Catcher Revisited: Rowdy Rod Barajas

As spring training fast approaches I want to go around-the-horn on the projected Mets opening day lineup position by position. I will talk about my thoughts on how that position matches up and how it should be handled. Hope you enjoy.

I have already covered the Mets catching position two weeks ago when I said that Josh Thole is our only real hope, funny how two weeks later we have an entirely new catching corps. I shall henceforth refer to Rod Barajas as “Rowdy Rod Barajas.” Why? Not sure really. I don’t even know if he’s a gritty type of player, truth is I don’t know much about him, but since I am kind of “blah” about his signing I wanted to spice it up a bit and have some fun writing about him, thus the fun with names.

I have serious misgivings about Barajas as our everyday catcher. I mean how is it that the first contract you offer the guy is a minor league deal, and a week later he’s your starting catcher? Now I am not one that is crying in my Cheerios cause we didn’t sign Molina, I didn’t think he ever wanted to come here anyway, and I felt he was fat, slow, and not worth the money. Then I start taking a deeper look at Barajas and I start to wonder if these guys might be cousins?

There are good sides to his signing. He is a bona fide big league catcher. He is a good backstop and he has worked with premiere pitchers before (Doc Halladay for one). So he has that track record and that’s plenty more then any of the other of the Mets Motley Crew behind the plate (Blanco, Coste, Santos, Thole). Perhaps the biggest upside is that this allows the Mets to keep Thole down in AAA for the season. Thole’s bat sure looks like it’s ready for the major leagues, but I think everyone has serious doubts about his defensive ability, and nobody really knows about his game strategy.

Barajas is a stop-gap player for 2010, nothing more, nothing less. I actually took a liking to the guy when I heard his first interview and he openly admitted his weaknesses (striking out too much) and how he learned a lot by working with Halladay in Toronto. When you step back and take a look at what was out there, and what the Mets options really were (again I don’t think Molina had any intentions of coming to NY) then Barajas is about as good as could have been done. Sad, yes, but it’s the reality. Truth is the Mets had big holes, in a small market, and that’s just unfortunate.

Mets fans need to prepare themselves to the fact that we may just have to take 2010 as a bad dose of medicine if things go wrong. The plan should be to let players mature in AAA and do not rush them up. Take 2010 on the chin, hey what’s another embarrassment when your the NY Mets anyways? Let Ike Davis, Josh Thole, Jenry Mejia, et al, play a full year at AAA to hone their games, and to get to know each other. This is hopefully the class of 2011.

Rowdy Rod, just call a good game, be a reliable backstop, and give us a punchers chance in the batters box and provide some pop.

LF: Jason Bay, welcome to the Big Citi!

As spring training fast approaches I want to go around-the-horn on the projected Mets opening day lineup position by position. I will talk about my thoughts on how that position matches up and how it should be handled. Hope you enjoy.

So it’s been a few days since I last did an installment of “Around The Horn” and that wasn’t because I was being lazy. My plans were to try to watch Jason Bay in action in a spring training game yesterday and have a little more insight into how he’s going to look in a Mets uniform. That obviously got washed away with the rain when they yanked all the real players. So I will go ahead and cover the last position on the field.

During the offseason I must admit I had serious doubts if Jason Bay was the guy for the Mets. I always thought he was a nice player, and one of those players that a winning team always seemed to have, but was he a marque type guy? Was he a corner-stone type player? I wasn’t so sure. I wont even get into the money because the market is so screwed up it’s hard to know what is a value, especially in the first year of a multi-year deal.

The more and more I see interviews with Jason Bay the more I start to like the guy. He just seems like a blue collar, lunch pail type guy. He’s just a put your nose down and grind away type player. And to be honest, the more and more I hear Boston fans bitch and moan and call him greedy, I realize that they are really upset over his departure. The whole “injury” rumor that was leaked out of Boston is total hogwash to me, and it’s a way for Theo & Company to cover their ass.

