To: Fred Wilpon
Well, as you once hoped for, your Mets played plenty of “meaningful games” this past September. Even in the season’s final week, they were involved in seven vital contests at Shea Stadium.
Unfortunately, the Mets won just one of them.
Changes are undoubtedly needed. But it’s vital here that you resist calls from fans for a mass execution.
Paul Lo Duca, certainly, needs to go. His strong September catapulted his numbers all the way up to awful. His .273 batting average is respectable, but he seldom walks and he doesn’t hit for any power. His 690 OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) puts him 21st among major league catchers with at least 350 plate appearances. Did I mention he has trouble throwing runners out?
Backup Ramon Castro should be made the starter. His .571 slugging from 2007 is probably too much to hope for, but if he puts up his career major league OPS of .725, he will be an improvement, and he is certainly a step up from Lo Duca defensively. And protect Castro, who had back issues this year, with a credible backup—free agent Yorvit Torrealba, another plus defensive catcher who also posted a higher OPS than Lo Duca, will come cheaper, and is considerably younger.
Leave first base alone. Carlos Delgado took about a month to recover from multiple surgeries last offseason. He was hitting .209 with 3 home runs on May 8. He then hit .281 the rest of the way, with 21 home runs in 374 at bats, or a pace for 39 over a full season. You’ll want him sitting against a lot of lefties, however—get a right-handed batter who can handle first base for 40-50 games. Ideally, trade for Pittsburgh’s Ryan Doumit. But signing down-on-his-luck slugger Craig Wilson, just a year removed from being an effective hitter, would also be a nice Plan B.
At second base, Luis Castillo still represents the best choice. Assuming you can bring him back for a one or two-year deal, he’ll give you good defense, a solid on-base percentage and the skills of a number-two hitter, but for only 110-120 games. Allow Ruben Gotay to play understudy, and see if his defense can continue to improve. This assumes a reasonable trade for the Orioles’ Brian Roberts is not possible, and takes into account that the next best free agent second baseman after Castillo is probably… Kaz Matsui.
At third base, batting third, number five: David Wright.
At shortstop, Jose Reyes was a young player in a slump. He was not the reason the team lost their lead, he will be entering his age-25 season, and his departure from the Mets would be tragedy on an unprecedented scale. He will recover.
Left field is a bit trickier. Moises Alou needs to return—his option for $8.5 million should do nicely. Assume 80 games, hope for 120. Spot him with a fourth outfielder like Shannon Stewart on a one-year deal, with the hope that Carlos Gomez conquers AAA in 2008 and becomes the starting left fielder in 2009. Endy Chavez remains as defensive replacement.
In 2007, four of the top five center fielders in OPS varied from the top five in 2006. The only constant? Carlos Beltran, who won a Gold Glove in 2006 to boot, and certainly should win in 2007. Other than an injury-plagued 2005, he’s been that same player since 2003. Pencil him in for 2008—he’s a reason you won 88 games, not a reason you lost 74. And his 8 home runs and 27 RBI in September should help lay to rest notions that he isn’t a clutch player.
Right field should belong to Lastings Milledge. He’s talented, he’s going to be 23, and he already managed a .272/.341/.446 line at age 22. His defense was solid, even as the natural center fielder learned the new position on the fly. And his flamboyance does not suggest a problem so much as it suggests a coming superstar. Leave him alone there, and you will not be disappointed.
The starting staff starts improved with Pedro Martinez atop it. His 2007 numbers, prorated over a full season, would have ranked him second in ERA and third in strikeouts per nine innings. In other words, he pitched like an ace. He’ll be six months further away from his surgery. He is your number one.