The Winter Of Our Discontent

With just two weeks remaining in the winter of our discontent, time is growing short for Jim Duquette and his assembled crew of super scouts to finish the rebuilding of the Mets for 2004. Though the start of Spring Training is an arbitrary line in the sand, the Mets have yet to convince their fans that this year will be much different than 2003.

There are two general schools of thought amongst Mets' fans. Those who believe the Mets are one big hitting right fielder and one top of the rotation pitcher away from being real wildcard contenders in 2004, and those who believe that nothing short of a full-on rebuilding program will return the Mets to postseason play.

The Mets, in an attempt to appease both, have accomplished neither.

Met fans watch enviously as in midtown Isiah Thomas is starting to rebuild the Knicks, and in the Bronx, the Yankees have brought in Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, and Gary Sheffield, while the Mets have sifted through the rubble of their 2003 season. Their new management team proceeding like a bunch of insurance adjusters at a disaster site; evaluating the damage, marking items as salvageable that fans might have described as totaled.

They've resigned Joe McEwing and Timo Perez who have failed to distinguish themselves as more than utility parts across 3 or 4 seasons as Mets. They resigned John Franco at the expense of promising young lefty Jaime Cerda. The rotation is still topped by the same aging trifecta of veteran pitchers. The lineup is still anchored by Mike Piazza who at 35 has declined for 3 straight seasons and Cliff Floyd who spends a third of the season on the DL more often than not.

The additions of Gold Glove candidates Mike Cameron and Kazuo Matsui have improved the team defense, however, last season center field was largely manned by a combination of Jeff Duncan, Tsuyoshi Shinjo, and Timo Perez which hardly represents the largest hole in the 2003 Mets' defense. Likewise, shortstop was filled by Rey Sanchez and Jose Reyes, again, not the biggest problem with the Mets' defense. And while Roberto Alomar never displayed the All-Star caliber defense he showed throughout his career, one can hardly expect Jose Reyes to surpass Alomar's defensive prowess as he takes his first steps at a new position.

The atrocity that was the Mets' 2003 team defense was based primarily on the atrocious play of their corner outfielders. Roger Cedeno playing dismally in right, and a hobbled Cliff Floyd, who was never the poster boy for a leather distributor anyway, struggling in left. The "D" was further compromised by both inexperience and a lack of range at the corner infield spots, where Ty Wigginton and Jason Phillips both gave it the ol' college try, but were learning new positions that they weren't completely suited for, and will be asked to fill again this season.

Though Braden Looper provides an comparable replacement for the oft maligned Armando Benitez, the rest of the bullpen is still comprised of Mike Stanton, David Weathers, and John Franco who repeatedly failed to hold leads last year. And despite repeated tantalizing media reports to the contrary, Roger Cedeno is still, somehow, on the roster. They've added castoffs Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer to the right field mix, neither of whom provides more than a moderate increase in production at the position. They've brought back basically the same bench, replacing only Tony Clark with Todd Zeile.

At the minor league level, the Mets have suffered more losses than gains. They've lost Jaime Cerda, Matt Watson, Marcos Scutaro, Lenny Dinardo, David Mattox, Ender Chavez, John Wilson, and Joe Orloski while adding Shawn Sedlacek, Eric Valent, Lance Caraccioli, and Bryan Edwards.

There was the three weeks in August when they were relatively healthy and ripped off an 18-10 run for their only positive streak of the 2003 season. But they can't really believe that a team that finished 66-95 and 35 games out of first place was really an 18-10 team decimated by injuries. They can't really believe that their aging veterans like Piazza, Leiter, and Glavine are going to get better as time continues to march forward. Can they?

So where does that leave the Mets for 2004? They have improved their defensive strength "up the middle", which was one of the primary offseason targets and reportedly a big soapbox issue for new superscout Al Goldis, and they've probably helped their offense by assembling the potentially dynamic duo of Reyes and Matsui at the top of the order and replacing Burnitz/Duncan/Cedeno with Cameron/Garcia/Spencer.

But at the core many of the problems that dogged the team in 2003 remain the same. The pitching staff is aging and basically unchanged from last season, other than having the guidance of guru Rick Peterson and another candle stuck into birthday cakes that were already fire hazards. The offense is still dependant on full healthy productive seasons from Piazza and Floyd. And aside from Matsui and possibly Cameron, there have been no real imports of talent either at the major league level or in the minors, and no exodus of parts that could constitute an addition by subtraction.

It seems the Mets have elected to make some minor changes in an effort to avoid losing 95 games again, and put off the major reconstruction project until the top kids in their system like David Wright, Scott Kazmir, Matt Peterson, and Justin Huber are ready to join Jose Reyes as the core of the new Mets. That's likely to mean another long summer for Mets' fans, half of whom would only have been satisfied by adding a superstar like Guerrero and a pitcher like Vazquez, the rest who wanted to see the Mets make a real run at rebuilding, and none of whom have gotten what they wanted.

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