Amazin’ly Average (so far)

With a day off today, the Mets have time to reflect on losing six of their last seven games. Things could look pretty pretty crappy right now. 

But a day off is also a good time to put something in a broader picture: it’s nothing short of miraculous that the Mets were in a position to lose six of seven games and still have a 32-29 record in the middle of June. 

This team could have folded a long time ago. What reasons could they have had for throwing in the towel and calling it an inevitable losing season? 

  • Ike Davis, supposed to be a core part of our lineup, has arguably been the worst hitter in baseball this year with a .162 average. 
  • The Mets have a bullpen ERA of 5.46. The next highest ERA in MLB? The Cubs at 4.41. According to sources at the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s like really, really bad. 
  • In March, more people would have thought Omar Quintanilla was a new dish at Taco Bell instead of the team’s latest shortstop for the last stretch of time. 
  • Mike Pelfrey. Season-ending surgery. Remember him?
  • Jason Bay is still the Jason Bay of the Mets. He’s hitting .197. 
  • Andres Torres, who has played 38 games this season in primarily centerfield, is hitting .209. 
  • The Mets may need to move the fences in another 20 feet if Daniel Murphy wants to start knocking it out of the park. In 232 at-bats, he has yet to homer. 
  • The Mets have a run differential of -19. 
  • The team ace, Johan Santana, began the season returning from a shoulder surgery people were unsure he’d ever recover from.

The fact that they are above .500 despite all of this is incredible. 

This year, the NL East was meant to be a race between four teams, with the poor ‘ole Mets limping their way to another rough finish. In March, don’t you think everyone other than a Mets fan would have laughed at the notion that they’d be above .500 at this point in the season? What if you told those people they’d be above .500 given everything up there? 

Before the season, 50 ESPN writers made predictions for the MLB season. Not one of the 50 said the Mets would win the NL East or claim either of the wild card slots. Each of the other four teams in the division received plenty of mentions in the predictions. 

And right now, the Mets are pretty average. And average isn’t acceptable, in the long run. Nor does it mean the Mets will be average at the end of the season—they could be better or worse. 

But, take a look at the lineup they’re trotting out there on a daily basis, the stiff competition in the NL East, the injuries, the pitching—isn’t it pretty goddamn amazin’ that the Mets are average at this point? 

And Ike Davis won’t hit .162 all season. The bullpen can’t have a 5.46 ERA all season (they can’t be that bad…right? right?). Daniel Murphy will probably end the season with a home run and an OPS above his current mark of .690, because he’s just a better hitter than that. 

Maybe Omar Quintanilla will be a recognizable name among Mets fans by the end of the season because the dude is hitting .314 with a .956 OPS. 

And Johan’s arm is only going to get stronger. 

It’s pretty awesome that the Mets are in a position to compete right now. Between the disastrous bullpen, major holes in the lineups and injuries to critical players there was a lot of room for this team to be dreadful. Miserable. Terrible. God awful. 

Yet here they are. 32-29. 

A lot of these problems can be fixed over the next couple months—at 32-29 the Mets have a legitimate shot of winning the NL East or a Wild Card birth. With everything that has hit the fan so far this season, that’s pretty freakin’ amazin’. 

sportsnetny:

Santana “did nothing noteworthy in his last outing.” - Wall Street Journal
What the who??
(via @EliFromBrooklyn)

If I was drinking something right now, I’d spit it out in equal parts surprise and confusion.

sportsnetny:

Santana “did nothing noteworthy in his last outing.” - Wall Street Journal

What the who??

(via )

If I was drinking something right now, I’d spit it out in equal parts surprise and confusion.

reuters:

Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter ever for the New York Mets as he blanked the visiting World Series champion St Louis Cardinals 8-0 at Citi Field on Friday with the help of a big break and a big assist from outfielder Mike Baxter.
The Venezuelan struck out World Series MVP David Freese on a change-up in the dirt to end the game with his eighth strikeout and unleash a huge celebration in the middle of the diamond.
READ MORE: Santana pitches first no-hitter in Mets history

reuters:

Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter ever for the New York Mets as he blanked the visiting World Series champion St Louis Cardinals 8-0 at Citi Field on Friday with the help of a big break and a big assist from outfielder Mike Baxter.

The Venezuelan struck out World Series MVP David Freese on a change-up in the dirt to end the game with his eighth strikeout and unleash a huge celebration in the middle of the diamond.

