Mike's Mets

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

New York Mets Hot Stove Moves, Part 2

We continue our look at some of the moves Omar made this off-season, from significant signings to controversial trades.

11/28/2005 - Acquired OF Tike Redman from the Pirates for cash
It's no coincidence that Billy Wagner signed with the Mets the day after they added Redman to the roster. By getting Tike Redman, Omar Minaya proved to Wagner that he was serious about building a real pennant contender... Oh, sorry -- it was the Delgado trade that did that. Never mind.

11/29/2005 - Signed free agent closer Billy Wagner to a 4-year deal
The Mets received a lot of flack from the boys at WFAN for pulling out all of the stops to sign the top free agent closer. The bottom line is that it worked, and signing Wagner filled an absolutely critical need for the Mets, if they are serious about contending in 2006.

There is some question as to whether the Mets overpaid to get Wagner, especially in the length of the contract. Wagner is a power pitcher who will turn 35 in July. The odds of him still being an effective closer at age 39 seem rather slim. (There actually is a club option for the fifth year -- what do you suppose the odds are on the Mets making that choice?) I think the Mets will be happy to get a couple of dominant years out of Wagner and then anything else will be a bonus. If that happens, I think most Mets fans will be happy.

This is the one move that Omar made over the off-season that he received little criticism for -- other than the contract length, which we all understand was the price of signing Wagner once B.J. Ryan signed a 5-year deal. Could this backfire? Sure -- maybe Wagner gets hurt and doesn't give the Mets any years as a dominant closer. Still, the reward of finally having a real closer outweighs the risk.

And Tike Redman jokes aside, for those that accused Omar of being in too big of a hurry to get Delgado, you can't convince me that the Delgado signing didn't help influence Wagner's choice. Few of the pundits who bashed Omar in print for his moves bother to concede that obvious point.

12/5/2005 - Traded prospects OF Dante Brinkley and RHP Gaby Hernandez to the Marlins for C Paul Lo Duca.
Omar Minaya followed up his least controversial off-season move for what is arguably his most controversial. Negotiations with free agent catchers Ramon Hernandez and Bengie Molina didn't seem very promising, and most of us were expecting the quest for a catcher to drag on past the winter meetings. The first go round on the Chris Benson for Jorge Julio rumors were consuming all of us, and we no sooner breathed a sigh of relief when the deal fell through when we started hearing about Lo Duca.

Lo Duca is a 34 year old catcher that has had problems throwing out runners, and also has a history of wearing down as the season goes on. He has no power, and at $6 million + per year for the next two years he isn't all that cheap.

After the trade of Yusmeiro Petit in the Delgado deal, Gaby Hernandez was the top pitching prospect left in the system, and the #3 overall in Baseball America's ranking of Mets prospects. It wasn't that he was projected to be an ace -- most credible sources had him pegged as a solid middle of the rotation starter. The consensus, though, was that the 19 year old Hernandez should be ready for the majors within a couple of years. He seems a lot to give up for Paul Lo Duca, who is one of the most overrated players in baseball. His numbers just don't match up with his reputation.

But we keep hearing how great he will be in the clubhouse. WFAN's Ed Coleman, whose opinion I really do respect, likes Lo Duca a lot, and is convinced he will win over those of us Mets fans who remain skeptical. And there is a thought that playing Ramon Castro twice a week will keep Lo Duca fresh.

So what can we expect from Paul Lo Duca? I don't even pretend to know. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but he is at the age where catchers that started off much better than he is have declined rapidly. It seems likely that, although he will throw out more runners than Piazza, he will be below average in that category. He will handle the pitching staff well, and will be popular in the clubhouse. He will hit for a higher average than most catchers, but his power numbers will be on the low side.

Who got the better of the trade? I think the Marlins win this one, but it depends on Hernandez. A lot can happen to a pitching prospect on the way to the majors, and the buzz, for what it's worth, is the Mets internally didn't have him rated very high. Dante Brinkley projects as a fourth or fifth outfielder, if he makes it at all. Lo Duca will probably be decent for a couple of years and then be out of here. It's another win-now move -- if Lo Duca contributes to a championship, it was worth it.

One thing that many have missed here, though, is the message that Omar sent to future free agents the Mets might be trying to sign down the road. Hernandez and Molina were obviously trying to play the Mets to drive their prices up, a gambit we have seen far to often over the years. The message that Omar has sent: there's a new sheriff in town -- play that game, and be prepared for the Mets to move on without you. Down the road, that might pay dividends.

Coming Next: In part 3, we'll look at Jose Valentin, Julio Franco, Chad Bradford and more...

Why build a new stadium when all it needs is a coat of paint?

In today's Mets news roundup our first stop brings us back to what has become a familiar subject.

Baseball Prospectus: More stadium tap-dancing
In today's Baseball Prospectus Mailbag, Neil deMause answers some e-mails regarding his views on stadium financing. As I've been on this a couple of times, I would recommend reading the following postings if you haven't already done so:
1. Major League Franchises Need to Be in Major League Cities
2. Should Mets fans feel guilty about the new stadium? (scroll down)
3. New Mailbag; More on the New Stadium (scroll down)

My primary concern with Mr. deMause's views specifically deal with some statements he has made on the MLB policy that allows teams to deduct expenses incurred in building a new stadium from the revenue sharing money that is supposed to benefit smaller market teams. In previous discussions, I referred to deMause's ridiculous statement that equated this to forcing the other teams to finance part of the stadium. Remember, this is actually locally generated reveue -- it's a reduction in the money paid to other teams. No one is taking money spent by a Houston Astros fan in their new stadium to use in New York, though I'm sure revenue sharing dollars from New York helped build their new stadium.

Mr. deMause reveals some interesting things about himself in some of his answers, especially this one (emphasis mine):

I grew up going to Shea (Sunday plan, 1971-1979, before I contracted Doug Flynn poisoning and fled to the Bronx), so I actually have a soft spot in my heart for it. But yes, it's not the most attractive stadium in the world. On the other hand, a new stadium in the parking lot isn't going to make the outfield view of Flushing any more attractive, and I doubt the affordable seats at the new place will be any closer to the action than at Shea, so I'm not overly optimistic about a new building. Remember, the last stadium pre-sold as being modeled after Ebbets Field was Milwaukee's Miller Park, and look how that turned out.

Philadelphia is actually an interesting comparison--the city and state spent a ton of money on Citizens Bank Park, and they certainly bought themselves a nicer venue than Veterans Stadium. But then, that's an awfully low bar to set. Maybe it would be more cost-effective just for New York City to spring for a paint job at Shea--hey, they could even bring back those blue-and-orange corrugated-metal dealies that used to hang on the exterior--and a pair of binoculars for every fan.

So Mr. deMause was a Mets fan who switched to the Yankees because the Mets sucked. You lost me here, sir. This interesting piece of news disqualifies you as a real baseball fan, because we all know no real fan would even consider switching to the Yankees. I have nothing but contempt for frontrunners.

But let's get past that. No Mets fan who has stuck it out with their team -- instead of going over to the dark side as Mr. deMause has done -- has any doubt that the new stadium is needed, and will be a huge upgrade to the decrepit junk pile the Mets currently call home. As a fan, I can care less whether the outfield view is more attractive, or whether the affordable seats will be any closer. I also know a paint job isn't going to do it. I'm sure you and your new buddies in the Bronx had a good laugh over that one, though.

Look, I admit that I have an agenda here. As a Mets fan -- a real fan who has stayed with this team through the Doung Flynn years and worse -- I want a new stadium to replace what might well be the worst stadium in baseball. I'm in favor of what allows this new stadium to get built. Furthermore, although he's glossed over it today, I have a strong objection to previous statements by Mr. deMause that equated the deduction of stadium expenses from revenue sharing dollars as "a clever dodge of baseball's attempts to level the playing field for low-revenue teams".

Mr. deMause has an agenda, too, which he doesn't freely admit. He's so dead-set against these new stadiums he can't even concede the need for a replacement for Shea Stadium. There are valid points to be discussed regarding use of public dollars for sports teams, but you lose me completely when you are so in love with your own narrow point of view that you gloss over anything that might conflict with it.

As far as your cheery disclosure that you dumped the Mets in favor of the Yankees -- sorry, you're just a cockroach in my eyes. (My apologies in advance to any loyal Met cockroaches offended by the comparison to Mr. deMause.)

Baseball America: Another front office change for the Mets
Matt Meyers reports on Alan Wogan, the new Mets' director of minor league operations. Wogan, who worked for Omar Minaya with the Expos, made the following statement:

I have the utmost respect for Omar and I am familiar with the way he operates and the desires he has for the minor league system, and I think that can only help. That will help in getting to know the staff quickly and help all the working relationships.

