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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

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A Messy Blueprint for a Messy Year

Since the Mets' 2007 season went off the cliff, there's been no shortage of plans to get the Mets back on track, from trading Jose Reyes for Johan Santana to doing more or less nothing. A Met blueprint is a Rorschach test both of how angry you were at the 2007 club as it imploded and where you stand on the question of quantifiable vs. qualifiable and stats vs. intangibles.

Of course, the 2007 Mets themselves were a Rorschach test for this endless debate. You can read their Pythagorean record of 86-76 and conclude that they simply weren't that good, that they actually slightly outperformed their record and the rest is just noise. Or you can look at that now-infamous seven up with 17 to play, a team that statistics said would win the division 499 times out of 500, and conclude that a lack of character (whether in the clubhouse, the manager's office or both) had to be the difference — particularly when the veterans themselves were saying the team was complacent.

I like to fancy myself a stats guy, but I don't have the math chops for it — and this September has pushed me back into the camp that talks of intangibles and chemistry. When players collapse as horridly as the Mets did in those final two weeks, making ungodly errors and losing their composure and irking opponents at the wrong time, you can't tell me there isn't more going on than statistical snake-eyes. If intangibles mean anything to the sport, September 2007 was proof of it.

I'm still disgusted with the 2007 club — the sight of the clubhouse guy in the Kenny Lofton DHL ad pisses me off. That said, I'm glad the Mets decided against some spasm of vengeance. Willie Randolph should have kept his job, and did. And when you put 20-20 hindsight aside and look at a lot of Omar Minaya's 2007 moves in context, you see a fair amount of bad luck but not a lot of what any fair-minded person would call negligence or stupidity. Alex Nelson at MetsGeek did a bang-up job with such a review last week. It's worth reading, and I concur: I wasn't exactly upset when hefty arsonist Heath Bell was sent packing, thought the trade of tightrope-walking soft-tosser Brian Bannister for live-armed Ambiorix Burgos made sense, and didn't mourn trading two late-to-develop Double-A guys in Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens for Jason Vargas, a promising starter with two plus pitches who'd shown some success in the big leagues. The moves that proved least-defensible were multiyear deals for Scott Schoeneweis and Guillermo Mota, but even here, it's easy to lose perspective: The Orioles gave Chad Bradford an insane three years and $10.5 million, a deal as certain to blow up on them as the sun will rise, and every middle reliever still on the market sang hosannas.

Did Willie handle the staff badly down the stretch? Hard to argue he didn't. Mota kept pitching, Schoeneweis and Sosa were used too much and Feliciano too little, and Philip Humber was left rotting on the bench while the deservedly anonymous Brian Lawrence took the hill. Still, plenty of comparatively reliable relievers had blow-ups down the stretch, too — it's not like any of us had much faith in anybody in September. And it's somewhat odd to think that players need a few years to develop and learn but managers can navigate every nuance of the interaction between strategy and personalities from the get-go. For a guy entering his fourth year as a manager, it strikes me that the key issue shouldn't be what Willie did wrong but whether he'll learn from it.

So, my vague blueprint. I apologize in advance that it's less a coherent plan than a series of bitter observations and diatribes. It goes without saying that I'd rather be considering how the Mets match up against the Diamondbacks.

First, some principles:

1. No More Half-Seasons: Why on earth does anybody think bringing back Moises Alou is a good idea? The Mets were 47-40 with him. Fantastic! But that means 75 times they were stuck figuring out who was going to play left field. I'd like to know how Moises being a year older improves on that scenario. It's hard enough mixing and matching veterans and kids and role players to make a World Series club; it's a lot harder when too many of those veterans are going to miss too much time during the season. Jose Valentin, El Duque, Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green — all aging players who missed significant time with a variety of ailments. One reason the 2007 Mets had trouble gelling? They were hardly ever on the field at the same time.

