For most teams, it is time to turn the page on this season. In a few cases, it has been that way for months. But one major advantage to being eliminated early is that there is plenty of extra time to assess one's needs, and several also-ran teams already have begun that process. (Of course on the flip side, more time is likely needed.)
Here is a close look at three teams that entered the season with high hopes but went nowhere and have been in the reassessment stage for weeks, if not months. The Mets, Indians and Diamondbacks have been out of contention for quite a while (although in the case of the Mets, it wasn't that long ago that GM Omar Minaya stopped saying his team was a "buyer").
But now it's definitely time to get real. Here is what these disappointing teams might do, and how they can avoid repeating the seasons they just had. I'll start with the most disappointing of all the disappointments -- yes, the New York Mess ...
A disaster on almost every level. Nobody gets a gold star for this one. Picked by Sports Illustrated to win the World Series (that wasn't me, though I had them as a wild-card winner), they have degenerated from mediocre to awful as underperformance and especially injuries accrued.
• Do they have money to spend or did that psychopathic swindler Bernie Madoff steal most or all of it? There's no denying he stole a significant chunk of the club-owning Wilpons' personal funds, though club sources insist the $700 million estimate making the rounds is greatly exaggerated and that the Wilpons were diversified enough that the all-time Ponzi schemer won't deprive them of a chance to participate in free agency. Reports have suggested the Mets plan to cut from an NL-high $145 million payroll, but even a small reduction might be a tough sell in their second season in Citi Field. The guess here is the payroll stays about the same. Mets people already are discussing big-name free agent targets -- though, of course, that doesn't guarantee they'll actually sign any of the big ones.
• What positions are they aiming to improve? The Mets understand they need to acquire a left fielder or first baseman (and maybe both), a catcher and a starting pitcher. They also better improve their overall depth. They like what Angel Pagan's done in the second half (his 10 triples in half a year are only one off the lead league) but still see him as a fourth outfielder and also haven't ruled out a return to the minors for more seasoning for first baseman in training Daniel Murphy.
• Who are some of their targets? They badly need to add power, so it should be no surprise they are looking at top free-agent outfielders Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. Additionally, they will be one of the teams interested if the Padres shop star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who's proved he has the power to hit it out of any stadium by doing so at PETCO Park. Barring a big deal for Gonzalez, the Mets will also consider a return for Carlos Delgado, provided it's on an incentive-laden contract. Bengie Molina, another free agent, could be a fit for catcher.
• What about the pitching? They have buyer's remorse for signing injured head case Oliver Perez over steady veteran Randy Wolf and might try to go back on that if Wolf's willing to leave L.A. Whoever they sign to pitch has to be someone they can count on to pitch 200 innings, so Jon Garland is another one who makes sense for them. As does native New Yorker Jason Marquis. They will once again look into Roy Halladay if he's available but will be reluctant to package all their best prospects for a one-year rental.
• Who might go? The Mets might take another crack at trading second baseman Luis Castillo with an eye on signing free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson. That very thought occurred to them last winter, but Castillo was a non-hitting, no-range second baseman back then (and therefore not too tradable). While he still lacks range, at least he's hitting .306 now.
• Are Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel safe? It appears that way. Both received a private vote of confidence from club COO Jeff Wilpon two months ago. And while Minaya should not have let personal feelings trigger a beat writer beat down at that memorable press conference, as that's what hurt his status as much as the dreadful Mets, Minaya has $3.5 million and three years to go on his contract. Whatever the Wilpons' financial situation, they are in no mood to eat that sort of loot. Manuel has only a year left but also has the excuse of a baseball-high $35 million on the disabled list at last count. As for the medical staff, it appears Mets people feel they were simply unlucky in that regard and are not blaming their doctors for all their continuing pain.
The loss of staff ace Brandon Webb to shoulder trouble and outfielder Conor Jackson to Valley Fever wiped them out. They were too young and too shallow to compete in a vastly improved NL West without their best pitcher and arguably their best hitter. They still have a very nice young positional nucleus, but after trading Jon Garland and Tony Pena, and continuing concern about Webb, they'll enter 2010 with a lot of pitching questions.
• What to do about Webb? The Diamondbacks have an $8.5 million option on him (and $2 million buyout), and word is they will try to bring him back on a compromise salary somewhat shy of that $8 million figure. They have to be relieved that they didn't dive into a long-term deal for Webb, but even $8.5 mil looks a tad high at this point.
• What about the rest of the rotation? With Garland gone to the Dodgers (and possibly about to become a free agent) and Doug Davis weeks away from free agency, they have holes to fill. They've been talking to Davis and seem to like him more than anyone else based on his limited trade market, so it's possible they re-sign him. Top pitching prospect Jarrod Parker isn't ready to step into the rotation yet, so a group of less-glorified youngsters including Kevin Mulvey and Billy Buckner will likely battle it out for one spot. But that still leaves two more pitchers they'll need. Plus, with Pena gone to White Sox, they could use a veteran arm or two in the 'pen, too.
• Who'll man the right side of the infield?Brandon Allen, acquired in a smart trade for Pena, is going to get every opportunity to win the first-base job. But that still leaves second base as an open question. Tony Abreu will be the player to come for Garland if they can work out a service-time question that's in dispute, according to people familiar with the deal. If not, perhaps Blake DeWitt could be substituted for Abreu. In any case, their new second baseman could possibly come via that trade.
