Despite poor ’09 finish, Mets shouldn’t start over
The temptation — after a run of heartbreaks that dates back to Yadier Molina’s unlikely home run in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS — is to just tear the damn thing down and start over.
That’s what many fans and observers of the New York Mets are demanding. To be sure, it’s an alluring palliative: After so much recent misery, something has to be rotten deep down in the guts of this organization, right?
That view that prevails right now, and most accusing fingers are pointed squarely at the team’s trio of superstar hitters. That trio, of course, consists of David Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran. Calls for their heads are not hard to find. Trade them yesterday, the cries go, and repopulate the roster with someone — anyone — who didn’t have a hand in the misfortunes of the recent past. However, as much as Mets fans desire a conspicuous villain or three, Wright, Reyes and Beltran aren’t the problems. In fact, they’re a nifty start toward a solution.
Consider their merits.
Wright is a 26-year-old, four-time All-Star who’s a career .310 AVG/.391 OBP/.522 SLG hitter and a deft fielder and base runner. This season — in which Wright has been the target of much criticism — he’s batting .314, getting on base at a .399 clip and showing power to the gaps, all while playing his home games in a tough park for hitters.
As for Reyes, who has missed the vast majority of the 2009 season with a torn hamstring tendon, he’s had a year to forget. However, keep in mind that we’re talking about a 26-year-old shortstop who’s been a highly productive player since 2006. He’s got excellent power by shortstop standards, he fields his position and when healthy, he’s the NL’s top speed merchant. After offseason surgery or a methodical rehab, he’ll likely return to form.
And what of Beltran? When healthy, he’s one of the best players in the game. Power, speed, on-base skills, defensive excellence — Beltran is truly a complete player. Still, because of his mellow grace in the field and on the bases, Beltran is assumed to be at times indifferent or worse. He’s not. (After all, sometimes a dirty uniform just means you’re slower and clumsier than the guy who’s still clean after nine innings.)
Beltran has missed almost half the season because of a deep bone bruise in his knee, but throughout most of his career, he’s avoided the serious injury. Beltran will miss a game from time to time, but until this season, he’s been a durable performer for the last decade or so. Age-related decline is a concern, but the reasonable expectation is that Beltran will continue playing at an uncommonly high level.
No, the problem with the Mets has not been their maligned superstars. The problem this season has been injuries and maladies so bizarre and overwhelming that they defy planning and preparation. That is, nothing could have been done to save the Mets’ season in 2009. More generally, though, the problem is that GM Omar Minaya has done a poor job of surrounding his superstars with complementary talents.
And that brings us to the future. This winter, the Mets have almost $50 million in player salaries coming off the books. It’s possible that, because of the recession and the Madoff-induced troubles of the Wilpon family, the Mets will retrench even further and seek takers for their core stars. Again, that would be a mistake.
The Wilpons’ miseries notwithstanding, the Mets are a franchise with a valuation north of $900 million, and they play in a state-of-the-art facility built largely on the public dime. When you have under your control talents like Wright, Reyes and Beltran (and Johan Santana, of course), you don’t squander the moment by fleshing out the roster with dreck. You seize the moment.
That means procuring a quality first baseman and catcher, getting production from the outfield corners and, for once, taking seriously the rotation behind Santana. Since the Mets are short on internal solutions, that means spending money.
If getting younger, cheaper and more inconsequential is your thing, then by all means let the purge begin. But if the Mets want to take the sensible tack, then they’ll resist the self-defeating urge to make fall guys out of Wright, Reyes and Beltran.