By Ted Nicolosi, Contributing Writer
After being so close to bringing a championship to Flushing back in 2006, the New York Mets have taken a number of steps back. It started with Adam Wainwright striking out Carlos Beltran looking in Game 7 of the NLCS, then proceeded with the most historic collapse in MLB history with the Mets blowing a seven game division lead with 17 games left to finish one game away from their second straight NL East title. The acquisition of LHP Johan Santana after that 2007 season made fans believe again. But even with Santana, the Mets were unable to secure a playoff spot in the 2008 season, finishing one game behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card race. After moving into Citi Field in 2009, the Mets had two terrible seasons under then manager Jerry Manuel, finishing 70-92 and 79-83, respectively.
The team then decided it was time to change up how things were done within the organization. . GM Sandy Alderson, hired prior to the 2010 season, relieved Jerry Manuel of his managerial duties and then proceeded to hire Terry Collins as his new manager. Collins hadn’t been a big league manager in over a decade. It seemed risky to take a chance like that, but it was in the interest of changing the way that the organization did business. They now wanted to try and find the value players on the market and win ball games and eventually championships utilizing players that were drafted by the team and nurtured through the farm system. The aforementioned strategy mirrors the Moneyball approach that is being taken in Oakland, where Sandy Alderson was General Manager from 1983 through 1997.
So far, it can be argued that the organization has done a pretty good job rebuilding. We’ve seen the maturation of ace RHP Matt Harvey. He’s added electricity to Citi Field every time he takes the mound, which is something that hasn’t been too common since the stadium opened. GM Sandy Alderson has made some draft picks which won’t provide a lot of answers right away since there’s been a number of high school picks such as OF Brandon Nimmo (2011), SS Gavin Cecchini (2012) and 1B Dominic Smith (2013), but he has been a master at acquiring potential top tier talent. He made a trade at the 2011 deadline which acquired RHP Zack Wheeler for OF Carlos Beltran. Although inconsistent at times, Wheeler has shown signs of dominance, like he did in his ML debut against the Braves when he threw 6 shutout innings, and is proving that he can be a very important part of the starting rotation for years to come.
Then there was the 2012 offseason trade of R.A. Dickey. After winning the 2012 Cy Young Award, Alderson sent 37 year old Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for C Travis d’Arnaud and RHP Noah Syndergaard. At this point, Syndegaard is an unknown commodity. D’Arnaud has been shaky and only hit .233 in his 139 career games in the majors. On paper, this one could be a huge trade and give the Mets a few vital pieces for the future, but time will tell.
Add to this list names like Jacob deGrom and Wilmer Flores and it seems that this team is on the right track……or are they? While they have some major potential, there’s a few glaring needs that are still left unaddressed.
At this point, they have a few pieces in place. The Mets got productive seasons out of 1B Lucas Duda (.253 AVG 30 HR 92 RBI in 2014) and the bullpen has emerged very nicely in the form of closer Jenrry Mejia (28 saves in 2014) and set-up man Jeurys Familia (2.21 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 76 games in 2014).
The pitching front looks great, but there are serious issues with the lineup. OF Curtis Granderson was signed to a four year $60 million contract before the 2014 season and he struggled in year one hitting only .227 with 20 homers and 67 RBI. We’ve seen 3B David Wright struggle as well hitting .269 with 8 HR in 134 games in 2014. There’s the big need to acquire a major power bat to hit in the cleanup spot to properly protect David Wright. Unfortunately, Lucas Duda doesn’t provide the proper protection that they need for Wright. Lucas Duda most likely fits into the six spot in the lineup to get the optimal production out of him.
So what’s the obvious answer to get power hitters into Queens? Make the ballpark more homer friendly of course. So the Mets will once again move in the fences at Citi Field. In 2011, the Mets moved the fences in, and it doesn’t seem to have helped matters much considering they only hit 139, 130, and 125 home runs as a team, respectively from 2012 through 2014. If you’re going to build the team around pitching, moving the fences in poses a serious risk of alienating potential pitchers from deciding to play in Queens.
The biggest question with this team is a matter of identity. The team is clearly showing that the fan base that they want to build around pitching and defense, making players like Harvey, Wheeler, Syndergaard, Lagares, and deGrom a big part of the future. But they continue to make the moves to make the park friendlier to the big bat. If you ask me, the true way to rebuild this team is to define what the team is first. After they define the type of team they wish to be, then they can make the necessary strides forward to get to the top again. The organization has some serious questions to answer and the clock is ticking. Their identity has to be made known sooner than later otherwise all the strides that have been made will be for nothing.
Ted Nicolosi is a die hard NY Mets fan that resides in Long Island, NY. Ted can be reached via Twitter @omniumfinis3.