This started out as a David Letterman-style Top-10 list of reasons you know things are going badly for the Mets this year, but I ran out of ideas after four and decided to expand on those in greater detail instead of half-assedly cobbling together a mildly amusing enumeration just so I could say I came up with ten things.
1. Billy Wagner, just off of Tommy John surgery, seems preferable to Francisco Rodriguez as 2010 Mets closer.
Rodriguez's decline has been documented; his walk rate this season is in the bottom ten among relievers with at least 50 innings pitched (his strikeout-to-walk rate is 25th best). His tRA, 4.48, is by far the worst of his career, as is his 4.11 FIP, and his 9.16 K/9 is his lowest ever, off almost a full strikeout from last season despite moving to what most consider to be the inferior offensive league. Perhaps not coincidentally, he is inducing fewer groundballs than in any previous season. He may still be a feared reliever, but he puts a lot of guys on base and quite clearly isn't as overpowering as he once was. These are the characteristics of a closer in the twilight of his career, but Rodriguez is only 27 and is under contract for the next two years (and very likely a third year).
I only half-joke that Wagner is a feasible alternative. One dominant major league appearance in the past twelve months shouldn't convince many of his readiness to be an elite reliever just yet. However, given his likely salary next year and the particulars of Rodriguez's suffocating deal, if the Mets are presented with an opportunity to unload Frank this offseason they have to seriously consider any reasonable offer. If Wagner can return to his early 2008 form -- and I'm cautiously optimistic that he can -- he could very well be the better pitcher in 2010.
As for suitors, if the Cubs aren't convinced that Carlos Marmol can turn around his control problems they could be in the market for a closer next year. A straight swap for Milton Bradley could work for both teams, though Bradley's abrasive attitude has repelled the Mets in the past and there's no telling if they'd be interested in him brooding about the Citi Field clubhouse for the next two seasons. This is all probably moot because the Mets likely believe that Rodriguez is not only great (he isn't), but that he's actually signed to a team-friendly deal (most definitely not).
2. I'm ready to openly advocate that Omir Santos be given more playing time.
I've supported Brian Schneider in the past because I believe that his plate discipline and throwing arm make him something approaching an average big league catcher, which is unspectacular but certainly useful. Schneider is on a big time schneid, though, and should see less and less playing time as the season winds down. I think (hope?) that even the Mets don't see Omir Santos as anything more than a backup catcher, but he should probably get as many plate appearances as possible over the next 40 games just to make sure he's cut out to be even that. He neither walks nor hits for much power -- just four doubles and two homeruns in his last 121 PA -- but second-string catchers don't have to do much to be considered competent. Schneider doesn't seem to figure in the Mets' 2010 plans, so better to give Santos more time at the dish since he's likely to be with the team in some capacity next year.
3. The only complaintI can muster about Cory Sullivan batting fifth last night is that he should really be hitting higher in the order.
Sully went 1-for-2 with a walk and an RBI on Thursday night, raising his slash line to .281/.356/.422. UZR has never been crazy about his defense, but he doesn't really have enough chances this season for any rating to be statistically meaningful. Nevertheless, his .342 wOBA is the fourth-highest on the current roster, so he should be in there every day somewhere and you can make a compelling case that he should be hitting in the top half of the lineup to boot. Though I may be down on Daniel Murphy in general, I think it's fair to say he should be playing every day and we can just hope he starts to figure something out at the plate. Notwithstanding his need for development time, there's no reason he needs to bat third in the lineup. The Mets don't have many good options, but Murphy is an out machine and Sullivan has at least hit well in limited action. Move Sully up in the order until the growing set of batting data reminds us that he's terrible and he gets sent back to the bench where he probably belongs.
4. Luis Castillo's contract isn't looking so bad all of a sudden.
The Castillo contract was deservedly panned when Omar Minaya signed it into the Mets' permanent record, and the scrappy Latino secondbaseman did little in 2008 to make any of us regret our unrelenting attacks on both of them. This year has been a different story, though, as Castillo has his on-base percentage up over .400 and figures to be worth about two wins above replacement this season, or around $9 million. The final two years of the deal could still be disastrous, but right now Castillo is part of the solution instead of the problem. Folks will still rail on him for dropping that little league popup in the Yankee game earlier this season, and he's not going to be confused for Chase Utley or Dustin Pedroia anytime soon, but he has been a good soldier for the most part and remains one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dim season in Queens.