Daily News: Carlos and Carlos
Christian Red, who did a great feature on Carlos Delgado a while back, reports on a Home Run Derby in Puerto Rico that was billed as "The Battle of the Carlos," an event that raised money for the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School. Red quoted Delgado on comments by Chris Russo and others that Omar is biased towards Latin ballplayers:

I want to congratulate (Minaya) publicly, because he's done everything within his power to make that ballclub better. I read a quote that Omar said, 'All I'm trying to do is field the (best) team that I can, whether it's Latin, American, Japanese or whatever.' If we're good and we happen to be Latino, so be it.

Carlos Beltran actually beat Delgado in the competition.

Mets Daily: Jeff Keppinger
John Strubel has a nice piece on Jeff Keppinger, who has become somewhat of a forgotten man within the Mets organization.

Mets.com: Spring Training Guide
Marty Noble has a feature on the Mets web site that fans planning to attend some of spring training will find useful.

Mets Geek: Fixing the relievers
Andrew Hintz has an interesting feature on Rick Peterson's success in working with relief pitchers, and the hopes that he might be able to do something with Jorge Julio.

Monday, January 30, 2006

New York Mets Hot Stove Moves, Part 1

We'll be taking a look at some of the moves Omar made this off-season, from significant signings to controversial trades.

11/9/2005 - Signed LHP Matt Perisho to a minor-league contract
In his quest to find a decent lefty for the bullpen, Omar's bringing in any LHP with a pulse to camp. Perisho has bounced around with several teams, including the Angels, Texas, Detroit and last year with the Marlins. He has a lifetime 6.39 ERA, walks a ton of guys, and is only okay at getting lefties out.

11/15/2005 - Declined options on Felix Heredia and Kaz Ishii
Addition by subtraction. 'Nuff said.

11/18/2005 - Traded Mike Cameron to the San Diego Padres for Xavier Nady
This is the move that started all of the off-season "fun". It came as no surprise that the Mets traded Mike Cameron, but fans were hoping to receive some bullpen help in return, and certainly more than faded prospect Xavier Nady.

Once considered to be an outstanding power-hitting prospect, Nady hit poorly against right-handed pitching, was a marginal defensive player and struggled to earn playing time on a team that desperately needed an offensive spark. At 27 years old, and with 775 lifetime ABs, many think Nady has proven to be only a candidate for a platoon, and simply not enough in return for a full-time Gold Glove caliber centerfielder in a market short of quality CFs.

Omar may believe in Nady more than the "experts", but this was a salary dump, plain and simple. Omar didn't want to play a defensive right fielder $6 million. Nady makes a fraction of that, and Omar used the money saved for Carlos Delgado.

Did he get enough in return for Cameron? Of course not -- if he wanted to maximize Cameron's value he would have held onto him until the CF market got even thinner, but the risk there was that he would get stuck with more salary. I believe Omar made the deal because it accomplished exactly what he wanted to do -- clearing a lot of salary and bringing in a young player with some promise. Many speculate that Nady was intended to be moved out in a trade for someone else -- perhaps Barry Zito -- that fell through. I thought that was a strong possibility. For lack of any real evidence we'll leave that there.

So what can we expect from Xavier Nady? I found an article by FOX's Kevin Kennedy that opined Nady still had 35 HR potential, but most other sources see him more as a part-timer primarily used against left-handed pitchers. He'll compete with Victor Diaz for the RF job. If he loses that battle, he'll still probably see playing time in RF and in LF spelling Cliff Floyd.

Who got the better of the trade? Probably San Diego, as long as Cameron comes back all the way from the injury. Don't discount the fact that dumping $5 million in salary helped to bring in Carlos Delgado, though.

11/15/2005 - Traded 1B Mike Jacobs, RHP prospect Yusmeiro Petit and INF prospect Grant Psomas to the Florida Marlins for 1b Carlos Delgado and cash.
I wasn't a big fan of this move when it was first discussed -- mainly because Delgado didn't really seem to want to come here. Now that doesn't seem to be a problem, and I can't kill Omar for this trade. He gave up a lot in Jacobs and Petit, but he brought back the true cleanup hitter that the Mets so desperately needed.

Omar got a lot of flack from this trade for allegedly overpaying when the Marlins were desperate to get rid of Delgado's salary. There are some worries about Delgado's age (he'll be 34 in June) and history of injuries (he hasn't played in 150+ games since 2001). What can't be argued is that he is still one of the elite power hitters in baseball (33 HR, 115 RBI, .582 SLG in 2005). He put up impressive numbers in a tougher hitter's park than Shea, and bats left-handed, a much favorable side for a power hitter in Shea.

I think there were several things working here. I believe that the Marlins needed more from a team in their own division than they might have accepted from a team outside of the division. Omar spoke of a sense of urgency to make this deal before free agent 1B Paul Konerko signed and more teams looked harder at Delgado. It was easy for some in the media to discount this in hindsight, but I think it was a valid point.

So what can we expect from Carlos Delgado? I'd be surprised if he didn't bat over .280, with 30+ HR and 100+ RBI. Julio Franco should spell him often enough to keep him fresh. He'll probably decline over the last 2 years of his contract, and the way the Mets are structured he'll have company on the career downside. Still, for a lot less money and playing a less demanding position than Manny Ramirez, he was a much safer bet to remain somewhat productive through the life of the contract.

Who got the better of the trade? That remains to be seen. In the short-term, most likely the Mets. In the long run, if Jacobs isn't a Kevin Maas type wonder -- and I don't think he is -- and Petit fulfils his potential to be a solid mid-rotation starter, the Marlins will probably come out ahead. This was a win-now move, so much depends on whether the Mets actually manage to win.

Coming Next: In part 2, we'll look at Billy Wagner, Paul Lo Duca and more...

New Mailbag; More on the New Stadium

Mets beat reporter Marty Noble answers questions from fans, including a couple of thought-provoking response concerning Carlos Beltran and how fast to push a promising prospect. I also revisit whether it is "fair" to use Baseball Revenue Sharing dollars to finance a stadium.

Mets.com: Marty's got a brand new bag
Marty Noble has a new Mailbag on Mets.com.

When asked if he thought Carlos Beltran could bat .300 with 100 RBIs and 25-30 HR, Noble answered:

Beltran has had two .300 seasons and has a .282 career average, so a .300 season, while clearly possible, doesn't seem likely. Driving in 100 runs or more runs seems more likely. He has had five seasons of at least 100 RBIs.

But in each case, the RBIs were a by-product of a home run total of at least 22. In those five seasons, Beltran averaged 28 home runs. He hit 16 last season -- and only six in 295 at-bats at Shea Stadium. His home park doesn't give up home runs too often, so I don't anticipate him reaching 25 home runs.

He batted .298 -- 32 points higher than his overall average -- in 151 at-bats with runners in scoring position. The other Mets batted .247 in those situations. So he did respond in opportune and challenging moments.

The problem was that he batted third almost exclusively and the Nos. 1 and 2 spots in the Mets' batting order had the lowest composite on-base percentage in the National League.

I wonder if you broke down that .298 AVG with RISP over the season if it didn't decline significantly as the year went on. It just seemed as if whenever Beltran had an important AB later in the year he produced a bad strikeout or -- what became almost a trademark for him -- a weak roller to second base.

I have no doubt that Beltran was hampered by the players that hit in front of him, but I can't let him off the hook as Marty did. Beltran was trying to pull everything as the year went on, and left many runners stranded.

Having said that, I agree with Noble that Beltran isn't likely to be a .300 hitter, but I wouldn't consider 25 HR unreachable for him at Shea, since most of his ABs there will be as a left-handed batter. The important thing is that he uses the gaps and his speed to good effect. 20 HR would be fine, combined with plenty of doubles.

There was also a good response to a question of whether Benson's departure will hasten number one pick Mike Pelfrey's ascension to the main club:

With Benson and Seo gone, a greater need for starting pitching and, therefore, a greater opportunity will exist. But ideally, the only the factor that will prompt a quick ascent to the big leagues by Pelfrey is Pelfrey's development.

That said, almost every highly-regarded prospect in Mets history has moved to the big leagues more quickly than the club initially predicted. Neil Allen, Darryl Strawberry and Bill Pulsipher were rushed to the Majors because of on-the-field need. Lee Mazzilli was put on the fast track at least partially because the club needed to improve its image at a time when it would eschew free agency.

Gregg Jefferies was rushed -- to his lasting detriment -- for no apparent reason other than baseball greed. The 1988 Mets had no need for him, and his early promotion only added to his problems -- some of them self-produced -- being accepted by teammates.

At the same time, Dwight Gooden, Jason Isringhausen, Jose Reyes and David Wright reached the big leagues at relatively young ages and prospered almost immediately.

