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Saturday, April 04, 2009

Omar Minaya Did Not Major in Chemistry

Sure, some pundits (most notably, Sports Illustrated) are picking the New York Mets to win the World Series, but that's because pundits look at one-dimensional ratings.

On paper.

On paper, the Mets have the best starting pitcher in all of baseball, one of the best closers, and the third, fourth and fifth best position players in all of baseball (according to SI's rankings). Baseball Prospectus also rates the trio of Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran very highly, ranking them ahead, for example, of the Phillies' trio of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. And, while I'm a Phillies' partisan, I'd have to agree with that assessment. The Mets' trio is awesome.

But here's the thing -- something wasn't right with that team two years ago despite its talent, and something wasn't right about it last year. I don't know whether there are toxic personalities or whether there's a lack of leadership, but when you juxtapose the Mets to the Phillies you see a team that plays with less confidence and enthusiasm at key times and doesn't have the poise that the Phillies displayed last year. In other words, you can argue that the teams are close in talent, but the Phillies showed better chemistry last season.

Major League teams are together from mid-February through October, and the players spend a lot of time together -- in the clubhouse, on airplanes and in hotels. It's important that the group come together and, yes, have leaders, especially among the core group of star players. The Phillies had that in abundance last year; the Mets did not.

And now the Mets' add legendary malcontent Gary Sheffield to their mix. Sure, Sheffield had one of the most feared swings in baseball -- but that was years ago. He's a liability in the field, at a time where the stat heads are telling us that they can prove how much a difference defense makes. He doesn't like it when he doesn't play most of the time, and he's warn out welcomes in many cities. Okay, the Mets needed a righthanded bat (as do the Phillies), but at what price? Will Sheffield make that much of a difference, especially after he skates by balls in left or right or gets into a tiff with Manager Jerry Manuel because he didn't see his name in the lineup?

Maybe the Phillies, known for their better chemistry, wanted him, and maybe they didn't, but the point is that the Mets signed Sheffield, perhaps more out of hope that he can return to his old form than anything else. But outside Barry Bonds, how many players with great days behind them have fared well at 40? Not many, and you have the chemistry issues to boot.

Look, the Mets definitely have the talent to win the NL East, the NL and, yes, the World Series. But until their chemistry issues straighten themselves out, they won't have as smooth a ride as they could if leaders emerged. Adding Sheffield doesn't help solve anything; it just makes the problems more complicated to solve.

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