The Untouchables

With rumors swirling about the availability of Alfonso Soriano and Rangers scouts reportedly visiting the Mets spring camp, management has made a point of providing reassurances that Jose Reyes and Scott Kazmir are going nowhere. With the Mets looking towards youth and the future, which of the Kids should be labeled "Untouchable"?

Last fall when the final out of the high A Florida State League Championship game settled into the glove of St. Lucie CF Angel Pagan, the handful of Mets fans who had driven across Florida to Dunedin got a sneak preview of what it might well look like the next time champagne flows on the field at Shea Stadium.

Kazmir, 3B David Wright, and pitcher Matt Peterson were all key cogs in the St. Lucie machine. Those three players join Jose Reyes as the widely considered unavailable core of players the Mets view as their future.

Part of this offseason's revamping of the organization has included not parting with any draft picks or prospects in reconstructing the Major League roster. While the Mets continue to make inquiries about improving the big league club, GM Jim Duquette has stuck to his guns, refusing to part with any of the young talent the team has identified as "keepers".

The unexpected availability of and subsequent interest in Soriano begs the question: Recognizing it will take cheap top flight talent to acquire a player of Soriano's ability, which players would the Mets be willing to ship to Texas to consummate that deal?

The Mets have made it clear that Reyes and Kazmir are not open for discussion. Texas already has multiple young thirdbasemen in Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira so Wright seems to be an unlikely candidate, and since the Mets, who like the Rangers have defined their course as being centered around young pitching, would be loath to give up their best young pitcher aside from Kazmir, it seems unlikely that Peterson would be made available.

It's the next tier of players where it starts to get interesting.

Despite fans and media souring on former first round pick Aaron Heilman, the Mets still believe Heilman to be one of their system gems. However, the perception that he failed in his first opportunity at the major league level would lessen the public relations nightmare that might be generated by trading one of the other top prospects. Texas has reportedly expressed interest in Heilman, who would fill the young pitching requirement that would certainly be at the center of any package headed to Texas.

The Mets have a bunch of young pitchers ready for a shot at the big league roster who might also make attractive parts of a package. In addition to Heilman, Jeremy Griffiths, Pat Strange, Jason Anderson, Tyler Yates and Orber Moreno all have impressive AAA seasons under their belts. With Grant Roberts and Scott Erickson tabbed as the early favorites for the fifth spot in the Mets rotation, and Kazmir and Peterson coming fast, it seems likely that the bulk of any Texas wish list would be comprised form amongst these players. Bobby Keppel who threw a no hitter for AA Binghamton last season and is slated for AAA in 2004 is another top pitching arm the Mets might consider parting with.

The Mets also have depth at catcher, which is another need for the Rangers in the post-Pudge era. The Mets remain high on AA catcher Justin Huber as the future replacement for Mike Piazza. Additionally, the Mets have Jason Phillips and Vance Wilson already at the Major League level and found a surprising gem in Mike Jacobs who hit .329/.376/.548 with 17 HRs and 36 2Bs at AA last season. While the Mets would prefer to hang on to Huber, clearly the high level depth would mean that realistically any of those four catchers could well be included in a deal.

The relocation of Reyes to second base has made what 12 months ago was an organizational weakness into a position of strength. The surprising 2003 campaign of Danny Garcia which took him all the way to a cup of coffee at Shea, the acquisition of Victor Diaz from the Dodgers for Jeromy Burnitz mid last season, and the emergence of Chase Lambin in St. Lucie have created a log jam at the upper levels behind Reyes. Diaz hit an impressive .354/.382/.520 at AA last season and shook off the label of a questionable work ethic this winter by dropping weight at the teams request and winning a Rookie of the Year award in winter ball. Garcia catapulted himself into prospect status with a .280 average 35 doubles and 76 RBI while jumping from A ball to the Mets in a single season. Lambin jumped from Brooklyn to St. Lucie and finished as a Florida State League All-Star and in the league's top 10 in the batting race.

Clearly the Mets have an abundance of young talent they could use to put together a package the Rangers or any other team would find attractive. The question is, having stated that youth and pitching are the cornerstones upon which they have decided to revamp the organization, what price is too high a price to pay in young talent even for a young quality hitter like Soriano?

And while no player is ever truly "Untouchable" the Mets have laid out an offseason plan that included keeping their top prospects and stuck to it even when it meant losing out on Vladimir Guerrero who plays a position the Mets needed to fill. If you're not going to waiver from your plan to get Guerrero when he wouldn't have cost you prospects or draft picks, does it make sense to waiver from it for Soriano who plays a position where you don't have a need?

Camp Notes Craig Brazell is repeating the power display he put on last spring, wowing fans, teammates, and coaches with his mammoth BP drives.

Sandy Koufax made his annual appearance at Mets camp yesterday. No word on whether or not he is considered a viable option for the open fifth spot in the rotation.

Mike Piazza, Mike Cameron and Todd Zeile took a spirited BP session, goading each other good naturedly between ABs.

Mets' "step camp" attendees including many of their top prospects who weren't invited to ML camp were used as base runners for pickoff/rundown drills, leaving them alternating between gasping for breath and grinning the grin of being on the same field with the Major Leaguers.

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