2. I Believe the Children Are the Future: And, y'know, we've got to, like, give them a sense of pride. There's such a thing as too much faith in intangibles. Lastings Milledge is a brat, but he's a better player than Shawn Green in every respect except deportment. Carlos Gomez and Ruben Gotay may be a bit raw, but one can imagine them as productive big-league players in 2010, when Moises Alou and Luis Castillo will be playing golf. You can roll the dice on aging, brittle veterans not falling off and/or getting hurt, or try to develop players who have potential. Because baseball is so insanely conservative, teams get stuck doing the former when they ought to do the latter: The Yankees saved their season almost by mistake, as injury after injury forced them to rely on youth, and youth turned out to be a good bet. Even then, they got Pleistocene when it mattered: With the season on the line, they gave the ball to a 45-year-old Satanic mercenary with a bad hamstring, watched him pitch like a 45-year-old with a bad hamstring, and only lived for another day because a 21-year-old and a 22-year-old rescued them. They got beat by a young Indians team anyway, as their scouts were preparing dossiers on two young teams in the Rockies and Diamondbacks.

3. The Myth of the Incentive Deal: Of all the fancies of WFAN callers, this one is my favorite — the idea that Player X should take a one-year deal with lots of incentives. Paul Lo Duca is 35 years old and has spent nearly two decades squatting behind the plate listening to his knees pop and taking foul balls off his thighs, shoulders and thumb. He should take a one-year deal because fans in New York City are vaguely mad at him? Luis Castillo is a 32-year-old with bad knees and 11 big-league seasons on his resume. Players like Lo Duca and Castillo are looking for that last three-year deal, not some one-year flier. In their shoes, you'd do the same.

4. Eat Your Mistakes: One of the principal benefits of being an obscenely rich club? It's being able to shrug off a bad $6 million here and a hard-luck $8 million there. A regrettable two-year deal for a middle reliever can kill the Kansas City Royals' hopes, and that sucks — but it's not our job to right that wrong. Guillermo Mota is owed $3.2 million in 2008, and a blind Irish setter could tell you that he has no business being near a pitcher's mound any longer. For God's sake, eat that contract.

And now, some prescriptions for individual players….

Not Even a Question: Shawn Green, Jose Valentin, Aaron Sele. They have no future here.

Only a Question If You Weren't Watching: Tom Glavine. Glavine torched the Mets' season in less than an inning on the mound, but it was his postgame comments that destroyed his future with the club. Sitting amid the wreckage of the season, the Manchurian Brave uttered his usual alibis about balls finding holes (two he threw found Dontrelle Willis with the bases loaded and a phantom fielder playing 20 feet behind David Wright) and then lectured us on the difference between “devastated” and “disappointed.” Anybody who'd want Tom Glavine back probably also thinks it would have been a good idea to have Kenny Rogers start the home opener in 2000.

Thanks for Services Rendered: Moises Alou, Luis Castillo, Paul Lo Duca. I like all three of these players, and their only sins are age and questions about their ability to stay on the field. But at this pass, those are sins enough.

Let's Pretend We Didn't: Guillermo Mota. Summoning the Pink Slip Fairy for Mota is a helluva way to spend $3.2 million. But have you seen what this man does to games?

Stuck With You, Part I: Orlando Hernandez. El Duque is owed $6.5 million. He's a legend, and his annual vacations used to be kind of cute. They aren't cute anymore, and as a starter he's blocking the likes of Mike Pelfrey, Philip Humber and Jason Vargas, about whom more needs to be known. El Duque as a middle reliever or a long man is an intriguing idea, but I'd bet El Duque is the least-intrigued guy in the room when that particular conversation comes up.

Stuck With You, Part II: Scott Schoeneweis. He's signed through 2009. It's hard to see him going anywhere unless he turns into Mota. (And hey, he's already been named in steroids reports.) This leaves us stuck hoping that since he's been good in the past, he might be good in the future. With middle relievers who aren't named Guillermo, that's not entirely insane. Particularly if he's used properly.

Stuck With You, Part III: Carlos Delgado. He's owed a jaw-dropping $16 million in 2008. He's a horrible first baseman, his value as a hitter has dropped to near replacement level, and his leadership disappeared in 2007. Yes, he said the right things about focus and lessons learned after Game 162, but before that the only times I remember him registering as a clubhouse voice were a) the farcical day when Lo Duca was supposedly a racist; and b) when he admitted the Mets got bored. Since his contract is immovable, at least I have my scapegoat for 2008.

