February 19, 2007

Off-Season Update: The Off-Season In Review / The Season In Preview

It’s been way too long between posts, and as you’ve read recently, this off-season has been one of great loss in my family, making posting a wee bit harder. Moving forward, with an exciting season coming up, we’d like to continue our series of off-season updates, which culminates in today’s column which will size up the entire off-season for the Mets. Without further ado, onward to Spring Training!!!

Who’s New
~Ben Johnson (OF)
~Chan Ho Park (P)
~Moises Alou (OF)
~Aaron Sele (P)
~Damion Easley (Inf/Utility)
~Scott Schoenweis (P)
~David Newhan (Inf/OF)
~Jorge Sosa (P)
~Ambiorix Burgos (P)
~Jason Vargas (P)
~Ruben Sierra (OF)
~Howard Johnson (Coach)

Biggest Questions of Spring
Do the Phillies Have what it takes to surpass the Mets?
This off-season, the Phillies reinvigorated their starting staff, adding Freddie Garcia to last year’s late-season acquisition, Jamie Moyers. They possess one of the most potent line-ups in the majors, featuring MVP Ryan Howard, 2B Chase Utley, SS Jimmy Rollins and OFer’s Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand. With major questions at third, the outfield and catcher, their line-up is still not in a class with the Mets. More importantly, their bullpen rests on the old, sore arms of Tom “Flash” Gordon and Antonio Alfonseca. Cole Hamel, their future star, has a hard time remaining injury-free, which he must do in order for the Phils to remain in contention, and we’re still not sold on Adam Eaton’s abilities. Question-marks abound, and in spite of a more “quiet” offseason for the Mets, the Phils still have not made up enough ground to become a major challenger for the Mets this season. They’ll be thorns in our sides, and compete for the wild card, but other than that, the Phils are not going to displace us from first this season.

Can the Braves bounce back from their worst season in over 15 years?
GM John Schuerholtz lived in limbo this off-season, as his team was sold by AOL-Time Warner to Liberty Media. Therefore, it must have been hard to define a spending limit for additions to his roster. He did make a few significant deals, sending first-baseman Adam Laroche to the Bucs for reliever Mike Gonzalez, who will join with late-season pick-up Bob Wickman in upgrading their bullpen. He also added Rafael Soriano from the Mariners, and the Braves seemingly have their best bullpen in recent memory. Their starting staff is laden with question-marks, none the least of is the health of both Mike Hampton and Tim Hudson. They lost half of their infield with the trades of Laroche and second baseman Marcus Giles, and their replacements do not strike fear into anyone’s hearts (Wilson & Johnson). Superstar Andruw Jones is a free agent after this season, and depending upon how well their season goes, may wind up in another teams’ uniform before the trade deadline. They could surprise, because this is still the Braves, but their ability to make up a deficit of 18 games from last season is too wide a gulf for them to cross.

Will the Marlins ever add payroll and veterans to their young core?
The Marlins have as much chance of adding significant payroll this season as the Raiders do of winning next year’s Super Bowl. Their nucleus is both young and exciting; their organization is both dysfunctional and cheap. Who else casts off the newly elected Manager-of-the-Year after a single season? Who else would even consider trading star pitcher Dontrelle Willis, at a time when he not only has a reasonable (by current standards) salary but is still under the control of the Marlins for a few more seasons? Who else would let a core that includes Cabrera, Ramirez, Uggla, Jacobs and Hermida struggle without adding the presence of any veterans with winning experience? The Marlins, that’s who! They will prove to be spoilers during the season, and, at their best, can beat any team on any given day. However, with a team of such inexperience, especially the reliance on a number of young starters who are posed to hit the “wall” hard this season, the Marlins might even expect to take a step backwards before moving forward – unless, of course, the Braves collapse under the weight of their aged-veterans.
Should the Nationals simply throw in the towel on the season right now?
Nick Johnson is still hurt and probably won’t start the season until June- at least he eventually WILL show up. The Nats’ probably won’t, and they might be the worst team in the NL this season. Their line-up has some pop, especially from third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, but their pitching is dreadful without much help in the way of stud minor leaguers on the cusp. New manager, and former Mets coach Manny Acta deserves better!

Will the Mets have enough starters, and enough quality starters, to ascend to the World Series?
With a healthy O-Hern, a seasoned Maine and Perez, and a gaggle of options for the 5th spot, their rotation looks to be stronger than last year. People forget that we had to use the likes of Jose Lima at different times last season (we know, other than his wife, he needs to remain forgotten), and the additions of Sele and Park should make the back end of the rotation stronger, at least until Pedro returns, If Pedro comes back and is healthy, he will be the biggest addition to anyone’s rotation, and he could be the major difference-maker in the effectiveness of the starters. With the line-up, bullpen and defense on this club, we can more than offset a rotation that is weaker then we’d ultimately like it to be. At least Omar made major plays for both Zito and Matsuzaka, and when/if Santana and Zambrano hit the trade market, he’ll be strong in the running to acquire either one! And remember- the Cards, the team who eventually won the Series, did not exactly have the strongest rotation last season, and they lost three of those arms this off-season! We are in far better position than they are, and they’re still being picked by many publications to win the NL Central!

Will the Mets bullpen be stronger than last year?
Yes! Even with the losses of Oliver and Bradford, and the suspension of Mota for 50 games, the return to health of Sanchez and the additions of Schoenweis and Sosa and the return to 100% of Wagner should make this not only a stronger unit in 2007 but vie with the Angels for the title of “best bullpen” in the majors.

