In 2006, the Mets were one game away from the World Series. And that’s been their biggest problem the last three years. They still think they’re one game away from the World Series. But they’re not. And they’re not even close. 2006 was their year. It was their chance. Their opportunity. And they blew it. And they’ve been a step behind, plugging holes, sticking their finger in the dike, fixing last year’s problems, or even the problems from the year before that, ever since. Unfortunately, the big problems who go by the names of Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel (is Wally Backman waiting in the wings now that he’s been hired to manage Brooklyn? God, I hope so) are still here, so we’ll have to live with them at least through the beginning of the 2010 season.
The Mets’ failings are more than the bullpen issues of ’07 and ’08, and more than the power outage and injuries of ’09. The team needs more than Matt Holliday and John Lackey (though they definitely need them). The Mets have shown a glaring lack of hustle, effort, competence, intensity and anything that remotely resembles solid fundamentals on the baseball field. They need a wholesale change of culture. They’ve been much too blasé about winning over the last few years. What they need is a more powerful will to win. All too often we saw them shrug their shoulders when losing started piling up, with the attitude that they’d start winning sometime in the vague, nebulous future. “You can’t win ’em all,” was the phrase they seemed to so easily embrace. When the Mets traded for Jeff Francouer, my first reaction was, “Now I have to root for that guy?” He was the last player I thought I would like, but he’s shown more intensity with a will to win than any other player on the team. We all know about his shortcomings at the plate and he’s probably not as good a fielder as his defensive reputation makes him out to be, but he’s the kind of complementary player the Mets need. If he’s batting sixth or seventh, fine. Not every player in the lineup can have a .400 OBP. He’s got that football player mentality that no one else on the roster possesses (well, except Johan Santana). There’s no need to trade Carlos Beltran, David Wright or Jose Reyes, but they need a new breed of sidekicks in order for the Mets to change their ways on the field.
The Omar Minaya Mets don’t have any grit and toughness. No team is going to win with nine David Ecksteins or nine Jeff Francouers; you need more talent than that to be a successful team. But, no, grit and toughness don’t have to be “intangibles.” If you barrel over the catcher, instead of gently sliding around him, Mets-style (or not even sliding at all), and knock the ball out of his glove to score a run, that’s tangible. That shows up on the stat sheet. Francouer’s the only Met I could even imagine knocking over a catcher. If you block a base preventing an easy path for an opposing team’s base runner and tag him out, that’s tangible. If a fielder sacrifices his body to get in front of a hard-hit ball (Carlos Delgado could barely put in the effort to move his body at all to field a grounder, let alone get in front of a ball, and Wright’s come up with a bad case of the olés the past year) and record an out, that’s tangible. And just running out pop-ups and ground balls can do wonders for a team.
There are rumors the Mets are looking to trade Luis Castillo, with names like Orlando Hudson, Chone Figgins and Brandon Phillips popping up as possible replacements. Good. The Mets need to cut ties with guys like Castillo, and Delgado and Fernando Tatis as well. And their starting rotation is in a shambles. Would you trust Mike Pelfrey, John Maine and Oliver Perez to be three-fifths of your rotation? I can propose some cockamamie trades and signings, but like many Internet/blog proposals, they’d never happen and I’m not smart enough to come up with realistic trade proposals or think I can be a GM. So I’ll just say the Mets need to do more than add a couple of free agents. You can’t keep bringing the same players back and expect different results. Beltran recently stated that he wants to see Delgado back for another year. I surely wouldn’t expect him to publicly say that he doesn’t want the first baseman to return, but I don’t think the players realize the team has bigger problems than last year’s injuries.
The Mets are more than one free agent signing away from being a World Series contender. They need to reshuffle their roster, and import a different brand of player. The Mets look at themselves in the mirror and think all they have to do is comb their hair and straighten their tie and they’ll be all right, when, in fact, they’re not even wearing any pants. They need to stop looking to fix the past and instead find a plan and identity for the future.
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