By Mike Steffanos
We're going to do something a little different today. After spending the morning reading through what seemed like dozens of features, previews and predictions, I'm not even going to try to point you to what I saw as the most interesting stories. As we sit here on a Sunday afternoon right on the edge of the season, it's a good day just to kill a couple of hours reading what everyone has to say. Click on the SportsSpyder or Pro Sports Daily links for a good starting point for your journey. In the meantime, here are a few thoughts as we eagerly wait for it all to begin.
SportsNet New York
Congratulations to all of you that have a cable system with a deal in place with the new network. For those who's system doesn't, I can identify -- I'm in the same place. Shame on both the Mets and these systems for taking opening day away from the fans. We've already made ourselves clear on this point, and won't go there again.
Since there is little chance of my awful cable system, Adelphia Tele-Media of Seymour, Connecticut, adding this channel, I am waiting for DirecTV to make a deal. I've had inquiries from people that are desperate for information on this -- I wish I could tell you something. Like many of you, I am awaiting a final resolution on this. Yes, I have read in many places that channel 625 seems to be earmarked for SNY by DirecTV, but until I see an official press release on this I refuse to sign up for 2 years of DTV. I understand that I will not be able to watch opening day tomorrow no matter what now, but I'll be damned if I'd commit to changing over before a deal is done. It's not that I'll miss Tele-Media. I've lived in several places with different cable systems, and they are by far the worst I've ever had.
The latest thing heard among Mets fans it the question, "How come Brian Bannister is being treated better than Aaron Heilman?" People seem to feel that Heilman has earned the opportunity to start (which is true) and Bannister was selected ahead of him unfairly. I don't buy this.
Heilman is in the bullpen because Omar wants to have a great bullpen, and Heilman dominated in the second half last season. Bannister is in the starting rotation because Heilman is in the bullpen, not visa-versa. Meanwhile, Duaner Sanchez and (especially) Jorge Julio still have something to prove. Couple of things here:
- Look at this bullpen: Billy Wagner (LH, closer), Aaron Heilman (RH), Duaner Sanchez (RH), Chad Bradford (RH), Jorge Julio (RH), Pedro Feliciano (LH). This is as good of a bullpen as the Mets have ever had. The biggest question here, of course, is the enigmatic Mr. Julio. With Heilman in the 'pen, Julio will not be pitching in crucial spots right away. Since, thanks to the WBC, he is still very much a work in progress, this is for the best. If Rick Peterson can help this kid in the same way that he helped Bert Hernandez last year, this trade can look a lot better down the road. No guarantees here, of course, but the chance of success will be higher if Julio isn't being relentlessly booed by May.
- If Julio, Sanchez and the rest of the bullpen perform well, that can alleviate the need for Heilman to be in the 'pen. Starting pitching has a way of going down, and the Mets options now that Bannister is in the rotation are unattractive. Jose Lima will probably get the first shot. I'll root for him, because I've taken a liking to him, but I just don't see him as the answer. Mike Pelfrey is likely at least a year away of being a viable option. I really believe we haven't seen the last of Heilman as a starter.
I like Heilman a lot, and believe that his resurrection from the dead last season was one of the great stories in more than 35 years of rooting for this team. As for the attitude that the Mets somehow "owe" Heilman the chance to start, with due respect, that's just plain silly. You never hear about this type of thing from the really well-run organizations, where players are slotted in where they can help the team, period. That's the way it should be. We can argue whether we feel the Mets are better with Heilman as a starter, but we could care less about feelings here. If Heilman can help the Mets more in the bullpen, that's where he should pitch. It's a good precedent to set for a team that is working to become a solid organization. As for Aaron, who was literally nowhere 12 months ago, he should appreciate that his career has rebounded to the point where people actually give a damn.
Speaking of pitching...
Do the Mets have enough starting pitching?
Hell, no. It's more than a cliché in this case. Omar took a huge gamble by building a strong bullpen at the expense of starting pitching depth. If Pedro, Glavine and Trachsel stay mostly healthy, if Victor Zambrano can harness his stuff with some consistency, and Brian Bannister can take his inevitable lumps and grow up quickly, then maybe Omar's gamble pays off.
It's always a crapshoot with pitching. I remember 1987, when the entire wonderful staff was returning and a second straight run to the World Series seemed inevitable. Then Doc started the year in rehab, Ojeda went down with an injury early, Ron Darling went down late, and even the arrival of David Cone couldn't put the team over the top. You always have to get a little lucky with your pitching. The Mets will need some good fortune to make a run here. But that's always the case. The Braves have a ton of questions with their pitching, too. You have to find a way.
Don't get me wrong. I thought it was a bad idea to trade both Seo and Benson. Omar has taken a beating for that from the brain trust that is the national baseball trust. The problem here is that most of them refuse to acknowledge that the Mets might possibly have the best bullpen in the National League if things go right. If they can just get enough starting pitching to hand the bullpen a lead in the sixth or seventh, that might be all it takes. It's not that I can't see a scenario where these moves can blow up in Omar's face -- it's just that so many in the national media refuse to see a scenario where they work as advertised. Then again, these were the same guys unimpressed with the White Sox going into last season. As for me, I'm looking forward to seeing how this plays out.
Don't Let the Bastards Get You Down
I've had the chance to correspond with a lot of Mets fans since I started this blog, and I'm grateful for that. I think a lot of people are bothered by the relentlessly negative opinions on Omar's off-season gambles voiced by the "experts". It's not that I'm not worried about it, but I'm not going to let what's written poison my optimism. The Mets always seem to attract more than their share of pessimism among the baseball intelligentsia, while the Braves are always given the benefit of the doubt. That's not going to change until the Mets forcibly change their thinking.
I've seen a lot of evidence that the Mets are reinventing themselves as an organization from top to bottom. I believe that we have only begun to see the positive impact of these changes. The winds have shifted, and that black cloud that has hovered over this franchise for so long is drifting away. I feel really optimistic about this team's future, and that makes it a lot easier to feel relaxed going into the season. And hey, we're due.