This may not be the most anticipated Spring Training in recent Mets history, with nothing but negativity surrounding the franchise. However, March in the Grapefruit League brings opportunities to start anew no matter how bleak the previous season was.
The Mets have been a team with many more downs than ups in their history, but the great moments have often been magically surprising ones, so maybe, just maybe the 2011 squad will bring something special. As we embark on the 50th Spring Training in Metropolitans history, here are a few pressing questions surrounding the team, with the opinionated answers from several extremely passionate fans who are loyal to a fault. We all know each season has the likelihood of embarrassment, but we stick with the orange and blue anyway. We are…the true die-hard fans.
1- What is the Most Important Job Terry Collins has this Spring?
Mark Agin- Washington, D.C. via Howell, NJ (Mild-mannered, even-keeled realist with the same blood type as Mr. Met himself)
I think his most important job, and there are a lot of important jobs for him (lets face it, the Mets are a wreck right now), is just to become familiar with the National League, both in terms of strategy and scouting. I’ll leave “Can Terry inspire the troops” garbage to Cerrone [From MetsBlog.com]. These guys, with the exception of Ollie Perez, are professionals. What I’m most worried about is Terry’s lack of National League managerial experience. It made me sick watching Willie Randolph spend an entire season trying to learn the double switch, and it was even worse watching a game during the Jerry-era, waiting for him to make the move that would cost the team the game, knowing that it was coming. Managerial temperament is fun to argue about, but learning to manage a strategically sound National League game is what should be at the top of Terry Collin’s list this Spring.
Stephen Gravino- East Meadow, NY (Short, and to the point optimistic die-hard)
Collins’ most important job, plain and simple, will be controlling an already arrogant clubhouse that quite frankly has no business whatsoever being arrogant.
Justin Wein- Washington D.C. via Syosset, NY (North Shore Long Island native with a lifetime worth of Mets-related emotional scars)
His biggest challenge is keeping this team focused given all the distractions facing them already. A combination of fan apathy and frustration, the media circus revolving the ownership situation, and questions as to which overpaid, washed up players will and won’t be of any worth, all make his first spring in PSL a difficult one to navigate.
Maybe it helps that for the first time in a decade the Knicks will be playing meaningful games in March and April, diverting the attention of the sports pages and radio shows at the same time he is attempting to develop team unity during Spring Training.
Andrew Rizzi- Astoria, NY (Eric Valent hitting for the Cycle is one of the top 50 moments of my life)
I want to see the intensity he is so famous for, but I also want to see what he has learned from his past mistakes. I think he needs to balance his passion for the game with an ability to be a player’s manager. The Mets need a hard kick in the pants, and a manager who thirsts for success as much as the fans do.
I think Terry is that guy and I am excited at the prospect of having a fiery team- but the player’s need to buy into his philosophy, and they need to play with more intensity than they did for the previous managers. So far the team seems to be responding, but TC must keep in mind that the season is a marathon, and has to keep his players’ best interest at hand. I am hoping for a Rex Ryan type of guy, but the baseball version. That sort of foundation starts in Spring Training.
2- Which Position Battle are You Most Looking Forward to This Spring?
Second base, absolutely. Unfortunately, I’m not sold on any of the candidates for the spot. As much as I’d love for Murphy to step in and make it his, I’m completely terrified of his defense. Seriously, the thought of him trying to turn a double play keeps me up at night. Castillo is over the hill. Eamus is a career utility/quadruple-A man. Can’t rush Havens. I don’t know. Its an intriguing position battle, but not in a good way.
The 5th starter battle is the one I am looking at the closest. We need a quality starter at the back of the rotation and the race is wide open. With several candidates, this should be a good fight throughout Spring Training.
Second base. At this point I am actively rooting for Luis Castillo to pull a muscle during Spring Training so that there is no choice but to cut him from the team. His contract vs. his production almost makes the Bobby Bonilla deal look reasonable.
At the same time, apart from David Wright, I don’t think I’ve ever pulled for a homegrown player more than I do for Daniel Murphy. It’s actually slightly ridiculous the level to which I, and other Mets fans, pull for Murphy considering no one actually thinks he’ll be a star. He does, however, play the game exactly the way it should be played – busting his tail on every ball, putting the ball in play, and willing to do whatever is asked of him to help the team pull out a W.
Second base is the easy answer, and I am hoping Daniel Murphy shows enough defensively to get Castillo cut, but I will go with Center Field/Right Field. It was great to see Carlos Beltran put the team first and volunteer to move to right, but the writing on the wall is hard to avoid. Sure, Pagan will be fine in CF, but if Carlos is admitting to himself that he can’t hack it, just how healthy is he? If he looks fine in right this Spring it will really ease my fears, but right now I am not confident that Beltran is back. My fingers, and my toes are all crossed.
3- If You Could Pick Any Mets Player to Have a Monster Spring, Who Would it Be?
Tough question. This team is full of guys who had rough seasons last year, and could really use productive springs. Beltran, Bay, Reyes all come to mind as good candidates. Thinking about it more though, I’d have to go with Pelf. This guy is about to have A TON of pressure placed on him as the number 1 starter on a staff that desperately needs an ace. It’s not as if he was eased into this position either. Johan got hurt, and here he is. He had a nice year last year, but the Mets are going to need a lot more from him. If anyone needs to hit the ground running this spring and not look back, it’s Mike Pelfrey.
