By Jon Heyman
August 31, 2009

Manager Lou Piniella slumped in the dugout this weekend, exemplifying a talented Cubs team that has slumped far too often this season. Meanwhile, Mets manager Jerry Manuel provided a study in contrasts, standing erect in the opposing dugout, and generally not giving off the same sort of negative vibe. It must be a matter of style, and/or personality, since Manuel's Mets are is having a season just as horrific.

Well actually, more horrific.

The Mets have some legitimate excuses in that their four cornerstone players are currently out, and three of them have been out for the better part of this season. But by any standard, the Mets are the most disappointing and disappointed baseball team this year. Chin up, Louie, it could be far worse. Your team could be ailing, as well as losing.

Here we go, the biggest busts of 2009.

1. Mets. It isn't just the number of players who have been hurt; it's the caliber of those players lost. Gone for the season (or presumed gone at this point -- we have to guess here since the Mets no longer believe in timetables) are three of their starting pitchers, including ace Johan Santana, and their set-up man, in addition to their four best everyday players. And it isn't just that they got hurt. Almost every one of them has been out a lot longer than anyone expected. JoseReyes was supposed to be day-to-day when he went out with a leg injury. Year-to-year is more like it.

The result of all these aches and pains, and worse, has been an unmitigated, unreal disaster. At present, the National's League's best-paid team is featuring, arguably, not only the worst pitching rotation in baseball (behind a slightly disappointing Mike Pelfrey are four "maybes") but possibly its worst everyday lineup. Who ever thought the heart of their daily order would be comprised of Daniel Murphy (whose lack of power means he's no certainty to keep his first-base job), free swinging Jeff Francoeur and journeyman Cory Sullivan? Don't even ask about the bottom of the order.

With this team, it's no wonder they look well on their way to 90 defeats in a year they were expected to challenge the Phillies for supremacy in the NL East. The team Sports Illustratedpick to win it all (no, I had nothing to do with that one -- I picked the Cubs. See No. 2.), has been limping to the finish for several weeks now. And unfortunately for them, there's still a month to go.

2. Cubs. Piniella celebrated his 66th birthday this week but was obviously in no mood for celebration. Piniella admitted this week that the team's clubhouse "mix" wasn't the best. Loosely translated, that means he's fed up with MiltonBradley and Carlos Zambrano, who between them have the maturity of a 4-year-old. The Cubs aren't completely out of it yet, but their fans (and Piniella) are certainly acting like it. The biggest bit of suspense is over whether Piniella will try to figure a way out, as he did successfully in Seattle and Tampa when things went south there.

3. Royals. How, you might ask, could the Royals rank this high? They are bad every year, you might point out. And you would have a valid point, but this year was supposed to be different. The Royals started to spend liberally on prospects and players a couple years ago, and ownership declared at season's start that it was time to contend. As it turned out, not only was it not time to contend, but the Royals already have basically locked up the worst record in the AL. Injuries to key personnel, such as Alex Gordon and Coco Crisp, didn't help. But the underperformance has been stark, especially from the hitters who produced the second fewest runs in the AL (527) and lowest OPS (.715). What's more, this team appears to have hit a wall.

4. Indians. Two straight sorry starts led them to take the drastic of measure of trading longtime stars Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez and put the team on a clear rebuilding path. The small-market club's well-respected executives made a lot of logical moves and some very good trades over the past few years. But they gambled when they tried to get by this year with a wafer-thin rotation that, had it been a rock band, could have been called Cliff Lee and The Question Marks. It didn't work. And neither did the bullpen, which has been in trouble three of the past four years. The result is a league-high 5.01 ERA and second consecutive season of failing to meet expectations after coming within one game of the World Series in 2007.

5. Reds. Can a team underachieve year after year? The Reds sure make it look possible. At some point, of course, we'd have to question whether their individual talent is as good as everyone thinks. And we're getting to that point with the Reds, a perennial disappointment. Offensively, they have been downright inept, with a major-league low 527 runs and .695 OPS, despite playing in a hitters' paradise. Injuries have been part of their yearly story, as well, and this season was no different, as Edwin Volquez, Johnny Cueto, JayBruce, Joey Votto and Aaron Harang all missed significant time. DustyBaker's star has to be dulling by now, no?

6. Brewers. Their young nucleus remains one of the best in baseball, but the team was burned by a shallow rotation that never really had viable reinforcements in case the front five didn't work. The loss of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets could not be made up with Braden Looper, as it turns out. Big surprise there. Their rotation's ERA of 5.29, worst in the NL, shouldn't come as a shocker, either. Their everyday group deserves better.

