Can you make a competitive team with your pick of the remaining free agents?

I was flipping through the list of remaining free agents (as of 1/16/2012) and tried to field the best team possible with those players still available.  Here’s what you can do…

Catcher:

The best hitting catcher is probably Ramon Castro, who I see as a DH but can catch some.  You have a couple of receivers with good defensive skills but a limited offensive outlook (Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Varitek) and a couple of catchers who have recently been regulars (Chris Snyder, Ronny Paulino).  If you took Castro and Rodriguez, at least you’d have someone who could work with the pitchers and throw, and you’d have a decent enough backup who could help put a few runs on the board.

First Baseman:

With Prince Fielder still available, you have the centerpiece of an offense – but you still have some competent backups.  Casey Kotchman seems to have found his hitting stroke, and Carlos Pena could help in a platoon role (can’t hit lefties, though).  If you weren’t willing to pony up $20 million per year for Fielder, a platoon of Pena and Derrek Lee might give you depth and a solid platoon.

Second Baseman:

Not a lot to choose from here…  The best player is probably Carlos Guillen, but he’s only going to play 40 games (not to be mean here, but his injury history is becoming problematic).  That leaves you with someone who can, at best, not embarrass you with the glove – Jeff Keppinger, for example – and even play a couple of positions since you may need some flexibility.

Third Baseman:

If you thought the pickings were thin at second, it’s even thinner at third base now.  Casey Blake has had a couple of good years, and Wilson Betemit can swing the bat.  After that, it’s guys who used to be able to play some (Eric Chavez, Alex Cora, Omar Vizquel).

Shortstop:

Three guys who can’t really cover the position anymore – Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, and Miguel Tejada.  The best overall option is probably Cabrera – or letting him play second and moving Keppinger over to play short.

Outfielders:

There are still a few players here who could contribute, but most of these guys are past prime players and few have the wheels to cover center.  However, Johnny Damon could still play left, Cody Ross can play right or center (though he’s running out of years he’ll be able to cover center).  Kosuke Fukudome is a fantastic right fielder and can still bat leadoff.  Behind that you have a couple of guys who could be good fourth outfielders and pinch hitting types – Jonny Gomes, Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre.  If you needed a defensive guy, Joey Gathright is there.  And, if you want to take a real chance, you could go for Yoenis Cespedes.

A lineup as listed below would score some runs, and probably fight the defense to a draw.

Fukudome – RF
Damon – LF
Guillen – 2B
Fielder – 1B
Castro – C
Ross – CF
Blake – 3B
Keppinger – SS
(Pitcher – assuming a National League team)

Starting Pitchers:

A couple recent signings has killed off much of the top remaining pitchers, but you still have a few guys who can win games.  I see a rotation that includes the following as having some potential:

Roy Oswalt
Edwin Jackson
Jon Garland
Joe Saunders
Livan Hernandez

And I’d give a sixth spot to Rich Harden – pitch him until something breaks (which it will).  Or, you could take Harden’s stuff and make a closer out of him.  Your emergency arm might be Kevin Millwood – I just don’t know if he has one more year left.  I’d stash him in AAA until Rich Harden breaks down…  The staff is really missing an ace, but you have two guys who can win at the top and three guys who can give you 650 innings at the bottom, which helps the bullpen.

Relievers:

The signing of Ryan Madson takes away the best available closer, but you can do a bullpen by committee and hope someone takes charge.  I see the top six arms as follows:

Michael Gonzalez
Danys Baez
Francisco Cordero
Juan Cruz
Brad Lidge
Arthur Rhodes

Out of that list, you can give Lidge the last inning (if he’s healthy) and mix and match the rest to be reasonably effective.

I haven’t done the math on this, but a team with this roster could possibly make a run at 85 wins.

Top NL Shortstops in 2009

Hanley Ramirez (FLA):  Not great defensively, but an amazingly good hitter and the whole package makes him the best shortstop in baseball.  More patient than ever, has solid power and can still run the bases.  Go look at his minor league stats and tell me if you can see this coming.  I still think Miguel Cabrera is the best player ever to wear the Marlins uniform, but it might be Hanley.  (126.9 Runs Created, -6.24 Runs Saved = 120.63 Total Run Production)

Miguel Tejada (HOU):  Still a remarkably productive hitter despite not drawing any walks.  Hardly misses a game, had a decent year in the field (Blum can’t cut off anything) – now heading back to Baltimore and moving to third base.  (104.1 Runs Created, -2.0 Runs Saved = 102.07 Total Run Production)

