The Doppler Mets 2012 Forecast

If you hadn’t noticed from my Carlos Beltran post, my Fred Wilpon post, or my tribute to Gary Carter, I’m a huge New York Mets fan.

Around this time of year, I was very much aware that the Mets have no chance at a post-season appearance. The Philadelphia Phillies have ran away with the National League East and it appears that no other team in the league will be able to keep pace with the young and extremely talented Atlanta Braves.

However, the Mets have again transformed from competitive and exciting to injured and frustrating. It has been a common theme since the team moved from Shea Stadium to Citi Field in 2009. The only difference between the first two years of the new stadium in Flushing Meadows and this season: Sandy Alderson’s front office.

And for that, there is optimism brewing in Queens. While this team has been rather enjoyable to watch, most fans have to be careful with how to view this team.

The goal of this post is to try and map out what the 2012 New York Mets will look like.  All 25 of the potential players that will fill out the active roster will be included.

A Brief Explanation

For starters, we will assume that the Mets will stay with their theme over the last couple of season of carrying 12 pitchers on roster.

That leaves 5 spots on their bench and 7 relievers.

On their Mets bench, they tend to carry 1 catcher, 2 outfielders (1 of which needs to be able to play center), 1 utility infielder and 1 corner infielder

The bullpen is a mixed bag of everything, so I won’t go out of the way trying to break down what they normally carry.

All statistics provided are current as of August 23rd, 2011. Ages are as of Opening Day 2012. Minor League numbers will be included with an asterisk. The triple-slash of the statistics are Average-On Base Percentage-Slugging Percentage.

2012 Starting Infield

First Base: Ike Davis (25) – .302/.383/.543, 7HR 25RBI (36 games – out since May with an injured ankle)

–A lot of people forget just how great of a sophomore season that Ike Davis was having before his injury. 16 of Ike’s 39 hits in those 36 games went for extra bases. He seemed to drive in a run a game, and all of that came before the Mets had any production out of half their line-up and before Jose Reyes caught fire at the end of May.

Ike is simply the Mets future at first. He is the best defensive first basemen the Mets have had since John Olerud in the late 90’s and may prove to be the second greatest defensive first basemen in team history behind only Keith Hernandez. He is a true masher with real power (he was on pace for 32 home runs had he played a full season) and a formative left-handed bat in the middle of the Mets line-up. Even with the proposed changes to the outfield wall at Citi Field (finally), there wasn’t a portion of the ballpark Ike can’t crush it out of.

When he does come back fully healthy, which will be in plenty of time for Spring Training 2012, Mets fans will quickly remember the all-around talent that Ike Davis provides.

Second Base: Reese Havens (25)- .288/.373/.435, 4HR 24RBI* (52 games in A+/AA, missed time due to injury)

–Even more Mets fans tend to forget that Reese Havens was the Mets second first-round selection in 2008, behind Davis. Injuries have been the name of the game for Havens ever since he got drafted. Be it a bad back, a rib discomfort or a strained oblique, there has always been some form of malady to keep Havens on the sideline.

However, when he has been healthy, he has always performed. He has plus-power out of the second base position (he was a shortstop in college) and has always been credited with great plate discipline and gap-to-gap ability, both huge qualities Sandy Alderson looks for. As Toby Hyde of MetsMinorLeagueBlog has pointed out, the only reason why Havens may not get a September audition is because the Mets are likely to send him to the Arizona Fall League to get more at-bats.

I’m sure many Mets fans, myself included, have loved the play of Justin Turner at second base this season. But, what you see is what you’re going to get from Turner. There is little room left for him to improve. He is most certainly a valuable player to have on your 25-man roster, and I see him getting the corner infield slot on the Mets bench, especially with his ability to play shortstop in a pinch.

Other Mets fans are wondering why I haven’t mentioned Ruben Tejada as a possible second base candidate. Alderson has always stated his desire to get offense out of second base while also not sacrificing defense. Tejada is probably the best defensive middle infielder the Mets have, and he, too, will have a spot on the Mets bench in the utility infield position.

What may surprise people is that the true competition for the 2012 starting spot will come down to Havens and fast-rising prospect Jordany Valdespin (24, .289/.331/.469, 16HR 59RBI, 34 stolen bases). Valdespin has spent five season in the Mets farm system, entering as a 19-year in 2007. In his previous four seasons, Valdespin hit 14 home runs. This year, he has exploded to 16. The huge knock on Valdespin comes down to his defense (a converted shortstop that has committed 33 errors this season) and his poor baserunning decisions. The 34 stolen bases show case his speed for sure, but he’s also been caught 16 times (68% success rate, in other words: terrible).

The Mets have invested a lot into both players. The competition come Spring Training will be Reese Haven’s to lose. But, would it surprise anyone to see Valdespin become the Mets second basemen of the future? Absolutely not. Expect Valdespin to get a look in September when Havens goes to the Fall League.

Shortstop: Jose Reyes (28)- .336/.377/.507, 5HR 37RBI, 80 runs, 34 stolen bases (98 games, on DL for second time this season with strained hamstring)

–The Jose Reyes saga has been an incredible story to follow this season. He went from gone at the trade deadline, to too valuable to move, to league MVP and back to high injury risk. While I can guarantee you that Reyes will not get Carl Crawford money (7-year, $142 million), he will get somewhere in the neighborhood of five-years and $95 million from the Mets (and unless you’re Latrell Sprewell, that’ll feed the family).

His value to the Mets can not be described in such a short space, so I won’t even try. The fans would throw a revolution if Reyes were to move. He’s here for the long haul. He plays a near Gold Glove defense, is arguably the most dynamic lead-off hitter in baseball and he’s an absolute joy to watch.

Not to mention, he leads the National League with his .336 average and leads the majors with his 16 triples (on pace for 26 in a healthy season). The most surprising number most fans don’t realize about Reyes, he has 47 extra base hits. Currently, Justin Upton leads the NL in extra base hits with 65. He is on pace for roughly 81 this season. Had Reyes been healthy all year, he would’ve finished around the 77 mark. And of those extra base hits, less than 10 would’ve been home runs. That’s incredible.

Third Base: David Wright (29)- .259/.341/.425, 11HR 42RBI (69 games, missed time with a stress fracture in his back)

–All of Wright’s numbers for 2011 are much lower than they should be because the man played a month with a broken back. Think about that. It is safe to say that 2009 was an outlier for David Wright. Since he came off the DL, Wright has been the player that became a star from 2005-08.

He looks a lot slimmer since his trip to the DL, has altered his stance, is striking out a whole lot less and has gotten back to using the entire field (as evident from his opposite field home run in Philadelphia). Go ahead and pencil David in for his 162-game average (2009 included) of .301/.381/.510, 27HR 106RBI and Gold Glove defense. He’s arguably the best home-grown Mets player since the hey-days of Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry in the 1980s.

Catcher: Josh Thole (25)- .268/.354/.355, 3HR 31RBI (89 games)

–For Thole, it will be about how he works on his defensive game in the off-season. Offensively, the Mets will take that triple-slash line any day from Thole. He will never hit for power (17 total extra-base hits), but will constantly find his way on base.

No matter what, there will be a right-handed hitting compliment to Thole on the roster. With the way Ronny Paulino (31, .289/.325/.366) has worked with the pitching staff, it probably will be him again. Paulino is the superior defender, but doesn’t do nearly as well against righties as he does lefties.

Down on the farm, the best option the Mets currently have is Alberto Cordero (22, .280/.311/.383, 6HR 39RBI). Problem is, Cordero is currently in Low-A Savannah. While he is ready for the majors defensively right now with a plus-arm and awesome mechanics, he is not refined enough offensively to make a difference. There is a chance that Cordero could skip A+ St. Lucie next year and go right to AA, but odds are he’ll split the year between the two, meaning he is at least two full seasons away from sniffing the big club.

