Catastrophe And The Cure: The 2011 Mets

Almost every article I write for this site borrows a title from a song I’m either listening to or think has a cool title, and I tie that theme and name into whatever content I am writing about.  It probably ends up being a horrific disaster, but it’s some sort of gimmick at the end of the day.  This article is no different….but this song has no words.  The song “Catastrophe and the Cure” is from an amazing instrumental band, Explosions in the Sky.  Give it a listen sometime…you won’t be sorry.

Sorry for the long winded open, but when I was cuing up some music while I write, this title just jumped out at me.  It’s been mentioned many times on our podcast, “The Kult of Mets Personalities,” but this has been the longest off-season in the history of the New York Mets.  It has been tedious, aggravating, boring at times, agitating, and downright torturous.  Coming off the last few seasons and culminating with 2010’s dud, being a Mets fan has been, well, a catastrophe.

The off-season began with the distraction of front office and managerial changes, followed by the debate about whether to try to use the Omar approach again of band-aiding a bigger problem with overpriced free agents who cost years, dollars and draft picks or take the methodical approach, and endure one more season of pain for the better good of the franchise’s future.  The consensus initially wanted to do anything that would grab a headline or get some organizational pride back, but as things moved along, that pack shifted towards the approach of Sandy Alderson and crew.

For so long, we have been programmed to scan the potential free agent list, and clamor for the top few guys, and hope the Yanks or other big market teams do not want them, while we can use our might to outgun smaller market teams.  We have been programmed to think now now now and headlines headlines headlines.  I am not saying all Mets fans, but it’s just the way baseball has become in this town.  With instant new media and the old stalwart that is talk radio, New York is truly a 12 month baseball cycle.

Omar Minaya is vilified at this point, and most criticism is warranted, but let’s clear the air once more before we close the book on his tenure with the Mets.  Omar brought in some good baseball players and Omar did a very under the radar job getting this farm system in better shape than anybody gives him enough credit for (see Niese, Ike, Duda, Mejia, Thole).  My problem with Omar was always one thing-not bringing in the proper supplemental pieces to build a proper BASEBALL TEAM.

Every so often, he hit the mark, such as with Ollie (early on).  The problem is that Omar seemed to pat himself on the back for such moves and reward guys like that with absurd contracts and too much roster loyalty (Ollie, Castillo, Marlon Anderson, John Maine).  He proved that he could get the TEAM to certain point, but he would never BUILD THE FRANCHISE inside from out.

Walk in Sandy Alderson, who has brought back instant credibility to a team that has caused its fans an almost unattainable amount of pain and embarrassment as baseball fans.  One thing I am will not do in this article is talk about the ownership situation.  Frankly, it’s played out and on Opening day eve, this is about baseball.

The traits that Omar lacks are things that Sandy Alderson prides himself on.  Sandy is a man who believes in sound under the radar signings with high reward, low risk and most of all, detailed analysis of why that guy was brought in (See Chris Young and Chris Capuano).  He is a man, who along with JP Ricciardi and Paul Depodesta, will absolutely build upon the solid core that Omar has left behind, and build depth of controllable young talented players that give payroll flexibility.

Things kept moving and moving in the off-season and on our podcasts, I started noticing something…there was belief again in Mets fans.  When camp kicked off, like him or hate him, but Terry Collins’ energy rubbed off on players and fans.  We will see if his hyperactive and overly involved style will translate to this team and group of beat writers through the season, but the early returns have been very positive.  This camp just felt like good old-fashioned, hard-nosed, fundamental baseball that you learn in little league.  It felt fresh again.

The Mets did not make huge headlines (besides off the field stuff), but they brought in the right front office.  They brought in the right manager, for at least now.  And they brought in guys who are high character, proven performers, low-cost, and who have something to prove.  We know this team has been a catastrophe and that the CURE is being implemented for the long-term future……but is anybody else starting to genuinely believe in this team like myself and my buddies on this site are starting?

THE RUNDOWN:

WHAT WE KNOW- That despite the injuries last year to the bulk of their lineup, and Johan for a big portion of the season, this team won 79 games.  That might not sound impressive at all, but this was a supposedly taped together staff that really did a very good job when you look closely.  There is a reason Dan Werthen was kept in the midst of wholesale coaching changes on the team.

Add another year of maturity in for Pelfrey, Niese, Dickey with possible comeback years for Capuano and Young, you have a solid rotation.  If they can hold the fort till Johan gets back, a wildcard run is certainly possible.  The bullpen is young and promising, albeit with the cloud of K-Rod hanging over (and his 17.5 million dollar option).