• Who might be on the way out? The Diamondbacks may pull the plug on the $30 million, three-year deal for broken down Eric Byrnes that didn't work. Speculatively, a Byrnes-for-Castillo trade might work. Catcher Chris Snyder could be another candidate for trade. Arizona will need to add some mature veterans to man the bench and provide leadership for the youthful team -- a guy like Tony Clark, but not Clark, as he has gotten on with his new career as a baseball analyst on MLB Network.
The pitching-poor, cash-strapped Indians did the right thing by jump-starting a rebuilding program with trades of stars Victor Martinez and Cliff Lee, an unpleasant necessity for a small-market team that needs the funds and a fresh start. They also traded Mark DeRosa, Rafael Betancourt and Ryan Garko and wound up with 11 prospects under 25 (some are under 20) in return, nine of them pitchers. So there's hope here -- though hope's ETA probably isn't 2010.
• Did they get anything for their trouble? Yes, in fact they appear to have done as well as could possibly be expected in an environment where the value of prospects is through the roof. They are especially happy with young reliever Chris Perez and young starter Justin Masterson, though there's plenty of talent to sort through. Nick Hagadone, Carlos Carrasco and Scott Barnes are three more potential keepers.
• What kind of shape is their rotation in now? They are hoping Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook, who both provided nothing this year (Carmona was bad, Westbrook hurt), can bounce back to peak form. If they do, they might be all right. But if not, it could be a repeat of 2009 all over again. Others in the mix include Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers, David Huff, Carrasco and Masterson. They will still need to go out and get another innings eater after also sending Carl Pavano away in the purge, and the trades of Martinez and Lee should give them a few dollars to spend (it saved them $21 million between this year and next).
• How's their everyday lineup shaping up? Not too bad, especially with the infusion of young talent. Grady Sizemore is expected to return to full strength, allowing newcomer Michael Brantley to move to left field and pair with Trevor Crowe. Power prospect Matt LaPorta appears like he may be ready to take over first base. Most of the rest of the lineup looks pretty well set with Shin-Soo Choo in right field, Luis Valbuena at second, Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop, Jhonny Peralta at third and Travis Hafner the DH. Hafner, unfortunately, appears to be a shadow of his former self. Lou Marson, acquired in the Lee deal, has a decent chance to win the catching job, as top catching prospect Carlos Santana is still thought to be a full year away. Meanwhile, Kelly Shoppach, who struggled at the plate this year, looks like a candidate to be non-tendered.
• What about Wedge? Manager Eric Wedge has long had the support of GM Mark Shapiro, but Wedge's status appears iffy with the Indians saying there will be no announcement on the manager until after the year. Shapiro is still seen as a Wedge supporter, but two straight disappointing seasons (one Indians insider said things seem "stale") have to be considered. The bigger question becomes whether ownership will feel strongly enough to nudge Shapiro to make a change (so far, their faith in Shapiro is so strong they've let him run the show -- other than insisting he cut payroll this summer). If a change is about to be made, Indians insiders say it isn't showing on Wedge, who remains the same consistent and calm fellow. If Wedge does go, the most obvious choice to replace him would be Red Sox pitching coach and former Indian John Farrell.
• Andy Pettitte begged the Yankees to keep pitching through his shoulder fatigue -- though it appears he's going to make almost all his incentives and more than double his $5.5 million salary, anyway. Yankees people realize they need Pettitte in the playoffs.
• While Jorge Posada's feistiness generally makes him a beloved figure around the Yankees, club personnel were not pleased Posada ignited a brawl with the Blue Jays. As Toronto manager Cito Gaston pointed out, the Yankees were the ones with something to lose. The Yankees didn't fight Posada's three-game suspension (perhaps they knew he got a break).
• The Yankees think they may have detected the flaw in Joba Chamberlain's delivery that's caused him to be so mediocre lately. Pitching coach Dave Eiland is said to have noticed something was awry.
• Torii Hunter was right, of course, that the Angels had been choking vs. Boston. He said they weren't showing any ["guts"], only he used a different word that rhymed with guts. Very true. The team responded with a big win on Thursday, though.
• Home plate umpire Rick Reed blew two straight strike calls that cost Angels closer Brian Fuentes, then complained how Angels manager Mike Scioscia and Angels coaches treated him. Reed did admit the 3-and-2 pitch might have been in the lower portion of the strike zone but suggested catcher Mike Napoli nudging the ball up led him to believe it was a ball. How about just admitting he blew the call?
• The Twins have a shot this weekend, hosting the first-place Tigers at the outgoing Metrodome. Big start tonight for Tigers Rookie of the Year candidate Rick Porcello.
• Losing Michael Young and Josh Hamilton was just too much for the young Rangers. Both are expected back soon, but it may be too late.
• I should have included Marlins bench coach Carlos Tosca on my recent list of managerial candidates. They're all doing something right down in Miami.
• Dan Uggla said he thinks he'll be traded this winter. I'd concur. The Marlins aren't going to want to pay $7 million-plus in arbitration for him.
• If Chipper Jones does retire after next year, he is indeed a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
• Best wishes to legendary Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell, who is handling his terminal illness with dignity.
• Best wishes, too, for longtime Reds beat writer Hal McCoy, who was honored after being forced out by the Dayton Daily News after 37 years as one of the best beat writers in the business. McCoy was always a class act and an excellent reporter.
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