2012 Starting Outfield

Left Field: PLATOON– Absolutely, we are at this point.

RH: Jason Bay (33)- .236/.319/.345, 9HR 43RBI, 90 strikouts (99 games, missed time due to oblique strain)

LH: Daniel Murphy (27)- .320/.362/.448, 6HR 49RBI, .364 BA with RISP, .355 BA with RISP and 2 outs (109 games, strained knee ligiments ended his season)

–As I said, we are absolutely to this point. It is getting to a point where the optimism when Jason Bay goes 1 for 4 with a hard hit out is sad. For whatever reason, Bay has been a huge failure in Queens. A phenomenal failure.

Sandy Alderson showed last spring that he isn’t afraid of eating contracts in the case of Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez. But, Bay has two years left on his deal and $32 million total. It makes sense to give him another year before the organization gets to that point. However, he can not be an everyday starter anymore. He is a black hole in this line-up.

As for Murph, we’ve been down this road before. And as annoying as it is to point out Bay’s inability to hit, it is equally annoying to point to the fact that Daniel Murphy does not have a natural defensive position. The position he looks most comfortable at is first, but he will not replace Ike Davis.

Regardless, the man can flat-out hit. He was in the top 5 of the batting title race before he blew out his knee. He has such a smooth stroke and drives the ball to all fields. He hits well enough that the Mets will either find him a place to play, or trade him to get the highest value possible from an American League team.

Murphy looked fine in 2008 when he debuted in left field. But in 2009, he suffered from a serious case of the yips out there. It got to a point where it was so bad, the Mets (who only won 70 games that year) decided he couldn’t play out there anymore. Terry Collins has stated if Murphy wants to play on this team, he will need to learn the outfield. Well, this is the only scenario Murphy can get into the line-up: Learn left field, or we’ll trade you.

Hopefully, he learns left field. If he can do that successfully, he may completely bump Bay out of playing time and continue to add to the incredible depth in this line-up.

Center field: B.J. Upton (27)- .225/.304/.391, 17HR 58RBI, 26 stolen bases (currently on Tampa Bay Rays, eligible for arbitration after the season)

–I will admit that a portion of this idea came from a very lengthy conversation I had with Brian May, my college housemate and fellow Mets fanatic.

The worst kept secret in all of baseball is that the Rays will either trade Upton this off-season or non-tender him at the arbitration deadline, making him a free agent. Upton is almost as frustrating to Rays fans as the man he would be replacing in New York, Angel Pagan.

After 2009, when the entire team crapped their pants, the consensus in the Mets front office was the mental lapses of Pagan would cost him any chance of starting in the long run. Well, somehow, he seemed to have turned the corner in 2010, when he hit .290, 11HR 69RBI, stole 37 bases and played a strong enough center field that the team moved Carlos Beltran to right.

This year? Its like watching the ’09 Pagan all over again. He seems lost at times in center and on the base paths, he pulls off pitches and he doesn’t seem to play the game as crisp as he had before. Pagan, too, is arbitration elgible after this season and is in line to be awarded around $4 million.

Now, if the Mets decide to bring in Upton, they will most likely have to spend around $8-10 million per season. Upton is younger than Pagan and plays premium defense in center. With the Mets getting plenty of offense from other positions (sans Bay), they could theoretically absorb another slow offensive season from Upton as long as he continues to save runs with his glove.

Do the Mets spend the exta $4 million+ on defense and potential or do they give Pagan a reprieve on his unfortunate season? Mets fans would say the former and not the latter.

In the farm system, it appears evident that Fernando Martinez (23, .260/.329/.417, 8HR 30RBI) no longer possesses the speed to play center field.

Say Upton signs in New York on a one-year deal to showcase his talents in a bigger market (absolutely conceivable), the Mets are high on Kirk Nieuwenhuis (24, .298/.403/.505, 6HR 14RBI). In fact, had Captain Kirk not made an amazing catch in center that dislocated his non-throwing shoulder, Nieuwenhuis would have certainly got a look this year when Pagan missed time with injury.

Further down the line, the Mets also have Matt den Dekker (24, .272/.346/.472, 15HR 62RBI between A+ and AA) who is hands-down the Mets best defensive center field prospect and is in the discussion for best defensive prospect in all of baseball. He has put up huge numbers this year in the extra-base hit department (57 total: 31 doubles, 11 triples and 15 home runs), but is another full season of AAA ball away from performing on the big stage.

Best case scenario, the Mets bring in Upton on a one-or-two year deal to let den Dekker and Nieuwenhuis buy time in the minors.

Right Field: Lucas Duda (26)- .279/.346/.475, 7HR 35RBI (73 games, part of season spent in AAA-Buffalo)

–Similar to Murphy, Lucas Duda will be given every opportunity to win the right field job outright in Spring Training. It would be hard to imagine the Mets finding anyone that has the power capability that Duda has that wouldn’t come at a premium cost.

Since July, the Big Ox has hit all 7 of his home runs after hitting none in the first three months of the year. In fact, 12.6 at-bats between home runs average to just under 40 in a 500 at-bat season. Like Davis, there isn’t a spot in Citi Field that could contain Duda if he got a hold of it.

While the power is awesome, Duda possesses a true knowledge of the strike zone that has impressed the entire organization. He has shown an ability to adjust his swing to appropriate situations, and he even had the baseball smarts to lay down a sacrifice bunt that eventually led to a game-winning run.

If Duda can prove to play an average right field (another reason for a plus-defender in center like Upton), his bat will find its way into the starting line-up regularly.

As for the farm, it is much to early to talk about the likes of 2011 first-round pick Brandon Nimmo as nothing more than a pipe dream. Cory Vaughn (22, .267/.383/.397, 9HR 49RBI) is looking like a legitimate Major Leaguer down the road. But, like Cordero, he is probably a solid two years away from making an impact.

Bench

Utility Infielder: Ruben Tejada (22, .276/.365/.323 0HR 24RBI) (67 games in MLB this year)

–As I covered briefly in the second base section, Tejada will be in the running for the starting job, but most likely won’t win it. He will never provide a lot of pop at the plate. But, he has terrific baseball instincts and a great eye at the plate.

Even more, he plays probably the best defense up the middle out of anyone on the Mets not named Reyes. His glove will keep him in the Major Leagues for a long time. And it is ridiculous to think that every player out of the Minors needs to be a star. There is nothing wrong with having a sure bat and great glove off the bench. Tejada fills this role nicely.

Corner Infielder: Justin Turner (27, .258/.325/.358, 4HR 43RBI, 24 doubles) (93 games in MLB)

–Again, as covered in the second base portion, Turner absolutely provides a spark this team desperately needs. He and Daniel Murphy provide such energy in the dugout that it doesn’t make sense to fill out a 25-man roster that doesn’t have both of them on it.

And like Tejada, there is nothing wrong with Turner being on the bench. His numbers have taken a dip recently because he is apparently playing through a number of maladies, but the line he has right now is probably the line he would post year in and year out. If you could count on 300 at-bats, a .260 average with gap power on your bench, all while playing four infield positions, you take that every time, right? Right.

Reserve Catcher: Ronny Paulino (see catcher section)

Utility Outfielder: Scott Hairston (31, .235/.303/.470, 7HR 24RBI) (79 games, 145 plate appearances)

–Hairston got off to such a slow start for the Mets this season that his batting average still hasn’t recovered. However, he has been phenomenal in a reserve role recently. The only question with Hairston: how well can he play center?

The last spot on this bench would go to whoever isn’t starting in the Jason Bay/Daniel Murphy platoon. Now, Terry Collins has said emphatically that both Hairston and Bay have the ability to play center field. However, neither have. And with September call-ups around the corner, neither probably will.

If Hairston can prove better than serviceable in center, then the Mets will certainly keep him. If they feel a better defensive back-up option is there in center field (say, Rick Ankiel), they may look down that avenue. Even money is saying Scott Hairston has a second season in Citi Field.