READ MORE: Santana pitches first no-hitter in Mets history

oldtimefamilybaseball:

Where Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, and Dave Mlicki failed before, Johan Santana succeeded. Queens finally has a no-hitter to call their own. 
9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 8 SO and 134 pitches on a surgically repaired arm. 

oldtimefamilybaseball:

Where Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, and Dave Mlicki failed before, Johan Santana succeeded. Queens finally has a no-hitter to call their own. 

9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 8 SO and 134 pitches on a surgically repaired arm. 

A Reminder to Believe

I rarely have trouble believing. 

But with the Mets, particularly in the last couple years, reasons to validate those beliefs have been few and far between. Not that believing needs validation—the funny thing about faith is that it needs no justification—but it’s nice every once in a while. Otherwise, us fans might go and build a golden calf or something. 

The start to this season is has been an uplifting moment, reminding me why I believe. Whether the Mets finish 162-0 or 4-158, stretches like these are a taste of the deliciousness of fandom. 

And what’s best about the 4-0 start is how it is so antithetical to the pessimistic same-‘ole-Mets narrative that grows louder seemingly every season. 

Let’s take a game-by-game look at the Mets four wins to start the season: 

  • Game 1: Mets 1, Braves 0 - In his first start in over a season, Johan Santana throws five shutout innings, but leaves the game without a lead. Classic Mets, not giving Santana run support and ruining a day that should have been his glorious comeback. David Wright goes hitless in his first two at bats. Same ‘ole Mets, same ‘ole Wright of the last couple seasons. But wait—Wright notches an RBI single in the next inning, giving the team a 1-0 lead. The Mets have nowhere near good enough a bullpen to maintain a 1-0 lead, it’s just a matter of time until they blow it. Four relievers, three of whom were newly acquired in the off-season, combine to allow two hits and zero runs as the Mets win on opening day. 
  • Game 2: Mets 4, Braves 2 -No way the Mets can keep this up. The offense just isn’t good enough. Who cares about moving the walls in, this team just doesn’t have any power. Lucas Duda went hitless in the opener and isn’t actually a MLB hitter. Wright might have gone 2-for-4 in the opener, but as Keith Hernandez always says, Wright is only at his best when he’s going the opposite way and his RBI single was to left field. First inning, Wright homers the opposite way to right field. Fourth inning, Duda homers. Seventh inning, Duda homers again. Only one of the two jacks would have gone out at the old Citi Field. After R.A. Dickey allows just two runs in six innings, and the bullpen combines for three scoreless frames to make the Mets 2-0. 
  • Game 3: Mets 7, Braves 5OK, this has been nice but sweeping the hated Braves to start the season? Laughable. And is Ruben Tejada seriously going to lead off? That dude looks like he belongs more in the nine slot. Through six innings the Mets led 7-0. Unlike last game where they were carried by the longball, the Mets rally for all their runs, led by a 4-for-5 performance from Tejada in which he hits two doubles, registering two RBI and runs scored. And through six innings, Jon Niese has a no hitter going. It gets broken up in the seventh and after two unearned runs, and the Braves rally themselves back into the ballgame, down just 7-5 after eight innings. Classic Mets, pitcher takes a no-no into the 7th inning and we’re not even going to give him the win. The bullpen finally decides to blow a game, and it’s after a no-hit bid. Of course. Like the previous two games, Frank Francisco tosses a scoreless ninth while striking out the last batter he faces, giving the Mets a 3-0 start.
  • Game 4: Mets 4, Nationals 3 - Mike Pelfrey on the mound? The question isn’t winning or losing, it’s losing by how much. Pelfrey allows a run in the first inning and two more in the third, giving the Nats an early 3-0 lead. Told ya so! Just wait for the wheels to REALLY fall off. The Mets tack one on in the third and rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis launches a bomb in the fourth, knotting the game up. Oh of course, tie this game up just to give us hope and break our hearts. The Mets WOULD do that. Pelfrey regains his composure, and grinds out more scoreless ball through 5.2, while the bullpen picks it up without allowing a hit for the remainder of the game. Daniel Murphy knocks home an RBI single in the ninth to a chorus of “undefeated” chants at Citi Field as the Mets move to 4-0. 

Now, the italics there, that wasn’t me. I’m not the self-loathing type. I wouldn’t be a fan, particularly of the Mets, if I didn’t have the capacity for irrational optimism. 

Those italics, however, are the narrative of what some people usually assign to the Mets. Maybe fans don’t actually do that and it’s just people on the radio but you hear it over and over again—same ‘ole Mets.

Everything the Mets could have done to shake our hope and keep us from believing in these first four contests, they have done the opposite. 

I’ve always remembered to believe, but these four games made me remember why. 

Say Goodbye to Wright and Santana Too?

