After starting and aborting two separate columns this week, I've settled on this format to round up various recent items of note regarding the Mets.
The good news is that the Mets keep winning baseball games, and that's really all that matters. That they're doing it with so many of their regulars injured speaks partly to the talent of the healthy ones, I think, and mostly to the recent successes of the pitching staff, which has compiled a 2.00 ERA over the Mets last five wins.
Anyway, here's what's on my mind:
The arrival of the Fernanchise: The first of the abandoned columns was about Fernando Martinez, whose debut I watched at Citi Field on Tuesday. It got off to a riveting start as I parodied "Death of a Racehorse," but quickly spiraled into a lengthy and overblown discussion of the unreasonable expectations set for Martinez by Mets fans versus what we can actually hope for out of the 20-year-old.
Basically, it boils down to this: A few weeks ago, I didn't see the point in calling Martinez up because I didn't see how he'd present an upgrade over the Mets' other options for corner-outfield bats, but that was before Ryan Church turned out to be injured and Daniel Murphy became a first baseman. Throw in that Martinez mashed the crap out of the ball for the last three weeks at Triple-A and it's clear that now he is the team's best option, and so should be with the club.
Obviously everyone's excited to see Martinez because of all the hype that's surrounded him for the past several years. I'm geared up, too. He's finally healthy and he's finally hitting, and young players are almost always more fun to watch than old ones.
What concerns me about Martinez, though, are the expectations. Call him F-Mart or the Fernanchise or the Teenage Hitting Machine or simply F!, but the guy had more nicknames before his first Major League at-bat than any other player in history. I think a lot of the hype comes from the Mets, but plenty comes from the fans and the Internet. This is something impossible to quantify, but I'd say Martinez is the team's first megaprospect of the uber-information era, and so even though he's still just 20 it feels like he's been around forever.
Expectations so high mixed with a player so young and a sample size potentially so small could be a recipe for disaster, because I fear that the Mets -- like many teams -- do allow public perception to shape personnel decisions in some way. As Mets fans, we need to remember that while Martinez should be a passable outfielder now, it will likely take a few seasons before he's a very good one. He'll be fun to watch, but expecting him to be a fully formed Major Leaguer before he can legally drink is probably asking too much.
The injury bug: The second column was scrapped when I read Ken Davidoff's excellent piece on the subject. Davidoff points to the Mets' now-noted mishandling of numerous player injuries under the Omar Minaya administration, including good quotes from Minaya on the subject and the reasonable assumption that the Mets' concern over public perception plays a role.
I have absolutely no idea how the chain of command works in medical decisions and I'm not willing to point fingers in any specific direction, but it seems to me that at the very least there's some sort of communication breakdown somewhere along the line. We've already seen times when Jerry Manuel expected Jose Reyes to play and Reyes said otherwise, not to mention something that seemed like Reyes making the final call on whether he was healthy enough to go.
With a player like Reyes, who developed a reputation for pestering Willie Randolph incessantly whenever he was held out of games, it seems like that decision should be made by someone with a better sense of Reyes' chances of aggravating the injury. Again, I'm not sure whether that's a trainer or a team doctor and hindsight is always 20/20; it just seems like going the conservative route with a player like Reyes would be a better idea.
I actually got concerned that suspicions about the way teams handle injuries were universal, and more the product of the general uncertainty that pervades medical diagnoses than anything else. But I asked bloggers and reporters that cover various teams around the league, and none of them noted any distrust in any other team's medical staff and none of them could name a specific instance in which any other club had unquestionably mishandled a player injury. Since the Mets are now approaching double-digits in the figure -- at least in that important realm of public perception -- they might want to do some internal investigation.
My favorite piece of injury news, and one that's been swept under the carpet a bit because it's good news, is this one: Alex Cora hopes to avoid thumb surgery because of a splint he made himself. Excuse me? Now I don't know what this says about Cora and I certainly don't know what it says about the Mets' trainers, but something is extremely weird here.
How did this go down? Did Alex Cora somehow bother the trainers to the point that they were just like, "OK, dude, if you think you can fix it, you go fix it," or did he just eschew the chain of command? In either case, it'll be good to have Cora back earlier than expected, and maybe the Mets should have Alex Cora look at Reyes' calf and Carlos Beltran's knee.
Gary Sheffield: Awesome? Well, he certainly has been, and the fact that he's been in part carrying the club through the stretch of injuries is great. I've scoured Fangraphs to try to figure out what's made the difference for Sheff this year, and I really can't. The best I can say is that he's a higher ratio of groundballs to flyballs than he has in recent years (with about the same line-drive rate), which could account for a few more base hits, and that he's swinging at fewer pitches in general.
Maybe Sheff, normally a patient hitter, has gotten more selective with age, but I don't think it's reasonable to expect him to maintain this level of production only because players rarely make sharp upturns at age 40. Still, Sheffield's a lot more likely to hit like this than Marlon Anderson ever would be, and I doubt any levelheaded fan is expecting him to continue being the Gary Sheffield of 2003. So a healthy Sheffield in the middle of the lineup is much better than the alternatives, and though I suspect it won't always be so rosy, I'm glad this stretch has at least put to bed the talk that his attitude would be a cancer in the tumultuous Mets clubhouse.
On Wilson Valdez: Valdez probably doesn't merit his own item here, but I think trades for "cash considerations" are hilarious in general. How do those happen?
"Hey, Indians GM Mark Shapiro, it's me, Omar, and I'm desperate for an infielder."
"Can I interest you in something in a Jhonny Peralta?"
"That sounds a little, ahh, pricey for my tastes. What else have you got?"
"I have Wilson Valdez in Triple-A. Nice guy, great defender."
"Sounds great! Can he hit?"
"Well, he puts the ball in play. Good runner, great bunter."
"So, not even a little?"
"Not even a little."
"Alright, how much do you want for him?"
"You know what, O? Buy me lunch at the Winter Meetings and we'll call it even."
"Done! 'Cash considerations' it is!"