First things first with Mientkiewicz

After Carlos Delgado shunned the Mets' offer in January and signed with the Marlins, the Mets acted quickly and snagged former Gold Glover Doug Mientkiewicz from the Boston Red Sox, swapping out Class-A first baseman Ian Bladergroen.

The 30-year-old Mientkiewicz is a seven-year major league veteran, having played all but one half season of his career with the Minnesota Twins.

He was traded to the Red Sox last summer and, hampered by the remnants of a wrist injury that required surgery, suffered through the worst offensive season of his career in 2004, batting just .215 in 49 games with Boston and .238 overall.

"Our scouts feel we're getting one of the premier defensive first basemen in the game," Minaya said. "Offensively, he did not produce. But he really didn't play every day. That could be the reason."

"I hit .300 with a completely shredded wrist [in 2003]," Mientkiewicz said. "I just didn't do my job [last year]. I make no excuses."

A career .272 hitter, Mientkiewicz's best asset is his defense, which will help the Mets' young infield immeasurably. Defensively, he's a much better choice than Delgado, and it's not out of the question to think that Mientkiewicz could wind up saving David Wright, Jose Reyes and Kaz Matsui 12 to 15 errors this year.

"I'm a very humble person with the bat, but I'm confident with the glove in my hand," Mientkiewicz said. "That's what separates me from the Mark McGwires and Carlos Delgados of the world. I have to do little things. I feel like I'm one of the better ones in the league. Hopefully the guys will feel comfortable with me over there."

Still, Mientkiewicz is far from an automatic out at the plate and he will be looking to bounce back to his form of 2001 and 2003, when he batted .305 and .300, respectively.

Though Mientkiewicz can occasionally pound the ball out of the ballpark when he gets his pitch – he hit a career-high 15 homers in 2001 – his strength is more driving the ball into the gaps and legging out doubles, a skill set that is well-suited to Shea Stadium.

He has been able to cut his strikeouts in recent years and walks fairly often, and should be a serviceable bottom-of-the-order hitter for New York. Plus, he brings the added benefit of having grown up a Mets fan – Mientkiewicz lists Keith Hernandez, whom he admired for being a "gamer", among his all-time favorites.

"Guys like that, they played the game the right way," Mientkiewicz said. "That's what I hope to do with the Mets."

The Mets also have a slew of backups who can spell Mientkiewicz for a rest or due to injury. Jason Phillips was the club's starting first baseman for significant periods of time in each of the last two years, despite a clumsy style at the bag, and the Mets will give looks to Eric Valent and 43-year-old Andres Galarraga during spring training (don't be surprised if Galarraga, who is just one home run shy of 400, makes the club at least for a while if he can show he's capable).

"I think he's a guy who probably won't play a whole game," Minaya said of Galarraga, "but he might be a guy we can balance out with. I would think he's an option."

Craig Brazell picked up 34 at-bats with New York at the tail end of last season but the Mets aren't exceptionally high on him – his future likely lies with another organization.


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