2002-06-29 / Sports

So Far, Supercharged Mets Have Fizzled

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch

Baseball Columnist

It’s been six months since the New York Mets stole the back page headlines in Gotham with the supercharged acquisitions of star offensive players Roberto Alomar, Jeromy Burnitz, Roger Cedeno and Mo Vaughn, promising followers of the Amazin’s a dream season to rival 1969 and 1986.

Since those publicized introductions at snowy Shea, the only dreams Mets fans have had rival the repeating nightmares of Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day" – despite all of general manager Steve Phillips’ tinkering, the bulb continues to flicker in the Mets’ powerhouse lineup.

The 2002 season has been eerily similar to the 2001 season, which left fans scratching at their heads in a futile attempt to grasp how a club that appeared in the World Series in October was failing so miserably to score runs coming into the summer months.

In fact, examination of the club’s run production statistics suggests an exact carbon copy of the prior season to date. After the 76th game of the 2002 season, a 7-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday evening, the Mets had scored a total of 309 runs.

We flashed back to the Mets’ 76th game of their 2001 campaign, an 8-4 drubbing at the hands of Atlanta, and

discovered that the not-so-Amazin’s had scored a grand total of 310 runs to that point.

So let’s examine this for a second, this time with dollars instead of runs scored. The Mets brought on a grand total of $26.25 million in additional salary this season for placement in the wallets of four players – Alomar ($8 million), Burnitz ($6.5 million +$2.0 million signing bonus), Cedeno ($2.0 million + $1.5 million signing bonus) and Vaughn ($6.25 million, with $3.75 million deferred) - and are actually worse in production for it to this point.

That’s why they call them the Amazin’s, folks. It wasn’t so long ago that callers to sports radio stations in New York were bemoaning the fact that their "cheap" Mets weren’t spending any money on quality players while the Yankees were rolling toward a dynasty across the Triboro Bridge.

The one difference between last year’s Mets squad and this season’s that Phillips can hang his hat on has

been the club’s starting pitching, which has saved them from falling even further out of the pennant race

than they already are.

When the Mets played their 76th game of the season last year, Steve Trachsel was battered for six runs on

Eleven hits as he fell to 1-9 on the season, firing another stinker in a first half that saw the eight-year big league veteran pitching at Triple-A Norfolk.

Coincidentally enough, Trachsel took the hill at Shea this season for the club’s 76th game against that same Braves club and took a perfect game into the sixth inning before Javy Lopez homered to break up the bid. Trachsel eventually picked up his 6th victory of the season and lowered his ERA to 3.53 in the effort.

The MVP of the team to this point, however, is awarded to righthander Pedro Astacio. Most naysayers – myself included – didn’t think Astacio would have many bullets left in his gun when the Mets signed him to a one-year deal with a club option for 2004 this winter.

The problem with Astacio wasn’t his mediocre won-loss record of 103-96 entering this season over a nine-year career with the Los Angeles Dod gers, Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros – pitchers can’t be expected to win regularly in Colorado, as Mike Hampton has proved so well since leaving Queens.

It was rather the fact that Astacio’s 2001 campaign ended early due to a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder, and that he declined to have surgery to repair the injury. Damaged goods, more than one MLB executive whispered, and some snickered when the ink dried on Astacio’s orange-and-blue contract.

So far, it’s been nothing but success for "The Mule" in New York, who is currently tied with Al Leiter for the team lead in victories and leads all Mets starters in ERA. Shawn Estes and Jeff D’Amico have proven to be welcome slot-ins for departed rotation members Glendon Rusch and Rick Reed, but they’ve let the Mets down in their share of games.

Let’s face it – this may be the Mets’ 40th anniversary season, which means it’s all well and good to cherish

the memories of the light-hitting 1969 and 1973 ballclubs, who won mostly on the strength of their pitching. That doesn’t necessarily mean that these new Mets can keep on emulating them if they hope to have a chance to repeat those championship runs.

                     *****

This spring, the buzz in camp was all about shortstop Jose Reyes, an 19-year-old phenom out of the Dominican Republic whose defensive agility has many raving that he could be the future successor to Rey Ordonez in Queens.

If there’s anybody left in the team brass that hasn’t been impressed by Reyes’ talent and maturity, we’d like to meet him. The infielder made a debut for the ages this week upon his promotion to Binghamton (AA) of the Eastern League, going 5-for-6 with a triple and a stolen base to christen his new B-Mets uniform last Saturday.

Just to prove it wasn’t a one-night fluke, Reyes went 3-for-5 with a home run, three RBI and three runs scored the next night. It’s too early to fit Reyes for a major league uniform yet, but keep your eye on this kid down the road. He’s a keeper.

*****

Bryan Hoch regularly covers the New York Mets for MetsOnline.net and can be reached via e-mail at bryanhoch@metsonline.net.


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