was Delgado and his close friend, center fielder Carlos Beltran, after a tough loss? Both would quickly leave the clubhouse after a New York defeat, leaving youthful third baseman David Wright to be clubhouse spokesman.
At least Beltran put up good numbers.
Sure, Wright emerged as the Mets best hitter, perhaps even their best all-around player, but is he really ready to be a leader, the kind that Beltran and Delgado ought to be?
I realize that Delgado was injured down the stretch, but his frequent habit of leaving early after a loss clearly created a vacuum in the clubhouse.
Delgado's continous ups and downs at the plate, and the fact that the quality of his defense has slipped considerably, should have led Minaya to move Delgado to the American League, where he belongs.
At least this way, he could perform as a designated hitter, play spot first base when a fly ball pitcher is on the mound, and focus on hitting (though even that seems to be slipping).
The Mets acquired Ryan Church (along with catcher Brian Schneider) from the Nationals in the Milledge trade. Church is a solid acquisition, who mainly plays in the outfield, but also plays first. However strong the Church pickup is, it might have served the Mets better to have acquired Nick Johnson, instead.
True, Johnson is coming off of a serious injury, but he's a great fielder with a high on-base percentage, much like the Red Sox first bagger Kevin Youkilis and the Rockies' Todd Helton. Of course, this doesn't necessarily address the leadership problems the Mets have, but at least Johnson will solidify the infield, especially from the wild throws from Wright and the howitzer arm of Reyes.
The problem with the Delgado situation is that he is one of Minaya's guys. Omar's loyalty to some of his veteran players was one of the reasons New York crumbled late last year.
The good news is that the Mets, now with Johan Santana, a power pitcher on the mound—replacing the ground ball pitcher in Tom Glavine—may not need a gold-glove caliber first basemen.
In fact, the staff, with the likes of John Maine, Oliver Perez, and of course the crafty Pedro Martinez, is made up of fly-ball pitchers.
Nonetheless, Delgado's problems with his health, his inconsistency at the play, lack of leadership, and, even yes, his iron glove, could hurt the New York's National League entry somewhere down the line.