Five Days Til Countdown

With Opening Day looming just over the horizan and most of the battles of Spring Training settled, now arrives the quiet before the storm and as such, no fitting debates over who bats 8th or who gets the last pen spot. Let the others do the chatting:

And we can count on at least first base coach Jerry Manuel believes that the Mets will win it all this season, via Flushing Local. Well, actually, he only compares the possibility of this season's Mets with the '97 Marlins, but hey, it's a slow news day...

There is talk about the remaining choices of the bullpen at Amazin Avenue.

Piazza isn't catching the spotlight according to the Daily New of Philly:

"He's 36 years old now. He spent more time at first base than behind the plate last season and, at one point, went 74 at-bats without a home run. In fact, he has hit a total of just 31 homers in the last 2 years. That's fewer than he'd had in any single season since 1994, when he hit 24 for the Dodgers."

Does the Kaz Man really have the look of a number 8 hitter?

Willie is still working out the batting order.

In addition to signing Kelly Stinnett and acquiring Benji Gil from the Seattle Mariners for cash considerations, the club also added catcher Fernando Lunar and infielder Wilson Valdez in separate moves Tuesday.

None of which makes us squirm. But apparently, Carlos Delgado makes us squirm:

On Wednesday, the New York Mets used a defensive shift against the left-handed slugger, with shortstop Jose Reyes playing on the first-base side of second base, second baseman Kaz Matsui playing in short right field and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz guarding the line.

In case you are ever nostalgic about other Mets who have gotten away, Melvin Mora is one to lament.

The Cornell Sun's Life of a Diehard Fan laments:

"Yankee fans might laugh, but I would rather bleed Mets blue than be some bandwagonner who'd lick Derek Jeter. I would rather stand by guys like Dwight Gooden, John Franco and Lenny Dykstra rather than BALCO-bloated Jason Giambi. I would rather stand by my Mets, even with the memories of Mo Vaughn, Bobby Bonilla, Robby Alomar and 100-loss seasons stuck in my head, than become a fan who doesn't even truly appreciate winning anymore.

And I would rather be a loser -- a diehard Mets fan who lives and dies by the Amazin's ups and downs and almost always falls for the same, dumb joke every year -- more than anything else."


Mets Are Offensive

Although there's a chance that nobody in New York is going to be able to watch it, now that they're breaking out the Opening Day batting order with regularity, we can begin to have an idea of just how potent the Mets might be offensively this season with the usual caveat of IF everybody stays healthy.

In Reyes and Kaz Man in the 1-2 holes they've got one maniac on the basepaths who is hitting for average in Hamstring Jose for as long as he stays healthy and another guy you might see performing alot of sacrifices in the Kaz Man when he isn't whiffing. Kaz has struck out 13 times in 49 at bats this spring.

Reyes is 8-for-8 in steals and has four triples in 63 at-bats. He won't make a steal prediction for the season, except to offer: "If I can stay healthy, watch out. That's all I can say. I can't say, 'I'm going to steal 30. I'm going to steal 50.' What can I say? I'm going to steal a lot. I'll tell you that."

IF he stays healthy, he could even steal 100.

After these two comes another imposing duo in Carlos Beltran and Mike Piazza, two All Stars and two good bets to drive in anyone still on base by the time they get to the plate.

The fact that the top three are ALL switch hitters gives the Mets unique flexibility.

Piazza is a righty and is then followed by a lefty, right, lefty and righty, in order in Cliff Floyd, Cryin' Mike Cameron, Doug Mientkiewicz and David Wright.

Even Cryin' Mike Cameron is batting .462 in four games since last week's return from arthroscopic wrist surgery. Of course, he started fast last season as well so whilst we might expect a surge in the first month of the season, if he's hitting .250 by the All Star break we should consider ourselves very lucky.

You've got to wonder when even our rivals think we're Amazin.


Meanwhile, although he threw a very encouraging bullpen session, Pedro is skipping his last start.

Willie Randolph said the decision had more to do with getting auditioning relievers innings than sparing Martinez an hour-long bus trip with a potentially balky back and given the lasting battle for the pen, it's understandable. One session isn't going to do anything for him at this point, not with all the rainouts he's already had and frankly, although the back is still worrisome, having him fresh for Opening Day (if that even has to be an issue at this point) is important.

His tuneup wasn't bad anyway.

Pitching a simulated game against simulated baseball players (well, minor leaguers), he finished his five-inning, eight strikeout tune-up without incident to the relief of everyone, including himself.

Martinez threw 83 pitches, 56 for strikes, and his fastball topped out at 90 mph, which is a little below his usual 93-94 ceiling but is an inkling of what the Reds might expect on Opening Day.

"I couldn't go crazy," Martinez said. "I'm just coming off an injury. I'm trying to be good, but at the same time, careful and smart. It's not like I'm a young buck that's going to go out there and jack it up and get hurt again."

And just as encouraging, if the Mets pitchers will be pitching in simulated games against minor leaguers all season, Victor Zambrano threw 99 pitches, 64 for strikes, over his seven simulated innings in the intrasquad game. Even though the minor-leaguers hit him hard toward the end, Zambrano's most impressive number was his walk total: zero.

Blah blah blech.

Prepare yourselves for a season of inconsistency. If he hits double figures in the win column, let's say 10-12 wins, that should do it, but really, the thought of reading every other week, some dire analysis of the frustration of Zambrano hitting the strikezone or, euphoria when he actually manages to get the ball over the plate, well, who needs it?


The Mets traded cash considerations for Seattle Mariner Benji Gil. He'll report to the Mets camp by the end of the week, where the plan is for him to go to Triple-A Norfolk, log some early time at shortstop, and then start mixing in at different positions to keep him ready for a utility role with the parent club.

Guess you can never have enough infielders to replace Hamstring Jose when he finally goes down.

Sad but inevitable news is that El Gato is gone and I still think there should be some room for him on the bench as a coach.


Ishii To Control Tower: Walk No Man

The new and improved sharp Kaz Ishii threw 25 pitches yesterday against Met minor league batters and 17 of them were strikes with only 8 balls. Hey, he didn't walk anyone!! In fact, he pitched two scoreless innings, gave up only a hit and struck out three. Does this mean Ishii is good or our minor league hitters are that bad?

"Regardless of who was batting, I think I had very good control over my pitches," Ishii said. "I felt comfortable."

Pitching coach Peterson was even more excited, I mean REALLY excited:

"I was very excited," Peterson said. "Very, very excited. We did the same thing with him that we do with everyone. We want him to focus on making pitches and hit the glove. Velocity can win stuffed animals at the circus, hitting the glove gets people out. And that's what he did today."

Tom Glavine faced Ishii in the minor league game and allowed three hits over eight innings, walking none and fanning five. He gave up one run, earned, in his 100-pitch effort. Braden Looper and Felix Heredia also pitched scoreless innings in relief.


Looks like we can all exhale again.

With Spike Lee looking on, Pedro Martinez eased our nervous hearts with a 51 pitch, incident-free bullpen session with catcher Dave Racaniello under the watchful eye of pitching coach Rick Peterson.

Afterward, Martinez admitted that his back was still a little stiff but that it was "not so bad." He threw all his pitches and was able to complete the full session.

"I was able to work pretty much everything I wanted to work on," Pedro mused. "And I was fine. I was fine last time until I woke up the next day. This time, I was pretty much aware of it, but I was able to keep it in perspective, so everything is fine.

"I'll be fine tomorrow. I think I'm going to feel fine tomorrow because I feel pretty good right now. I'm thinking tomorrow [I'll feel] fine, [and I'll pitch in] Tuesday game."

Fine, fine, fine. Magical words.


Oh if only our opponents could be the Nats every day.

Yesterday, the Mets pasted the Nats behind a mammoth homerun by Piazza and bases loaded triple by Jose Reyes.

Mets pitchers combined to retire 14 consecutive batters until Jose Guillen led off the seventh with a homer, his third this spring. Manny Aybar and Bartolome Fortunato each threw two perfect innings for the Mets. Aybar struck out three, and Fortunato got six groundouts.

We optioned RHP Jae Seo and INF Jeff Keppinger to Triple-A Norfolk, and reassigned pitchers Scott Strickland, Scott Stewart and Orber Moreno to minor league camp.

So the bullpen race is going to the wire.

While Jose Santiago (1.80 ERA in five innings over four games, 4 Ks and 1 walk), Aybar (has a 1.86 ERA in 9 2/3 innings over seven games with nine strikeouts and only one walk) and Fortunato (whom the Mets acquired as part of the Scott Kazmir deal last summer, has a 1.29 ERA in seven innings over five appearances) were giving stellar performances, Mike Matthews wilted, allowing two runs on two hits in 1 1/3 innings before being lifted in favor of Heath Bell, who allowed a run and struck out three in 1 2/3 innings.

With Looper, DeJean and the guaranteed contract of Heredia all but certain, there are now 8 relievers vying for the final three or four spots in the bullpen.

In addition to Santiago, Aybar, Fortunato, Matthews and Bell, there are also Roberto Hernandez (2.25 ERA in seven games), Dae-Sung Koo (3.72 ERA in seven games) and Matt Ginter (0.00 ERA in 11 innings) duking it out for the final spots.

