When I was a small child, the Mets were contenders every year. From age four through age eleven – with the slight blip of 1974 – the Mets were always in the hunt for the division, almost guaranteed to finish over .500. Everyone knew why: pitching, of course. Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Jon Matlack at the top of the rotations, complemented at points by Nolan Ryan, Gary Gentry, George Stone, Ray Sadecki and a rookie or two here and there were the formula to keep Shea Stadium humming. But you know what? They wouldn’t have been anything without the guys behind them.

Great pitching is a marvelous thing, but great pitching ain’t great without at-least good defense. The hoary truism goes that it takes all nine guys on the field to win. Seaver, Koosman, et al all benefitted from having a Jerry Grote behind the plate, a Bud Harrelson at shortstop, a Del Unser in center field. It was a hallmark of those Mets, as clear an identity as Mr. Met or Bob Murphy. The writer Roger Angell called their defense “proud and famous.” The plays were crisp, the players nearly always in the perfect position to make the proper play. Without that staunch defense – as was the case in 1974 when injuries took their toll on both the starting staff and position players – those teams didn’t have enough offensive moxie to make up the difference. The pitching was great; the defense was crucial.

Fast forward to modern times. Everybody knows why the Mets are and have been sub-.500: the bullpen. But I gotta tell ya, this ‘pen and this starting staff would look a helluva lot better if they had a few more people who could actually, y’know, catch the ball. Let’s take a recent case-in-point. Tuesday night, the Mets scratched out a run in the second on nothing more than a base hit and a double off Tim Lincecum. Starting off the bottom half, Jordany Valdespin misjudged a medium fly and it fell in front of him. Justin Turner – giving David Wright a breather at third base – was playing far in for a bunt and had Marco Scutaro whistle a double between him and the bag. Matt Harvey then walked Brandon Belt. Justin Christian dribbled a spinner in front of the mound and Harvey was able to get the force at home. Brandon Crawford followed with a two-hopper to second. Daniel Murphy gave Ruben Tejada a perfect feed. Tejada got the force, but rushed the throw. The ball sailed into A T & T Park’s ample foul ground and two runs scored. The Giants tacked on a couple more and the Mets had a 4-1 loss, Harvey’s first in the majors. Obviously, it never should have gotten that far: Valdespin makes a clean catch, Turner is playing normal position and Christian’s come-backer is the final out, with a man stranded at first.

This was not the first time, either. I can think of two games in Washington when very late leads were done in by ham-fisted defense. Yes, the bullpen needs to take its share of the lumps, but they wouldn’t be nearly as lumpy if they had some competent glove work behind them. On the “Top Ten” list of things that the Mets have looked for the last few years, defense has seemingly been number eleven. Clearly, it is time to put the ability to field one’s position on one of the front burners.

If for nothing else, for the sake of all our digestive systems.

10 comments on “Defense Must Be A Priority For Mets’ Off-Season

  • Mike Koehler

    But how exactly do you improve the defense, especially with so many guys playing out of positions and a lack of resources?

    We’ve seen some improvement with Duda out of right field, but you can’t throw Turner at second and Valdespin in center and expect them to be Gold Glovers. I understand Wright typically mans the hot corner, Turner is a MI bench player and Valdespin is still very young, but hopefully they can avoid shooting themselves in the foot with out of position players next year.

    If they can manage that, Davis is really the only one I’d worry about. He went from superstar defensively to average at best. What happened?

    • Charlie Hangley

      Exactly my point. They have brought in some good-to-terrific hitters, but there hasn’t been enough of a focus on the defensive side — I’m thing of Duda, Valdespin & Murphy, specifically.

      As far as Davis goes, I think he’s brought his offensive funk with him to 1B. I think he’s pressing, trying to compensate for his season-long slump.

  • 7train

    Not having complete players is the price paid for shipping out 10 first and second round draft picks over the last 15 years and selling three more of them (2 for LH DH Chris Carter and one for cash in the Barajas to LA deal)

    13 chances right there for a complete 3-4 tool RFer, CFer, LFer and catcher.

    I see BJ Upton, Josh Hamilton and Melky Cabrerra as strong candidates for the Jason Bay/Chone Figgins/Carl Crawford award.

    I also can’t see trading away any of the top dozen young arms in the minors due to prospect regression, injury or injuries in the Majors requiring us to dip into our depth.

