After the past three seasons, it’s hard to blame Hamels or anyone else who shares that sentiment.
The Mets were the better team going into the 2006 National League Championship Series
against the St. Louis Cardinals, and had they not choked that series away in a heartbreaking seventh game on their home field, they probably would have been favored to beat the Detroit Tigers the way the Cardinals did in the World Series that year.
That season was of course followed by the historic 2007 collapse. Bullpen failure after bullpen failure were the main culprits in the Mets closing that season with only 5 wins in their final 17 games, en route to blowing a 7-game lead while the Phillies finished 13-4 to edge the Mets by a game for the National League Eastern Division crown, sending the Mets home for the Fall.
And then, there was last season. The Mets, once again up on the Phillies with 17 games to play (by 3½ games) miss the playoffs by a single game on the season’s final day, for the second straight year. Again, the bullpen was mainly at fault, blowing an incredible 29 games.
But, let’s back up to the 2007 off-season for a moment. Mets’ General Manager Omar Minaya knew the main reason behind the Mets’ 2007 September swoon. He knew that there were times the starting pitching or the Mets’ bats didn’t come through.
However, he also knew (like the rest of us) that it was really an overused and often underperforming bullpen which stood between the Mets watching the 2007 playoffs on television and instead, representing a watered down National League in the 2007 World Series, in place of a Colorado Rockies team that needed a huge late-season surge just to finish barely over .500 before playing the role of sacrificial lambs to the 2007 World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
So, Minaya’s answer to the Mets’ 2007 collapse? Making few changes to the Mets’ 2007 bullpen and instead, giving an aging, injury prone Moises Alou, who played 87 games for the Mets in 2007, a one-year, 8 million-dollar contract extension to play only 15 games in 2008. Just one of several moves that demonstrated Minaya’s misguided priorities with shaping the Mets’ 2008 roster.
Granted, Minaya made a great move in the 2007 off-season like trading for Johan Santana, and he deserves credit for other moves that worked, such as bringing in players like Ryan Church (until he was slowed by a concussion) and Fernando Tatis.
Where Minaya went wrong however, was thinking that those types of moves were enough. He never learned from 2007. He never believed that the bullpen which blew it all for the Mets in 2007 would be the thing that could cost them more than anything else in 2008, and on that, he couldn’t have been more wrong.
Minaya can hardly be blamed for former Met closer Billy Wagner’s injury last season or for Met starters who too often, failed to go further into games. But, he can be held accountable for not having a viable contingency plan to close games and for lacking a decent bridge from starters to the closer’s spot.
If Minaya sufficiently addressed the Mets’ bullpen concerns as he should have in the 2007 off-season,
It’s quite possible that Hamels and the rest of the Phillies wouldn’t be able to label the Mets as anything but the same champions that the Phillies are right now.
Had the Mets’ bullpen not blown half of the saves it gave up in 2007, the Mets would have won the NL East going away; and, even saving just one-third of those blown saves, the Mets would have still won the division comfortably. From there, it’s not a stretch to say that if the Phillies won last year’s World Series out of the NL East, that the Mets could have done likewise with a decent bullpen.
Instead, the Mets now have the dubious distinction of being the only team in Major League Baseball history to blow consecutive September division leads of at least 3½ games.
Why bring all this up and relive the pain, Met fans?
Because, it appears that after last week’s free agent signing of the Angels’ Francisco Rodriguez and trade for Seattle’s J.J. Putz, Minaya finally understands how to sure up the Mets’ biggest weaknesses.
Sure, there are questions at the back end of the Mets’ starting pitching rotation, and in both corner outfield positions and at second base. But, after seeing what contributed the most to the Mets making history in the way that no team would want to over the past two years, Minaya seems to finally get it.
For once, Minaya put aside the temptation of fixing other holes in the roster and has learned from past mistakes where he left the Mets short the most, and at last, Minaya’s priorities are in order for putting together a team in Queens that won’t fold as easy as a baseball card come next September.
Not only did Minaya land his first option to close games in Rodriguez, but to set him up, he brings in what would have been his second option (had Rodriguez not worked out) in Putz. And, for players who were all expendable, or better yet, who needed to go (in some cases).
No Met fan wanted to lose valuable bench player and late-inning defensive specialist Endy Chavez, but for Putz, it was worth it. Aaron Heilman needed to go, and gone he has (as has Scott Schoenweiss in a separate deal with Arizona last week). Time will tell if the Mets might regret dealing minor leaguers Maikel Cleto, Mike Carp, Ezequiel Carrera or Jason Vargas, but the Mets, who are positioned to win immediately, could well afford to deal all of them. And, through Minaya’s dealings last week, the Mets even strengthen their bullpen some more, as well as their bench, with reliever Sean Green and outfielder Jeremy Reed.
Feeling better, Met fans?
You should, especially since if you saw Minaya while getting breakfast recently, you might have helped him realize the Mets’ true needs, something he didn’t fully understand after the 2007 season.
But, last week, Minaya said, "All I kept on hearing on the streets of New York when I go get bagels in the morning: 'Omar, address the bullpen. "Well, to Mets fans: We've addressed the bullpen."
On behalf of all Met fans, thank you for finally listening, Omar.