Search

2 New York Mets No team made more changes this winter, but will they turn out to be for the better?

March 25, 2002
March 25, 2002

Table of Contents
March 25, 2002

Baseball Preview

2 New York Mets No team made more changes this winter, but will they turn out to be for the better?

On a cold day in December, Mets G.M. Steve Phillips drove to
Massachusetts with manager Bobby Valentine and then assistant
G.M. Omar Minaya to watch the workout of an aging, overweight
first baseman with a huge contract and an injury-plagued past,
including a 2001 season wiped out by a ruptured tendon in his
left arm. "I didn't know what to expect," says Phillips. "But I
was intrigued."

This is an article from the March 25, 2002 issue Original Layout

There wasn't an abundance of chatter that morning as Mo Vaughn
stepped to the plate to take batting practice at his indoor cage.
But before he began hitting, the owner of 299 career home runs
turned to Phillips, held up three fingers, smiled and said,
"You're gonna see me take three swings. And you'll know I'm
good."

Vaughn took those three swings, turned to the G.M. again and
said, "See, I told you."

A week later Phillips pulled off one of the riskiest and most
dramatic trades in the 40-year history of the franchise, sending
11-game winner Kevin Appier, the No. 2 starter on a
less-than-dominant staff, to Anaheim for Vaughn, including the
three years and $42 million left on his contract. In Vaughn the
Mets get two critical elements that have been in short supply
since catcher Mike Piazza arrived early in the 1998 season: a
slugger with enough clout to share the load with Piazza, and a
clubhouse presence with Reggie Jacksonesque magnetism.

Vaughn immediately took to New York City like Enrique Iglesias to
cheesy ballads. He visited the workers at ground zero and met the
city's new mayor, Mike Bloomberg. Smelling the publicity bonanza,
Manhattan's famed Carnegie Deli named a new corned beef,
pastrami, turkey and cheese sandwich the Mo-Licious. Like Vaughn,
it is big and hard to get ahold of. Unlike Vaughn, it comes with
a pickle. "I could feed the homeless population with that
[sandwich]," Vaughn says. "It's tremendous."

Last season New York averaged an NL-low 3.96 runs per game and
hit just .249, second worst among the league's 16 teams. That
Piazza hit 36 home runs is something of a miracle, considering
that his protector in the order was Robin Ventura, he of the .237
average and 21 homers. At one point the Mets' tepid lineup
included Ventura, Todd Zeile, Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton, Timo
Perez and Rey Ordonez. Combined output in 2001: 53 home runs, 250
RBIs.

Vaughn's output in 2000, his last healthy season: 36 home runs,
117 RBIs.

Vaughn won't be the only newcomer to Shea Stadium. Rightfielder
Jeromy Burnitz, leftfielder Roger Cedeno (who played for the Mets
in 1999), second baseman Roberto Alomar and starters Pedro
Astacio and Shawn Estes were also acquired in the off-season as
Phillips orchestrated the team's most dramatic face-lift since
'92, when then G.M. Al Harazin wowed the baseball world by
signing Bobby Bonilla, Eddie Murray and Vince Coleman to
lucrative free-agent deals.

"This isn't the same [situation]," says Phillips, recalling a
club that lost 90 games and suffered one embarrassing p.r. gaffe
after another. "The character I see here is outstanding. Mo and
Alomar are quality people and teammates. All of our new players
are."

While Vaughn is perfectly suited for the Big Apple Circus, it
will be intriguing to see how Burnitz, a mercurial slugger with
four straight 30-home runs seasons and five straight
100-strikeout seasons, readjusts to his old haunts. A decade ago
Burnitz was the gem of the Mets' system. After being a called up
in '93, he and Dallas Green, New York's manager at the time,
clashed. After the following season Burnitz was banished to
Cleveland.

"That seems like a lifetime ago," he says. "It was a different
time, and I was unhappy. But surrounded by this lineup, how can I
not be in a good mood?" --Jeff Pearlman

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Among the Mets' many question marks, the biggest--figuratively and literally--is Vaughn.COLOR PHOTO: ELIOT SCHECHTER/GETTY IMAGES D'AMICO

In FACT
Rey Ordonez had a career-high 31 extra-base hits last year
despite having none in June (82 plate appearances).

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Mets

"This is the most improved team in baseball.... Bobby Valentine
is a helluva manager. In 2000, when he led a so-so team to the
World Series, that told me a lot. His ego is large, but his
players like playing for him.... When I first scouted Mike
Piazza, he was a terrible defensive catcher. Now I think he gets
too much heat. He doesn't throw well, but he works hard on
calling a game, and he takes care of his pitchers.... Jeromy
Burnitz will strike out a lot, but he'll hit a ton of homers in
that lineup.... Roger Cedeno's not a good outfielder, and he
doesn't have a great idea at the plate. But man, can he run....
The Mets stole Roberto Alomar. He's the best all-around player
on the team. Smart, hardworking, great glove.... Rey Ordonez
isn't a good hitter, but in this lineup he might bat .270. He
puts the ball in play, but he's too much of a free swinger....
If Jeff D'Amico stays healthy, the Brewers will shoot
themselves. He's shown flashes of being a No. 2 or 3 starter on
a championship club. He doesn't throw hard, but his precision is
ungodly.... Pedro Astacio has a quality curveball and a good
sinker, and all those years in Coors Field gave him thick
skin.... When Al Leiter was young, he just threw hard. Now he's
a pitcher: He uses his changeup and curve on a regular basis,
and his command is very good.... Armando Benitez is a fine
closer, as long as he doesn't get too macho. When the crowd is
on its feet and he gets too caught up, he just pumps fastballs
and he gets hit. But if he mixes in his splitter or slider, he's
fine."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2001 statistics

PLAYER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
BATTING ORDER

LF Roger Cedeno[1] S-R 63 .293 6 48 55
2B Roberto Alomar[1]S-R 36 .336 20 100 30
C Mike Piazza R 18 .300 36 94 0
1B Mo Vaughn*[1] L-R 42 .272 36 117 2
3B Edgardo Alfonzo R 80 .243 17 49 5
RF Jeromy Burnitz[1]L-R 95 .251 34 100 0
CF Jay Payton R 197 .255 8 34 4
SS Rey Ordonez R 278 .247 3 44 3

BENCH

IF Joe McEwing R 283 .283 8 30 8
OF Timo Perez L 298 .247 5 22 1
IF John Valentin[1] R 337 .200 1 5 0

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA
STARTERS

LH Al Leiter 38 11 11 6.5 1.20 3.31
RH Pedro Astacio[1] 54 8 14 6.5 1.38 5.09
LH Shawn Estes[1] 99 9 8 5.9 1.43 4.02
RH Steve Trachsel 157 11 13 6.2 1.24 4.46
RH Jeff D'Amico[1] 176 2 4 4.7 1.61 6.08

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA
BULLPEN

RH Armando Benitez 17 6 4 43 1.30 3.77
LH John Franco 153 6 2 2 1.39 4.05
RH David Weathers[1]188 4 5 4 1.15 2.41

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws IPS: Innings
pitched per start

WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*2000 stats

Manager
Bobby Valentine
seventh season with New York

2001 record
82-80
third in NL East

IN THE FIELD
with defensive ratings

Golden Glover

Ordonez
Alomar

Good Leather

Payton
Burnitz
Vaughn
Alfonzo
Leiter
Piazza

Iron Hands

Cedeno