MANAGER WILLIERANDOLPH third season with Mets
WHILE WARMING UPfor the Mets' spring training opener, lefthander Oliver Perez threw a pitch sofar out of the strike zone that not even Bob Uecker could have come up with areasonable explanation for it. Perez, who has alternated between phenom anddisaster in his five-year major league career, nailed SI photographer JohnIacono in the leg. Thus, questions related to New York's starters began with,"How's Iacono?" (He had to leave after the fourth inning but recoveredquickly.)
Early exits areone of many concerns for a rotation marked by age and know-how at the top (arethere two smarter pitchers than Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez?),uncertainty in the middle (Perez and 2006 surprise John Maine), a virtualtryout camp for the fifth spot and untapped talent waiting in the wings. Beyondthe likelihood that in 2007 the 41-year-old Glavine will win his 300th game--heneeds 10--there are no certainties but plenty of questions. Such as:
•Is Mike Pelfrey,23, the strapping righthander who's been compared with Justin Verlander, readyto contribute?
March 25, 2007
•Is Maine readyfor prime time?
•Is Perez the guywho dominated in 2004, the one who crashed and burned in '05 and early '06, orsomeone in between?
•Can Hernandezstay healthy?
And that's justfor starters. Of even greater intrigue will be the recovery and progress ofPedro Martinez, who had rotator cuff surgery in October and has the potentialto be baseball's best midseason pickup. If these questions linger, the actionaround the trade deadline should be furious. That's when general manager OmarMinaya may finally submit to the pressure to give up one or more of the club'stop prospects--from among outfielders Lastings Milledge, Carlos Gomez andFernando Martinez, or even pitchers Pelfrey and Philip Humber--to improve arotation that could be all that's keeping the Mets from a return to the NLCSand possibly a trip to the World Series.
This is awonderful team with a deep, talented relief corps and a loaded lineup. Minayatalks about the rotation's great "numbers"; he isn't referring to ERAor wins but rather the sheer volume of hopefuls. One Mets decision-makerreferred to pitching coach Rick Peterson and his new three-year, seven-figurecontract, saying that with this set of starters, "he's going to have toearn that money."
If Peterson canscrape together some magic or, more likely, if Minaya can pull off a midseasontrade after failing to land either of this winter's marquee free agents,Daisuke Matsuzaka and Barry Zito (New York came within $12 million of Boston'sposting price on Dice-K but was $51 million short of Zito's Giants haul), theMets still could easily position themselves for another run at the WorldSeries. Hardly anyone has a better blend of speed and power or two moreversatile talents than Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, who provide the lightningand some thunder in a lineup that has four genuine MVP candidates when you addemerging star David Wright and thumper Carlos Delgado.
While the Metshave more than a little age on them, they have plenty going for them beyondtheir experience. "We feel good about what we have here," managerWillie Randolph says. Although, you know they'd feel a little better if theyadded another starter.
a modest proposal...
The team's number2 hitters scored 110 runs last year, slightly better than the major leagueaverage of 105. That can largely be attributed to the surprising productivityof catcher Paul Lo Duca, who last season had an on-base percentage of .355, thesecond best of his major league career. If Lo Duca regresses to his careeraverage (.341) this year--a near certainty given that he's a catcher going on35--the Mets will have to do a better job of putting runners on base for CarlosBeltran and Carlos Delgado, the third and fourth hitters, respectively. Thatmeans manager Willie Randolph needs to put David Wright in the two hole, anotion he has experimented with this spring and should commit to. Not only hasWright (left) had an OBP of at least .381 in each of his two full big leagueseasons, but New York will also be giving more at bats to one of their besthitters at the same time.
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
PROJECTED ROSTER WITH 2006 STATISTICS
|PAUL LO DUCA||C||¬†||¬†||¬†||¬†|
|RH||Mike Pelfrey (R)||177||2||1||13||1.73||5.48|
* New acquisition
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 77)
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Career ERA ofrighthander Aaron Heilman, who has pitched in 146 games over four seasons. In121 appearances as a reliever, however, the 28-year-old setup man's ERA dropsto 2.97 with only six home runs allowed in 1542/3 innings. As a starter, hispreferred role, Heilman has proved much more hittable, with a 5.93 ERA and 22homers surrendered in 1332/3 innings.