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You can almost feel the warm spring breeze...

Mike SteffanosWednesday, February 8, 2006
By Mike Steffanos

A trio of interesting features from Marty Noble are posted on Mets.com, whetting our appetites for baseball:

Mets.com: The Outfield
In the weekly Around the Horn series, Marty Noble looks at the Mets outfield. With Floyd and Beltran a given, the biggest question for the Mets lies in RF, where Victor Diaz and the newly acquired Xavier Nady will wage an interesting battle for playing time:

The acquisition of Nady, a particularly productive hitter against left-handed pitching, was made with Diaz already in place and hoping for more playing time, as if the club were intent on reducing his role. Diaz's strong performance in winter ball and his ability to hit any kind of pitching may have redirected the Mets' thinking, though.

Given the opportunity, Diaz will get his hits, particularly in the early weeks when pitchers haven't yet mastered their breaking pitches. But Nady is regarded as a better defensive player and could get more innings in right for that reason alone.

It's interesting that Noble refers to Nady as the better defensive player, because his reputation is as a sub-standard outfielder. It's a "tribute" to Victor Diaz' somewhat lackadaisical approach to defense that Nady is seen as a defensive upgrade.

I've said it before, but Diaz has a ton of potential that I'm beginning to suspect he will not live up to. His discipline -- both in the batter's box and on the outfield grass -- just doesn't measure up. It reminds me of the movie "The Natural", when Roy Hobbs' father warns him that talent alone isn't good enough. Victor has surely shown the potential to be a very good major league hitter, but not the drive and the discipline. I still root for him, though -- I'm just not sure why anymore. Diaz is a frustrating kid to root for -- just when you begin to believe in him he'll go through a stretch where he looks totally lost.

Mets.com: It's always about pitching
Marty Noble previews the pitching staff of the 2006 Mets, and asks the $64,000 question of this off-season:

Have the Mets robbed Peter to pay Paul? In their efforts to secure innings seven through nine (and occasionally beyond), have they sacrificed innings one through six? Did they compromise the rotation to strengthen the bullpen?

The huge story line of this off-season was that Omar Minaya looked at his pitching and didn't like what he saw. He had a starting staff that was going to hand over a ton of games in the sixth and seventh innings, and a bullpen that wasn't deep enough to handle the load with any assurance of quality. Minaya gave up the depth he had at starter for a deeper bullpen, and Noble quotes him on how he feels it played out:

We think, overall, our bullpen is much improved. We have a great closer and we have depth for the seventh and eighth innings. That was what we set out to do.

And the rotation still has depth.

Ah yes, the rotation has depth in the number of candidates; but as Nobel rightly points out, with Seo and Benson gone, it lacks depth in quality. Furthermore, Noble questions the quality of the depth in the bullpen:

But how well will these Mets bridge the gap from their starters to their closer? The trades that reduced the rotation brought in three right-handed relievers: Duaner Sanchez, Jorge Julio and Steve Schmoll. None has an overwhelmingly impressive resume. Then again, how many setup relievers do?

It's an interesting question whose answer will only be revealed as the season plays out. Omar's moves with Seo and Benson were gutsy and unorthodox, and by definition they will come back and bite him if they fall short. Omar has already received a ton of criticism -- some justly on point, some almost laughably unfair. I can't agree with everything he has done, but I do respect the way he has stuck to his guns.

Mets.com: Spring Training Preview
Marty Noble's third feature offers a series of short "heads-ups" as we approach spring training. Some items of interest include previews of some "new guys":

Lo Duca: With his catching understudy Ramon Castro, Lo Duca should give the Mets as much run production as they got last season from Castro and Mike Piazza -- close to 90 RBIs and perhaps 15-20 home runs. Each throws better than Piazza, so the stolen base will be less of a weapon against the Mets in '06.

Sanchez: After four seasons in the big leagues, Sanchez has an opportunity to fill a key role in serving as Wagner's primary setup man. He worked frequently and, for the most part, effectively for the Dodgers last season, converting each of the eight save opportunities he had late in the season.

Jorge Julio, RHP The acquisition of the former Orioles closer is the Mets' biggest trade gamble since the 2004 acquisition of Victor Zambrano. Julio has endured a three-year decline.

Undoubtedly Lo Duca throws better than Piazza did -- but upgrading from "God-awful" to "Just Bad" isn't anything that will make me very excited. I understand where Marty is going with Jorge Julio, who has the potential to impact Shea stadium like a gigantic stink-bomb. Still, hard to imagine Mets fans feeling the loss of Kris Benson comparably to the regret over losing Scott Kazmir.

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