By Dave Mills
As I commented on December 1, right here on Mike's Mets, there was very little tinkering left to do with the non-pitchers. In fact, Omar only made one further move by signing David Newhan to a contract, which deposited the son of LA Times sportswriter Ross Newhan on the 40-man active roster.
Minaya clearly resisted the Phillipsian method of over-meddling, yet he did a few things that should give real Mets fans a clearer picture of the future. At the same time, he gave Willie Randolph some options to ponder.
Other than adding Moises Alou, a consummate destroyer of left-handed pitchers (and protector for David Wright in the lineup), there will be no changes to the Mets starting infield or outfield from the final two months of the 2006 season. There will, however, be a bevy of bench talent to sort out and apply roles to. Let's start by acknowledging that Randolph loves versatile bench players.
Quietly, the Mets GM added the right-handed hitting Damion Easley and the left-handed hitting Newhan. This synergy gives Willie a couple of experienced veterans with pop. Easley is more of an infielder who plays some outfield, while Newhan, originally an infielder, has become more of an outfielder who can play all around the infield. Both are marginally competent defensive performers and unlikely to turn up on Web Gems.
At the same time, two youthful switch-hitters will have an opportunity to make the 25-man roster. Anderson Hernandez (a stellar defensive performer) and Ruben Gotay have speed, range and talent, which were on display at the recent Caribbean World Series as Hernandez set the table for a talented Dominican team and Gotay anchored the second sack for Puerto Rico. This extremely youthful duo are Willie Randolph-type talents, who only need to prove one thing--the ability to get on base. And Hernandez actually has an edge if he performs well, since he can play both 2B and SS with panache.
It is pretty much a given that Julio Franco will be on the bench as both a right-handed backup for Carlos Delgado and morale coach, perhaps the latter of which he appears to be quite gifted. The Mets might be better served with Michel Abreu in the backup role, but Franco does have a $1 million contract and is not an easy out for any pitcher.
Factoring in the remarkable Endy Chavez as the fourth outfielder, there is one other man vying for a bench role on this 2007 roster. Right-handed hitting Ben Johnson was a fascinating pickup by Minaya. From all reports, he is a gifted defensive performer with a strong arm, good speed and some power. With Lastings Milledge unlikely to play a part-time role, Johnson may be a nice compliment to Shawn Green in a platoon. And Like Chavez, he can play all three outfield positions very well.
So, Omar has done his job well by giving Willie some interesting talent to assess and sort out. At the same time he has answered some key questions as to the future of the Mets.
Lastings Milledge, Anderson Hernandez, Aaron Heilman, Mike Pelfrey, Phil Humber ALL remain property of the Mets. And there is other talent on the farm that did not move elsewhere. I refer to Fernando Martinez, Carlos Gomez, Mike Carp, Kevin Mulvey, Eddie Comacho, Joe Smith and a few others. This bodes well for the future as the contracts of Green, Alou, Jose Valentin are not guaranteed beyond the 2007 season. Delgado and Paul LoDuca have just two more years guaranteed.
Potential replacements for most of the soon to be departed will be from that pool of young players and perhaps a solid trade or free agent signing (Mark Texiera will be a free agent after the 2008 season).
Minaya has stabilized the farm system and put the Mets in a position to not have to sign overpriced free agents. He also has the older players on a short contract leash while at the same time signing long-term deals with Beltran, Wright and Reyes, all of whom are signed through 2011. And in case you're not counting, most of these other young studs are Mets possessions at least through the same year.
At the very least, the Mets GM has been the model of restraint. So, how might it all shake out?
Ben Johnson will start the year at New Orleans in a powerful outfield alignment of Milledge, Gomez and Johnson (left to right). Should an injury occur to a Mets outfielder, look for Johnson. Anderson Hernandez, Gotay and Abreu will anchor the infield and should an injury occur, look for Hernandez. New Orleans will be a AAA (Pacific Coast League) powerhouse will solid offense, defense and pitching (How's a rotation of Pelfrey, Humber, Vargas, Soler and Sosa?)
Omar has put the same program in place with the pitching staff. Throw a bunch of guys at the wall and one or two may stick (Chan Ho Park, Jorge Sosa, Aaron Sele). Deal for a few young arms with raw talent (John Maine, Oliver Perez, Jason Vargas). Hold on to the legitimate prospects in the system (Pelfrey, Humber, Alay Soler). The veterans, Tom Glavine and El Duque, while certainly advanced in age, are a pretty durable duo and Pedro may be able to make a return by the end of July. If so, and if the Mets need to strengthen their rotation, they may not have to deal away young talent and will thereby get even deeper in the arms race. If they are getting positive performances from a Sosa, Park or Sele, they might trade for more prospects.
The Mets will have five quality starters at the major league level and at AAA and AA. Very few franchises will be in a similar position.
If you're Willie Randolph, you have to like the options, especially the young talent. If you're a Mets fan, you have to like the way it is all shaping up, as the Zephyrs will probably be the best AAA group the Mets have ever put on the field. If you're a real baseball fan, you have to love having watchable minor league franchises feeding your major league roster. Keep watching!
SPEAKING OF WATCHING
How about a little campaign to make the SNY folks run a Zephyrs game or two each week? It would be good for New Orleans and great for the Mets faithful. It would also beat the pants off of the incessant reruns of each Mets game and SportsNite.
SNY should also consider producing a 30-minute weekly show that exclusively focuses on the Mets farm system and include some highlights and interviews, especially with the various managers and coaches.
With their own TV network, a new stadium under construction, a first-rate major league product and what well may turn out to be the best AAA franchise in a city that could use the promotion, the Mets can use SNY much more effectively and create much more of a "buzz"!
Are you listening Curt Gowdy Jr.?