While pitching is a question mark, there is no disputing that this lineup is one of the best in baseball.  That is, if they can stay healthy.  They must weather the early injuries to Bay and Beltran.  By all accounts, Reyes is primed to put up a HUGE season and get his Carl Crawford money with either the Mets or another team…..that is the major storyline that will be in play throughout the season.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW- I am keeping this one simple.  Injuries will make or break this team.  With every ounce of me, I believe this team will be in the wildcard hunt if they are healthy.  Between an off-season of talking to great Mets bloggers and educated baseball people like Rick Peterson and Jim Duquette, I have heard enough to feel that way.

The equalizer and unknown with any team, but especially this Mets team, is the injury bug.  Injuries with this team linger and have created a lot of ill feelings for fans.  If early injuries strike, it will knock this whole thing off the track, before it has a real chance to reach its destination.

THE SURPRISE- Brad Emaus.  This guy was picked for a reason in the Rule V Draft (Ricciardi backs him), and I feel always had the inside track for the 2B job.  There were some odds and ends that needed to be taken care of, like realizing Murphy is a utility player and that Castillo shouldn’t be on a major league roster.  A rookie like Emaus was not going to be just given the job, but they wanted to test him just enough, but also have him come north.

Emaus, while unproven and unknown, can get on base at a very high clip, and can really hit a number of doubles to the huge Citi Field gaps.  This already lengthened lineup becomes a top 3-5 lineup in all of baseball if Emaus proves that he can really rake at the plate.

THE HORIZON- Jenrry Mejia starts at Triple A, and it will be interesting to see where his development gets to in the first half of the season.  Jerry Manuel’s juggling and mis-handling of him makes it feel like he is no longer a real prospect, but this guy is absolutely somebody to keep an eye on still.

If Young or Capuano has a performance or injury hiccup, the Mejia watch will be on.  Let’s see how secondary stuff and stamina as a starter continues to improve.

THE KEY- This was one section I went back and forth on 50 times.  It is something we have talked about on the podcast a lot, and there are a lot of people who can absolutely take the lead on this one.  Jason Bay was always an initial thought or even Jose Reyes being able to bounce back, but I am going to take this in a little bit different direction.

As I stated in the open to this preview, my belief is that the Mets lineup will not be the issue (unless another unprecedented wave of injuries).  When those guys are healthy and put up just a normal year, there is no issue…not a superstar year, just a normal year.

The pitching staff is absolutely the key to the makeup of this team.  Each of the 5 are going to have to take on a larger role than you can certainly assume they can handle.  The guy for me here is Jon Niese.  He does not get the headlines of Pelfrey and Johan of course, and isn’t considered the future ace like a Mejia, but he is a guy that could be glue for the rotation.  Niese showed some real growth last year, especially with the usage of his cutter.

He went 9-10, and the ERA wasn’t sparkling at 4.20, but if you watched all of his starts, stamina was his problem.  Many outings he would come roaring out of the gates, and tire in the 5th or 6th, and basically get lit up.  Terry Collins has loved what he has seen from him this Spring.  Niese has also admitted that he almost worked too hard on bullpen sessions and side work, and basically ran out of gas.

If Niese takes that jump in performance and maturity, this will be the key for the Mets.  If he puts that together with his “stuff”….I see a 15 win pitcher.

THE HYPE- This is the close I promise.  It does surely seem like a rosy picture is being painted about this team by me.  I know this team is not the Phillies or the Yanks or the Red Sox, but when you look closely, it is not nearly as bad as it is made out to be.  There is absolute talent that mixes talented youngsters with proven veterans and solid baseball guys.

If we knew how it would all come together, then we wouldn’t have to watch the games.  In talking to enough Mets fans and baseball people this off-season, I have become a believer.  To reiterate, this will come down to the pitching.  If Niese, Pelfrey Dickey (2 of those 3) take any step back, then it’s dire.  If Young or Capuano have an early injury, it’s dire.  But if this 25 man roster has their normal years, then we got something here.

It’s of course easier said then done.  While the overall cure for this team might not be in place yet, let’s not give up on 2011 before it starts.  Nothing upsets me more than seeing an empty Citi Field and a packed Citizen’s Bank Park night after night in the late Summer and early Fall.

It was not that long ago that things were completely the other way around.  If this team underachieves again, then every fan has a right to not go to games, and to voice their disgust in any media medium they see fit.

But, let’s hope for solid baseball, and even if the playoffs aren’t in the cards this year, let’s show our support and get the good karma and feelings back in this franchise.  I am a believer that success for a team starts with positivity from ownership down to fans (still not getting into the Madoff thing).

This team never wins when they are supposed to, and always seems to overachieve when you least expect it.  I was not sold in December and January, but I have drank the Kool-Aid.

METS 88-74  Wildcard
YA GOTTA BELIEVE

Enjoy Opening Day everybody and thanks to everybody who has read this site and supported our Podcast.


 

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