>I’ll begin with a mildly depressing trivia question. According to Fangraphs the 2008 Mets leaders in WAR were, in descending order, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, and Carlos Delgado. Here’s the question: do you know who their seventh most valuable player was (again, by Fangraphs WAR)?
I’ll give you time to formulate an incorrect guess by listing my top 5 albums by the Rolling Stones, which I promise will be relevant (sort of) later on:
1. Exile on Main St.
2. Sticky Fingers
3. Some Girls
4. Let It Bleed
5. Between the Buttons
Now, away from Mick and Keith for a bit, and back to the Mets. The seventh most valuable Met in 2008 was Brian Schneider (*gasp*), who contributed a WAR of 1.6. And therein lies the problem. When a team spends $137 million on its players and features Brian Schneider as its seventh-best player, something went very, very wrong. Brian Schneider can get on the 7 train and not even be the seventh-best baseball player on board. That Schneider somehow was the seventh best player on the Mets illustrates the fundamental flaw in the recent rosters: a lack of mid-level talent.
To better demonstrate the gap in mid-level talent between the Mets and better constructed teams, I took the playoff teams from the 2009, 2008, and 2007 seasons, as well as the Met teams from those years and the 2006 team, and divided those team’s players into three categories: Stars, Guys, and PCs (Positive Contributors).
“Stars” are players with a WAR of 5+ (e.g. Zack Greinke, Joe Mauer, or the God of WAR himself, Albert Pujols).
“Guys” have a WAR of 4.9 – 2 (think Nick Swisher, Matt Cain).
“Positive Contributors” are players with a WAR of 1.9-0.1 (Luis Castillo, Livan Hernandez, almost any reliever, decent bench players).
Here is the breakdown of 12 playoff teams and the Mets, who, just in case you forgot, did not make the playoffs:
The playoff teams from the past three seasons have averaged just under 2 “Stars” and roughly 7.5 “Guys” per team, while the Mets averaged 1.67 “Stars” and 3.67 “Guys”, or about half as many “Guys” as an average playoff team. David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Johan Santana are all capable of being Stars, so looking ahead to next year, Stars should not be the problem. The problem with the roster for three straight years has been not having enough Guys, because Guys make the difference between a 80-something win team that just misses the playoffs and a 90-something win team that cruises into the postseason.
Now, as promised, here is how the Rolling Stones tie in. The 2006 Mets were like the Stones’ great album Sticky Fingers. Those Mets had their stars, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, who are the album’s big hits, “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses”. The 2006 Mets also had the mid-level “Guys” like Billy Wagner, Endy Chavez, and Jose Valentine, who are the under-appreciated songs, like “Sway” or “Moonlight Mile”. It’s the mid-level, good-but-not-great songs that carry an album to greatness in the same way mid-level guys carry baseball teams to greatness. The 2007 and 2008 Mets were like Goat’s Head Soup or It’s Only Rock and Roll: mailed-in works that had the heavy hitters (“Angie”, Carlos Beltran, David Wright) but not enough mid-level guys/songs to push them into the realm of a classic. Both teams and albums contained too much filler (Shawn Green, Damion Easley, “Hide Your Love”), which prevented them from being more memorable efforts. The 2009 Mets, who had no “Stars” due to injuries/ineffectiveness/whatever happened to David Wright, are appropriately enough Black and Blue, as neither were any good and both were quite forgettable.
What can the Mets learn from the Rolling Stones, other than the fact that you can’t always get what you want? Well, imagine you are Omar Minaya deciding how to piece together the Mets this offseason, and you only have around $25 million to spend, maybe. The fan base is getting antsy and the boss is getting angry, so you can’t put out another Goat’s Head Soup, or even worse, Black and Blue, or you’ll get fired. You already have four guys capable of putting up 5+ WAR seasons, which is like already having “Miss You” and “Beast of Burden” written and recorded for the next album already. As for improving the rest of the team, you have two options. You can go all in for Matt Holliday, or you can pick up three or four “Guys”. Matt Holliday is the seductive option. He is a great hitter, a somewhat capable defender (excluding this), and he shaves his head, which gives him a grissiony Bruce-Willis-in-“Die-Hard” look. The “Guys” option is less attractive. You could pick up the much hairier Adam LaRoche, Mike Cameron, and maybe a couple of halfway-decent starters with the money that would otherwise be thrown at Holliday. Option 1, the Matt Holliday and nothing else option, is how you end up with a Goat’s Head Soup. You surround the good stuff with filler and you get a forgettable album. Matt Holliday is the best free agent on the market, but if the Mets get him and no one else, the rotation/first base/catcher/Jeff Francoeur situation will be still be a disaster and the 2010 Mets win 85 games, tops. Option 2, the “Guys” option, is how you end up with the great Some Girls after churning out crap for a couple of years. You surround your big hitters with some up-tempo rockers, let a semi-clean Keith sing a song, throw in a Temptations cover, and then “Accio Some Girls!” you’ve made another five-star classic. The Mets already have their big hits written, they just need some above-average material to turn themselves into a classic.
Obviously, if the Mets can get Matt Holliday and three or four “Guys”, that would be the way to go, but it looks like maybe ownership can’t or won’t spend that much money. If that is the case, then either Omar Minaya, Jeff Wilpon, SPECTRE, or whatever shadowy organization really runs the Mets these days needs to focus on adding as many “Guys” as they possibly can. The 2009 Yankees won the series with 3 “Stars” and 11 “Guys”. The champion 2008 Phillies also had 3 “Stars”, but also had 7 “Guys” (and 25 “douchebags”). The 2006 Mets won the NL East with 2 “Stars” and 8 “Guys”. It’s those good-but-not-great players that push teams into the post-season, and it’s a lack good-but-not-great players that has kept the Mets out of the playoffs the past three years.