If Jose Reyes isn’t on the Mets next season, leaving via free agency or traded for prospects, the front office should seriously consider getting rid of David Wright, Johan Santana, and others too.

Let’s take a step back.

Four weeks ago, I dished out my thoughts on the merits of trading vs. keeping Jose Reyes. In case you don’t feel like rereading it, the point – in short – was that unless they are blown away with a package of prospects, Reyes is the sort of luxury a big budget team like the Mets can afford to have, even if he is inevitably going to be overpaid.

This is the sequel to that, in which I’ll discuss what the team should do iff (if and only if) they trade Reyes or let him walk; I’m not advocating that course of action, I’m explaining its consequences. I think this is the type of sequel like The Dark Knight was to Batman Begins, so even though it’s far more grim (even I can’t believe I’m trying to logically explain why in some scenario it might make sense for three of my favorite players to wear different uniforms), and probably slightly too long, you’re happy for having read it because it brings up some interesting ideas.

To me, losing Reyes whether it is via trade or free agency is a signal that the Mets are entering a rebuilding mode. Not just rebuilding for another year, but for two or three. Over the long run, the $15 million or so that would be spent on the dynamic shortstop annually could definitely be spent better: on the draft, farm system, better starting pitching and so forth.

Those benefits, while very real, are only tangible beginning a few years from now, not in 2012 or 2013. And, over these next years, the approximated $15 million can’t be spent much better – an exciting, homegrown talent whose athleticism lends itself to a large ballpark like Citi Field both offensively and defensively is far preferable to whatever that same money buys in terms of free agents.

Thus, it seems to me that getting rid of Reyes is an indication the team will not be a serious playoff contender over the next couple seasons. And, if we’re not winning in 2012 or 2013, why hold onto and pay Wright and Santana?

Johan Santana is currently 32. Next year and the year after - the last years of his contract before the team has a $5.5 million buyout of his $25 million option in 2014 - are probably the two best years left of his career after he spends the rest of this season recovering and building strength back up from rotator cuff surgery. It’s an unsure process that will probably make him untradeable at this deadline, but this off-season? It’s worth finding out. Nobody will want to pay him his full salary over the next couple seasons, but if the Mets are willing to eat some of that contract I’d bet the buyers will be plentiful.  

Come this off-season, Wright will turn 29. A few years down the road, his best years will start be behind him. His swing has clearly been affected by the pressure of hitting home runs in large confines of Citi Field and while his heart, dedication and willingness to be the face of a struggling franchise are beyond admirable it really seems like he could benefit from some sort of change, perhaps one of scenery.

I guess my idea is, if we’re going to rebuild: why half-ass it?

The core of Reyes-Wright-Santana was built to be at its best through the length of Santana’s contract, give or take a year or two depending on when the players start hitting their decline. If they commit to dismantling that by rebuilding and letting Reyes go, they’ll have a tough time winning next year and the year after, though I can’t say exactly what Sandy Alderson has planned. Maybe he has some tricks up his sleeve that makes all of this moot, but we’ll see. 

In the years after that, Santana and Wright (less so, but still to a significant degree) will not be part of the future winning solution. So, in this scenario, wouldn’t it make sense to trade all of them and get value while they can? And be locked and loaded around Ike Davis, Jon Niese and a farm system that has been infused with young talent from the trades, the existing talent and improved draft strategy under the careful management of Alderson and his crew? It’s heart-breaking to admit, but it might be true. 

But, all things being considered, I still hope they hold onto Reyes. 

Follow @andrewlbeaton on Twitter

Seven Players Total Over $100 Million In 2011

Looking ahead to the offseason, I have totaled up the numbers of the contracts for players that are on the books for next season. The most interesting part of it is the fact that it only takes seven players for the Mets to exceed the $100 million mark.

Johan Santana: $22.5 million

Carlos Beltran: $18.5 million

Jason Bay: $16 million

David Wright: $14 million

Oliver Perez: $12 million

Francisco Rodriguez: $11.5 million

Luis Castillo: $6 million

The Mets total payroll for 2010 was only about $126 million!

Not only is this a starting point for the offseason, but the Mets still have to figure out what to do with four key players in Jose Reyes ($11 million club option, $500,000 buyout), Pedro Feliciano (FA), Angel Pagan (Arb. Eligible), and Mike Pelfrey (Arb. Eligible).

Whether it be Omar Minaya or a new general manager, they are going to have the huge task of finding ways to remove some of these high-priced veteran players that should not be on the team (Perez, Castillo, etc).

