Predicted 2010 NL East Finish: 4th
- Reyes ss
- Castillo 2b
- Wright 3b
- Bay lf
- Francoeur rf
- Jacobs 1b
- Pagan cf
- Barajas c
- Santana (LH)
- Perez (LH)
- Blanco c
- Cora if
- Tatis ut
- Matthews Jr. of
- Catalanotto 1b/of
- Feliciano (LH)
- Rodriguez (closer)
- Beltran cf
Catcher: Here’s a crowded group. Josh Thole is the catcher of the future and has already had success in limited time in the Bigs, so why did the Mets feel the need to bring four below-average catchers to camp? Henry Blanco is a defensive whiz and has a cannon for an arm so that addition makes sense. Coste is old and didn’t hit well last year, but he was given a spot on the 40-man roster. Rod Barajas was given a Major League deal and the starting job after posting a .226 AVG and a .258 OBP in 125 games. His 19 homers and 71 RBIs were solid but the younger and cheaper Omir Santos could definitely do that with the same playing time. Instead of improving their catching situation, they blocked prospects in a division they aren’t going to win.
Infield: David Wright is a great third baseman who will be made even better with a full season from shortstop Jose Reyes. Reyes can be a five-tool threat that needs to rebound for the Mets to even approach .500 this year. Luis Castillo had a .387 OBP in a bad lineup and will score more runs with Jason Bay around. First base will be a problem again this year. Daniel Murphy has options left and will be sent down if Mike Jacobs wins the job. Fernando Tatis will get at-bats there as well while the Mets wait for prospect Ike Davis to be Major League ready.
Outfield: The Mets signed Jason Bay to bring some power to the lineup and he did just that with the Red Sox in 2009 (36 homers and 119 RBIs). Francoeur did much better after being traded to the Mets. He needs to produce or the team will let him go in favor of prospect Fernando Martinez. With Carlos Beltran out to start the year, Angel Pagan and Gary Matthews Jr. will battle for time in center field. Matthews is coming off one of his worst years as a pro and Pagan is coming off his best. Either way, the lineup will look much better when Beltran is healthy.
Rotation: After Johan Santana the rotation is one of the worst in baseball. John Maine and Mike Pelfrey each took a step backwards during the ’09 campaign. Oliver Perez took his big contract and pitched in 14 games with a dismal 6.82 ERA. The problem for the Mets is that these guys aren’t even facing any legitimate competition. Kelvim Escobar has started but was signed with the intention to use him in relief. Pat Misch is a lefty that is out of options and did OK in 26 games last year. Fernando Nieve is intriguing because he is also out of options and displayed a 2.95 ERA in 8 games with the Mets last year. Jon Niese is another competitor for the rotation.
Bullpen: This will be the strong point for the team in 2010. Ryota Igarashi is battling for the setup role after a solid career in Japan. Sean Green may be the favorite for the setup spot after 79 strong innings in 2009. Pedro Feliciano has been a reliable lefty specialist and is not a health concern, which is hard to say for most of these guys. Bobby Parnell brings excitement to the bullpen and a full season in a consistent role could help his progression. K-Rod came back down to earth after inking a huge deal last off-season but he is still a great closer.
2010: 2009 was a lost season after all of the injuries to many of their game-changers. Santana and Reyes seem to be good to go but their health won’t be enough to make the Mets contenders in a deep division. Mets management has been long-scrutinized and this past off-season won’t make that go away. The team missed out on targets John Lackey, Bengie Molina, and Orlando Hudson. GM Omar Minaya seemingly forgot about upgrading the horrible rotation. The team is not built for the dimensions of their stadium and that’s not going to help. It will be a long 2010 for Mets fans during which guys like Luis Castillo, Rod Barajas, Jeff Francoeur, Mike Jacobs, Oliver Perez, John Maine, and some relievers will all be let go one way or another.
One bright-spot of the Chicago Cubs last year was the stride of improvement their ’09 class of prospects made.
Pitcher Randy Wells was discussed as a National League ROY candidate while Jake Fox played five positions and banged 11 home runs. Angel Guzman was healthy for a full year and and posted a 2.95 ERA in 55 outings. There were also some part-time players who contributed big-time. Esmailin Caridad appeared in 14 games, struck out 17, and walked only 3 en route to a 1.40 ERA. Justin Berg found similar success in 11 outings, only allowing one run. Backup outfielder Sam Fuld and reserve infielder Andres Blanco provided exceptional defense and reasonable offense.
Now to Jim Hendry all of this is just fine and dandy but it doesn’t matter. After a couple division titles and two disappointing trips to the NLDS, Hendry is on the hot seat. The window may be slim. Derrek Lee and Ted Lilly are entering the final years of their contracts. Meanwhile, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano aren’t getting any younger…
These factors raise the question: Why not continue getting younger? The bullpen is already almost all products of the organization’s farm system. It consists of mainly pre-arbitration arms, providing the team with some financial security and still the possibility of a future. The rotation will have openings after this year which top prospects Jay Jackson, Andrew Cashner, and even ‘the other’ Chris Carpenter should have opportunities to fill.
The offense has an opening in center with the plans to move Kosuke Fukudome back right after the imminent Milton Bradley disposal. Instead of replacing Bradley with a high-priced center fielder (Curtis Granderson, Vernon Wells, Aaron Rowand, etc.), I would plan on leaving the spot open for an internal replacement. Tyler Colvin made his debut last season and is a lefty gap hitter who plays center. He hit very well at AA. Kyler Burke is another top outfield prospect but he is only 21 and still a few years away.
As for the middle of the infield, Starlin Castro is the young phenom rising fast in the club’s inner circles. Still only 19, Castro will not break camp with the big league club this spring. But that’s not necessary. Leave him at AAA to get some more seasoning and let Jeff Baker hang onto the starting gig which he earned last summer. If Castro can prove himself in Iowa and the right situation arises, a promotion is likely as Ryan Theriot has already agreed to moving to second base if it would help the team.
Going along with these moves will be tough for a GM under fire and a manager in the last year of his illustrious career, but will set up the Cubs for a financially functional future. The Ricketts have big plans for Wrigley so saving money when possible would be nice. Instead of the huge free agent/trade targets, the Cubs need to pursue a right handed outfielder to split time with Colvin in center and share the load with Kosuke against tough lefties. If Marlon Byrd’s value really does drop as far as some say it will, he would be a perfect fit as would guys like Randy Winn, Coco Crisp, and Reed Johnson. Otherwise, acquiring this outfielder as part of the return for Milton Bradley makes sense with such possibilities as Gary Matthews Jr. and Nick Swisher. The other spot Hendry needs to focus on is the rotation because it sounds like Ted Lilly will miss extended time next year.
I don’t predict this to be a huge off-season for the Cubbies, but I also don’t think they need huge changes. Saving some money now may give them the flexibility to add payroll in a couple winters when the free agent class will offer better values.