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September 16, 2009

Kiss'Em Goodbye

New York Mets

by Baseball Prospectus

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Baseball Prospectus' Pre-season Projection: 92-70, first place in NL East
Current record: 63-82, fourth place

Have you tried the pulled-pork barbecue at Citi Field? Mmm-mmm good!

Buster Olney of ESPN.com's Take

What went wrong: Mets players racked up about 1,000 days on the disabled list, with the injuries hitting just about all of their top guys, from Johan Santana to Jose Reyes to Carlos Beltran to David Wright. No team could've survived any of that. But along the way, the Mets' front office disintegrated. Tony Bernazard, who ran the club's farm system, was fired after he reportedly ripped off his shirt and challenged the Double-A Binghamton club to fight him. Then general manager Omar Minaya was essentially muzzled by ownership after picking a verbal fight with a reporter. The lost summer left some staffers in the organization trying to figure out who holds the real power as the team moves forward. For now, the consensus is that the most influential voice belongs to chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon.

Biggest puzzler on the drawing board: The only way you truly know this answer is if you're owner Fred Wilpon, his son, Jeff, or their banker, but how much has the loss of a significant chunk of their wealth in the Bernie Madoff scandal tied the Wilpons up financially? If the Mets are financially hamstrung for the immediate future, then rival evaluators think that the team won't seriously contend again until 2011 at the earliest. "They have a unique set of circumstances-not much in the farm system, some really good players they probably don't want to trade and some second-line players who might not have that much trade value," said one GM. "The only way they can get better in a hurry is to spend money. But do they have the money to spend? I don't know that they do." We'll find out. If they do have cash, the free agent who might be the most attractive and sensible target for the Mets would be John Lackey.

The Baseball Prospectus Take

We projected Wright, Reyes and Beltran to be three of the five most productive players in baseball, but all three have failed to meet that expectation. Wright has an OBP of nearly .400, but lacks the power that makes him one of the most well-rounded hitters in the game; on the plus side, at least he's been mostly healthy. Reyes wasn't even given a chance to underperform thanks to injury, with just 147 plate appearances on the year. Beltran was as good as he's ever been, but was also knocked out of action. If it had just been those three, things would have been bad enough, but Carlos Delgado-who seemed to revive his bat last year-missed significant time, and his replacements at first base have not been great. Alex Cora was meant to be a backup, but instead wound up with 308 plate appearances of replacement-level contributions. Ramon Castro was dealt, leaving the Mets with the punchless combination of Brian Schneider and Omir Santos behind the plate, two players that hit so poorly it's shocking the Kansas City Royals haven't tried to acquire them yet.-Marc Normandin, Baseball Prospectus

Key Stat: 27-46

While some people may want to point a finger at Citi Field for the Mets' troubles, given its pro-pitcher (or anti-hitter) tendencies, the Mets' 27-46 record outside their new home is truly worrisome. Their pitchers allowed a line of .281/.360/.439 outside of Citi Field, and only so much of that can be blamed on Oliver Perez. The offense hit about the same outside of Citi as in it, but the difference in the pitching was what kept the Mets from putting up a disappointing but honorable .500 record, rather than the horror show they find themselves in now.

It's not hard to see why this occurred. John Maine made just 12 starts, and wasn't anything special. Mike Pelfrey has made 28 starts, but his performance makes Maine's look useful. One look at the Mets' pitcher page for Value Over Replacement Player shows you that, outside of Johan Santana, their most valuable pitchers have come from the bullpen, while their least valuable ones are those accumulating most of the innings while manning the rotation.-Marc Normandin, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central

Trades: Will anybody take on Luis Castillo and his $12 million owed over the next two seasons? How about the Tigers, who could move Jeremy Bonderman or Nate Robertson and lose second baseman Placido Polanco?

Free Agency: The team has decisions to make on its starters-despite spacious Citi Field, the unit has the fifth-worst ERA (4.49) in the NL and also has four fewer quality starts than the Pittsburgh Pirates. A healthy Santana will help, and the rumor is that the team will keep Maine. Maybe the back end of this list of free-agent pitchers worked up by ESPN's Jayson Stark-Jon Garland, Doug Davis, even Brad Penny-could be in the Mets' price range.

Who 2 Watch 4: Ike Davis, 1B

With Delgado's impending free agency, the Mets don't have a first baseman going into 2010. But they might not look for a long-term fix, knowing that the 22-year-old Davis is moving quickly through the system and could be ready toward the end of next year. The 2008 first-round pick had a nightmarish pro debut, going 215 at-bats without a home run, but everything turned around this year. He put on a show during the second half at Double-A Binghamton, batting .309/.386/.565 with 13 home runs in 207 at-bats. He still needs at least a half-season at Triple-A to refine his swing and become more consistent against good breaking balls, but he should get first crack at the title of Mets' first baseman of the future.-Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

Draft recap
Signed: 35 of 49
Spent: Just over $3 million
Hits: Steven Matz, LHP (72nd overall), Robbie Shields, SS (103rd overall). Matz may turn out to be a bit of a steal at 72, as ESPN.com's Keith Law rated the lefty 46th in his Top 100; Shields has similar abilities to that of a young Aaron Hill at the plate, and a chance to play second base every day.
Miss: Passing on signal-callers. While the Mets' budgetary situation is a question at the moment, they let promising catchers Max Stassi and Luke Bailey pass 'em right by.-Jason A. Churchill, ESPN.com

The Bottom Line

If the team can be healthier in 2010-it would be difficult to be less healthy-then things should be looking up on both offense and defense. Wright, Reyes, and Beltran are still three of the better players in the game, and their returns to full health would do wonders for the team's record. Jeff Francoeur has hit well since his acquisition, although it's tough to rely on him given his spotty track record. One thing that is clear is that the Mets need to focus on starting pitching this offseason. Johan Santana cannot do things by himself, and signing "help" like Oliver Perez is not the way to construct a competitive, productive rotation. It's possible that the staff cannot be fixed in one winter, but the Mets need to do something to improve it, or else the offense is going to have to do all of the heavy lifting in 2010.-Marc Normandin, Baseball Prospectus

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

Related Content:  The Who,  Prospectus

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