Despite his streaky nature at the plate, Bay should provide a stabilizing force in both our outfield and in our lineup. In a spot where last year we had a total debacle in Daniel Murphy, this year we can write Bay’s name into the lineup in ink and forget about it. That’s gotta be a nice change for Jerry Manuel. His presence also provides us nice depth in the lineup, especially with Carlos Beltran out for the beginning of the season. Could you imagine where we would be with Beltran out and Bay still in Boston? Oh man.

Bay is probably the weakest fielder out of our main outfielders, but that’s ok because he plays in left which is the most traditional area of Citi Field. It doesn’t really have any of those nooks and quirks that rightfield has. As long as he can play a solid outfield for us he will be a breath of fresh air.

Only time will tell if his contract is worth it, but I do know that his presence in the field, in the lineup and especially in the clubhouse will be a stabilizing force that the Mets so dearly need.

CF: Carlos, get well soon!

As spring training fast approaches I want to go around-the-horn on the projected Mets opening day lineup position by position. I will talk about my thoughts on how that position matches up and how it should be handled. Hope you enjoy.

When the news spread like wildfire that Carlos Beltran was gonna need to be shut down for the first 40 games or so to have surgery on his knee, the sky quickly began to fall in Mets land.  The reason for this is quite simple: Carlos Beltran is the best player on the team.  Losing him for any length of time could prove fatal to the Mets hopes.  This is why I think it was a good thing to have the surgery.  Yes it did unfortunately bridge last years injury woes right into this year and that’s not good for morale, but I would much rather lose Beltran for the first 40 games then the last 40.

Luckily for the Mets CF is arguably their deepest position with Angel Pagan and Gary Matthews Jr. acting as backup.  Turning to either of these guys for a little while is ok, but if either of them see prolonged action then the Mets are in trouble.  It’s imperative to get Beltran healthy and to not rush him back.  We need to know that when he gets back he is back for good.  If he comes back and then two weeks later goes down again the ramifications on team morale will be bad, and the sky will really be crashing down for Mets fans as we relive an all too familiar scenario from last year.

When healthy Beltran is one of the best centerfielders in the league.  He is also one of the under-appreciated players in the game.  If you take a minute and actually look at his stats they are really impressive.  He isn’t the guy that’s gonna win a batting title, or get chicks with the long ball.  But he will consistently hit from .280-.310, hit 20-30 dingers, and drive in 100+ runs a year.  All while playing a Gold Glove CF.  He’s really the backbone of the Mets and it’d really be a shame if he weren’t a Met beyond 2011 because of bad blood built through this injury/surgery fiasco.

Right Field: Francoeur is good medicine

As spring training fast approaches I want to go around-the-horn on the projected Mets opening day lineup position by position.  I will talk about my thoughts on how that position matches up and how it should be handled.  Hope you enjoy.

When the Mets made the deal last year to trade Ryan Church to the Braves for Jeff Francoeur in return I was not happy.  I was a Church guy and never could understand why the Mets never seemed to give him a chance.  It baffled me why they would trade for a guy and then treat him like he ran over their dog.  It was obvious that Jerry Manuel couldn’t stand Church.  I thought it was unfair and really hated to see him go.  After watching Frenchie play in 82 games for the Mets I have to admit he’s one of my favorite players.

I love the levity he brings to the team.  He likes to have fun and that helps keep baseball fun.   That’s no small thing as I think the Mets by and large have forgotten how to do that years ago.  I hate cliches but Francoeur’s arrival at CitiField was like a breath of fresh air.

The Braves had obviously given up on their hometown rightfielder.   I am not sure what they thought they saw to make them think that, but I saw nothing to indicate that in the half season I watched him.  It sure looked to me like he was a guy who really needed a change of scenery as his stats jumped right back up to the level that had people labeling him as “The Natural” in his first few seasons.  This is a guy who in his first four and a half seasons has batted .271, hit 88 homeruns, and driven in 400 RBI’s.  He had on real “down” year in 2008 and that’s why those stats are even as low as they are.  The Braves obviously felt that was more the norm then a down year.  Lets hope they were wrong.