Corner Outfielder: Jason Bay/Daniel Murphy (see Left Field)

Pitching

Starters:

Johan Santana (33)- Been on DL for the entire 2011 Season

–With Johan, its very simple. When he has been healthy, he’s a Cy Young candidate every year. The problem for him has been staying healthy.

Santana is apparently on course to be healthy for Day 1 of Spring Training. But, he was also supposed to be on course for being in the Mets rotation by the All-Star break.

Santana could be the difference between the Mets being an over-.500 team and or a team that will repeat the course of this year. Time will tell and we will see if Johan can be the guy that pitched the Mets within one game of the playoffs in 2008.

R.A. Dickey (37)- 167.0 innings, 5-11, 3.72ERA, 1.26WHIP

–The RA Dickey has been the best Mets pitcher for the last two seasons, no question. There was a lot of worry coming into the 2011 season that Dickey’s 2010 success would prove to be nothing more than a flash in the pan.

The second time through the league possessing a below-average fastball and three variations of a knuckleball, many people thought the book would be out. And when Dickey got off to a slow start, there was significant fear that all of that was coming true.

Then the Dickey injured his plantar, and apparently that’s the jump start he needed. He has been a rock in this rotation. Alderson locked him up to a two-year deal last off-season, and there is no reason to believe Dickey will pitch anywhere else in 2012. He will be in the rotation, and, like Wright in the line-up, lock Dickey down for 30+ starts, a 3.50 ERA and 140 Ks. Done deal.

Let’s move on.

Jonathon Niese (25)- 157.1 innings, 11-11, 4.40ERA, 138 Ks, 1.41WHIP

–When you talk about Jon Niese, everything tends to be positive even when the results aren’t. The only thing that makes me nervous about that scenario is 2008 Me was saying the same exact sentence in regards to Mike Pelfrey, who I will get to in a minute.

However, it is evident that Niese has things figured out. He needs to work his entire arsenal into his starts better, as he tends to fall in love with one pitch which eventually gets him into trouble.

What you have to remember is that Niese is only 25, though it feels like he’s been around forever. He has the potential to become a good compliment number 2 starting pitcher, like a poor man’s Tom Glavine.

Niese began to put it together this year before he tweaked his back in his last couple starts. Should Niese be able to perform up to expectations next season, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to imagine him posting 15+ wins with an ERA hovering around the 3.75 mark. Lower the WHIP and you have yourself a borderline All-Star.

Dillon Gee (25)- 127.2 innings, 11-5, 4.37ERA, 85 Ks, 1.30WHIP

–Dillon Gee got off to a powerful start, winning his first 8 decisions in his rookie season. From the get-go, Gee has looked EXACTLY like Rick Reed from the 1998-2001 stretch of Mets success. He even wears Reed’s #35.

Gee will never be a top-of-the-rotation talent that can win on his stuff alone. Instead, Gee lives by nibbling at the corners, throwing strikes, and using his devastating change-up. Whenever Gee has limited his walks and stays in the strike zone, he finds an abundance of success. Its when he loses control of his pitches or shies away from his change-up that he finds trouble.

However, you can do a whole lot worse than Dillon Gee out of your 4 or 5 spot in the rotation. He will give you innings, will keep the defense busy and will battle. Every rotation needs a Dillon Gee. He will be in New York for the foreseeable future. And I look forward to watching his development.

Jason Marquis (33)- 132.0 innings, 8-6, 4.43ERA, 76 Ks, 1.49WHIP

–Now, this is important on two fronts. The first, the only scenario I like the Mets bringing in Marquis would be on a one-year contract. A lot has to be said about a player wanting to play for your team. The Staten Island native has once again stated his desire to pitch in his hometown and compete at a high level.

Also, Marquis is a proven winner. He’s been to the playoffs on every team he’s played for with the exception of the Washington Nationals. The Diamondbacks, who are making a surprising run for the National League West crown, made a priority to acquire Marquis at the deadline to add depth to the rotation. Now granted, an Angel Pagan line drive off Marquis’ shin broke his leg and ended his season.

Marquis will eat innings for you, all while giving you team a chance to win every five games. In a transitional year like the Mets will be going through in 2012, where they want to be competitive and win while not throwing the long-term plan off its tracks, a pitcher like Jason Marquis on a reasonable one-year contract will prove invaluable.

Along with Marquis, it is possible the Mets will consider bringing back Chris Capuano (33, 9-11, 4.71ERA, 123 Ks) on another one-year contract or even injured starter Chris Young (32, 1-0, 1.88ERA) on another performance-laden contract. But, I feel the Mets will lean in the direction of Marquis this time around.

The second thing the signing of Marquis signals is the end of the Mike Pelfrey (28, 6-10, 4.61ERA). Look, he’s been a Met for 6 years now. When he won 13 games in 2008 and posted a 3.72ERA, everybody thought that Big Pelf had finally turned the corner. Only he took two steps backwards in 2009 with a bloated ERA of 5.03. Then, 2010 happened and Pelfrey looked like a bona fide number 2 pitcher behind Johan Sanatana. But now, the jury is hung on Pelfrey.

No player on the Mets this season has proven to be as frustrating as Pelf. Even when he does well, fans are irritated that he can’t duplicate his success in consecutive starts. Furthermore, Pelfrey has proven time and time again that he is dreadful against National League East opponents.

Like Pagan, Pelfrey will be up for arbitration again after this season. Reports say that it is likely Pelfrey will earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million out of the process.

One way to look at the situation is this:

If you kept Pagan and Pelfrey, you would be committing roughly $10 million to the two players. Would you swap the contracts of Pagan and Pelfrey for B.J. Upton, who would command that salary on his contract? I would guess many Mets fans would say yes.

Listen, as much crap as the Mets farm system has taken throughout the last couple of years, there is one clear truth to their minor leagues: they have a ton of upside potential starting pitchers.

Matt Harvey (23, 12-5, 3.17ERA, 151 Ks in 127.2 innings) is the best of the talent. He will absolutely start 2012 in AAA and will be the first in line if a pitcher is lost to injury. Right behind him, the Mets have Jeurys Familia (22, 5-4, 2.81ERA, 120 Ks in 109 innings) who will also open 2012 in AAA, phenom Jenrry Mejia who will be 22 and coming off Tommy John surgery, but should be ready by May and will start in AAA. That three-headed monster in AAA with the likes of Marquis and Dickey working off essentially one year contracts is promising. Plus, newly acquired Zack Wheeler and suprising 2011 success story lefty Darin Gorski will be in AA.

Pelfrey is expendable because of this talent and the fact that his $6 million can be better spent elsewhere.

Bullpen

The Bullpen is a little hard to predict. There are a couple of givens, however.

Middle Relievers:

Pedro Beato (25)

–Beato came out of the gates fast and furious, posting an impressive scoreless inning streak. Recently, his performances have been up and down. But, the Mets took a Rule 5 flier on him and he has proven to be a Major League arm with some nasty stuff. A year under his belt in the bigs should prove to be worth while and he will be in next year’s bullpen.

Manny Acosta (30)

–Acosta has flashes of pure briliance, then can look absolutely lost in a matter of minutes. Being a cheap, under contract option, the Mets will give Acosta every chance to make the team out of Spring Training

Josh Stinson (24)

–The Mets gave Stinson every opportunity to work his way into a potential rotation spot. After struggling in that role in AAA, Stinson was moved to the bullpen and has proven dominant. He hits 94-95 constantly and Terry Collins absolutely loves his ability. Stinson will get a September audition, and he will most likely stick in the team’s long-term plans.

The lefty out of the bullpen and the long reliever is hard to predict. Odds are, D.J. Carrasco will serve as the team’s longman since he is under contract for another season. Tim Byrdak could come back, but there are an abundance of lefties that will come on the cheap that the Mets will wait to commit to anyone.