I agree with Marty on Gregg Jefferies. I've often wonder if another year or so to grow up mentally in the minors could have helped Gooden and Strawberry make better choices later on. As for Reyes, I think another year out of the spotlight, working on some weaknesses could have benefited him immensely.

Baseball Prospectus: Stadium Financing
I took some exception last week to Neil deMause's views on financing for both the Mets and Yankees' stadiums. So did someone that he criticized in the article. Andrew Zimbalist questions some of Mr. deMause's math in defending himself, and does a pretty good job of discrediting many of deMause's statements. Unfortunately, you have to be a Baseball Prospectus subscriber to read more than the beginning of the article.

My point here, one that I made in two previous entries, Should Mets fans feel guilty about the new stadium? and Major League Franchises Need to Be in Major League Cities, is that this idea of deMause -- MLB allowing teams like the Mets and Yankees to deduct stadium expenses from revenue sharing is tantamount to stealing money from other teams -- is a load of crap.

Yes, there is some actual public subsidy of the Mets and Yankees' new stadiums in infrastructure and tax breaks. Yes, people that are not baseball fans contribute to this in the same way that baseball fans do. Well, guess what? The theatre and the arts receive public money, from those that actively enjoy them and those that don't.

Mr. Zimbalist shows that deMause considered the savings in revenue sharing a public subsidy of the stadium, which was certainly some interesting intellectual gymnastics on deMause's part if not out-and-out intellectual dishonesty. This rule was enacted to allow stadiums to be built using as little public money as possible. For me personally, I can't get past finding fault with using revenue generated locally from Mets fans to build a stadium that is a significant benefit to Mets fans.

Did Mets fans not love Mike Piazza enough?

Well, Piazza is now a San Diego Padre, and although it's not going to be fun to see him in another uniform, I'm grateful for a couple of things -- that we don't have to watch him on the outside looking in, that he's not a Yankee, and that the Padres don't wear those God-awful feces-brown uniforms anymore.

Needless to say, there is a ton of articles in the New York area dailies about Mike this morning. Tyler Kepner had a good one in the New York Times that offers the following quote from Piazza's agent Dan Lozano on why Mike chose the Padres:

Mike doesn't consider himself a backup catcher. He's happy because he's going to a place where he's going to get to play. In the end, all the signs kept pushing him to San Diego.

...It's a great place to play. Kevin Towers was phenomenal throughout the whole process. Mike gets to control how much playing time he gets.

I really don't know what else to say about this. I was there the second-to-last game of the season and was one of the fans that gave Mike a standing ovation for striking out as a pinch-hitter. I remember that I had something in my eye that caused it to water quite a bit -- by coincidence, so did a lot of the men and women in the seats around me. That was my goodbye to one of the greatest Mets I've had the pleasure to watch over the years.

I will say one more thing, though. Last week I took exception to something Joel Sherman wrote, and today it's the New York Post's Kevin Kernan who annoyed me with the following statement:

For all of Piazza's immense success with the Mets, you get the feeling he never was fully appreciated by the fans, the media or Mets management.

I don't care about the media or Mets management, but as far as the fans were concerned, what the hell are you talking about? The few loudmouths that will criticize any Met star that doesn't bat 1.000 and make every play flawlessly in the field? Again, like Sherman earlier in the week, Kernan seems to think that these few speak for the many. I was there one of many times when real Met fans showed Mike how we felt.

I have the utmost respect for sportswriters and columnists, but I'm losing patience with this type of thing. To Kernan, and those like him who feel the need to make asinine, broad-brush type self-righteous pronouncements, I have one thing left to say: "Screw you, you pompous jerk." Real Met fans have no apology to make to Mike Piazza -- or to you, either.

On a happier note, Newsday offers a great 64 photo slideshow on Piazza to us undeserving Mets fans in this article. Click on the second photo down.

Mets.com: 1986 Game 6
Marty Noble recounts Ron Darling's personal recollections of the dramatic Game 6 World Series comeback against the Red Sox.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Index of Archived Posts: 2006

The following list includes all posts for the current year, and will be updated periodically.

January 2006
Happy New Year 1-1-2006
A Slow Start to the New Year 1-2-2006
Index of Archived Posts: 2005 1-2-2006
Mets Hot Stove: Close to Baez Deal? 1-3-2006
Mets Hot Stove: Marty's got a brand new bag 1-3-2006
Mets Hot Stove: Baez, no wait, Sanchez! 1-4-2006
Mets Hot Stove: It's official: Seo for Sanchez 1-4-2006
Mets Hot Stove: Stop the Baez insanity! 1-5-2006
Mets Hot Stove: Beltran Interview, Mini-camp next week 1-5-2006
Mets Hot Stove: Manny, the One-Man Soap Opera 1-6-2006
Mets Hot Stove: Yes, we have no Ramirez 1-6-2006
Gotta believe it's getting better for Carlos 1-6-2006
Is the Hot Stove Cooling Off for the New York Mets? 1-7-2006
Mets Sunday Brunch: Getting to know David 1-8-2006
Check out my 2006 Braves Preview at MetsDaily.com 1-8-2006
Mets Mini-Camp Opens 1-9-2006
Day 1 of Mets Mini-Camp 1-9-2006
Report: Mets Finally Sign #1 Pick Mike Pelfrey 1-10-2006
Mets Mini-Camp, Day 2 1-10-2006
More from Mets Mini-Camp 1-11-2006
Meet Mike Pelfrey 1-11-2006
Mets Mini-Camp Ends 1-12-2006
First-Class Men in the TV Booth for the Mets 1-13-2006
More on Keith Hernandez 1-13-2006
Time for Victor Diaz to Bring It 1-13-2006
Major League Franchises Need to Be in Major League Cities 1-14-2006
Profiles of Billy Wagner, Wally Backman and Chad Bradford 1-15-2006
New Marty Noble Mailbag on Mets.com 1-16-2006
Victor gets a raise, Lugo still available 1-17-2006
Tom Verducci: You win by limiting their scoring 1-17-2006
Woodward Signed; Another Potential Japanese Bust 1-18-2006
SI Sticks it to the Mets 1-18-2006
Defending Your Omar; The Mets New Pitcher 1-19-2006
SI's Donovan Grades the Hot Stove, My Astros Preview 1-19-2006
A closer look at Yusaku Iriki 1-20-2006
Mets lose prospect Aarom Baldiris on waivers 1-20-2006
Benson for Julio -- Done Deal? 1-21-2006
Update: Confirmation on Benson for Julio Trade 1-21-2006
More on Jorge Julio and John Maine; What's Next 1-22-2006
Jorge Julio for Kris Benson: A Look Back 1-22-2006
Should Mets fans feel guilty about the new stadium? 1-23-2006
The Benson trade dominates Marty Noble's Mailbag 1-23-2006
Mets new network launches in Mid-March 1-24-2006
Juan Samuel Returns to the Scene of the Crime 1-24-2006
Day one of the Mets winter caravan 1-25-2006
Notes from Day 2 of the Mets Winter Caravan 1-25-2006
Omar Defends Himself 1-26-2006
Mets Winter Caravan, Day 3 1-27-2006
Loudmouth fans don't speak for me 1-27-2006
Building a Winning Rotation 1-27-2006
On Pedro, the Toe, and the WBC 1-28-2006
Omar's Latin Conspiracy? 1-29-2006
Index of Archived Posts: 2006 1-29-2006
Did Mets fans not love Mike Piazza enough? 1-30-2006
New Mailbag; More on the New Stadium 1-30-2006
New York Mets Hot Stove Moves, Part 1 1-30-2006
Why build a new stadium when all it needs is a coat of paint? 1-31-2006
New York Mets Hot Stove Moves, Part 2 1-31-2006

February 2006
Let's trade Jose Reyes before it's too late 2-1-2006

Omar's Latin Conspiracy?

There isn't much real Mets news out there, and probably won't be until Spring Training opens up in mid-February. There is, however, a growing number of opinion pieces out there on the racism of those that accuse Omar Minaya of blindly building a ballclub that features as many Hispanic players as possible.

I've looked at them all -- three in the Daily News alone -- and decided not to spend a lot of time on them. Nothing new has been added to the debate, and I doubt very much if anyone's mind has been changed. It's similar to the "sophisticated" political process in this country right now -- people start off with their intractable opinions, then only read, watch, and listen to whatever reinforces their point of view. God forbid anyone should question his or her own beliefs.

That's pretty much what you have here. Those convinced that Omar has a secret agenda to Latinize the Flushing 9 are not going to be persuaded by all of the high-minded moral outrage expressed by those that are offended by the perceived bigotry. All this ink is being wasted, as you are only driving the first group underground. You're not converting anyone.

Omar Minaya is a good man whose hard work has helped the Mets become a legit contender this season. If you believe that, as I do, you're nodding your head in agreement with my words of wisdom. If not, you've called me a moron and moved on to find someone that supports your point of view.

