So, here we are, Christmas Eve, over three months since the Mets Memorable Meltdown put the boards over the windows of the 2005 season and we’ve already had several Thanksgivings in between.

Well, what’s under the tree, Santa Omar? (which in his native tongue of course, would mean “Saint” Omar which might be taking the giddiness levels a little too high even in the wake of the signings of Pedro, Beltran, Delgado and Billy Wagner over the last two seasons.)

Isn’t this more fun than “Moneyball” and the nickel and dime gaming?

Think about those names. Four All-Stars in two seasons and a stable of at least two can’t-miss future All Stars in David Wright and Jose Reyes to join them.

No matter how much money you have – look at the A’s over the years and the Yankees since the franchise back was dislocated by a disheartening bottom of the 9th, Game 7 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks – it’s still about what kind of team is put together. Chemistry, relaxed clubhouse, steady hand in the dugout, good pitching, good defence and a hot hand in the bullpen. No matter how many we get of these All Stars we aren’t guaranteed even breaking the Atlanta Braves’ death lock on the NL East.

This season’s free agent signing was more of a no-brainer than a General Managing show of wizardry like the Pedro and Beltran signings last season that got this franchise back up on its wheels.

But still, just because you need a top flight closer, doesn’t mean you’ll get one. Look at the Indians. How comfortable would you feel going into the season with Danny Graves, Steve Karsay and Bob Wickman in your bullpen? Yeah, Wickman saved more games than ever last season but he’s no longer an ageing closer, he’s a bloody aged closer. Signing Wagner was the best case scenario and Omar pulled it off by playing Spendball. Good for us, for a change. That’s two years running.

Aren’t the Marlins an odd franchise? Two World Series Championships as an NL Wildcard and two absolute guttings of the franchise. I wonder if this came up in Joe Girardi’s interview for manager of the Marlins.

”So, Joe, let’s take a hypothetical situation like, we decide to sell off the majority of our decent players in a market correction move and your managing job will be staying out of the basement rather than winning the World Series…”

Isn’t the Big Hurt a bit ironic a nickname for Frank Thomas these days?

Ok, the Nats franchise is even odder, granted. Instead of that “N” on their caps, they should have a big question mark stitched into it. Who will own the team? Where will we be playing in a few years? Who will be the GM, the manager and the ballboys? How will we stay ahead of the Marlins and out of the NL East cellar? Who will have a more disappointing season than Alfonso Soriano and who will make a better scapegoat for Nats fans when things go tits up?

You can’t knock the time is now trade for Carlos Delgado. It’s a huge trade filling the gap of power that dogged the Mets so often last season in the middle of the order. Carlos Delgado versus Doug Mientkiewicz or Mike Jacobs, think about it. Yeah, “maybe” some day losing Yusmeiro Petit will hurt but Pedro Martinez doesn’t have a few years down the road to wait and frankly, I want to see Pedro win a World Championship with the Mets. Plus if you’re trading a pitcher like Petit, you want something a little more forceful in return than a Victor Zambrano, don’t you?

Speaking of Mientkiewicz, how would you like to fill out the Royals line up cards next season with Grudzielanek giving fans two word jumble names to deal with. I guess when you’re losing 100 games in the season, you need something to keep it interesting…

In a way, Pedro’s lingering toe pain might be a blessing in disguise, provided it does eventually heal before the end of Spring Training. It might mean that he won’t make the fool-hearted choice of pitching in the classic for the Dominican Republic and wasting precious innings for the NL East when it matters. Pedro can pitch for the Dominican Republic when his contract expires but right now, I can’t help but feel he owes his first allegiance to the Mets rather than himself.

Don’t let the trade of outfielder Matt Diaz by the Royals to the Braves fall under your NL East Offseason Radar. He hit .281 in 89-at bats this season and is my choice for surprising Brave of 2006. The Braves didn’t do themselves any favours though by losing Rafael Furcal but gaining Edgar Renteria, getting older in the middle of the infield and surrendering their top 3B prospect in Andy Marte. Marte had “Met Killer” written all over him and it’s a relief to see him off to the American League.

Sayanara, Kaz Ishii. Ishii was Omar’s panic move of the season, losing our built-in Piazza replacement in Jason Phillips when Trachsel’s back went kuput and the Mets were facing a dodgy situation with a starter shortage. Ishii, a poor man’s Victor Zambrano, was pretty much what his track record as a Dodger would leave you to expect: treading the fine line between useless and mediocre.