There was a time when I was a big Tejada fan.  Now, not so much.  The Astros wanted him to move to third base and had he done that the Astros would have been probably 30 runs better because Keppinger would have been the full time shortstop.  (That being said, Keppinger should have been the full time third baseman.)  He lied about his age.  He was incriminated by Rafael Palmeiro – and if you look at it – I absolutely believe that Tejada was juicing.  He was in Oakland, one of the two centers of PED abuse (the other being Texas, but only because Canseco brought the practice with him from Oakland to Texas).  His power numbers have fallen off the further away from his PED use he’s gotten.  He does what he thinks is right and not what the manager wants.  Nobody has come right out and said it, but there’s no way he’s a role model for anybody.

Troy Tulowitzki (COL):  Even considering he played in Colorado, Tulo’s offense was great – good power, good patience, good baserunning, almost hit .300.  His fielding isn’t what it was a few years ago when he came up, but if he puts 100 runs on the board, nobody will complain.  (106.0 Runs Created, -6.6 Runs Saved = 99.43 Total Run Production)

Yunel Escobar (ATL):  I see a lot of him being a Marlins fan and boy is this guy good.  He’s no Ramirez, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits .320 with 20 homers one day.  I hope he’s on my fantasy team when he does it.  I look for that season in 2011, but it could be this year.  92.9 Runs Created, 3.4 Runs Saved = 96.24 Total Run Production)

Rafael Furcal (LAD):  A near healthy season – his batting average isn’t what it once was, and he doesn’t tear up the bases like he used to, and he can’t field the way he once did…  His arm is still a cannon.  He’s pretty much a league average starter now and slightly above average for his position.  (85.7 Runs Created, 3.5 Runs Saved = 89.17 Total Run Production)

Ryan Theriot (CHC):  Doesn’t hit for enough power to move up this list, but still  a fine shortstop.  The Cubs should be glad to have him.  (75.8 Runs Created, 8.5 Runs Saved = 84.27 Total Run Production)

Brendan Ryan (STL):  I liked him a couple of years ago, but he was better than I had thought he’d be in 2009.  Hit enough and played the position supurbly.  Didn’t get enough credit for helping the Cardinals make it to the top of the NL Central.  (58.5 Runs Created, 21.2 Runs Saved = 79.71 Total Run Production)

Everth Cabrera (SD):  Brendan Ryan with a bit more speed.  He’s an old school #2 hitter – would be nice if he could step up with about 15% more offense.  That means finding more ways to get on base because he has little, if any, power.  (59.1 Runs Created, 13.7 Runs Saved = 72.81 Total Run Production)

Stephen Drew (ARI):  Isn’t horrible, but I can’t help but think he’s kind of a disappointment.  Hits for a little power, gets on base some – doesn’t kill you with the glove.  You don’t hear about him because he plays in Arizona and they aren’t all that good right now, but he’s not all that noticeable either.  (68.2 Runs Created, -3.67 Runs Saved = 64.56 Total Run Production)

Jimmy Rollins (PHI):  Phillie fans are going to be surprised at this rating, but despite the power and base stealing, what did he do?  I know – Rollins got the gold glove.  But did ANYBODY look at the stats?  Like Derek Jeter, his reputation was bigger than his range – he had the WORST range of anyone playing 300 innings at the position – except for the ancient Edgar Renteria.  When you adjust for the staff (balls in play, groundball/fly ball) Rollins is dead last.  He also didn’t get on base.  When he’s on – he can explode offensively, but he is NOT a valuable commodity anymore.  Would I rather have Everth Cabrera these days than Jimmy Rollins?  Yes.  Yes, I would.  (88.5 Runs Created, -26.07 Runs Saved = 62.42 Total Run Production)

Cristian Guzman (WAS):  Only his batting average is worth anything.  Range is gone, speed is gone, and he has little power or patience at the plate.  I’d play Ian Desmond.  (63.9 Runs Created, -10.2 Runs Saved = 53.73 Total Run Production)

J.J. Hardy (MIL):  Gone – now the job belongs to Alcides Escobar.  He’s not horrible, but it would be nice if he could find his bat again.  I promise you he’ll be playing for two or three more years and is NOT the new Dale Sveum.  (47.9 Runs Created, 3.9 Runs Saved = 51.74 Total Run Production)

Alcides Escobar got his first taste of the big leagues and looked great.  Good range, decent enough bat.  At 500 at bats and 140 games, he’s moving into the top seven and if he’s all that, he’s a big step up from Hardy.

