By Dave Mills
Funny, it is only December 1, the Winter Meetings have yet to begin, but it appears that Omar's roster of non-pitchers is about as set as its ever been this far prior to Spring Training. If I was a betting man, I would wager that ALL the remaining tinkering will be in the pitching ranks.
AROUND THE HORN
IN NEW YORK
Lets face it, there will not be much speculating about who will be at shortstop, first or third base. Those spots are in good hands with Reyes, Wright and Delgado (yet to sign, but going nowhere). Jose Valentin is the second sacker until either Anderson Hernandez or Ruben Gotay wrest the spot away. While unlikely, such a scenario is not out of the question. Both are ready to make an extended appearance in The Show. LoDuca will be the backstop perhaps playing a little bit less than in 2006, providing Castro is healthy.
IN NEW ORLEANS
Pretty nice keystone combo with switch-hitters Hernandez at SS and Gotay at 2B. The very talented right-handed bat of Michel Abreu at 1B will be a player to watch for the Mets faithful, but club insiders are clearly expecting the Cuban exile to replace Julio Franco in 2008 and beyond. While slow afoot, Abreu is a classic gap hitter with some real pop in his bat. And while his strikeout totals are a little high, he does walk once in every eight at-bats or so. Chris Basak will man the hot corner and hope for a breakout season before he turns 30. Yunir Garcia will likely do most of the catching, but the position is pretty wide open right now.
MANNING BIG FLY TERRITORY
IN NEW YORK
The outfield is likely to give those of us old enough to remember a slice of Gil Hodges, a great manager if there ever was one. But of course, he was a first baseman. So, why invoke his memory here. Because Hodges adored the platoon and used it as effectively as any manager since. With Carlos Beltran a glorious fixture in centerfield and four other highly complimentary outfielders (should the Mets sign Endy as expected), there lives the best platoon options in the corners as has ever been part of the Mets repertoire. Look for Chavez to play about two of five games in left against pesky right-handed hurlers and to spell Alou early and often defensively and as a pinch runner. He will also backup Beltran for the occasional day of rest that Carlos so despises. Rightfield will be much more of a classic platoon with Shawn Green playing against righties and newly acquired Ben Johnson going against southpaws and being utilized for defense and speed in late innings. Both Chavez and Johnson more than compensate versatility-wise for the older and more ponderous Alou and Green.
IN NEW ORLEANS
Here is Omar's chance to take a few bold initiatives and create some real excitement for Mets fans. My guess is Milledge, if not traded for Dontrelle Willis (the only player worth trading him for) will play everyday in left and/or right field forsaking his more centrally located natural position. This will place the even younger Carlos Gomez (6'4", 195 lbs with blazing speed) in CF. The other corner outfielders will likely be Jorge Padilla (a good stick with a very similar approach and numbers to Abreu) and a yet undisclosed left-handed hitter. Gomez and Padilla are at least two seasons away, but worth watching.
The Mets even have their bench locked up right now with little likely to spoil the scenario. Damion Easley will be the swing, utility player likely to pinch hit and play a little 2B and 3B. My guess is Valentin will spell Reyes on a rare occasion. Julio Franco should see a little more plate time in 2007 and perhaps a few more starts at 1B. Ramon Castro will also see some more starts in 2007. Both Chavez and Green will be available from the left side as will Alou and Johnson from the right, as the platoon situations dictate. Any infield injury will likely have Anderson Hernandez flying north faster than a speeding bullet, although he certainly does not exhibit more power than a locomotive.
With the contracts that are currently in place, it is doubtful Omar will trade Shawn Green or any of the other front-line talent. So, barring injuries, what you see is likely what you'll get.
The arms race is on!