Ginter is probably a must, considering his ability to start or pitch long relief on a rotation that might be dodgy to begin with.

What that means is that the bullpen would have a righty closer, Ginter as a righty long reliever, set up man DeJean is a righty, Heredia a lefty and 3 or four places to mix it in. Aybar, Santiago, Fortunato, Roberto Hernandez and Bell are righties, Matthews is a lefty and Koo is a lefty.

For the sake of balance, if there are only three spots left, I'd have to take Matthews as the top lefty, even if he isn't top, and Aybar and Bell to fill out the pen.

If there are four spots left, add Fortunato or a second lefty in Koo.

Who knows, there's still a week for each of them to prove themselves.


Although by some wild and misguided error of omission yours truly wasn't invited to participate in Mets Geek or their 2005 Offseason Roundtable, I couldn't let a silly thing like no invitation stop me from crashing the elitist's party so here are my own answers to the inedible questions posed:

1. What was your initial reaction to the hiring of Omar Minaya as GM? What did you think the short-term and long-term impact of that hiring would be?

As far back as June 12, 2003, I was busy pimping for the hiring of Omar Minaya as GM.

..."With a full menu of imminently tradeable roster members waiting to be dumped like chum upon shark-invested waters, the Mets will finally fire GM Steve Phillips this afternoon and replace him with interim GM Jim Duquette for the time being while, one hopes Omar Minaya is coaxed away from the Expos."

With this kind of prescient ability, it can only be the work of the devil that prevented me from a place on this roundtable.

At the time, even in wanting him, no one had any clue as to the sort of immediate and telling impact Omar would have on the Mets. No one at the time had a clue the Wilpons would release their kung fu grip of cluelessness and allow someone else make the baseball decisions for them and that Omar could and would storm the ramparts of the latino superstar world with a cunning and guile no Met GM has ever possessed. I thought he was capable of making good trades and given the resources, would eventually right the leaky Mets ship for the long term but never expected this sort of siss boom bah so quickly.

2. Who was your choice for manager of the Mets? What was your reaction to the hiring of Willie Randolph?

I was quite convinced that a hiring like Rudy Jaramillo was precisely the wrong direction since the Mets weren't looking necessarily to rebuild from scratch and weren't full of young, impressionable players. The Mets sagging veterans needed someone who would command respect immediately, like the terminally unavailable Lou Piniella. Secretly, I wanted Bobby V back where he belonged but imagined that despite the hopeful rumours, he was a long shot. The rumours about Jim Leyland were interesting but the Mets didn't seem to be able to meet his criteria. I wasn't disappointed when Willie Randolph was hired seeing as how he was local and seeing as how he'd spent enough years with the Yankees to be respected as a winner. But since he'd never managed before, there was (and still is so far) no way to gauge what kind of manager he will be if/when the Mets are in a pennant race and the pressure mounts. My actual reaction at the time was:

"This isn't one of those smack-to-the-heads, oh-christ-what-are-they-doing sort of moments like when they hired Art Howe to lead them into oblivion and Fast Freddy Wilpon was positively gushing like a schoolgirl at how impressed he was with Howe's commanding presence...Hiring Willie could prove to be one of those sly, backhanded sort of brilliant decisions that will make Omar look like a genius."

3. What was the worst Met-related rumor you heard this offseason?

The persistent rumour that the Mets were considering hiring Rudy Jaramillo as their manager, regardless of how respected a flavour-of-the-month sort of managerial prospect he suddenly became. Big mouths like Mike Cameron and Cliff Floyd would have never listened to him and the disease of Met malaise would have grown proportionately. Jaramillo might go on to win a bunch of World Championships with some team but it never would have been the Mets and we would have had to wait another two years after we'd already surmised that, like we did with Howe.

4. Were you surprised to learn that Pedro Martinez signed with the Mets? What did his signing mean for the club? What did you think of his contract?

Pedro's signing was as shocking as the day the Mets traded for Mike Piazza only moreso because Piazza, having been traded to, as opposed to signing with, the Mets was still not as shocking. But it had the same impact on the franchise. It was instant credibility, regardless of all the jealous nattering by sportswriters everywhere who pissed and moaned about the length and size of his contract. If just ONE of the seasons he is under contract is vintage Pedro, it will have been worth it for the street cred alone.

5. Did you ever think Carlos Beltran would end up as a Met? Are you still surprised he’s a Met? Do you believe he’s worth his contract? Is he the best player the Mets have ever had?

No, I thought the rumours of Beltran signing with the Mets were pie-in-the-sky fantasies and that was after they'd already shocked and awed us with Pedro's signing. Pedro's signing was almost understandable, once you had the background facts and considering the length of the contract but Beltran, no way. I'm no longer suprised he's a Met, just glad. He's worth his contract, much in the same way Pedro is. Street cred. Not to mention the subtle team leadership and the quiet star quality he possesses. Someone needed to wrestle away the trepid leadership from the listless Mike Piazza and Beltran is just the man to do it. Whether or not he's the best player the Mets have ever had is a matter to discuss four or five years from now. If he builds on the foundation he's already established and doesn't suffer some fatal injury, yeah, he could be. The 7 year contract is not really and issue because he has zero chance of becoming another NY media prima donna with his head screwed on backwards. He won't become a crack addict and he won't embarass the Mets. But it's still far too early to tell if he will be the greatest.


Pedro, Nietzsche and the Optimism of Spring

What the last several days have left us with, rather than a clear impression of how we are going to enter the season only a week or so from now, are more questions about the pitching staff and perhaps even a morbid sense of doom that despite the optimism of the winter, reality will break through the clouds of spring and rain it's predictable gloom upon us as it has for the last several seasons. Do we believe enough in these "new" Mets to believe that they can overcome the recent history of failure and see us through a season untinged with the annual miseries?

After another rainout that cancelled newcomer Ishii's first start as a Met yesterday, we were left with more time to neurotically chew over the questions about Pedro's stiff lower back and antagonise ourselves with memories of how only two weeks ago we were told Trachsel's back pain was part of the normal aches and pains of spring before his season was binned by an MRI that showed a herniation.

One cannot help but harken back to the winter's acquisitions when controversy raged about paying a physically delicate and aging pitcher such a king's ransom to defect to our side. Pedro's aches and pains and stiffness are something we're going to have to get used to quickly rather than becoming hysterical at every occurance with premonitions of a once-optimistic season burnt to ashes before we've even had time to savour the potential of it.

What we are juggling with at this stage, now that Omar has put the touches on our optimism with galactic free agent signings, is whether or not we can allow ourselves to believe in the fate of the Mets being good or if we will resume the gloom and doom struggle of the past several seasons where everything that can go wrong will go wrong.

What Nietsche wrote in The Will to Power might prove worth pondering as we rummage through our fears about the season:

"The question is in the end whether we really recognize the will as efficient, whether we believe in the causality of the will: if we do--and at bottom our faith in this is nothing less than our faith in causality itself--then we have to make the experiment of positing causality of the will hypothetically as the only one. "Will," of course, can affect only "will"--and not "matter" (not "nerves," for example). In short, one has to risk the hypothesis whether will does not affect will wherever "effects" are recognized--and whether all mechanical occurrences are not, insofar as a force is active in them, will force, effects of will."

Can we then "will" the Mets to their success or might this collective angst, waiting for the penny to drop on a season's demise with one fateful injury produce enough negativity of will to actually bring the season to it's knees before it even begins?

And if the fears about the rotation weren't serious enough, there are the disturbing questions about the bullpen which continue to haunt us.

As short-handed and limited in talent as the Mets are in the bullpen, that pronounced weakness become more pronounced with the mild strain of the right calf of reliever Mike DeJean. DeJean slept with his lower leg immobilized Thursday night and wore a sleeve on his calf Friday, but he might not pitch again until early next week.

"Obviously, if we don't make progress in the next couple of days, [the DL] would be a pretty good guess," DeJean said. "I think the most important thing is to get rest."

In a way, you could be reminded of the woes of the Cubs who have had their two aces in Prior and Wood suffer spring training injuries and then watched their closer go down to injury as well.

And as the questions of the bullpen grow like dark clouds on the horizan, I can't help but wonder why Ugbeth Urbina is being considered in a possible trade.

The best Urbina could hope for on the Mets would be the role of a set up man and yet, it is precisely this limitation that had Urbina wanting to be traded in the first place once Detroit signed Troy Percival this offseason to do their closing. Granted, perhaps Met closer Brandon Looper's spot as closer for the Mets isn't as cemented as Percival's is with Detroit, especially in light of his bulbous ERA this spring, but it isn't as though the Mets have been auditioning closers the last month.

Oddly, Urbina has already battled Looper once for the closer's role, so perhaps this is what makes him so wildly enthusiastic about coming to the Mets. Two years ago, for the Florida Marlins, Urbina replaced Looper as closer and perhaps this precedent is something we should take notice of as once that change took place, coincidentally or not, the Marlins ended up the season as World Champions.

So for the time being, let's not get hysterical about Pedro's back even if the precedent of Trachsel is so fresh in our minds.

Let's look at this in a less fearful light so that our collective optimism might overcome the dark realities of potential disaster.

Weather permitting, it appears Pedro will pitch again Tuesday and is still on schedule to pitch Opening Day, after which we can all pinch ourselves and grow giddy with relief thinking how silly we were to doubt.

