By Mike Steffanos
Today was Julio Franco day in the local dailies. Everyone had a Franco feature today. I pointed to Marty Noble's on Mets.com last night, and clicking on the SportsSpyder link at the bottom of this posting will point you to a dozen more -- good ones, by fine writers like Ben Shpigel, David Lennon, Steve Popper and more. I'm just somewhat bored with this story line.
I do understand that early in spring training there isn't much to write about. Nobody has had a chance to really shine or surprise, because nothing much is happening yet. When Julio Franco roles into camp and starts giving out colorful quotes about his amazing longevity, writers are going to jump on that.
Everyone at least touched on Omar Minaya's assertion that removing Franco from the Braves' clubhouse somehow diminished that team. I don't really buy that. There is enough fine veteran leadership, and a pretty fair country manager in place, that I don't think it's going to work out to be a huge subtraction for the tomahawk boys. If he can provide some guidance to our kids that will be fine.
Speaking of the Braves, they're not above developing their own fantasies about advantages down there. The latest one is about starting pitching. In their latest Mailbag on Braves.com, the Braves beat writer felt that their starting rotation gave them a big advantage over the Mets:
...the Mets ... don't have the depth in their rotation that the Braves will once again use to their advantage over the course of a 162-game season.
...The young Braves bullpen must prove itself. But it's a relief corps that appears stronger than the one they possessed last year and one that should be able to consistently preserve the efforts of the NL's best starting rotation.
...the key to winning a division is being able to be the most consistently successful team over a six-month span. Having the deepest and most reliable starting rotation provides the best opportunity to achieve this.
Thus, I'm going to say the Braves have exactly what it takes to hold off the much-improved Mets and finish the marathon season once again on top of the NL East.
Interesting. The Braves always have a way of glossing over their bullpen problems, so that's not surprising, but they are glossing over problems with their own rotation, too. Mike Hampton will miss the entire year. John Schmoltz has the heart of a lion, but he also has a bad shoulder, and pitched over 235 innings last year. He'll be 39 in May, and the clock is ticking for him. Nagging injuries kept Tim Hudson under 200 innings for the second consecutive year last year. Jorge Sosa looked good last year after stinking up things in Tampa the previous 3 years -- can he repeat last season's success without Mazzone? John Thomson is coming off an injury-plagued 2005. Horacio Ramirez? Be serious.
So what does this all mean? Not much. You can always point to things before the season starts, and then inevitably things shake out over the course of the year that you never anticipated. All of this stuff is just so much hot air.
Almost every expert that I have read has condemned Omar's gamble of trading away both Seo and Benson for bullpen arms. Inevitably, this is portrayed as a function of Minaya's rash and impetuous nature. I'm still not convinced that these moves won't blow up in his face, but I see them as part of a cool, calculated strategy. I think Omar knew what he was doing all along. Now we'll see if it works.
For as much flack as they took, the Mets pitching staff performed well in 2005, and I think they will do well this year. I still think the Mets biggest obstacle with the Braves won't be Atlanta's starting pitching, or the Mets' own rotation, for that matter. There is a hump to be climbed for the Mets to be on an equal footing with the Braves, and it was their gravest failing last year that they made no strides in climbing it. Will they do better this season? That's the real question.
Bergen Record: David Wright
Bob Klapisch speculates on where in the order David Wright will bat in 2006. Klapisch goes into a long explanation why he feels Wright should bat third with Beltran sliding down to the two hole. Of course, Klapisch offered up a conspiracy theory on why this wouldn't happen:
Of course, batting Wright third effectively would crown him as the Mets' crown jewel, effectively demoting Beltran. That's probably too great of an admission for Randolph to make, and politically, a nearly impossible move for a team that has $119 million invested in the center fielder.
I like Klapisch a lot as a baseball writer, but he comes up with this whacky stuff quite often. A couple of days ago he opined that the Mets wouldn't bring up Mike Pelfrey until after Pedro's contract runs out, so as not to offend him by replacing him as ace. Kind of silly. In this case, both Willie Randolph and Omar Minaya are in a position where there is more pressure on them to win. Randolph in particular, in his second year of a relatively small contract, could lose his job if the team fails to meet expectations this year. If it comes to a point where Beltran is still struggling as a number three hitter, a change can be made. In the meantime, it really does make sense to try to split up your two left-handed power hitters in the lineup.
I think if Beltran relaxes and stops overswinging, he can thrive in the three hole. Keith Hernandez and John Olerud both thrived there without hitting a ton of home runs. Beltran needs to hit the gaps more.
I can see Wright as the three hitter someday, or maybe cleanup. I believe Randolph will slot players where they are most effective as the season goes on. His job could very well depend on it.
Daily News: Looking at lefties
Adam Rubin profiles the rag-tag crew of lefties competing for a bullpen spot.