New York Mets Must Answer Five Questions To Win In 2005
By Michael Avallone
By now, spring training workouts are in full swing, with exhibition games just a few short days away. All teams are in first place. All teams have reason for optimism. However, the stark difference between reality and hope will hit these squads over the next several months as the true winners emerge while the also-rans fall back in the pack.
Down in Port St. Lucie, Florida, the New York Mets have reason for hope. They can lay claim to being the big winners of the off-season with their signings of Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez. Unfortunately, championship rings aren’t handed out in February and with less than six weeks to go until Opening Day; there are some questions the Mets face despite their optimistic stance.
Here are five key issues New York must deal with as spring training kicks into gear…
From the GM all the way down to the medical staff, the Mets have a new look. Omar Minaya returned to New York in October and immediately persuaded the Wilpons to open their checkbook for the top pitcher and position player on the free agent market. Before that, though, came the small task of finding a manager who could actually handle the Big Apple. It was obvious from the get-go that Art Howe was in over his head, so Minaya looked across town to a man who was raised in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn and played for the Yankees during the “Bronx Zoo” years.
The question about Willie Randolph is not how he’ll manage in-game decisions as much as how he’ll handle the adversity the first time one of those strategies backfire. He’s been one of Joe Torre’s right-hand men over the last decade and he has already instituted several Yankee-like rules, including no facial hair (other than moustaches) and no loud music in the clubhouse. It will be interesting to see how Randolph steers the ship in his first shot as a skipper.
They’ll earn $172 million between them over the life of their Met contracts. They’re being paid like mega-stars and in New York, they WILL be held accountable for producing as such. Pedro Martinez comes to the Mets with a Hall of Fame resume but questions after his worst season (statistically) in over 10 years. Still, his 16 wins and 227 strikeouts would have led last year’s Mets by a wide margin.
As for CF Carlos Beltran, will playing in Kansas City and Houston be a detriment to his immersion into the inferno that is New York? Everyone agrees that the Mets finally signed the right guy to a big-money contract. This isn’t a record-breaking deal for a one-dimensional player (hello Bobby Bonilla?).
The soon-to-be 28-year old will provide the Mets with speed, pop and defense but will he be able to handle being “the man” in Flushing? People point to his fantastic postseason, which saw him hit .435 with 8 homeruns and 14 RBIs in just 12 games, as proof he can handle the spotlight. Not so fast. The postseason is all but one month at most. Beltran has to play under that type of pressure for an entire season now.
This is a key issue for any team that hopes to contend. For the Mets, it’s paramount. SS Jose Reyes has to, repeat, HAS TO stay healthy in order for this team to contend. The 21-year old has had five different leg injuries over the past two years and played in all of 69 games in 2004. The other key player for New York is C Mike Piazza, who is entering the final season of a seven-year, $91 million contract. Piazza, who has missed significant time the last two years with a torn groin muscle and knee trouble, has hit 31 homers and driven in just 88 runs in 2003 and 2004 combined.
At 36, it’s a fair question to wonder how much he has left, but his offensive production could still outdo 99 percent of Major League catchers…if he re)mains healthy. LF Cliff Floyd got into some hot water last year with his comments about the Mets and had more than one foot out the door this winter. However, he’s back and the Mets need his left-handed pop for a predominantly right-handed team. After missing 54 games in 2003, the 32-year old hit just .260 with 16 homers, 63 RBIs and 103 strikeouts in 113 games last year. If the Mets get .280 25 90 numbers from Floyd, they’ll do back-flips.
There were three players switching positions and two of them up-the-middle. Last year’s switch of Reyes to 2B went smoothly (when he played) but SS Kaz Matsui was a disaster with 23 errors his first year in the Bigs. Many Mets players and scouts questioned moving Reyes off short last year to begin with, pointing to his rifle-arm and superior range.
Now, the question will be how Matsui can handle the other side of the infield after spending his entire career as a shortstop.
The Japanese star lacked range and was often slow getting to balls, perhaps accustomed to the artificial turf used in Japan. In any event, his weak arm and limited range at second will be less of a problem with Gold Glove 1B Doug Mientkiewicz joining the team. Still, his progress this spring bears watching.
The other move is two-time Gold Glove winner, Mike Cameron, out of his CF position to right, making way for Beltran. Cameron is not happy with the move and has made that clear since the signing back in January. Coming off wrist surgery, the 32-year old is not expected back until mid-April at the earliest. New York could use his power/speed combo and although Minaya has repeatedly said he has no plans to trade him, Cameron could find himself elsewhere once he proves he’s healthy. If he stays in Flushing, his switch to right should not be a problem on the field, but that’s not what has the Mets worried.
This is perhaps the biggest question mark of all and one that could turn a very good Mets season into another bitter disappointment. Like it or not, the Mets top two starters (Martinez and Tom Glavine) are no more than 7-inning pitchers. If the Mets can get the ball to closer Braden Looper (29 saves, 2.70 ERA) with the lead, chances are good they’ll emerge victorious.
The problem will be getting him the ball. Right now New York’s bullpen reads like a who’s who of retreads. Felix Heredia, Roberto Hernandez, Scott Strickland, Mike DeJean, Matt Ginter, Mike Matthews. You get the picture. Those 3-2 games in the 7th and 8th innings could turn into 4-3 defeats real fast.
Nothing deflates a team more than a blown lead late in the game and unless two or three pitchers step forward, there will be plenty of nail-biting at Shea this summer.