Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Win now - or build for the future?

Last week Josh Thole was reassigned to the Mets minor league camp, today Ike Davis joined him there. I expect that in the next week we will also see Fernando Martinez reassigned, and if Jose Reyes shows that he will be ready for Opening Day Rueben Tejada will also be sent down. The biggest variable is Jenrry Mejia - Mejia is turning quite a few heads, the most important one being that of manager Jerry Manuel. Mejia is making Manuel's decision to send the young pitcher back to Triple A very difficult with his stellar spring numbers.

As a Mets fan I find all of these things reason to be optimistic. Why? The optioning of all of these young, talented players down to the minor league communicates one major theme to me... the Mets front office and coaching staff expect this team to compete for a playoff spot.

If the Mets brass did not believe that they were in a position to compete for a playoff spot, there would be nothing keeping these players from taking over their respective major league positions. Consider for a moment the four most major league ready of the upper level minor league talent.

Fernando Martinez - Martinez is a right fielder with huge upside. He has recently dominated the Caribbean Series and has been on a tear throughout Spring Training. The player blocking him? Jeff Francouer, who is signed to a one-year deal worth little money and whom the Mets would not hesitate to part with if the position needed to be cleared for F-Mart.

Ike Davis - Davis is a 1st baseman with a sweet swing and plus power. He has trouble hitting lefties, and his glove is not the smoothest in the league. All of that being said, however, his inadequacies could be ironed out at the major league level where he could hit lower in the lineup and be asked to improve his patience and his glove without much pressure. This situation becomes even more feasible when you consider all of the question marks surrounding Daniel Murphy's future with the Mets and at 1st base.

Josh Thole - Thole is the Mets starting catcher at Triple A Buffalo and the plan is to apprentice him with veteran receiver Chris Coste. Thole is already a very good, very patient hitter - what he lacks is offensive power and the defensive skills needed by most major league catchers. The power will come as his body develops but how much more could Thole learn at the major league level, catching major league talent every day and being tutored by Henry Blanco or Rod Barajas?

Jenrry Mejia - Mejia has been brilliant in his few opportunities during this Spring Training. The Mets plan had been to send him back to Double or Triple A and let him continue to develop as a starter. He has had problems with his control and he could use another pitch as he continues to grow into a major league caliber pitcher. In the winter league this year Mejia's "stuff" was brilliant - enough to entice veteran scout and now journalist Keith Law to write "The most impressive arm so far has been Jenrry Mejia of the New York Mets, who was on a short pitch count but showed two above-average pitches and a chance for a third." and "The velocity comes easily, and if his command is better than what he showed on Wednesday and he can snap off that good curveball more frequently, he's a potential No. 1 or No. 2 starter." However throughout his time in the Arizona Fall league his control was erratic and he was not effective. Instead of more minor league seasoning and development could major league experience, first coming out of the bullpen and slowly as the year progressed lengthening him so that he could move into a starter's role be the best way to develop Mejia?

For all four of these up-and-coming Mets prospects many questions linger and the "right" choices on how to develop them will be debated. However, what I would like to point out is this; if the Mets did not consider themselves contenders I believe they would have made the decision to develop all of these players at the major league level in 2010. While you may argue that the front office is delusional (you may have a valid point there), I would say their confidence gives reason for optimism.

Mets lineup if the Front Office had moved to rebuild/retool:

SS Reyes, 2B Castillo, CF Beltran, 3B Wright, LF Bay, 1B Davis, RF F-Mart, C Thole

Mets rotation in same case:

SP Johan, SP Pelfrey, SP Niese, SP Mejia, SP Perez

I believe that the decision to develop these four specific players at the Triple A level for at least one more year is a telling signal from the front office that they indeed intend to compete in 2010. This could also be a signal that more moves to mold the team could be made in the coming weeks and months. I do not believe that Minaya will "rest on his laurels" this season, not with so much at stake. I just hope that in his attempt to make the playoffs this year he does not make a big mistake with one of these bright prospects.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Who's been impressing me?

