The Mets with the Most to Lose

No one knows what to expect from the Mets this season. If everything goes right and they catch a few breaks they could potentially win the division, though the wild card is probably a more realistic goal. But as good of a chance as the Mets have of making the postseason, they have just as good if not better a chance of missing out on the postseason for the fourth year in a row. It’s hard to argue for or against any prediction when it comes to the 2010 Mets because it’s hard to predict success or failure for a club that has erased all expectations.

On Monday, Daniel Murphy told Mike Francesa that the team “is built to win now,” and Omar Minaya looked like the guy from the Miller Lite commercial trying to say “I love you” when he told Francesa that he believes in his team this year. Forget Mets fans, not even the players or management know what to expect this season.

The Mets are at a crossroads after gradually getting worse since their Game 7 defeat against the Cardinals in the 2006 NLCS. If you had told me before Game 7 that the Mets wouldn’t win a single postseason game over the next three years, I wouldn’t have believed you. I don’t think anyone would. As a Yankees fan, I was legitimately scared of the Mets’ rise in 2006 and the idea that they might make a run at being the toast of the town; the same way the Jets did this winter by becoming more relevant than the Giants. But here we are, 31 days away from Opening Day 2010 and the Mets’ last postseason win was against the Cardinals in Game 6 of that NLCS.

The conversation of breaking up “the core” of the Mets has become as much a part of summer as Wiffle ball and lemonade, and Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel’s job statuses have become day-to-day as this point. Mets fans are at their breaking point if they haven’t already broke, and what has gone on the last three seasons can’t go on any longer … at least not with the same team and front office.

Right now, Mets fans are just happy baseball is back because it gives them actual games to talk about, and there is no longer a need to dwell on last season. But how long that happiness lasts will depend on how well the Mets perform. Stuck in the same city as the World Series champions and in the same division as the National League champions, Mets fans are in a unique position that no other fan base in professional sports can relate to.

The Mets will either return to the postseason this year and buy some much needed time with their fans, or they will extend their October-less streak and the Wilpons will change the look of the team like a dirty diaper, which is what they have become. Some players will stick around even with another losing season in Queens and maybe some front office executives will avoid the ax. But there is definitely more at stake for certain members of the organization than there is for others if the Mets don’t win. Here is what’s at stake for those players and personnel if the Mets lay another egg in 2010.

5. Does that offer in Boston still stand?
Jason Bay is living the high life … for now. He is the new guy in town and everyone wants to rave about his well-mannered personality and delightful clubhouse presence. But it’s also spring training and no one cares if the new guy is hitting the ball out of the park as long he is showing up to the park, isn’t injured and is friendly with the media.

Bay went from Pittsburgh to Boston and went from being “That Canadian guy from the Pirates that we only get to see during the All-Star Game” to being “The guy who made Red Sox fans quickly forget about Manny Ramirez.”

The same traits that Mets fans are using to praise Bay – his nice-guy routine and vanilla personality – will be used as ammunition against him if the team isn’t winning. As bad as the Boston media can be with just one team in town to worry about, Bay has no idea what the New York media and the city’s fans are capable of when things begin to go south.

Bay gave up the opportunity to hit in the middle of the order for a World Series contender to be the new guy on a team that could possibly win its division or be mathematically eliminated in July. He gave up a situation he was already comfortable in and a situation he already experienced success in. Now he will either be responsible for helping bring the Mets back to prominence or for helping extend a dark period in the franchise’s history. If it’s the latter, he will be left to think about “what could have been” in Boston.

4. 36 million regrets
If I’m Omar Minaya or Jerry Manuel and I have one final chance to turn things around, I wouldn’t want Oliver Perez in my rotation. There were other pitchers and more economically sound options for Omar Minaya during the 2009 offseason, but he decided to go all-in on Oliver Perez and ended up with a busted straight.

Perez made $12 million last year. For that amount of money, the Mets could have had Bobby Abreu ($5 million) and Randy Wolf ($5 million) and $2 million left over to split among their season ticket holders as an apology for their 2009 product. Instead, their return on investment was 14 starts from Perez at $857,142.86 per start and 127 base runners in 66 innings.

Perez’s current contract hasn’t been completely Carl Pavano-esque just yet, but it’s on its way. At least the Yankees had competition went they were courting Pavano, and they were actually outbidding other interested teams.