    One more year in the minors to evaluate den Dekker, Tovar, Lagares, Vaughn, Ceciliani, Taijeron, Centeno, Pena, Forsyth and Maron while filling in as well as possible with one year guys culled from non tenders, waivers, non compensatable FA’s, injury rehab cases (Grady Sizemore) smaller type trades. What else can you do, this system hasn’t produced more than a handful of complete players in 20 years.

    That’s the price you pay when you go for it every year.

    • Brian Joura

      Goetz, Walker, Crespo, Tyner, Strange, Saenz, Musser, Joseph, Griffith, Traber, Keppel, Peterson, Reynolds, Heilman, Wright, Turay, Ragsdale, DiNardo, Kazmir, Milledge, Humber, Durkin, Hernandez, Pelfrey, Mulvey, Smith, Kunz, Vineyard, Moviel, Rustich, Niessen, Clyne, Davis, Havens, Holt, Rodriguez, Nieuwehnhuis, Matz, Shields.

      Those are the 39 players that the Mets drafted in the first three rounds from the 1997-2009 period. How many complete players are in there? I count David Wright. Yes, Kazmir had a nice four-year run but he was washed up at age 25. Maybe Ike Davis turns into something but right this second he’s a platoon player with defensive issues and a .710 OPS. So, let’s say that the Mets got two complete players out of 39 drafted in the first three rounds.

      You just can’t pretend that because stars were drafted where the Mets would have drafted (or later) that the Mets would have taken those players. There’s virtually nothing in their draft history in this time span to support that idea. Or if the Mets had taken them that the players would have reached their full potential in their development system.

      There’s three ways to improve in MLB — the draft, free agency and trades. There’s no reason for a good GM to avoid any of the three ways. If you refuse to deal any of your top dozen arms – I’m sorry, I just don’t see the wisdom in that. One of the purposes of a good farm system is to develop players to trade. A good GM builds depth and trades Vince Moore, Donnie Elliott and Melvin Nieves for Fred McGriff. Nieves was their #8 overall prospect and Moore was their #10 in 1993, according to Baseball America. And Elliott was 8-5 with 99 Ks in 103 IP at Triple-A at the time of the deal.

      Or Goetz, Wilson and Yarnall for Piazza, if you prefer one with a Mets background.

      Maybe with those 13 missing picks they grab another complete player. Maybe, since they were hitting on 1 out of 19.5. But it is far, far, far from a slam dunk that they would have provided more value than Beltran, Ventura, Martinez and others did that the Mets got in their place.

      Hopefully under Alderson, DePo and J.P. the Mets start hitting on more of their early draft picks. But they simply – for whatever reason – were not doing that in the time you bring up. And hopefully when they go back in the free agent market, they do better than Jason Bay.

      If the Mets farm system in its current state is the price of going for it every year, what’s the price of avoiding big-name free agents and concentrating on the Draft? How about Kansas City and Pittsburgh – two teams that have been wandering in the desert since 1985 and 1992.

      But I’ll say this for Pittsburgh – with a chance to make the playoffs, their GM is out there trying to improve his team – trading youngsters to address needs and to get Wandy Rodrgiuez, Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez. I hope it works out for them.

      • 7train

        Pittsburgh and KC didn’t really begin a strategy of building their farms until about 2008, They just sat on their revenue sharing. Now there sitting on really good farm systems and that’s about how long it takes.

        The idea that we would have screwed it up in development even if we had drafted for true talent is not something that we take for granted. If the idea is to not draft for top talent because we’ll just screw it up later then that’s evidence of even greater problems.

        Adhering to slot guidelines was a big factor in choosing the players we did and while we spent on the first round, we skimped elsewhere in order to pay for it but we have constantly drafted for speed and need (and cost) instead of top talent. The last 2nd round pick we drafted that had an impact was Todd Hundley 25 years ago. 3rd round was Aguilera 29 years ago. 4th round was Pagan in ’99 and before him Mike Jorgensen in ’66. 5th round was Burt Hooten in ’68. 6th round was never.

        I agree that trades from the farm are vital and that’s why these results are so disturbing because not only do we not have anything to trade, we have mostly 1, 1 1/2 and 2 tool players being produced from the farm. Our 2nd tier of farm success before Minaya were players like Ty Wiggenton and Jason Phillips.

        Having players like Preston Wilson, Geotz and Yarnell in your system instead of spending the top draft choices on guys like Zeile, Appier, Weathers, Cedeno, Floyd, Alou and Bay is what allows you to make those deals, although Piazza, Leiter and Delgado were more about eliminating financial commitments than obtaining prospects and for everyone of those deals there was a Kazmir type one as well.