Getting rid of Ishii will not resolve the pending issue next season of a fragile sore-toed Pedro and the potentially rediscovered Tom “Six Inning” Glavine heading the rotation of what is likely to be the early NL East favourites in 2006. Cautionary tales incubating for those of us with high hopes. I don’t mind keeping Benson but given the age and fragility of our two leading starters, I’d feel more comfortable with some innings-eating insurance pitcher being brought in to give the starting rotation some meat with its proverbial potatoes. With an unpredictable supporting cast of Zambrano, Seo and Trachsel filling in the gaps, the bullpen will have to be a lot heartier than it has proven to be in the past.

Had Omar not traded for Ishii, the Mets wouldn’t have been looking for a starting catcher and wouldn’t have had to spawn another somewhat desperate move, losing Gaby Hernandez to gain a 33 year old catcher. So those ripples caused by Trachsel’s sudden back surgery will continue to move outward, far into the future if Gaby Hernandez turns out to be a somebody.

Lo Duca is not a bad trade if you are focused on the winning-now-rather-than-later foot race. But he doesn’t significantly strengthen the Mets catching defence like signing Hernandez or Molina would have. Monetary constraints appear to have had something to do with this move but considering the absurd inflation tied to the worth of an injury-prone Cliff Floyd, trading his salary and getting a serviceable number eight-hitting left fielder in return, plus signing Hernandez or Molina might have been a wiser move in the long run than trading for Lo Duca. Kenji Johjima might turn out to be a star for the Mariners but with the stumble-studded history the Mets have had with Japanese players, I can’t say anyone deserves a kicking for watching the Mariners sign him. I can’t even eat sushi anymore without the name Kaz Matsui crowding my head like a fat lady in number seven rush hour train.

Adios, Roberto Hernandez. Like many of us, I was unconvinced he could repeat his 2005 performance next season. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Braden Looper. After a season of memorable, painful meltdowns, Looper’s future was anywhere but New York. There’s a reason his demotion from closer to set up man for the last Marlins World Championship team and Looper pretty much proved that for all of us last year. He’ll probable do well as a set up man for the Cardinals but we should never kick ourselves for letting him loose.

Jose Mesa signing with the Colorado Rockies has the potential of giving us one of the worst seasons of relief ever recorded. Then again, the Rockies aren’t going to be in many games that matter so in an odd way, Mesa has the potential to do less damage there.

The bullpen of ours is in need of a massive transfusion, even after signing Wagner. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if Heilman turned out to be the set-up man we sorely need? A lefty filling the role would be nicer and several missed opportunities in the bullpen free agent pool mean Omar is going to have to work hard these next few months to salvage a potentially ruinous situation.

It’s funny how greedy fans can get once we’ve had a whiff of spending success. Sky’s the limit, we want to shout from the rooftop of Shea, drowning out the airplanes taking off over head.

We are stronger but we are still in a precarious situation. Fortunately there will be the weakness of every team in the NL East with the exception of the Braves so the regular season won’t be filled with as many desperate stretches next year when it was one powerhouse after another. The Marlins, Nats and Phillies should prove to be easier fodder for us, allowing more concentration for the higher echelon.

I remember several years ago, shortly before Christmas, the Mets traded for Mike Hampton and Derek Bell. Over the moon we were. And in today’s expectation market, that would be small beans indeed.

Have a Happy Christmas, readers. Here’s hoping Omar has some more last-minute gifts for us under the tree.


Happy Valentin's Day

Well, we didn't land Barry Zito and thank christ, no more movement towards Manny Ramirez. We didn't trade for Javier Vasquez nor did we dump Mrs Kris Benson in some fundamentalist outpost in Kansas. We didn't beef up our bullpen and we didn't solve the question of our starting second baseman.

However, we did land Jose Valentin, a .170 hitter for the Dodgers last season with a torn ligament in his right knee. Valentin can play third, second, short and in the outfield.

Here he is laughing it up with Steroidose Canseco as Jose passes Jose the syringe all clandestine-like.

And if that isn't enough to set your heart a-pitter-patter, they then revealed that they're closing in on the amaranthine wonder, Julio Franco.

(Here he is, back in the day when men were men and they didn't need little girly things like fielding gloves to catch baseballs)


What does it all mean? Disaster for the Mets? Hardly, just busy hands with nothing meaningful to do.

On the other hand, you've got Willie Randolph trying to save his job before Spring Training even starts, making excuses before the first injury is announced, trying desperately to pace the expectations of the now-rabid Mets fan who will crave and accept nothing less than the dethroning of the Braves after 14 years in the NL East.

Willie brings to mind the fact that, as pointed out here, in many ways the Mets' situation is similar to where the Phillies were coming into the 2004 season, after picking up Wagner and Eric Milton 1 year after adding Jim Thome, David Bell and Kevin Millwood.

That increased the payroll to around $95 million. What it didn't do was result in a world championship. Or even a trip to the playoffs.

Makes you wonder what it is we're all wondering about and how Jose Valentin fits in.