The point here is that I'm just not recommending these stories today. It's not because I secretly believe Omar is bigoted against non-Hispanics, it's just simply time to move on. As much as I would love to join some members of the mainstream media in continually outputting drivel that amounts to little more than a pat on my own back for my non-bigotry, I'll resist the urge.

Newsday: Cronyism?
John Heyman also dismisses the ongoing Latin debate, but points out one of Omar's real weaknesses:

If there's a quibble here about Minaya's personnel procurement, it's in some front-office hires. Minaya almost exclusively hires close friends, even when others are better equipped.

Sometimes there can be no argument, such as when he hires his mentor, Sandy Johnson, or longtime scout Bryan Lambe. But Minaya installed a buddy as scouting director last year, and the Mets' draft - after No. 1 pick Mike Pelfrey - has been described as disastrous by competitors and Mets people alike. Minaya has since replaced this fellow.

That's the type of important debate that sometimes gets buried under the other crap. Heyman also has a quote from a Mets official concerning Lastings Milledge, rumored to be a component of just about every proposed trade:

Milledge isn't going anywhere. He's going to be our leftfielder in 2007.

NY Sports Day: Darryl
Joe McDonald, who has been bringing it all week, has another great feature. This one is on Darryl Strawberry, who, despite his enjoyment in working with young players, talks about his lack of coaching aspirations:

I will never manage and I will never coach. I am a person who wants to give back and help younger players. I am not in it for the long haul to be a coach or a manager. I enjoy the kids and I don't really worry about the other parts.

Fox Sports: The future at Second Base
Ken Rosenthal offers the following on Anderson Hernandez:

A pair of switch-hitting middle-infield prospects - the Angels' Erick Aybar and Mets' Anderson Hernandez - made a strong impression while playing for Licey, champion of the Dominican winter league.

"They're both live-bodied guys," one scout says. "The more you watch them play, the more you see all the things they can do. Both have a chance to be pretty good big-league players."

You have to believe that, if the Mets believe in Anderson Hernandez as their long-term solution at 2B, that has be part of their reasoning behind not going crazy over picking up one this winter.

This week we'll start looking back at the moves Omar Minaya has made this off-season, and commenting on them from strictly a baseball standpoint.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

On Pedro, the Toe, and the WBC

Saturday's New York Mets news roundup offers a double dose of Joel Sherman, a feature on utility infielder Jose Valentin, and a nice piece from the Washington Post on how baseball helped the former American hostages in Iran upon their return.

New York Post: Omar: Pedro will only pitch in WBC if he is 100%
Joel Sherman quotes Mets GM Omar Minaya on Pedro Martinez' participation in the World Baseball Classic:

We sponsor the event, we believe in the event, but we have said all along the guys have to be 100 percent to play. We are not going to risk the season because of the event. If Pedro Martinez is not 100 percent, I don't think we want him risking pitching. But we have to have that conversation with Pedro in spring to find out where he is at.

Martinez, one of the most popular players in his country, is under a lot of pressure in the Dominican Republic to pitch in the classic. Most Mets fans, myself included, will be holding our breath any time he takes the rubber in that event.

MSG Network: NL East: Mets better, everyone else worse
Joel Sherman sounds off on the NL east, where the Mets have improved while all four other teams have not. Nothing really groundbreaking here, but he makes some interesting points. I found his comment on Tom Gordon somewhat questionable:

The Phillies replaced Wagner with Tom Gordon, who is very good, but also very fragile and very susceptible to home runs as he goes to a homer haven in Philadelphia.

Actually, as a relief pitcher, Gordon has been relatively stingy in giving up the longball. Two years ago in the Bronx he gave up 5 dingers in 89.2 innings, then last year 8 in 80.2. Even last year wasn't horrible, but Gordon does seem to have a knack for giving them up in big situations. I don't think Gordon is going to be terrible in Philadelphia, but if he gets off to a bad start the fans will probably get on him.

Sherman also offers this interesting tidbit regarding the Seo trade:

The Mets made the Jae Seo trade to the Dodgers because they were hungry to add Duaner Sanchez's power arm to their late-game bullpen mix. But don't diminish how much they wanted Steve Schmoll in the deal, as well. The Mets think Schmoll is intriguing. He throws right-handed and submarine style like Chad Bradford. But unlike Bradford, who deceives hitters by throwing slower than normal, Schmoll works at 90-92 mph.

It would certainly be unusual for a bullpen to feature two sidearm pitchers, much less three if LHP Mike Venafro somehow sticks. Willie would have all the funk he could hope for, while Mets fans would be ecstatic if they could actually get hitters out.

Mets.com: Jorge Julio signed to one-year deal
Marty Noble reports that the Mets and newly acquired reliever Jorge Julio avoided arbitration by negotiating a one-year, $2,525,000 contract. The number was $25,000 less than splitting the difference between the two sides' proposals. Once again the Mets have managed to avoid arbitration with all of their eligible players.

As a side note, for those that were complaining that Victor Zambrano got a salary bump up to $3 million, how does that look now after a reliever with a 5.90 ERA last season makes only $475k less?

NY Sports Day: Jose Valentin Interview
Joe McDonald profiles new Mets utility infielder Jose Valentin, who offers his thoughts on signing with the Mets:

The reason I signed here is that this team gives me the best chance to play in the World Series and that's what every player plays for. And I get to play with a lot of Latino players like Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran. I also get to play a lot closer to my home [in Puerto Rico].

Valentin signed with the Dodgers last season after 5 seasons with the White Sox, just in time to watch his former team win the World Series. He had an awful year with the Dodgers, as injuries limited him to a .170 AVG in 147 ABs. Omar likes to point out that he had 30 HRs the years before. He doesn't mention that Valentin batted only .216 that season, while striking out 139 times in 450 ABs. In fairness, a one-year, $900K contract wasn't a huge gamble on Omar's part.

Washington Post: Lifetime Pass
Les Carpenter reports on a little-known benefit given to the 52 American hostages who were held captive for over a year in Iran back in 1980:

They returned to an adoring nation that gave them a ticker-tape parade and welcomed them as heroes. They were besieged with flags, yellow ribbons and countless gifts, among them the tiny box from Major League Baseball. Inside was a lifetime pass to any major or minor league game.

Among the former hostages receiving this was Barry Rosen, a New Yorker who had been the embassy's press attaché. When he returned home after the ordeal, it was to 2 young children who didn't know him:

My children were very fearful of me. It wasn't that I was an ogre, they didn't know who the hell I was. They were with their mother all the time and then this strange man walked in the house. I couldn't take them out of the house. They wouldn't go anywhere with me.

Rosen, who had grown up a Dodger fan in Brooklyn, loved NL baseball and decided to take his kids to see a Mets game:

Their first game, at Shea Stadium in New York, was so wonderful, he couldn't have drawn it better himself. The sky was clear, the sun sparkled on the grass. They arrived early to watch batting practice and then didn't want to leave.

...For the next several years, the family fractured by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's revolutionary leader, went to baseball games together, often as many as 10 times a season. The ritual was always the same, as soon as the coming year's Mets schedule came out, Alexander and Barry picked the games they wanted to see. Then Barry called the Mets and the tickets would be waiting.

For those of us old enough to remember it, the Iranian Hostage Crisis was as much of a defining moment in U.S. History as the events of September 11, 2001. Nice to hear that baseball played a role in helping some of the returning hostages to normalize their lives.

Mets Walkoffs: Mets Walkoffs is Back
After a brief hiatus due to the death of a laptop, Mark is back with a look at Jorge Julio. The feature is somewhat depressing for Mets fans, but the writing, as usual, is great.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Building a Winning Rotation

The Mets have certainly upgraded their bullpen -- whether there is enough quality there for a playoff-caliber team remains to be seen. The biggest questions now concern the five men who will try to hand the bullpen a lead.

Mets.com: Heilman will have to earn a starting job
Kit Stier reports that, if Aaron Heilman has a spot in the rotation when the Mets head north at the end of spring training, it won't be because the job was handed to him. Stier lists newly acquired John Maine, Japanese pickup Yusaku Iriki, and top prospect Brian Bannister as potential competition. We also hear the Cuban Alay Soler will get a long look.

Heilman, despite erroneous reports earlier this month that he was demanding a trade rather than pitch out of the bullpen again, understands that he will be used in whatever manner is in the best interest of the team:

I'm coming into Spring Training prepared to do whatever role they see fit for me. I'd certainly love to start, but I want to be a part of this team, and I want to be a part of what I feel is going to be a very successful ballclub.

Heilman credits working with pitching coach Rick Peterson and changing back to the arm angle that was successful for him at Notre Dame, for his belated major league success:

It got to the point where I was thinking way too much when I was out there on the mound. That was hindering me from doing my job and making quality pitches. Working with Rick has gotten me back to my natural arm slot and allowed me to focus on the things that are important.

