Time To Roll

Tick tock tick tock. The off-season is now officially in full swing as the first few moves have already been made. The A's have been big players in the trade market so far dealing Ted Lilly, Terrence Long, and All Star Catcher Ramon Hernandez in order to sure up one of the weakest outfields in the game. The Giants obtained A.J. Pierzynski, and Seattle made the first big free agent splash by signing former Mariner Raul Ibanez.

So that now brings us to the Amazins'. What would winter be without plenty of hot stove baseball talk running rampant in the big apple. To nobody's surprise, Alex Rodriguez has become a topic of discussion yet again, this time because of recent troubles with Rangers skipper Buck Showalter. A-Rod, the best player in the game, at the age of 28, patrolling shortstop for the Mets for years to come does sound juicy and brings a tingle to my spin, but is it realistic? It is doubtful that will be the case. Sure New York would love A-Rod in town, plastering his face all over billboards, and have him become the cities biggest icon (that's right Derek, time to play second riddle) but there may be 27 reasons that this could be wishful thinking. Rangers, as expected, refuse to pay ANY of Rodriguez's contract which has 179 million over the next 7 years left on it. That, folks, is the problem.

The Mets have made it clear that they are going to clear payroll to somewhere in the mid 90s. Rodriguez's contract could possibly take up a fourth of the payroll. Now it appears that both organizations have hit a roadblock, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Duquette and Co. must get cracking, and there are many holes to fill. Whether all this A-Rod talk has become a distraction or not, they have to start filling voids.

Lets take a look at their needs, one position at a time.

Centerfield

Boy it has been awhile since the Mets had a Gold Glove caliber type player patrolling the grounds out there. Well that may not be the case anymore. Duquette, who reinforced the fact that they need strong defense up the middle, may have to look no further than Mike Cameron. The Mariners who just signed Raul Ibanez might have sealed Cameron's fate. Cameron has been solid, yet streaky with the bat over the past few years, but has shown the ability to flash the leather like very few can. If the Cameron plan backfires, and he ends up back in Seattle, then don't be surprised if the Mets to try and make a move for Randy Winn, another Mariner outfielder.

Second Base

After the Roberto Alomar debacle, the team is looking for a defensive minded player with a good bat and decent speed (wasn't that Robbie?). The person that stands out of the pack is Marlins Gold Glover Luis Castillo. He's everything the Mets have been looking for and need, but with nagging injuries, a poor postseason, and a possible bidding war to take place, Castillo may find himself elsewhere next year. The Marlins have reportedly offered their All-Star a 3-year deal worth 16.5 million. The Mets have what it takes to top that, which is something that Duquette is surely contemplating. Other options are ex-Met Fernando Vina, and Red Sox Todd Walker. The options are few and far between but it's anyone's guess on who the team will pull the trigger on.

Right Field

There are many option for this position. With the departure of Burnitz, the team is left with another hole. Ibanez, a leading candidate, is no longer available, so where do the turn now? Some names that have been mentioned are Reggie Sanders, Jose Guillen, and Shannon Stewart. Stewart, who hasn't been mentioned often has made his home in LF, and with the Twins being the frontrunners, seems unlikely to call New York home. A year ago we were hearing Vlad Guerrero's name as the man to take the job. However, between Wilpon not wanting to spend big on any one player, and Vlad's unwillingness to play in the big city, makes it a sure bet he'll be elsewhere next year (and no, not in the Bronx either).

Pitching

We've heard from Wilpon that pitching is another key aspect in becoming an NL East powerhouse once again. Historically, every successful run the Mets have had was due in part to dominating pitching. Ah, the days of Seaver/Koosman/Ryan in 69', Gooden/Darling/Fernandez in 86', and Hampton/Leiter in 00', will we see that anytime soon? It wouldn't shock anyone if they did. One reason is because of the Mets farm system. Hyped prospects such as LHP Scott Kazmir and RHP Matt Peterson provide Mets fans with a glimmer of hope in the near future, something the farm system hasn't portrayed in nearly a decade. But, Kazmir and Peterson likely won't be ready until 2005. This brings us to the upcoming season.

With Leiter and Trachsel entering the final year of their contracts, and Glavine returning for his sophomore year in a Mets uniform, it leaves two vacant spots in the rotation. Jae Seo showed last year that he is worthy of a slot, while his teammate and fellow rookie Aaron Heilman failed miserably in his stint with the team last summer. Heilman, a former first round pick out of Notre Dame, was hyped as a future stud pitcher, but disappointed the Shea faithful, while decreasing his trade market value. Some name that have been linked in discussions with the Mets have been former Brave Kevin Millwood, Toronto's Kelvim Escobar, Marlin Carl Pavano, and Twins lefty Eric Milton. Millwood, who seemed to be a logical solution, may be too rich for the Mets blood. The former Brave is asking for an upward of five years fifty million. A contract Wilpon would not be willing to take part in.

Escobar, a reasonable option, has been offered a contract worth 10 million over the next 2 years from Toronto reports the Toronto Sun. While they have not heard back from him at this point it is unlikely that he will accept the offer. Is Escobar worth 7 million a year? He has shown an excellent fastball that has been clocked between 93-97 MPH, an 88 MPH splitter, and a curve in the mid 80s. However he has been known to lose concentration and tends to lapse into mechanical faults, which led to his transition to closer. Escobar was fourth in the AL in walks (78), something that could the Mets. The potential is there; it's just a matter of if he can piece it altogether. Pavano, a once highly touted Red Sox prospect made a name for himself this past World Series against the Yankees but doesn't quite fill a void at the top of New York's rotation. Pavano has had a history shoulder and elbow problems, starting more than 23 games only once in his career and only once has he finished above .500. Other options could be lurking in the trade market.

Eric Milton and Javier Vazquez are two possibilities, however obtaining either one would be unlikely. Milton, is coming off an injury plagues year and is owed 9 million in the final year of his contract. Vazquez, also in his final year, is being courted by the Yankees, and is said to have a hefty price tag. All in all there will be many options available with one of the biggest pitching markets in history.

Only management knows what's in store for the Mets, but at this point speculation is all we can do. But here's some food for thought. Next year free agent group will consist of Vazquez, Curt Schilling, Matt Morris, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Kerry Wood, and Eric Milton, so restraint from signing a big pitcher this year may open doors to an even bigger market next year.

The Mets are in the midst of a tough process, trying to rebuild in New York. They have a bright future down on the farm with youngsters such as David Wright, Justin Huber, Scott Kazmir, Matt Peterson, Orber Moreno, Royce Ring, Danny Garcia, among others. Kazmir has the highest ceiling of any prospect since the days of Strawberry and Gooden. It's important that they keep the core together, because that's where a true champion begins. Just look at the Marlins, and even the Yankees with Jeter, Pettitte, Posada, Williams, Rivera, and Soriano.

To build a winner, it takes time, which is something the Mets have. Most of New York realizes it will be a few years before the "Metropolitans" are serious contenders again. They should be better in 2004, and a goal of postseason play in 2005 isn't out of the question. In the upcoming months there will be the temptation to deal for a player such as Alex Rodriguez, and if you can grab him for next to nothing along with a restructured contract then go for it. But the odds of that are very slim. The Mets shouldn't go around trading the farm away no matter how big the temptation. They already have a star in Mike Piazza, who claims he wants to remain in New York. The Mets are in a good position with the bright future ahead. You have your stars, and along with a few trades, free agency and the youngsters in the minors, the Mets competitive baseball should return to Flushing in no time.

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