Inside Pitch: Minaya defends moves

No other general manager has to answer questions about reverse racism, but they are again being mumbled about the Mets' Omar Minaya.

Is Minaya too concerned about bringing Hispanic players to the Mets?

Nobody said anything about the free agent signings last winter of pitcher Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, but questions were raised on the radio call-in shows after deals of starting pitchers Kris Benson and Jae Seo that brought in Hispanic relievers Jorge Julio and Duaner Sanchez.

Benson-for-Julio was especially puzzling because the latter has been on a three-year decline while Benson was a No. 3 starter for the Mets.

Minaya thinks he is a victim of a double standard.

"You listen and there's not much to it. You just kind of move on," Minaya said. "What we are trying to do is put the best players on the field. I'm not the type of person who is going to think about how many Catholic guys we have, how many Jewish guys we have. I just don't think about it.

"What surprises me is that in the year 2006 we are even talking about this."

Minaya also traded for first baseman Carlos Delgado, who is from Puerto Rico, but also acquired catcher Paul Lo Duca and closer Billy Wagner, neither of whom is Hispanic.

"To me, it's about signing the best players possible," Minaya said.

"I don't think about the player's race, his color, his religion, his sexual orientation. I don't get into that stuff."

NOTES, QUOTES

  • Newly acquired RHP Jorge Julio settled his arbitration case, agreeing to a one-year, $2,525,000 contract. Julio had sought a $2.8 million deal, and the team had offered $2.3 million.

  • Minor league OF Angel Pagan was traded to the Chicago Cubs for cash. Pagan, 24, hit .271 with eight homers and 40 RBIs at Triple-A Norfolk.

  • RHP Pedro Martinez's inflamed right big toe is healing, and he's throwing off the mound in the Dominican Republic. "Pedro's been doing well, he's feeling really good," GM Omar Minaya said. Nike is making a special shoe for Martinez to wear.

  • The Mets will go to spring training with three pitchers 34 or older -- RHPs Pedro Martinez and Steve Trachsel and LHP Tom Glavine -- and it concerns GM Omar Minaya: "I'd like to get a power arm at the front end of the rotation." The Mets are keeping their eyes on Chicago White Sox RHP Jose Contreras and Oakland LHP Barry Zito, both of whom are in their walk years.

  • After the trade of RHP Kris Benson to Baltimore, RHP Aaron Heilman is the front-runner for the fifth spot in the rotation assuming the Mets don't make a trade. "It did create an opportunity for me," Heilman said of the trade. "I'm going into spring training very optimistic, and I'm thankful to have the chance to start again. I want to prove I deserve the opportunity."

  • Former Mets C Mike Piazza signed with San Diego, where he figures to play more than half the games behind the plate. Can he still do it? "Not as a catcher, but as a DH I'd still look at him," Mets hitting coach Rick Down said. "If he gets rest, he can still be dangerous."

  • Former Mets 2B Juan Samuel was named manager of Double-A Binghamton.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 275 -- Career victories for LHP Tom Glavine.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I sincerely hope he will be in a Mets uniform when he wins 300." -- Mets owner Fred Wilpon on LHP Tom Glavine, whose contract expires after the season.

    ROSTER REPORT

    On paper, the Mets could be the team to beat as they improved on all their weaknesses this winter.

    They needed left-handed power and a first baseman and got both in Carlos Delgado. The ninth inning was always an adventure, but now they now have one of the game's premier closers in Billy Wagner. Nobody could replace a healthy and sound Mike Piazza behind the plate, but Paul Lo Duca gives them a quality catcher.

    The Mets also bolstered their bullpen depth with RHPs Chad Bradford, Duaner Sanchez, Steve Schmoll and Jorge Julio.

    The bench was strengthened with the additions of 1B Julio Franco, OF Endy Chavez and 2B Bret Boone.

    ARRIVALS: INF Julio Franco (free agent from Atlanta), 2B Jose Valentin (free agent from Chicago White Sox), C Paul Lo Duca (trade from Florida), LHP Billy Wagner (free agent from Philadelphia), 1B Carlos Delgado (trade from Florida), 1B/OF Xavier Nady (trade from San Diego), OF Endy Chavez (free agent from Philadelphia), RHP Chad Bradford (free agent from Boston), RHP Duaner Sanchez (trade from Los Angeles Dodgers), RHP Steve Schmoll (trade from Los Angeles Dodgers), 2B Bret Boone (free agent from Minnesota), RHPs Jorge Julio and John Maine (trade from Baltimore), C Bobby Estalella (minor league free agent), RHP Jeremi Gonzalez (minor league free agent), RHP Jose Santiago (minor league free agent).

    DEPARTURES: C Mike Piazza (arbitration not offered, signed with San Diego), 2B Miguel Cairo (free agent, signed with Yankees), RHP Braden Looper (free agent, signed by St. Louis), RHP Roberto Hernandez (free agent, signed by Pittsburgh), C Mike DiFelice (arbitration not offered), 1B Doug Mientkiewicz (free agent, signed with Kansas City), INF Jose Offerman (arbitration not offered), RHP Shingo Takatsu (arbitration not offered, OF Gerald Williams (arbitration not offered), 1B Mike Jacobs (traded to Florida), RHP Yusmeiro Petit (traded to Florida); minor league 3B Grant Psomas (traded to Florida), OF Mike Cameron (traded to San Diego), RHP Danny Graves (option declined, signed with Cleveland), INF Marlon Anderson (free agent, signed with Washington), LHP Felix Heredia (option declined), RHP Jae Seo (traded to Los Angeles Dodgers), LHP Tim Hamulack (traded to Los Angeles Dodgers), LHP Kazuhisa Ishii (released, signed with Yakult Swallows), RHP Kris Benson (traded to Baltimore).

    BIGGEST NEEDS: Boston OF Manny Ramirez is probably a pipe dream but would be an extravagance, especially if there isn't a solid bullpen bridge to closer Billy Wagner.

    FREE AGENTS: INF Jose Offerman, OF Gerald Williams, C Mike DiFelice, LHP Felix Heredia, LHP Dae-Sung Koo, RHP Shingo Takatsu.

    ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE: None.

    IN LIMBO: There have been continued rumblings that the Mets are trying to unload 2B Kaz Matsui.

    MEDICAL WATCH: No injuries of note to watch during the offseason.


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