By Dave Mills
Once again, Wallace Matthews pens a ditty that guarantees he will never be considered for the writer's wing of The Baseball Hall of Fame. Granted, the story of the Mets oldsters has not quite been played up as much as the non-issue of the failing romance between the Highlander's left side infielders, but it is exhaustingly getting to be the Anna Nicole story of the Mets.
OK Wallace...The Mets have five players in their 40s in spring training (six if we count Ruben Sierra, who has no chance to make this team). Not one will actually be out there everyday or counted on as an everyday player. Glavine and El Duque will take the hill every fifth day or so. Julio Franco and/or Sandy Alomar Jr. will, at best, be bench jockeys with perhaps a start a week and other occasional appearances. Moises Alou will likely get 400 or so at-bats and devastate left-handed pitching at the same time. And with Endy Chavez spelling him early and often, is Alou's position really manned by a 40-year-old or a median age of 35?
Of those oldsters over 34 that Matthews refers to--Lo Duca, Delgado and Billy Wagner--all three produced numbers that would have any GM salivating. By and by, there is no indication that any member of this trio should have any problem meeting or exceeding those numbers in 2007. Shawn Green is 34 and a bit of a hedge for the Mets, since it appears that there are three right-handed bats (Milledge, Ben Johnson, Carlos Gomez) who can take his place or create a platoon. Yes, Damion Easley (37) and David Newhan (34) are experienced, but they too will see limited duty.
So, it once again comes down to 37-year old Jose Valentin, who was a complete surprise, yet highly deserving of being the man to beat to play the second sack, and Pedro Martinez, who was a risk when he signed at 32 and a risk every time he takes the mound. However, the key to both Valentin's reemergence and Pedro's greatness has always been conditioning. Don't bet against Pedro's rejuvenating his career and contributing to the Mets either this season, next and beyond.
Matthews should really wake up to the reality of what it takes to be a professional athlete in this era. It takes being in shape at all times. It takes private conditioning coaches and strength regimes. And it takes a greater knowledge of what goes into the body in terms of vitamins, minerals and a healthy diet. In fact Jose Reyes speaks up on these issues as loudly as Julio Franco. All things considered, it is not surprising that these current-day athletes over 35 can perform exceptionally well.
Since Wallace Matthews is really a boxing writer looking to create a stir rather than an insight, he fails to mention that the Mets have never had so much mostly homegrown depth in their kiddy corps as they do now. This is the most exciting development Mets fans have seen since the emergence of Seaver, Koosman, Ryan, McGraw and Gentry in the late 1960s. But this group extends past the dazzling under 26 pitching prospects that are Pelfrey, Humber, Maine, Perez, Burgos and Smith, and into the everyday player ranks that consist of infielders Reyes, Wright, A. Hernandez and Mike Carp, as well as outfielders like Milledge, Johnson, Gomez, Fernando Martinez and Jorge Padilla. We can even throw in a few other 30 or sub-30 types in Beltran, Chavez, Sanchez, Heilman and Michel Abreu.
A baseball writer looking for insights might realize that Omar Minaya has a plan to develop the young talent and not rush them to The Show.
A baseball writer looking for insights might realize that Omar's plan, which began in earnest with the anticipation of the Mets own TV network, will reach its zenith in 2009 and 2010 at the new CitiField. That 2010 team will likely have Carp/Abreu-1B, A. Hernandez-2B, Reyes-SS, Wright-3B, Martinez/Johnson-LF, Beltran-CF, Gomez/Chavez-RF. Likely, Omar will have stockpiled enough arms and used the likes of Milledge to replace Lo Duca and nab some stellar utility/role players.
A baseball writer looking for insights would be impressed at how the Mets GM is blending various ages, including those beyond 34 to create an experienced, yet youthful, team for the next decade. Perhaps it may even include one or two players over 35.