By Dave Mills
Are the 2007 Mets a reflection of their manager or their general manager? That is a question which begs an answer.
The roster is certainly quite similar to the roster that closed the 2006 season with a flair, but some disappointment. Quickly, the intuitive GM signed Jose Valentin, a man of many talents, and Endy Chavez, a starter in waiting if ever there was one. He went out and got Moises Alou to provide stability against left-handed pitching. He signed Damion Easley, Scott Schoeneweis, Aaron Sele, Chan Ho Park and Jorge Sosa. He made an interesting deal with the Fish that landed two fascinating southpaws, who may well pay dividends over the next several years. And he refused to give up real prospects like Lastings Milledge. Most importantly, Omar Minaya kept the chemistry equation at the forefront.
The deportment of the players is quite remarkable for a professional sports franchise. This group of athletes are certainly not cocky. Just as certainly, they are an intelligent and somewhat introspective bunch that exude the qualities of their manager. Cool, calm, professional to a fault, with a slight swagger and air of confidence that is uniquely appealing. They did not take the Jimmy Rollins bait and were respectful, yet somewhat aloof from the crowning of the Cardinals as the current and likely brief holders of MLB's World Champion moniker.
Remember Willie Randolph as a player and captain? He was the consummate pro who was always above the fray in one contentious Highlander clubhouse after another. In fact, he was the one pinstriper who was impossible to dislike. And as he took the obligatory tour of other clubhouses toward the end of his career, he was always the quiet pro with a swagger of accomplishment and pocket knowledge--looked up to and respected at every stop along the way.
The 2007 Mets have been constructed by Omar Minaya and molded by Willie Randolph. From every perspective, the partnership, while top-heavy in Minaya's favor, appears to be a successful enterprise of mutual respect. Neither man steps on the other's toes and both function somewhat selflessly for the common good and their owner and fans. As the 60th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking the color barrier approaches, there is no better example in Major League Baseball of Robinson's legacy than the New York Mets. Not only do the Mets have men of color at the helm, but they have men of stature. It is no wonder the players have that slight swagger and confidence.
PITCHING WOES? ME THINKS NOT.
Those critical of the Mets at the start of the season most often rant on the pitching. Yet, with so many arms available, the likelihood of failure is remote. Lets face it, how many franchises have a Chan Ho Park and Jorge Sosa toiling at Triple A, an Aaron Sele in the pen and bright young lights like Jason Vargas and Philip Humber a phone call away. Not to mention three youngsters named Maine, Perez and Pelfrey in the rotation along with a couple of seasoned and savvy vets like Glavine and El Duque. The pen is fairly deep as well. Can you name a team with three quality lefties or some young guns like Heilman, Smith and Burgos? And a few possible gems at Triple A in Jose Santiago, Willie Collazo, Steve Schmoll and Lino Urdaneta. All wrapped in the gaze of Rick Peterson, who was also resigned to an extended deal this winter past. For all those who put down the Mets pitching as "suspect," this is not the usual suspects. Not even close.
VALENTIN FOR MAYOR
As any baseball lover watches Jose Valentin, there is one revelation after another. The man can field his position with the best of them. Notice his positioning on cutoffs and his awareness of the hitters tendencies played off the pitcher's delivery. Notice how he fakes out runners and plays off Reyes. Notice how he runs the bases. He can hit for power and deliver key sacrifices without striking out a ton like the entire Brewer roster did when he was a cog in their wheel. This guy is good and Mets fans are getting the picture. Is the media far behind?
Since the infield is pretty much the same as last year, with the exception of Damion Easley replacing Woodward and creating a far better platoon possibility at second base, the outfield is the real area of Mets improvement. With one of the game's best in centerfield, the corner outfielders are remarkably improved from the start of the 2006 season. Moises Alou and Endy Chavez will split time in left, while Shawn Green and Lastings Milledge will likely do even more platooning in right as long as Milledge hangs in there. Even David Newhan, who was impressive in spring training, with the ability to make contact and make things happen, adds a dimension heretofore missing. Look for far more production and more than decent defense from this Mets outfield as Chavez and Beltran, with anyone else, in late inning situations will be tough to score on.
Willie Randolph clearly played the preseason to tune up his regulars without overworking them. More at bats were gained by minor leaguers than I can ever remember. Same can be said of the pitchers, who seemed to be a cast of thousands. Expect this pattern in future years as Minaya continues to stockpile talent as never seen before. Just as Billy Beane set the standard for GMs over the past 12 years or so, Minaya will set the standard for the next decade, as he perfects the art of assembling talent from around the globe and stockpiling an array of players from all disciplines. Heck, he even picked up Fernando Tatis to play 3B in New Orleans, which could be the class franchise of Triple A baseball. Humber pitched five stellar innings for the victory in the opener, with Santiago and Urdaneta nailing down four innings of one-hit, no-run relief.