Sunday, October 22, 2006

Looking Ahead: N.Y. Mets

2006 W-L Record: 97-65
2006 pW-pL Record: 91-71
Runs Scored: 834 (3rd in NL)
Runs Allowed: 731 (2nd in NL)
2006 Free Agents: Chad Bradford, Cliff Floyd, Orlando Hernandez, Roberto Hernandez, Ricky Ledee, Guillermo Mota, Darren Oliver, Steve Trachsel, Jose Valentin
Pending Options: Tom Glavine

Projected 2007 Lineup:
1B -- Carlos Delgado
2B -- ??
SS -- Jose Reyes
3B -- David Wright
LF -- Lastings Milledge?
CF -- Carlos Beltran
RF -- Shawn Green
C -- Paul Lo Duca

Proj. 2007 Rotation:
Tom Glavine*
John Maine
Brian Bannister
Oliver Perez
Pedro Martinez/??

Proj. 2007 Closer: Billy Wagner

The Good News:
The postseason aside, the Mets were the best team in the NL in 2006 and at this point look like the best team going into 2007. Their biggest strength by far is their lineup.
The Mets have a very solid lineup that, while it may be lacking in depth, is not lacking in star power. Carlos Beltran is an MVP-level player, and Carlos Delgado still has a few years of top-notch hitting left. David Wright is an all-around gem, and Jose Reyes is fast becoming one. Those four players alone represent a strong heart of the order for New York.
While the Mets are losing a lot of free agents, most of them are pitchers. Cliff Floyd won't be missed, although Jose Valentin may be difficult to replace.
While there are a couple teams out West who may end up with stronger lineups, none of them have as much money at their disposal as the Mets do. For this reason, I would predict that the Mets will be one of the best -- if not the very best -- offensive team in the National League. And if they can get pitching about as good as they had this year, they'll be back in the postseason.

The Bad News:
That's a big "if." The Met pitching staff is losing several key contributors to free agency, not to mention ace Pedro Martinez, who will miss at least half of the season with injury. It was a very difficult thing to find 5 starting pitchers to make up next year's tentative rotation, which is never a good sign. If the Mets don't retain Tom Glavine, they will have a pretty woeful young pitching staff. That's not to take away from the potential some of these guys have, but if the Mets want to compete next year, they're going to have to go to the free agent market for at least one pitcher.
The good news is that, as I said before, the Mets have more money at their disposal than most. So they will have the upper hand in the bidding for free agent pitchers. This does mean that they will likely overpay for whomever they get (Zito, Schmidt, Matsuzaka), but they can affford it, and they're certainly in a strong position of need. With one solid pitcher to go with Glavine (who may or may not be solid, at his age), the Mets should have enough to support their lineup.
The bullpen is also an issue, but to a lesser extent. The Met bullpen was one of the best in baseball this year, and while they're losing some key contributors, such as Bradford and Oliver, they still have a good core of talent. Shoring up the bullpen would help, but it's not worth it to land an overpriced veteran.

Offseason Game Plan:
The Mets should aggressively target the top free agent pitchers, namely Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt. But they shouldn't talk themselves into a corner and be forced to make a deal that's too cumbersome or irrational. They should have a Plan B in case they lose out on both or their asking price gets too high.
The lineup could use some depth, but luckily, this doesn't involve any big-time players or 8-figure deals. The Shawn Green trade hurts; the Mets need a better hitter (and fielder) in the outfield, but now that they've got Green, they'll end up playing him even if he sucks due to his contract. And they certainly aren't going to replace him before the season starts; his contract is basically untradeable the way he's performed, no matter how much it would mean to make an improvement. Hopefully, the Mets will give strong consideration to Lastings Milledge in either left or right field. He's a cheap, homegrown talent, and the Mets don't have enough of that. He needs to be given his fair shake; this decision doesn't need to be made by cranky veterans who d0n't like his attitude.

Overall, the Mets are in good shape. The overall state of the NL is such that they'd be strong contenders even if they did nothing. As it is, they just need to get some pitching help and shore up the middle infield and the outfield corners, preferably with someone besides Anderson Hernandez and Michael Tucker. Omar Minaya makes some poor choices, but is pretty effective at improving his team. Odds are very good that the Mets will repeat as NL East Champions.

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