Of course, that won't solve the bullpen woes but we can only address one fatal flaw at a time. For now, let's all will the Pedro to full strength and let the season take its own course until the full head of steam it was meant to power itself finally gathers us into its embrace with fate.


Psst: Glavine, Don't Pitch Against the Braves

"I certainly have something to work on," - Tom Glavine, following yet another humiliating outing against his former team.

One thing you can say about Tom Glavine is that at least he's consistent.

Since jumping from the Braves to the Mets for more money, Tom Glavine has started seven regular season games for the Mets against the Braves.

His record is 1-6 with an 8.76 ERA, 53 hits and 36 runs, 12 homers and 18 walks surrendered in 37 inglorious innings of ineptitude.

Yesterday, in a Spring Training showdown against the Brave, Glavine, who prior to yesterday had been having a brilliant Spring, reverted back to his faux Braves form, allowing six runs and nine hits in 5 2-3 innings. The lefty gave up two home runs to Wilson Betemit, a utility infielder who has hit .261 during the past three years at Triple-A Richmond, and another to Ryan Langerhans, who is hitting just .176 (6-for-34) this spring.

The Good News is, the rest of the Mets pitchers did not give up a run against the Braves.

Seriously: shouldn't Glavine consider coming up lame on the days he's due to pitch against the Braves? Perhaps we could designate someone like Matt Ginter, who in the wake of the Ishii trade now has nothing better to do, as Tom Glavine's second when the Mets face the Braves. He certainly can't do any worse.


Don't look now, but Cryin Mike Cameron says he's optimistic about being ready to play by Opening Day.

Oh, joy. Cameron had two hits, including a double, and a stolen base in six at-bats against a team comprised of St. Louis minor leaguers and suddenly, he's ready to face major league pitching.

Hopefully, this doesn't mean he'll push Victor Diaz out of the starting lineup. Diaz, who hit a three run homer yesterday, is still hitting .304 this spring.

And hey, if Cameron is a defensive whiz in rightfield and hits .300 and 30 homers, sure, let's have him and perhaps eventually, somewhere during the season he'll redeem himself for his ridiculous behaviour this offseason but really, should he be rewarded with an opening day start if he is ready when we've got an eager young Met in Diaz to take his place?


Ishii threw his first bullpen under the watchful eye of pitching coach Rick Peterson and the first three pitches sailed high and far into the bleachers (relax -- just a joke).

Ishii said he was a little nervous and added that he would try to adapt to what Peterson told him, but that it was too soon to tell how it would all work out.

Did You Know that Ishii is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in both his Shea Stadium starts?

Funnier still, Ishii's head shrinks on the days he pitches.

When the Mets equipment manager asked Ishii for his cap size, the pitcher provided two answers -- 7 1/8 and 7 1/4 -- even though he has one head. Matsumoto The Translator subsequently explained that the pitcher prefers the larger cap for everyday wear at the ballpark.

"The smaller one is for games," Matsumoto said. "It helps him concentrate."

If that's the case, why doesn't he wear a size 5 for the games and win the Cy Young award?


Ramon Castro belted the game-winning homer in the 10th, his second in as many days and third of the spring. Maybe he can assault baseballs as well as he assaults women.

"Ramon's doing a nice job," Manager Willie said. "Without Jason [Phillips] here maybe he can relax a little bit. I didn't know a lot about him going in but he showed some pop today. He's been working pretty hard all spring. He's been pretty focused."

Well, Manager Willie better be pretty certain because with Piazza's propensity for getting injured these last few seasons and all his Married Mike talk philosophising about the sunset of his career, whomever it is playing backup is probably going to see alot of playing time.


On Tuesday, they announced a five-year agreement that makes Banco Popular the "official" bank of the Mets.

Now tell me THIS isn't another ploy by Omar to lure the latinos to the Mets...

Yeah, let's get the Spanish bank to sponsor us so all the latino players know we've got mucho dinero to lure them with.

I'd have thought the official bank of the Mets, as if christ only knows why there needed to be one, would have been the Wilpons' bank, wouldn't you?

Anyway, this official bank of the Mets agreement includes substantial advertising and community outreach opportunities for Banco Popular, including the operation of all ATMs at Shea Stadium.

So now you can pay for your chorizos and cervezas in pesos.

By the way:

¡la fiebre del bĂ©isbol, lo coge!


Kazuhisa Here We Come! (Exhaustive Ishii Research)

Ishii, The Meteorologist:

"Of course I wanted to pitch for the Dodgers, but the Mets are a good team, too, so I want to pitch well for them," Ishii said of his trade. "I'll have to buy a coat because it's cold." in The Japan Times where they report "all the news without fear or favor"

Ishii, The Optimist:

When asked what he knew about the Mets, he said he was aware they had improved this winter and that he was here to "pitch for a ring." Presumably, he hasn't heard from Marlin Scumbag Carlos Delgado, who didn't sign with the Mets precisely because he didn't think they had as a good a chance as the Marlins to win.

Ishii, the Psychologist:

"It's a new environment," Ishii said. "(The move) will help me not only on the baseball side but the personal side as well."

Ishii, the Cool

"It doesn't really bother me, the number of walks," Ishii said through an interpreter about his lack of control. "I may walk a lot of guys, but I provide a lot of wins as well. I want for everyone not to get too nervous about the walks."

Ishii the Comedian:

"It's comforting that I'll be able to recognize a Japanese face in the infield," Ishii said of having another Kaz as a teammate. Then he laughed. "Obviously, I won't be able to face him. I'll be facing the catcher." Ohohohoho. You funny man.

He ought to be. His wife, Ayako Kisa is a television news anchor for the evening news on Fuji-TV and even has her own blog.

Ishii, the Flesh Eater: In an interview following his signing with the Dodgers back in 2002, when asked: Favorite food?

"Double cheeseburger," he replied with the hint of a grin.

Ishii, The Golfer:

"Good weather, good golf courses, I'm a Californian," the then 28-year-old left-hander said in English during that same interview.

Ishii, Last Season's Prognistocator:

"I feel much, much better starting this season compared to last season," Ishii said through an interpreter at the start of last season. "I feel more confident starting this season. I feel confident my form and my delivery will help me." He ended up being left off the Dodgers playoff roster.

Ishii, the Samurai:

"As your leader, I encourage you from time to time, and always in a respectful manner, to question my logic. If you're unconvinced that a particular plan of action I've decided is the wisest, tell me so, but allow me to convince you and I promise you right here and now, no subject will ever be taboo. Except, of course, the subject that was just under discussion. The price you pay for bringing up either my Chinese or American heritage as a negative is - I collect your fucking head. Just like this fucker here. Now, if any of you sons of bitches got anything else to say, now's the fucking time. I didn't think so."

Oh wait, that was O-Ren Ishii from Kill Bill, Volume 1.


Hey, good news for you kids who have the chance to go to Shea Stadium this season. In addition to the airplanes flying overhead, for further distractional purposes the Mets announced they will add 20 video panels at Shea which now sports a series of 20 large high-definition flat-panel displays that will run exciting, eye-catching advertising and content during baseball games.


The displays will run full-motion video programming with CD-quality sound to provide advertising, sports and team information, including live sports scores and more during games and other events. They will be located in high-visibility locations throughout the stadium.

What rubbish. But, I guess you've got to pay for the Pedro Martinez's and Carlos Beltrans of the world somehow.


Speaking of Pedro, lost in all the Ishii hyperbole was the fact that on Sunday, he allowed only one run on two hits in what was his longest spring outing to date. (Five innings) - He struck out five, giving him 10 strikeouts in 11 innings, while lowering his ERA to 1.64.


It's probably overkill at this point, but as I mentioned a few days ago, don't place your bets against Petit making the rotation before season's end.


Ishii Come Ishii Go

At least we don't see Omar sitting on his hands now that the fun of spending the Wilpons offseason money is over.

With Steve Trachsel spent for the season following back surgery and Zambrano controlling the strike zone like a drunk controls the steering wheel of a misaligned auto on a crooked highway, it appears the Mets have quickly recongised the burning need for help and will trade for Dodgers Japanese lefthander Kaz Ishii to give the Mets the most players on their roster nicknamed Kaz in MLB.

For the price of one magical Mr Ishii, the Mets will trade backup catcher Jason Phillips to the Dodgers. To show his seriousness, Phillips took his Playstation home from his locker after being informed by media members of the imminent trade. Phillips is hitting a team-leading .550 in 20 at bats for the Mets this spring but the Mets appear content with Ramon Castro as Piazza's backup.

This takes alot of steel cajones, to dump the capable and popular backup to an oft-injured backstop like Piazza for a guy like Ramon Castro who is hitting a mere .182 this spring.

And if you think Castro's sole problem is an inability to assualt baseballs as well as he allegedly assaults women, think again. Last season he had more strikouts (30) than hits (13). Have I mentioned before that Castro, while with the hated Marlins, had been charged with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, sexual assault and unlawful restraint before pleading no contest to a misdemeanor indecent assault charge last November and is currently serving a year on probation?

Just the man you want for all your backup backstop needs.