Closer: Bobby Parnell (27)

–Parnell has been the prodigy child for two years now. This is the job the team has been grooming him for. Personally, I never understood why any team would want to pay big money for a closer, a position that only needs to get three outs in a game his team is already winning.

If the team doesn’t hand the reigns over to Parnell next year, the team may never make the transition. He has the triple-digit fastball, the disgusting hard slider and the make-up to shut the door. The question is, can Parnell make the transition from flamethrower to power pitcher?

Its a transition that will prove to be one of the biggest stories in Spring Training. Odds are, Parnell will be given the job and the team will hope that he accepts the role head on.

So. After all that, here’s how I imagine your 2012 New York Mets starting line-up:

1. Jose Reyes, SS

2.  B.J. Upton, CF

3. David Wright, 3B

4. Ike Davis, 1B

5. Lucas Duda, RF

6. Jason Bay/Daniel Murphy, LF

7. Reese Havens, 2B

8. Josh Thole, C

Starting Rotation would look something like this:

Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, Jason Marquis

Closing: Bobby Parnell

Is this going to happen according to plan? I don’t know. This is how I would imagine the Mets continue their transformation.

Your thoughts?

 

 

Making Sense of the MLB Trade Deadline

Whoa. Ok. That was a lot of movement. Between the new players on new teams in the NFL and now MLB, my head is spinning.

Naturally, when there is any sort of mass player movement in any of the major sports leagues in the United States, we must pick ourselves some winners and losers. So, why should we be any different?

We will break this down into three categories: winners, losers and those in limbo. That’s right. You came for two, and we’re giving you a third on top of that. Take that, ESPN!

WINNERS:

Texas Rangers:

-Acquired RP Koji Uehara from BAL for SP Tommy Hunter and 1B Chris Davis

-Acquired RP Mike Adams from SD for 2 pitching prospects

The Texas Rangers are the best team in the American League not playing in the East. They had a clear weakness on their ballclub: the bullpen. They can mash with the best of them and they have solid starting pitching thanks to All-Stars C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando. However, their bullpen ranked 11th in the league and outside of Arthur Rhodes, the unit was under-performing.

One American League official went as far to say that if the Rangers were able to trade for Uehara (1.71 ERA, 62 Ks in 47.0 innings), they would play in the World Series. Ok, maybe that guy got ahead of himself. But, the Rangers did pick up the most dominate reliever available for their eighth inning, then got Mike Adams (1.13 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 49 Ks in 48.0 innings) to shorten the game even more. Starters need only to go six innings with Adams, Uehara and Neftali Feliz to round out the ‘pen.

The Rangers did part with a youthful arm in Tommy Hunter (13 wins as a 23-year old in 2010), but the team had given up on fixing Chris Davis (24 Ks in 76 at bats this season). As for the pitching prospects, they weren’t the best the team had to offer, which is always good to hear from an organizational stand point. The Texas Rangers had the best deadline, dare I say.

New York Mets:

-Acquired two players to be named later from MIL for RP Francisco Rodriguez

-Acquired SP Zack Wheeler from SF for OF Carlos Beltran

Whoa! Before you go calling me a homer, understand something. First, the Mets escaped from what was going to become a vesting option of $17.5 million to Francisco Rodriguez if he finished 55 games this season. Emphasis on finished. He could’ve lost 55 games this year and it wouldn’t have mattered, the option would’ve kicked. All he had to do was be the last pitcher to appear in the game. Literally, my grandmothers could be the players to be named later in that deal with Milwaukee, and it won’t matter. That money is going right to Jose Reyes, thankfully.

Second, you need to realize that had the Mets held onto Carlos Beltran, they would not have been able to offer him salary arbitration. In fancy talk, that means the Mets wouldn’t have gotten any draft pick compensation for Beltran had he left in free agency. He would qualify as a Type A free agent, which normally means the team that signs him surrenders their first round pick to the Mets, plus a compensation pick at the end of the first round. But, none of that would’ve gone to the Mets due to a loophole in his contract (damn you, Scott Boars!).

Third, while the Mets had offers from teams to either A) bring home a truck of B-level prospects, B) pay off Beltran’s remaining $6 million+ or C) both, Sandy Alderson and company held firm on getting the best available player they could. And, you know what? They did just that. Wheeler was the Giants’ best pitching prospect (out of a system that has produced Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, among others) and Baseball America had recently rated Wheeler as high as 35th out of all prospects in baseball. Wheeler immediately slots into one of the top four Mets pitching prospect slots (along with Matt Harvey, Jenrry Meija and Jeurys Familia) and projects to be a power, top-rotation type pitcher.

Getting value for Beltran was key for Alderson. He accomplished that, and that makes the Mets winners at the deadline even though they probably aren’t competing for a playoff spot. Hooray!

Houston Astros:

-Acquired OF Jordan Schafer and 3 pitching prospects from ATL for OF Michael Bourn and cash

-Acquired SP Jarred Cosart, 1B Jonathan Singleton and 2 prospects from PHI for OF Hunter Pence

Alright, another team that isn’t competing for a playoff spot. You think I’m crazy. Hey, you may be right. But, you need to look long-term here.

Remember, the Astros are stuck in the king of rebuilding projects and have a new owner coming into office. They need a franchise makeover. Does it hurt to trade away the face of the franchise and the one productive player on the team? Absolutely.

But, what does that say about your franchise if Hunter Pence is your keystone guy? Is he a good player? Absolutely. Should he be the best player on your team? No way.

In Cosart and Singleton, the Astros got the Phillies two best prospects not named Dominic Brown. That’s a win right there. From the Braves, they got 3 pitchers that project into productive parts, but not necessarily stars. However, they sold Bourn when his stock was highest, so that should be commended.

San Francisco Giants:

-Acquired OF Carlos Beltran from NYM for SP Zack Wheeler

-Acquired INF Orlando Cabrera from CLE for player to be named later

We already covered the Beltran trade from the Mets angle. The Giants angle is a lot easier to understand. They needed immediate pop in the middle of their order. Well, that’s Beltran.

What I love even more is the acquisition of Orlando Cabrera. This man IS playoff baseball. I understand the Indians traded him because their second baseman of the future has been playing well, but Cabrera is a lock to make the playoffs on whatever team he is on. I don’t know why, it’s just the truth. Expect Cabrera to play the 2010 Edgar Renteria role on this team.

Oh, and by the way, remember that it was Renteria who was named World Series MVP last year.

Team that went in the right direction, but didn’t impress: Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks

LOSERS:

New York Yankees:

-No major acquisitions

Absorb that sentence for a little bit, Yankee fans. Your general manager has pretty much informed you that he feels the mix of Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes will be good enough for a long run in the October. To me, that seems a little bit optimistic. And by optimistic, I mean delusional.

This team needed a starting pitcher in the worst way. C.C. Sabathia would be the likely Cy Young Award winner for the American League if Justin Verlander didn’t exist. But, after him, A.J. Burnett? And that’s really all you can trust? Wait, we’re trusting A.J. Burnett now? Oh, brother.

Hey, in their defense, it’s not like the Yankees didn’t try. They really wanted Hiroki Kuroda, but he refused to waive his no-trade clause and chose to stay in Los Angeles. They tried to get Ubaldo Jiminez (I’m not done with him) from Colorado before the Indians package trumped the Yankees. And, its not like the Red Sox and the Rays broke the bank in their trades either. But, the Red Sox did improve their rotation (Erik Bedard) and they added infield depth (Mike Aviles).

The Yankees didn’t do anything, and that hurts.

Cleveland Indians:

Acquired SP Ubaldo Jiminez from COL for SP Drew Pomeranz, SP Alex White and 3 prospects

-Acquired OF Kosuke Fukudome from CHI for 2 prospects

-Acquired a player to be named later from SF for INF Orlando Cabrera

The Cleveland Indians feel that they are in the thick of the race for the AL Central. And, less than three games out of first certainly means they are in the race. The Twins held firm at the deadline, the White Sox appeared to be sellers, and the Detroit Tigers added a nice piece in SP Doug Fister, but he doesn’t necessarily put them over the edge.

