5.12.04

Me Omar, You Dominican

The Flushing Local asks the disturbing question; "am I the only one who is starting to think Omar Minaya is a little too fixated with bringing more of his fellow Dominicans to the Mets?"

Not at all. But it's not exactly puzzling that Omar would go for a big splash with a fellow Dominican. Sosa is available after all and although now tainted by the steroids scandal, had a reasonable settlement been achieved with him and the Cubs, Sosa would have been a big draw. I remember how the Dominicans in the Bronx would soap up their windows with the number "61" when Sosa was chasing McGwire and Maris. Pedro is a free agent and although an incredibly annoying prima donna, still one of the better pitchers in baseball, certainly better than anyone currently on the Mets staff. Head Case Jose (Guillen) of course, is another matter altogether, as is this trade for Felix Heredia.

But there are still plenty of Dominicans to go around, plenty of brothers for Omar to chase. The Mets need at least one starting pitcher added to their rotation and if not Pedro, then why not Odalis Perez, who is a free agent with superb stuff and coming off a season with a 3.25 ERA.

Adrian Beltre is available. Of course, the Mets already have a quality third baseman and Adrian Beltre is probably going to receive a much larger contract than his past realistically merits, but chasing Beltre, for example, would be solid confirmation that Omar is stacking the roster. Hey, it was only an off season ago that the Mets, already stocked with the shortstop for eternity in Hamstring Jose Reyes, signed a free agent shortstop for the future so there is a illogical precedent for the Mets signing a free agent who plays the same position of a player they've already deemed their future.

Of course, Alfonso Soriano is being actively shopped by the Rangers. Just because the Mets already have what they thought were their future at second and short doesn't mean Alfonso's 121-33 strikeout to walk ration and a meagre .324 OBP wouldn't go a long ways toward reconfirming interest in an impatient lineup that whiffs more than connects.

*****

On the other hand, if I were the GM of the Mets for a day, I think I would try and construct the roster as follows:

First Base: Big hole on the field. My preference here is to go low key with someone who is a good fielder and not necessarily an expensive free agent. Doug Mientkiewicz is precisely the kind of line drive hitter who would do well at Shea and a former Gold Glove first baseman. Boston is looking to get rid of him and he should come at a reasonable price.

Second Base: By default to The Kaz Man. According to his career, he might more naturally be a shortstop, but last season's debacle should force him to concentrate on a less demanding position. However, if the Mets trade Reyes, it's also possible that the Kaz Man would stay at shortstop and Victor Diaz could be slotted here rather than jerked around into the outfield. It's a variable position depending on whether or not the Mets keep Reyes.

Shortstop: Here's where it gets a bit dodgy. I'm all for trading Hamstring Jose. Yes, he may eventually blossum into an injury-free superstar of inconceivable magnitude but I recall only a few years ago that Alfonso Soriano was in a similar position and look at him now. If Reyes spends another season battling the DL, his value, despite his promise, is going to plummet. As it stands now, the Mets might get someone decent in return. The crazy notion I have in mind is to send him to the Oakland A's for Barry Zito. It's no secret the A's are looking to trade one of their aces and among them, Barry Zito had the worst season. Reyes is precisely the kind of player the A's are always looking for, cheap, young and supremely talented, a bargain at his current salary. Zito can be helped by a reunion with pitching coach Rick Peterson and the only question is whether Reyes' market value is sufficient for Zito in a one on one trade. I think it should be, but if not, it's a trade the Mets should try hard to make happen. You could spit and hit a free agent shortstop this season there are so many of them so if the Kaz Man at short and Diaz at second doesn't work out, or if you're not comfortable with the Kaz Man being anywhere near shortstop after last season, then keep him at second, groom Diaz for the outfield and sign someone along the lines of Rich Aurelia to fill in the blanks.

Third Base: Failing mysterious injuries, sophomore slumps and overhyped talent, this should be David Wright's position for the next decade.

