Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Saturday, February 23, 2008

New York Mets 2008 Preview: Santana Claus Is Coming To Town

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

The 2007 Mets pulled off an amazing feat in 2007. They spent 140 days in first place, and yet the team and its fans agree: the season sucked. Leading the pack by eleven games on September 12, the Mets folded like beach furniture, losing 12 of their final 17 games. They could have made the postseason despite that by winning their final game, but Tom Glavine got wiped out in a seven run first inning and the dismal Marlins sent the Mets packing for the winter. I'd heard tell that Proven Veterans (tm) like Glavine were magically delicious in those situations, but I guess I was misinformed. Management decided to bring in someone else to pitch games like that, and found that the Twins were anxious to unload this Santana fella for some guys who vaguely resemble prospects. Bold predictions aside, the Mets and Phillies should battle it out down to the wire again.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Shea Stadium is usually a pitchers park, and it was again in 2007, but it took an unusually heavy toll on the Mets' offense. The Mets finished second in the league in runs scored on the road, but 11th at home. Guys named Carlos didn't fare well there at all. Carlos Beltran slugged 100 points less at home. Carlos Delgado didn't even reach replacement level wearing the home whites, putting up a .225-.313-.368 mark compared to .288-.351-.519 while wearing gray. David Wright had about as great a season as you can ask no matter what park he was appearing in.

SS Jose Reyes
2B Luis Castillo
3B David Wright
CF Carlos Beltran
1B Carlos Delgado
LF Moises Alou
RF Ryan Church
C Brian Schneider

A formidable group, but the Mets should be spending the spring looking for depth. Alou really can't be counted on for more than about 90 games a year. Delgado has a huge platoon split; finding someone to timeshare with him at first would help a lot. Hey, here's a guy like that right here, and he's in camp! I admit to being almost as wrong about Reyes as I was about Bobby Jenks; he's turned into a fine leadoff man. Wright and Beltran are two of the best players in the game.

Pitchers or belly itchers?

Overall the Mets were slightly above average on the hill in 2007. Glavine was slightly below average, but John Maine and Oliver Perez pitched very well and Orlando Hernandez was his usual self; effective when he was healthy enough to pitch. Pedro Martinez came back in September and showed that he can still be effective. Of course, as you may have heard, the Mets took a step to improve the rotation for 2008.

SP Johan Santana
SP John Maine
SP Oliver Perez
SP Pedro Martinez
SP Orlando Hernandez

CL Billy Wagner
RP Aaron Heilman
RP Pedro Feliciano

For quick reference, the Mets' head trainer is Ray Ramirez. Pedro, Orlando, I'm sure you know where to find him. Snark aside, that's a pretty good rotation, with some depth. Jorge Sosa gave the Mets more or less league average work as a fill in last year and is back in case he's needed again (he will be). Mike Pelfrey, the Mets' 2005 first round pick is also available. Maine (Orioles) and Perez (Pirates) are excellent illustrations of how bad organizations misjudge and fail to instruct talent and how good organizations make them useful.

Witnesses for the defense

If a team has to go deep into the pitching reserves, it helps to have a good defense to back them up. The Mets have one. Wright, Beltran, and Reyes are outstanding. Church is a good defender in right. The right side of the infield isn't getting younger and lacks range, though, and a 41 year old leftfielder isn't usually any kind of Gold Glove candidate, either.

Farm aid

Other than Pelfrey, the Mets have no good prospects close enough to the majors to be of any real help in 2008 except as trade bait. While the Santana trade stripped four prospects from the system, none of them would have been terribly useful to the major league roster this year either. Outfielder Fernando Martinez hit .271 at double A at the age of 18, which is very impressive. Many scouts project him as a middle of the order star, but he's a couple of years away.

Watch out for that tree!

Delgado is 36 and his offense has declined the past three years. However, his road performance last year leads me to think that he still has a bit of gas in the tank, even if he's not the hitter he was a few years ago. Castillo is 32 and has had leg problems; not what you want in a guy whose main asset was his speed. Alou breaks down every year; any time now will be the last time, although if he can play, he can hit. Hernandez is the pitching version of Moises Alou. Martinez pitched well in September but must be closely monitored. With the farm system not ready with replacements, injuries or sudden declines by these guys could be devastating.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

The Mets and the Phillies are loaded with talent and are expected to be two of, if not the two best, teams in the NL in 2008. But neither is foolproof. The Mets don't have a lot of depth and are counting on a number of rapidly aging players: Delgado, Alou, Castillo, Pedro Martinez, Hernandez, and Billy Wagner. On the other hand, they have Wright, Beltran, Reyes, and Santana, which is enough to carry a team a long ways. The Mets offense may be a very small step behind the Phillies, but the Phils don't have the rotation or depth in relievers that the Mets do. I think that this will be enough to push the Mets back ahead this year.

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