The New York Mets are coming to town to face our Atlanta Braves for a four game series that could decide who owns third place in the NL LEast. As part of our ongoing series of series previews, I exchanged some questions with Eric Simon of Amazin Avenue to acquaint us with the issues the Mets are facing in the second half.
Q: Let's just get this out of the way... are you happy to have Jeff Francoeur? Are you sad to see Ryan Church go?
A: I don't miss Church so much as I mourn the acquisition of Francoeur. While I've gone through quite an array of emotions in the wake of the trade, I don't know that I'd count "happy" among them. We're talking about an average defensive right-fielder with no on-base skills who has seemingly lost his ability to hit for power; that the Braves were able to get anything for him, let alone somebody useful like Ryan Church, is either a testament to Frank Wren's negotiating acumen or to Omar Minaya's inability to properly evaluate baseball players. By now the harsh reality of the trade has set in and Mets fans have nothing to do but root for Frenchy and hope for the best.
Q: Before the season began, did you think the Mets would be behind the Braves in the NL East and three games below .500 at the All-Star break?
A: I thought the Mets, Braves and Phillies would compete for the division crown, with the Braves falling slightly behind and the Mets and Phils entrenched in a dogfight to the finish. I thought the Braves' pitching would be a huge strength while their offense, with a few exceptions, would have a tough time scoring runs. I got the Braves part right so far; the Mets we'll get to shortly.
Q: Do the Mets need a change at Manager or General Manager? Why or why not?
A: Yes and yes. Jerry Manuel is a nice enough guy but his refusal to open his mind to areas of influence originating from outside his GI tract is sad and frustrating and embarrassing to himself and to the franchise. If we're to believe what he says, he doesn't feel that "statistical numbers", as he calls them, can provide him anything meaningful that he can't otherwise derive from a consultation with his gut. I'm not suggesting the Mets should be managed by Nate Silver's computer (though it would be a fascinating experiment if they were), but it's simply baffling to me that anyone looking to succeed in any field would dismiss out of hand a tremendous body of relevant information that could help him do his job better. You don't have to believe that WAR and UZR and tRA tell you more about a player than your eyes do, but you at least have to be open to that possibility. Manuel isn't, and frankly it's pathetic.
Omar Minaya has assembled a fantastic core of superstars and a mind-bogglingly inept set of complementary players. He has shown himself to be quite proficient at outbidding other teams for marquee free agents, and dealing mostly spare parts for Johan Santana was a propitious coup, but in four-plus seasons as general manager he hasn't done a whole lot more than that. Until last season the Mets hadn't drafted particularly well under Minaya, especially for a team with the wherewithall to pay above slot bonuses. He has a tendency to identify glaring weaknesses and be single-minded in addressing them while ignoring impending weaknesses by failing to recognize probable points of regression.
I wouldn't be sad or surprised to see either of them let go at season's end.
Q: Do you buy the notion that the Mets need to be re-made into a team that is built for Citi Field? And shouldn't light hitters like Luis Castillo, Alex Cora, and Daniel Murphy thrive in a pitchers park like that?
A: I think it's probably more important to construct a pitching staff to suit a ballpark than to do so for a lineup. The Mets aren't losing because they can't hit at Citi Field; they're losing because they can't hit anywhere. Luis Castillo is actually having a pretty decent season. Not fantastic, but pretty decent. Daniel Murphy hasn't really improved as a hitter this year the way many had hoped, and Alex Cora is 33 and has a career OPS+ of 74. The goal for this team should be to get younger and better (duh). Good hitters will hit well anywhere, even Citi Field.
Q: Obviously injuries have played a major role in how your season has gone, but do you think you have enough players coming back in time to make a run for the top spot in the NL East? Is there a trade you'd like to see the Mets make?
A: No, I think the Mets are toast for 2009. Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes aren't due back until at least the end of July; Carlos Delgado, John Maine and Billy Wagner are due sometime later. If they're all back by mid-August, who knows? Maybe if the Mets can tread water until then they might have a chance to close the gap in the season's final month. I'm not counting on it, which is why I think they should stand pat at the deadline. If they have the opportunity to trade for someone who could help them beyond this season -- a Victor Martinez or Roy Halladay, say -- then it's worth considering because we wouldn't be talking about giving up young talent for just a couple of months of Jason Marquis, e.g.
If the Mets fall farther behind in the next couple of weeks they could look to get something of value for Gary Sheffield, Pedro Feliciano, etc.
Many thanks to Eric for his great answers to my questions.