Thursday, June 3, 2010
Five things the Mets need to seriously contend
It is no mystery that the New York Mets are trying to avoid a repeat of seasons past. It also is not a surprise to say that they are an average team at this juncture of the season. The Mets have a difficult June schedule that still includes games with, in no particular order, the Yankees, Twins, Tigers, Marlins, Phillies and more.
This is a crucial stretch they are about to enter. Keeping this in mind, it is important to be honest when assessing where they are right now and where they may be when the trade deadline begins to loom in July. Today June 3rd, 2010, the New York Mets stand at 27-27. They are exactly at .500 and tied for third in their own division.
They are a far cry from being a contender, but also in no means are they so far behind anyone that they can't make a run toward the playoffs. To do that, however, it will take something that Mets GM Omar Minaya has never done before. He must make a substantial midseason transaction. He has not been known for the big splash moves in the middle of the season.
He has made desperation moves, such as trading for a relief pitcher when Duanier Sanchez went down a few years back. However, he usually has kept his splashing to the preseason free agent festivities. If the Mets get through this upcoming schedule in tact and still around the .500 mark, they will be buyers by the trade deadline.
If this team is to contend at that time, they must do five things. First and foremost, they must add a starting pitcher to complete the rotation and complement the two aces, Santana and Pelfrey. There are rumors now flying around about the potential availability of several Chicago Cubs including Ted Lilly. He is a veteran and could be an asset to a tired and often overworked rotation.
Also, with the Orioles struggling, I wouldn't be surprised to here rumors begin to float around involving Kevin Millwood. He would give the team a third ace and great rotation depth. Either one would be a step up from Oliver Perez or John Maine at their best.
Second, the Mets need to sign or trade for a lefty reliever for the bullpen. This would enable them to better use Pedro Feliciano and also give him rest. Feliciano is the only left handed reliever the team has on the roster. That is not depth. Minaya went into the past offseason claiming the need to address depth in all phases of the roster, however, this particular facet of the team has gone unchanged.
He had signed several players that never took the mound for them and maybe never will take a mound again, but that attempt is not helping the team right now. Right now, they struggle to use the bullpen properly. Most of that may be attributed to manager Jerry Manuel, but depth can also be a key contributing factor as well.
Unfortunately, there are not many leads right now, but with some research, Minaya could find a gem as the trade deadline draws closer. A team that is far out of any race by then may be willing to give up players that they don't regard as necessities to their future.
The Baltimore Orioles have such a pitcher in lefty Willie Ohman. They signed him in the hopes that he would bring a veteran presence to put a young upstart team over the top in their division. Despite his 1.02 era, the team has struggled mightily. He may be on the trade block in a month.
Third, they need a veteran second baseman. They have a often injured and always struggling veteran in this position right now in the person of Luis Castillo. He has never and will never be the answer to this need. He is batting .241 right now and is not healthy. In 44 games, he has only scored 13 runs.
He has not been productive. It can be blamed on health, but he really hasn't had a good carer with the Mets. If he does get healthy, he could be packaged in a deal. The problem is he is hardly ever healthy and certainly has not been this year. Last year we caught a glimpse of what he is capable of in a full season, but that is a fleeting glance.
They have a solid backup in Alex Cora, but he is just that, a backup. He is not an everyday player and not an everyday bat for them. This is a time to take advantage of a team's desperation. One team to consider may be the Arizona Diamondbacks. They may be sellers by the deadline.
One name on that roster to consider is Kelly Johnson. He is their second baseman and he is having a productive year on a bad team. That is a recipe for trade bait. I wouldn't be surprised if they put his name out there by this time next month.
Fourth, the Mets need a veteran on the bench. This is another time that Minaya can take advantage of a bad team selling off players. For this one, I would look to the Cleveland Indians. They have several veterans with key experience to help that bench.
Among them are Russell Branyan and Mark Grudzielanek. Sure, these names don't scream out championships, but they are necessary parts to a bigger purpose. The team has problems on the road. The second half of the schedule is majority road games. They need players who have long-time game experience in several environments.
The right veteran could bring a spark to them and help change their mindset for these types of games. As the season goes on, the games will mean more and more. The bigger the pressure, the more you need an experienced player.
Finally, and most importantly, they need confidence on the road. They must have a return of the swagger that made them such a tough team. If it means being the bad guy, than they have to play the role of bad guy.
The Florida Marlins once responded to the Mets' swagger as igniting them to want to win just to spite the Mets. The swagger I speak of is that of confidence, not so much arrogance, but a realization that you're good and can match up with anyone. They had that once, and they need to reacquire it, or else they will be doomed to mediocrity.
Every successful Mets team has had an air of confidence about them. It is a necessity for a winning team. These Mets lack it. Without that, they will never get over the hump against teams like the Phillies, because teams like the Phillies have that swagger.
This team plays with heart and often emotion, but not with confidence. They play like they expect something to go wrong. That is a recipe for failure every time. If the Mets can do at least some of these, they could not only to stay afloat in the National League, but they could contend.