Author: Will Hernandez
In five weeks, Port St. Lucie will come to life with the sights and sounds of spring training. That first workout will end nearly four months of dissecting what the New York Mets did in the offseason to improve the 2010 edition of the team.
But as the chill slowly starts to fade from the Florida air, one thing that still isn't clear about this organization is an identity. A team's identity can be cultivated in spring training, during the season, or over multiple successful seasons. But recently, the Mets have lacked one coming into February.
If you're a New York Giants fan like myself, you know the two building blocks that franchise is based on are a strong running game and tough defense. No matter who's lining up on either side of the ball or who the head coach is, that's been the organization's identity since at least the Bill Parcell days.
The Mets used to have that kind of identity. The organization for many years was known to put an emphasis on pitching. Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Dwight Gooden and even the ill-fated trio of Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson (Remember that poster? I had it!) But now that the Mets are playing in a stadium that benefits the man on the mound, it suddenly seems pitching, and defense, are not so important.
And we can attribute that to the unfortunate events of last year.
Let's get one thing straight about the 2009 season. It was a freak accident made worse by the previous two collapses. But that, in turn, made securing a power bat a perceived must for 2010. And I say perceived because I believe it was not an absolute necessity for the Mets to sign a big bat this winter.
The Mets had big bats in their lineup last year that spent a significant amount of time on the disabled list. The ballpark got into David Wright's head and he's been working with hitting coach Howard Johnson to tailor his swing for Citi Field. While Carlos Delgado might not return this year, he was hitting home runs before his initial injury. The home run hitters were there, but not on the field when needed the most.
Jason Bay and Bengie Molina were among the first two names we heard this offseason, again a direct result of last season's power outage. Meanwhile, Johan Santana continues to wait for the two to complete a 1-2 combination at the top of the rotation.
We heard the Mets were interested in John Lackey, but he had no interest in pitching in New York. Neither did Roy Halladay. The Mets have been linked to the likes of Joel Pineiro and Jon Garland and in trade talks with Reds about a couple of their starters, but where are the results?
For an organization that has repeatedly publicized its intentions to build the team around pitching and defense because of Citi Field, it continues to do the opposite. There is some potential in the minors with the likes of Jenrry Mejia and Jon Niese. Mike Pelfrey still has a ton of potential and he's poised for a breakout season in 2010. But yet that doesn't seem like enough.
Maybe the Mets hope they stay competitive this year and then pounce on the next free agent class, which includes the likes of San Francisco's Matt Cain. I covered a bit of Cain's career when he was a rising prospect in the Giants' organization and knew then he was the real deal. He has the mentality that will enable him to succeed in New York and that's half the battle. And I think he would strive in the New York environment.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. We still have this season to get through. And maybe somewhere along the way, the Mets will finally find that once-trumpeted identity and run with it all the way to a playoff berth.