I know I am in the minority here, but it’s Luis Castillo. I have a soft spot for this guy- what can I say? Let me point out though that I am also really hoping Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay show me something this month. We need them to return to form.
So many choices here, as the team has underperformed for four straight years. Carlos Beltran would be a big one, but since I talked about that in my previous answer I will say Jason Bay. This guy was a total bust in his first year as a Met. Was it just the typical “first year in New York” struggles? Did the Citi Field dimensions mess with him that much? Or, gulp, is he simply not the same player anymore? If Bay has a monster Spring it will help calm me down, but more importantly I think it will instill a renewed sense of confidence in one of the most important hitters in the lineup. A huge March could turn into a huge April, which should get the Bay train rolling like it did in Boston and Pittsburgh.
4- Assuming the Top 4 Starters are Pelfrey, Dickey, Niese, and Young, Who Do You Think Will be the 5th Starter out of camp?
I believe this conversation starts and ends with one man….Boof Bonser. Kidding. I’d like it to be Gee. I was impressed by him last year. Also, I’m very skeptical about the strategy of picking up damaged goods hoping to catch a great deal. It just seems to not work very often.
However, since the question was not who I want to win, but who I think will win it coming out of Spring, I’ll go with Capuano, just based on politics. This is a tough question to answer now, because I really do think the race for the 5th spot is wide open, and will be determined by performance during Spring Training. There has already been some grumblings though about how the Mets people are impressed with what they’ve seen with Capuano so far, so I think that’s the direction we’re heading in.
I would put my money on Chris Capuano. He seems to be the favorite, and all indications are that he is fully recovered from his surgeries. As long as his health doesn’t deteriorate, he will be the guy.
I think Dillon Gee will at least begin as the 5th starter. He proved at the end of last year that he can get big league batters out, has great command and is able to eat innings. Plus, as a young guy he will benefit from being around veterans in the majors even though his turn may get skipped through the first few weeks of the season. It will continue to educate him on how to prepare for facing and challenging major league hitters.
Terry Collins will give it to whoever pitches the best this Spring regardless of how old he is or how much money he makes, and I have a hunch that will be Dillon Gee. Capuano is the favorite, so of course I wouldn’t be surprised if he got the nod. But I saw some serious potential out of Gee last September, and if he continues to show precision and intelligent pitching, he will be a back end of the rotation guy that Mets fans will love to root for. Capuano would fill in nicely as the very important 6th starter/long man out of the pen.
5- Finally, What’s Your Biggest Concern Involving the Team Amidst This Financial Disaster from the Bernie Madoff Ponzi Scheme?
My biggest concern, and I’m not exaggerating, is that this will destroy the franchise for the next decade. People (like Cerrone) can try to sugarcoat this all they want, but the fact remains that the sole owners of the team are in a position to lose $1 billion dollars. I don’t see how anyone could argue that this will not affect every aspect of the team. Take a look at what happened to the Dodgers last year, and that was because of a little divorce proceeding.
It’s already started. I don’t believe for one second that the lack of spending this off-season wasn’t a product of Madoff-troubles. Next off-season should be just as fun. Free agents will not want to come to a team with such a shaky financial situation. Reyes will not be re-signed. This will lead to a poor product on the field, which will lead to awful fan turn-out, which will lead to an even shakier financial situation. The Wilpon’s and their irresponsibility have set in motion a vicious cycle that is likely to ruin the franchise for years to come. I hope that wasn’t too grim!
That the Wilpons will be indicted before the season is over, causing the team to be sold. If they do sell a portion of the team I hope it goes to Mark Cuban because I think he would bring a good mentality to the team…and a winning attitude!
That somehow Charles Dolan will ultimately wind up owning the team – I don’t even need to elaborate on that.
It all comes down to how the team approaches the offseason after this year. It makes sense that they didn’t make a big splash this past year, considering the complete overhaul of the front office and the already exorbitant payroll. But after 2011 there is nearly 70 million dollars coming off the books, assuming Frankie Rodriguez’s ridiculous option doesn’t kick in.
My biggest concern is that the team will not be aggressive in reinvesting that 70 million into the payroll. They cannot let Jose Reyes walk unless his price tag is ludicrous. Sandy Alderson has ducked the question of how active he can be next year every time it’s been asked, and that is what worries me. A New York baseball team MUST have one of the top 5 or 6 payrolls in baseball. If the Wilpons can’t reach that mark, they need to sell the team. Our fans are intelligent and we are dying for a title. We know the Mets can’t improve if the owners don’t have the money to keep the team’s payroll among the upper echelon. I feel terribly for the Wilpon family for the money they lost because they truly love the Mets. But at the end of the day I just want the team to compete for a title.
A big thank you to Mark, Steve, and Justin for throwing in their opinions. I am always eager to hear and post thoughts from other die-hards, so feel free to email questions in, and I will include your thoughts in my next mailbag. Let’s Go Mets!