Will the Mets have enough talent to swing a trade for a top-flight starting pitcher?
YES!!! If Johan Santana or Carlos Zambrano become available via trade this season, besides having crushed hearts in both Chicago and Minnesota, they’ll also have Omar breathing down their doors! A package of Guerra, Milledge, Humber and another minor leaguer should be nearly enough to get either deal done, and the deal could conceivably be sweetened if the Mets were able to negotiate long-term deals with either pitcher upon the completion of a potential trade. The Mets seemingly won’t give up a Martinez or Gomez for the 3-month rental of either pitcher, as Minaya is probably very confident that he could sign either one during the off-season and has shown a reluctance to part with any of his top talent (and rightly so).

Job Seekers
~Lastings Milledge
: Reporting one day before the mandatory reporting date certainly could not have helped this one-time “can’t miss” prospect stay with the big club. Chances are, Milledge will either spend the majority of the year in New Orleans (AAA) or become trade bait in a deal for someone like a Johan Santana or Carlos Zambrano, should either become available later in the season.
~Ben Johnson: He possesses home run pop and a good glove, and might prove to be this year’s version of Xavier Nady. Johnson should, in our opinion, supplant Julio Franco on the roster, giving Willie more flexibility on the bench. Franco, though, should remain with the club in some capacity.
~Chan Ho Park: For a guaranteed $600,000, Park might just be ready to return to his 2001 form and become the best “cheap” signing this year! He will probably become the 5th starter, at least until he proves otherwise.
~Aaron Sele: If Park is not able to fill the 5th starter role, Sele might prove to be an adequate alternative until Pedro comes back in late July. He is usually more effective during the first half of the season, and he definitely benefited from moving over to the NL last season with the Dodgers.
~Sandy Alomar Jr.: A recent signing to a minor league contract, Alomar would only come into play if either Lo Duca or Castro was hurt. He might begin his coaching career with us, which would give us the ability to promote him in case (heaven forbid) either of our backstops gets hurt.
~David Newhan: Newhan is the son of LA Times’ sportswriter Ross Newhan, one of my favorite (and one of the best) sportswriters of all time, so I am partial to his inclusion on the roster. Newhan possesses more power potential then most bloggers have given him credit for recently, and he’s perfectly capable of playing the infield and outfield. He can spell Valentin just as easily as Green, and by all accounts, he’s a player with lots of heart and hustle, two things we can’t get enough of.
~Juan Padilla: Will he or won’t he make the team? We’d love to see him make the team, because that would mean that he’s back to his old form, which would minimize the losses of Bradford and Oliver.

Keep Your Eye On
~Joe Smith
~Jorge Sosa
~Ambiorix Burgos
Any one of these three might surprise us and make the roster. Smith could be the replacement for Bradford, as he is also a submariner. Sosa might be the replacement for Oliver, as this Braves cast-off seemingly has a rubber-arm. Burgos possesses the most upside, as his heater touches three figures and, if harnessed, he could become the heir apparent to Wagner in a few years. He also might eventually become a starter, but for now he could evolve into our version of the Tigers’ Joel Zumaya.

On The Cusp
~Mike Pelfrey
~Philip Humber
~Alay Soler
All three will probably begin the season in the AAA rotation in New Orleans, joined by Vargas and whomever doesn’t make the Mets’ roster. Depending upon how their progress goes and how well the rotation in the bigs shapes up, any one of these three might find themselves in the big show before too long. If we were betting, we’d place a wager on Humber, who seems to have the most majors-worthy stuff.

Reasons To Be Excited
~The best starting line-up in the NL is made stronger with the additions of Alou and Johnson.
~The bullpen is the best in the NL and will vie with the Angels to be the best in MLB.
~Willie Randolph is now a seasoned manager with complete control over this team.
~David Wright will probably play an entire season like he did during the first half of last season.
~Jose Reyes will only get better, especially with Rickey Henderson hanging around all season.
~We possess a lot of high-end prospects, many of whom will be ready within the next 2 seasons.

~The return of HOJO!!! Another link to '86!!!
~Omar is our GM- enough said!!!

Reasons To Be Worried
~Can Pedro come back, and if so, go back to being a dominant starter?
~Will Jose Valentin have a repeat performance of last year?
~Will Paul Lo Duca remain healthy all season?
~Can Duaner Sanchez become the closer-in-waiting?
~Will either Chan Ho Park or Aaron Sele prove to be an effective stop-gap until/if Pedro returns?

Projected Lineup
Jose Reyes - SS
Paul Lo Duca - C
Carlos Beltran - CF
Carlos Delgado – 1B
David Wright – 3B
Moises Alou - LF
Jose Valentin – 2B
Shawn Green - RF

Projected Rotation
Tom Glavine
Orlando Hernandez
John Maine
Oliver Perez
Chan Ho Park / Pedro Martinez

(Dave Williams is injured and out indefinitely)

Projected Bullpen
Scott Schoenweis
Duaner Sanchez
Juan Padilla/Jorge Sosa
Aaron Heilman
Aaron Sele / Guillermo Mota
Pedro Feliciano
Billy Wagner

Projected Bench
Ramon Castro
Endy Chavez
Damion Easley
David Newhan
Ben Johnson

Projected Standing
~First Place in the NL East,
~NL Pennant-Winners,
~World Series Winner!
Sorry, but it's hard NOT to be excited about this team. Forget the fact that we didn't add a major starter in the off-season - as Omar as shown us, he's liable to acquire one when you least expect it! We are still the team that won the division by 12 games, destroyed the Dodgers and were one game from the World Series. We'll be there again, and this time, we'll win the whole thing!!! It's our year!!!!!

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