So, kudos to the Indians for putting in the effort to try and win this division. Now, time for my problems with both of these trades. Starting with Fukudome.

Ok, I understand their offense needed a bit of an upgrade. Not a full upgrade like the Giants needed, but enough of one where the Indians offered to pay Beltran’s entire remaining salary to the Mets plus prospects. So, why did they go after a guy that is ranked behind the likes of Ryan Theriot and Brian Schneider in terms of his career production rate on BaseballReference.com? Fukudome’s beautiful triple slash (average/on-base/slugging) for 2011? .273/.374/.369

Yikes. Not sure where I should be seeing an upgrade. Luckily, I’m not overly impressed with the prospects they gave up for the aging outfielder. So there’s that.

But, believe it or not, I had a bigger problem with their trade for Rockies ace Ubaldo Jiminez. In his first 16 decisions of 2010, Jiminez went 15-1 and looked like the shoe-in for NL Cy Young. Since then, however, Jiminez has gone 10-17. This year, he sat at 6-9 with a 4.46 ERA, a far cry from his 2.88 in 2010, and that was even lower in the first half of 2010.

Furthermore, does anybody else find it strange that the Rockies were so quick to trade Ubaldo Jiminez? He’s under team control until 2014, and its not like the Rockies are cheap when it comes to locking down their home grown talent (see: Tulowitzki, Troy and Gonzalez, Carlos). So, I smell something that the Rockies are seeing that maybe the Indians are not. The shine on Jiminez seems to be fading in the sense that Francisco Liriano is not the pitcher we all thought he’d be, either.

Also, the Rockies made out like bandits here. They acquired two of the Indians last three first round picks (Pomeranz and White). In fact, those two picks were both Top-10 selections. Pomeranz was such a recent selection that you see his name in the transaction column as “player to be named later” because the Indians aren’t allowed to trade him since he hasn’t been a member of the organization for a full calender year yet.

The Rockies are exceptionally good at rebuilding on the fly. They now have two controllable power arms that may be ready by next year or 2013. And the Indians? They traded for the market’s largest questionmark. You can be aggressive to a fault at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, that’s what the Indians were.

San Diego Padres:

-Acquired a prospect from PIT for OF Ryan Ludwick

-Acquired two prospects from TEX for RP Mike Adams

Ok, the Padres got the most out of what they could for the players they traded. The problem in San Diego is more of who they didn’t trade: closer Heath Bell.

Bell is a very good closer and a huge fan favorite in San Diego (as he was at Shea Stadium when he was the conductor of the old Norfolk Shuttle). But, the Padres probably did themselves a disservice by not trading him away. This was the highest his trade value would ever be, and now the team has put themselves in a situation where they will have to pay the big bucks to keep their stopper long-term.

Now, hindsight is always 20-20. This non-move could turn out to be great for the franchise. But, I honestly do not like it when teams invest in relievers not named Rivera. So, I will let this one play out a little bit. I just don’t understand why a team in full fledged rebuild mode wouldn’t move their most valuable asset that could be replaced rather quickly from within.

Other teams that disappointed, but not as poorly: Oakland A’s, Washington Nationals

Teams in Limbo

Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals:

Basically I group all three teams together because they conducted the largest, craziest trade of the deadline period. Stay with me here:

White Sox acquired RP Jason Frasor and SP Zach Stewart from the Blue Jays

Blue Jays acquired INF Mark Teahan from the White Sox, OF Colby Rasmus, SP Brian Tallet, RP Trevor Miller and RP P.J. Walters from the Cardinals

Cardinals acquired SP Edwin Jackson from White Sox, RP Octavio Dotel, RP Marc Rzepczynski, OF Corey Patterson and three players to be named later from Blue Jays

Have you digested all that? So, how do three teams conduct a huge trade and seemingly stay in the same place they were pre-trade? I’ll explain.

For the White Sox, General Manager Kenny Williams just confuses me to no end. When the team should be sellers, he buys. When the team should be buyers, he sells. He gave Adam Dunn a four-year contract when no team was willing to go more than two. He picked up Alexis Rios from the Blue Jays when the team was bound to release him anyway. I don’t get it.

Edwin Jackson was having a good year, and the White Sox did well to sell him when his value was high because Jackson has been an up-and-down talent his entire career, hence why he’s played for six teams in eight years. Mostly, the White Sox stay in limbo with this trade because while Zach Stewart is a promising pitching prospect from Toronto, he is no Daniel Hudson, who is the player the White Sox traded to get Jackson in the first place.

For the Blue Jays, I think I understand this trade. I think. The big prize they picked up is OF Colby Rasmus, who was once one of the best prospects in all of baseball while he was maturing in the St. Louis farm system. He hit .276 with 23 home runs for the Cardinals in 2010 as a 23-year old, but has been marred in a season-long slump in 2011, dipping his average to .240 with only 11 home runs. Apparently, Rasmus wore out his welcome with manager Tony LaRussa for seeking outside help for his hitting woes, which is a no-no for the Cardinals. When push came to shove, the team stuck with management and not Rasmus.

 However, he’s still young (24). He could easily figure out this funk and blossom into the well-rounded centerfielder experts had predicted he’d become. Here’s my problem with the trade: the Blue Jays didn’t need the help with their offense.

In the American League East, you will not win with a powerful line-up. Look at the Rays. Their line-up is below average for the American League, but they’re constantly competitive in the East because they have pitching depth very few other teams have. The Blue Jays dealt Stewart, one of their better pitching prospects, to get Jackson who enabled them to get Rasmus. In their system, they still have Kyle Drabek, their prize in the Roy Halladay trade. But, he struggled in his first stint of Major League action. The Jays will need a massive amount of pitching to catch up to the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox. I don’t see how this trade helps them, at all, in the long run.

Lastly, for the Cardinals, here’s why I don’t quite get it. I believe they are a team that has become in love with the notion that pitching coach Dave Duncan can fix any pitching problem. Edwin Jackson shows flashes of brilliance, and the Cardinals will try to harness those flashes into sustained excellence. And with Duncan’s track record, that very well could happen.

The team’s biggest hole was at shortstop, which they feel they answered by acquiring Rafael Furcal from the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, we will see if Furcal can stay healthy for any long period of time to actually help the team. They felt they could afford to trade Rasmus now because Lance Berkman has played so well in right field, and Jon Jay has exceeded expectations from all outfield positions.

My problem with this deal really comes back to Rasmus. I feel the team gave up on him much too early. He was their youngest player starting every day and, more importantly, was under team control on the cheap for at least another two years. With Albert Pujols soon to get a new contract, cheap, reliable talent is a major point of salary relief the team will need. Jon Jay has hit over .300 in his 600+ Major League at-bats thus far in his career. But, is he really your long-term centerfielder in St. Louis? I’m just not certain.

For me, the Cardinals will have to show me they have a viable solution in center before I move them out of limbo.

Other teams who tried to improve, and may have improved, but didn’t impress: Pittsburgh Pirates

Carlos Beltran and Me

As Major League Baseball approaches the trade deadline, a few stories stand out to me.

The first, the emergence of the Pittsburgh Pirates. This is a team that hasn’t had a winning record at the end of the season since 1992. 19 seasons. But, the Buccos are ON TOP of the National League Central standings, ahead of the Cardinals, Brewers and Reds. This is why its silly to make pre-season predictions on where teams will finish.

The second, the power of the Eastern division teams. In the American League, the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays are all fighting for what appear to be two play-off spots (the Wild Card is likely to come out of the East). While in the National League, the Phillies are dominating everybody with the best record in baseball and the Atlanta Braves are building a huge lead in the Wild Card as they have caught fire, too.

