By Mike Steffanos
The papers were full of stories this morning on the upcoming battle between Victor Diaz and Xavier Nady. Both candidates for the starting right field job arrived in camp early yesterday. Both are young: Diaz is 24 and Nady 27. Both are considered talented young players that have been somewhat disappointing in their careers so far. Nady has not been able to hit right-handers for a good average and failed to earn regular play in 3 seasons in San Diego. Diaz looked great at times last year, and at other times looked totally lost and indifferent -- although that might be unfair.
Diaz is the fan favorite, based on familiarity, but Nady can hit a few home runs and change that quickly. As Mets fans, we're nothing if not adaptive. I think the one thing that we're all hoping for is that Diaz gets a fair shot.
I was somewhat surprised after the Cameron - Nady deal that Omar Minaya immediately labeled Nady as one of the young "core players" of the Mets. I, like many fans, assumed when they picked Nady up he was a chip in an upcoming deal -- especially after they acquired Carlos Delgado and a first base platoon with Mike Jacobs was no longer an option. I wondered if the "core player" label wasn't just a bit of salesmanship on Omar's part, building up Nady's value in a potential deal. As we got closer to spring training, it became obvious that this wasn't the case -- that Nady indeed was going to be here, and moreover, seemed to be the anointed favorite for the RF job. Manager Willie Randolph, though insisting that it's an open competition, gushes about the strength of Nady's handshake and speculates what Nady might accomplish with 500 at bats.
Diaz, in the meantime, put together a solid winter-league season, and hopes to have something to say about who starts in right field. He covets those 500 at bats for himself, insisting that Mets fans will see the real Victor Diaz if that happens. It wasn't so long ago that Omar mentioned Victor as one of those young "core players", and spoke of how the ball jumps off of Diaz' bat. If Victor has a problem that works against him, it is that he really seems unable to keep his concentration going -- both at bat and in the field -- for the long term. Sometimes when I get frustrated with him I have to remind myself that he is, after all, only 24.
There is a lot at stake in this battle, because, barring injury, it seems unlikely both players will be on the opening day roster. Diaz would seem to have a disadvantage, in that he still has minor-league options remaining. He can be sent down to AAA-Norfolk without going through waivers, Nady can't -- and is unlikely to pass through unclaimed. With the prevailing feeling that Nady was too little to receive in return for the popular Mike Cameron, the Mets can't afford to come up empty. If Diaz somehow manages to take the right field job, Nady would probably have to be traded.
Newsday: Diaz vs. Nady
David Lennon has one of the several excellent stories on the battle for the starting RF job between Victor Diaz and Xavier Nady. Both players arrived in camp 3 days early yesterday, and each man hope to earn the starting job and the 500 ABs that goes along with it.
Daily News: Advantage Nady
Adam Rubin lists the reasons why Nady probably has the inside track for the job. Probably the most telling would be that Diaz still has options left that would allow the Mets to send him back down to AAA-Norfolk.
Newark Star-Ledger: Humber's Rehab
Don Burke has a nice story on 2004 first round draft pick Phil Humber's ongoing rehab from last season's Tommy John surgery. Humber, who hopes to get the okay to throw off the mound this week, feels that his recovery is going well and that he will soon be back on the fast track to Shea:
The elbow feels 100 percent, like it did when I was a little kid. The hardest part is being patient. I'm the type of guy who wants to work, work, work and show what I can do. But in this type of rehab you have to take baby steps. In the long run, you'll be better off.
I still have it in my mind that if I pitch well enough and get healthy enough, and if the need arises, that I'll be ready (to pitch in the majors) this year. I'm sure (the Mets) aren't thinking that. But that's how my mind is right now. I don't feel like I'm on rehab. I feel like I'm getting ready for another season.
Bergen Record: The fountain of youth
Bob Klapisch has an interesting story on why Billy Wagner might be able to keep that great fastball for a while longer, and how he will adjust when he does lose some velocity.
NY Times: Brian Bannister
Ben Shpigel has another excellent feature on Mets' top pitching prospect Brian Bannister, who spends his off-seasons running a successful commercial photography studio in Phoenix.
Update on Eric Valent
If you wonder what happened to Eric Valent -- so surprisingly good for the Mets in 2004, then abruptly dumped after a slow start in 2005 -- he is in spring training with the Padres on a minor-league contract.