The U Files # 37: Mid Season Recap

The Mets entered the season with a team that would have been a contender if it were put together five years ago. At the half, they are pulling trades intent on creating a contender five years from now. I projected the Mets at season's start as a team with the upside of an 84 game winner. However, any objective analysis of the team had to admit it had a greater chance of falling apart than of contending.

At the All Star break, the good news is the Mets are the last place team with the best record in baseball.

The Mets are 40-53, thirteen games below .500, on a pace for a 70-92 season and already 16 games behind the division leader. The offense continues to struggle, having scored 389 runs in 93 games - a pace for 678 on the season. The pitching has been the worst of any Mets team in recent memory with an ERA of 4.81, giving up 471 runs on a pace to give up 820 runs on the season.

Former GM Steve Phillips went 1 for three in his last round of off-season free agent shopping. Outfielder Cliff Floyd has been one of the few bright spots for the Mets, is young enough to stay productive for some time, and is signed to a bargain contract. His batting average is a bit lower than expected, but he's hit for good power and has drawn walks at a good pace. All in all, his .272/.362/.522 year is only a number of singles removed from a vintage Cliff Floyd year.

The remainder of the off-season haul, looks to be only a drain on the Mets. Tom Glavine, supposed to be an anchor for the starting rotation, has lost the skill most responsible for his success. Once as stingy as any pitcher as it regards home runs, Glavine has surrendered 16 long balls in 110 innings, leading to an uninspiring ERA of 4.73. There were indications Mike Stanton's best days were behind him before he signed (a decline in strikeout rate), and indeed Stanton has failed to distinguish himself. In the 21.2 innings he managed before landing on the disabled list, Stanton struck out just 14 batters and posted an ERA of 4.57. Glavine has two guaranteed years left on his contract worth $21 million (ouch), and a $3 million buyout in 2006. Stanton has two years left worth $7 million, and a complete no trade clause.

If that weren't bad enough, the worst signing made by Phillips has come up empty in his search for a redeeming quality. Roger Cedeno seems to have lost his speed (not that speed is worth much), never showed consistent on base ability, and has no power. He is the worst defensive player on the team. And, he has two years left on his contract worth $10 million. New GM Jim Duquette can only hope some other GM becomes desperate for a leadoff hitter (really desperate) or suffers an inexplicable bout of insanity. Or, Duquette might find a picture of Brian Cashman getting it on with a monkey. (Come to think of it, General Von Steingrabber could well rather the picture be released than take the Hall of Shamer off the Mets' hands.)

Al Leiter, who'd previously contributed enough to merit inclusion into the Mets Hall of Fame, and recently signed to a two year contract extension, seems to have reached the end of the line. The former ace of the Mets is disgracing himself with an ERA of 5.57, and he is under contract for 2004 for $8 million. He has a mutual option for 2005 with a $2 million buyout.

The good news is: the Mets have a new GM, Jose Reyes is up, Aaron Heilman is up, Jae Seo has resurrected himself from questionable prospect status, Jason Phillips is making a mark for himself, and the Mets new GM has imported talent that could contribute to the Mets next contending phase beginning in 2005.

Indeed there has been action in the 2003 Mets season, and as noted above much of it concerns the front office. Steve Phillips, who was the architect of the mess the Mets started the season with, is out. In is a former Phillips assistant, Jim Duquette, on an interim basis. Duquette has shipped out disgraced ex All Star Roberto Alomar and rejuvenated slugger Jeromy Burnitz and got back the potential future closer and second baseman of the Mets. Royce Ring, obtained in the Alomar deal, is a hard throwing lefty with a fastball and a closers mentality. Second baseman Victor Diaz, obtained for Burnitz, hits for average and power.

Jae Seo, as noted, has stepped up as a legitimate young starter. His velocity still falls short of what it was before his arm surgery, however he has learned to use his outstanding changeup to great effect. Unless he regains that little extra oomph on his fastball, he will not be top of the rotation material. Still, he can become a credible middle of the rotation pitcher. A strength of the Mets farm is starting pitching; the Mets have multiple prospects with more upside than Seo. If enough pan out, Seo may wind up future trade bait.

The Mets started the season with Mo Vaughn at first base. Past his prime, the rotund ex masher provided his biggest punch in providing fans fodder for jokes about his girth. Vaughn has one guaranteed year left on his contract worth $15 million. It appears that he will not earn the fortune coming to him; his knees may not allow him to wield the bat in anger again. The good news is twofold: the Mets should be able to collect insurance money worth ¾ of his contract, and it opens playing time for Jason Phillips.

Mike Piazza, the Mets lone future Hall of Famer performing up to snuff, is on the disabled list with a strained groin. In his absence Vance Wilson has assumed the starting catcher's job with catching prospect Phillips switching to first base. Mike Piazza in the 111 AB he got before the injury, produced an OPS of 1.034. He may return to provide the offense the Mets will be missing with the loss of Burnitz, else the Mets run total may fall short of it's uninspiring projection.

Jason Phillips in 186 AB has hit .312/.389/.457 for an OPS of .846. His minor league career suggests he has enough bat to be a fair starting catcher, but not a starting first baseman. Still, given the state of the Mets lineup it would be best to keep his bat in the lineup as much as possible for the next year. The Mets have made indications that Mike Piazza will start to see time at first. With the versatility Phillips has shown, the Mets may go to a three-headed catcher/first baseman made up of Piazza, Philips, and Wilson. Keeping Piazza's bat in the lineup when he isn't the catcher will be of prime concern.

For the remainder of this season, look for Armando Benitez and possibly Steve Trachsel to be traded. Bad news for Mets fans has hit the rumor mill recently: A proposed trade of Benitez to the Yankees in which the Yankees would assume Benitez' salary. The Mets would end up with middling talent at best; in this market you don't get much in the way of prospects if you don't pay the money. Indications are the Mets would hold on to Trachsel unless they get an offer that blows the roof off.

As far as the rest of the Mets games to be played in 2003, the highlight for fans will be Jose Reyes. It should also be interesting to watch Heilman's starts. Take heart in the fact the Mets have good talent on the farm (despite what some media continue to insist) and look forward to the possibility that the Mets could field a contender around a young core starting in 2005.


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