Catcher: This is another conundrum. Personally, the sooner Mike Piazza is no longer a Met, the better. The selfish manner in which he refused to properly learn to play first base in order to continue a singleminded pursuit of his stupid homerun for catchers record is emblematic of the kind of low morale, me-firstism that has plagued the Mets ever since they lost in the Subway Series. If there are two things I would focus the offseason on, it would be getting an ace for the staff and ridding the team of Mike Piazza. Shawn Green for Mike Piazza is fine by me. Preferable even. He might still go to the Angels but now that Headcase Jose Guillen is off to the nation's capital, it isn't clear, who, if anyone, the Angels would give up for Piazza.

I'd say Piazza's bat needs to be replaced but frankly, I'd have said that for the last two years running so it really doesn't matter at this point. If they are interested in a good defensive catcher like Henry Blanco, perhaps this could be sorted out at the Reyes for Zito stage. Otherwise, I'm content with Vance Wilson and Phillips sharing the role. If Piazza goes and a good bat replaces him at any position, let's say, for example, Shawn Green, I would concern myself more with catching defence than offence. Alot of how the team is constructed would be based upon the premise of getting rid of Piazza and what replaces him in return. However, it might be safe to assume that this is a position where defence will be the focus more than offence. This is where Omar can earn his money. Figuring out a way to get rid of Piazza and get something in return, even if it is only prospects. (especially in light of the kind of prospects and talent the Angels have.)

Leftfield: Now that the Sosa trade seems out of the question, the puzzle of how to get rid of Cliff Floyd remains to be solved. No matter what, it's imperative to get rid of him, almost as much as Piazza. I was against this signing from the beginning and nothing in Cliff's two years here has changed my mind about him. In addition to his fragile, injury-riddled body, last season he added whingeing to his CV. He has a mouth and he has an opinion and he's welcomed to them both however, if he could be dumped on someone else without having to swallow too much rubbish in return, I'd rid myself of Floyd. A serviceable and cheap replacement, not to mention a left handed bat, might be David Delucci. His ideal role is as a reserve, or perhaps platooned with someone like Eric Valent. If either can win the job outright in Spring Training, all the better.

Centerfield: Probably not going to be rid of Mike Cameron. His defence is his stronges selling point, his speed is good and if someone could teach him to swing less (143 Ks) and connect more, he might have a better OBP. He was 8 stolen bases shy of a 30/30 season last year but I think I would rather he concentrate on getting on base rather than hitting the ball over the fence. Easier said than done however. At 31, Cameron's entire career has been somewhat shaded by a poor OBP and too many strikeouts.

Rightfield: Provided he is healthy, Magglio Ordonez is a no-brainer. He is the centerpiece around which the offence would be built in the absence of Piazza.

Now, the question that still remains is if Piazza is traded, who do the Mets get in return?

So far, the options appear to be Shawn Green or bust. I'd be happy with Shawn Green at first base. Actually, I would do elaborate interpretive dances for a Shawn Green for Mike Piazza swap. Failing that, Piazza plus cash (to offset the salary imbalance) for Chone Figgins and Jerrod Washburn would also make a lovely pairing but this is probably not a scenario the Angels would agree to. Chone Figgins is young, fast and can play basically anywhere in the field other than catcher. He will probably be an ideal lead-off hitter someday.

For the sake of completing the roster, let's say the Piazza for Green trade can go through as does some combination of Reyes for Zito. The batting order, as it has for several seasons running, has a big hole at the top. There is no one to set the table for the rest of the lineup. Then again, barring some sort of trade possibility we haven't heard of yet, the Mets will have this problem next season regardless. Kaz and Cameron both strikeout too much and don't walk enough to merit the spot. If he was starting, Victor Diaz is probably not ready for a full time spot in the lineup and even if he were, he hasn't shown any propensity for getting on base enough to be a lead off hitter. Kaz has a better OBP as a #2 batter (.355 to .311) but he might be the only realistic option.

So the lineup might look something like this:

1. Kaz ss
2. Diaz 2b
3. Green 1B
4. Ordonez RF
5. Wright 3B
6. Cameron CF
7. Platoon LF
8. Platoon C


This isn't going to send shivers of fear through opposing pitching staffs but it could be more than serviceable and with the proper approach to decrease strikeouts on the part of both the Kaz Man and Cameron, an emphasis on defence, speed and pitching is not a bad direction for the Mets to start heading.

I'll have a look at the pitching in the next go.

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