I am not really a stats guy when it comes to analyzing players and I feel Francoeur will bring a lot more to this team then just his production on the field.  We saw this team buckle last year when Jose Reyes went down.  They seemed unable to smile, and going to work each day seemed unbearable, and these guys play a game for a living.  It’s long been documented how much “fun” Reyes can make the clubhouse.  I think Francoeur is in the same vein.  I am really hoping his approach to the game will rub off a bit onto David Wright and at the same time take some of the heat off him.  He’s not one to shy away from the media like some Mets have in the past, this will help take some of that spotlight off players like Wright.

I really enjoy watching Francoeur play.  He plays a sound fundamental game that should play well in CitiField.  I think he is a personality “plus” guy and it’s good to get players like this into the organization.  Here’s to hoping his trend back upwards during the second half of last season continues into a big 2010 for Frenchie.

3rd Base: Wright is ripped and ready to go!

As spring training fast approaches I want to go around-the-horn on the projected Mets opening day lineup position by position.  I will talk about my thoughts on how that position matches up and how it should be handled.  Hope you enjoy.

By all angles David Wright had a horrible year last year.  He truly did.  Don’t talk to me about his .307 batting average or any other stats you may want to point out.  Truth is he was never right.  He never got settled and I think that had a lot to do with his mentality over moving into the new CitiField.

This year he seems determined to bounce back and showed up to Port St. Lucie and the Mets spring training in awesome shape.  This time of year you always hear how “so and so is in the best shape of his life” so your probably rolling your eyes.  But by many accounts Wright has added a lot of muscle in hopes of boosting his power numbers.

The dedication to his offseason training is admirable, but I do have my worries if in fact he has been so focused on his power numbers.  I say who cares.  I don’t really care how many homeruns he hits.  I never really considered David a homerun guy anyways.  I would much rather he drive the ball into those cavernous alleys and drive in runs with doubles.  The homeruns will come if he makes consistent contact like he did a few seasons back.  You can’t strive to hit homeruns, you have to strive to have good at bats and get get wood on the ball.  If you are successful doing that then the long ball will come.

I have already written a few blogs (New Year, New Leadership) about how I want to see David Wright make strides in the leadership department.  With Carlos Delgado all but retired and with Carlos Beltran sidelined for the first 2 months of the season, the time is now for Wright to take the reins of this team.  It’s been a long time coming and he’s been around long enough.  Jeter across the city has proven you don’t have to be a loud mouth, ra ra ra ra, type guy.  Just be the hardest working S.O.B. on the club and people will follow.

This is a big year for Wright, as we need him to be an anchor in our lineup no matter where he bats.  He has to, absolutely has to, get those strikeouts down.  If he can get back to good at bats then I fully expect to see his RBI’s back in the 100+ area and see his slugging numbers increase dramatically.  He’s entering his prime and there is no more time for fooling around and tinkering with your approaches.  Make pitchers react to you, not the other way around.

David Wright will be a great storyline for the entire season and I can’t wait to watch #5 step into the box and show us what he’s got.

Shortstop: Jose’s back stronger then ever

jose-reyes-mets-spring-trainingAs spring training fast approaches I want to go around-the-horn on the projected Mets opening day lineup position by position.  I will talk about my thoughts on how that position matches up and how it should be handled.  Hope you enjoy.

There is nobody I am more excited to see back on the field in Port St. Lucie then Jose Reyes.  I am one of the people that loves Jose and I was cringing every time I heard people saying the Mets should trade him.  I think he is a unique talent and one that should be coveted.  Sure the guy is quirky and can make you scratch your head at times, but when you listen to the other players talk about Jose they all smile and speak about how much fun he makes things.  If you think that isn’t important playing on this team then you haven’t  been watching.

After Jose was lots for basically the entire season last year, there has been a lot of talk about how he is somehow a fragile player.  Yes I know he had leg issues in the first two seasons in the big leagues, but lets not forget too that for about a 4 year stretch there Reyes had played more games then anyone else in major league baseball.  He was a horse for this team.  And when you consider how he plays the game that’s pretty impressive.  Everything he does is at 100 mph.  It’s easy for a first baseman, or a DH to play 160 games a year, but for a shortstop who steals 50+ bases a year that’s impressive.