While those stories are nice, I must once again focus on the trade deadline and my New York Mets. Back in April, I sat down in front of my computer and wrote about a potential break-up between my fanhood and shortstop Jose Reyes. Well, since then, Jose Reyes has become the most exciting player in baseball, and quite possibly the most valuable. The Mets couldn’t afford to trade him, and no team could afford to acquire him. Signs are beginning to point towards a future extended stay in Flushing for Reyes, and I am happy as a clam.

Though that is good news, something else has begun to dawn on me:

The departure of right fielder Carlos Beltran.

You see, any Mets fan’s relationship with Beltran is one full of misconceptions, extreme highs and devestating lows. When the Mets signed Beltran in the winter of 2004 to his monster seven-year, $119 million contract, us Mets fans were stunned. Couple that signing with Pedro Martinez’s contract, and for the first time in what felt like centuries, there was brewing excitement. Beltran even coined the phrase “the New Mets”, which became a marketing tool for the team.

Before I go any further, let me remind Mets fans of my generation of one thing that I think they’ve overlooked greatly in evaluating Carlos Beltran’s Met career.  Beltran’s seven year stay in New York is easily the second-most successful seven year period of my Mets fanhood, behind only the Bobby Valentine years of 1996-2002. Yes, I am taking into account losing Game 7 in the NLCS in 2006, blowing late leads for playoff spots in 2007 and 2008, the crapshoot that was 2009 and even the meaninglessness of 2010.

Remember, the Mets don’t have much success. Period. They have a total of SEVEN playoff appearences. Four of those appearences happened before I was born. So the fact that the Mets won a division with Carlos Beltran as the team’s MVP that year HAS  to mean something.

Ok, now that I got that out of my system, back to my point. Beltran’s first season in New York was, for lack of a better term, a disappointment. There were high hopes for the team, but Beltran scuffled as he adjusted to the bright lights of the big city. He hit .266 with 16 home runs (seemingly only in games started by Pedro Martinez) while driving in 78 runs. People were quick to call him soft and not tough enough for New York. But, they also forget that the man played in 151 games that season even after bashing his face into Mike Cameron’s face in easily the worst on-field collision I’ve ever seen on a baseball field.

Then, after the Mets added the likes of Carlos Delgado and Paul LoDuca in trades, it was Beltran that led the charge for the Mets as they dominated the National League all year long. Beltran hit 41 home runs, drove in 116 runs, won a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger and finished fourth in the MVP balloting. Even with his success, Mets fans probably remember Beltran’s 2006 as leaving the bat on his shoulder as Adam Wainwright dropped in a devastating curveball to advance the St. Louis Cardinals to the 2006 World Series, which they would win.

Side note: Why do Mets fans blame Beltran for this loss? I never understood it. I watched the same game as they did. To me, you look at Jose Valentin grounding into a double-play with the bases loaded after Endy Chavez made his orgasmic catch first. Then, why does Willie Randolph use a crippled Cliff Floyd as a pinch-hitter with a runner in scoring position? Lastly, it was Aaron Heilman’s hanging change-up that Yadier Molina ripped into the visitor’s bullpen that gave the Cardinals a 3-1 lead in extras. Going even further back, what the hell was Guillermo Mota thinking in Game 2 when he served up that cheesecake to Scott Spiezio?! Alright, I digress. Not Beltran’s fault. End of story.

2007 and 2008, I feel like Mets fans forget the success Beltran had due to the team’s overall collapse. Beltran averaged 30 home runs and 112 runs batted in that year, while receiving his second and third Gold Gloves as a Met. But, Beltran’s body started to betray him in 2009 (though every Met had his body betrayed in 2009). And in 2010, Beltran made the decision to have microfracture surgery on his knee seemingly without the Mets permission, having him miss the majority of that season as well.

Looking back at everything, I strongly believe Carlos Beltran will go down as the most underrated Met of all-time. He did it all for the Mets, and he made it seem so effortlessly and easy. In the end, its that ease to the game that made him seem lazy or soft. Unfair, I say!

When Carlos Beltran ever comes back to Citi Field wearing a different team’s uniform, I will always remember Beltran for 2006. I can list you my favorite five Mets games I’ve ever attended in person with ease (I’ll save you the time). On that list is a game from late August in 2006 when the Mets played the St. Louis Cardinals.

The game was touted as a match-up between the two favorites for the MVP, Beltran and Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols. By the third inning, Pujols was getting the best of the Mets, smashing two home runs and seven runs batted in to give the Cardinals a 7-1 lead. However, after a Carlos Delgado grand slam made it 7-5 going into the bottom of the ninth, the Mets began to rally. Jose Reyes drove in a run to bring the Mets within one and with two outs, it was Beltran who came walking to the plate.

Looking back at the highlights later, Gary Cohen said on the broadcast “one swing of the bat could win it for the Mets..” Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen’s next pitch was a cutter that never cut and Beltran drilled it off the K Board for the walk-off homer. It was a no-doubter. The second it hit the bat, my dad and I both knew the Mets just won maybe the most thrilling game of the 2006 season. My long-time Met game buddy Ted refers to that game as “the game he should’ve went to” (my dad was originally supposed to work and offered his ticket to Ted, but called out and decided to go himself. Ted hasn’t let it go.).

That will be my image of Carlos Beltran. Walking to the plate to the rhythms of “El Esta Qui” day in and day out. His level swing crushing the pearl into the dark of night. Beltran was a cornerstone in what was one of the more entertaining periods of Mets baseball. No, they didn’t get the ring I was hoping for. But, Beltran put the Mets back into the conversation for the first time post-Piazza. While David Wright and Jose Reyes got all the headlines, it was Carlos Beltran quitely leading from the back of the room.

I will miss Carlos Beltran. The greatest center fielder in New York Mets history. And I promise you, there won’t be another one like him any time soon.

Greg Kaplan is a writer and co-founder of Home Field Advantage

POST EDIT: I published this story at 8:39pm EST. At 8:40, Carlos Beltran connected on a two-run home run to tie the game at 4 against none other than the St. Louis Cardinals. Something about that seems very special to me.

Baseball’s Second Half

The All-Star break has come and gone, a new home run champ was crowned, and the National League extended their Midsummer Classic win streak to: 2.

Derek Jeter went yard for #3,000– he should really thank David Price for that beauty.

Francisco Liriano and Justin Verlander both threw no-hitters, and each came close to a second. Buster Posey was injured in a home plate collision and Albert Pujols broke his wrist, then regenerated in half the time as a machine would. The Pirates are 47-43, yes the Pittsburgh Pirates, sitting in 3rd place, just one game out in the NL Central. The Mets are above .500 due to Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran having seasons they’re capable of, the Mets have some hope. Their manager, Terry Collins, 62, “is older than the remote control and hadn’t managed a game in 11 years, is suddenly the second-youngest manager in the NL East (or, as it might be known in the latest realignment plan, the Del Boca Vista Division)” (SI Tom Verducci, Inside Baseball) And those Cleveland Indians, name one of their starting pitchers; name two of their outfielders; their DL is the who’s who of Cleveland but they’ve been in first and are currently in 2nd, half a game out. Whoda thunk it? Plus Brian Wilson and his beard have become the new rock star of baseball.

But don’t worry, the season isn’t too upside down, the AL East is a close race (you know who), the Phillies pitching rotation is competing at a high level and the Marlins can’t sell tickets (they closed the upper deck). So what’s going to happen in the second half? Who will hold on to each division? Can Pittsburgh make the playoffs?!

