Preseason Preview: New York Mets

Carlos Beltran called them the "new" Mets in his January press conference, and boy, was he right. The changes began with a new general manager in Omar Minaya, who first brought in new manager Willie Randolph, then supplied him with the top two free agents on the market in ace Pedro Martinez and Beltran, a five-tool centerfielder who has just stepped into baseball's upper echelon of stars.

With a bevy of offseason moves, the Mets finally appear primed to shake the stigma of two consecutive losing seasons and seriously contend for the NL East title.



CF Carlos Beltran (seven years, $119 million), LHP Dae Sung Koo (one year, $400,000), 1B Doug Mientkiewicz (trade), RHP Pedro Martinez (four years, $53 million), manager Willie Randolph (three years, $1.875 million).



OF Richard Hidalgo (free agent, Texas ), LHP Al Leiter (free agent, Florida ), C Vance Wilson (trade, Detroit ).



1: SS Jose Reyes

2: 2B Kaz Matsui

3: CF Carlos Beltran

4: C Mike Piazza

5: 3B David Wright

6: RF Mike Cameron

7: LF Cliff Floyd

8: 1B Doug Mientkiewicz

9: Pitcher


Three switch-hitters at the top of the lineup? No problem, says manager Willie Randolph, who points out the fact that the old St. Louis Cardinals seemed to get by just fine with the flexibility afforded them by having Willie McGee, Ozzie Smith and Vince Coleman interchanging at the top of their order.


The Mets have both fingers crossed that they can get a full season's production out of Jose Reyes, who played extensively in the Dominican Winter League and reported none of the nagging hamstring problems that have crimped his major league career so far. Kaz Matsui was an effective if unspectacular addition to the Mets' lineup and should only improve with more experience in the U.S. , while all eyes in New York will be on Beltran's production as the new public face of the Mets.


The days when Mike Piazza was counted on for 30 or more homers per season are gone –that's a role the Mets hope Beltran will fill – but at 36, Piazza can still provide the Mets with an above-average bat behind the dish. Piazza is playing out the final year of his seven-year commitment with the Mets and would like to leave on a high note.


David Wright bulked up over the winter with an intensive workout regimen that included not only weightlifting and cardio but also swimming, which he hopes will strengthen his shoulders for what figures to be a full season at the big league level. The Mets know Wright's confidence is there; they just pray he doesn't fall victim to a sophomore jinx.


Mike Cameron and Cliff Floyd are on the roster for now, but could be as good as gone by Opening Day – Cameron was unhappy with the move to right field to accommodate Beltran, while the Mets were less than pleased with Floyd's outspoken nature and injury-prone play. Doug Mientkiewicz gives the Mets a solid bat in the No. 8 hole and a great glove at first base – if he can regain his 2003 form with a .300 batting average, the Mets would be elated.



IF Miguel Cairo

IF-OF Joe McEwing

C-1B Jason Phillips

IF-OF Eric Valent


After starting most of last season for the Yankees, Miguel Cairo crossed boroughs, although he's not necessarily happy with his backup role. Cairo believed his agent botched negotiations with the Yankees, who wanted him back but then couldn't wait any longer and settled on Tony Womack. He'll make the best of it with the Mets and will be useful at second base, shortstop and third base.


It's unclear if Joe McEwing fits into the Mets' plans, since he fills very much the same role as Cairo . The Mets love McEwing's grit, but would probably move him in the right deal.


The Mets didn't think enough of Phillips to count on him bouncing back from a .218 average last year, so he's locked in as Piazza's backup and a possible platoon player with Mientkiewicz, should Phillips' bat revert to its 2003 form. Valent impressed the Mets with hard-nosed play and frequent power (13 homers) in limited duty last season, and he makes a solid fourth outfielder for the corners.



RH Pedro Martinez

LH Tom Glavine

RH Kris Benson

RH Victor Zambrano

RH Steve Trachsel


Everything hinges upon Pedro Martinez, who will either lead this rotation to success or watch idly as it goes down in flames. If Pedro can re-adjust to the National League and remain healthy, he'll have a great time in New York – if not, look out. Whispers about Pedro being a ticking physical time bomb are a little overdone, but the 33-year-old righthander needs to keep his composure and finesse the media to make things work with the Mets. He appears to be on the right track so far, and is continuing his intensive workouts leading into spring training.