One bright spot to Mr Castro's otherwise unremarkable resume is that last season, despite all the controversy, he threw out 36% of baserunners trying to steal. The current deficit backstop, Piazza, threw out 20%, which is like rolling the ball towards second base and hoping the basestealer breaks an ankle on the way.

And hey, if you don't like Castro, there's always Charles Johnson to pick up like kerbside rubbish once the Colorado Rockies trade or release him by the end of Spring Training.

Johnson, despite four gold gloves and a World Series ring, isn't even wanted by the new and unimproved Gen R Rockies, because he's over the team's new 25 year old maximum age limit and oh, I dunno, because he's scheduled to make $9 million this season while he's hit .133 this spring and hit .236 last season?

Well, all hand-wringing and worrying about the Mets' backstop aside, the deal will not be finalised until MLB and The Commish, whose collective head is spinning in the toilet bowl of a steroids Congressional Committee hearing, approves the $2.2 million the Dodgers will have to pay the Mets to free themselves of Ishii and take Phillips.

Ishii, another pitcher with notorious control problems, has walked 305 batters in 473 innings since joining the Dodgers in 2002. The Mets believe that perhaps unlike Zambrano, pitching coach Rick Peterson can improve Ishii's control. Let's hope so. ESPN's scouting report on Ishii notes:

Ishii's 88-MPH fastball gets on hitters quicker than they expect because it comes out from behind his right knee. Ishii also will cut the fastball to jam lefthanders, and he has a fine changeup to confound righties. A big sweeping curveball completes the repertoire. Ishii's nemesis is his control; he loses his release point and cannot find the strike zone. In fact, Ishii often will pitch exclusively from the stretch in order to get his mechanics back in order.

According to MLB dot com, since 1961, nearly 50 pitchers have walked more than 90 batters and struck out fewer than 100 in the same season as our man Ishii did. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the five to have done so most recently are Jimmy Haynes (Brewers, 2000 -- 100 walks, 88 Ks), Dan Reicher (Royals, 2000 -- 91 walks, 94 Ks), Mike Hampton (Rockies, 2002 -- 91 walks, 74 Ks), Damian Moss (Giants-Orioles, 2003 -- 92 walks, 79 Ks) and Ishii.

The last time a pitcher who had a ratio comparable to Ishii's won at least 13 games -- Ishii won 13 last year -- was 1992, when Frank Tanana had a 13-11 record, 90 walks and 90 strikeouts for the Tigers.

But although we, like others are quick to point out the obvious -- that we need another pitcher with control problems like we need an inflammatory bowel disease, it should be noted that so far this spring anyway, Ishii had seen action in three games, starting once, and has been a good boy in all of them, giving up a measely two hits and zero earned runs in 7 innings of work whilst striking out 10 batters and surrendering ONLY four walks.

Control problems? This guy sounds like an ace.

Of course, sing along with me kids, it's early, but if this is the type of control problems Ishii is going to have this season, bring him on.


As though hearing the footsteps of Kazuhisa closing in on them, Coach Peterson appears to be earning his money the hard way, teaching Heilman how to pitch again.

Peterson wanted Heilman to change from a straight overhand delivery to a three-quarters angle, achieved by leaning slightly to the right as the ball is released. The revised approach keeps his upper body parallel to his arm angle.

It was reminiscent of the way Heilman used to pitch in high school and at Notre Dame, where he went 15-0 in his senior year. And somehow, it's taken all this time to figure out how to return to form.

In addition to this blinding paen to baseless optimism, add to the lineup that the Korean version of Ishii, the missing piece of the indeterminable puzzle, Jae Seo, pitched yesterday as though his job was on the line in the Mets 6-0 win over the Marlins. The suddenly-masterful Seo pitched four shutout innings, allowing only two hits and no runs whilst striking out 3 and walking one and earning his first victory of the spring.


Running To Stand Still

In a day filled with ups and downs, promising notes and disappointments, it was confirmed that Trachsel is going under the knife on Saturday morning.

"I spoke to Steve tonight and his voice was very determined," said Mets general manager Omar Minaya. "I said to him, 'Get well soon so you can be back for the second half of the season' and he agreed."

He agreed? Well, isn't that chummy of him. Trachsel reportedly sounded "very determined" about pitching again this season. I suppose he hasn't much choice but the bottom line is he'll be out AT LEAST three months and considering at 34, he's far from what you might call a spring chicken, the more conservative estimate of six months might be closer to a reality that isn't based on sniffing glue. That moves us to mid-September. That's pretty much the season. It's probably safest for Mr Trachsel to bid 2005 adieu and focus on 2006 whilst the Mets start focusing on filling this gaping new and unexpected hole in the rotation.

I dunno if this is some sort of wild spin machine out of control in the Mets Department of Giddy Optimism or not, but Victor Zambrano's outing against the Marlins is being officially classified as "encouraging".

In fact, pitching coach Rick Peterson was bubbling with feigned enthusiasm for Zambrano's outing. Peterson graded Zambrano at 79 percent in his complicated efficiency ratings - he deems 68 percent as acceptable - and particularly liked that Zambrano pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out situation.

Hmmm. Did he forget that the Zzzzz man surrendered a 400-foot home run to our arch-enemy, Carlos Delgado on his first pitch after Delgado had been on an 0 fer 12 stretch to start his spring?

He did good in a bases-loaded, no-out situation on the one hand but on the other hand, HE was the one who got himself into the situation to begin with. I mean c'mon. How is this encouraging? In all, he faced 21 Marlins batters Wednesday, walked two of them, surrendered seven hits, including a home run, and allowed three runs in four innings, this I might add realistically, which was against the Marlins who only had three regulars playing. Is this encouraging simply because it wasn't AS horrific as his last outing?


On the bright side, Pedro isn't hurt yet. In fact, he was dominating against the hated Marlins, throwing 46 pitches, 32 for strikes, and looked especially sharp in striking out Delgado on eight pitches. Tsjaaaa, Mr Delgado! Take that!

Pedro added afterward: "I'm very happy with the way I feel. I feel strong. I feel consistent. I feel like my body has reacted pretty well. And I just hope everything continues to be the way it is."

We hope so too Pedro, else the season will be lost before it even starts.


Good to see Art Howe still taking hits. Even in a USA Today paen to Hamstring Jose which notes:

"Former Mets manager Art Howe didn't help matters any.

When Reyes twisted his right ankle July 28 in Montreal, Howe left him in the game. Reyes limped off the field three innings later and missed the next two games.

"You've got to bite the bullet sometimes," Howe said at the time. "Spit on it, and let's go."

A few weeks later, Reyes complained of leg pain for several days but was told to keep playing. X-rays later revealed a stress fracture in his left fibula."

Ahhhh, the memories.

In the meantime, Reyes is hitting .313 with 6 stolen bases in 10 appearances. At such a rate, he'd have almost 100 steals for the season.



One Herniation, Coming Up

Well, it isn't as hysterical as the Cubs rotational problems with Wood and Prior suffering, but the Mets learned that starting pitcher Steve Trachsel's back problem may be MUCH more serious than the Mets initially believed.

In fact, initial speculation indicates that he may be suffering from a herniated disc.

This, as we know from all the stories of herniated discs, is not likely good news. There's a good chance that he'll need surgery and if Trachsel undergoes the procedure, he could miss at least six months. If surgery is not deemed necessary, Trachsel could miss as little as three months.

Of course, if he misses the first three months of the season, it's a pretty safe bet he'll be ineffectual for the majority of the season anyway.

So, immediate contingency plans became painfully obvious. If Trachsel were out for any length of time, the Mets would need a fifth starter. (This is to say nothing about Zambrano's horrific spring which would lead many to believe we need a fourth AND fifth starter).

To date, these "candidates" are Matt Ginter, Jae Weong Seo, Aaron Heilman and Mexican League loaner Francisco Campos. Oooooh. Not striking fear into anyone's heart, not even a mouse.

Of this quartet of questionable talent, Matt Ginter is probably the least painful option. He hasn't allowed a run in four innings pitched, including one start, this spring his habit of keeping the ball down could help him if the Mets new and improved defensive infield is indeed improved.

After Ginter, the "candidates" list is pretty watered down. Seo, as we know, in two big league seasons, has lost 22 of 36 decisions and produced a 4.22 ERA. Even as a fifth starter, this is dodgy. Let alone as a fourth.

Heilman, as we've all witnessed, is plainly ineffective. For the Mets, he's put up a 3-10 record and 6.36 ERA in 19 games (18 starts) in two summers split between the Major Leagues and Triple-A. He even surrendered two homers in the Mets opening spring training game of the season against the Nats, setting the stage for our disgust with his inability to match his skills with the expectations. In essence, he is no candidate. And Mexican League loaner Francisco Campos was essentially an unknown, as are many of the players in the Mexican League, until Tuesday, when he surrendered three home runs in three innings in the Mets' 7-5 victory against the Indians.

Sooooo, that doesn't leave us with much. In fact, it leaves the rotation in very poor shape.

With 20 days remaining in spring training, Pedro has one start and three innings under his belt.

Glavine and Benson have looked sharp. Our number four starter has a herniated disc and is likely to be replaced by Matt Ginter, and our number five is, painfully enough, Zambrano.

The way it looks, if we start the season as is, I wouldn't let too much time dawdle before we start thinking about replacements. Impact replacements.