In a continuing Spring Training dialogue with the guys at Hotstove, they recently asked about which Met players were opening eyes durin Spring Training this year.

We all know that Spring Training stats don’t mean much, but preseason performances can make a big difference for some players trying to the Major League club, or securing a starting job. Who among the Mets have helped or hurt themselves the most this spring?

Onan Coca, South of Shea
What seemed to be a nearly set roster at the start of Spring Training, has turned into quite a murky situation. Some young guns have really turned heads, while some veterans have played themselves out of sure roster spots. On the positive side; Ike Davis, Fernando Martinez, Jenrry Mejia, Hisanori Takahashi, and Chris Carter have all played themselves into consideration (though I would surmise only Takahashi will break camp with the Big Club). On the negative side; Bobby Parnell, Sean Green, Mike Jacobs, Daniel Murphy have all played like they don’t mind bus rides through the International League and home games in Buffalo. However, the Mets think they can contend with their veterans this year and I expect that while Parnell may be sent to Buffalo to start the year the rest of the veterans will all still make the big league club. The Spring may not have much influence on how the Mets Opening Day roster looks, but I think it does shorten the rope which some of the borderline major leaguers have to hang themselves with. Expect to see some (if not all) of these young Mets on the roster before October.

I have really been impressed with the reports out of Port St. Lucie about new Mets players like Chris Carter and Hisanori Takahashi. I am also happy to see Fernando Martinez continuing his strong play from the Caribbean Series this winter, and Ike Davis has been absolutely raking (though word come down today that Davis was sent back to minor league camp). These young guys give me hope for this coming campaign in 2010... because if they don't make the team out of Spring Training it tells me that the Front Office and the coaching staff truly believe the Mets are a playoff contender in 2010. If they thought 2010 would be a rebuilding year, I think we would see Ike Davis, Fernando Martinez, Josh Thole, and Jenrry Mejia all getting the call up to be starters at the big league level. If the team didn't think there was a good shot at a playoff spot there would be no reason to hold these guys back.

To read the rest of the article from Hotstove, along with a few other bloggers takes on how Mets camp is going, click here.

Some fun links:
* Chris Carter is working hard to make the team.
* Jose Reyes will be back in camp tomorrow!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Should Fernando Martinez come up now?

Earlier today I contributed to the discussion over at about whether or not Pagan should start in Centerfield for the Mets - or if F-Mart should get the nod. Here was the question and my response:

With Carlos Beltran on the shelf until at least early May, would you like to see the Mets use top prospect Fernando Martinez in center to start the season, instead of Angel Pagan?

Onan Coca, South of Shea
I think the question of what to do with F-Mart is something that all Mets fans have at least discussed, if not debated, with other fans. I personally think that if everything shakes out this year (especially with health) the Mets have a reasonable chance at competing for the playoffs. Given that, I think it’s best that all of the Mets young guns who are on the cusp of making the team stay in the minors for another full season. F-Mart, Ike Davis, Josh Thole, Jenrry Mejia, plus a few other prospects who are close to making the leap — all need seasoning in one area or another and I would prefer they get a full season’s complement of at-bats and innings pitched, and the only way to do that is to stay in the minors for the 2010 season. If for some reason the Mets brass thought that this would basically be a “lost” season and that they would probably not be able to compete then my opinion would be different, but I don’t think we are there yet. All of that said, I do expect that these young guys will all be with the Mets when the rosters expand and the Minor League seasons come to an end (and Mejia might be in the big’s much sooner).

My argument is basically this; unless F-Mart (or any other prospect the team thinks may be ready for an every day job in the majors) will get significant and consistent playing time then he should be left in the minors. The "yo-yo method" of developing players does not work, and in fact only serves to retard the growth of the player. Let him get his hacks in the AAA and when there is room and he is ready... call him up.
The guys at Fonzie Forever got my back on this.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Too optimistic?