I’d like to think that last year was actually his body breaking down a bit from overuse.  And with the year off his legs should be fresh again.  More importantly I think he will have gained a lot of perspective on what it’s like to be away from baseball.  This should recharge his batteries and he sure looks happy to be back.

Let’s not forget either that Reyes is entering the final year of the 4-year $23.25 million dollar extension.  The Mets have an $11 million dollar option for the 2011 season, but I think both parties would rather have things resolved before then.  This is a BIG year for Jose Reyes.  He needs to prove he is healthy and can hold up, and he needs to prove he’s as dynamic as ever.  Another injury plagued season could take serious dollars off the table for him.  Inversely another All-Star year where he steals 50+ and scores 100+ could really propel him into the upper echelon of contracts.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

I haven’t spent that much time talking about the depth behind Jose and that’s because there really isn’t much to say.  Much like the situation with Castillo at second base, there isn’t much depth at all.  Alex Core and Anderson Hernandez will provide the backup insurance if Jose were to pull up lame again.  But lets face it folks, if Jose can’t go, neither will the Mets.  He will be the engine that drives the Mets.  If, for any reason, we have to see extended appearances by Alex Cora or Hernandez then there are serious problems.

So love him or hate him, if your a Mets fans you really need to cross your fingers and hope that Jose Reyes has an explosive year.  His play will largely be a barometer for the Mets season.  I look forward to him bringing a lot of excitement to CitiField!

2nd Base: Castillo is our man, like it or not

luis castillo drops last out against the yankeesAs spring training fast approaches I want to go around-the-horn on the projected Mets opening day lineup position by position.  I will talk about my thoughts on how that position matches up and how it should be handled.  Hope you enjoy.

As I work my way around the field taking a look at this years most likely New York Mets squad, I can’t help but feel like there is a some unfinished business at second base.  I just can’t understand how I am here as spring training starts and I am about to write about Luis Castillo again, as the starting second baseman for the New York Mets.  It’s nothing personal against Luis, I actually like the guy, I think he works hard.  And he easily had his best year for us last year.  The lone “up year” in a avalanche of under performing seasons.  I just can’t wrap my head around why the hell Orlando Hudson is not wearing orange and blue.

It’s baffling really.  Here is a guy that has wanted to play in Queens for two years now.  He was an All-Star last year with the Dodgers and won the gold glove, two things which Castillo didn’t even sniff.  You could have had O-Dog for about half of what your paying Castillo.  Even regardless of if you weren’t able to get rid of Castillo, sign Hudson on top of him anyways, he’s that much better.  Do they really expect Castillo to play similar to last year?  I don’t.  I feel if he even plays more then half the season that’s a victory.  This is probably the biggest albatross of a signing by Omar Minaya, truly embarrassing.

Enough focusing on what should be here in camp, and lets take a look at what is in camp.  We come into camp basically with Castillo and that’s it.  We are putting all of our faith in a 35 year old second baseman whos knees are about as lithe as my grandmothers.  Backing him up are either, you take your pick, Anderson Hernandez or Alex Cora.  Hernandez is all but worthless and I am suprised to see he’s even still on the Mets 40 man roster, and while I love Cora’s smarts and grit, is he really a viable backup?

An argument can be made that Luis Castillo is one of the most important players for the Mets this year.  If he goes down for any length of time we are in deep trouble.  This is another area that either Minaya’s ineptitude or the tightwad Wilpon’s (Coup-ons) have left us paper-thin.  Rolling the dice on the season with a 35 year old starter backed up by another 35 year old, brilliant.

The production from second base will go a long way towards determining Omar Minaya’s job, as it’s really a mess he created all by himself.

First Base: In Murphy we trust, I think.

As spring training fast approaches I want to go around-the-horn on the projected Mets opening day lineup position by position.  I will talk about my thoughts on how that position matches up and how it should be handled.  Hope you enjoy.

Much like behind the plate the first base position for the Mets has been much maligned this off season.  I think they really had hopes that Delgado could have made a comeback, but I for one am happy (see my post about new leadership).  They added Mike Jacobs to the mix late so looking at the depth chart it’s Daniel Murphy’s job to lose.

