Monday, May 26, 2008


The Mets did not elect to fire manager Willie Randolph today and as a result will probably never win another game. I don't know who the Mets could or would hire that would be able to turn things around, especially given that both Bobby Valentine and Earl Weaver are likely unavailable. But I don't really think the team is going to be able to find a new first baseman, a new second baseman, a whole new bench and a way to keep Ryan Church, Moises Alou, Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez healthy for the rest of the year. A managerial change seems like the most practical way to awaken this slumbering alleged giant. I won't pretend I know what's going on inside the heads of the players, but they certainly look like they could benefit from being shaken up a bit. And if the replacement manager happens to be competent at the motivational and/or tactical aspects of his job, all the better.

Unfortunately, each day this team's .500 play looks like less of an aberration. They are currently 23-26, which may be slightly unlucky given that they've scored 231 runs and allowed 230. But over their last 162 games, they've won 79 and lost 83. If this is a slump, it's been going on for nearly a third of Randolph's managerial tenure. They've won fewer games over Willie's last 162 than they did over his first 162 and that team had Doug Mientkiewicz, Miguel Cairo, Victor Zambrano and Kazushisa Ishii starting for much of the season.

Of course, the Mets haven't lost those 26 games this year based on Willie's oddly constructed lineups and strange bullpen machinations alone. Numerous players are underperforming relative to preseason expectations while very few are exceeding expectations. The only real pleasant surprises have been Ryan Church, who's hitting .311/.378/.530 but hasn't started since getting kneed in the head on Tuesday, and Scott Schoeneweis, who's been excellent but isn't likely to maintain a 1.42 ERA only striking out 3.3 batters per nine innings. In general the bullpen has been pretty good, aside from Aaron Heilman, Matt Wise and the now departed Jorge Sosa. But when the starters and hitters aren't giving the bullpen leads to protect, they can only do so much.

Offensively, Brian Schneider has met expectations as after a hot start he's fallen back to his usual offensive ineptitude at .266/.331/.330 entering tonight. David Wright and Jose Reyes have underperformed a bit, but they've both been pretty solid with the bat and Reyes did smack a pair of home runs tonight, perhaps auguring a hot streak. Carlos Beltran's .256/.362/.438 start has been disappointing, but I don't doubt that he will get hot at some point. I am not so optimistic about Carlos Delgado and Luis Castillo. Delgado did hit four home runs last week, regardless of what the umpires said, but he only had one hit that wasn't a home run on the just concluded seven-game road trip. Castillo actually hit a home run last week, too, but he is still slugging just .317, and he doesn't have the high OBP (.358) or the speed (six double plays grounded into) to make his grounders-and-walks approach to offense very useful. Wright, Reyes and Beltran could get hot and carry this offense, but they'll need to, because no one else is going to.

The Mets' bench has also been awful. Met pinch hitters are hitting .172/.243/.266 and none of the assortment of fifth outfielders and second basemen that have been pressed into starting duty have done much with the bat. Ramon Castro is finally healthy and has gone four-for-twelve with two doubles, but of course Willie won't use his as a pinch hitter despite the fact that the Mets are carrying three catchers for some reason. Castro and Fernando Tatis are what passes for power hitters on this bench while twenty-nine year old Valentino Pascucci and his .730 slugging percentage remain in New Orleans. Omar Minaya has constructed a bench full of old middle infielders and defensively oriented outfielders even though left field and first base were the two positions where he was most likely to need a good backup this year. Calling up twenty-two year old Nick Evans to play left field over the weekend was a surprising move that worked for at least one day, as Evans hit three doubles and the Mets won. But the bench as a whole is still quite punchless. Replacing third catcher Raul Casanova with Pascucci would be a step in the right direction.

As for the starting rotation, the story is much the same as it was a few weeks ago. Johan Santana, John Maine, Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey are all still striking out fewer batters per nine innings than they were last year and all but Pelfrey are walking more. Santana has still been quite good, as you would expect from his 58:15 K:BB ratio, but as a whole, the starting staff has not made things easy on the offense, the defense or the bullpen. Pedro Martinez will likely return next week, which could give the team a boost both emotionally and in terms of strike-throwing. If Perez and Maine can regain their 2007 form, this could still be a formidable staff, with Claudio Vargas filling the fifth spot adequately while Pelfrey heads to AAA to try to figure out how to get lefties out. But Perez locating some consistency is about as big an "if" as Pedro staying healthy for the rest of the season.

This is clearly a flawed team, perhaps one that no one could manage into October. But there is still a lot of talent at its core. It is probably too late to surround that talent with a better supporting cast, but it's not too late to find them a new leader. Replacing Willie Randolph might not have any effect on this team's fortunes for the rest of the season and if that's the case, Omar Minaya may follow him out the door at season's end. But I think things have gotten bad enough that just waiting for the team to start playing better shouldn't be an option for much longer. Some sort of action needs to be taken and I'd much prefer firing the manager to the team's traditional response to adversity. Luckily there aren't many prospects left to trade.

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