Not only did it help me become more consistent from a mental aspect, it allowed me to kind of change my focus and really emphasize doing what it took to get results and not worry so much about the process.

Heilman has enjoyed success with a moving fastball and a great changeup. According to Rick Peterson, the key to succeeding as a starter will be for Aaron to develop complementary pitches to keep batters from sitting on his changeup.

NY Sports Day: Interview with Rick Peterson
NY Sports Day's Joe McDonald conducted an interview with Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson. Some highlights:

Having a guy like Wagner in the Bullpen, does that change your approach as a pitching coach on what advice you give to Willie Randolph?
Absolutely. You start to look at major match-ups and now we have so many options. Last year if you look at our bullpen, we had maybe a king and maybe a queen, but this year we have an ace, maybe three kings and a couple of queens. It's a nice bullpen.

Do you think the organization's faith in Victor Zambrano is justified?
In the middle of the season last year, there was a stretch where he was our best pitcher. He certainly has the ability, but it's about him going through the full season and it's a marathon.

What do you like most about Zambrano as a pitcher?
If he focuses and takes it one pitch at a time, he's a dominant pitcher. It's a matter of focus with him. There are times he is in there throwing pitch after pitch after pitch and something happens that causes him to lose focus.

I saw the quick interview Peterson did at the very end of the Mike and the Mad Dog show Wednesday, and he said the same thing about Zambrano. I've heard Minaya talk about Zambrano like this in interviews, too.

I know there are a lot of Mets fans that would like to see Victor Zambrano just go away, because they are disillusioned with his performance last year and because he's a constant reminder of the awful Kazmir trade. They accuse the Mets of holding on to Zambrano to somehow justify that deal.

In my opinion, if the Mets' primary concern was the Kazmir trade, they would quietly pack off Zambrano for whatever they could get. I think people would forget Kazmir more quickly if Victor wasn't around to serve as a reminder. I believe Omar holds onto Victor Zambrano only because he sees the potential there for a quality starter. I'm not sure if Victor will ever develop the focus needed to achieve his potential, I just wish the fans that ride him would back off enough to let him try.

ESPN: More on Pedro's toe
Enrique Rojas reports on the special shoe that Nike is making for Pedro Martinez to protect his toe. Rojas quotes Martinez on the origin of this problem:

By having this irregular movement on my right foot [at the end of his pitching motion], I've damaged the cartilage of my toe.

The pain became insufferable during the 2004 season, and I had to take a cortisone shot in order to tolerate the pain and be able to help Boston win the World Series. Last year, the pain returned in June, but the doctors recommended that, rather than ignoring the wound by applying cortisone, I rehabilitate the foot instead, which is what we're doing right now.

The purpose of the shoe will be to keep the toe from being damaged any further, hopefully putting an end to the pain that has hampered Pedro's pitching.

Sports Illustrated: The need for another quality starter
S.I.'s John Donovan, in a story highlighting teams that still have needs to fill this season, offers the following on the Mets need for a quality starter:

Omar Minaya, one of the busier general managers in the game this offseason, has overhauled the bullpen, so now he's taking aim at the last troublesome unit on the team -- the rotation. He's already reworked it, trading Jae Seo and Kris Benson, which has cleared a spot for young Aaron Heilman. But finding another good young starter is critical, especially when you consider that aging Pedro Martinez (who has a bum toe) and Tom Glavine (how much does the soft-throwing lefty have left?) top this rotation. Getting the right man (Barry Zito, maybe, at the trade deadline?) could make the difference between being an also-ran and unseating the Braves in the National League East.

I have to confess that I go back and forth so much on Zito, I give myself a headache. A still-young, left-handed quality starting pitcher is quite a commodity. There is no doubt that he would provide a huge upgrade to the rotation. I wonder what the Mets might have to give up in talent to land him, and also what it might cost in a contract to keep him.

I've mentioned previously that pitchers that enjoy great success at a young age and then regress a little scare me. Since the 23-5, 2.75 ERA year in 2002 at 24 years of age, Zito hasn't approached that type of success. And, despite only turning 28 in May, he has some wear and tear on that left arm, with over 1,200 innings pitched in his career heading into this season.

He's playing out his option this year, and will undoubtedly get a huge multi-year deal next winter. If he puts up numbers comparable to those he has posted the last couple of years, Barry Zito has the potential to be one of the most overpaid players in baseball. Like I said, I make myself crazy with this.

Getting off of my Zito-phobia and back to Donovan's article, he also opines on the Braves need to find a closer:

The great Dan Kolb experiment flopped last season, and when Kyle Farnsworth took the Yankees' money this winter, the Braves were left holding the resin bag. All the best closers (and even some not-so-good ones) have long since been snapped up, so the Braves will see if Chris Reitsma (15 saves in '05) can do for them what Kolb couldn't. And if Reitsma can't handle the pressure, maybe they'll give already battered Joey Devine, their first-round draft pick last year who gave up grand slams in his first two outings, another chance. Or maybe they'll go to Plan F. Once they figure out a Plan F.

I never bet against John Schuerholz, but he's really gambling this time. Then again, it's obvious that the bullpen has never been a huge priority for Atlanta, and things have worked out well for them, at least until the post-season.

Loudmouth fans don't speak for me

Someday maybe the media will realize a simple fact: while the squeaky wheel may indeed get the grease, that doesn't mean it speaks for all the other wheels...

New York Post: Joel Sherman answers Omar's critics
Joel Sherman pens a strong column in the Post, defending Omar Minaya against the charges of Latin bias. Apparently, Sherman received quite a bit of e-mail from Mets fans that didn't like what Omar is doing, causing Sherman to lament:

...if my e-mail is any window into the soul of Mets fans, I fear we have veered off the Glory Road toward a bigoted Gory Path.

The one thing I will find fault with here is Sherman's feelings that his e-mail is a "window into the soul of Mets fans". Why do people like Sherman seem to feel that the loudest and most obnoxious are representative of the group as a whole? I don't feel the need to e-mail sports columnists or call WFAN to air my views. I'm like most of you out there in that regard. The loudmouths out there don't represent me, and I don't believe they represent most of us.

I've been asked why I've chosen to name this blog Mike's Mets, rather than come up with a "cool" name. The simple answer is that I make no pretense that the views here represent anyone's but mine. I don't speak for you, reader, just to you. Sherman has been doing this long enough that he should understand each piece of e-mail is representative of the sender, period.

Daily News: Pedro "50-50" to pitch in WBC
Adam Rubin cites Mets GM Omar Minaya that there is a "50-50" chance that Mets' ace Pedro Martinez will pitch for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. Since Mets coach Manny Acta is managing the Domican team, the Mets are confident that Pedro won't be pushed too hard if he does pitch. Rubin quotes Acta on how pitchers will be used:

Those guys are going to get the same amount of work in those games that they'll have in spring training. By that point Pedro will be stretched out to 50 or 60 pitches. And then, by the end of the World Cup, if he has to pitch in the finals, 95 pitches will be the most anyway. Let's face it: We have a team with about five closers. You really don't have to allow the guys to go seven or eight innings.

Rubin updates us on Alay Soler, who has excelled in the Puerto Rican winter league. He cites new Mets utility infielder Jose Valentin, who has faced Soler in winter league action:

Soler is one of those guys, for not too much experience in professional baseball, he knows how to pitch. He doesn't throw hard - he's 90-plus mph - but he has great control. The guy knows what to do on the mound. He's going to be a good pitcher for this organization.

Rubin also reports on new Mets reliever Duaner Sanchez, who spent his childhood living in both the Domincan Republic and Manhattan. Sanchez is happy to be in New York, stating, "This is like my backyard."

Newark Star-Ledger: Happy Jose
Don Burke reports on Jose Reyes' successful quest to represent his country in the WBC this March.

Mets Winter Caravan, Day 3

Thursday's penultimate day of the Mets winter caravan offered none of yesterday's "controversy", but rather some light-hearted fun and a chance for some special kids to meet the players.

Mets.com: Good deeds
Bryan Hoch reports on day 3 of the Mets winter caravan, culminated by an event for all kinds of disadvantaged kids at the ESPN zone. Earlier in the day, David Wright has specifically requested to be a part of an event with firefighters and the families of New York's bravest lost in the September 11 attacks. Wright explains why:

You really understand, being in the position we're in, we have a chance to use our names to do something good in the community. It's something that's special to me.

I get a bigger kick out of hanging out with the kids and firemen than they do. It's something I look forward to every year. I think people really appreciate our time.

For more in-depth coverage of the winter caravan, see this page on Mets.com.