I had a great opportunity to get some free publicity for my blog and my writing in general on Friday afternoon. The guys over at one of my favorite baseball websites ( asked to interview me about my thoughts on the current state of my favorite team the New York Mets. I had a great time with them, and though I was nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs - I had a great time talking about one of my favorite subjects... baseball.
Well I thought it went pretty good and I got some good feedback from some readers who listened and some friends who caught the show, so I was feeling pretty good about myself. Then I saw this from the description of our video chat at their website:
"Onan takes a very optimistic view of the Mets’ chances this season, despite the injuries to Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, as well as the team’s suspect 2-5 spots in the rotation."

Now to be fair I am an optimist despite these things... but when I first read it I felt a little defensive. It sounds like I might be living in some fairy tale land a-wishin' and a-hopin' for some crazy fantasy outcome. I read over it a couple more times, and even watched the interview again and decided that I won't hold it against them. They are great guys and like I said, I am a huge fan of their site - But I am going to defend my "optimism" in spite of the points that they mentioned. First, here's the video of our chat.

Alright lets break down the reasons that the guys give for pessimism.
1. Jose Reyes' hyperthyroidism
2. Carlos Beltran's knee injury
3. The pitching staff (2-5 in the rotation)

All of these are great reasons to be pessimistic, but allow me to be little miss sunshine to the cloudy day that is the injuries to Reyes and Beltran. These two injuries taken together should not be reasons for pessimism but instead be reasons to celebrate if you are a Mets fan. Sure, if the injuries hadn't occurred things would be even better but imagine that in Beltran's case he decided to try and rehab through the start of the season and at some point in July everyone realized that he should have had the surgery. We (Mets fans collectively) would be screwed. Instead of losing Beltran midway through the season with a lingering knee injury, he will only miss a couple of weeks and (fingers crossed) actually be stronger upon returning from his knee injury rehab.
I would make a similar argument for Reyes - yes, it would be nice if no injury/sickness existed but finding out before the season starts and knowing it can be fixed before the season really gets going is a huge blessing. No one would want to lose Reyes midway through the year for a 2-8 week period - better that happen now, while most of that time is Spring Training.
Now the pitching staff... this is a harder area to look positively on. Pelfrey, Maine, and Perez have been a collective train wreck over the last two seasons. Yes, at different point each one has had their positive moments, but in general... train wreck. How can I find any reason to be optimistic here, you ask? Well, as I look at the rest of the National League I find that our pitching staff when healthy is actually as good or better than the majority of the league. I think our staff can go toe to toe with just about any staff in the league (with some notable exceptions IE; the Phils, Braves, Cards, and Giants). If (and it is a BIG IF) Maine can stay healthy, Pelfrey can stay out of his own way, and Oliver stops acting bi-polar... the Mets staff might just be alright. I actually think the #5 spot in our rotation will be a position of strength, no matter who wins the job out of camp. Takahashi, Niese, Figueroa, and Nieve all have different aspects of the game that they are good at and all could offer the Mets some great moments. I am pulling for Niese here, because he is a young guy with some nice upside and if he can make it - it could go a long way to settling our staff.
Am I a too optimistic? You be the judge, but like I said at the end of the interview... "I am an optimist, and this is Spring Training." If I can't be an optimist now, with Opening Day right around the corner...when can I be? Interview

I was a guest on live chat today for about half an hour we talked about anything and everything Mets...
Here's the video.

Surf over and check out the great work the guys are doing at hotstove.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How will Ollie do?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to contribute to the conversation over at about how confident I was that Oliver Perez would "bounce back" in 2010. Here is the question, and my response.

Oliver Perez looked very shaky in his first spring start on Sunday (5 runs on 7 hits in 3 innings). How confident are you that Perez will be able to return to the form this season that netted him his current 3-year, $36 million deal?

Onan Coca, South of Shea
Honestly, the form that got Oliver Perez his 3-year, $36 million deal was not really that good. Perez got his deal because of his upside and the fact that there were not any other great (cheaper) options on the Free Agent list in the 2008-2009 offseason. Last year he was probably the worst starting pitcher in baseball, and oddly enough, this is why I have a bit of optimism about Ollie in 2010. Look, he can’t really be any worse, can he? He and Dan Warthen have worked on his technique and mechanics, they have ironed out some past issues and hopefully that leads to him being better in 2010. I am not worried about his first spring training start because he only walked one batter and that is a HUGE improvement. If Ollie can limit the walks I think he can still be an above average pitcher…here’s hoping.

