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Friday, April 24, 2009

The Despair of Met Fans

Yes, I'm a Phillies' fan, I'll admit it, and I laughed aloud this morning when I was watching Sports Center during my workout and saw that Adam Eaton pitched 7 plus shutout innings against the White Sox, striking out 9 (6 on fastballs), to get his first win of the year. Eaton's ERA in his first two starts was over 11 (showing that he was picking up on his terrible season in Philadelphia last year), but he righted the course, relaxed and pitched a great outing -- better, mind you, than any outing the Phillies have gotten from a starting pitcher this season. The Phillies are off to a (typical for them) bad start, manager Charlie Manuel is concerned about their lack of punch, and fans are beginning to get concerned about the quality of the starting pitching. Still, it's early, and this team seems to heat up when the weather does.

Phillies' fans, though, aren't all that concerned, they've seen their team rally from deficits in the past 3 seasons, and most are currently focused on how the Eagles will do at the NFL draft tomorrow. It's not even May 1 yet, and lots can happen.

Mets' fans, though, seem desperate now. I listened to WFAN, the sports' talk station in New York, on my drive home yesterday, and Mike Francesa fielded many calls about the Mets and their lack of oomph. There were two main thrusts from the callers -- first, that the starting pitching after Johan Santana is bad and, second, that the team lacks grit, has no leadership and bad chemistry. A few callers went so far as to suggest that they break up the nucleus, and Francesa was wise to point out a) that it's very early in the season and b) the core of Beltran, Delgade, Reyes and Wright is perhaps the best in baseball and that no team has a core that can rival that foursome except the Phillies, but he did point out that the Phillies have more grit and even their lesser hitters are tough outs. That's as big a concession as you'll get from a New Yorker as to notion that anything in Philadelphia is better than anything in New York.

Here are my thoughts:

1. It is early. Mike Pelphrey pitched well for much of last season, John Maine fared well before he got hurt, and Oliver Perez can be brilliant. Livan Hernandez, the #5 starter, isn't all that good, but Mets' fans shouldn't give up on the other three starters any time soon.

2. Getting Gary Sheffield was a mistake. Fernando Tatis was a good story in 2008, he played well, and he didn't detract from the chemistry. Sheffield doesn't help a team whose chemistry already was in question, and he's taking away playing time from Tatis.

3. The chemistry is an issue, and the team needs leaders to step up and help give the team backbone. Right now, the nucleus is the same nucleus that didn't step up and provide that leadership in each of the last two seasons. And, for that reason, it might be wise for the Mets to trade Carlos Delgado.

Here's why:

Delgado seems to be a good guy, a dangerous hitter, but at the beginning of last season his bat was in question (he turned it on so much that for a while he was a legitmate MVP candidate), and he is a very limited fielder right now. He's the senior statesman in the clubhouse, and the younger players in all likelihood defer to him and haven't stepped up and asserted themselves as leaders. Compare this situation to Philadelphia about three years ago, where the team was stuck in the mud a bit, winning a few more than it lost, but the senior statesman on the team was Bobby Abreu. Abreu is a good guy, a good teammate, and when people look back on baseball stats he'll be viewed as one of those guys who put up great numbers but somehow wasn't as good as the top 10 players in the league. He also was a mellow guy, not a leader, but the younger players deferred to him. The Phillies sensed this, and in a controversial move (Abreu was popular), they traded him to the Yankees for four marginal prospects, one of whom was so good at baseball that he'll now be playing basketball at the University of Kansas (C.J. Henry). At the time, the conventional wisdom was that the Phillies gave away Abreu.

And they did. But, by doing so, they opened the door for the younger personalities to assert themselves in the clubhouse. No longer did they defer to Abreu (I have to check the dates, but it might have been that they had peddled Jim Thome for Aaron Rowand before that season began). Instead, Jimmy Rollins emerged as the team's vocal leader, and he's a tough and gritty guy. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard emerged as stars, and the whole persona of the team changed. Not only were they talented, but they could hit in the clutch, come from behind and win.

Now, I'm not sure who among Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Jose Reyes can be the Mets' Jimmy Rollins, and my guess is that it's not Beltran because he's over 30 and if he were going to assert himself as the vocal leader he would have done so already. Maybe it's Wright, maybe it's Reyes, but the Mets' front office needs to create the opening so that the swagger of Reyes can trickle down to everyone else. But as long as Carlos Delgado is the senior statesman, it seems as though the younger players will continue to defer to him.

Anyway, it's just a thought, and the Mets probably wouldn't think of trading Delgado because they might not have anyone to replace him and he hit at a torrid pace for most of last season. Still, if chemistry is an issue for this team, they don't have to totally break up the core, they just might want to slice away the oldest piece and let the younger players -- who are among the best in the NL -- emerge as leaders and create a new personality for the team.

It worked for the Phillies, and the Mets certainly have enough talent that it can work for them.

And, Mets' fans, lighten up! It's not even May 1. It's a long season, and you have plenty of talent to win it all.


Blogger Nick DeSiato said...

I (die-hard Phils fan) remember watching the game when Abreu was about to be traded. They benched him for the game, which was a clear sign something was brewing. When the trade went through, Abreu was almost in tears and the entire bench didn't know how to respond. Gillick was saying at the time that the team was two years away (they won the East the next year and almost won it the year Abreu was traded), but every fan knew that something had to change. The Mets are certainly in the same purgatory. I don't think Delgago is the guy to ship, but they are too good to be this mediocre. But, hey, I'm not complaining. One less team to worry about.

11:38 AM  

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