Paul Janish (CIN):  Can’t hit a lick (.211, with little power or patience) but had amazing defensive stats.  The new John McDonald?  (23.7 Runs Created, 24.73 Runs Saved = 48.46 Total Run Production)

Jack Wilson (PIT/SEA):  I know – great glove.  However, he’s gettin older, missing time, and isn’t much of an offensive force.  Tell me again how this helps the Mariners in the long run?  (39.8 Runs Created, 7.6 Runs Saved = 47.40 Total Run Production)

Edgar Renteria (SF):  Had a better year with the glove than normal, but still below average.  Not much offensively anymore either.  And yet, he has a job in San Francisco.  Reason #3 that the team won’t make the playoffs.  (46.9 Runs Created, -6.7 Runs Saved = 40.29 Total Run Production)

Jeff Keppinger (HOU):  Most of the time, he played third base behind Blum but he can still play short.  If he played full time, he’s at least as good as Guzman and maybe as productive (overall) as Rollins or Drew.   In 2010, he might get more innings there – the MLB depth chart lists rookie Tommy Manzello as the potential starter.  Manzello has little power, isn’t a huge on base guy – but if he can field at all he’s a Jack Wilson clone. (39.4 Runs Created, 0.7 Runs Saved = 40.07 Total Run Production)

Ronny Cedeno (PIT):  No hit, decent glove, utility infield type.  Not going to impact Pittsburgh other than he’s playing because nobody else is ready.  31.0 Runs Created, 7.3 Runs Saved = 38.3 Total Run Production)

Alex Cora (NYM):  Broke BOTH thumbs.  Now THAT’S a bad break.  He’s really not a half-bad player and most teams would love to have him as their shortstop.  (29.2 Runs Created, 7.6 Runs Saved = 36.78 Total Run Production)

Alex Gonzalez (CIN/BOS):  Age and injuries have sapped his range – he was never that good with the bat.  It was a good run, though.  Orlando Cabrera has the job now and he’s a serious step up over what Cincy threw out there in 2009. (39.9 Runs Created, -12.3 Runs Saved = 27.6 Total Run Production)

Jose Reyes (NYM):  Obviously a better player than this, but his bum wheels affected his range and he didn’t play into the summer.  If healthy, he’s top six for sure.  (23.6 Runs Created, -6.3 Runs Saved = 17.26 Total Run Production)

Jeter Adds SI Award; Sizemore “Exposed”; and Other News…

If you get Sports Illustrated delivered to your home (as I do), this week’s cover will include the SI Sportsperson of the Year – Derek Jeter.  Jeter is near universally admired by his peers and baseball fans everywhere (except statisticians who bemoan his lack of range at shortstop), and it’s hard not to be a fan of someone who has “class” written about him in every article.  I mean, Bob Sheppard is finally retiring at 99, no longer able to make it to Yankee Stadium to work the public address mic, but Jeter insists on having a recording of Sheppard’s introduction played before every at bat.

Jeter talks about winning the award with Dan Patrick.  [DanPatrick.com/SI]

Probably Not the Photo Taken by Topps, Huh…

If you take a couple of suggestive photos for your significant other, beware who else might have access to that computer or phone where the photos are stored…  That’s the lesson Grady Sizemore seems to have learned now that a series of photos that likely won’t be sold on fathead.com have found their way onto the internet.  Sizemore, working through the legal arm of MLB, is trying to have websites that now have copies of these photos removed – but not all sites are conforming to the request.  Apparently, the leak comes from a friend/angry friend of his girlfriend.  [ESPN]

Check out the photos, if you dare, on deadspin.com…  [Deadspin]

Back to Baseball…

Sources in the Roy Halliday clan say that the pitcher wants to be dealt by spring training, else he will veto any trade after that.  Halliday wants to be able to focus on preparing for and playing in 2010.  [ESPN]

Chip Caray and TBS are no longer on the same team; both sides agreeing to go their separate ways.  [MLB]

Alex Cora, who filled in for the injured Jose Reyes until he, too, lost his season to two thumb injuries, resigned with the Mets for a one-year, $2 million deal with some incentives for playing time.  Cora remains a decent backup, but you’ll want to see how he handles the bat or throws upon his return. [MLB]

Another backup got signed – catcher Jason LaRue of the Cardinals.  LaRue’s one year deal is worth $950K.  [FoxSports]

In a grand gesture of kindness, the Angels players agreed to provide a full share of their playoff earnings to the estate of Nick Adenhart, worth about $140K.  The Yankees divided their share amongst 46 players, taking home a record $365K each.  Since the average Yankee earns something like $7.5 million, it’s tip money, but still…  Did you know that the second place clubs that DIDN’T make the playoffs also receive a share of the playoff money?  Basically, the players get a large percentage of the ticket sales first three (of a five game series) or four (of a seven game series) game series.  [MLB]

Hall of Fame Ballots for those who cannot vote…

Rob Neyer

Keith Law

Happy Birthday!