Remember how the Mets handled Scott Kazmir with kid gloves and kept saying not yet, not yet and then the minute the Devil Rays got their hands on him, they threw him on to a major league mound and let him work and now the guy is their ace?

Well, thinkk about the next pitching hero of the Mets, Yusmiero Petit when you are thinking about potential replacements. Petit pitched the first two innings for the Mets in his first game appearance against Major League hitters two days ago, well, Cleveland Indians hitters, allowing a run on successive hits by Casey Blake and Jeff Liefer in the second.

As we recall, Petit is the 20-year-old, right-handed pitcher from Venezuela who never has pitched above Double-A. He had a 12-6 record and 2.80 ERA in 26 minor league starts last season, striking out 200 in 141 1/3 innings.

Two years ago, Dontrelle Willis made the jump from AA to the Majors and hasn't looked back since. Last year, Kazmir, who was bound for another two years of minor league pitching for the Mets, was given the chance and did well at the Major League level.

So let's not close the door on Petit just yet. For all we know, he could be the Mets story of 2005, ironically enough, after all these free agent pickups.


Good News, Bad News

How crazy is Kris Benson's 3 year $22.5 million contract that everyone was angry at the Mets for overpaying for this offseason if Benson goes on to win 20 games?

Ok, ok, a couple of decent Spring Training outings does not a 20 game winner make but an ERA of 2.57 after 7 innings pitched and only 5 hits surrendered so far, isn't a bad place to start.

Benson gave up two hits and two runs in four innings and held Detroit hitless for the first three innings.

While Benson was having another promising outing, fellow starting pitcher Steve Trachsel was having an MRI.

Trachsel emerged for his most recent start -- 3 1/3 innings against the Orioles on Thursday -- throwing 59 pitches, six fewer than had been planned, with lower back pain although that pain wasn't why he'd thrown fewer pitches than expected.

Normal back pain is to be expected this time of year but since Trachsel still felt stiff and sore two days later, the Mets are being cautious and will scratch Trachsel from his next start. He has never missed a regular-season game because of back pain in his 12-year career.

He has won 11, 11, 16 and 12 games in his four seasons with the Mets. He had a 12-13 record and 4.00 ERA in 33 starts and 202 2/3 innings last year.

With Zambrano pitching softball numbers and Trachsel's back tossing up questions, the back end of the rotation might be in a little trouble. Nevertheless, a healthy and effective trio of Pedro, Glavine and now, Benson, is more promising so far, than we could have reasonably expected at season's end last year.

Willie Randolph indicated he might use the innings that would have been assigned to Trachsel to give some of the relievers work since they obviously need it.

Four spots are still available among Heath Bell, Bartolome Fortunato, Felix Heredia, Dae Sung Koo and the nonroster candidates Roberto Hernandez, Scott Stewart, Campos, Mike Matthews, Scott Strickland and Manny Aybar. Braden Looper and Mike DeJean are expected to make the team.

So far, Bell has been the most impressive, throwing seven scoreless innings in four appearances. Heredia pitched two scoreless innings in relief yesterday. Hernandez earned a save Sunday with a scoreless ninth but it is still anybody's bullpen for the most part.

Infield Battle Nearly Over Already?

It appears that hitting .435 in the Spring is the standard for making the team as a utility infielder on the Mets these days.

Keeping Chris Woodward would leave one spot for Miguel Cairo, Marlon Anderson and Joe McEwing to fight for. You'd hate to see a fighter like McEwing go down. He's hit .253 over his career with a .307 OBP. In addition, he has played just about every position with the exception of catcher over the last few years for the Mets, giving them a great deal of versatility as a backup.

Woodward, on the other hand, spent all six of his previous seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, hitting .247 in his career with an OBP of .300 and has improved his fielding percentage as a shortstop each season. He hits for more power than does McEwing, but he isn't as versatile.

If Woodward keeps tearing up Spring Training, yeah, I guess you've got to go with him as the backup but McEwing is a valuably versatile player to let go as a ultility fielder.

In other infield news, Mr Two Time Cancer and 399 Homer Man, Andres Galarraga was 0-for-3 for the Mets and is 2-for-17 this spring. We can love him all we want as a story but if he doesn't produce, the Mets shouldn't get weepy with nostalgia or fall in love with the feel-good. Offer him a job as a special instructor or clubhouse presence but don't give him a roster spot.


SI's postcard from the Mets camp reports that although the Kaz Man is doing well so far in his new position at second base,

"Matsui's principal challenge will be turning double plays with his back to the runner. He was not especially courageous last season with runners bearing down on him; now it only gets tougher. He and Jose Reyes, now back at his rightful spot at short, have had the opportunity to turn only a few 6-4-3 double plays this spring -- and only one in which the runner was anywhere near close to the bag -- so it is too early to tell how effective Matsui might be."

The postcard notes one of the Mets best strengths however, is their fielding, of course with the exception of defensive liability Mike Piazza behind the plate (way to go, Mike!) and "occasionally" Cliff Floyd in left.

Contrary to the potential power numbers the lineup can boast of, they considered the team's biggest weakness to be a dearth in power. They appear to have it wrong on this count, I imagine. Beltran, Piazza, Floyd, Cameron and perhaps even Wright are all capable of hitting at least 30 homers when healthy. Power, as contrasted by Wandering Willie's Wild Basepath Running, is the one thing the Mets probably won't have to worry about.

The bullpen of course, is the elephant and the monkey in the room.

"A secondary concern is the bullpen, which is anchored by Braden Looper and has a solid set-up righty in Mike DeJean. "There are some questions," general manager Omar Minaya said. "You can't say that after the seventh inning, the game is definitely shut down."

Depending on what happens with Trachsel and if Zambrano continues to be wild however, the Mets are going to have to find a way to plug the 4 and 5 spots in the rotation rather desperately.

One man who once filled out the Mets rotation admirably, is back in the news and isn't as a roving pitching coach for the Mets. Dwight Gooden was arrested for domestic violence, battery against his former wife, Monique Moore. Police said Moore threw a telephone handset at Gooden, and he punched her face with a closed fist, bruising her.

Wonder why they didn't invite ole Dwight Gooden to appear with Darryl Strawberry in Camp Rehab earlier? It appears he isn't quite ready for public consumption yet. So much for the Boys of 86.


Run Run Run

"Teenage Mary said to Uncle Dave
I sold my soul, must be saved
Gonna take a walk down to Union Square
You never know who you're gonna find there
You gotta run, run, run, run, run
Take a drag or two
Run, run, run, run, run..."

--Velvet Underground: Run Run Run

Sure, you expect it of a healthy top three in Reyes, Kaz Man and Beltran, but now Wandering Willie has the Mets more aggressive on the basepaths.

It rings rather ominous at times.

"We're going to run ourselves out of a lot of innings, but we're going to create a lot of innings because of what we do. There are going to be a lot of fans complaining about how we run the bases, but that same person who says we shouldn't have done that the next day will be saying, 'That's a hell of a play.'"

If you're planning on running yourself OUT of alot of innings before you even get started, you've got to wonder about careless aggression. Maybe once in awhile would be acceptable, but if all balances out between running yourself out of ALOT of innings and creating ALOT of innings because of the running, where is the pay off unless you are creating ALOT more than you are running yourself out of innings?

You might also question the logic of aggresive basepath running the team out of alot of innings when the Mets have built a roster that by definition, might be better served relying on Earl Weaver's old standby, the three-run home run. The Mets have a a batting order that has players from one to eight with the potential to hit at least 15 home runs this season and a heart of the order that features four players who have hit at least 30 in a season.

So why is Willie willing to run himself out of alot of innings when everywhere you look there is a bat that can transform a game?


Wondering whether or not it's time to start the countdown in the Officially Worried About Zambrano calendar yet.

The Man Who Could Have Been Scott Kazmir WALKED five batters and allowed five hits in a mere 2 2/3 innings of work, surrendering five earned runs, including a two-run home run by J.D. Drew and making us all a little prematurely concerned about the fifth spot in the rotation. But not Victor. "I'm very confident and very strong," Zambrano said. "I'll be right there. I can guarantee that."

I realise that after ending last season too injured to pitch Victor's primary concern is his health, but if he's strong as a horse yet carries out this refusal to acknowledge the strikezone, a problem that kept him down in Tampa Bay as well, we aren't going to be forgetting about Scott Kazmir anytime soon.

Yes, early early, I remember. In two appearances, Zambrano is 1-1 with a 12.60 ERA. SEVEN WALKS and two strikeouts in five innings of work.

Kazmir has also pitched twice and hasn't allowed a run. On the other hand, he's walked four and struck out one in four and two thirds innings. Zambranoesque control.

So, no worries. Neither is an early darkhorse for the Cy Young Award.


Joey Hamilton's career revival didn't last long. Four days after he was signed, Hamilton was released by the Mets for DWI.

Not only busted for drunk driving, but also for breaking curfew.

I suppose there should be a Darryl Strawberry punchline in here somewhere and I don't want to be a backseat drunk driver, but I can't help wonder what sort of motivational problems Hamilton has if uses his chance to pitch in the majors again to go out, get wasted, drive drunk and break the team's curfew only a few days after he gets there.

It wasn't that long ago Hamilton had three consecutive of double digit victory seasons with the Padres and had pitched in the World Series before shoulder injuries took him down.