Mets Another Step Closer To Absorbing Marlins

Not long after having traded two prospects to the Marlins for first base slugger Carlos Delgado, the Mets announced the purging of two more prospects to the Marlins, this time for Mike Piazza Lite.

On its face this Piazza Redux smells like a snoutful of desperation with no sign yet pointing as to what the desperation was based on.

Granted, Gabby Hernandez is no Scott Kazmir, nor is he even Yusmeiro Petit, just a single A pitcher who looked spectacular for Hagerstown and abysmal for Port St Lucie in the Florida State League last season. He could go either way.

However, with two free agent catchers available on the market, two free agent catchers we might add who would have cost zero prospects in return, Omar opted to give away two more young pitching prospects in return for a 33 year old catcher who quite likely has already seen his better days both at and behind the plate whilst plying his trade for the Dodgers a few years ago.

In case we'd forgotten, 33 is not exactly the optimal age for catchers. Bengie Molina is 31, a two time Gold Glove catcher and costs nothing but money. Ramon Hernandez, a 29 year old catcher with a golden arm and a big bat. LoDuca of course, rapidly ageing, declining power skills, so-so batting average and a rather poor caught-stealing percentage, (runners made it safely 89 out of 118 attempts against LoDuca.)

LoDuca will not bring back horrific vision's of Mike Piazza's two hop throws to second but with those two free agents lurking in the background and LoDuca's somewhat pricey future (a cool $13 million over two years) combined with his age, declining offensive skills and less-than Molina/Hernandez-type arms, one cannot help but wonder what Omar was getting so desperate about.

It made sense to offer the farm to Wagner after BJ Ryan's signing. Wagner was a do-or-die signing. It also made sense to trade for Delgado, even at the price he came for as a power-hitting first baseman was an offseason priority.

But Paul LoDuca, the reincarnation of Mike Piazza Lite, is no bargain and this trade is a little less than understandable. We will await further clarification from guru Omar - the extra savings on LoDuca for a star starter?

Please just not Fat Manny and his traveling circus of headaches and primadonisms.


Filling The Holes

According to Fox's Dayn Perry, there is still alot to accomplish this offseason before the Mets and Omar can begin patting themselves on the back, alot of holes to fill, alot more reality to sketch into this situation comedy:

"Sign Ramon Hernandez. The Mets sorely need a catcher, and Hernandez is clearly the best one on the market. He's Piazza's clear superior with the glove, and he'll approximate Piazza's decline-phase level of production with the bat.

Kaz Matsui isn't passing muster as a regular. Make him a utility infielder and trade for someone like Julio Lugo or Todd Walker, or sign D'Angelo Jimenez on the cheap.

Execute the rumored Kris Benson and a prospect-for-Javier Vazquez swap. Vazquez has exceptional command indicators, and going to Shea from hitter-friendly Arizona will help his numbers greatly.

Sign Jacque Jones. The Mets have a fly-ball staff, and they need another capable outfield glove to replace Cameron's. Install Jones in right and religiously platoon him with Nady or Victor Diaz. Jones is a gifted fly-chaser who can man center if needed, and he's also a career .294 AVG/.341 OBP/.488 hitter against right-handed pitching. However, he should never see the light of day against lefties.
Accomplishing the above goals will be pricey, but the Mets have the revenues and payroll latitude to pull them off. Make the above moves, and the Mets will have a lineup without a weakness (so long as Willie Randolph ceases and desists from batting Jose Reyes in the leadoff spot) and a solid rotation from top to bottom to join a capable bullpen."

Others with more prescient qualities, like Mr Metsradamus, advocating the reeling in of Mr Alyssa Milano in a bing-bang, botta-boom sort of trade that might solidify the moorings of a starting rotation which, with the likes of Pedro the Lion whose rotator might just go snap in the night on any night and the 300-or-bust ageing wonder Tom Glavine, not to mention Mr Anna Benson and a tin can trail of homely and unpredictable candidates rolling in the road behind them, might prove by season's end despite all these manoeuvres, to be the ultimate Achilles Heel that bursts our collective bubble of optimism.

For the record, I agree with signing Ramon Hernandez over Benjie Molina but the gaping hole, the thus-far unsortable problem is finding a leadoff hitter who can get on base more than a mere 30% of the time. Yes, we need more bullpen help and yes, we need a second baseman who is not a defensive faux pas waiting to happen, but if we don't get someone who can actually get on base from the lead off position, well, all sorts of ugly things might start happening, like alot of empty base homers from Carlos Delgado, for instance.

So you out there, put your thinking caps on and find us a leadoff hitter, preferably one who plays in the outfield or second base and can field like a wizard. If it takes the soon-to-be-oft-injured Cliff Floyd to swing it, by jove, I think it should be swung.