Saturday, November 26, 2005

Big Bopper - Check

In my last entry I established my wish list for the beloved Metropolitans. Certainly it took no great insight to diagnose the Met needs:

  1. A closer
  2. A bopper

Before the Thanksgiving turkey was stuffed, Omar completed half of the off-season "things to do" list. And as he is an avid reader of this blog, he did the best he could to make me happy. Noting that Carlos Delgado was actually #2 on my bopper, I still find it hard to be disappointed. My primary target, the vastly under appreciated Brian Giles, has the unfortunate benefit of free will on his side. And it seems that Mr. Giles has no great desire to make Flushing, NY his place of primary employment for the next several years. Now typically I make no attempts at divining the inner thoughts of other human beings. I leave that to the mainstream sportswriters because they are so good at it. You know the litany of their successes. Mark McGwire would never sign with St. Louis because his son lives on the West Coast and he wants to be near him. Mike Piazza is not a New York "kind of guy". Carl Pavano will return to his New England roots and sign with the BoSox (oh, how the Yankees wish that one was dead on).

So why do I despair of the Mets chances of signing the offensive juggernaut - did I mention that he is vastly underappreciated - that is Brian Giles? Because Omar covets free agents like Mike Francesa covets doughnuts. Hell, he publicly acknowledges having offers out to two free agent catchers as I write this. But nothing on Giles. Nada. Zilch. Nary a word or the wisp of a rumor. Let's do the math. Omar must know that Giles is completely cold to the Mets.

Now that leaves us to Delgado. Like Giles, an OBP monster. Like Giles, a slugger. Unlike Giles, he cost more than money - the very reason he was 2nd on my list. But now he is a Met, and that is a glorious thing. Many lament the loss of Jacobs and Petit. They were interesting players, and I wish them well. Few baseball arguments are more tiresome or futile than the debate over what a prospect will or will not become. For this reason I'll pass on such projections, except to say that most prospects disappoint.

So what have we here with Mr. Delgado? Well, according to my favorite gage of offensive production, OPS+, the 5th most productive player in baseball last year. That's right, 5th, after Derek Lee, Albert Pujols, Travis Hafner, and Alex Rodriguez. And ahead of guys like Manny Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera, and David Ortiz. And by the same measure of OPS+ Delgado is coming off his 2nd best season at age 33. In short, then, we have a devastating slugger who has not shown sign of any decline.

This acquisition also gives the Met lineup the anchor it had been lacking. Lineups do funny things to players. Placed properly, a decent hitter can look very good - think Kevin Millar in 2004. Placed properly, a pretty good hitter can look prodigious - think Hideki Matsui over the last 2 season. Of course, the opposite is also true. Consider the Mets of recent vintage. Mike Cameron is a decent offensive player. Forced into lineup spots that ill-suited him, he languished. Cliff Floyd is as good a hitter as Hideki Matsui, and probably better. Plug him in the proper lineup slot, in the 5 or 6 spot, and think about his 3o plus homers and around 100 RBI's. So the rest of the Met lineup will assuredly benefit from Delgado's presence. The other Carlos, Beltran, should hit in the 2 hole, a spot in which he has flourished in the past. David Wright will bat cleanup, mostly because of Willie Randolph's obsession with the right/left pattern. In this case Willie will stumble into the right configuration because Delgado is the Mets' best hitter, and although Willie doesn't know it, the best hitter should bat 3rd. It's a guarantee that either Benjie Molina or Ramon Hernandez will be the Met backstop in 2006, so here's a pretty fair guess at the opening day lineup:

  1. Reyes
  2. Beltran
  3. Delgado
  4. Wright
  5. Floyd
  6. Hernandez/Molina
  7. Nady/Diaz
  8. A. Hernandez/Matsui/Keppinger

Referring back to my original wish list, it also called for a closer. It seems a pretty fair bet that Omar will lock up Billy Wagner sometime soon. BWag and his agent are practically donning orange and blue pom poms already. Some might cynically argue that this is an attempt to drive up his asking price, but if that were true he would be doing the opposite. Instead of lauding the Mets' organization and their pursuit of his services he would be playing it closer to the vest. I haven't been so sure that the Mets would sign a free agent since Delgado last year. Or maybe Vlad? Or was it ARod? Anyway, it seems that the fireballing lefty will be a Metropolitan. With Aaron Heilman to set up Wagner, the Met end game will be solid in '06. Of course this won't stop the, ahem, cough, cough, experts from claiming that the Mets will be done in by their middle relief because Omar did nothing to address this pressing need.

This is actually my litmus test for baseball fans. If I'm having a casual baseball conversation with an acquaintance and the person says something like, "Boy, the Mets really need to get some reliable middle relievers", in my head I'm saying "OK, you have a very shallow understanding of major league baseball". To me, that's kind of like saying "Boy, I need to find me a nuclear physicist who looks like Pam Anderson." Think about what the term "middle reliever" means: You aren't good enough to start and we can't trust you when the game is on the line. By very definition they are not good pitchers. My saying is simple - There's no such thing as a good middle reliever, only middle relievers having good years.

Alright, I think we're set. The aforementioned catchers, Molina and Hernandez, don't thrill me but one of them is coming anyway. My preference is Hernandez, younger, slimmer, and a slightly better offensive player. My feeling is that of the three guys competing at 2nd base, a decent option will arise, even if it's a season long rotation. Each has their strengths. Hernandez is a good glove. Keppinger is a solid offensive player. With Matsui there's still that hope that his career in Japan was not an illusion. Maybe he too benefits from the Delgado factor. As a number 8 hitter he's better than most.

Assuming that Wagner and one of Molina/Hernandez is coming, the Mets will be one of the 2 or 3 best teams in the National League. I like their starting pitching. Pedro, Glavine, Benson, Trachsel, Seo is a serviceable starting core. But figure Omar to upgrade it in some way. The conventional wisdom is that AJ Burnett is the best free agent option on the market. I want no part of him. I'd prefer Matt Morris as free agents go. What would it take for Omar to pop Barry Zito? I doubt if any package not involving Lastings Milledge would do it. If that's the case, I pass. And in passing, I make a play for a pitcher that I have longed to see in a Met uniform for years. Livan Hernandez. A horse, a stud, an innings eater, a throwback to the days when pitchers finished what they started and treated at bats as if they were actual baseball players. A few winters ago I advocated the Mets trading a 20 year old prospect named David Wright for Livan. Thankfully, I had not nearly the influence on Jim Duquette (or was it Steve Philips?) that I have on Omar. This time I'll temper my ardor for Livan and offer something like Nady/Diaz, Matsui, Bannister, and cash. If that ain't enough, so be it.

This is where a GM does the real heavy lifting. Pulling the trigger for Carlos Delgado is a no-brainer. Omar needs to find that guy about to break out and get him on the cheap. A list of possibles include Brett Tomko, Jeff Weaver, Jarrod Washburn, and Jaimey Wright. If none of these names grab you, that's really the point. One of these pitchers, or someone like him, might be well suited for Shea. Omar, put some geeky intern at a computer and have him find us this year's Chris Carpenter. If somehow the Mets can get a guy who either is a bona fide number 2 or number 3 starter - Zito or Livan - or someone who ends up pitching like one, they will be the best team in the National League next year.

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