Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mets Preview with Amazin' Avenue

Continuing our team-by-team NL East preview with our friends who blog about our enemies, today we're chatting with Eric from Amazin' Avenue....

Finish this sentence: The Mets will contend this season if:
Everyone stays healthy (this already hasn't happened) and Chase Utley and Roy Halladay are sidelined for the the whole year following a bizarre hot tub-related incident.

And this one: The Mets will challenge the Nationals for last place if:
Two of Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Johan Santana miss significant time.

There's a sizable camp of baseball fans who think Omar Minaya is one of the very worst GMs in baseball and should be fired. What's your take on Omar?
I think he excels in a couple of key areas, namely the big ticket items and the scrap heap reclamations. When he spends big he generally does so effectively: Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez (mixed bag, but ultimately a good signing), Billy Wagner, Johan Santana. He's also seen good returns on nominal investments in guys like Jose Valentin, Fernando Tatis, and Pedro Feliciano, among others.

Where he seems to have trouble is in that fat middle area, which helps to explain how the Mets have so many holes despite a payroll north of $130 million. Huge money has been invested in Beltran, Santana, Francisco Rodriguez, Jason Bay, and to a slightly lesser degree David Wright and Jose Reyes, yet they're getting decent value from guys like Angel Pagan, Mike Pelfrey, and their catching tandem.

Despite all of that, they could field near replacement level players in right field, at second base, and at first base, with big question marks in at least three of the starting rotation spots. I'd expect fewer ifs at the price tag this team carries.

I think a lot of the criticism leveled at Minaya is completely justified, but it got to a point this offseason where the echo chamber of Internet baseball writing would disparage him even for reasonable deals like bringing Tatis back or no-risk deals like those for Mike Jacobs and Gary Matthews Jr.

Who should play centerfield while Beltran is hurt?
Probably Angel Pagan, which says more about the alternatives than it does about Pagan. The only other in-house options are Gary Matthews Jr. and Jason Pridie, and neither is especially attractive. Pagan performed well in Beltran's absence in 2009 and probably deserves a shot to play while he can. If he doesn't hurt himself as he usually does there's a good chance he can be an average center fielder while Voltron is on the shelf.

Everyone knows the Mets had an incredible run of injuries last season. If there had been only an average number of injuries, would the Mets have contended? Or are the problems deeper than that?
I don't think those are mutually exclusive. The Mets have a lot of deep-seated organization problems, but they probably would have been a decent team last season if not for the injuries. I'm not sure they could have overcome the Phillies (in fact, I'm pretty sure they couldn't have), but a little bit of luck and I think they could have been playing semi-meaningful games in September. The injury problem was compounded by a failure to provide reasonable fill-ins for practically everyone who was hurt. Even though a lot of the backups also got hurt, most of those guys weren't much good to begin with (Fernando Nieve? Ramon Martinez?).

How do you rate the team's off-season? On one hand, the Mets scored Jason Bay, but on the other they didn't upgrade the rotation or first base, and the Mike Jacobs and Gary Matthews acquisitions were widely panned.
The Mets maintained the status quo this off-season. They chased one of the two big free agent outfielders, ultimately landing the lesser of the two to a more favorable contract than the deal Matt Holiday got from the Cardinals. Bay is a great hitter and a terrible fielder, but you're right that he only partially solved one of their problems at the cost of most of the team's winter budget. Minaya misplayed the market by signing Alex Cora to a $2 million deal early on only to watch far superior players like Orlando Hudson sign similar deals in the hot stove's waning days.

The Mike Jacobs and GMJ deals are hard to pan because they basically cost the Mets nothing, but in this case they got what they paid for because neither player is likely to contribute anything above replacement-level production.

The scope of possible outcomes for the starting rotation is expansive, with an upside of "great all-around" and a downside of "Johan Santana plus four." I think we've all grown a little tired of Oliver Perez and John Maine falling short of expectations, but I guess we're gonna ride that train one more time in 2010. The good news is that the Mets have a few semi-credible backups in Nelson Figueroa, Hisanori Takahashi, and Pat Misch to step in and take on some innings when Perez and/or Maine inevitably lands on the disabled list, but the bad news is that those three pitchers are little more than decent fifth starter candidates.

Minaya seems to have succeeded in two areas, though: the bullpen looks pretty strong and the catching tandem of Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco is cheap and decent. For the former, Ryota Igarashi, Kiko Calero, and the aforementioned Takahashi will help support Francisco Rodriguez, Pedro Feliciano, and Sean Green, who collectively give the Mets a lot of different relief options. For the latter, the Mets avoided the temptation of overpaying for Bengie Molina and brought in a couple of solid veterans in Barajas and Blanco who should be around league average in aggregate for the grand sum of a few million dollars.

Who will, and who should, get the majority of starts at catcher?
Barajas, who is better offensively and defensively than Blanco. Blanco is no slouch with the glove, but he doesn't really hit much (Barajas doesn't hit much, either, but he's the better of the two).

To win, the team needs major bounce-back seasons from Jose Reyes and David Wright. Will that happen?
I think so. Reyes needs to be on the field, and despite the recent thyroid scare that could keep him out of the Opening Day lineup, he figures to be back in action in early April and has had no setbacks following hamstring surgery in October. If he's on the field he'll return to being one of the few most valuable shortstops in baseball.

Wright, too, I expect to bounce back. He didn't have a terrible 2009, but his power dropped significantly and his strikeout rate shot up as well. He continued to get on base with relative ease, but his high batting average was buoyed by an unsustainable .394 BABIP. I think his power stroke will return in 2010, dampered somewhat by Citi Field, but a return to 20-25 home runs is a definitely possibility.

(Required Mets-Nats question) Who's better: Wright or Zimmerman?
Zimmerman was far better last year, but Wright has the superior career resume. The truth is that I'm happy to have Wright because I think he's a good fit for this team and this city (and he grew up a Mets fan), but it's a coin flip as to who will be better over the next decade.

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