Time to Step Up: Jose Reyes, Lastings Milledge, Willie Randolph. Jose came down with a bad slump and a chronic case of the stupids, but you don't exile a young player for being a young player — particularly not when he's the most electric player in the game. There's a fine line between enthusiastic and bush, and you'll consistently find Milledge just on the wrong side of it — his antics on the second-to-last day of the season woke up a Marlins club that should have been left to slumber. But I stubbornly believe Milledge will be worth the wait. In both cases, adult supervision is needed, and will be rewarded. Not coincidentally, more adult supervision has to be on Willie Randolph's to-do list. I've been won over by his calm demeanor and the patience with which he brought along the likes of Reyes and Wright, but now he's got work to do. I hope 2007 showed him the dangers of being too calm — it would be a wonderful world if every veteran played with Willie's passion and poise, but some of them need the whip hand now and again.

Bring 'Em Back: Jorge Sosa, Ramon Castro, Damion Easley. Sosa showed enough to deserve further consideration as a starter or setup guy. If Castro's back doesn't betray him, he should be the starting catcher. I think Easley would be a good bench guy. Update: And Marlon Anderson, who never should have left in the first place.

Stick With 'Em: Oliver Perez, John Maine, Joe Smith, Billy Wagner, Aaron Heilman. (None of these guys is a free agent.) They didn't have perfect seasons — Perez's final start was all kinds of ugly, Maine seemed to hit the wall a couple of times, Wagner and Heilman had avert-your-eyes weeks and Smith wound up exhausted. But they all either maintained a high level of performance or matured sufficiently in 2007 that you can hope for better things in 2008.

Blameless: Pedro Martinez, David Wright, Carlos Beltran.

So where do we go from here?

The Mets need a Goldilocks offseason — one that's not too hot, not too cold but just right.

Too hot is a danger. The Mets are no longer a cheapskate outfit scorned by run-of-the-mill free-agent catchers — they now spend money like the big-market colossus they are, and they're about to have a lot more of it. The final game witnessed by ownership might well have been the darkest moment in the franchise's history, and they're going to be sorely tempted to do something big to try and make us forget about that. But how big is wise? I can't see the Mets acquiring Johan Santana without taking an ax to the core of the team, and I shudder to think of Jose Reyes in a Twins uniform, to cite one hot rumor. No offense to Santana, but we would regret that one forever. Reyes is the engine of the team and the darling of the fanbase. Yes, I was mad at him in September — but I want to summon Joshua home from college to see a graying Reyes wave farewell and No. 7 go up on the CitiField wall. He's ours — don't you dare touch him.

There's another brand of “too hot” that I admit I can't get out of my head: A-Rod is about to be seeking $300 million over 10 years. Yes, he's emotionally needy and socially maladroit, but he also just put up 54 home runs and 156 RBIs playing in a cauldron. And tell me the Mets wouldn't enjoy that back-page knife to the Yankees' heart, as well as the chance for everybody to say bad things about Steve Phillips. Besides, starting in 2009 Citibank would pay two-thirds of the freight. It's tempting, isn't it? Sure, something about it makes the head throb, and there's the small matter of him not having a position. (A-Rod to third, Wright to first, Delgado becomes a $16 million bench player? Um, no.) Still, 54 home runs and 156 RBIs, no Jeter to treat him like Martha Dumptruck, and he'd be playing for the team he loved as a child.

More realistic would be to try and pry Dontrelle Willis loose from Florida — he had a lousy year, but he'll be 26 on Opening Day, he's left-handed and he speaks his mind in that clubhouse. I'm not going to say Rick Peterson could fix him in 15 minutes, but I bet 15 weeks could do it.

Then, of course, there's too cold. Don't like A-Rod? Think Dontrelle's done? Too in love with Heilman and Milledge to imagine them on another team? Just think how you'll feel in February, reading the same interchangeable stories about how new Met Livan Hernandez is in the best shape of his career and Moises Alou has been doing flexibility drills — and suspecting that none of it will make a damn bit of difference.

23 comments to A Messy Blueprint for a Messy Year

  • Anonymous

    Hmmm….agree on all of it save the following….
    1. Moises. The man's a hard nosed player and he's one of only two players who actually hit the ball down the stretch, Wright being the other one. I understand where your coming from. The man is the second coming of Cliff Floyd, but he plays harder and is a good clubhouse influence.
    2. Heilman and Smith – I think we could get quality for these two arms. Test the market, keep them only if you can't do better.
    3. A-Rod – hmmmm, I just would love to rub Yankee noses in this one……how about Reyes to 2nd and let A-Rod play shortstop again?