Walter Alston was born on this day in 1911 – and then managed the Dodgers forever…  At least until he got old and handed the reins to Tommy Lasorda, who may be my favorite manager of all time.

Also celebrating with cards, cake, or rememberances:  Ed Reulbach (1882) – the best fourth starter ever?, Cookie Lavagetto (1912), Marty Marion (1917), Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish (1925), George Foster (1948), Dan Schatzeder (1954), Tom Filer (1956), Greg Harris (1963), Larry Walker (1966), Reggie Sanders (1967) – and probably still on the DL somewhere, Kirk Rueter (1970).

Tom Filer has the longest winning streak of all time, probably, if you go by elapsed time between losses.  After losing two decisions, Filer won his first career game on 7 – 3 – 1982 for the Cubs, went to the minors for two years before playing again in 1985 and going 7 – 0 that season for Toronto.  He wasn’t in a major league game again until 1988, where Filer won his first three decisions with the Brewers before finally losing on 6 – 19 – 1988 – two weeks shy of six years, with eleven straight winning decisions.

Pudge Returns to Rangers; Lots of Baseball Briefs…

Ivan Rodriguez, perhaps the greatest Texas Ranger of all, returns to his original home team for the stretch run.  The Astros traded the veteran to Texas for three prospects (one named, two not) so that Taylor Teagarden could have a veteran backup with Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the DL.   Pudge is no longer the offensive threat he was even three years ago, much less in his prime, hitting like a veteran backup catcher.  On the other hand, what does this say about where Houston is heading?  Houston had made an impressive run to get to into the NL Central mix, only to deal away someone who had been helping keep the Astros staff intact and checking the running game.  J. R. Towles gets one more shot to become the starter they envisioned back in 2007, I guess.  [ESPN]

Who did Houston get?  Matt Nevarez has looked solid at Hickory (A), with 50Ks in just 35 innings, and finally appears to be harnessing his control.  Nevarez is 22, signed four years ago after being drafted in the 10th round out of high school.

Look for Dodger starter Hiroki Kuroda to get a DL stint to recover from post-concussion elements.  [ESPN]

John Smoltz might be a Cardinal?  No team has done more in the last four weeks to upgrade the team than St. Louis.  [ESPN/FoxSports]

Meanwhile, FoxSports thinks that the Dodgers, in need of a starter, might consider Vincente Padilla.  [FoxSports]

I haven’t found the article – admitting that I haven’t searched too much – but I read in the Chicago Tribune that Carlos Zambrano admitted that his back problems start with poor conditioning…  So, while he’s on the DL, Big Z is battling the bulge, too.  Meanwhile, another Carlos Cubbie – Carlos Marmol, finally gets a shot at the closer role – despite his on/off season.  I checked this out yesterday – Kevin Gregg was AWESOME in the month of July, only to fall flat in August (for the second year in a row, by the way).  [FoxSports]

Another pitcher with a bad back isn’t ready to return, and that’s Boston’s Tim Wakefield.  Look for him to rehab for at least two or three more starts.  [ESPN]

Stephen Strasburg isn’t going to be ready to pitch for at least a month, so don’t look for him to pitch in Washington in 2009 – and he’ll likely spend a year in the minors after that.  Word on the street is that the Nationals will not unnecessarily race him to the majors, despite his major league paycheck.  [ESPN]

Fun stuff?  Check out Rob Neyer’s blog on ESPN…

Welcome  Back!  Tampa’s Chad Bradford returns from the DL (officially), costing Reid Brignac a roster spot.  KC’s Kyle Farnsworth returns from his DL stint.

Hurry Back!  Houston’s Mike Hampton heads to the DL with a shoulder strain.  Met Alex Cora heads to the DL with sprains in BOTH thumbs.  Wow.  White Sox Hero Dewayne Wise has a strained right shoulder and gets some time off.

Broadway comes to the Mets, Rockies clear (out) Hurdle

The first manager to fall is Clint Hurdle, replaced after an 18 – 28 start, which makes you wonder how Manny Acta keeps his job in Washington (13 – 34) or similar slow starts in Oakland (18 – 28) or Houston (19 – 27). Or, how about the teams that are disappointing – like Cleveland (21 – 29).