The Mets can choose to non-tender Jeff Francoeur, as he earned $5 million in 2010 in arbitration and will again be arbitration eligible this year. John Maine’s $3.3 million will almost certainly be off the books next season as well. The Mets also still owe $1 million to Gary Matthews Jr. in 2011.

It’s quite simple. The Mets have their work cut out for them this offseason. Fans are demanding changes and something will need to be done.

The Problem: Omar Minaya

The rumors have been circulating. Jerry Manuel is on the hot seat. As well he should be, but it should not stop there.

Sure, Manuel isn’t the greatest manager. He can’t get his offense hot, he continuously tinkers with his batting order, and his bullpen is as taxed as ever. What else can be wrong?
Omar Minaya
You can change the manager, but it’s not going to solve anything. The problem lies within the front office.

Omar Minaya took over in the end of 2004, hired his manager Willie Randolph, and survived another managerial change when the team switched to Manuel, and now with Manuel on thin ice, is Omar really going to get another opportunity to switch managers? How many chances is this guy going to receive?

While it’s not over yet, the Mets appear destined to miss October baseball for the fourth consecutive season. Since 2005, when Omar’s tenure started, the Mets have made it to the postseason just once. How can any fan support this? How can any fan constantly make excuses for Omar? If the Mets do not make the post season this year, they will have only made it once in the past ten years.

I’m sure Omar is a nice guy and terrific person (though Adam Rubin would say otherwise), but it is absolutely time for the Mets to move on and make a change in the direction this team is heading.

Applaud Omar for building a team that got the Mets to within one base hit from the World Series in 2006. Applaud him for bringing in essentially the best pitcher in baseball in Johan Santana.

Give me a glimmer of hope in the future. Please move on.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: “Halfway” Home

We made it. We’re at the All-Star break, Carlos Beltran's coming back on Thursday, the team hasn't lost 17 players to injury, and they're 8 games over .500, good for 4 games back in the NL East, and a game back in the Wild Card standings. So what's good, what's bad, and what's badder..er (ugly)? Let's discuss:

The Good - Santana’s becoming Santana

Johan Santana has given up only one run in his last 23 innings, and none in his last 16. He’s got 2 straight wins, which has pretty much been unheard of during his time with the Mets (though through nearly no fault of his own), and his ERA is now 2.98. It’s funny that, while his greatness is appreciated, it hasn’t been mentioned as often as his line drive home run down the right field line, against the foul pole, in his start against the Reds. What I’d like to mention, though, is the reason I love the guy. In the 9th, when Jason Bay (who I’ll get to very, very soon) FUBAR’ed an easy fly ball, Jerry Manuel went to the mound to take Santana out of the game. The meeting on the mound lasted about as long as a sneeze, as Santana looked his skipper right in the eye, and said “I’m finishing.” and Mr. Overmatched himself immediately went running back to the dugout. But a couple pitches later, the game was over. That’s an ace.

Honorable Mention: Angel Pagan has been the greatest and most pleasant surprise of the team this year, by far.

The Bad - Where art thou, Jason Bay?

There it is. There’s the line that nobody seems to be willing to say, and why is completely beyond me. He’s now hitting .265, with 6 homers (4 of which came in 2 games), and 44 RBI. I don’t think I need to tell you that this isn’t his usual pace, and the streaky hitter hasn’t hit a streak that’s lasted more than 5 minutes. He’s got 2 hits in the last week, none in his last 10 at-bats, and sat yesterday on his own bobblehead day to give him that much more rest over the All-Star break. He looks completely lost at the plate, and finally, the boo birds have started to swarm him during this homestand. Beltran’s going to bring a huge boost to this lineup, and hopefully take some pressure off of Bay, allowing him to get back to basics and work on getting back to being productive. What I’d like to know though is why Beltran was absolutely murdered his first year here, as he was struggling yet stoic, and everybody thought he didn’t care, while Bay, who’s also struggling and also stoic, has gotten a pass until very, very recently.

The Ugly - Are the Mets broke or not?

First we heard that the Wilpons lost a ton of money because of Bernie Madoff, then we heard that they actually gained money because of him, before hearing that really, they lost money. Schwa? Which is it? Attendance is dropping, and Bob Klapisch has reported for the Bergen Record that the Mets are losing around $10 million a year because of it. What’s worse, the wide perception is that the team will not be able to add payroll dollars by the trade deadline. This is concerning because, while the Mets are definitely contenders and will remain that way through September, I don’t believe that, as constituted, this team will be able to gain a playoff spot without adding another arm. Hopefully, if this is the case, Omar Minaya and the Wilpons get clever and add another piece while not having to dip into the coffers.