From 1996-98, he went 40-29 albeit with an ERA that constantly hovered over 4.00. He pitched a scoreless inning in the 1998 World Series against the Yankees which the Padres were swept in.

In 1999 he underwent right shoulder surgery but by 2001, he was making over $7 million a year with Toronto.

How far the mighty have fallen.

Lance Davis, riding shotgun in Hamilton's car, was also cut.


Happier news, if you consider this sort of thing either news or happy, is that the Mets will have bobblehead doll giveaways for Pedro, Carlos Beltran and Randolph this season.

The first 25,000 fans to enter Shea for the July 2 game against the Marlins will receive a Beltran bobblehead, courtesy of Nathan's. The Martinez doll, courtesy of Gold's Horseradish, is to be given away Aug. 7 against the Cubs. Randolph's likeness, provided by nycommute.org, will be the giveaway on Sept. 18 when the Mets played the Braves.

Ah yes, the new faces. What about the familiar faces? How about a Mike Cameron bobblehead that says one thing and means another then takes it all back after pouting for several weeks? Or a Mike Piazza bobblehead that won't bobble unless it gets to let every baserunner on first steal second? Or how about an Art Howe bobblehead that only bobbles after you throw it with great force against a brick wall?

Is the Pedro bobblehead going to come with that greasy Jeri-Curl head?

Will there be a Jose Reyes Hamstring Doll?

I hate bobblehead dolls. Especially when their eyes follow you around the room...


Listen to these Mets promotions: Greek Night, Korean Night, Merengue Night, Italian Night, Pakistani Night, Irish Night, Hispanic Heritage Night, Jewish Heritage Day, Oktoberfest, and Polish Heritage Day.

I couldn't help but pause over Pakistani Night.

Are there more Pakistani Mets fans than Indian Mets fans, or Sri Lankan Mets fans?

According to one internet source, roughly a quarter of all South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, etc.) livin in the tri-state area live in Queens.

So why not South Asian American Night rather than singling out the Pakistanis?

How can any of us sleep at night knowing there still isn't a Nepalese Night, an Afghani Night nor a Sir Lankan Night planned for Shea?

Effin ponderous, baby. Sure beats buying squares on the Jose Reyes Injury Pool.


The Many Faces of Cameron

Mike Cameron's offseason has been a rollercoaster of self-perpetuated drama and has throbbed like a nagging toothache in the back of the mouth of the Mets rightfield plans all during this offseason and Spring Training.

First, Cryin' Mike's role was that of the magnaminous team player volunteering to shift from his normal spot in centerfield to rightfield should the Mets (winkwink) somehow happen to land Carlos Beltran as a free agent.

Shortly thereafter, Cameron revealed that he'd had surgery to repair damaged cartilage in his left wrist, elevating the urgency of signing a centerfielder, at least temporarily, who might be available on opening day.

Then, to everyone's disbelief, but most especially Mike Cameron's, the Mets managed to sign Carlos Beltran as their new centerfielding superstar and suddenly Mike Cameron, injured wrist and bruised ego, was no longer quite so magnaminous and especially queasy about the idea of moving from centerfield to rightfield. I've always played centerfield" he sniffed indignantly, indicating through third parties that he wanted out in a trade to a team where he could feel the love for his centerfield play and not have to carry Carlos Beltran's glove every inning.

So in the case of Cryin Mike, it appeared that ego had triumphed over team. Mike Cameron, the victim. Mike Cameron, for the team, so long as he came first. Hmmm. What an odd conundrum.

Since then, everything's been on hold. The rumour mill has been busy with Mike Cameron trade scenarios to the A's, Rangers, Orioles, Tigers, etc., all with the Mets never really getting much in return. Suddenly we began to realise that Mike Cameron might have been overvalued all along. Funny, it seems an oft-injured 32 year old centerfielder with a dodgy wrist who hit .231 last season with 143 strikeouts isn't in as much demand as one might have imagined. In fact, when it comes right down to it, why would the Mets even want a 32 year old malcontent with a dodgy wrist making a positional move for the first time in his career who hit .231 last season with (hey, did you hear this??!) 143 strikeouts?

Now, after all this posturing and wishful thinking, it appears Cameron doesn't want to be traded after all.

In fact, he's happy to stay with the Mets and play rightfield.

Awww, isn't this a happy ending if you've ever seen one?

So he instructed his agent, Mike Nicotera, to call team brass and tell them he wants to stay. Nicotera did just that in a conversation with assistant general manager Jim Duquette on Tuesday.

"I think he was very pleased to hear what we had to say," Nicotera said. "I think this is something the club hoped would happen."

Not only that, but it appears Darryl Strawberry of all people, has helped convince Cryin' Mike Cameron to stay with the Mets.

Cameron said that Darryl Strawberry, who is in camp this week as a special instructor, was one of several people who persuaded him to accept his move to right field and not demand a trade. "I'm not going to say he influenced me or didn't influence me," Cameron said very revealingly, "but he did talk to me the other day on the field." Strawberry said, "Sometimes you have to sacrifice to win."

This is priceless, perhaps the best quote of Spring Training: Darryl Strawberry, former crackhead extraordinaire dispensing advice on how to sacrifice to win. Or was that, how to sacrifice your family for your coke habit?

As the Wolf once aptly noted in Pulp Fiction, "Well, let's not start sucking each other's dicks just yet."

I'm certainly not going to perform any celebratory dances in honour of Cryin Mike doing the right thing after several months of wrestling with his ego. Even if he'd moved over to rightfield quietly, the bigger issue is still that Mike Cameron isn't necessarily how you'd like to fill out your starting eight lineup card every day.

As previously noted, this is a guy coming off wrist surgery which means, even if he IS ready by opening day or the first few weeks thereafter, he's going to be on a learning curve of several months hoping his wrist is appropriately strengthened. Not only that, but he'll be learning a new position to boot.

Now when considering this guy hit just .231 and struck out 143 times last season when he was playing his natural position and NOT coming off wrist surgery, you've got to be compelled to wonder what his numbers might look like this season and do we even want them?

Ok, so he hit 30 homers. He's not meant to be a power hitter and if he's hitting .231 or worse whilst he does it, what difference does it really make in the end? A little oomph at the bottom of the lineup?

As a gold glove centerfielder with speed, Mike Cameron made us quasi-excited last offseason when we'd signed him. Now, as a rightfielder with a bad wrist and a bad attitude, why is Omar so keen on keeping him?


Pitching coach Rick Peterson decided last summer Trachsel needed a "keep 'em honest" slider to complement his split, fastball and changeup. Trachsel didn't disagree, but he had been unable to develop one over the years.

Peterson showed him one thrown with greater pressure on the middle finger than the index finger, and Trachsel found he could throw it. "It's worked in the bullpen," Trachsel said with a smile.

This has feel-good 15 game winner written all over it.


Paging Mr Anna Benson!

Well, even the darkest hour lasts only 60 minutes as they say. A day after getting humiliated by the Braves, the Mets bounced back to beat the Orioles 7-4. Of course, the O's are not in the NL East and thus, are not our rivals and eternal nemesis but hell, it's Spring and there's still time to stand in line for our yearly dollop of optimism.

Speaking of which, Mr Anna Benson made his first start for New York, going three innings, allowing one earned run on three hits in a 41-pitch effort. He retired the final seven batters he faced.

I guess it'll be at least another start before we can ask will the real Kris Benson please stand up?

He may have gotten through his start, gasp, without allowing a run. But two balls grounded in the direction of Andres Galarraga, filling in for Doug Mientkiewicz, ran under the 43-year-old's glove and into right field for base hits.

I'm all for a roster spot for El Gato if he can pick up his play, and frankly, it's a great story. But if he can't cut it when it's time to do the cutting for the final roster let him be a coach instead of a player. We need all the bench production we can get and last we checked here, sentimentality wins you ZERO games for the season.

As if the mighty Omar is listening with his head and not his heard, the Mets signed former Red Sock Brian Daubach to a minor league contract. Daubach spent most of last season at AAA Pawtucket but did make it up to the Sox for 30 games where he hit .227 and 2 homers. He can play both 1B and the outfield.

In addition, they signed righty pitcher and former Padre Joey Hamilton to a minor league contract as well. Nine years ago, he went 15-9 for the Padres but since then, has been pretty quiet. He didn't make it to the Major League last season. Guess we can put in him line with the other studs vying for the Mr Longshot award of this spring.

Cliff Floyd, allegedly pain-free for the first time in nearly five years but still not pain-in-the-arse-free yet, stole a base in the first inning and, later, predicted he would steal between 20-25 bases this season.

"He said, 'You've got the green light,'" Floyd said, referring to Randolph. 'If you show me you can run, you can keep it. If not, I'll take it away.' I don't want him to take it away. I've just got to pick my spots."

Perhaps a morality lesson at hand as Mr Floyd also lost one of the 3.5-karat diamond studs he keeps in each ear. Floyd, who lost it somewhere between Port St. Luice and Monday night's Miami Heat game, estimated the value of the earring at $16,000.

You steal some, Cliffie, and you lose some.


Deja Vous All Over Again

Is this an unfortunate harbinger of bad times to come? Sound familiar? Glavine, zinged by his former team, Braves star pitcher strangles Mets in debut and we hear yet again that familiar refrain: Braves win another, this time, by a 5-0 margin?

