I have to admit that, in a totally self-indulgent bit of schadenfreude, I’ve been following the New York Mets since spring training. I don’t watch many of their games; I have too much respect for myself to do that. But I’ve been examining their box scores and, more relevantly, following what the people in and around the Mets organization are saying about the team. In general, I think it’s fascinating to hear people discuss themselves or their work. And when “their work” equals “the 2010 New York Mets,” the urge to lend an ear is irresistible.
I’ve found that the best source for these sorts of discussions is WFAN‘s Mike Francesa. Francesa frequently has Mets manager Jerry Manuel and general manager Omar Minaya on his show to talk about the team’s performance. This started in spring training, and has been enormously entertaining since day one. This is because the Mets organization has replaced the New York Knicks as the most delusional and incompetent franchise in American professional sports today. Some franchises are more delusional than the Mets. Some franchises are more incompetent than the Mets. But none combines those qualities as stunningly as the Mets do. Francesa’s interviews with Manuel and Minaya continually illustrate that fact.
So, in that spirit, I’ve decided to start a recurring theme called The Dysfunctional Mets. The idea is simple: I listen to the most recent WFAN interview with Manuel or Minaya, take down the most delusional or revealing of incompetence utterances, and present them to you with sobering remarks. I suppose this feature is a risky proposition, since it’s wholly reliant on the Mets continuing to stink. If they turn it around (as Manuel and Minaya insist they will do), I’m going to look like a fool. Luckily, I have some experience looking like that, so it’s worth the risk. I hope you enjoy this feature as much as I suspect I will enjoy writing it.
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Today’s entry comes from an April 14th interview, when Mike Francesa had manager Jerry Manuel on his show.
Manuel: “We felt – coming out of spring – that we had some things in place. We haven’t clicked offensively like we thought we would. We knew that we had some questions in the rotation, and some of those things are starting to show up. But we still feel that we have the right people in the right places to get it done.”
I understand that the Mets have had some injury problems. Jose Reyes broke camp on the disabled list. Carlos Beltran and Daniel Murphy are still on the DL. This reality still only slightly mitigates the craziness of Manuel’s assessment, particularly with respect to his team’s offense. Because Manuel is talking about the Mets as they were constituted coming out of spring training, let’s look at their Opening Day lineup:
- Alex Cora
- Luis Castillo
- David Wright
- Mike Jacobs
- Jason Bay
- Gary Matthews
- Jeff Francoeur
- Rod Barajas
- Johan Santana
That is a putrid lineup. Sure, there have been some slight changes since then (Reyes replacing Cora, Angel Pagan replacing Matthews), but it’s still terrible. As I’ve written, Mike Jacobs shouldn’t be starting for any team in baseball, much less hitting in the top half of the batting order. Cora is a bench player. Castillo has a decent eye but no power whatsoever. Matthews can’t do anything well, or even passably (yes that includes fielding). Francoeur still has to prove that he can become a more selective hitter. Barajas hasn’t had an OBP above .300 since 2007. It’s an awful lineup.
But let’s assume the Mets get healthy (even though Beltran’s return date remains murky). This is probably what Manuel would like his lineup to look like eventually:
- Jose Reyes
- Luis Castillo
- David Wright
- Jason Bay
- Carlos Beltran
- Jeff Francoeur
- Rod Barajas
- Mike Jacobs/Fernando Tatis
Castillo might drop to the bottom, and it’s unclear what the club’s plans are for Murphy when he returns, but I think this is pretty close to Manuel’s ideal lineup. And you know what? It’s still not all that great. Let’s assume (big assumption) that Reyes and Beltran return fully healthy and play about as well as they usually do. Now the lineup has four legitimately good hitters (Reyes/Wright/Bay/Beltran) and five abysses. I suppose Francoeur is still young and could finally put it all together, but I think his ceiling for 2010 is that of an average player. Would you take this lineup over the Phillies’? Absolutely not. Over the Braves’? It’s close, but I think the Braves’ is better. This puts the Mets’ offense in competition with the Marlins for the third-best in the NL East, and that’s if everything goes right.
The bottom line is that the Mets are a deeply flawed team, even on offense where many seem to think that they’ll be just fine. Jerry Manuel should not be surprised that the Mets are having trouble hitting, and yet he is.
Francesa: “I would have played Pagan every day to give you some energy at the top. You went with Matthews, and he let you down. How about that? What do you think went on there? What did you see in Matthews, what were you looking for?”
Manuel: “What I was looking at was his experience. I was looking at experience. I was looking at a guy that… you know, you’re playing with pretty much a new left fielder, he’s obviously a pretty good center fielder. So is Angel, he can do some things here and there. Angel is a pretty good player as well. But I was going with the experience and possibly a little more power.”
Matthews has experience at one thing, and that’s being a bad hitter. His OBPs since his fluky 2006 season: .323, .319, .336. His SLGs since 2006: .419, .357, .361. For an outfielder. His career line is .258/.333/.407. He’s terrible, and no, just because he’s black and looks cool and made that awesome catch one time, he is not a good defender. Pagan is no great shakes either, but he’s 28 and put up a .306/.350/.487 line in 2009, which was the first time he ever received steady playing time. Going with Matthews because of his experience is insane.
Manuel: “Bottom line is that we have to pitch well. I think those other things fall into place. I think the Bays, the Francoeurs, the Wrights… Barajas, Reyes and those guys, and think they’re gonna play well.”
I just really enjoyed that Manuel included Francoeur (.273/.314/.437 career) and Barajas (.238/.283/.409) on a list with Jason Bay, David Wright, and Jose Reyes. Talk about not understanding how to evaluate offense. Yeesh.
Francesa: “There’s gotta be something that just shakes out with this team. We all keep waiting for it to just kind of shake out. I don’t know what’s gonna cause it. It just looks like this team is… it’s just like nothing ever goes right for this team right now, you know that?”
A big part of “nothing ever going right” for the Mets is their suffering a historic, devastating, and horrific rash of injuries in 2009. That part is fair. The remainder of this amorphous bad luck can be directly attributed to the fact that the Mets can’t really hit, certainly can’t pitch, and can’t field.
Manuel: “I think you’re gonna see us as a team to be reckoned with. I really believe that.”
Delusional. There is no way that this happens. The Mets will finish below .500, or else I will buy a $100 ticket, take the 7 to Citi Field, don a Mets cap, and hold up a sign that says “I Was Wrong.”