Monday, May 29, 2006

What Time Is It? It's Report Card Time!!! (It Sure Ain't Lima Time!!!)

Now that between a quarter and one-third of the season has actually been played, it's time for our first Mets' report card! It's certainly been a wild ride so far, with 10 starters already taking turns through the rotation, second base still unsettled, a bullpen that has been excellent, some fantastic offensive performances, and young players on the cusp of greatness. While Scott Kazmir blossoms into one of the best pitchers in baseball, Victor Zambrano's career is virtually finished, as is Bartolome Fortunato's (the 2nd pitcher the Mets received in that deal), both rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Jose Lima and Jeremi Gonzalez got longer drinks at the well then any fan would have liked, while Omar brought in three pitchers in the span of 72 hours to boost our major and minor league depth (Hernandez, Williams & Adams). Let's hope the next 40 games or so are as productive, and this year continues on the path already laid out. Without further ado, on to the report card.

Teacher's Pets:
Carlos Delgado: Delgado has been all that we hoped he'd be- a great influence in the clubhouse, good defense at first base, and, most importantly, a great run producer from the clean-up spot. Delgado in the lineup means Wright, Reyes, Beltran, et al will receive better pitches for fear of what Carlos D will do. Grade: A
Carlos Beltran: Beltran has once again warded off injuries, causing him to miss nearly 2 weeks of games, to rebound with a fantastic first quarter. He is on pace for a fantastic offensive season, has been great in center, and is the ultimate gamer, never wanting to come out of a game. His average is below his career number, but his power numbers more then make up for it right now. As the season progresses, we predict his average will be back around the .300 range, and he targets for about 38-42 homers and 110 RBI's, which is exactly what we were hoping for when he signed that 7-year contract. Grade: A
David Wright: Wright means might, and this year, it also means "high average" as David's average hovers in the .333 range. His defense has been hit-or-miss, all pun intended, but we still remember a young Mike Schmidt growing into the best fielding third baseman in the NL for many years, and Wright, in spite of the horrible infield at Shea, is on the same path. Wright only has 8 dingers, but has driven in 34 runs and has come up with a ton of timely hits. He is the present and the future of this club, and needs to hit in the 3 hole, as he is our best offensive weapon, a Keith Hernandez type with more power! As Wright goes, so go the Mets! Grade: A
Tom Glavine: As we wrote earlier today, Glavine's season so far is beyond expectations, at 8-2 with a 2.59 ERA. If he keeps this up, a third Cy Young is in reach, as is the starting assignment for this year's All-Star game. Let's hope it comes to that!!! Grade: A
Duaner Sanchez: When Jae Seo was traded for Sanchez, there was a lot of skepticism in trading a starter for a set-up man. Well, with an inconsistent (and injured) Billy Wagner, Sanchez has been the glue holding the bullpen together this year. He has a rubber arm and great velocity, and wants the ball every day, while Seo has a sub .500 and above 5 ERA with the Dodgers. I'd say we won this deal, so far. Grade: A-
Paul Lo Duca: It's impossible to fill the shoes of a player like Mike Piazza, and to his credit, Lo Duca has created his own set of footprints as our backstop. He calls a great came, comes up with clutch hits, is a Mets' fan from birth, and has a stabilizing influence in the clubhouse. Ramon Castro has been a fantastic back-up, and with Lo Duca's penchant for hot first halves and cooler second halves, let's hope that Castro's presence will change that this year and we'll have the same great contact hitter and pitch-caller as hot as ever in the heat of August and September. Grade: A-
Pedro Martinez: The heart and soul of this team, Pedro has become a great influence in the clubhouse- and who would have thought that 3 years ago?? His craftiness keeps him in games that his fastball used to, and once we see a more vintage Pedro, when his toe injury is better healed, coupled with Glavine, we will have by far the best 1-2 starting punch in the NL. A totally healthy Pedro is an A+++. In the meantime - Grade: A-