Interim manager, Jim Tracy, won his first game.

The Yankees won, taking over first place in the AL East, getting contributions from a variety of sources, including Jorge Posada. Andy Pettitte left in the sixth with a sore back – he’s day to day for now. Mariano Rivera got the save, making them the greatest combination win/save duo in history. Cue Tim Kurkjian.

Hanley Ramirez isn’t ready to start, but he did pinch hit for the Marlins last night.

Khalil Greene went on the DL with an anxiety disorder. I have that – seriously – and I didn’t miss 15 days (or more) of work. When you make that kind of money and hit .200 with little to show for it, I guess you can. I’d be feeling anxious in his shoes, too… Returning in his place is outfielder Ryan Ludwick.

The last player to miss time with anxiety was Dontrelle Willis, who was slapped around pretty good last night…

Cincinnati’s Joey Votto left last night’s game with dizziness again. Hopefully this goes away soon. He may land on the DL this time, though.

Nick Punto pulled a groin (hopefully his own) and lands on the DL for Minnesota. Coming back from AAA is Alexi Casilla, who has been a good major leaguer before. Here’s to putting it back together.

Houston’s Kaz Matsui is out with a strained hammy.

White Sox slugger Carlos Quentin has plantar fascitis and will go on the DL. My running partner, Mike Coe, has been fighting that for months. Yuck! Dewayne Wise returns from the DL to take his spot.

In a rare May trade, the Mets sent C Ramon Castro to the White Sox for (sort of) prospect pitcher Lance Broadway. I always liked Castro and thought he should play more, but he’s a career backup. He can hit and hit for power. Broadway is a former #1 pick (2005) who hasn’t really found his groove.

Corky Miller loses his backup status in Chicago.

Dodger Will Ohman returns from the DL, but Texas prospect (and darned good pitcher) Matt Harrison goes to the DL with inflammation in his shoulder. Hurry back!

On the mend? Indian pitcher Joe Smith and Mets infielder Alex Cora, also Texas pitcher Tommy Hunter.

Look for David Dellucci and/or Daniel Cabrera to decline AAA assignments and become free agents.

Vin Scully, Voice of the Yankees? Say it Ain’t So!!!

Carlos Delgado is out ten weeks to surgery on his impinged hip – the new injury of the new decade. The Mets can cope as they have a few outfield options and could choose to give one a shot at first base. Fernando Tatis for now. Still – this could be troublesome, costing the team about two to three games in the standings if they can’t find a comparable replacement.

Rickie Weeks went down to a wrist injury, leaving the Brewers with difficult choices in their lineup. He’s having surgery to repair a torn sheath – similar to David Ortiz a while back – and may affect his really quick bat. Weeks is a great fielder and a decent enough hitter who was really putting it together. For now, the Brewers look to platooning and may call up an infielder from the minors. Craig Counsell is probably the best fielder, but Casey McGehee can play some. This is probably worth five wins over the next four plus months in terms of lost productivity.

Eric Chavez’s back is REALLY bad – he said a degenerative disk is so bad that the next pop in his back will require fusing disks and end his career. One day after announcing that, Chavez has reversed that to some degree, saying that he hopes that strengthening and stretching will help, but he’s really just trying to avoid another surgery. Jack Cust has been playing third. As many other writers have reminded Oakland fans, they signed this guy to a six year deal for a LOT of money ($66 Million) and then missed more than two seasons worth of games…

Noah Lowry had problems with numbness in his hand and underwent surgery to fix issues in his forearm. That didn’t work, and now doctors are calling it a misdiagnosis of a circulatory problem and will be removing one of Lowry’s ribs – costing him this season, too. Once a prospect, Lowry’s career is on the brink as well. Others to have had this surgery? Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman.

Josh Hamilton came off the DL, strained his groin, and now is missing a couple of games and hoping not to go on the DL.

David Ortiz took a series off and will play today hoping to get his first homer of the season. Wow. That’s a sentence, huh?

Jason Kendall got his 2000th hit against the Cardinals. MLB.com, in reporting the story, says that his teammates celebrated by putting the honor on the labels of specially marked Bud Light bottles. BUD LIGHT? Not Miller Lite??? Either the reporting is wrong, or somebody should tell whoever put this together that the Brewers play in Milwaukee.

Todd Helton looked like he got his 2000th hit last night, but it was ruled an error. Some are suggesting that the official scorer may reverse that decision (it was a SHOT past a ducking Yunel Escobar). I hope they saved the ball.