I don't think anyone expects Oliver Perez to ever be anything more than a league average pitcher. Sure, once upon a time he showed the "stuff" to maybe be great... but that was a long time ago, and a lot has changed since then. All of that being said, Oliver does have the chance to help the Mets win... all he has to do is be a little better than league average.

If you would like to see the responses of some of the other bloggers who took part in the discussion, look here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My favorite Mets - the 1980's

This is the second in a short series of articles on my 25 favorite Mets players as a one team roster. You can find the first part of the series here. A cursory look at my favorite Mets "team" makes something very clear - I have a special affinity for Mets players of the mid to late 1980's. Like any other Mets fan in their late 20's to early 30's the reason for this should be fairly clear... 1986. The Mets World Series win in 1986 was one of the foundational experiences of my baseball fandom. I was a young boy sitting in my parent's living room (way past my bed time) praying for a miracle, and when Mookie Wilson hit that ball my heart literally jumped into my throat. I knew it was an out, a slow roller towards first base - what else could the outcome be?
Then that glorious moment of awakening when I realized what baseball could do to a person, as the ball rolled lethargically between Bill Buckner's bowed legs, and I exploded in exultation! It was a moment that the most devious torture could not erase from my memory - it was a sudden, earth-shattering moment. Since that day I have been a passionate fan of all things baseball, especially my beloved Mets. I have experienced highs (1986 and 2006), and I have been dealt dramatic crushing blows into the depths of fanhood (the 90's and 2006). All because of that team of hard partying, good time having, "bad boys of baseball" ... the 1986 Mets.

Gary "the kid" Carter, Keith "the Captain" Hernandez, Howard Johnson, Mookie Wilson, Darryl Strawberry, Lenny "Nails" Dykstra, Dwight "Doc" Gooden, Roger McDowell, and so many more. I would have added even more names from the '86 squad but I needed to save room for a few other players! Why these eight guys over other members of the team? Gary Carter's effervescence was contagious, I couldn't help but have fun watching him play. Keith Hernandez was the model of what a good ballplayer should be studious, and careful - no one (ever) played defense at 1st base as well as he. Howard Johnson was my favorite player growing up, it was because of him that the only place I ever wanted to be on the diamond was 3rd base. Mookie Wilson was all out - and really - is there any other way to play the game? I can remember hearing the "Strawwwwwwwberry..." chants when I would watch the games on TV, and even on occasion when my parents would take me to the games at nearby Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. I'm not sure I have ever personally seen a better swing for launching baseballs into the atmosphere. Why is it that every time the camera panned to Lenny Dykstra sitting in the dugout, he was picking his nose? The way he prowled the outfield, as if every ball hit out there was a personal affront to him, was invigorating - just a blast to watch. Is there any doubt that if Doc Gooden had remained clean and sober that he would be a sure-fire Hall of Famer today? He had everything, and the best part about him as a ballplayer, was that when you watched him pitch you could tell he was just plain better than his opponents. Last of the bunch there is Roger McDowell - today he is the pitching coach for the much reviled Atlanta Braves, but in 1986 he was the court jester. McDowell was proof you could be good at what you do, and have a lot of fun doing it. It was fun to watch him and his teammates enjoy playing the game I was falling in love with.

Above all, the guys playing on that 1986 team are my favorites because they were my introduction to a whole new world of emotion. A connection with something that wasn't my family, or friends - a way to connect with complete strangers and share this passion for a kid's game. In 1994 the strike killed that youthful joy a lot of us had with baseball, we learned that for some people the game was all about dollar signs. My dad was one of those folks who never came back to the game, even today baseball is as interesting to him as paint drying. I think that if it wasn't for the 1986 Mets team the strike might have killed my fandom too... and for that I have nothing but love in my baseball heart for the 1986 World Series Champion New York Mets, and these eight guys in particular.