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Bring on the Hot Stove League for the Mets....

It's September and for more than half my life, I can remember that this was the time of year when I started thinking about the following season's lineups. I remember vividly sitting in high school and even back in college back before the Internet had much, if anything, to do with fantasy baseball, just drawing columns on my 8x11 piece of loose leaf paper, one for each team, penciling in positions in the margin, and staring off into space, puzzling off the top of my head the permutations available on each roster. What a great way to get through a boring class or lecture while somehow not sabotaging my scholastic goals.

Anyway, the point is, with most leagues' trade deadlines passed (usually the end of August) there is little you can do to push your team anymore. Hopefully you made all the trades you could, seeing what categories you could move up in, and fit what you could under your league's salary cap. It is just triage-mode now and crossing your fingers that key players do not slump, get injured, or the worst case scenario - – get shut down for the year because the team is not in contention and there isn't much purpose any more to sending them out there to play.

That brings me to the Mets. Everyone understands the horrors that was and continues to be the Mets 2009 campaign both from a real life and a fantasy perspective – especially all you Jose Reyes owners out there. Looking at their disabled list it looks like a scene from Saving Private Ryan.   Personally, as a lifelong Mets fan that is already in hot stove league mode, I am rooting for playing time for young players like Josh Thole and for as low a first round pick as possible. No, I don't want them to tank it at all, but, being crappy late in September is something the Mets have been good at lately and they should, perhaps, continue that this season to the benefit of their long-term success.

Anyway, time to get out that proverbial 8x11 piece of loose leaf paper, and examine these Metsies. My instincts tell me, given the history of this team, that they will try to do a patch-it job/go with what they got thinking they can make another run with it rather than considering a top to bottom re-tread of the roster and perhaps the system, which may be more appropriate given the personnel, especially the state of the starting pitching staff.

Catcher Brian Schneider is in the last season of a 4-year contract. He will turn 33 this off-season and is moving into veteran back-up mode and it seems unlikely the Mets would bring him back. That leaves Omir Santos and the aforementioned Josh Thole. The 28-year old Santos' is not a walk-drawer, doing so over 5|PERCENT| of the time. What he has done well is make contact, striking out just over 15|PERCENT| of the time. Despite that we are still talking about a player with a .301 OBP and a .127 ISO. In other words – he is a back-up and could easily land back in AAA roster filler land. Also keep in mind that prior to this season, Santos regularly struck out over 20|PERCENT| of the time and is a right-handed hitter. Any regression in this area could make him even more marginal than he already is.

That brings us to Thole who is starting for the Mets as I type this. He is not well noted for his defense, being rated merely adequate there, but it is hard to ignore the fact that this 22-year left-handed hitter was hitting .328 in AA while striking out just 11|PERCENT| of the time and walking 11.5|PERCENT| of the time. He showed similar plate discipline skills in A+ ball the year before. He may have limited power skills with just 1 home run, though 29 doubles does indicate he has some gap power, but it is possible he could end up quite Paul Lo Duca-like (though hopefully not personality-like) player as an unheralded minor leaguer who can hit for average. The gaps at Citifield would help a player like this out as well. The interesting scenario this off-season will be whether or not the Mets give into their tendencies and sign a veteran, keep Santos as a back-up, and send Thole to AAA, which given his age and experience is not unwarranted for at least a half a season, but could be a potential roadblock for him. Fortunately the free agent class at catcher is not overwhelming with players like Victor Martinez and Ramon Hernandez having option years on their respective contracts leaving Bengie Molina as the headliner of the free agent catcher class.

First BaseCarlos Delgado is a free agent and it is quite possible the Mets could bring him back. There are several other veteran options out there as well on the market, though none of them will be under 30 once the free agent market heats up with Adam LaRoche turning 30 in November. Given the bevy of other DH-types like Thome, Giambi, etc, that will be available this winter, this strikes me as a prime patch-it maneuver to bring back the "core". It actually makes some to do so actually given Ike Davis who started to assert himself as a top prospect this season with 20 home runs between two minor league levels and who could start next season in AAA.  Davis still needs to prove he can hit lefties in the long run and while he has shown an aptitude for OBP skills, his 29|PERCENT| strikeout rate in AA will not cut it as a full time player in the Majors. He did show better contact making skills in A+ and A-ball earlier, which would make him more viable if he can combine it with his walk drawing skills.

Other options of course include Daniel Murphy, who has given the Mets a good glove at first base for the first time since John Olerud departed, another shot. He has been a major disappointment offensively , not showing the patience he showed late last season or throughout his minor leaguer career. At least he is still making contact and has started to be more a fly-ball hitter (40|PERCENT|) of the time, though that may not be the best solution for hitting in Citifield. He will also need to show a lot more than his .225 batting average and 22|PERCENT| strikeout rate against lefties though. Bringing back Tatis or Sheffield (.301 with a .376 OBP vs. lefties this year) to platoon with him to form a stop-gap for Ike Davis in this fashion would serve as well, but it is more probable that Sheffield will land elsewhere and that Murphy may find himself riding the pine to start 2010 as we may discover in later blog entries as we go through the rest of the Mets roster.