The Mets are still on the hook for two more years and $24 million for Perez, so he isn’t exactly going anywhere. The only place he is going is to the mound every fifth day – if he can stay healthy – and the Mets are going to just have to cross their fingers and hope for the best when he starts. Otherwise, $12 million is a lot to pay a Triple-A starter.

3. The Mets’ Donnie Baseball
David Wright is the core member with the least to lose, and because of that he isn’t grouped with the other two. He is the face of the franchise and he is the player the media looks to for answers, whether that is fair or not.

When Wright had the Mets one game away from the World Series in 2006 at the age of 23, he looked like he might be the centerpiece of the first dynasty on the other side of town. Now four years later, his career is looking to be more like Don Mattingly’s than it is Derek Jeter’s, as Wright is slowly creeping up on 30 and becoming a great player who happened to play on a bunch of bad teams.

Wright is the go-to guy in the clubhouse for the media, and the most popular player on a team whose popularity rivals Governor Patterson’s. He needs to be the leader of the team on the field and off of it more than ever this season. He needs to take control of the team and make it his team now that the veterans he came up with are no longer with the club.

Wright’s home run and RBI totals dropped off drastically in 2009, and that can’t happen again in 2010, even if Citi Field wasn’t built for right-handed power. Mets fans have refrained from turning on No. 5, but now it’s officially “David’s team,” if it wasn’t already, and the success of the team will be directly related with his own performance.

2. Break up the core
I have under June 1 in the “When will the ‘break up the core’ conversation dominate the tri-state area for an entire day” pool. And if it gets to that point, David Wright will be safe, but Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran won’t be.

It wasn’t too long ago that Mets fans tried to argue Jose Reyes’ abilities against Derek Jeter’s. That debate ended the same way it did for Red Sox fans when they tried to argue Nomar Garciaparra against Derek Jeter. Now Mets fans aren’t worried about Jose Reyes being Derek Jeter, they would be happy if Reyes could just stay in the lineup the whole season.

Reyes’ contract is over at the end of the season with the Mets holding an $11 million club option on him for 2011, which they will most certainly exercise. But after that, it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen with Reyes. Maybe he will be the pre-2009 Reyes or maybe his best days are behind him. No one can be sure, but coming off an injury-plagued year and already having health problems this season, Reyes has a lot to play for and a lot more to lose if he can’t regain his old form.

Beltran is in a similar situation to Reyes after being injured for a significant amount of time in 2009. Couple that with his recent knee surgery that the Mets may or may not have granted consent for him to undergo, and Beltran is going up against some serious pressure once he returns.

Beltran has more to lose than Reyes because he isn’t homegrown and because he is older. Mets fans love their homegrown talent and they will back them up – regardless of their abilities – until they are no longer a Met. With Beltran turning 33 this season and with just one year left on his contract following this year, the Mets will be more willing to find a new home for Beltran than they will be for the other core members. It’s just a matter of finding out if another home would even want to deal for Beltran.

1. Win or learn how to use Craigslist
Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya are a package deal, and at this point in their Mets careers, they can’t exist without each other because ownership won’t let them. And ownership shouldn’t let them.

Neither of the two will be looking at the same position with another team ever again if they can’t right the sinking ship in Queens. It either has to work out in New York or it’s back to being a first base coach somewhere for Manuel and back to scouting the bus leagues for Minaya.

Omar doesn’t deserve another chance with another manager, and Mets fans don’t deserve to have Jerry Manuel as their manager unless he can lead the team to the playoffs. Because of this, Mets fans find themselves in a Catch-22. The majority of Mets fans want one or both men replaced, but in order to do so, the Mets would have to miss out on the postseason again. No Mets fan is willing to concede 2010 and live through another season of misery in order to get a new regime, so they are going to have to live with the “M and M” boys for one more season.

Bob Melvin’s recent hiring in the Mets scouting department can’t be good for Manuel’s future and Jerry is certainly aware of this. And since Omar didn’t exactly give a straight answer to Francesa’s question asking if he no longer is making the decisions in the organization, it’s safe to say Omar knows were his fate lies as well. Winning cures everything, and it’s the one thing standing between a happy ending and a horrible breakup for Omar and Jerry in Queens.