It's Deja Vu All Over Again

Aaron Heilman's gear is headed for Norfolk, a Mets team laden with aging veterans is suffering injuries, defensive lapses and is heading into the last weekend of spring training with a seven game losing streak, and the final spot in the rotation has been awarded to a pitcher who didn't pitch last season and hasn't had a quality Major League season since 1999.

The problem is it's 2004 not 2003, the veteran pitcher is Scott Erickson and not David Cone, and that these were supposed to be a new breed of Mets, who were younger, more athletic, and better defensively. Somehow, something has gone desperately awry.

In a mind-boggling decision, the Mets hierarchy has chosen Scott Erickson to fill out the rotation despite Erickson pitching only 12 competitive innings this spring, and done so despite superior performances from Aaron Heilman and Grant Roberts. Erickson, who batters hit at a .289 clip this spring, finished his Spring workload with 3 innings in a simulated game, after allowing more hits than innings pitched and nearly as many walks as strikeouts.

Heilman, struck out 22 batters in 19 innings, allowed just 5 walks and 18 hits, and crafted a 3.26 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .247 average.

The Mets had invited Erickson to Spring Training under the guise of an "insurance policy" to compete with their young pitchers for the fifth spot in the rotation. However, it turns out the job was Erickson's to lose and apparently the Mets felt he didn't not do enough to lose it.

Even more amazing than the displacement of Heilman and Roberts, is that Erickson's spot came at the expense of one of last years few bright spots, Jae Seo, who was sent to join Heilman in minor league camp.

Seo came into camp with a "lock" on the fourth spot in the rotation based on last years 9-12 3.82 ERA in 31 starts, however, that lock evaporated in the space of 21 inconsistent spring innings.

So Seo's so-so spring has him heading back to the minors with Heilman and James Baldwin as the big losers in the Mets spring pitching derby.

The biggest grin of the day, however, belonged to Tyler Yates who was also awarded a rotation spot, after a terrific spring of his own. Yates assumes the role of Spring-Surprise which Seo filled last season. Yates threw brilliantly all spring, allowing just 1 earned run in 14 innings.

The Mets are waiting until after tomorrow's minor league games, where Jose Reyes will reportedly give his hamstring a go, before setting the final spots on their roster. The additions of Erickson and Yates to the pitching staff leave one spot in the bullpen for Dan Wheeler, Orber Moreno, and Ricky Bottalico. If Reyes starts the season on the DL, it would open an additional spot on the roster for one of those three pitchers.

While the settling of the rotation proved to be the biggest news of the day, the Mets continued to struggle on the field, dropping their seventh straight spring game 6-3 to the Marlins. The loss was once again the result of shoddy defense, ineffective offense, and a poor start by a Mets' veteran starter.

Steve Trachsel allowed six runs in 5 innings in his final spring outing, 3 of the runs were unearned, coming on a dropped flyball by RF Karim Garcia in the fifth inning. Trachsel gave up 8 hits and 3 walks in addition to hitting a batter.

Despite their offseason mantra to get "younger, more athletic, and better defensively", the Mets have instead added or resigned Franco 43, Erickson 36, Zeile 38, Gutierrez 33, Cameron 31, Spencer 32, McEwing 31, Looper 29, Matsui 28, Garcia 28, making 10 additions this offseason with an average age of 33. The Mets offseason has been largely comprised of adding cheap, veteran, stop gap players who are not younger, nor more athletic, and though Cameron is certainly a defensive upgrade, the rest of the moves (including moving Reyes to accommodate Matsui) are in now way describable as getting 'better defensively'.

The proof has been in the proverbial pudding as the 2004 Mets have listlessly dragged through spring training, suffering injury after injury, routinely committing multiple errors a game, and demonstrating that this year's product will have to prove to be a completely different squad from what they've shown so far this spring to vanquish any memories of 2003.

The only glimmer of hope in what has been a disappointing final week of spring has been the development of the availability of Cleveland's 25 year old outfielder Milton Bradley and the Mets reported attempts to acquire him. Several reputable sources, including the official Indians web site, have the Mets actively pursuing a deal for the enigmatic outfielder who has been banned from camp for a conflict with Indians' manager Eric Wedge over not running out a pop-up that was dropped.

If the Mets flurry of roster moves today is a precursor to trading some of their excess pitching to acquire Bradley, or if the Indians wanted to see Erickson pitch a Major League game before making a deal for him, there might be reason to hold out hope that things have changed in the Mets front office. But right now, it looks like Deja Vu all over again, and it wasn't all that pretty the first time.

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