Also on Mets.com: Cliff Floyd Chat Transcript
If you missed this from earlier today, here are some highlights from Cliff's live chat:

What ball players, or any athletes in general, did you admire growing up?
Harold Baines was my favorite, but I was also a big fan of Leon Durham and Shawon Dunston.
[Personal note: My God, am I old...]

What does it feel like to see a fan in the stands wearing your jersey?
It feels awesome, it feels great! You should head out to the store and buy one, too!

What do you like to do the most over the offseason?
I enjoy spending time with my kids.

If you and the Mets were to pull off a world championship this October, would you consider retirement or would you continue to play in 2007?
I would play in 2007 and beyond.

I know you and David Wright are pretty close. Now that he'll be in his second season, have you got any new nicknames for him besides rook?
"Big baller."

How could the voters snub you out of the Gold Glove last year? I've never seen a left fielder play like that!
How could they? I asked myself that, too.

What was your most memorable home run?
Last year against the Angels, 3-2, bottom of the ninth. Can't beat it!

How much can you bench press?
450 pounds.

When you were a free agent, what was the biggest reason why you signed with the Mets?
I always wanted to play in New York City and the Mets gave me the opportunity.

What will you do after baseball?
Real estate and I hope to own my own bowling alley. I bowled a 290 this year.

Who would win in a home run derby -- you or David Wright?
Definitely me!

Who is the biggest trash-talker in the league?
David Wright.

Cliff, what kind of car do you drive?
I have an S500, a Flying Spur Bentley, SL500, Range Rover, Dodge Magnum, Cadillac EXT and Phantom Rolls Royce. And that's why I work so hard on the hitting.

Cliff, how is the team chemistry right now?
This week has been fun with the annual Caravan. We all got to meet Billy Wagner, Paul Lo Duca, Carlos Delgado and our other new teammates. It's a good group. I am really looking forward to Spring Training so we can play some baseball.

What is it like to see yourself in a video game?
It's crazy. I always play with my team. I get really mad when I strike out in the game.

Who was a major influence on you in becoming a Major Leaguer?
Tommy Harper was my hitting coach for the Expos. He was more of a father figure away from home, but also a great coach.

Baseball America: Recap on the Benson Trade
BA's Jim Callis gives a quick overview of Jorge Julio and John Maine in his look at this weekend's trade:

Jorge Julio: Adding Julio, a 26-year-old righthander, to their bullpen may allow the Mets to use Aaron Heilman as a starter. Baltimore's closer until B.J. Ryan supplanted him, Julio went 3-5, 5.90 in 67 outings in 2006. He had a 58-24 K-BB ratio and a .269 opponent average in 72 innings while allowing a whopping 14 homers. He has legitimate power stuff, with a mid- to high-90s fastball and a high-80s slider, but gets into trouble because he doesn't locate his pitches well. Eligible for arbitration, he's expected to command a salary of roughly $2.5 million. He has a career mark of 11-24, 4.20 with 83 saves in 281 games.

John Maine: Maine, a 24-year-old righthander, could challenge for a spot in the back of New York's rotation. A sixth-round pick out of UNC Charlotte in 2002, he saw his first extensive time in the majors in 2005, going 2-3, 6.30 in 10 games (eight starts). He had a 24-24 K-BB ratio in 40 innings as opponents hit .248 with eight homers off him. His best attribute is his command of his 90-91 mph fastball, and he also throws a slider, curveball and changeup. He got into trouble in the big leagues when he tried to be too fine with his pitches. He went 6-11, 4.56 in 23 starts at Triple-A Ottawa last year and has a career 30-24, 3.24 record in 86 minor league games (83 starts).

Mets Inside Pitch: The "other pitcher" in the Seo Trade
Bryan Hoch profiles Steve Schmoll, the sidewinding right-hander acquired along with Duaner Sanchez in the Jae Seo trade.

Hoch also offers this quote from David Wright on the difference that is shaping up between this year's team and last year's:

You've got all the guys coming together for the first time, everybody was in suits, together for a nice evening, and it all ends up with everybody gathered around talking about baseball. That's just what it's all about.

Guys gathering up in suits in the middle of January, getting all emotional about baseball. That's what is beautiful about these new guys we brought in, guys we traded for, guys we signed. They have gatherings of younger players and they're talking baseball, talking situations, talking pitchers and hitters.

That's what's going to make it so special this year, that we have that chemistry.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Omar Defends Himself

Omar Minaya was the big story on the second day of the Mets winter caravan, appearing on WFAN twice, both times squarely facing charges that he is biased towards acquiring Hispanic players.

After a true honeymoon last winter with popular free agent signings of Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, Omar has been more creative this winter, and has left himself much more open to criticism. Trading away both Jae Seo and Kris Benson for hard-throwing middle relievers definitely flew in the face of conventional baseball wisdom. The trade of Benson for Jorge Julio -- whose stock is plummeting faster than ENRON's did in the fall of 2001 -- was an unpopular move.

Omar's style isn't my preferred way of building a club, and I've called him on it when I think he's wrong. But there isn't a move that he has made that I can't see the logic behind, even the ones I didn't love. Moreover, the energy that Minaya has injected into what had essentially become a moribund franchise is beyond dispute. Perhaps that's why I get so annoyed at the cheap shots taken at Minaya by certain members of the media. You have to respect what Omar has accomplished here, whether you agree with everything he's done or not.

Audio: Omar Minaya on Imus

Audio: Omar Minaya on Mike and the Mad Dog

New York Times: Omar defends himself
Ben Shpigel reports on Omar's appearances on WFAN. Shpigel quotes Minaya from the Imus program regarding his criteria for acquiring players and his feelings about whether he is a victim of racism:
To me, it's about signing the best players possible... I don't think about the player's race, his color, his religion, his sexual orientation. I don't get into that stuff.

...I'm not one to throw around the racism card. A lot of people tend to use the race card all over the place. I think sometimes, when something is new, people are uncomfortable with it.

Shpigel points out that, after a fairly light-hearted interview with Imus, Minaya seemed a little irritated with Chris Russo. Maybe it has something with Russo's need to go out of his way to find fault with Omar and the Mets. Russo has come out and accused Minaya of playing the Latin card, constantly harping on Carlos Delgado's charges from last year that the Mets were approaching him as a Latino rather than a man. Russo got it wrong when he claimed Delgado aimed that charge at Minaya, it was directed at Minaya's lieutenant Tony Bernazard. Why any Mets fan would allow Chris Russo to get them worked up about anything is beyond me.

New Haven Register: More Kudos for Omar
Peter Zellen reports on what Omar has accomplished with the Mets as he indisputably has placed his personal stamp on the team this winter. Zellen quotes new Met Carlos Delgado on the man responsible for bringing the buzz back to Queens:

I can tell you we have a good team and that creates a buzz. It feels good to walk in here and see the guys that we got: Billy Wagner, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, guys that are good players.

Omar's busy. He's busy and not afraid to pull the trigger and you have to give him a lot of credit. He's done everything to try to make this ballclub better.

Zellen quotes Omar on all of the talent that he has brought to the Mets:

Part of being in New York is bringing in players that are name guys. It's part of business here. You have to be aggressive. You owe it to the fans to do the best you can to improve the team.

Whether you agree with the moves or not, you have to respect that.

Bergen Record: Aaron Heilman
Steve Popper talks to Aaron Heilman, who is grateful for the opportunity to earn a starting job in the rotation, however, Heilman disputes the notion that he pressured the Mets to start him or trade him:

I wish I had that power to throw my weight around. Omar and [pitching coach] Rick [Peterson] and everybody knew that I had expressed my desire, my preference to start. I'm coming into spring training prepared to do whatever role fits for me. I'd certainly love to start, but I want to be a part of this team and a part of what I think is going to be a very successful ballclub, and help in whatever way is possible.

Newark Star-Ledger: Kaz Matsui
Don Burke profiles Kaz Matsui, who is still looking for some redemption in New York.

Daily News: Roster Shuffle
Adam Rubin reports that Tyke Redman has been designated for assignment to make room for the newly acquired John Maine. Now Redman, who was acquired from the Pirates in a cash deal, must past through waivers to remain with the Mets. If nothing else, this gives a hint that Endy Chavez has the inside track for the left-handed reserve outfielder job.

New York Sports Day: Julio Franco
Joe McDonald has a nice interview with the ageless Julio Franco, who freely gives away his secret for staying young:

It's a gift from God. And I am very thankful to the Lord for giving me it to play baseball for a very long time. It's not that I am superhuman; I work very hard and I take care of myself, but it's a gift.

New York Post: Landing another starter
Joel Sherman offers a look at what's left on Omar Minaya's to-do list as the Mets head into the season:

The Mets GM remains committed to relocating Kaz Matsui, recognizing spring training may be the last, best shot to unload the disappointing infielder. More intriguing, however, is that after removing depth from the bottom of the rotation by dealing Jae Seo and Kris Benson earlier this month, Minaya has prioritized finding a top-of-the-rotation starter to pair with Pedro Martinez.

