Are These the Same Old Mets?

Jessie Markovetz

It was the greatest collapse in the history of sports. The New York Mets, a team that many had picked to win the World Series last year, finished the season by losing more games than most fans can bear to count. When the final out of the 2007 season was made, some players hid their heads in shame, while others stared out onto the field in disbelief. But no matter how far under the towel they hid, or how intensely they stared down the chalk on the first base line, the result was the same. The New York Mets missed the postseason.

Twenty-one years after a slow rolling grounder trickled between his legs and into right-field, Bill Buckner was able to sleep easy knowing that his Boston Red Sox were World Champions and the Mets had finally choked worse than he had. Meanwhile, Mets’ manager Willie Randolph and General Manager Omar Minaya were left behind to pick up the pieces of a broken organization.

Unfortunately for the Mets, things got worse before they got better. Just weeks after missing the playoffs, veterans Paul LoDuca and Tom Glavine left the team, and the Mets had still not made any big signings. Meanwhile, their cross-town rivals, the New York Yankees, were hard at work battling the Boston Red Sox in a bidding war for Twins’ ace Johan Santana. After weeks of negotiations, neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox were able to reach an agreement with the Twins, and it seemed that Johan Santana was going to fall through the cracks.

Then, Minaya seized his opportunity and opened his wallet for the left-handed ace. Now, at the outset of the 2008 season, many preseason polls are picking the Mets to win the World Series.

The Mets are good, but they can’t be considered as a favorite to win it all. With the exception of Santana, this is still the same team. The Mets were favored last year, and they underachieved. This is a team that is nowhere near as strong as other teams atop the American League, and there are major holes in its highly over-rated lineup.

Carlos Beltran is nowhere near as good as Mets’ fans give him credit for. He did not come up in big spots last year and his best years are behind him. When he came to New York, Mets fans expected him to achieve far beyond his career averages because of one stellar post-season he had with the Houston Astros. Beltran batted only .276 last year with 33 home runs. He is a decent hitter to have batting third, but there is no reason to believe he will be any better this year.

Many Mets fans would like to assert that their young lead-off shortstop is better relative to his own age than Yankee great Derek Jeter. The fact is that Mets’ shortstop Jose Reyes is an above-average fielder with a very average bat on his shoulders. Last year, he batted .280, with only 12 home runs and 57 RBIs. With right fielder Ryan Church and catcher Brian Schneider rounding out the seven and eight spots in the line-up, expect to see that RBI number even lower this year. Meanwhile, Jeter hit .322 with the same number of home runs and 16 more RBIs. Even at age 33, Jeter was much more valuable to the Yankees last year than Reyes was to the Mets. I cannot understand why Mets fans get so excited about a lead-off hitter with a .280 batting average.

Of course, Santana will be a huge addition to the Mets pitching staff, that fact is undeniable. If Santana was able to post the numbers he did in the American League, he should have no problems in the inferior National League. But the rest of the staff still needs to prove itself. The Mets pitching was horrendous down the stretch last year, and all the same guys are back this year.

Starting pitcher Pedro Martinez may not have been the problem last year, but he is getting older, and it remains to be seen whether he can keep his arm healthy for an entire season. The rest of the starting rotation looks to be shaky as well. Orlando Hernandez is about as old as Willie Randolph, and Perez and Maine could not have been worse at the tail end of last season.

The New York Mets may be competitive this season, but this is the same club that exhibited the greatest collapse in the history of sports last year, so don’t get too excited.