By Mike Steffanos
One of my favorite shows from a few years ago was MADtv. They had a ongoing feature that parodied dating service commercials called Lowered Expectations. The premise behind it was that it was a service for those that had given up on finding the love of their life and were willing to settle for Mr. or Ms. Plausible. As someone who re-entered the dating scene in my early 30s, let's just say I could identify.
It seems to me that's where we were as Mets fans over the last few seasons. World Series? P-l-ease -- could we just not embarrass ourselves? Can Art Howe just show a pulse? Can one young guy come up from the minors and look like he might actually be able to play this game?
It was the dating equivalent of, "okay, I know I'm not going to date an intelligent supermodel that is going to worship me as a god -- how about someone that's not addicted to crack cocaine and doesn't sleep with all of my friends."
Well, with workouts officially beginning today in St. Lucie, we're letting go of those Lowered Expectations of the past few seasons and looking for more -- much more. We hope to find the love of our life -- a championship team. We had her once, but she hasn't been around for twenty years, and we've despaired of finding her again. Now we've caught the scent of a perfume that is vaguely familiar and intoxicating, and old feelings that have been buried since Al Leiter and the Mets went down in game 5 of the 2000 series have slowly begun to return.
Daily News: Willie on winning
John Harper talks about Willie Randolph's willingness to embrace the higher expectations in Flushing this season, quoting Randolph that he will not downplay expectations:
I'm not going to hide from anything. The reality is there. I'm going to be honest with our players. I'll be straight up. Hey, we've got a chance to do something special here.
I've preached about winning from Day One here, and we're better now, so I'm going to preach it even more. I'm not going to play anything down. I'm going to be the total opposite. I'm going to make sure the guys feel my passion for winning.
Harper called 2005 a honeymoon season for Randolph, and opines that this season the scrutiny will be much harsher. With respect to Mr. Harper, that honeymoon ended fairly early last year.
Newsday: No guarantees
David Lennon reports that both of the Mets fans' favorite whipping boys, Kaz Matsui or Victor Zambrano, will have to earn their jobs this year:
On Kaz at 2B:
It's a huge spring training for him. The competition's going to be there. We have the young kid Hernandez, and Keppinger. That's going to be an interesting spot for us, but I feel real good about Kaz. I've said all winter long that he's going to have a good year for us, so we'll see.
On Victor as the #4 starter
You might look at our rotation and say he's pretty much in there, but I'm never going to say that because you don't know. We have three or four guys in the back of the depth chart that might step up and knock my socks off. He has to compete.
New York Post: More Randolph
Tom Glavine, who knows a thing or two about managers, talks to the Post's Kevin Kernan about how he believes Willie Randolph will be a much better manager in 2006:
Willie did a good job handling players and handling the game, but there's no question it's all going to get better.
He really has a desire to work at managing and get better at it. He's not going to tell you that he was perfect and did everything right. There's definitely that aura about him as a player that he is striving to manage the game better.
When you see a manager working that hard, as a player, how do you not work hard?
Bergen Record: Klap on Willie
Bob Klapisch also weighs in on Willie. I enjoyed this take on the NL east race:
Atlanta, meanwhile, still doesn't have a closer. Although Bobby Cox has worked around that deficit in the past, it remains to be seen how the Braves' pen will survive in the event of a close pennant race.
One major league executive noted, "It's been a long time since anyone's put any pressure on the Braves during the season. You can live without a closer when you're 3-4 games up the whole way. A tight race is different."
It could be argued that Randolph and his players are just as foreign to the must-win ethos, which means that, for all the off-season treasures suddenly in their embrace, the Mets' winning pedigree is still just an abstract in the manager's head.
That's where a confident, trusting leader makes a difference -- allowing his players to breathe.
It's the way that I see it. Atlanta usually has to wait until the playoffs to choke, because teams like the Mets usually do all of their work for them in the regular season. If Willie can get this team to go into Atlanta and play decent baseball, I'll forgive a few strange moves. Of course that's a big "if". The Mets have yet to prove that they could really push the Braves. Atlanta's run of regular season titles has as much to do with what other teams haven't done as what the Braves have done.
The Mets system is pretty thin right now, but not completely barren. On MinorLeagueBaseball.com, Kevin Czerwinski has three profiles of future Mets:
Phil Humber rehabs
Humber, the Mets #1 pick in the 2004 draft, is working his way back from last year's Tommy John surgery. He's able to put a positive spin on what happened to him:
I've never viewed this as devastating or anything like that. I'm still young and this didn't cost me that much time. It was basically just like having some time off. I'm probably stronger mentally now than I was at this time last year because of the experiences I went through and knowing the ropes. Now I'm anxious to move up.
The son of former major-league catcher Sal Butera is trying to follow in his dad's footsteps and become a big league backstop.
The Mets' 2005 top pick begins his quest to make it to New York.