The Mets right now have that late '70s, early '80s vibe -- hopeless in a way totally unexpected for a team that started the season with a $140 million payroll. They are not underachieving anymore, but are downright overmatched.
The injuries have become comically absurd. Make "House" the GM. See if Hawkeye Pierce is available. The Mets don't need a general manager as much as they need a Surgeon General. Who is the new Dr. Kevorkian that can just put this season out of its misery? Maybe this guy's available.
We commemorated the 1969 World Champs last week. But it's more fitting to compare this team to another anniversary squad -- the 1979 edition that typified the franchise's post-Seaver futility. I've gone into the way-back machine with the help of two old school buddies who lived with me through those very lean years -- Scott Marsh of Blooming Grove, NY and Steve Corn of Emerson, NJ.
At catcher, I'm declaring Alex Trevino as the man for the '79 Mets. The great folks at BaseballReference.com adjust performance for eras and leagues so that you can compare guys separated by a generation or more. Trevino had an 88 OPS-plus (where 100 is league average). Omir Santos's is 85. But Trevino was better defensively - 48 percent caught stealing that year to 33 percent now for Santos. Slight edge: '79 Mets.
First base is a battle between Stearns and Daniel Murphy. They have identical 85 OPS-pluses. That's a push. I could have taken Willie Montanez for the '79 Mets, but he was traded, so that disqualifies him. Plus he hit suitably that year only after being shipped out of town. Verdict: push.
"That's so typical," says Marsh. "Guys leave and hit. Guys get here and stop hitting." I don't even know if he's talking about 1979 or 2009 anymore, but what's the difference?
At second, it's Doug Flynn (61 OPS-plus) vs. Luis Castillo (107). I promise Scott I'll apologize fully for slamming Castillo. "All these things have gone wrong but Castillo has been good," says Corn. "That's a big surprise." Big edge: '09 Mets. Marsh can't hear the words "Doug Flynn" without remembering the sick feeling laying on his bed the night he officially heard on WABC radio what we had been dreading for weeks -- that Seaver had been traded. "That was some package they got back for their best player ever."
Frank Taveras had a .639 OPS with 44 steals in 64 stealing for the '79 team. His 76 OPS plus is slightly better than the collective performance of the Mets shortstops, including Reyes. But like every Met non-catcher except Joel Youngblood in 1979, Taveras was a big minus with the glove. I want to say push but Corn says, "Slight edge Taveras because at least he can run." Yeah, into outs.
We'll give the '09 Mets David Wright even though we're not sure when he'll return and even though grave-digging Richie Hebner was moderately useful in '79 (108 OPS-plus). Big advantage: '09 Mets.
Outfield is a sore spot for Corn.
"How could Omar (Minaya) go into the season with those corner outfielders? His problem is that he's too optimistic. Watch this winter: he'll bet that all the injured pitchers are going to come back good as new."
In left, '79 Met Steve Henderson has a 128 OPS-plus, but missed most of the second half with injury. But Gary Sheffield (118) hasn't been the picture of durability, either. Henderson was 13-for-18 on the bases. Advantage: '79 Mets.
In center, Lee Mazzilli (135 OPS-plus with a .395 on-base percentage and 34-for-46 stealing) faces the Carlos Beltran/Angel Pagan duo. Beltran's OPS-plus was 150 and Pagan's amazingly has been 110. But even with poor defense, slight edge: '79 Mets.
In right, Joel Youngblood trashes the Ryan Church/Jeff Francoeur duo. Youngblood in '79 had a 116 OPS-plus and was an incredible plus-13 runs in the field. "How sad that the '09 Mets are trounced by Joel Youngblood at a corner outfield spot, and not even due to injuries," says Marsh.
The '79 Mets staff outperforms the HEALTHY '09 staff, or at least the staff as it performed when healthy enough to pitch. Add up the era-adjusted ERA-plus: Craig Swan (110), Pete Falcone (87), Kevin Kobel (103), Tom Hausman (132) and Dock Ellis (60 as the Livan Hernandez of the '79 Mets). That beats Johan Santana (135), Mike Pelfrey (88), Hernandez (77), Oliver Perez (62) and Maine (94). Yes, I'm sort of cheating with Hausman.
The '09 Mets get the edge in the 'pen, though Marsh wants to give them credit for Jeff Reardon, Jesse Orosco and Mike Scott. He asks what happened to Pat Zachry and I tell him that I remember him kicking a dugout step in frustration and breaking a foot, but it's fuzzy. "Well, if he fell down the dugout steps and hurt himself, it would have made the '79 to '09 comparison even more perfect."
I inform Marsh that the rules are the '79 roster is frozen in time. Given that Skip Lockwood was hurt for most of the year and Neil Allen and the other relievers were learning on the job, this is a significant edge to the '09 Mets.
Corn informs me that Lockwood (shoulder) went into contract negotiations in 1980 trying to get paid for all the games he would have saved that year had he been healthy. How do I not remember this?
The overall verdict? We all agree it's a push. Even in this exercise against themselves, the Mets can't win.