BrewHouse: Mets Change Again, But Are They Better?

After a miserable 2002, another offseason has seen another series of moves intended to get the Mets back to the World Series. From the signings of Tom Glavine and Cliff Floyd to the return of Tsuyoshi Shinjo, deals big and small have again changed the complexion of the Mets. But here's the bottom line: Do the moves make the Mets a better team, or was this just the latest attempt to put a new face on an old group of problems?

Let's take a closer look at some of the more prominent moves, and non-moves, and how they'll affect the Mets, in order of importance.

1. The signing of Glavine. This is perhaps the only player move that has no downside. The Mets badly needed an ace with big-game experience if they have any plans to contend, and Glavine gives them exactly that.

He has seven straight years of 219 or more innings pitched and hasn't won fewer than 13 games since 1990. Plus, he comes from another NL East team, so he knows the parks and the hitters. His durability is in contrast to Al Leiter and Pedro Astacio, who both have 20-win stuff, but haven't been able to stay healthy on a consistent basis.

Along with the on-field boost Glavine brings, he is also a popular player and a clubhouse guy added to a clubhouse that was badly fractured last year.

2. Art Howe replacing Bobby Valentine. Whether you loved him or hated him - or, like most Mets fans, both at various times - it was clear by the end of the 2002 season that Valentine had lost control of the team.

From the constant public criticism of his players to the inability to keep things together off the field to the infamous "high player" charade, Valentine kept on doing things that caused his players to lose respect for him as a manager.

Enter Howe. From all reports in Oakland and Houston, Howe is an ideal manager for a veteran team like the Mets, as long as the players produce. He gives his guys enough space to do their own thing, but he's tough enough to deal with any problems.

He better be plenty tough if things start slowly. With Roberto Alomar already whining about not getting a contract extension and a slew of underproductive hitters, Howe's patience could be tested right off the bat.

3. The signing of Floyd. The Mets badly needed another power hitter, especially in the outfield where starters Roger Cedeno, Jeromy Burnitz and Timo Perez averaged 11 homers, 47 RBIs and a .257 average. Floyd hit .288 with 28 homers and 79 RBIs despite splitting the season between Florida, Montreal and Boston.

The 30-year-old gives the Mets their best hitting outfielder since Darryl Strawberry, and Floyd showed up at camp in excellent shape. And he seems genuinely excited about playing for the Mets and in New York, which not all athletes as readily embrace.

The drawbacks are two-fold:

* Durability has been a question mark for Floyd, though he seems to have broken a strange pattern of playing 69 games or fewer in odd years and 100 games or more in even years. Over the last three years, Floyd has played an average of 139 games.

* Floyd is a left-handed hitter on a team where the power, aside from Mike Piazza, is generated from that side of the plate. Both Burnitz and Mo Vaughn are lefties as well.

The bottom line: If Floyd can stay healthy, he's a tremendous asset to an offense that lacked a second big gun last year. If he can't, it'll be tough to replace his numbers when Perez and Shinjo are the likely options.

4. Letting Edgardo Alfonzo go. There's no doubt that Fonzie's presence in the lineup would make the Mets a far better team. And there remain major questions about who his replacement will be at third base.

So why did the Mets let him go? Some say it was the money; he asked the Mets for far more than he ended up taking from San Francisco. Some say there remain concerns over his fragile back. Others argue that he is actually older than 29, his reported age. Still others have suggested that Alfonzo was one of the problem players in the Mets clubhouse.

The truth is, no one knows how his back will hold up. And no one knows if the marked dropoff in his statistics from stellar seasons in 1999 and 2000 are a result of age, injuries or what has seemed to be a drop in numbers for most Mets in the tough '01 and '02 seasons. Not re-signing Alfonso was a real gamble, and like all gambles, who knows how they'll turn out.

5. Trading Rey Ordonez to Tampa Bay. Slam Steve Phillips if you will - we all do from time to time - but give him credit for one thing: He rid the Mets of a clubhouse cancer and one of the worst offensive players in recent memory, and he did it without having to pay his entire contract. That's a magic act worthy of Penn and Teller, and the classic illustration of the phrase "addition by subtraction."

6. The signings of Mike Stanton and Rey Sanchez. Both moves fill important vacancies on the roster.

Stanton gives the Mets a reliable veteran lefty in the bullpen, one who has stood the test of postseason play and the pressure of playing in New York. With John Franco hurt last season, the Mets lacked a guy who could take the ball in the seventh and eighth inning in a pressure game and perform. Stanton gives them that guy back.

Sanchez has said and done all the right things as caretaker to Jose Reyes' rightful place as shortstop of the Mets. He's not as spectacular in the field as Ordonez, but he also won't make the bad throws Ordonez did last year, and he's the opposite at the plate - a smart, patient hitter who can bunt and hit-and-run, and most importantly, realizes he's a little guy and doesn't try to muscle up.

On paper, all of these moves - with the exception of the non-move with Alfonzo - look like the right ones for the Mets. The rotation is solidified, the pen is deeper, the batting order is better and the team's attitude seems much improved early on.

But do they truly make the Mets a better team?

Unfortunately, the keys to the Mets season are the same as they were last year, with a new and unexpected wrinkle thrown in: Can Vaughn and Burnitz hit? Can Astacio stay healthy? And can Alomar bounce back from a dreadful season?

If the 2003 Vaughn is the second-half 2002 version, if Burnitz is motivated by being in his contract year, if not pitching this winter keeps Astacio's arm strong, and if Alomar returns to form, the offseason moves could be what pushes the Mets to the top of a tight division. That's an awful lot of ifs for a veteran contending team to rely on.

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