Nate Robertson’s back feels better, but he’s not ready to pitch in a rehab start.

Speaking of Tigers, Magglio Ordonez is the second player given time off to attend to a personal matter (Minnesota’s Delmon Young is caring for his extremely ill mom), so Detroit is calling up prospect Wilkin Ramirez. Ramirez is a free swinger who can run some – but there are some odd things in his record. He gets caught stealing more than you would like, and he strikes out as frequently as you get advertisements for credit cards in your mailbox – at least once or twice every day. Ramirez was hitting well in Toledo, though, and earned the shot.

Pat Burrell is on the DL with a neck strain.

Glen Perkins is on the DL with inflammation in his left elbow, as is Oakland’s Dan Giese – though with Giese it’s his right elbow and tied to his ulnar nerve. C’mon, say it with me. He’s got some nerve!

Need saves? David Aardsma is the new closer for Seattle. Until recently, Aardsma’s biggest claim to fame was moving ahead of Henry Aaron for the first spot in your baseball encyclopedia thanks to alphabetical superiority.

The Mets’ Alex Cora injured his thumb sliding into second base and now is on the DL. Cora was playing because Jose Reyes has swelling in his calf (see Jose Valverde) and has called himself “day-to-day” for six days now. (What player on my team isn’t day to day???)

Speaking of day-to-day, Cincy’s Joey Votto has had dizzy spells following a bout with the flu and didn’t make the trip home because he couldn’t fly with the team, so he’s being watched in San Diego.

On the mend? Tom Glavine, Kevin Youkilis, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick, and Hiroki Kuroda. Glavine’s recent simulated game went over well.

Want a crazy story? Read this.  Says here that Vin Scully very nearly became the voice of the Yankees.

2009 Season Forecast: New York Mets

New York Mets
2008: 89-73 (2nd NL East, three games back)
Runs Scored: 799
Runs Allowed: 715

On the heels of an extremely difficult September, the New York Mets added Johan Santana to the rotation and declared the team ready to win the 2008 division crown, if not more.  Unfortunately, while the core hitters performed admirably and Santana was up to the task, the team drifted aimlessly in the spring, fired manager Willie Randolph, got into the race in the summer, and suffered a milder version of the same September let down.  When it was over, the Mets again missed out on a playoff spot by a single game.

Compared to the Phillies, the Mets scored the same number of runs (799), despite playing in a more difficult home park for batters (Mets games away from home produced 52 more runs than games in the now departed Shea Stadium, while Phillies games had more scoring in Citizen’s Bank Park than on the road).  However, the Phillies allowed 35 fewer runs (680 to 715), which accounted for the three games difference in the standings. 

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two was injuries.  The Phillies had limited lost time to regulars, while the Mets lost several players, including closer Billy Wagner down the stretch, second basemen Luis Castillo and Damion Easley, and tried a dozen left and right fielders in part due to injuries to Moises Alou, Ryan Church and others.

Looking Back on 2008

The Mets got off to a decent start, winning ten of sixteen before drifting through May and June.  Two five game losing streaks put a sting to the team, the first in late May began serious calls for Randolph’s exit, a second in early June finished off his tenure.  When the Mets got to Anaheim, Randolph was sent packing – rather unfortunate in terms of timing – and Jerry Manuel was given a chance to manage a sinking ship.

Manuel’s biggest change was that he basically got the team to stop playing with their heads in a cloud.  In July, there was spark; there was hustle; there was teamwork – something that hadn’t existed in the first part of the season.  And, when the bats of Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran caught fire, the Mets got into the race by winning 18 games in both July and August.

At that point, the Mets ran out of gas.  And arms.  John Maine had bone spurs in his right shoulder.  Carlos Beltran crashed into a wall; Wagner’s arm nearly came off – it had bothered him all year.  The bullpen, not necessarily very good, now lost its only dependable pitcher – when he was able to pitch.  Super sub Damion Easley injured his quadriceps muscle, and David Wright’s game seemed injured.  Despite Santana’s fantastic stretch run, the end of Shea Stadium’s life – at the time the third oldest stadium in the National League – came without one more playoff game.

Tell me about that offense

All things considered, the Mets offense was loaded – it just never seemed to have all the wheels moving at the same time.

