3 New York Mets Newcomers Art Howe and Tom Glavine will have a calming effect on a tortured clubhouse

March 31, 2003

The arrival of Art Howe in New York was initially viewed as Opie
goes to Gotham, an assessment as uncharitable as it was
inaccurate. The Mets' new skipper simply is not like his citified
predecessor, the smart-alecky Bobby Valentine--but that's all. In
baseball opposites do not attract as much as they succeed each
other as manager. Valentine was as soothing as a double espresso,
while Howe is patient and paternal, a man firm in his ideas and
gentlemanly in his approach. If headline writers at the New York
tabloids need a word to describe Howe, they might trot out this
one: mensch.

"I won't change New York, and New York won't change me," says
Howe, who didn't change Houston or Oakland in his other
managerial stops. "I'll do what I do best: treat people with
respect and see how it comes back in the opposite direction."
Howe's credentials are beyond reproach--over the last three
seasons his A's averaged 99 wins and made the playoffs each
year--but he has yet to deal with the scrutiny of the back-page
media and carping fans and the clubhouse egos that come with a
$120 million payroll in New York City. Presumably the Mets will
benefit from a touch that is lighter than Valentine's because, as
lefthander Al Leiter noted, "there's more than one way to carve a
turkey."

The 2002 Mets were turkeys of such proportions that they could
have fed half of Queens last Thanksgiving. They finished an
inexcusable last in the National League East, 26 1/2 games out of
first place. They were in midseason form the entire
year--midseason 1962. The defense committed a league-worst 144
errors and allowed 79 unearned runs, failings that general
manager Steve Phillips partially addressed by signing free-agent
leftfielder Cliff Floyd, a solid defensive player who's also a
first-rate number 3 hitter, and shifting Roger Cedeno, who had
trouble going back on balls in left, to his natural spot in
center. Mo Vaughn, the ample first baseman, worked with a
personal trainer and a nutritionist over the winter to improve
his explosiveness and flexibility, which should translate into
the mountain getting to ground balls instead of ground balls
getting by the mountain. But rookie third baseman Ty Wigginton is
hardhanded, second baseman Roberto Alomar failed to win a Gold
Glove last season after doing so in 10 of the past 11 years, and
catcher Mike Piazza threw out only 14% of would-be base stealers.
On a team whose rotation features more finesse than power, extra
outs could be disastrous. "If I'm able to execute my pitches,"
free-agent signee Tom Glavine says, "it should take a lot of
pressure off these guys, having to make great plays." Defense
usually bails out pitching, not the other way around.

Glavine's signing weakens the NL East--rival Braves and gives the
Mets a marquee starter, allowing Leiter to slip into a supporting
role (a better fit for him). Glavine's poise and
reliability--he's thrown at least 219 innings for seven straight
years--could have a trickle-down effect, easing the load on an
experienced bullpen bolstered by the signing of setup man Mike
Stanton. "When you surround yourself with good pitchers and they
communicate, it can only make everybody better," Leiter said.
"Winning is contagious, losing is infectious."

If that's the case then the Mets' offense should have been
quarantined last year. Rightfielder Jeromy Burnitz had 12 home
runs and 39 runs batted in until a useless surge in September.
Vaughn swooned to 72 RBIs from an average of 118 in his previous
six seasons. Piazza's batting average dived below .300 (to .280)
for the first time since he became a regular in the majors, and
his slugging percentage declined for the third straight year. And
Alomar's numbers fell off a cliff in his New York debut--down by
nine home runs, 47 RBIs, 23 walks, 14 steals, 70 points in
batting average and 84 points in on-base percentage. Howe will
give his veterans every chance to find themselves, vowing a set
lineup when possible. (Valentine used 122 different lineups in
2002 and a league-leading 144 combinations in 2001.)

"If everybody plays the way they're capable of," reliever Scott
Strickland says, "there's no reason we shouldn't be a World
Series--type team. Look at the names of these people and what
they've done. The only reason why we wouldn't be is if we beat
ourselves like we did last year." --M.F.

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER MULTITASKING The Mets signed Glavine to make their other starters better and to take pressure off the defense and bullpen.
COLOR PHOTO: FERNANDO MEDINA/GETTY IMAGES VAUGHN

IN FACT

Sixteen runners were thrown out trying to steal with Tom Glavine
on the mound last year; 29 bases were stolen on Al Leiter. Both
figures led the majors.

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

"This is a club with too many question marks. If everything breaks
right, it could be in the hunt; if not, it could be a miserable
year.... Mo Vaughn has lost some weight, and I think he's closer
to the productive player he was in the second half of last season
than the first-half player with all the rust.... At third base
Jay Bell can catch but can't hit, and Ty Wigginton can hit but
can't catch. When Rey Sanchez is batting .200 in June, you'll see
Jose Reyes at shortstop. He's got a live bat and great hands....
Centerfield is a black hole. Roger Cedeno cannot play the
position. I saw him misplay five balls in the early part of
spring training, and that's not counting throwing to the wrong
base or missing cutoff men.... Cliff Floyd will give them some
offense, but Jeromy Burnitz is his own worst enemy. He's trying
to hit 40 home runs every at bat.... Mike Piazza is not a very
good catcher, but I respect how hard he works at the
position--and he's still a very dangerous guy at the plate....
Pedro Astacio looks as if all those innings he pitched at Coors
Field have caught up with him.... Armando Benitez is a
second-tier closer. I like his arm and, if he ever did a better
job of mixing up his pitches, he'd be lights out."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2002 statistics

BATTING ORDER

CF Cedeno
2B Alomar
LF Floyd
C Piazza
1B Vaughn
RF Burnitz
3B Wigginton
SS Sanchez

ROGER CEDENO

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

S-R 135 .260 7 41 25

ROBERTO ALOMAR

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

S-R 66 .266 11 53 16

CLIFF FLOYD* [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 38 .288 28 79 15

MIKE PIAZZA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 28 .280 33 98 0

MO VAUGHN

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 75 .259 26 72 0

JEROMY BURNITZ

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 149 .215 19 54 10

TY WIGGINTON(R)

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 173 .302 6 18 2

REY SANCHEZ [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 330 .286 1 38 2

BENCH

TIMO PEREZ

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 217 .295 8 47 10

TSUYOSHI SHINJO [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 333 .238 9 37 5

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

LH Tom Glavine[#] 17 18 11 6.2 1.28 2.96

LH Al Leiter 38 13 13 6.2 1.29 3.48
RH Pedro Astacio 133 12 11 6.2 1.33 4.79
RH Steve Trachsel 72 11 11 5.8 1.38 3.37
RH David Cone[#] 172 9 7 5.4 1.51 4.31

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Armando Benitez 26 1 0 33 1.05 2.27
LH Mike Stanton[#] 129 7 1 6 1.29 3.00
RH Scott Strickland 147 6 9 2 1.37 3.54

[#]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Combined AL and NL stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 157)
2001 stats

2002 RECORD

75--86
fifth in NL East

MANAGER

Art Howe
first season with New York

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)