What are the Mets thinking with?

I can’t imagine that it’s been fun being a Mess Mets fan over the past couple of years.  The Mets, who until they win three World Series titles in a row, will forever carry the tag of choke artists (even well after all the members of the current team have retired), and that has to hurt.  This year, they collapsed at the end while their “closer”, William Edward Wagner watched from the sidelines.  Wagner got hurt at the beginning of August (Aug 2nd was his last game, a game in which he blew the save and the Mets lost), and the Mets were 58-52 and 2 games behind Philly in the East and 3.5 behind Milwaukee in the Wild Card race.

Now, Mets fans properly identified that losing a reliever who puts up a 5-to-1 ratio of K’s to BB’s is a bad idea.  But somehow, the Mets managed to get to a high water mark of being 3.5 games up on the Phillies on September 10.  So the Mets managed to get along for more than a month and made up some serious ground… without Billy Wagner.  But, we all know how the story ended.  A series of blow-ups by the (same) bullpen in the last three weeks doomed the Mets to just missing out on the playoffs… again.  So, the obvious solution is “fixing the bullpen.”  Or is it?  Take a look at what the Mets bullpen did in September, particularly in the luck department.  (Want to break it down by reliever?  Only the newly departed Joe Smith… he didn’t die, he just went to Cleveland… had Lady Luck on his side)  Collectively, they had a BABIP of .322 and a HR/FB of 13.9% as a bullpen.  So, part of the bullpen collapse was dumb luck.  Still, lucky or not, it probably left a sick feeling in the stomach of Mets fans everywhere.

It’s not a bad thing to improve the bullpen and it’s hard to argue that the Mets haven’t by picking up half of the closers in the AL West.  Say what you will about the saves record being meaningless, but K-Rod is a really good pitcher.  J.J. Putz, even last year while hurt was still a 10 K / 9 IP guy (and his walk rate was actually about what K-Rod’s was… and K-Rod was healthy).  The Mets, when you break it down, gave up some “prospects” and downgraded on their fourth outfielder from the no-hit/good glove Endy Chavez to the no-hit/decent glove Jeremy Reed to get Putz.  There’s no doubt that the Mets are a better team (I should probably add in the usual “on paper”) now than they were at the end of the season.

While the Mets have done well, could they have done better?  Think for a moment what the Mets (think they) are buying.  Basically, they want stomach relief and they believe that a “closer” (or two) can provide this.  Now they don’t have to worry in the ninth inning.  And with Putz, the eighth inning is safe too.  That’s got to be a nice feeling.  The problem is that when you manage with your feelings, it feels great, but you can get burned.

What if they had taken the $12 million per (why does that suddenly sound reasonable?) that they will be paying K-Rod (plus whatever Putz makes, although he’s in the slave years… so keep him), and spent it elsewhere.  While finding a good relief pitcher will probably help them, did they get the right guy?  Why not Jeremy Affeldt?  No, he’s not as good as K-Rod, and never will be.  But you could get three of him and be more sure about the 6th and 7th innings and still pretty sure about the 9th.  But that’s not what people want they want a “lockdown” closer.   It’s apparently OK if the game is lost in the sixth inning.  You just can’t lose it in the ninth inning.

Then, there’s the issue of the left fielder (Manny?  Adam?) that the second baseman (ummm… yeah….) that the Mets still need.  I don’t have Omar Minaya on speed dial.  He might have oodles of money more to spend on those things and he wouldn’t tell me.  But let’s say that financially he’s done.  The goal is to make the team the best it can be with what resources you have available.

The Mets, instead, appear to be making decisions based on the psychological wounds of last season’s collapse.  To that end, they’ve done fabulously.  But what if they had followed a different model?  What if, instead of fixating on the back end of the bullpen, they had gone and plugged Manny into the team?  Or some other combination of moves.  I must admit that I haven’t run the numbers, but that’s not the point.  The point is that by thinking with their stomach, the Mets have locked in on only one set of moves which, in the end, may or may not be the best possible option out there.  It feels good, but not everything that feels good is good for you.  Sure, they’d have a lot of angry (and nervous) fans to deal with at the end of the day, and maybe some less secure stomachs at the end of the game.  But would they be an even better team than they are right now at this moment?

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