Milestone Progress

Derek Jeter’s 3,000 hit? Check, he’s at 3,004

Jim Thome’s (595) 600th home run? 5 away

Alex Rodriguez (626) catching Griffey (630) on the all-time home run list? 4 more. And Willie Mays (660)? 34 bombs, not likely

Ichiro’s 11th consecutive  200 hit season, breaking his tie with Pete Rose? 101 hits at the break, on pace for about 190 hits (ASG isn’t halfway point, technically)

Mariano Rivera (581) all-time saves leader? 22 saves in 2011, on pace for around 40, putting at or above Trevor Hoffman’s record 601

Albert Pujols’ 2,000 hit? 16 to go

Matt Stairs’ record breaking 13th team played for? Check: Expos, Red Sox, A’s, Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, Royals, Blue Jays, Rangers, Tigers, Phillies, Padres, Nationals. That’s 52 different jersey’s he’s worn (Can be contested that he’s still tied at 12  with Mike Morgan since the Expos became the Nationals)

Awards

AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox

AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Tigers

AL Rookie of the Year: Michael Pineda, Mariners

AL Manager of the Year: Manny Acta, Indians

NL MVP: Matt Kemp, Dodgers

NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Phillies

NL Rookie of the Year: Freddie Freeman, Braves

NL Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pirates

October, who has survived?

AL East: New York Yankees

AL Central: Detroit Tigers

AL West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

AL Wildcard: Boston Red Sox

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks

NL Wild Card: Milwaukee Brewers

Yankees win the East? One of the East teams will be struck with key injuries causing a slide, I know I’ll probably pick the wrong one, but the Yanks have shown excellent ability to plug holes and win, and they have the run support. Boston needs to stay healthy and if their 1 through 5 starters continue to pitch well, plus their bullpen, they could be on top. And the West, what was I thinking? Diamondbacks over the Giants? It’s a wild division and it’s Arizona’s time. Something special in the desert again, they’re my surprise pick.

Parting Thoughts

Will we see Bryce Harper in 2011? Don’t think so, don’t care yet. He will be good though. I also think there will be no more no-no’s, plenty of rumors around a Mets fire sale (not happening), Jose Reyes’ price tag continues to fall, Lance Berkman stays an MVP candidate until the end, the Rangers lose focus, and their lead in the West, and Ichiro blows up with a hefty hitting streak.

Baseball has been very, very good to me

Michael Schwartz is a staff writer for Home Field Advantage

‘The Kid’ and The Battle

Growing up as a die-hard Mets fan, there are very few memories that you get to hold onto and cherish. I remember vividly where I was when Robin Venture hit his grand-slam single against the Atlanta Braves in the 1999 National League Championship series (the answer: I skipped out on my sister’s bat mitzvah to watch the game in my cousin’s hotel room). Or how about Todd Pratt’s helicopter swing home run to end the 1999 National League Division Series against the Diamondbacks and anxiously waiting for Steve Finley to pull up his pants and realize a ball wasn’t in his glove.

I remember jumping up and down like a lunatic around 9:25 EST at Shea Stadium when Benny Agbayani hit his 13th-inning, walk-off home run to win Game 3 against the San Francisco Giants in the 2000 National League Division series. In 2006, the Mets were swept in Pittsburgh by the Pirates, while the Phillies swept the Nationals at home to set up a potential National League East clinching game at home. My good friend Ted and I left school early (2 PM) to drive the 45 minutes to Shea and wait in line for tickets to that nights game (first pitch, 7:10). Staying with 2006, I remember pulling Ted off of a baseball field mid-warm ups to tell him we had two tickets to Game 1 against the Dodgers (a Cliff Floyd and Carlos Delgado home runs later, Mets won). Or smoking a victory cigar after Shawn Green caught the final out to complete the Mets three-game sweep in L.A.

The NLCS that year was the same story. I had a calculus test pushed back three separate times because of Mets games that week. I forbid people to tell me the score of Game 5 in that series because I was at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert and wanted to watch it on tape delay (I cracked in the 4th inning). Being at Game 6 with my dad, watching John Maine pitch for the second time that post-season and nearly crapping myself when So Taguchi (TAGUCHI!) hit a double off Billy Wagner to make it interesting in the ninth.

I will never, in my entire life, forget the feeling of euphoria when Endy Chavez somehow dislocated his right arm to catch Scott Rolen’s two-run homer to preserve the 1-1 tie. The only time in my Met-fandome did I feel unbeatable was right then and there in my friend Greg Fass’ living room. I also remember the incredible low I felt when Beltran kept his bat on his shoulder sending the St. Louis Cardinals, not the Mets, to the World Series (the Cardinals swept the Detroit Tigers that year).

So, what am I trying to say exactly? Going back to my young childhood, the first VHS my dad ever bought solely for me was the 1986 New York Mets Year in Review tape. Though I wasn’t even born yet (hell, the sister who I ducked out of the bat mitzvah for to watch Ventura’s single wasn’t even born yet), the 1986 Mets quickly became a huge part of me. I felt like I grew up with Mookie, Nails, El Sid, Doc, Straw, HoJo, Wally and Keith. However, one player above all else stood out to me, a young, aspiring catcher:

Gary Carter. The Kid.

He did everything on the field with so much energy and enthusiasm. Even when he was upset at somebody, it appeared that he was smiling and joking around with the guy at the same time. Not to mention, he was the final piece to Frank Cashen’s championship puzzle. He put the Mets over the edge from good team in the early 80’s to dominate powerhouse from 1985-1989. His first year with the team (1985), Carter hit .281 with 32 home runs and 100 runs batted in, good enough for sixth in the NL Most Valuable Player voting. The following year, he hit 24 home runs and drove in 105 runners and despite his .255 average, he placed third in the MVP balloting.

Since Carter, I’ve always loved Mets catchers throughout my lifetime. The only time I was allowed in the Mets dugout (I was three, Dallas Green yelled at me), it was back-up catcher Charlie O’Brien who greeted me and rubbed my head. Todd Hundley will always have a special place in my heart. Mike Piazza was the first superstar to dawn a Mets jersey in my lifetime. Even the back-up catchers have always been fun for me, from Todd Pratt and Vance Wilson to Jason Phillips and Ramon Castro (or, as Fran Healy loved to call him, “Cadillac”).

When he retired, he truly became the first player I followed the five years after hoping he’d get into the Hall of Fame. I would talk every year with my dad about his chances and each year he didn’t get elected, I became increasingly more frustrated. Six years after he became eligible, Carter was finally inducted and to my chagrin, he went in with the Montreal Expos (due to a lack of my childhood knowledge that he played 12 years with the Expos before his five with the Mets). To my knowledge, coaches aside, no active Met has worn Carter’s #8 since his retirement and there is a strong sentiment among the fan base that the number should be formally retired.

The guys that played on that 1986 team are quick to say that the team captain and leader was first baseman Keith Hernandez, but ‘The Kid’ was the heart and soul. In fact, in a recent broadcast, Ron Darling mentioned how the team would actually get a little tired of how much love Carter would spread in the clubhouse.

Now, Gary Carter is in the battle for his life. It has been revealed that Carter has four tumors located on his brain that appear to be cancerous. Doctors said they believe Carter is suffering from Grade 4 glioblastoma, which directly effects your central nervous system and your brain. The tumors are inoperable, but doctors feel they can shrink the size of the tumors through treatment. Carter himself has said he will do everything he can to battle the disease and doesn’t plan to go down without a fight.

As a human being, you hate to hear bad news happen to the best of people. As a Mets fan, it hits directly in your heart that one of your heroes, one of your immortals, is battling such a tragic disease.

Without that 1986 Year in Review Mets tape I wouldn’t know fully who Gary Carter was, who he still is.

Without Gary Carter, I am not a Mets fan.

Greg Kaplan is a writer and co-founder for Home Field Advantage

Fred Wilpon was Right

Last Sunday, two things happened. The first involved me in a car for 15 consecutive hours with my sister driving from Newburgh, NY down to Savannah, GA. 900 miles in a car on a rainy, then cloudy, then sunny, then dusk day was something to be had.

