Reassessing three underachievers and notes around the majors
How will the Mets, D-backs and Indians avoid repeating their embarrassing years?
The Mets, baseball's biggest disappointment, should target Holliday and Bay
The Yankees think they've detected the flaw in Joba Chamberlain's delivery
For most teams, it is time to turn the page on this season. In a few cases, it has been that way for months. But one major advantage to being eliminated early is that there is plenty of extra time to assess one's needs, and several also-ran teams already have begun that process. (Of course on the flip side, more time is likely needed.)
Here is a close look at three teams that entered the season with high hopes but went nowhere and have been in the reassessment stage for weeks, if not months. The Mets, Indians and Diamondbacks have been out of contention for quite a while (although in the case of the Mets, it wasn't that long ago that GM Omar Minaya stopped saying his team was a "buyer").
But now it's definitely time to get real. Here is what these disappointing teams might do, and how they can avoid repeating the seasons they just had. I'll start with the most disappointing of all the disappointments -- yes, the New York Mess ...
New York Mets
A disaster on almost every level. Nobody gets a gold star for this one. Picked by Sports Illustrated to win the World Series (that wasn't me, though I had them as a wild-card winner), they have degenerated from mediocre to awful as underperformance and especially injuries accrued.
Do they have money to spend or did that psychopathic swindler Bernie Madoff steal most or all of it? There's no denying he stole a significant chunk of the club-owning Wilpons' personal funds, though club sources insist the $700 million estimate making the rounds is greatly exaggerated and that the Wilpons were diversified enough that the all-time Ponzi schemer won't deprive them of a chance to participate in free agency. Reports have suggested the Mets plan to cut from an NL-high $145 million payroll, but even a small reduction might be a tough sell in their second season in Citi Field. The guess here is the payroll stays about the same. Mets people already are discussing big-name free agent targets -- though, of course, that doesn't guarantee they'll actually sign any of the big ones.
What positions are they aiming to improve? The Mets understand they need to acquire a left fielder or first baseman (and maybe both), a catcher and a starting pitcher. They also better improve their overall depth. They like what Angel Pagan's done in the second half (his 10 triples in half a year are only one off the lead league) but still see him as a fourth outfielder and also haven't ruled out a return to the minors for more seasoning for first baseman in training Daniel Murphy.
Who are some of their targets? They badly need to add power, so it should be no surprise they are looking at top free-agent outfielders Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. Additionally, they will be one of the teams interested if the Padres shop star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who's proved he has the power to hit it out of any stadium by doing so at PETCO Park. Barring a big deal for Gonzalez, the Mets will also consider a return for Carlos Delgado, provided it's on an incentive-laden contract. Bengie Molina, another free agent, could be a fit for catcher.
What about the pitching? They have buyer's remorse for signing injured head case Oliver Perez over steady veteran Randy Wolf and might try to go back on that if Wolf's willing to leave L.A. Whoever they sign to pitch has to be someone they can count on to pitch 200 innings, so Jon Garland is another one who makes sense for them. As does native New Yorker Jason Marquis. They will once again look into Roy Halladay if he's available but will be reluctant to package all their best prospects for a one-year rental.
Who might go? The Mets might take another crack at trading second baseman Luis Castillo with an eye on signing free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson. That very thought occurred to them last winter, but Castillo was a non-hitting, no-range second baseman back then (and therefore not too tradable). While he still lacks range, at least he's hitting .306 now.
Are Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel safe? It appears that way. Both received a private vote of confidence from club COO Jeff Wilpon two months ago. And while Minaya should not have let personal feelings trigger a beat writer beat down at that memorable press conference, as that's what hurt his status as much as the dreadful Mets, Minaya has $3.5 million and three years to go on his contract. Whatever the Wilpons' financial situation, they are in no mood to eat that sort of loot. Manuel has only a year left but also has the excuse of a baseball-high $35 million on the disabled list at last count. As for the medical staff, it appears Mets people feel they were simply unlucky in that regard and are not blaming their doctors for all their continuing pain.
The loss of staff ace Brandon Webb to shoulder trouble and outfielder Conor Jackson to Valley Fever wiped them out. They were too young and too shallow to compete in a vastly improved NL West without their best pitcher and arguably their best hitter. They still have a very nice young positional nucleus, but after trading Jon Garland and Tony Pena, and continuing concern about Webb, they'll enter 2010 with a lot of pitching questions.
What to do about Webb? The Diamondbacks have an $8.5 million option on him (and $2 million buyout), and word is they will try to bring him back on a compromise salary somewhat shy of that $8 million figure. They have to be relieved that they didn't dive into a long-term deal for Webb, but even $8.5 mil looks a tad high at this point.
What about the rest of the rotation? With Garland gone to the Dodgers (and possibly about to become a free agent) and Doug Davis weeks away from free agency, they have holes to fill. They've been talking to Davis and seem to like him more than anyone else based on his limited trade market, so it's possible they re-sign him. Top pitching prospect Jarrod Parker isn't ready to step into the rotation yet, so a group of less-glorified youngsters including Kevin Mulvey and Billy Buckner will likely battle it out for one spot. But that still leaves two more pitchers they'll need. Plus, with Pena gone to White Sox, they could use a veteran arm or two in the 'pen, too.
Who'll man the right side of the infield? Brandon Allen, acquired in a smart trade for Pena, is going to get every opportunity to win the first-base job. But that still leaves second base as an open question. Tony Abreu will be the player to come for Garland if they can work out a service-time question that's in dispute, according to people familiar with the deal. If not, perhaps Blake DeWitt could be substituted for Abreu. In any case, their new second baseman could possibly come via that trade.
Who might be on the way out? The Diamondbacks may pull the plug on the $30 million, three-year deal for broken down Eric Byrnes that didn't work. Speculatively, a Byrnes-for-Castillo trade might work. Catcher Chris Snyder could be another candidate for trade. Arizona will need to add some mature veterans to man the bench and provide leadership for the youthful team -- a guy like Tony Clark, but not Clark, as he has gotten on with his new career as a baseball analyst on MLB Network.
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