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What To Make Of The Mets

Here we are on January 21st The 2008 baseball season is long gone, and it still seems like the 2009 season seems like it is still very far on the horizon. That might be a good thing for the New York Mets. There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered as this is very much an incomplete team. The only additions of the winter have been to the back of the bullpen, absolutely a necessity, but even that has its concerns. The lineup still has a couple uncertainties, there is a big hole in the rotation, and the front end of the bullpen still features much of the same lame arms as the last two seasons.
Yes, the additions of Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz will drastically increase the output of the bullpen that sank the Mets 2008 campaign. But K-Rod lost some zip on his fastball this season in spite of his record breaking year, and will have to adjust to using some breaking and off-speed pitches to keep the NL hitters off balance. The bigger question surround Putz. As Billy Wagner often proved when he was used in the eighth inning or non-save situations, many closers have the mentality that they need to be in the do-or-die pressure situations with the adrenaline pumping full blast to play their best. Can Putz adjust to being the set-up guy? Can he adjust to the New York market and the tense Mets fans (possibly now the tensest in baseball after the Phillies World Series win) after pitching in lax Seattle? Fellow newcomer Sean Green (not Shaun Green) will replace Joe Smith and Aaron Heilman finally has his change of scenery, but the rest of the bullpen is the same. Pedro Feliciano, Duaner Sanchez, Brain Stokes, Carlos Muniz and youngsters Bobby Parnell and Eddie Kunz comprise the rest of the pen, and that can’t make Mets fans to happy. Several of these pitchers will have to step up if the Mets are going to contend.
As for the starting pitching, Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey and John Maine are set, with Jon Neise (who showed a little promise at the end of last season) and Tim Redding vying for the fifth spot. That leaves one more open position, which could be filled by the return of Oliver Perez. Perez is as a mixed bag as there is in baseball. On one hand, he’s a 26-year-old lefty who can be knittable at times, and usually has his best games against the biggest opponents (Phillies, Braves, Yankees) but he is also inconsistent to the point of insanity as the biggest detriment to Ollie Perez is usually Ollie himself. But he is probably the surest thing left on the free agent market. Plus with the Phillies lineup featuring Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and the newly acquired Raul Ibanez, the Mets can’t have enough lefties. The X-factor is the availability of Ben Sheets. The former Brewers ace is the best pure talent left on the market, but he has a nagging history of not being able to finish a season. It would be a calculated risk for the Mets to give Sheets a one-year incentive-laden contract. If he is out in September, it could be yet another death knell late in the season. But it could be the steal of the off season if he stays healthy and plays with a chip on his shoulder to prove the rest of baseball wrong. If the Mets were really savvy, they would sign Perez and Sheets, giving them the best rotation in the NL, and saving Redding and Niese for the bullpen or emergency start roles.
As for the offense, unless they can move Luis Castillo and bring in Orlando Hudson, the Mets lineup will likely stay intact. While Mets fans (myself included) dream of Manny Ramirez being brought to Queens, that likely will not happen. The Mets have shown zero interest in investing their money in someone as flaky as Manny, but Manny would really solve much of their problems. He would be a lightning rod for the press, so David Wright don’t have to carry the weight of the franchise on his shoulders and the press can stop worrying why Carlos Delgado and Jose Reyes don’t talk to them. He would remove all the talk of the past season’s collapses, would bring them much closer to the Phillies, and would knock the Yankees off the back pages. Imagine a lineup where the top six was Reyes, Beltran, Manny, Delgado, Wright and Church. That’s the best lineup in baseball. But it’s just a dream for the fans of Flushing.
As for the brand new Citi Field, even that’s taking some heat. With Citibank at the center of the financial trouble, many fans are displeased with the name of a disgraced bank adorning the Mets new field. How about changing the name to New York City Field, honoring one of the (if not the) best baseball city in America, which has engaged in a love affair with baseball for over 100 years. As for that ridiculous patch, hopefully the stadium will be so beautiful and the Mets playing so well we all forget about it. But I wouldn’t buy any jersey that has that ridiculous piece of cloth on it. Only 24 days until pitchers and catchers report.

Jason Levy

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