Tom Glavine could be a perfect fit as a No. 2 starter if he's able to pitch the way he did for the first three months of 2004, compiling earned run averages of 1.64, 2.59 and 2.14 in April, May and June. If the 38-year-old lefthander pitches the way he did the last three months of the year, the results will be far less pleasing to the Mets' won-loss record – Glavine was 4-7 with a 5.06 ERA after the All-Star Break. Regardless, Glavine should be able to benefit from the Mets' improved offense.


30-year-old Kris Benson slots in nicely as the third man in New York 's rotation. Benson put on a good show for the Mets at the tail end of 2004, despite racking up his most innings in four years before tiring down the stretch, and is in great shape now. He's planning on shying away from the top of the strike zone this year.


The Mets' No. 4 and 5 hurlers are a toss-up, but it's a safe bet that Victor Zambrano and Steve Trachsel will be slotted in one way or the other. Zambrano made just two starts for the Mets after the July 30 trade from Tampa Bay , but the Mets rave about Zambrano's makeup, particularly the lateral movement on his fastball and breaking pitches.


Trachsel slots in as a very effective and relatively inexpensive bottom-of-the-rotation pitcher. Trachsel is a workhorse and ate up 200 innings for the second consecutive year. He pitched better than his 12-13 record indicated, keeping the Mets in many games and displaying an uncanny knack for pitching at home (Trachsel was 9-6 with a 3.06 ERA at Shea Stadium, 3-7 with a 5.65 ERA elsewhere).



Closer Braden Looper

MR Mike DeJean

MR Scott Strickland

MR Felix Heredia

MR Dae Sung Koo

LR Orber Moreno


Closer Braden Looper put an exclamation point on his career last year with the Mets by racking up 29 saves and a 2.70 ERA in 71 appearances, doing so in the same division as the Marlins. Primarily a groundball pitcher, Looper's approach matches well to Shea Stadium, and should be even more effective this year as Jose Reyes' range supplements the middle infield defense.


Mike DeJean, a 34-year-old righthander, was very impressive after coming to the Mets in a midseason trade with the Baltimore Orioles. His pitching style far better suited to the spacious gaps of Shea than to Camden Yards, DeJean posted a 1.69 ERA over 21.1 innings with the Mets.


Righthander Scott Strickland is back in the Mets' picture for spring training. Now having mostly recovered from Tommy John surgery, he says his arm feels as strong now as it did back in college.


Lefty Felix Heredia found his way to Shea in the Stanton trade with the Yankees, and though Minaya acknowledged his acquisition was more of a salary shuffle than anything else, the Mets believe Heredia still has a live arm and isn't quite as poor as his 6.28 ERA (and in-season demotion to Single-A Tampa) last year showed.


36-year-old Korean lefty Dae Sung Koo signed with the Mets during the winter and will be testing his funky three-quarters delivery stateside. 27-year-old Orber Moreno leads the pack of candidates for the last bullpen spot after showing a live arm in 33 mostly successful appearances with the Mets last year.



Pedro Martinez's health

The Mets are willing to roll the dice that Martinez never sees the fourth year of his contract, but to make this marriage work, they'll need to get at least two and a half very good years out of Pedro. You couldn't help but wonder when Martinez initially balked at submitting to an MRI of his coddled shoulder, but he didn't miss a start last year and threw 217 innings. Martinez 's reputation as a six-inning pitcher is an exaggeration, and it shouldn't be rare to see him go seven innings or more, especially with the absence of a DH rule.



David Wright


On such a veteran team, the player with the highest upside is Wright, who will be just 22 on Opening Day and still has so much room to grow. The Scott Rolen protégé is brimming with confidence and is beginning to believe he really belongs at the major league level, which is nasty news for NL pitchers. He shook off defensive jitters in a stint last season and will need to avoid working too hard in the gym and batting cages, especially during the summer months.



The Mets think they're a playoff contender as currently configured, and it's nearly impossible to imagine they'll wind up 20 games under .500 again. Everything really depends on health, which hasn't been kind to the Mets in recent years. However, the NL East is a relatively weak division and one that should be very within New York 's reach, especially with ownership's newfound willingness to upgrade the club financially. If the Mets can stay above .500 and contend most of the summer, Minaya will use his 'full autonomy' to get whatever parts the Mets need to make a serious run at October.

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