During his first five big league seasons -- all with the A's -- new Brave Tim Hudson compiled a 3.30 ERA and .702 winning percentage. Doesn't look like the change in uniform and leagues has changed his pitching ability and it doesn't look like a rollover of the rotation has hurt the Braves. More of the same headaches for us as always.

Oh yeah, and in case you missed it: Danny Kolb, the closer the Braves imported from the Brewers to allow John Smoltz to return to the rotation, retired the side in order in the third and struck out Kaz Matsui. Kolb averaged just 3.3 strikeouts per nine innings last season.

On the bright side, Glavine wasn't really zinged by the Braves. He allowed two runs, both unearned as a result of a Jason Phillips' throwing error. He scattered four hits, fanned one and didn't walk a batter. So's he hasn't given up an earned run in four innings of work so far this Spring. It's still oyely, but backing up Pedro just might grease the wheels for a strong Glavine comeback this year. A single digit victory total this season might well derail his plans for 300 once and for all.

*****The Straw That Snorts The Line*****

It's all the rage in the Mets Spring of late. Still having a hard time with Darryl Strawberry: Rehab Man? The Mets aren't.

His job, in the week he will spend with the Mets, is to be Darryl Strawberry - part hitting instructor, part life consultant, part walking example of what happens when temptations get the better of you.

"My thing is about young people making the right decisions and choices," Strawberry said. "Don't make some of the mistakes I made in life, because there's a price tag for everything that you do."

Other than Hamstring Jose, who seems to want to steal a hundred bases in Spring Training just to prove a point, there aren't likely to be too many Mets, young or otherwise, who will need Darryl Strawberry around to teach them not to throw away their careers on mad egos and drugs.

As in, hey kids, don't try this at home.

And it probably won't penetrate the thick veneer of apathy in Mr Selfish Himself, but then again, considering this new information, that the armless catching wonder is a "good Roman Catholic boy, and a President Bush-Ann Coulter-Sean Hannity conservative", it's plain that thinking isn't part of the gameplan anyway. Ugh. Learning about Piazza's political views this Spring is like having a bag of sick opened up in your face.

We might need his bat but wow, how many runs will he have to produce to make up for being an out-of-the-closet neocon AND allowing 80% of baserunners to steal second all season with nothing but his wet pasta throws to save us?

*****Cryin Mike Update*****

As far as being trade bait or as our, gasp!, rightfielder goes, it appears that Cryin Mike Cameron is coming around.

Of course, despite reports of progress, when asked if he were ready for game action yet, Cameron said "that would be stupid," though he admits he is ahead of where he expected to be at this point.

Gee, Mike, would it be as STOOPID as telling the Mets world you'd be willing to move to rightfield for Carlos Beltran, thinking all along it'd never happen and then crying about the move when it DOES actually happen and you've got to do what you say? Nah. Didn't think so...

*****Is that Bullpen or Bullshit?*****

It might not be a happy sight, but it's OUR unhappy sight, this bullpen of ours:

This bullpen rundown indeed, runs down our only the eternal optimist's chances at a slamshut bullpen:

..."there isn't much available on the trade market in the way of an upgrade right now. Byung-Hyun Kim is a possibility, as his name continues to be mentioned, but that's more smoke than fire right now.

New York will likely go with what it has, using Dae-Sung Koo from the left side and Mike DeJean to from the right side to set up for Braden Looper. Felix Heredia may be an option, but after experiencing numbness in his left hand last week, his status is uncertain. Scott Strickland continues to come back from Tommy John surgery and appears to have the inside shot at garnering one of the spots, but the long relief role is still up for grabs. Scott Stewart and Mike Matthews are possible left-handed options, while Roberto Hernandez has looked solid thus far from the right side."

This is like a waiter coming to your table and telling you, well, sorry. We're out of prime rib and we're out of lobster but how about a few granules of sand for your surf and turf instead?

*****Chop, Chop*****

No, no. That isn't a Tomahawk Chop you hear, it's the sound of the Mets future ace Phil Huber getting demoted after two scoreless innings pitched against the Nats. Joining Huber on the chopping block but hopeful for the future were Yusmeiro Petit, Jose Rosado and Grant Roberts.

*****Cry Me A River*****

Can't say as this bothers me one iota. In fact, the mere potential that Mr Delgado and his big-mouth agent will be silenced for the season is music to the wishful thinking ears.


Opening Exhibition Day

"First things first, but not necessarily in that order." -- Doctor Who

31 seemingly random observations whilst watching the Nationals first-ever game and the Mets Spring Training opener internet broadcast on MLB TV yesterday:

1. Doug Mientkiewicz batting cleanup for the Mets. With Piazza and Cliff Floyd out of the lineup, Mientkiewicz was slotted behind Reyes, Matsui and Beltran. Oddly unimposing but better looking at first than Fat Mo Vaughn in any case.

2. The rage is the new uniforms, new merchandising. Only problem for me is, the way the shirts read Nationals across the front gives me the creepy feeling I'm watching the National League All Star team sans the All Stars. It'd be much less confusing and infinately cooler to have NATS embossed across the front.

3. With the sale of Nats merchandise almost surpassing even the World Champion Red Sox, you have to wonder whether or not the owner intentionally postponed the sale of the team solely so they could cash in on the first year merchandising sales and offset the cost of free agents they signed which would allegedly make the franchise more attractive and thus, worth more profit ultimately for the owners.

4. Space Coast Stadium. Syringe Stadium. Spring Training Stadium.

5. I'm curious to see some groundballs straight away to the new Mets infield.

6. Odd combination, the managers: Frank Robinson, lifetime managerial record: 913 wins, 1004 losses. Willie Randolph: 0 wins, 0 losses.

7. NICE: man on, first grounder to the new infield, Matsui fields nicely, tosses to Reyes who throws a bit low and to the right to Mientkiewicz who digs it out and records the double play. Matsui to Reyes to Mientkiewicz ain't no Tinkers to Evers to Chance but it almost has the same ring. If we shorten Mientkiewicz's name to "Mank" for the season, the double play combo could be Matsui to Reyes to Mank which would be doable as a song for baseball lore. If Reyes doesn't blow out his hammy in the third game of Spring Training or Matsui doesn't start booting half the grounders hit to him, maybe I'll work on the lyrics in time for the All Star game.

8. If only this might be like the '99 infield of Olerud, Alfonzo, Ordonez and Ventura.

9. ESPN's roving reporter, Sam Ryan, corners Omar Minaya. This Sam Ryan doesn't appear to be your average sports bimbo. Her questions are precise and relevant. When she asks Omar point blank (after all the rubbish set-up chatter about what a "team player" Mike Cameron is, which Omar was miraculously able to pull off with a straight face), whether or not Cameron was still going to be a Met on Opening Day, Omar stuttered an explanation with qualifiers as if he didn't really want to be cornered about it later after a trade had gone through. No doubt, if there's a taker, Cameron will be gone and that will be a good day for the Mets clubhouse.

10. Chopper back up the middle over Glavine's head causes some communication problems and confusing between Matsui and Reyes. ESPN commentator Jeff Brantley notes that the shortstop is the "captain of the infield", even if he is only 21. Should have been Reyes' call. Of course, with Reyes a Dominican and Matsui Japanese, there might be a little linguistic barrier. Still, you'd think they'd have both figured out a few code words in English or Engrish or Spanglish to resemble something like "I've got it!"

11. Glavine finishes with two innings pitched, 2 hits, 2 strikeouts, one hit Angry Guillen and 0 runs surrendered. Not bad. At least he didn't get shelled like Pettitte or Dontrelle Willis did yesterday.

12. The announcers spoke with Nats reliever, Mike Hinkley prior to the game and appear to have fallen in love with him. They give shout outs to his family, his girlfriend, his dog, whomever might be listening. Hinkley looks good initially but then falls apart in his second inning of pitching and ends up giving up 2 runs and 3 hits in two innings work.

13. In the third, Reyes singles up the middle off Hinkley but there are already two outs, so chances are, we won't see him try to steal or get picked off.

14. Kaz Man makes a nice charging one handed grab of a bouncer and gets the runner in time. Looks like he's been practicing at his new position.

15. I wonder if Reyes, if he manages to stay healthy, will even have the stamina to keep up for the full slate of exhibition games, PLUS 162 regular season games. He's only played 122 games total in his entire career to date.

16. "Willie Randolph will make his money on how he handles the 6th and 7th inning pitching decisions" - Steve Phillips, former Mets failed GM cum ESPN stooge.

17. Kaz Man makes another good grab: two sharp plays in one inning. This is gonna look good to the lads back home.

18. STEROIDS: I knew they were going to get around to it eventually but I had no idea they were going to talk about it so relentlessly to the point of ignorning play on the field. "Pandora's box is wide open but nobody knows who's in it." - Jeff Brantley.

