Stop with the quick, empty “fixes.”
Jeff Francoeur is the type of player who should come with a warning label: Objects on the Field Are Lousier Than They Appear. Yes, Francoeur has a cannon arm and prodigious power, is media-friendly and occasionally great. The problem is that he is, in the words of Baseball Prospectus, an “out machine”—an undisciplined hitter who never draws walks and swings at everything.
The Mets have a lot of guys like this: Francoeur, Gary Matthews Jr., Alex Cora, Fernando Tatis, John Maine—below-average players allowed to suck up valuable roster space because they’re good in the clubhouse, have recognizable names, and can talk into a microphone. The Mets could help themselves tremendously this year just by swapping them for basic league-average players, as Eric Simon, of the great Mets blog Amazin’ Avenue, has written. (His blog, like most Mets blogs these days, is a poetic, hilarious daily ode to misery.) The Mets, because they’re a major-market team, will always be top-heavy with stars like Wright, Reyes, and Johan Santana. The trick is raising the level of the middle.
Recognize a sunk cost.
In 2011, the Mets will pay Carlos Beltran $20 million, Oliver Perez $12 million, and Luis Castillo $6.25 million. These are atrocious rates for players who are past their prime, untalented, or both. The Mets keep waiting around for them to earn their money rather than accepting that they never will. If Perez were not making $12 million this season and next, there is no way he would be allowed near a major-league rotation. Because he is, though, the Mets are doubling their pain: Perez has cost them in the pocketbook and on the field. When they finally pulled him out of the rotation recently, it felt like a mercy killing.
There’s no reason to stop there. The Mets have a glut of middle infielders in the minor leagues; it’s difficult to imagine any of them not being an improvement on Castillo. As for Beltran, the Mets keep acting as if he were mere days away from returning, rather than accepting that he’s unlikely to ever again be the player he once was. They hold his spot as if he were the final ingredient, like they’re one player away. He isn’t, and they’re not. It’s time to act accordingly.
Give the rookies a chance, but the right rookies.
If Mejia ends up never reaching his potential, he has a solid case for management malpractice. The two-month hiatus in the bull pen stunted his development for almost zero benefit for this year’s team. That doesn’t mean the Mets shouldn’t start promoting from Buffalo liberally. The call-up of Ike Davis earlier this year showed what a well-timed jolt of energy can do for a team, and now the Mets can evaluate Davis daily against big-league pitching. Minaya’s odd insistence on signing every free-agent catcher he came across to a one-year deal has kept the promising prospect Josh Thole in the minors; the Mets need to see if he is a big-league catcher or not, fast. (Find a trading partner for power-hitting out machine Rod Barajas. One will be out there.) When top hitting prospect Fernando Martinez returns from the disabled list, bring him up, too. Dillon Gee, Tobi Stoner … who wouldn’t rather see them in the rotation than Maine?
All of these moves are basic ones that almost any management team in baseball might have made. They are not ones the current Minaya-Manuel tandem have shown any tendency to even consider. (The Mejia decision was made only because Wilpon threw some chairs around in Atlanta.) What these moves require is a fresh perspective, an efficiency expert to come in, see what the Mets have and don’t have, and trim the fat. It is never particularly graceful to ask for someone’s firing: That’s more for Paul in Staten Island on the overnight show. But someone has to make these moves. Does anybody trust Omar Minaya to make them? The Mets aren’t as far away as you might think. But it might be time to take the keys away from the guy who put them in this mess in the first place. Then Jeff Wilpon can go back into hiding, dreaming his old major-league dreams, again, in private.