Remember a couple of months ago, when a small portion of the world was convinced the end of life on Earth was at hand? There’s a lot of talk right now – with an East Coast earthquake behind us and the prospect of a hurricane looming – that maybe it was just the calendar that needed adjusting.
We can safely say the end of days has already arrived for the Mets’ 2011 season. Actually, I’d say the date the season unofficially ended in Flushing was a humid Tuesday, August 2, when Jason Isringhausen allowed a leadoff walk, a base hit and a hit-batter, and Justin Turner threw away a ninth-inning grounder, allowing the Marlins to score the go-ahead – eventual winning – runs in a 4-3 loss. Whatever steam the team had built up evaporated right then and there. Since that game, they’ve gone 6-13 and seen any playoff hope gust out to sea. The requisite ensuing hysteria in the MSM has taken many forms. We’ve read low brow humor at the expense of a player with an all-too-real medical condition, and we’ve heard yowling high and low about the fact that David Wright was placed on waivers. Newsflash: in August, EVERYBODY gets placed on waivers. It’s as standard as batting practice. This is life following the Mets. Enduring the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune never gets any easier. Adieu, 2011.
Which brings up the question of who to keep and who to jettison for 2012. There is a core here, believe it or not, a good one. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the financial picture for the franchise remains unchanged and Sandy Alderson has not been able to make the big acquisition in the off-season. And let’s assume for the moment that all goes as otherwise planned over the winter – as dangerous an exercise as that might be: Jose Reyes signs his extension and Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy and Johan Santana make management forget they were ever injured in the first place. That would put Davis at first, Reyes at short, David Wright at third. In the outfield, Jason Bay and his bloated, immoveable contract would patrol left, Angel Pagan – for all his misadventures over the past week – is too valuable a piece to simply dump, so he should be the regular centerfielder. The Josh Thole/Ronny Paulino combo behind the plate is, at worst, serviceable and will stay. Those are the givens. That leaves the Mets’ two traditional bugaboos as unanswered questions: second base and right field. There has not been a steady hand at the right side of the keystone since Edgardo Alfonzo took his last smooth grounder. There have been grand experiments (Roberto Alomar) and pleasant surprises (Jose Valentin, Damion Easley), but nobody who would stick, or ever make anybody forget Ryne Sandberg. I think a platoon of Daniel Murphy and Turner would do just fine offensively, with Ruben Tejada on hand to spell them on the D-side. As for right, Terry Collins has all but handed the job to Lucas Duda, which I welcome. There hasn’t been a viable right fielder since Darryl Strawberry loped over to Los Angeles, so why not give the kid a shot? I see Duda as a lower case Adam Dunn. He can also spell Davis at first if needs be. The rest of the bench should be filled out by a returning Scott Hairston, a full-year Nick Evans and the obligatory rookie, in this case, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who could eventually replace Pagan.
On the pitching side – the shortest end of the 2011 stick – the return of Johan makes the 2012 rotation somewhat overcrowded. Jon Neise will become your number two man. R.A. Dickey would slot into the third hole quite nicely. Were I the GM, I would retain Chris Capuano as the fourth starter and perennial problem-child Mike Pelfrey would be the fifth starter. I would keep Dillon Gee as a swing man. Should any of these men falter, two “plus” arms are waiting in the bushes: Jenrry Mejia and Chris Schwinden. The rest of the bullpen would feature Bobby Parnell and Pedro Beato at the back end, Manny Acosta for the middle innings and Tim Byrdak as the lefty specialist. Again, there are fresh wings in Buffalo, if needed: Dylan Owen and Jose Della Torre.
Is that a playoff team? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.