The infield offense was solid at three positions, with David Wright continuing to pound the ball, Carlos Delgado finding his swing, and Jose Reyes getting 200 hits again.  The three combined to generate nearly 400 runs of offense.  Reyes’s final numbers look a lot like Jimmy Rollins from 2007 – high numbers of doubles, triples and homers, a lot of plate appearances, and a good stolen base total.  David Wright, by my count, was the second best offensive force in the National League behind Albert Pujols, and Reyes was right behind him.  Had Delgado hit the way he did before June 1 the way he did after it, the Mets would have had three of the five best hitters in the NL.  Only Luis Castillo, finally showing the signs of father time taking over his position, was below average.  His backup, Damion Easley was productive but his bat was slowed.  Easley is 39 but plays like he’s 34, Castillo is 34 but is starting to play like he’s 39 – in either case the Mets need a replacement soon.

In the outfield, Carlos Beltran was the only true regular and was solid.  The Mets used a dozen left fielders (not one played more than 300 innings there), and some could hit – like Endy Chavez or Moises Alou or David Murphy.  Ryan Church hit for two solid months between concussions suffered in collisions with second basemen.  After the second one, which caused him to miss the better part of six weeks, he didn’t fare well.  One hopes Church gets back to where he was last May.  Fernando Tatis – yes, that Fernando Tatis – came back and hit well until his body broke down in September as well.  So, while the corner outfields were generally shared, there usually were at least two outfielders hitting at a time.

Brian Schneider, whose back started bothering him in September, didn’t hit too well but backup Ramon Castro didn’t fare too badly.  Schneider was there to provide solid defensive catching and any offense he provided was gravy.

Defensively:

Schneider was pretty good behind the plate, making few mistakes and showing some mobility.  He was decent in preventing stolen bases, as only two other teams allowed fewer stolen bases than the Mets.  Castro isn’t great against the runners, but he’s decent enough for a backup catcher who can hit.

The infield was okay.  Wright didn’t have the unreal numbers he had in 2007, but it was still his third straight year with above average range.  Reyes continues to improve; he has a cannon for an arm but he’s slightly below average in terms of range.  Castillo was a bit more mobile than he was in 2007, but it was his third straight year as a below average infielder.  Damion Easley remains a solid second baseman and they nearly shared the role.  Delgado is not very mobile – he’s a former catcher playing first base – but he actually had a pretty decent year there.  Since he arrived in New York, his defensive numbers haven’t been as bad as what most people see when they watch him play.  He’s awkward but it’s working.

The outfield defense was as varied as there were players in left field.  Carlos Beltran is still a solid outfielder, and Endy Chavez – now in Seattle – could cover ground.  Ryan Church played well in right.  David Murphy, added in August, showed he could play and will likely start in leftfield next year, and if he is healthy will represent a significant improvement over playing Fernando Tatis, who looked out of place in left or right field.  Marlon Anderson still runs well enough to cover left in a pinch.

The net result was a defense that was likely 20 runs better than average, reflected by the fact that they turned 69.7 percent of the balls in play into outs – the league average was 68.7 percent.

Now Pitching…

Signed to a long term and expensive New York-eqsue contract, Johan Santana pitched magnificently, though he rarely got the support he needed until July.  He started 7 – 7, but didn’t lose a decision for the rest of the year (nine wins) and after a 5 run, two homer outing in Cincinnati, he went 14 starts without allowing more than three earned runs.  By my count, Santana was 43 runs better than the average starting pitcher.

After that, Mike Pelfrey was decent (13 – 11, 13 runs better than an average pitcher), but both John Maine and Oliver Perez were inconsistent.  Still they were better than Pedro Martinez, who may finally be at the end of the line.  He showed flashes of his old self, but the fastball isn’t as lively, the ball is more hittable, and instead of giving up a homer every other start, Pedro is giving up a homer every time he takes the mound.  As of the end of January he still wasn’t signed – and the Mets need starting pitching.  He may find a home for one more go – and he may not want to get his 100th career loss (he has 99, against 214 wins).

The bullpen, however, had problems.  Remember how good the Phillies ‘pen was?  Five guys who were at least 10 runs better than average?  Nobody was that good here – even Billy Wagner, who was great but pitched just 47 innings.  Pedro Feliciano, Scott Schoeneweis, and Duaner Sanchez were average at best (meaning that they gave up a run every other inning), and Aaron Heilman got worse as the season went on – he was 12 runs worse than average and part-timer Jorge Sosa was even worse in just 20+ innings.  So, the bullpen was no better than average, actually slightly below average, whereas the Phillies bullpen was at least 60 runs better than the average staff.

Forecasting 2008:

Last year, I thought the team might age quickly and struggle to meet .500.  Instead, the veterans and Santana held it together through the summer before landing a scant series behind the Phillies.  This year, the front office tried to rebuild what couldn’t be assembled at the all-star break last year – and that’s a bullpen, so let’s start with the pitching.

