How was your Christmas? Did you enjoy the latest blue-and-orange gift? Yessir, that was Kelvim Escobar whom you unwrapped. He’s pitched all of five innings since 2007, so please handle him with care. In fact, maybe you’d better put him up on that shelf for a bit. No, that’s the end of the presents. But hey, have you tried this fruitcake? It’s … well, it’s not as bad as you might think.
That was more or less my reaction, and probably yours too. But it’s more of a reaction to the egregious context of being a Mets fan these days than it is a fair criticism of a pretty minor move. Sure, Escobar is a reclamation project. Yes, shoulder problems have trashed the last two years of his career. OK, it’s a major-league deal. But he will only be 33 on Opening Day — not young, but not superannuated like, say, El Duque. He won 18 games back in 2007, before his shoulder betrayed him. His envisioned role is as a setup guy, not a part of the rotation. It’s a low-risk, high-reward move from a team that’s offered too may high-risk, low-reward ones in recent years.
The Mets haven’t had much luck with this kind of thing of late, sure — but they’re not relying on luck to play an enormous role here. So it goes for their other recent moves. Granted, R. A. Dickey isn’t a name to warm hearts around a lukewarm stove, and the list of Mets knuckleballers isn’t exactly distinguished: There’s Dennis Springer, and primeval Amazins’ hurler Bob Moorhead, and that’s about it. (Rich Sauveur fooled around with it, but then Rich Sauveur’s singular career includes just about everything a pitcher could try and just about everywhere he could try it. As well as a very elusive baseball card.) But as Greg has also advised, let R. A. Dickey alone. He’s not ticketed for the rotation either, and he doesn’t have … let’s say “much” to do with Springer or Moorhead.
The Mets’ record with Japanese players isn’t exactly great, from Takashi Kashiwada (coached by Alberto Castillo with the advice “throw that teriyaki ball”) to Ken Takahashi (coached to throw to Raul Ibanez, with tragic results). I know I will be confusing and combining those two’s names forever, while mostly trying to forget the other Japanese imports — I’ll see your Kaz Ishii and raise you Kaz Matsui, with what fond feelings I can muster reserved for Masato Yoshii. (Who was more determined than good anyway.) But we all know it’s only fair to ask Ryota Igarashi to answer for his own performance, not that of anybody else and certainly not those of his countrymen.
Jason Bay and Bengie Molina … now there’s another question. I think Matt Holliday is worth a long-term megadeal while Bay is not — he’s not as good a defender as Holliday (one horrid lowlight aside) and I don’t think he’ll age as well as a hitter. And I want no part of Molina at all — he combines the on-base ability of Jeff Francoeur with the speed of an Aldabra giant tortoise. But whatever I think of the Mets’ priorities there (and whatever I may not know about their budgetary constraints), those moves haven’t been made yet. They may be, or they may not be. And certainly other moves will come — perhaps even ones that we approve of without reservation. Recall that Johan Santana wasn’t confirmed as a 2008 Met until February, and before his arrival, the offseason hadn’t exactly been scintillating: The Mets had made one big move (the still-controversial swap of Lastings Milledge for Brian Schneider and Ryan Church) but otherwise added backup catchers (Gustavo Molina, Raul Casanova) and spaghetti-at-the-wall middle relievers (Brian Stokes, Matt Wise, Ricardo Rincon). Sound familiar?
This isn’t to say that I trust Omar Minaya. I don’t. I think he should have been fired last year, I’m not sure he has a coherent plan now, and I fear he will make desperate moves in an effort to save his job if the Mets get off to a lackluster start, which will only make things worse for whomever succeeds him. But nothing he’s done in the last couple of weeks has made me trust him less. He hasn’t given in to impatience, adding years and/or money in an effort to put the Bay in Beirut or let us watch Molina become even more like molasses. (And do you know how long Aldabran tortoises live?)
These are tough times, and they may get a lot worse. But Decembers and Januarys aren’t like Junes or Julys. There aren’t winning streaks or games to be made up in the standings. You have to wait and let the entire offseason (including spring training) play out to have a sense of what was accomplished. And even then you’re just guessing, waiting for the real show to begin.