Veroing In On Solutions

Including today's game, three of the Mets first five exhibition games have had them squared off against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the teams will meet another three times this month before heading north for the start of the regular season. That should give the respective front offices an extended look at each other's assets, which may come into play as the Dodgers and the Mets will likely be trade partners if the Mets ever decide to move Mike Piazza.

Not that trading Mike Piazza is even a point of discussion right now. The Mets have been very clear that Piazza is going nowhere other than ninety feet down the first base line once or twice a week.

But there are many factors that could change that. If the Mets fall out of contention early, or if the Piazza at first base experiment fails GM Jim Duquette may start exploring the possibilities for improving the team and continuing the move towards youth. It makes sense in that context that the Mets would explore what possibilities exist for trading their marquee player.

The Dodgers represent one of a very limited set of possible suitors, because Piazza represents more as a solution for LA than perhaps any other team.

New Dodgers' owner Frank McCourt who just acquired the team in January has yet to put his imprint on the construction of the club. He has hired former Billy Beane assistant Paul DePodesta as GM. McCourt extended an olive branch to legend Sandy Koufax. McCourt has said he wants Koufax and other expatriate Dodgers alienated by Murdoch's crew to return to the fold.

"I intend to restore the glory days of Dodger baseball," McCourt said after the sale, "with a team worthy of support from our fans."

No one player represents Rupert Murdoch's dismantling of the Dodger Tradition more than Mike Piazza, who was traded less than two months after ownership changed hands.

Furthermore, Piazza represents exactly what the Dodgers need on the field. A right-handed hitting cleanup hitter has been identified as their current most pressing need. The Dodgers have C/1B Paul Lo Duca who could alternate with Piazza as he adjusts to moving to first base as Lo Duca has spent significant time at 1B already as a Dodger.

And finally, Piazza would be an enormous public relations coup for McCourt. He would sell tickets and generate fan interest and more than any other move, would signal to Dodgers' fans the end of the Murdoch disaster and the return of the Dodger Tradition. The ticket sales Piazza would generate in LA and the money freed up by trading Kevin Brown to the Yankees make the Dodgers one of the few teams who would see acquiring Piazza as a financial gain instead of an added liability.

What makes the possibility so intriguing is that the Dodgers have everything the Mets need, too. If you scratch of the veneer of the ticket selling promotion of the Mets 2004 roster, it's obvious that the Mets are buying a season or two for their high-end minor league talent to reach major league readiness. When David Wright, Scott Kazmir, Matt Peterson, and Justin Huber arrive at the Major League level they will all fit nicely joining Jose Reyes and the veteran core of Kaz Matsui, Cliff Floyd and Mike Cameron. The glaring remaining holes will be a firstbaseman and a right fielder.

The Dodgers have RF Franklin Gutierrez(21) and 1B James Loney(19) who both are ready to move to AA ball this season which would time them perfectly with Wright, Kazmir, Peterson, and Huber in the Mets development program. The two toolsy youngsters would be the perfect additions to the Mets talent base, giving them young athletic defensive standouts with terrific offensive potential at the weakest positions in their system.

While the Mets would certainly feel the wrath of trading their franchise player, the groundwork is already in place for such a move. This past offseason brought a story of Piazza asking to be traded, which both the Mets and Piazza have vehemently denied. Spring Training has brought reports of Piazza being unhappy, which again the superstar has shot down, though there is no denying that he has looked somewhat sullen during both the Mets winter caravan and spring training workouts, rarely flashing the smiles that in the past have been a regular part of his on-field persona.

Making such a move might lessen the Mets chances of winning consistently in 2004. The vocal core of WFAN listeners that rail on the Mets for every move and non-move would be in their glory. But the more educated fan would see the course and recognize the addition of talent and what it would mean for the Mets of 2005 and beyond.

The time is coming when the Mets will have to consider trading some of their veteran parts and improve the strength of their team and organization by adding young talent to the nucleus that is clearly the focus of the Mets rebuilt franchise. When that time comes, Mike Piazza is one of the best and most valuable assets they have, that could bring back the most talent for the future. Fans and management alike can only hope that another devastating injury or year of declining production doesn't come between them and getting valuable pieces back for the aging superstar. It only makes sense that the Mets brass will be watching the young Dodgers with pointed interest this spring, and that the Dodgers will have more than a passing interest in the health and production of their prodigal son who might well someday come home.


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