7. Athletics. In the year the movie Moneyball was canceled, Moneyball's team took another hit, as well, as it appears to be well on its way to posting another losing year. They gave it a shot this winter, acquiring star hitter Matt Holliday, as club owner Lew Wolff grew impatient with losing. But there seemed to be an A's malaise for most of the year, and Holliday didn't regain his usual form until he left Oakland. Moneyball architect Billy Beane is clearly one of the smartest guys in the game, and his front office isn't too far behind him, but pretty soon folks might start to wonder if the manager position is the middle-management job it's made out to be in Moneyball. Beane employs Bob Geren, who happened to be the best man at his wedding. Whether he's also the best man for this job is questionable at this point.

8. Jays. They played beautifully the first couple months of the season despite a truckload of injures that would have seemed to have put them at a distinct disadvantage. But the injuries caught up to them. And a failed attempt to trade Roy Halladay didn't help. The Jays kept Halladay after shopping him around to the world. But Halladay seems to be a shell of himself. And so does this team, which is downright dreadful in recent days.

9. White Sox. Ozzie Guillen is nothing if not honest. "Right now it feels like we're stealing money from (owner Jerry Reinsdorf)," Guillen said recently. The only edit I'd make to that is Ozzie should have included co-owner EddieEinhorn. But you get the point. The money they are "stealing" has been upped, too, with the midsummer acquisitions of Jake Peavy and Alex Rios, two talented players who have yet to contribute. Peavy still isn't healthy enough to return, and Rios has gone south since he got to the South Side. I admire their willingness to gamble. But so far they're coming up snake eyes.

Perhaps the leaks of the 2003 steroid survey test will stop now that a court has ruled the list was obtained through an illegal search and seizure, a violation of the Fourth Amendment. I have mixed feelings about this. While I believe the list should not be made public, if someone hands it to me, I will print it. (That, obviously, hasn't happened yet.)

It should have been obvious all along that the federal government never should have seized the entire list when all it had rights to were the results of the 10 players involved in the BALCO case. With the court's ruling, the government could now choose to appeal, and if it does, the next step would be the Supreme Court. Baseball people are hopeful the Court wouldn't take the case if the government does appeal. And if it does that the High Court simply affirm the ruling of the lower court.

While the original agreement was for the names to remain anonymous, I don't blame the New York Times for uncovering three of the names from lawyers involved in the case (their stories cite unnamed lawyers as the anonymous sources). That is the job of reporters, to uncover information. The union, through its statements, has made clear it feels the New York Times reporter overstepped his bounds. But I don't believe he is bound to abide a court order when he isn't a party to the case.

Regardless, what's most important is that the appeals court got it right. And unless I am lucky enough to get hold of the real list (I've got several lists I have yet to confirm), let's hope the 97 players who are still anonymous remain that way.

Edgar Renteria may not be having a great year but he remains very clutch after all these years.

• The Dodgers, staying aggressive, helped themselves with the addition of Ronnie Belliard.

• No trade was worked out for Rich Harden by this afternoon's deadline, and he'll stay with the Cubs. He was claimed on waivers, believed to be by the Twins, but the teams couldn't work out a trade before the 1:30 p.m. deadline.

Garrett Atkins is likely to be a non-tender in the winter.

• While the White Sox are expected to exercise the $12-million option on Jermaine Dye, it's a mutual option, and there's still a chance he'd turn it down. It'll be interesting to see whether the acquisition of Rios plays into his thinking. On Tuesday, the White Sox plan to bring up top power-hitting prospect TylerFlowers on call-up day.

• Roy Halladay continues to hurt Texas. Since informing Toronto he wouldn't accept a trade to Texas (nothing had been agreed to, but both parties were working on it at the time), he's been beaten by the Rays and Red Sox. Twice.

Paul Byrd looks like a wise pickup for the Red Sox.

• While the Nationals have played better under interim manager Jim Riggleman, it's expected that they'll choose someone else as manager for next year.

• Good cautious call by the Phillies in shutting down Kyle Drabek, who had a 5 ERA in August after an otherwise terrific season.

• Excellent story in the New York Times by David Waldstein on Sunday about Miguel Tejada's A's teammates suspecting he was tipping pitches to favored opponents several years back. Revealing quotes by Johnny Damon, TimHudson and others. Great job.

• I admit it: I am finally tired of all the Joba debates.

• My Twitter follower number has been stuck at 17,581 all weekend. Is it possible there are no new followers? I'm still third in the MLB category. But this cannot keep up! I can be followed (or can I?) at @SI_JonHeyman.

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