The second: it was revealed to the public that Fred Wilpon had made some choice comments about the players on his New York Mets. In sum, he said the team was snake-bitten and rather, well, poopy in nature. Since then, there has been a lot of talk in the media saying that Wilpon’s comments either A) damaged the relationship between management and the players or B) devalued the players on the roster. As a Mets fan, I was told that I should take this comments personally and that I should rally the troops and boycott my team’s owner.

But you know what happened? I agreed with everything Fred Wilpon said. In my mind, there wasn’t one thing about his comments that I read as incorrect. And you know what else? My closest friends that are also huge Mets fans agreed with him, too. So, let’s examine the part of the story that the “media” has said damaged the team. Keep in mind, when Wilpon made this off-the-cuff comments, the Mets sat at 5-13 and had just dropped two out of three at home to the Houston Astros. Fred Wilpon wasn’t the only New Yorker saying the Mets stink.

The first, Wilpon stated Jose Reyes will not get Carl Crawford money on the open market. The media interpreted that as the Mets were going to offer Reyes a one-year contract worth 50 cents and that now they ABSOLUTELY had to trade Reyes to get any sort of value for him.

Uh, what? Anybody connected in baseball will be the first to tell you that Jose Reyes is not going to get Carl Crawford money (seven-years, $140 million). You know what Crawford did while he became a star in Tampa Bay? He stayed healthy, hit over .300 routinely, stole 50+ bases year in and year out and scored a mess load of runs. While Reyes is a few years younger and plays a premium position, his health concerns over the years (first the back, then the hamstrings and last year his oblique) will limit the opportunities to get a seven-year contract. When he is healthy, Reyes is an elite talent. But health is the number one reason he won’t get anything more than a five-year deal.

And the assumption the Mets can’t afford him or that Reyes won’t sign with the Mets because of this comment is ridiculous. Sure, Reyes may be less willing to take a home town discount because of them. But, as I mentioned in my Reyes break-up column a few weeks ago, the Mets weren’t going to sign Reyes to anything more than five years and $15 million annually. If Reyes wants more, than good luck to him. It doesn’t make sense for the Mets to offer him any more than that. These comments weren’t a death sentence like the media is telling us Mets fans were in regards to Reyes. Reyes’ fate may have been determined three months ago. So, stop telling me they are, ESPN.

Second, a lot of people apparently took offense over Wilpon’s assumption that David Wright is a very good player, but not a superstar. If Fred Wilpon made that statement after the 2008 season, I would’ve been the first person in line to slap him in the face and call him a liar. But, have you seen David Wright play since the Mets moved from Shea Stadium to Citi Field? This is a different guy. Now, 2009 was an aberration. He has decent power and will always hit between 22-28 home runs a year. However, from 2005-08, Wright was the most clutch hitter I had ever seen in person and maybe the best two-strike hitter in the Majors. It wasn’t an at-bat for David those years until he had two strikes on him. And when he did, you knew he was going to get a hit.

Since 2009, if the first pitch to Wright was a strike, I had a bad feeling he’d K. And he’s been K-ing a whole lot the last couple of seasons (140 in ’09, 161 in ’10 and 43 in 39 games this year). Even worse, Wright goes through predictable two-week stretches of scorching hot, RBI producing machine, then two weeks of ice cold, can’t hit his way out of a paper bag slump. You know what you call players that go through incredible highs and equally incredible lows?

Very good players. Not superstars, but very good. What’s so wrong with being very good anyway? Very good is good enough for a couple of All-Star games a decent contract. If most players are average, can you discredit a guy because he’s only above average and not great? No. Wright will always play solid defense, hit somewhere between .290 and .310, drive in around 100 runs and produce for you. But, he will go through streaks where you don’t hear from him at all and you wonder what is going on. He was on the cusp of stardom after 2008 (.302, 33HR 124RBI), but I don’t expect those numbers from David Wright anymore. Something’s changed. I still love him, but Wilpon is right: he’s not a star player right now.

Third, Wilpon stated that the Mets may have overpaid for Carlos Beltran after his monster 2004 playoffs in which he hit eight home runs for the Houston Astros and that he is probably 65-70% of the player he used to be. The media will tell you that those comments torpedoed Beltran’s value on the trade market and further damaged the relationship between Carlos and ownership that was already iffy.

Here’s my answer in two parts. The first, the relationship between Beltran and management tanked last year when Beltran decided on his own to get microfracture surgery without telling the Mets. That was a mess between Beltran, his agent Scott Boras and the Wilpon’s. They weren’t happy about it and I promise you they still aren’t happy about it. So throw that assumption out the window that NOW the relationship is messed up. It’s been messed up, get with it.

Second, you really think scouts needed Fred Wilpon to tell them Carlos Beltran isn’t the same player anymore? Maybe Beltran’s knees being such a problem that he couldn’t play center field regularly and that he had to move to right field to even play everyday wasn’t the first indicator to them? Or that Beltran doesn’t steal bases anymore? Or that he has limited power from the left side of the plate because of the same balky knee? You’re right, Buster Olney. It was Wilpon’s comments, NOT ANYTHING ELSE THAT IS GOING ON WITH CARLOS BELTRAN, that ruined his trade value to other teams. You’ve got to be kidding me.

Lastly, Wilpon made the assertion that quite honestly, his team isn’t very good. The media jumped all over this and said “what is he doing???? They’re having enough trouble bringing fans to the park already! Now he’s saying they suck? NOBODY WILL COME NOW!”

Earth to the media: Mets fans aren’t stupid. We stopped coming to the park because, you know, we realized this team isn’t that great before you did apparently. Look, with Wright, Ike Davis and Johan Santana out currently, Chris Young lost for the season and Jason Bay wishing he was back in Pittsburgh, it doesn’t take a Harvard graduate to tell me the Mets aren’t that great. They spent $5 million in free agency last year on players that were low-risk, high-reward. This was clearly going to be a rebuilding year. After tonight’s loss to the Phillies, the Mets sit at 23-27. That doesn’t eliminate them from playoff contention, but its also not exactly encouraging.

The starting rotation has been downright awful to start this season. Mike Pelfrey has seemingly regressed, Jon Niese hasn’t gotten it completely together yet either, R.A. Dickey is no longer fooling hitters with his knuckleball, Chris Young is out for the year, and Chris Capuano is, well, he’s Chris Capuano. Dillon Gee has been a nice addition from the Mets minor leagues (especially since he is the second coming of one of my favorite Mets pitchers, Rick Reed, even wears his #35). If you don’t have starting pitching, which the Mets don’t, you’re not going to win. Regardless of how good your line-up is or how deep your bullpen is. The Mets have a good line-up. Not great, but good. They have a deep bullpen. But, zero starting pitching.

At the end of the day, Fred Wilpon is a Mets fan like all of us. And, as one of the biggest Mets fans, let me tell you what I see from this team:

I see Carlos Beltran as a trade chip that will get something in return. I see Jason Bay as being two weeks away from leaving the doghouse and entering the Oliver Perez/Luis Castillo abandon highway ditch. I see winning pieces in Dillon Gee, Ike Davis and Justin Turner that will serve a purpose on this team for years to come. I see Jon Niese needing to develop his game a little further and the need for Mike Pelfrey to get out of his own head. I see a need for the Mets to re-sign Jose Reyes and to protect David Wright in the line-up. I also see a lot of talent coming up through the Mets minor leagues that people aren’t giving them credit for. And I also see a realistic owner who is finally on the same page as Mets fans, regardless of what the media says.

The late George Steinbrenner once called Dave Winfield, a HALL OF FAME outfielder, Mr. May because he felt that he wasn’t clutch down the stretch of the season. Fred Wilpon calls Carlos Beltran a good player that isn’t what he used to be and all of a sudden he’s the devil.

Oh, but he did say Ike Davis is a good hitter. So there’s that.

Back off my Mets, media. You’re starting to look like Phillies fans.

Greg Kaplan is a writer and co-founder of Home Field Advantage

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