Honor Roll & Almost There
Aaron Heilman: In spite of the fact that he is miserable as a relief pitcher, combined with Sanchez & Wagner, Heilman gives us the best 1-2-3 bullpen punch in both team history and in baseball today. His fastball hits in the 94-95 range now that he has reverted to his college-style, three-quarters motion, making his cutter that much more deadly, and lefties still cannot hit him well. Let’s hope being in the bullpen doesn’t take the desire out of him, and he reconciles himself to being in the bullpen of a championship contender, for now. Grade: B+
Xavier Nady: Before spring training, many Mets’ fans thought that Omar had lost his mind, trading Mike Cameron for a player who was, at best, a part-time outfielder. Omar’s scouts like what they saw of Nady, and felt he would produce as a full-time player. Well, it goes to show that scouts still know what they are talking about at times, as Nady has played a reasonable right field (not great, not horrible) while on target for approximately 28 homers and 77 RBI’s with a .280-range batting average. Not bad for someone who was almost run out of town before he got here. He will never be a star, but as a #7 hitter, he more than fulfills his place in the lineup. Sad to say, I don’t miss Victor Diaz right now. Grade: B+
Ramon Castro: Back-up catchers rarely get much press, especially when a hall-of-famer is playing in front of them. Last year, Castro’s main notoriety came from being Pedro’s virtually exclusive catcher, and not much else. This year, Mets’ fans realize that we have the best second-string catcher in baseball, as Castro’s defense, combined with his timely power, create a catcher who could probably start for a number of teams right now (the Angels & Blue Jays come to mind). Spelling Lo Duca at key times will hopefully allow PLD to have a stronger second half then in years’ past, and, of course, it was pretty cool that Soler, in his first major league start since leaving Cuba, threw to a catcher named- you got it – Castro! Grade: B+
Jose Reyes
: We are asking too much, too soon, from the young shortstop. He gets complaints that he doesn’t walk enough, so he improves on his walks, leads the league in stolen bases, is second in triples and goes 40 games without an error, and then there are complaints that his batting average has fallen. It’s not Reyes fault that he’s been stuck into the lead-off spot, as he’d make a far better #7 hitter, but his speed is too enticing and the Mets’ lack of a true lead-off hitter puts him there by default- but not his de-fault. In another 2 years, he has the ability to become a truly well-rounded hitter, already showing 12-15 home run power with the ability to knock in 70 from the lead-off spot. He has the talent to become something special, so let’s hope we don’t hurt those chances by forcing a square peg into a round hole. Grade: B
Julio Franco
: Yes, he’s older then some managers and general managers, but he’s also living proof that there is a fountain of youth. Franco recently stated he’d like to play until he’s 50; at this rate, I hope he retires as a Met, because he’s a pleasure to watch and apparently he’s also a great influence and role model in the clubhouse (there’s that phrase again – nice to hear for a change, huh?) Grade: B
Darren Oliver
: Can he start? Yes. Can he relieve? Yes. Can he do both? Yes. Does he hold one of the 2 highest lifetime ERA’s in baseball? Yes, but don’t hold that against him this year because Oliver has become our do-it-all guy on the pitching staff. He’s been extremely versatile, he’s a lefty, and outside of a penchant for giving up homers that has plagued him throughout his career, he’s been very solid for us. Grade: B
Endy Chavez
: This is the one move that we questioned in Spring Training, as neither of us felt that Chavez would be a suitable fourth outfielder for us – who knew? He did a great job filling in for Beltran when he was hurt, and showed that he could play multiple games in a row for us and not become a black hole in the line-up. Once again, props to Omar for believing in Endy- but let’s hope we don’t need him too often down the stretch. Grade: B
Billy Wagner
: A lot has been expected from Mr. Wagner, and rightly so. At this point, he has been more Braden Looper then Billy Wagner, and that’s a major cause for concern with 3 more years on his contract. Wagner still hits 100mph on the ole radar gun, but not as often, and he’s not been as dominating as in years past. He did have an injury to his finger, and being a gamer, no one can be sure if he pitched when he shouldn’t have. He also suffers from inconsistent use, as he’ll go from pitching 3 games in a row to sitting for 5 games in a row, not the best way for an elite closer to be used. Let’s pray that he’s gotten his quota of blown saves out of the way for the rest of the season, and the old Billy will show up from here on out. Grade:B
Pedro Feliciano: I can’t believe I am having to grade Feliciano, let alone give him the grade he received, as he is someone that I have always thought was a waste of a spot on the 40-man roster. Instead, he’s been a great situational lefty, doing everything we’ve asked of him, including holding leads. I can’t believe his Grade: B-