Sherman mentions Jose Contreras, in addition to Barry Zito, as a potential target. Sherman opines that the Mets would have to give up Lastings Milledge to obtain Contreras, or possibly package lesser prospects with someone like Cliff Floyd. I'm personally somewhat leery of Contreras, his success in Chicago not withstanding.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Notes from Day 2 of the Mets Winter Caravan

The second day of the Mets winter caravan featured a ton of interviews with Mets players, as well as manager Willie Randolph, pitching coach Rick Peterson and GM Omar Minaya. There was some actual substance to the interviews rather than just the usual "Bull Durham" type clichés.

I thought Omar did a reasonable job explaining his thinking on the Seo and Benson trades. It was pretty much along the lines of what Ed Coleman was saying the day the Benson trade happened, that the Mets were stacking up their bullpen because they felt all they had was a bunch of 6 inning starting pitchers anyway. Minaya said that he felt that it was crucial for a playoff contender to have a good bullpen. He wanted to "shorten the game" by building a deep bullpen. We'll take a look at the moves the Mets made this off-season and give our own take next week.

Rick Peterson came on at the end of the Mike and the Mad Dog radio show and jokingly addressed the accusations that have been leveled against him -- everything from forcing the Kazmir trade to running Jae Seo out of New York. I haven't come to a final decision on how I feel about Peterson as a pitching coach, though I'm leaning towards a favorable opinion, but to me the things the man has been accused of are ludicrous. To me, the GM gets all of the credit or blame for the moves he makes. For what it's worth, Peterson spoke very favorably about Seo.

Check out WFAN's web site for some Real Audio interviews to be posted -- the one Imus did this morning with Omar Minaya is already posted. Click on the Mike and the Mad Dog link for their audio archive. Matt Cerrone at MetsBlog also did a great jog transcribing the interviews and posting highlights, check it out.

ESPN.com: The pressure is on...
Sean McAdam looks at two teams that had an active off-season, the Mets and the Blue Jays, and the pressure on both of these clubs to capitalize. He quotes an unnamed major league GM on the difficulties the Mets will face, Carlos Delgado in particular:

New York's a different place. It's tough to judge how players will respond there. I don't think Delgado ever wanted to go there. He doesn't like expectations or media pressure. He's always played in a place [Toronto and Florida] where he's been protected. But there's no place to hide in New York.

We've been hearing a lot of this concerning Carlos Delgado. I hope that he takes this as a challenge and rises to it. He played well during Florida's pennant chase last year. Mets fans would like to see this carry over to Flushing.

Mets Inside Pitch: Xavier Nady profile
Bryan Hoch profiles one of the newer Mets, OF Xavier Nady. (Most content on this web site requires a paid subscription, this one is free to all.) He quotes Nady on the opportunity the trade provides him:

I'm looking forward to having an opportunity to play. That's all I'd really asked for my last couple of years in San Diego. I don't come in for the competition; I'm coming in ready to go.

It's my turn to speak up and prove I was worth the trade.

Most of what I've heard about Nady was that he was once a big-time prospect that is something of a disappointment. I did read one opinion by Fox's Kevin Kennedy a while back that described Nady as "a guy with 35-40 home run potential."

Mets.com: Noble looks at the corner infielders
In this week's installment of Around the Horn, Marty Noble looks at corner infielders David Wright and Carlos Delgado. Noble Opines that if Delgado manages to have just an average year, that could be historic:

Performing characteristically will make Delgado the most accomplished slugger in franchise history. He will play more than Piazza because his position is less demanding, and he already has a resume that puts him a level higher than Darryl Strawberry as a run producer. Strawberry, whose tenure as a Met coincided with a less offensive period in the game, nonetheless exceeded 100 RBIs three times and never exceeded 108 in eight Mets seasons. Delgado has averaged 114 RBIs in his 10 full big league seasons.

I've been following this team for a long time, and corner infielder positions have not been traditionally strong for the Mets. In 1987, Hojo and Keith Hernandez had a nice season together. John Olerud and Robin Ventura were great together in 1999. The Delgado/Wright pairing has the potential to be the Mets' best ever.

Fox Sports: More Delgado
Tim Dierkes looks at seven players that have changed teams, including new Met Carlos Delgado and former Met Kris Benson. He offered the following from a fantasy baseball viewpoint:

Carlo Delgado:
Shea is a worse home park than Dolphins Stadium for left-handed sluggers, but Delgado should be fine. Look for him to hit around .280 with his typical 30-35 HR and 110 RBI. Even entering his age 34 season, Delgado is clearly still a top-ten first baseman in fantasy baseball. I'd pony up $10-12 for him in a 5x5 mixed league.

Kris Benson:
I think Benson will post a 1.29 WHIP and 4.03 ERA for the Orioles; not much different than he would have for the Mets. His K rate is below average, and 12 wins would be a stretch. In a pinch, Benson could be worth a buck in your fantasy league. But you'd really have to be in a deep league or a major pinch. I'd rather gamble on a young gun with upside.

New Orioles' pitching coach Leo Mazzone really likes Benson. I'm not sure I'd bet against Mazzone's track record in turning pitchers like Kris around, even though the switch to the AL East should prove tough for him.

Yahoo Sports: Dominican Winter League
Tim Lewis writes about the winter baseball league in the Dominican Republic, where a lot of Mets players competed this off-season.

Chicago Tribune: Cubs purchase Angel Pagan from Mets
The contract of Mets minor league outfielder Angel Pagan was purchased by the Chicago Cubs. The 24-year-old Pagan was considered a potential fourth or fifth outfielder in the majors. The Mets had to deal him after removing him from their 40-man roster to make room for Japanese pitcher Yusaku Iriki.

Gotham Baseball: Mike McGann on the Latinization of the Mets
I've become a fan of Mike McGann's column on Gotham Baseball's web site. This week McGann refutes the allegations that Omar favors Latin players over all others, and also reports on the first day of the winter caravan.

Shea Faithful: B.A.T. Dinner
Pat from Shea Faithful attended last night's B.A.T. charity gala, and writes a little about it on his blog.

Day one of the Mets winter caravan

The p.r. fest that is the Mets winter caravan dominated the news this morning:

New York Times: Meet the Mets
Ben Shpigel reports on the first day of the Mets winter caravan, from opening the stock exchange in the morning to a dinner for alumni of the 1986 championship team. Shpigel suggests that, in addition to meeting the public, many Mets were meeting each other for the first time:

When the caravan began in earnest at 1 p.m. at the library, 21 players filed onto a stage. They wore white jerseys on top of their dress clothes, but they probably should have worn "Hello, My Name Is ..." stickers. Of the 21, 10 were new acquisitions, and John Maine, obtained Saturday from Baltimore with Jorge Julio in exchange for Kris Benson, is so new that his jersey did not have his name or a number on it.

"It was like 'Wow,' " said right fielder Xavier Nady, as he reflected on the torrent of trades, which began when he was acquired from San Diego in November. "It seemed like they just kept coming and coming."

More than half the roster this season is likely to be Hispanic, and the talent is a significant upgrade from last year's team. Only time will tell if the talent will translate into something special, in this, the 20th anniversary of the last championship team.

AP: Winter Caravan Symbolism
Ronald Blum also reports on the winter caravan, suggesting there was symbolism working as the Mets posed for a photo on the library steps:

Players gathered Tuesday on the steps of the New York Public Library behind the famous marble lions, who have looked down on Fifth Avenue for nearly a century and were given the names "Patience" and "Fortitude" by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in the 1930s.

"You have to have that every year, especially in this town," manager Willie Randolph said. "That's a nice slogan to adopt."

Carlos Delgado refused to take the bait when reporters tried to get him to respond to Anna Benson's silly comments. Meanwhile, Tom Glavine liked what Omar Minaya has accomplished this winter:

It gives you more confidence going out there with what you know you're trying to accomplish. When you're going out there as a pitcher, there are some times where you feel like you can't afford to give up a run or two runs, you've got to throw a shutout, so to speak. That carries a lot of pressure with it. With the way we're set up right now, you don't figure that to be the case. You figure that these guys are going to score some runs, they're going to play defense, we know we've got a great bullpen coming in behind us.

Blum also reports the Mets have signed a trio of warm bodies guaranteed to have little or no impact this off-season: C Bobby Estalella, RHP Jeremi Gonzalez and RHP Jose Santiago.

Mets.com: More Winter Caravan
Kit Stier, reporting for MLB.com, quotes Cliff Floyd on his optimism as the season approaches:

I can't wait. I'm talking about going down to Spring Training early just to get acclimated to my new teammates.