19. Brantley, Phillips and Dan Schulman continue yammering on about steroids for what seems an eternity. We hear Phillips' self-serving excuses and lies about how he dealt with it or not as the Mets GM. We hear Brantley's woeful tale of finding a syringe in a highschool toilet just "a few days ago", blablabla. Really pathetic pandering as though they've been handed scripts by Bud Selig. Only Schulman dares comment on the toothlessness of the new MLB steroid testing policy and he's smacked away by Brantley who can't stop raving about how testing during the offseason changes "everything". What rubbish. At least one of them points out that it doesn't matter what rules or testing you implement, players who want to are going to find a way around it. The only truthful, unscripted line of the day from these sadistic MLB-serving little mouthpieces.

20. Frank Robinson gets interviewed live with a head set while he sits on the team bench. "Baseball begins and ends with pitching," he says, "and the defence behind it." Of course, Frank is preoccupied with pitching this Spring Training considering how weak the Nats rotation is. Frank keeps his headphones on after the interview, for the most of the game in fact, until he takes them off to argue an erroneous infield fly rule call by the umpire.

21. Jose Guillen hits the first Washington Nats homer ever to tie the game at 2. What sad sack Met hurler surrenders it? None other than Super-Disappointer, Aaron Heilman. To compound the fact that Heilman sucks, in case you missed it the first go-round, he later surrenders another homer to Keith Osik.

22. Comedy of Errors: Nats CF Endy Chavez misplays Kaz Man's fly ball to centerfield. Matsui trips over his own feet as he nears second base, preventing him from reaching third. One batter later, Jeff Hammonds, the old Orioles prospect who never amounted to anything, lets a line drive by Phillips soar over his head as if he's never played leftfield before making it a run-scoring double for Phillips. Frank Robinson says he's chewing his fingernails with annoyance.

23. 5th inning sees a Nats flood of unknowns take the field, like the 4th quarter of an NFL Exhibition game. This leads to Jose Guillen getting interviewed in the dugout about his anger management problems and the subsequent counseling he went for. All along, we've heard what a stand up guy Guillen is, how he's not as bad as last season's misunderstanding with the Angels that saw him kicked off the team in the middle of a pennant race. We've heard how he volunteered to get counseling without any prompting from anyone else, blablabla. Then Guillen drops the bomb that he "didn't really need" counseling. Duh. So why'd you go? Well, the ESPN announcers figure he's mistaken. Of course he needed it and recognised he needed it blablabla. None of them bother to point out the obvious: Guillen's agent told him he had to get counseling and at least pretend to be sorting himself out otherwise nobody would want him. Mark it down though folks, this guy doesn't think he's got a problem even though he's had a problem all career. He'll have another episode this season or Frank Robinson is a miracle worker.

24. IF is the biggest word of Spring Training. As in: IF he stays healthy...this is the mantra of the Spring. The announcers bring it up about 100 times. Yet, it's true. IF Hamstring Jose stays away from the niggling injuries - and you never know when they'll kick in - he's going to be an All Star and the Mets are going to compete for the NL East title.

25. Willie Randolph gets his turn on the headphones. He's got a silky voice, like a midnight DJ. But very serious. He's practically the perfect guy to be managing this collection, especially with the young infield up the middle and his experience as a good major league second baseman. So it turns out these guys can grow moustaches, just not goatees or beards. Dunno the logic on that one. And from the sounds of it, some of this strict rule old school discipline is to set the tone for Spring Training and might not be make it through a full season.

26. Ok, let's jump on the bandwagon. El Gato Galarraga, with two bouts of cancer and 399 career homers, is the feel-good story of the Mets season if he sticks. Just looking at him makes me feel serene. Imagine his clubhouse presence.

27. Felix Heredia and last season's ugly 6.28 ERA hasn't changed it's spots. He gets the loss, giving up an earned run in an inning although strikes out two. He laboured heavily with the Mets 2nd string defence playing poorly behind him.

28. Terrmel Sledge has the best baseball name of the game today. I think I'm going to make one fantasy baseball team based solely upon the oddity of a player's name. Terrmel Sledge will bat seventh.

29. Nats have a reliever named Majewksi who looks like a failed musician waiting to happen. Fortunately, he pitches well. Two strikeouts in an inning's work.

30. Jeff Brantley's questions, especially when former teammate Barry Larkin is in the booth, just seem to wander without point as if in the middle of searching for the question he wants to ask, he falls in love with the sound of his own voice. He isn't as annoying as Steve Phillips however, he spends most of the game whingeing about the fact his trade for Larkin fell through a few years ago. Listening to Steve Phillips talk again just reminds me how much I hated him as the Mets GM. He seems to have no novel insight on any player, on any aspect of the game. Just a pandering jackass who was a really bad GM and somehow made it to ESPN. At least Brantley's southern twinge sounds like a baseball voice. Phillips is just a nagging drone you want to turn off or smash to pieces.

31. Highlights of the Day: seeing the Kaz Man handle his chances at second with skill and efficiency, the admission from David Wright that he talks to his glove, Piazza's absence and not having to guess what hair colour he was going to show up in, seeing the Matsui to Reyes to Mank double play combo in action, and the opening three lineup: Reyes, Matsui and Beltran. IF healthy, bound to please.


Mets Intrasquad Edition: Victor No Victim

The eagerly awaited 2005 intrasquad debut of our most controversial pitcher not named Pedro finally took place yesterday.

Pitching in a game for the first time since August's elbow problems, the Scott Kazmir-for-Victor Zambrano Trade Experience benefactor experienced no pain in his arm. That's a plus.

But Zambrano reportedly did not appear as strong as he did in the past. Probably to be expected and probably nothing to break out the worry beads for just yet seeing as how he hasn't really pitched in a "real" outing since the elbow blowout and there seems little sense in blowing out the arm before the first exhibition game has even taken place. His fastball was reportedly clocked between 87 and 91 miles an hour, 3 or 4 m.p.h. off his usual pace. He did not throw his signature slider in two innings of work. He faced 11 batters, gave up 2 hits, 2 walks, made an error and allowed 3 runs.

"I'm not happy about it," he said. "Every game for me is very important. It was in my mind that I hadn't pitched in a long time."

Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, on the other hand, said it was typical to lack velocity early in spring training and told Zambrano not to throw his slider until exhibition games begin. So in effect, this was just and elbow and shoulder loosening session.

It's huge," Peterson said of Zambrano's debut. "It's the first time he's been in a game in seven months. Imagine going out to play golf after you hadn't played in seven months? He threw one pitch that got away from him. Other than that, the balls he threw were at the bottom of the strike zone, which is what you're looking for."

Considering the biggest knock on Zambrano before the injury and after the trade was his lack of control and his wildness around the plate, this might well be encouraging. Once we see his elbow hold up for 100 pitches in a real game, of course.

Until then, just speculation and typical spring-like optimism.

Have Legs, Will Travel

Aggressiveness and speed is Manager Willie's Big Plan for getting the Mets off and running early this season so you have to wonder how encouraging it is when Hamstring Jose started off with a bang, or a whimper, depending on how you look at it. He was picked off TWICE from first base in two tries: once by Big Bob Keppel and the other time by Matt Lindstrom. Ignorantly eager would probably be a fitting description as his leads off first were so big to have been laughable.

Victor Diaz also was picked off and David Wright and Marlon Anderson were caught stealing. Repeat and Rinse. It's only spring, it's only spring.

The good news on the other hand, is twofold. First of all, Reyes managed to run around in a Mets uniform without hurting himself. That's always a positive where Hamstring Jose is concerned. And secondly, although he shows no baserunning IQ, at least he has Carlos Beltran to teach him how it's done, proper. Beltran has the highest success rate on steals in MLB history of anyone with at least 100 tries (89%)and apparently, Beltran is someone Reyes is willing to listen to.

Oh Lawdy. IF he stays healthy, that Hamstring Jose, what hoseannas we will sing in his praise!

Kaz Man Bobbling Glove

Meanwhile, Kaz Matsui's first effort at his new second base position, after flubbing shortstop so badly last season he had to be moved, didn't look very encouraging. Ron Calloway sent a grounder to Matsui's glove side that took a sweet, belt-high hop, but the ball glanced off the glove and scooted into right field.

A generous scorekeeper saved him from the Big E on his first effort of the spring and yes, it's early still, but it isn't THAT early.

"I think he just took his eye off the ball for a second," the former second baseman and current manager Randolph said. "It was a catchable ball."

The Kaz Man has to step it up in the field quickly and if he has to stand out there until sundown every night fielding grounders then he should, until he gets it right. After all, it's half of what he's paid to do.


As we all could foresee, Camp Randolph is nothing like Camp Howe. Manager Willie has allegedly spent alot of time talking about the importance of little things, things Howe's squads never did, like moving over runners, even in Spring Training games. He wants his players to treat the games this March as if they count, even if they don't. He wants them to get ready to win.

"The challenge is changing the mindset toward winning," Randolph said. "When you walk out on the field every day, you got to expect to kick butt -- or they're going to kick yours. It's not all about talent."

That's good news for the Mets, that it's not all about talent. Especially in the NL East, already crowded at the top with expectations like the perennial Braves, the Phloundering Phillies and the Marlins. Especially not considering the Mets bullpen and dodgy rotation.

In the interim, at least the Mets have agreed to terms with every player on their 40-man roster.

Meanwhile, if you were still wondering, here are some things to know about Manager Willie.

AND LASTLY but not leastly, The Mets Kick It Off Today Against the Nats in the first "real" exhibition of the season where Tom Glavine will start against Tony Armas Jr.