Mets Hope Recent Additons Provide Spring Training Cheer
By Michael Avallone
Will this finally be the year that the Mets get some positive returns on their free agent investments? Will Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran sustain the winter buzz they’ve created throughout the Queens summer? Or will images of Mo Vaughn and Roberto Alomar flash before Mets fans eyes? Forget about that now, that’s a worry for June and July, not mid February.
Winter may not be done unleashing her wrath yet, but the sound of baseballs popping into gloves can now be heard throughout Florida and Arizona. Although the exhibition games don’t begin until March 1, the arrival of pitchers and catchers to the Mets spring training complex in Port St. Lucie, FL is the first sign that spring is just over the horizon.
As they have so often, the Mets were active this offseason. When taking over in late September, GM Omar Minaya promised changes. No one realized how vast those changes would be. So long Al Leiter, enjoy the sweltering Miami summer. Thanks for the memories Johnny Franco, and could you leave that #45 jersey behind? Move over Mike Cameron, there’s a new centerfielder in town. A Yankee running the ballclub? Puh-lease!
All in all, the Mets won the back pages of the New York tabloids this winter, even with the Yankees addition of Randy Johnson. Mets fans have seen this before, but for the first time since the 2000 World Series, there is legitimate hope by the team and its fan base that a strong nucleus is in place.
However, the games are played on the field, and that is where the Metropolitans have failed miserably over the last three seasons, losing a combined 272 games. Since winning 94 games at the start of the century, the Mets have bumbled their way to seasons of 82, 75, 66 and 71 wins. Bobby Valentine was fired and Art Howe looked like a fish out of water from his first day on the job.
Now comes 2005. Hope springs eternal. Opening Day can’t come soon enough. It’s a new season; a new era…it’s the “new” Mets.
Pedro Martinez (RHP) Yes, the Mets overpaid. $53 million and four years for a 33-year old pitcher who has a ton of mileage on his arm is a risky move. However, what choice did the Mets have? Whether Martinez flew the Boston coop because of money is irrelevant. The point is, the Mets have their first ace since Dwight Gooden was still blowing hitters away 15 years ago. He may not give you more than 6-7 innings, but a move back to the NL could do wonders for Martinez. He went 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA and 227 strikeouts in ’04 and he pitched masterfully in Game 3 of the World Series against St. Louis.
Carlos Beltran (CF) I defy you to find one person, ONE, who knew that Beltran would be patrolling the vast outfield at Shea this summer. Coming off his best year, including a blistering postseason in which he hit .435 with 8 homeruns, Beltran gives the Mets their best centerfielder in their 43-year history. The price tag (7 years, $119 million) was steep, but getting a 27-year old, five-tool player entering the prime of his career was a no-brainer. He may not duplicate the power numbers (38 homers) playing in Queens, but the skills he brings to New York, not to mention the excitement, will win more than a few games for the Mets in ’05.
Doug Mientkiewicz (1B ) No matter what type of positive spin he puts on it, Minaya wanted Carlos Delgado in the worst way. The addition of the Puerto Rican slugger would have given the Mets one of the best lineups in baseball. Alas, the Mets GM had to settle for the soft-hitting/strong fielding, Mientkiewicz. Known nationally for his initial refusal to part with the World Series ball he caught for the final out in October, Mientkiewicz comes to Shea off his worst season as a regular in the big leagues. However, with an infield that includes two players barely above drinking age and another who his entering only his second year in the Major Leagues (and learning a new position), the 2001 AL Gold Glove winner’s bat will be the last thing people look at.
Miguel Cairo (IF) One of the more unheralded signings this offseason, the addition of the 30-year old Cairo might pay huge dividends for New York. He never really wanted to leave the Yanks but he priced himself out of their plans and finds himself on the other side of the Triborough Bridge. Coming off arguably his best season in the bigs (.292 6 HR 42 RBI), Cairo will be a great addition to the Mets bench and provide insurance should SS Jose Reyes get injured or 2B Kazuo Matsui not be able to handle the transition across the diamond. Either way, he gives manager Willie Randolph a talented and familiar face to turn to.
The Mets have made other moves of course. Moves that could prove to be just as, if not more important. Just a few short weeks now and we’ll find out how much of the puzzle the Mets have in place.