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.

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