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jason,
    “Carlos Delgado. Yes, he said the right things about focus and lessons learned after Game 162″
    …. but notice he never mentioned being held at first or thrown out at second on sure doubles because all season long he stood at home plate to admire what he thought was going over the fence?
    “More realistic would be to try and pry Dontrelle Willis loose from Florida — he had a lousy year, but he'll be 26 on Opening Day, he's left-handed and he speaks his mind in that clubhouse. I'm not going to say Rick Peterson could fix him in 15 minutes, but I bet 15 weeks could do it. ”
    …. increased muscles have created problems with his delivery (which Peterson might be able to fix) but I also sense he's going the Dwight Gooden route because his sudden hyper-activity on the mound could indicate something going wrong inside of him (which Rick Peterson would not be able to fix).

  • Anonymous

    1. No More Half-Seasons: Why on earth does anybody think bringing back Moises Alou is a good idea? The Mets were 47-40 with him. Fantastic! But that means 75 times they were stuck figuring out who was going to play left field.

    The problem here, Jace, is not that Moises missed 75 games, but that Endy got hurt at about exactly the same time. So did Milledge. And Gomez shortly thereafter.
    I think if Endy/Stinger could have stepped in as an everyday LF while Moises mended, things might have looked slightly different come September.
    All things being being equal, I bring Moises back while counting on a healthy Chavez and Gomez to spell him until F-Mart is ready.

  • Anonymous

    Here's my thoughts. While you can't go overboard with veterans, keeping some of them around is reasonable. Alou? the alternative is finding a free agent, or starting both Milledge and Gomez. I dont think you start two mostly untested guys. One. Milledge. Gomez and Endy both get to fill in for Alou if/when he takes his injuries.
    I think Delgado will have a good last year, at least tolerable. Really I just want the home runs. the Mets need that power in the middle, and if not Alou and Delgado, who?
    I'd much rather keep Lo Duca(I don't like Posada and the other prospects are poor) and Castillo than Easley. I don't really like Sosa either, but I'dbe willing to give him a spring.
    A-Rod? I'd do it thinking it'd pay off for the Mets financially, but the Mets only have less than $12 million of added attendance money between the crowd last year and the possibility of selling out every game. 2009 and 2010 A-Rod's going to make almost no dent in the attendance as it'll be virtually sold out anyway. The Mets don't necessarily need someone that greatfor that much money.

  • Anonymous

    I was concerned about Delgado going into 2007 but less so as we look to 2008. I think he has his eye on one last deal and 500 home runs which might motivate him enough to visit Ye Olde Shady Internet Pharmacy. I beleive that could benefit him greatly.

  • Anonymous

    I'd also consider moving Alou to the “Blameless” category. Yes, he was hurt for half the season – BUT – he was there and absolutely delivered when we needed him. He hit for us in September, came up with a 30-game hitting streak when the ship was sinking. I'd take that kind of character in the locker room (and hitting) over some of the others any day of the week.
    If Pedro qualifies as “blameless,” then surely Alou does, too.

  • Anonymous

    I like Alou, and agree he did nothing wrong — except be on the shelf for half the season. And in my opinion that tears it. Yeah, he hit well down the stretch. He better have, considering how much time off he had.
    Alou will be 42 years old at the All-Star break. He last played in 125 games in 2004. If he hits .340 again, it'll be because injuries made him a part-time player. If he collects 500 ABs, the grind means he'll far more likely to hit .260. I just don't see how he's a full-time player anymore.
    As always in baseball, I'd love to be wrong.

  • Anonymous

    Though the Mets haven't lacked veterans over the past few seasons, they've lacked veteran leadership. Though Alou and Beltran are both great, veteran ballplayers, they're more of the “lead-by-example” type. Delgado was one of the more vocal veterans of the clubhouse, but his year-long slump–which I'll touch on in a minute–deterred him from any heavily involved role in bolstering clubhouse morale. By far the most outspoken Met over the past few years has been LoDuca. However, his fiery attitude and off-the-handle antics often overshadows the words which he speaks.
    I don't see Beltran stepping up to the role of vocal team leader and Delgado's involvement in the team's morale will rest solely on his 2008 performance. If the Mets were to rid themselves of Moises Alou, it may be benficial to seek out another part-time OF to split time who is willing to work with the younger lads in developing them to professionals. I haven't had a chance to explore free agent options for 2008, but this might be something to consider moving forward.
    Willie won't pick up the slack when it comes to leadership and discipline. He's the type of manager that lets the players police themselves. He's much less of a developmental coach and more of a “players coach,” as they're so often called.
    As for Delgado, I recall his wife giving birth to their first child at the beginning of the 2007 season. If you consider baseball his job just like you or I attend work, I've seen the way employees handle the workload pre- and post-child birth–and there is usually a significant swing. Do you think he was heavily distracted by this situation during the season? I'm hoping a winter with his newest addition might put him back on track in '08.