They are gonna play this thing out as if it’s an open competition but given how much they hyped up Murphy last year I would be really surprised if they didn’t give him a shot to start the year to see what he can do.  Jacobs can add some pop off the bench which could prove useful but I don’t really see him fitting into the defensive caddy role so I am not really sure why he was added quite frankly.  Also don’t sleep on Nick Evans, unlick Murphy first is his natural position and he has proven to have a decent bat.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of a sharing role between Murphy and Evans then with Jacobs.

I personally like Murphy and truly wish him the best.  I think last years disaster was really just a young player trying way too hard.  Once they let him hang himself out there in left field he was just trying to keep his head above water and get through the season after that.  Now with a new position and a fresh start I really want to see what he can do.  I like his work ethic a lot and he has that grittiness that I covet for these Mets.  He just needs to relax and play ball.  I am hoping that Francoeur will have a calming effect on him, and act as a role model of sorts.

All I want to see out of Murphy is a significant jump up in On-Base-Percentage.  That should be his only focus.  I feel that with more plate discipline, which is what he was touted for coming up, everything else will come.  And lets face it, he’s not going to be hitting in the power spots in the linup so a disciplined eye will be crucial whether he’s batting 2, 7, or 8.  This will be the telltale sign for Murhpy’s season.  If he can get that OBP north it could prove to be a good season for him.

The wildcard will be if Jacobs gets off to a good start and really swings a power bat.  The Mets could be in such dire need for a power source that if Jacobs starts hitting some bombs they might be inclined to force him into the lineup.  I’d rather stick to what they have said they want to build around and let Murphy just smack his doubles and take his walks.  But only time will tell.

Catcher: Josh Thole, our only real hope.

As spring training fast approaches I want to go around-the-horn on the projected Mets opening day lineup position by position.  I will talk about my thoughts on how that position matches up and how it should be handled.  Hope you enjoy.

Let’s start the Around-The-Horn with the old backstop.  Well in the Met’s case you’d have to take out the old and go with the plural.  Last I hear the Mets planned to have an American Idol type contest for the starting catcher spot now that they have brought in like over a dozen players, not one of them with a significant resume.

This brings me to my main point.  Josh Thole please bring the goods in spring training and go out and win the job.  Hit the hell out of the ball and work your ass off learning the staff and getting better behind the plate.  Truth is I normally would scream up and down saying how you can’t start a rookie at catcher.  Catcher of all the positions benefits probably the most from veteran experience.  But in the Mets case he’s really our only hope.

Nobody else they have stands out.  Who would you rather see: Omir Santos, Ron Barajas,  Henry Blanco, or Chris Coste.  Most people will be saying “Who?” to all of them.  It’s really a sad statement when the Mets themselves pointed at catcher as an area in need of major improvement and they basically went out and did nothing.  Yes it’s obvious now that Molina never really wanted to come east, but was that the only name on the white-board fellas?

This is why I am really hoping Thole and come in hungry and just take the job.  No debating, no hemming and hawing, just say “This job is mine, the rest of you play backups, where you belong.”  I don’t want to hear the Mets make any case about Omir Santos being their starter.  I actually liked Santos last year, but look at how the Mets handled the off-season.  When they felt assured they were going to sign Molina they didn’t just sit pat with Santos as a projected backup, nope they signed Blanco and Coste, all but declaring they had no faith in Santos.  Now suddenly Molina say’s he can’t make it this season because he is washing his hair, and now Santos is capable of being our starter when just over a month ago you didn’t feel confident enough in him to be a backup?

If one of these guys was a lights out backstop and was leaps and bounds above the others as a defensive catcher, and more importantly in working a staff and calling a game I would say start him.  But none of these guys are really like that.  So you might as well stick the kid back there and see how he does.  He has by far the biggest upside of the entire group.  He killed it with the bat in the winter league, it’s really just a concern about him defensively.  Now if this is another Daniel Murphy type thing then no, please send him down to AAA because I don’t want to ruin him too.  But he can’t really be that far behind the rest of this band of misfits the Mets have seen fit to gather, can he?