I've been here three years We've been through a lot. Last year, in my opinion, wasn't a tease. It's just we were young. We realized we can play the game, we realized a lot of things, and we won 83 games.

Meanwhile, outside of the library, manager Willie Randolph commented on some favorite literature:

'The Art of War' is one of my favorite books. To me, it's all about winning. When you go into competition, there is an art to it. There is a way to do it if you want to be the best.

Unfortunately there is nothing in The Art of War about effective use of the bullpen.

Newsday: What's up with Kaz
Johnette Howard reports on one winter caravan participant that isn't even sure if he'll be here in spring training. Kaz Matsui patiently answered the questions about his future with the Mets and being left off the Japanese team. Howard quotes Cliff Floyd on being Matsui's teammate and watching him being subjected to the endless booing at Shea:

Is it painful to watch him go through that -- oh my God, was it painful. You know what it reminds me of? You know when you misplace your purse or something, and you get all frantic, you start patting everything down, looking all over the place for it, almost going crazy until you finally find it -- and then you go, 'Ahhh?' It's the same with him. What he was is lost somewhere. It's just lost. But I believe he's going to find it.

Howard quotes manager Willie Randolph on why he believes there is still a chance for Matsui to turn it around:

That's a good question. And the answer is because of what I saw of him last year in my first year here. At times, he really didn't play that badly. He had some good streaks. Then injuries got in the way.

That's not to say I feel sorry for him. This is a tough town. You have to be tough. He has to compete for a job this year. He has to win the job. But I'm not as down on him as other people might be. And I don't react to other people. I try to make my own judgments. I just feel he can do it. If I were him, I think I'd come into this season with maybe not quite a chip on my shoulder, but just a determination to show everyone here, 'Hey, I can play this game.

I've always rooted for Matsui. I don't think he has played as badly as he gets "credit" for, and still has a chance to be a good player. He hasn't had much luck, but he seems like a standup guy. He earned my respect in the same way Mike Cameron did when things went badly for him that first year. And I respect Randolph for not getting caught up in the negativity of a vocal element of the fan base. I know I'll get a couple of emails on this -- save them, I don't care.

Fox Sports: The other whipping boy...
Dayn Perry looks at another Mets fan "favorite" in a list of players that need to step up for their teams this season:

Victor Zambrano, SP, Mets
This winter, the Mets have parted ways with Jae Seo (90.3 IP, 2.59 ERA in 2005) and Kris Benson (174.1 IP, 4.13 ERA in 2005). Their losses leave serious holes in the rotation, and if Aaron Heilman isn't dispatched to the rotation then the situation is even graver. So will Zambrano finally take the next step toward quasi-acedom? Since pitching coach Rick Peterson basically hectored the organization into coughing up Scott Kazmir for Zambrano, his personal reclamation project has posted a 4.14 ERA as a Met. Considering that Zambrano has walked 83 batters in his last 180.1 innings in New York, he's been lucky to have such a tolerable ERA. If the Mets are to solidify their rotation, then Zambrano needs to make serious strides in 2006.

Obviously Dayn Perry sat in on some of those meetings where Rick Peterson forced the Mets to trade Kazmir for Zambrano...

I'm actually interested in seeing what Zambrano might do this season. I thought the injury that ended his 2004 season slowed him down a lot at the beginning of 2005. Say what you want, he has as much potential as any Mets pitcher not named Pedro. If by some miracle he could reach his potential, the Mets rotation might turn out a lot better than what we all fear right now.

Also in Newsday: The Importance of Billy Wagner
Ken Davidoff also reports on the winter caravan, offering another Cliff Floyd quote on the importance of having a quality pitcher closing games:

I love Carlos, I love Duke, but to close out games, that's the most important thing in the game. You have to close out games. That becomes the difference at the end of the season, in my opinion.

...At the end of the day, when you have 83 wins, you say, 'Damn, we could've had seven more, that's 90.' Like I said, this isn't anything against Loop, but just having a closer who has a reputation. A good one. You feel really good come the ninth inning, or eighth inning, when you really need him.

...This is no pressure on Billy. A lot of it can be put on his shoulders. This can't be any different than Philly [where Wagner pitched in 2004 and 2005]. This is the same way as Philly. I hope he settles down and has some fun.

I'm just looking forward to a little less "agida" in the ninth inning...

Also Mets.com: 17th Annual Baseball Assistance Dinner honors '86 Mets
Tom Singer reports on the Baseball Assistance Team dinner, which raises money to help former ballplayers who have experienced hard times, while preserving the dignity of the players:

"We're a confidential organization," pointed out B.A.T. chairman Bobby Murcer, "but if you heard the stories of some of the players we've helped, you'd be brought to your knees crying, to know who has needed help."

On one midwinter night every year, however, B.A.T. sounds a public fanfare, and it's a siren song to players and fans who gather at this dinner to give their emotional and financial support.

Some 1986 Mets were among the honorees at the dinner, including Barry Lyons, the backup catcher, who testified on the help he received from B.A.T. after his Mississippi home was devastated by Hurricane Katrina:

When Katrina hit on August 29, it changed my world, changed the world of everyone who lives in that area. Yes, my home is gone. My parents' home is gone; even a family member recently passed away. It's been very tough, but, a few days after the storm, some friends told me they'd contact B.A.T. and the ball's been rolling from that point on.

From Day One, Jim Martin [B.A.T.'s executive director] has been there for me throughout this whole process. He's been someone to talk to, and he's been there financially.

This is a wonderful organization, and it's such a privilege to be here among so many wonderful baseball people. Any time you find yourself in trouble, you always turn to family for support and love. My immediate family has struggled, but the response of my family of baseball brothers is so moving to me.

USA Today: Puerto Rican winter league struggles to recapture former glory
Jorge L. Ortiz profiles the problems that the Puerto Rican winter league is experiencing as it fights for survival while other winter leagues thrive. He cites Carlos Beltran on the lack of attractiveness of the league for big-league players:

The New York Mets' Carlos Beltran, who hasn't played in Puerto Rico since 2001, says players don't want to risk a serious injury, and he questions who would pay for their care if they got hurt. Local teams' insurance only covers up to $10,000 in medical costs.

"Sometimes the owners and the general managers in Puerto Rico want you to play but they don't really take care of the players," Beltran says. "They treat us like big-league players when we're in the United States, but when we come here to Puerto Rico, they don't want to treat you like that."

Daily News: John Harper on the bullpen upgrade
John Harper writes an interesting column that looks at Minaya's gamble to upgrade the bullpen at the expense of the starting pitching.

Also in the Daily News: Some Mets Notes
Adam Rubin offers a few nuggets of news, including Cliff Floyd's comments on a possible contract extension:

I believe that when you sign a contract, you play until the end, and then at the end of that you sign another one. If they choose to call you and say, 'You know what? We'll give you an extension,' you deal with that accordingly. Honestly, I've done good things, but you still have to establish yourself where you have a right to talk - 'You know what? I deserve this right now.' I haven't done that. I just want to play.

Floyd says that he doesn't expect anything to happen until after the season. That would seem likely. Staying healthy certainly would help his cause, but I would be surprised if Cliff was on the Mets in 2007 -- he seems destined for the American League.

Rubin also reports that Dae-Sung Koo is scheduled to report to spring training as a non-roster invite.

Also in the Daily News: Piazza close to signing?
Roger Rubin reports that Mike Piazza has told friends that he is close to a deal with an unspecified American League team.

New York Post: Matsui wants to be here
Michael Morrissey quotes Kaz Matsui on all of the trade rumors swirling around his name:

I'm aware that those rumors are around, but I'm here today. I haven't produced as much as I would've liked to in the past two years, but right now I'm training hard, working hard, and trying to build my condition into spring training.

Since the first day I stepped into New York, I always wanted to play here. Because I'm very grateful that the Mets acquired me when they did, I just want to be part of this team and this organization.

I want to be here. In order to be here, I have to produce on the field.

New York Post: The old and the new
Michael Morrissey cites Tom Glavine that he can only see himself playing in New York or Atlanta in 2007 as he pursues 300 wins. Morrissey also offers the following from Aaron Heilman on reports of a trade demand:

I think it got a little out of hand. I wasn't demanding a trade.

It'd certainly be nice to think I had that kind of power, but I really don't think that had any effect on any decisions that were made.

Omar and Willie and everybody have to do what's best for the team.

Heilman did admit that he was happy to have a chance to be a starter.

Bergen Record: Klap on Piazza
Bob Klapisch offers his own take on Piazza to the Yankees.

MetsBlog: Coverage of the winter caravan on WFAN
The Mets winter caravan will be rolling through the WFAN studios today, especially on the Mike and the Mad Dog program. MetsBlog's Matt Cerrone will be offering extensive coverage of the interviews all day.