  • Anonymous

    Except I think you're right. Watching Alou pound the ball in September was a treat that transcended the self-inflicted pennant race. It was like the King Tut exhibit pulling into your town so you could finally see what all the fuss was about. Moises Alou could/can hit with anybody.
    But no matter how well preserved, King Tut didn't last forever either.

  • Anonymous

    Willis has always been fidgety. When he was pitching well, it made him colorful. I wouldn't necessarily draw any Goodenesque conclusions. That's heavy speculation.
    I'd surely take Dontrelle if the price were right, but with only so much to deal from the minor league cupboard, I'm wary of blowing it on someone who at the moment strikes me as a more accomplished and better hitting but nearly as erratic Oliver Perez type. He's not so much regressed as plummeted. It's not that I don't trust Dontrelle Willis to rebound somewhat, but I don't have all that much faith in Rick Peterson anymore.

  • Anonymous

    Got a condo made of stone-a…

  • Anonymous

    If you wanna talk free agents, check out Cot's Baseball Contracts. (Tip of the cap to Metsblog for pointing the way.)
    Some names that intrigued me … ummm. There ain't much…
    Yorvit Torrealba (C)
    David Eckstein (SS, would probably play 2B)
    Tadahito Iguchi (2B)
    Adam Dunn (LF, could be moved to 1B)
    Aaron Rowand (CF)
    Scott Linebrink (RP)
    Eckstein and Rowand appeal to those of us who want a clubhouse heart transplant. Torrealba'll probably make a fortune by being a young catcher. Even Linebrink wasn't immune to middle-relieveritis this year. Dunn's the lone really intriguing name to me. Please keep the various broken-down old starters away from my team.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Greg,
    It's not so much being fidgety but rather what I observe to be increased hyper-activity between pitches. Dontrelle isn't even calm waiting for the return throw from his battery mate. This type of behavior is often indicative of problems more serious than what he's facing on the mound and could explain why his ERA skyrocketed more than a run per game in each of the past two seasons.
    Hope I'm proved wrong and need to apologize for any unfair inuendo.

  • Anonymous

    First of all, how can you even suggest A-Rod? Ugh. You can see the Yankee blood in his veins even when his own fans rip into him.
    And secondly, I doubt he'd come. No thanks.

  • Anonymous

    How's this for strange personnel choices?
    I just saw an ad on the side of a bus for the Postseason on TBS and it had none other than David Wright and John Smoltz (along with Big Papi and Captain Intangibles) emblazoned on it.
    That is the kind of move the Mets want to avoid this off-season.

  • Anonymous

    What about Gotay? He's at least somewhat intriguing, no?

  • Anonymous

    Indeed he is. I'd like to see him get a chance at second.

  • Anonymous

    Jace,
    I had the opportunity to ask Eck that question myself when he visited my workplace back in February. After telling him how his team tore my heart out and stomped all over it, I asked whether he'd be interested in playing in New York. He chuckled and said we had a pretty good shortstop already. I asked about sliding over to second (he'd spent some significant playing time there in high school and college). He stopped chuckling, turned it over in his head, and said “Hmmmm….”
    Eck's wife, Ashley Drane, is an actress, so New York might be appealing to her for different reasons. You know the saying: “Happy wife, Happy life”? Stranger things have happened.
    Finally, how does Eck, a good contact hitter, look in your imagination in the 2 hole with Reyes dancing off first 150-180 times a year?

  • Anonymous

    Dammit, now “The Greatest Love of All” is going through my head.

  • Anonymous

    Just say no to Adam Dunn. Delgado is a statue at first. Dunn wouldn't be any better. And Dunn is a strikeout waiting to happen. No thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Castillo made good plays in his first week at 2nd that Gotay wouldn't have made in a full season.

  • Anonymous

    Don't forget KEEP Marlon Anderson

  • Anonymous

    Indeed. I'm not sure how I forgot him in the first place. Will add.