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Don't Forget About the Offense

By Rajiv Leventhal

We all knew that the main priority for Omar Minaya and the rest of the Mets front office this off-season was to get pitching, pitching and some more pitching. Most of this had to do with the bullpen, which was one of the worst in MLB history after closer Billy Wagner went down in early August last season. By getting Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz to shore up the back end of the bullpen (and by getting rid of Aaron Heilman and Scott Schoeneweis), the Mets might have just turned a dreadful bullpen into the best 8th and 9th inning combination in baseball.

These moves, along with the inevitable signing of a starting pitcher will greatly improve a pitching staff that was overworked and worn down during the team's playoff run in 2008. But what people might seem to be forgetting is the inconsistency and imbalance from the offense for much of last year.

The Mets offense looked great on paper last year- they tied with the Phillies for the 2nd most runs in the league, while ranking 4th in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS. However, most true Mets fans realize that this wasn't a big-time offense late in games and down the stretch.

Sure, Carlos Delgado had a huge 2nd half of the season (.303, 21, 63) and the big three-Beltran, Reyes and Wright all had very nice seasons. But the problem with this offense was that it was a four-man attack and not much else.

The team got almost no production out of the 2nd base threesome of Luis Castillo, Argenis Reyes and Damion Easley. They got just 38 RBI out of the starting catcher position with Brian Schneider. Ryan Church was hurt nearly half the season, leading to very little production from right field. And while Fernando Tatis had a comeback season in left field before getting hurt (47 RBI in 92 games), that cannot be expected again in 2009.

Despite all this, the Mets have yet to address their offensive deficiencies this off-season. Their second base situation reeks of disaster since Castillo (.245, 28 RBI in 87 games) is on the books for $18 million over the next three years. Their catching platoon of Schneider and the oft-injured Ramon Castro remains mediocre at best, and while Daniel Murphy projects as a promising young hitter in left field, you cannot expect more than average numbers from him at a hitting-heavy position.

Even if Ryan Church bounces back and has a solid and healthy season, this is still an imbalanced offense. You also have to keep in mind that the big four of Reyes, Wright, Delgado and Beltran all played at least 159 games last year. If one of them were to get hurt this season (Beltran is always a likely candidate), the offense would take a big hit. While no one expects the front office to plan around a potential injury, acquiring more balance in this lineup would make a whole lot of sense.

So, what are the solutions? Look, I don't expect Fred Wilpon to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars for Manny Ramirez or Mark Teixeira. But there certainly are options. One would be to sign Adam Dunn for left field. While Dunn has tons of flaws in his game, he hits home runs and gets on base. Plus, he could be a replacement at first base for when Delgado leaves next year. If Dunn could be had for about $12 million per season, that's not a bad option to boost the offense. Orlando Hudson is another free agent that could be a big improvement at 2nd base and at the top of the lineup if the Mets can somehow get a team to take Castillo off their hands.

Other, cheaper options would include signing Ty Wigginton, who could play some 2nd base and left field. Wiggington was solid last year for Houston (.285, 23 and 58) and brings a right-handed bat to a very left-handed heavy offense.

Upgrading catcher is always a hard task, but the Red Sox have recently shown some interest in acquiring Schneider. If the Mets can get a prospect for him and turn him around for say, Bengie Molina from the Giants (who could be available), that would be a very good move. Molina has much more pop than Schneider (16 and 95) and wouldn't be a downgrade behind the plate.

While I still have hope that Omar Minaya and Co. will upgrade this offense in some capacity, it is somewhat troubling that it doesn't seem to be a priority for them at all. Too often last season, they would put up five runs in a few innings and not score the rest of the game. Or they would score 10 runs in one game and then put up one run in each of the next three. Having seven or eight consistent hitters who get on base is far better than having four smashers and not much else. Let's hope that Minaya will look beyond the numbers and not forget that pitching doesn't win championships alone.


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