2006-03-31 / Sports

New Look Mets Search For Winning Formula In 2006

By Michael Avallone Sports Columnist


Brian Bannister surprised the Mets this spring. (AP/Rick Silva)Brian Bannister surprised the Mets this spring. (AP/Rick Silva) The Team. The Time. The Mets. Or so says the slogan for the 2006 New York Mets. Following last year's "New Mets" proclamation from Carlos Beltran, the additions of Billy Wagner, Carlos Delgado, Paul Lo Duca and the continued emergence of David Wright and Jose Reyes has club officials - and fans - thinking big for '06.

With Opening Day just days away, there are a few pieces of the puzzle still to be put into place before the Mets head north. Here's a look at what the 2006 Mets should look like come April 3 at Shea Stadium when they begin play against the Washington Nationals.

Starting Pitching

For now, it looks like Pedro Martinez's troublesome right toe will be a non-issue. For now. The 34-year-old ace was worth every penny the Mets paid him, finishing his first season in Flushing with a 15-8 record, 2.82 ERA and 208 K's. It's really quite simple. If Martinez can make 30 starts, New York will be in excellent shape to make a run at the playoffs. If he's in and out of the rotation, they'll be in trouble.

Tom Glavine will enter his fourth year in a Mets' uniform and if there was ever a time New York needed him to resemble the Glavine of old, it's now. The rest of the rotation will include Steve Trachsel, Victor Zambrano and in a bit of a surprise, rookie Brian Bannister. The 25-year-old son of former Major League Floyd Bannister, continued to excel this spring, allowing just two earned runs over his first 19 innings (0.95 ERA) to push Aaron Heilman back into the bullpen.

Bullpen

Braden Looper saved 28 games for New York last year, but it was his eight blown saves - many of the crushing variety - that convinced Minaya a dominant closer was needed.

So, $43 million was waved in front of flame-throwing left-hander Billy Wagner, who quickly bolted the division rival Philadelphia Phillies for Queens. Wagner had his best season last year for the Phils, saving 38 games to go along with a miniscule 1.51 ERA. If healthy, gives the Mets arguably the best closer in the National League

Rounding out the bullpen will be Heilman, newcomers Duaner Sanchez, Chad Bradford and Jorge Julio. Heilman's stated desire to be in the rotation seemed to be a foregone conclusion when starters Jae Seo and Kris Benson were dealt in January. The 28-year-old Notre Dame product excelled so much out of the 'pen last year (an MLB-best 0.68 ERA after the All-Star break), New York ultimately decided to send him back there despite solid numbers as a starter in both winter league and spring training.

Infield

Easily the most worry-free area of the '06 Mets is the infield. Buoyed by the addition of slugger Carlos Delgado, New York can boast two possible 30-homer, 100-RBI men (David Wright, Carlos Delgado), a disruptive speedster (Jose Reyes) a clutch and professional hitter (Paul Lo Duca) and an unproven youngster in Anderson Hernandez. The left side of the infield figures to be set for the next decade. The 23-year old Wright and the 22-year-old Reyes both came of age in '05, showing the rest of baseball just how good they can be. Lo Duca finds himself replacing Piazza at catcher after a solid '05 campaign with the Florida Marlins.

After missing out on him last offseason, Minaya made sure he got his man in Delgado. The 33-year-old had no problems switching leagues last year, finishing his first season in the Senior Circuit with 33 longballs and 115 RBI while batting .301. While his defense won't make people recall Keith Hernandez or even Rico Brogna, his thunderous bat will make up for any deficiencies he might have with the glove.

Second base is more of a question mark. Incumbent Kaz Matsui sprained his MCL which knocks him out of action for up to three weeks. Anderson Hernandez - who hit over .300 with 35 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A last year - gets the job.

Outfield

The trade of Mike Cameron to San Diego in November weakened what had been a relatively productive and defensively sound outfield. Xavier Nady, the former #1 pick of the Padres will start. Carlos Beltran came to New York last season with what were probably unreasonable expectations. His one-year grace period now over, New York needs - and expects - a bounce-back season from their prized center fielder.

After two seasons of playing in constant pain, Cliff Floyd finally put it all together in his third year with the Mets. The 34-year-old played 150 games and slugged a career-high 34 homers while driving in 98 runs, often carrying the Mets through the first half of the season. Floyd also dispelled the notion that he was strictly a hitter by playing Gold Glove-caliber defense.

Bench

Chris Woodward and Ramon Castro return along with newcomers Endy Chavez, Jose Valentin and the ageless Julio Franco. Victor Diaz is another possibility.Top to bottom, the Mets 25-man roster is comparable to any of the top-tier teams in baseball. But championships - as the Mets can surely attest - have never been won on a pad of paper. Maybe the Mets should pull the reins in a bit and change their slogan. Promise. Potential. The Mets.

Play ball...

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