I'll admit that I have been largely baseball-free since last Thursday. I watched the last Mets' game of the season in person and my repeated viewing has been limited to internet clips of Endy's catch. I haven't seen a single video replay of anything else from that game, let alone the last at-bat. The World Series is background noise to me, my mind having already turned the page to 2007.
I'd be lying if I said I was over 2006 yet, but the truth is that I was so involved in this past season from a cerebral standpoint that I can't yet look back at it with any objectivity.
Soon, I think, I'll be able to reflect on 2006 for the tremendous success that it was. Perhaps not as successful as we hoped it would be but still better than 27 other teams can claim. To that end, 2007 won't be the huge year of transition that it will be for so many other teams, but rather a year of continued, hopefully greater, success. The Mets have enough talent right now that they can stick with a lot of what has worked and replace whatever didn't.
The Mets have drastically improved their record in each of the past two seasons -- from 71 to 83 to 97 wins -- and the unfortunate truth is that teams who improve that much over a two year span are extremely likely to win fewer games the following season. The primary reason for this is that these teams who improve that dramatically tend to do so with a fair share of luck. That's not to say that the Mets were really a 50 win team who, through luck alone, happened to win 97. Still, there is evidence to suggest that the Mets maybe weren't as good as their record suggested. This "luck" bridge is often coupled with tendency to make few changes -- the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" management strategy.
This is where the Mets need to focus if they want to avoid a disappointing follow-up to 2006. The Mets may still be the class of the National League with little roster turnover, but it would be in their best interest to not only focus on the obvious holes -- left field, right field, starting rotation -- but to also look at spots that were productive this season but have a high risk of regression in 2007.
First on that list is second base, where Jose Valentin enjoyed a renaissance at age 36, posting his highest batting average (.271) since 2000 and his highest on-base (.330) and slugging percentages (.490) since 2001. He also showed terrific range for a second base neophyte. He was a huge surprise to everyone, but the Mets will need to keep their options open for next year. If they can't find anyone better, then perhaps a right-handed bat to platoon with Valentin when the Mets face -- and invariably struggle -- against the league's southpaws.
Obviously the Mets are set at third base, shortstop and centerfield, but it wouldn't hurt to have some decent replacements off the bench. Endy Chavez was terrific this year, and for short periods when Beltran is nursing one of his annual leg ailments he is a passable replacement. However, if David Wright or Jose Reyes miss any significant time the Mets need to have someone capable of stepping in and providing some modicum of production in their absence. Given the current construction of their active roster, we'd be looking at a left side of the infield of Chris Woodward and Anderson Hernandez. The likelihood of both of the Mets' stud infielders being lost for an extended time period is remote, but certainly losing one of them isn't out of the question. The Mets' bench this season was a big weakness, exacerbated by Julio Franco's inability to hit anything hard over the past three months of the season.
The last not-so-obvious position the Mets need to take a long hard look at is catcher, where Paul Lo Duca is likely to play less -- and less well -- next season. I love Lo Duca, but I'd be very surprised if he hit anything near .318/.355/.428 again. He will be 35 in 2007, and the Mets need someone to back him up and give him plenty of rest. I realize that he did just fine this season with limited time off, but he disappeared in the NLCS and some time off here and there can only help him. Ramon Castro has a strong arm and a decent enough bat to take time away from Lo Duca next year, so assuming he stays healthy I expect him to see a lot more playing time.
Once the World Series is over there will be plenty of hot stove action to talk about. The Mets will undoubtedly have their hands in the rumor mill, and you can bet dollars to donuts that Omar Minaya will explore every possibility with respect to improving this ballclub for next year and into the future. He is not afraid to make a big splash, and there is every reason to believe that he will bring one or two big name starting pitchers to the club -- either via trade or free agency -- by the time the Mets break camp in February.