Monday, March 2, 2009

2009 New York Mets Preview

Throughout the month of March Cohen's Corner will preview all 30 major leauge clubs as the season inches closer to opening day, April 6. Today, we start locally, with the New York Mets.

For each of the past two seasons the Mets have had to look back into the eyes of their tearful fans and say nothing but, "I am sorry." Such an excuse is not good enough for a club that was at one time a game away from a World Series berth in 2006, and oh, so close to two more division titles in 2007 and 2008.

After the 2007 season, the culprit was the starting rotation, prompting the Mets to add Johan Santana in the off-season. Santana was great, going 16-7 and proving to be a true work horse whenever he stepped onto the mound. However, one may argue that Santana could have easily been 22-3 in 2008, if it were not for a terrible bullpen.

In 2008, the bullpen was the excuse, and the Mets went out and tried to fix it, adding two closers, Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz and ridding themselves of Aaron Heilman and Scott Schoeneweis.

But the problems run much deeper than a missing piece here and there. What is wrong with the Mets is a mental attitude. They lack mental toughness in crucial situations, as their hitters seem to choke up on their bats, forget to field the ball properly, and the pitchers forget how to throw strikes.

During these collapses, the likes of David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Delgado forgot how to hit when their team and fans need them most. Logic would tell you that a major overhaul should have been in order during the winter of 2008-2009, but the Mets decided to stay with what they had.

And what they have is nothing but questions:

Daniel Murphy has to prove that he can play left field as a regular player on a full time basis. Murphy can hit, but he has yet to show he can play in left. Murphy orinally came up as an infielder, so if Murphy struggles, GM Omar Minaya will definitely experience grief for not pursuing Manny Ramirez to give the Mets a needed right hand batter and a slightly better option at left. Nonetheless, Ramirez is a head case and has yet to sign with a major league team; until he signs, fans will push Minaya to sign him in very bad economic times.

Moreover, the Mets didn't pursue a new second baseman like Olrando Hudson, who has some more pop in his bat than Luis Castillo. The Mets are hoping that a more motivated Castillo will come on display in 2009 and look more like the guy who was a base-stealing threat for the Florida Marlins years ago. So far this spring, Castillo is doing well, slapping the ball all over the place, and already has accumulated four RBIs, but he will need to perform well when it really counts. If Castillo does well, that four year contract he signed last year will not sting as much.

The Mets rotation also has issues. If Johan Santana is not healthy, the Mets are in big trouble. They lack a significant number two starter like a Derek Lowe who signed with the Braves, or a Jon Garland, who signed with the Diamondbacks.
John Maine, who has suffered through arm problems and is a five inning pitcher at best, will be leaned on to be the number two guy. After him, there is still a very young Mike Pelfrey and a very erratic Oliver Perez. Maine, Pelfrey and Perez can win 10-12 games each, but that may not be enough to get the Mets anywhere, especially if Santana wins less than 20 games in 2009.

Age: There has to be concern about the age of Carlos Delgado at first base. Last season, Delgado was struggling through the first three months of the year, hitting around .227 for most of that time. From June 27 on, Delgado came back to life, belting home runs all over the field and driving the ball from gap to gap. If Delgado begins to show his advanced age, then the Mets will have to consider their options and look for a replacement. Without significant power from Delgado the Mets offense is dead.

Mentality: The entire fate of the 2009 Mets will be based on one thing, their mental state. If the Mets continue to goof around at the top of the dugout, i.e. Jose Reyes, and continue to choke up when the going gets tough, then the Mets will go absolutely nowhere. One can sumise that the Mets are like children or teenagers; they are happy when things are going well, but when they are forced to actually do their work and perform, they fail miserably. It is time for the Mets to grow up and become men. If not forget about it.

Prediction: Mets finish 84-78, second place in NL East.

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