Santana is as good as it gets, Pelfrey might be able to provide a little more, but after that – John Maine is league average at best and he’s number three.  That the Mets couldn’t sign a starter in the off season (its January as I write this) and is trying hard to sign the inconsistent Oliver Perez – I’m not ready to proclaim the rotation as being improved.  The Mets did sign Tim Redding, most recently a 30 start pitcher for the Nationals, to a contract.  Redding was 10 – 11 with an ERA higher than the league average.  At best he’s an improvement on what Pedro Martinez did last year – but he hasn’t had a winning season in any year that he pitched more than 50 innings.  In late January, Omar Minaya visited Martinez to see if he might have one more year left, which I don’ t interpret as a good sign.  It might be time to see if Ben Sheets has two reasonably healthy seasons in him.  Freddy Garcia signed a contract – but he hasn’t pitched much due to injuries in a long, long time.  Even in 2006, he was no better than a middle of the rotation guy.  I don’t see the rotation as possibly being any better than last year.  I also don’t see them as being much worse.  Let’s call it a wash.

The bullpen was bolstered by the signings of saves record setter Francisco Rodriquez and J.J Putz, who will likely be the eighth inning guy.  Middle reliever Scott Schoeneweis is gone, while Duaner Sanchez and Pedro Feliciano are still here.  At least Aaron Heilman is gone…  Long relief will be manned by a rookie or two.  So, while the starters don’t look to be much better, the relievers might be 20 to 25 runs better than last year.
 
In terms of offense, the infield won’t be any better.  Reyes and Wright are at the age where one or the other might have a monster season, but Carlos Delgado is at the age where he might lose 25% of his production.  On May 25th last season, you might have thought it was already happening.  That leaves Castillo, who is below average offensively and not a guarantee to play 100 games.  His replacement now is Alex Cora, who is a decent backup.  At least he’s younger than the departed Easley.  He isn’t better, though, and Easley might still be a better fielder.  I think they score a few less runs, on the whole, and defensively, they might slip a little – especially on the right side.

The outfield, as a whole, was surprisingly productive considering how many different players played there.  You might see fewer people playing in left field in 2009, but if you added up the offense of the left and right fielders, it wasn’t a hole in the lineup.  Murphy, Beltran and Church make a good outfield when all three are playing.  Defensively, they will be slightly better if Tatis doesn’t play as many innings.  The only fear might be a decline from Beltran who has been less productive over the last two seasons from where he was in 2006.

The catchers are the same lot – only another year older.  There could be a decline of ten runs in production here just because all three catchers on the roster were born in 1976.

So, what you have is a potential gain on the defensive side of perhaps 20 – 25 runs, and what looks like a decline of about 40 runs on the offensive side unless (a) Beltran has one more big year at 32; (b) Delgado retains his swing one more year; and (c) Reyes or Wright turn it up one more notch.  I’ll call it 25 runs on both sides.  The system says 90 wins, which would be enough to win the division, but my gut is admittedly not in step with the system.  What makes me less confident is two bad Septembers and the fact that nobody knows how the new Citi Field (assuming it’s still called Citi Field) will affect the team.  The new stadium could help with attitude and fan support, but it might change the game dynamic in ways that this veteran squad can’t possibly know.

Down on the Farm…

The Mets are leaving New Orleans for Buffalo, and hopefully they will put a younger team there.  There were no position players who are threats to take jobs from the starters.  The best hitter was probably Chris Aguila, and he’s never stuck in the majors.  The best pitcher was Tony Armas, another 30-ish arm who never seems to make a significant contribution to pitching staffs.  Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell made it to AAA after success in AA.  Niese, a southpaw, throws ninety with a big breaking curveball – he had one good start (eight shutout innings against Atlanta) in a September call up.  He looks like a young Barry Zito.  Parnell throws mid to high 90’s – real hard – with a slider, but looks like he needs one more year in AAA.  Either would look good in long relief while learning his trade.

AA Binghamton featured Niese and Parnell as well as Jose Sanchez, who could be a useful long reliever, too.  There were a couple of hitters – some, like Murphy and Nick Evans have seen MLB action, while Mike Carp could be a potential replacement for Delgado in 2010.  He showed growth in terms of his batting average, power, and plate discipline.

At the lower levels, Lucas Duda and Joshua Thole were the best hitters but are far from ready.  Teammate Dylan Owen was 12 – 6 for St. Lucie, with good control and a fair number of strikeouts.