What, you thought the Mets would close out this miserable year riding high? Why should December be any different?
No, as the Mets, seemingly the highest bidders for Jason Bay, continued to wait for him to decide his future, they had to be pondering these questions:
Is our state-of-the-art ballpark working against us?
Do hitters not want to play their home games here?
They're not acknowledging that publicly, of course. To the contrary, this past week, Omar Minaya said, "I think what we sell here, we sell the beautiful ballpark, we sell a great city."
Privately, though? I'll bet you an autographed Jerry Manuel lineup card that inside Citi Field, they've discussed this very issue.
The irony is, while the Yankees' bigwigs were taken aback by how hitter-friendly the new Yankee Stadium was - and wound up solving the place and using it to their advantage - the Mets achieved their goal when they watched Citi Field play out its first campaign.
Management wants to build a ballclub that has pitching as its strength. Their outfielders will grow comfortable with all of those quirks, dips and valleys by osmosis, while other teams' defenses will struggle, allowing the Mets' hitters to pick up more gap hits. That's the vision.
That still could happen, assuming the Mets can keep their starting pitchers and regular outfielders healthy. But no one talks about how great it is to pitch at Citi. They shake their heads about how tough it is to hit there. They agree with what David Wright told Chipper Jones, who embarrassed his buddy by making it public: "Nice park."
Citi Field gave way to 130 homers in 2009. That ranked 11th overall in the National League (and 25th in the major leagues), not quite as unforgiving as San Diego's PETCO Park and San Francisco's AT&T Park (both 129), Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium (127), Atlanta's Turner Field (124) and St. Louis's Busch Stadium (123). (Thanks to the Elias Sports Bureau for that data.)
Of course, those totals reflect the quality of the home team, and the Mets' 95 homers (49 at home) put them last in baseball by far. Baseball-reference.com gave Citi Field a "Park Factor" of 98, with 100 representing a neutral ranking; that means that by those measurements, the place is only slightly pitcher-friendly.
That's not the word on the street, though. People seem more inclined to agree with Wright.
As Newsday first reported in October, Matt Holliday doesn't love the idea of playing his home games at Citi Field. That doesn't mean he would spit at a mammoth offer. But it means that if he entertained comparable offers from multiple teams, he'd probably go elsewhere.
Bay? Like Holliday, he saw Citi Field for two days - the first two days, when the Red Sox played the Mets in exhibition games. Was he evaluating it in his mind, scouting it as a potential future place of employment? Or was he thinking, "They won't go after me; Daniel Murphy will be their leftfielder for the next 15 years!" Wish I knew, but I don't.
What I do know is that the Mets don't appear to be an attractive place of employment right now. That's due, of course, to their lousy 2009 and the disappointing fashion in which the two previous seasons concluded. For hitters, though, it just might be the ballpark, too.
Yes, the Mets could keep adding to their Bay offer, making it so lucrative that the Players Association pushes him to take it.
But this is the five-year anniversary of overpaying Pedro Martinez to establish credibility. Do the Mets still need to resort to that as Minaya enters his sixth year? That would be an embarrassing end to this brutal year. Not the sort of history you want advertised at Citi Field.