Needs Work
Jose Valentin
: It’s almost unfair to grade him less then a “B”, because classically, too much has been expected of Valentin, especially after that one great year that he had. However, even at his best, he was prone to striking out too often and has never been what we’d consider to be a good fielder. He is a classic all or nothing type of player- the first 4 weeks, we got nothing, to the point he was almost waived, and then the last 4 weeks, we have received a performance that has pushed him into a rotation at second base. He hit a great homer Sunday evening, and will see much more time at 2B in the next few weeks. To which we ask the question - Will the real Jose Valentin please stand up? Grade: C+

Chris Woodward: We’d love to give Woodward a higher grade, but after setting the bar so high last year, he’s been somewhat of a disappointment. He hasn’t received much playing time, as Reyes and Wright have been healthy most of the way so far, and Matsui was given first shot at 2B. When he has played, he hasn’t seemed as steady as he did last year, and that’s possibly attributable to the lack of playing time. This one is a catch-22, as I hope we really don’t need him down the stretch. Grade: C
Steve Trachsel: It’s hard to be angry with someone who wants so desperately to be a Met, and prior this year, he hasn’t given us much to be angry about. To be fair, we really shouldn’t even be angry at him this year, as we have penciled him in as our #3 starter, but, realistically, he’s a very good #5 starter whose weaknesses become more telling by relying upon him more then he’s capable of producing. He needs to work on his command, which has been unreliable, and he is not the innings-eater he once was. Grade: C-
Cliff Floyd: Okay, this one hurts. Last year, big Cliff came through the way we’d all hoped he would, having a season of health and surprisingly excellent defense (in spite of his lumbering). He had a timely bat and excellent stats, and was, most of all, a calming influence on David Wright. This year he began the season looking lost at the plate, unable to pull balls within his grasp which he’d murder in years’ past. Let’s hope that his recent hot streak means that he’ll be able to carry us again like last year, and perhaps the Mets will sign him for one more year if they think that Milledge is either a better rightfielder or won’t be ready in 2007. Most likely, this is Cliff’s last year in blue and orange, so let’s hope he goes out on a positive note. His hitting is starting to come around, and his homer on Sunday was a good one. Grade: D+
Kaz Matsui: Not since Jim Fregosi has an infielder been expected to bring us so much, and delivered so little. Like Fregosi, Matsui is playing out of position at 2B, being a natural shortstop, but we saw how playing him at short went 2 years ago. Now it looks like the 2B experiment is almost done as well, with Kaz simply staying around due to about eight million reasons. We don’t expect anything from him anymore, and that way, we won’t be surprised when we don’t get it. Grade: D-

The following players have been with us either short a time to be able to grade, are injured or have gone back to the minors – Orlando Hernandez, Heath Bell, Victor Diaz, Alay Soler, Brian Bannister, John Maine & Anderson Hernandez

Jorge Julio (it was fun while it lasted)

Jeremi Gonzalez (for not knowing how to spell “Jeremy”) and Jose Lima (for not knowing how to tell time.

Tomorrow: Willie Randolph & Omar Minaya get graded!

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