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September 23, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

New York Mets

by Steven Goldman, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade -- whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward an immediate 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the New York Mets goodbye.

The overview

In a weird way, the Mets actually played above expectations during the first half of the year—and then inevitably crumbled, amid another wave of injuries and discontent. Francisco Rodriguez was taken off to jail after allegedly assaulting his girlfriend's father just outside the Mets' family room; Jason Bay didn't play in the final weeks of the season because of a concussion; Johan Santana went down with a shoulder problem (and nobody knows what he'll be after undergoing surgery); and Carlos Beltran seemingly battled with the organization all year after disagreements came up about the course of treatment for his knee injury. Not surprisingly, Mets fans stayed away in droves; it's possible that by year's end, the team's attendance will be down about 30 percent since the end of the 2008 season.

Ike Davis was a bright spot, promoted to the big leagues in April and establishing himself as a solid everyday first baseman. R.A. Dickey emerged off the scrap heap to become one of the most consistent starters in the National League. Before Mike Pelfrey faded in the second half, he had first-half outings in which he was dominant. Angel Pagan had a solid season, driving in 67 runs and accumulating 47 extra-base hits. And for all of the handwringing over whether David Wright is still affected by a 2009 beanball, he is on the verge of another 100-RBI season, and hit for far more power in his second season in Citi Field.

A major, and central, problem is that the fan base is in near revolt—and the team needs to move adeptly. Sources say the Mets have decided to marginalize general manager Omar Minaya, either through reassignment or by firing him, and the next GM is expected to hire a new manager. Within the organization, the expectation is that Wally Backman is a serious candidate, partly because of his longtime ties to the organization as a member of the '86 Mets. Whatever the makeup of the management team, there are many, many thorny problems on the horizon. Should the Mets eat money in order to facilitate a trade of Beltran, knowing that they probably would have to eat $10 million or so to make a deal happen? Should the team dump Oliver Perez before he starts the final year of what has been a disastrous contract? Should the club still count on Jose Reyes as a building-block type of talent, after a couple of injury-plagued seasons? Should the Mets do the unthinkable and consider dangling Wright in order to get badly needed young pitching? The Mets somehow have put themselves in a place where off-season improvement and immediate contention in 2011 will be difficult to achieve despite the fact that New York has one of the highest payrolls in the majors.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: Aside from Perez and John Maine (shoulder issues), the Mets had a good rotation. In fact, their starting pitchers have an ERA of 3.82, versus a league average of 4.09. The bullpen initially required some massaging, but rounded into a solid unit even with the K-Rod mess. Josh Thole has shown promise.

What went wrong: Aside from the Beltran injury, this lineup gave playing time to Rod Barajas, Mike Jacobs, Luis Castillo, Gary Matthews Jr. and Jeff Francoeur. All had to be replaced. Bay's first season was a semi-disaster.

The key number: 4.07. The Mets' average runs scored per game ranks 14th out of 16 NL teams.

What won't happen again: This Mets core staying together for a full season. With key players including Reyes, Beltran and Rodriguez eligible for free agency after next season (as well as millstones Castillo and Perez), the club will have an incentive to deal whomever it can should it fall quickly out of contention.—Steven Goldman, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

Problems at the top: It is a foregone conclusion that major changes are coming to Queens. Jerry Manuel is in his final days as manager while Minaya is likely to be dismissed or reassigned. A major obstacle could be CEO Jeff Wilpon. There is growing sentiment that Wilpon is an owner as meddlesome as George Steinbrenner was in his early days as boss of the Yankees. The New York Post recently cited an executive who said of Wilpon: "He will not hire anyone who does not run every personnel decision through him." The only way to get a GM with an experienced track record would be to overpay, and Wilpon may be unwilling to go that route. Possible candidates include former Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes and Dodgers assistant GM Logan White. An intriguing possibility is former Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker, who worked for the Wilpon family as an assistant GM before heading to Houston.

Joe Torre's name has popped up as a managerial candidate, and the outgoing Dodgers manager did not initially shoot the rumor down. Backman is likely a frontrunner, but also look for former Arizona/Seattle skipper Bob Melvin, currently a scout for the Mets, to be a candidate. The fan base also will want the Mets to consider former skipper Bobby Valentine, but it remains to be seen if he is on the same page as the Wilpons.

Looking in the mirror: The Mets have marketed themselves as a premium product—just look at the ticket prices at Citi Field. But with Santana expected to miss at least the start of the season, the Mets must decide whether they have a realistic chance at contending in 2011. It's no secret the Mets would love to unload the 2011 contracts of the underperforming Perez ($12 million) and Castillo ($6 million). There is also growing sentiment the Mets will shop Beltran if someone is willing to take all or most of his $18.5 million for next season. Complicating matters are the lingering rumors that the Wilpons remain hampered financially by losses incurred in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme.—Doug Mittler, ESPN Insider

Organizational future

Lucas Duda has gotten a long look this month in the big leagues, and there's always the enigmatic and oft-injured Fernando Martinez hanging around, but Kirk Nieuwenhuis is close to entering a suddenly crowded outfield picture himself. A third-round pick in 2008 out of Azusa Pacific, Nieuwenhuis entered the year needing to prove that last year's Florida State League showing was for real. He did just that with a .274 /.327/.475 line in Double-A that included 18 home runs and 13 stolen bases. If scouts were more convinced he could play center field in the big leagues, he'd be at the top of the depth charts—but for now, they'll need one more move up a level, and one more year of proof that he can get the job done.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Mets,  Year Of The Injury

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