        The Braves didn’t go over slot in their drafts yet they were able to pick up players in the 2nd round like McCann, Escobar, Freeman, Andrelton Simmons in the last 10 years alone usually drafting after us. They can go from Javier Lopez to Brian McCann with very little interruption. Furcal to Escobar to Simmons. Justice to Klesko to Francoeur to Heywood. They can talk to any team about any player because they have the goods to get them. Their not restricted to just those players who have made it to free agency.

        Not all guys work out but there all credible efforts. They have enough in the farm to bring in a top player and a smaller amount of spots in which they need to and while their doing so they also nab a selected player from the farm system of the team their dealing with. Pastornicky in the Escobar Alex Gonzalez deal or Vizcaino in the Melky/Vazquez deal with the Yankees. Vizcaino now was the piece that went for Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm a week ago. It’s not always one way with the Braves, they trade from the farm and obtain talent for the farm too as well as drafting and developing well.

        Scouting and/or developing have been a very weak point of ours for over 25 years now and is in fact the reason we have had to sign so many risky free agents through the years many of which couldn’t be traded at all, for anything. Not even salary relief as if that does anything for our future.

  • Brian Joura

    The notion that PIT and KC were not building through the draft before 2008 is absurd.

    • 7train

      The Pirates were notoriously frugal in the draft and non existent internationally before Neal Huntington took over in Sept 2007. Since then they have been the largest spenders in the draft by a wide a margin AND a big player internationally as well. Prior to that all they did was pocket the revenue sharing. Spend on their first draft choice and then cheap out. Now that’s all changed, just look at what they did with Josh Bell last year and attempted to do with Appel this year. Had the old CBA been in place they probably get Appel and they along with Texas, Toronto and KC are actually the reason for the new draft and international signing pools.

      KC after years of drafting for signability spent a then record 11M in 2008 drafting AND signing overslot selections in rounds 3 and 4 including Will Meyers a first round talent that slid to the 3rd round and now they have a top catching prospect in AAA. 2011 they spent 14 M in the draft (going huge overslot 5 times) and they have gone international in a big way as well. As a contrast the big market Mets spent about 6 M in the 2009 and 2010 drafts combined.

      Toronto also made a science of turning serviceable relievers and catchers into supplemental round draft picks and even traded cash for Miguel Olivo, declined his option, paid his buyout offered arb and got a supplemental pick out of that, then paid the signing bonus of Kevin Comer a late supplemental pick in one of the deepest drafts ever who is pitching for the loaded with talent Bluefield Blue Jays. They basically bought a first round draft choice, the same thing Pittsburgh and KC have been doing since 2008 by nabbing hard to sign first round talent in the 3rd and 4th rounds.

  • Peter Hyatt

    I think that both Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy are both hard workers who are consistently improving. Ike Davis is turning into a 30 home run guy and is picking up his defense. Murphy is a solid 30 doubles guy, who is working his tail off to learn to play second base. With our young shortstop and stand up 3rd basemen, I like our infield a lot. I hope it remains in place for years to come. They’re good guys.

    We know about the bullpen, so it goes unsaid. Our starting rotation may include Zach Wheeler, Matt Harvey, and…this is where it gets interesting for the future: Is there a 3rd youngster that could step up and become our “Seaver, Koose and Matlack” trio of starters?

    We lack a solid catcher. I don’t know that Thole is going to improve much.

    I like the old school thinking of the original article, looking up the middle for a solid defense.

    As a boy, there was nothing better than to have Tom Seaver pitch on a sunny Sunday afternoon at 1:05PM. If at the community pool, I had a tiny transistor radio and could use my imagination, along with the skill of the announcer, to enter into the game, pitch by pitch. “Heeee struck him outttt!” still rings in my ears.

    If I could persuade my parents to stay home on a Sunday, the afternoon was spent playing whiffle ball, right up to the start of the game, and then right after. During the game, I would score it with all the accuracy that a 9 year old could muster.

    I’m new to the website, having just found it, and love it. I love that it doesn’t fear to look back.

    • Brian Joura

      Hey Peter – thanks for reading and commenting!

      I hope you’ll come back again and we run a Game Chatter for each game and it would be great if you would come watch a game with us.

      • Peter Hyatt

        Thanks, and I will.

        Great website…

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