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And So It Begins

Dave MillsWednesday, April 2, 2008
By Dave Mills


After too much overwrought speculation and meaningless spring second-guessing, the real season has begun with a flourish.

It may not matter as much for other teams in other places, but in NY, the redundancy of the written word and broadcast prognostication is mind-blowing during Spring TRAINING (there is the key word).

The spring is the time to get ready to play and see what you have, not to see the finished product. Even this baseball hungry commentator was nauseated by this year's spectacle, led to the trough by a press corps that should be ashamed of what was being spewed forth.

Case in point: The anointing of Fernando Tatis as the 25th Met when he was likely nothing more than a longshot. Instead, the far more qualified (due to the Mets immediate needs) Brady Clark made the club. Not that he is likely to see much playing time.

Case in point: The injury report, while not good, was certainly not bad enough to write the Mets off as old and decrepit, as has been heard throughout the baseball world. Beltran, Castillo, Easley and Pedro all came around in the timely fashion that was expected and predicted. Schneider and Castro had minor issues that were somewhat mitigated by the fine play of Raul Casanova. In a couple of weeks, the Mets will have three experienced backstops who are lefty, righty and switch-hitter, respectively. Nice options for a GM and manager. Alou had another of his strange injuries and Duaner Sanchez and El Duque were not quite ready for the season to begin.

The Mets are neither old, nor decrepit. The nucleus of the team are Jose Reyes (24), David Wright (25), John Maine (26), Oliver Perez (26), Johan Santana (29), Aaron Heilman (29) and Carlos Beltran (30). Other key Mets who tip the more youthful end of the scale are Angel Pagan (26), Ryan Church (29) and Endy Chavez (30). The two stand-ins on the pitching staff, Mike Pelfrey and Joe Smith are both 24. And in case you missed it during Spring TRAINING, there was no question why the Mets dealt two talented outfielders and kept Fernando Martinez in their fold. He is 19.

There were also a few young arms that really impressed those with open eyes. Robert Parnell, Jonathan Niese and Eddie Kunz (all 22 or less) look like surefire additions to the Mets during the next three seasons.

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Pedro Succumbs to the Injury Bug

So what else can happen? Who knows? The good news is it is not his arm. Even better, it happened early rather than late. The best option now appears to be Nelson Figueroa comes up and either he or Jorge Sosa get the starts, with the other in long and spot relief. Big Pelf will get a couple of starts to show his wares before El Duque reappears around April 14.

It is certainly not the end of the season, or the world, as some Mets critics seem to be pointing out. Things could be much worse. Remember 1987?

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Best Things from Spring TRAINING

ANGEL PAGAN
Omar crafted one of his "inside baseball" beauties when he snared Angel Pagan back from the Cubbies. This guy is a great athlete with some outstanding tools. This spring he showed he can hit, field and run the bases with aplomb. Frankly, having Pagan in left against most right-handed pitching and late in every game wouldn't be so bad and it might preserve Alou for the entire season. Very good pickup indeed and they gave up very little.

NELSON FIGUEROA
Another one of Minaya's "Inspired Invitees." The Brooklyn-born journeyman right-hander has poise and a nice assortment of pitches. With Pedro down, he comes up and may be just what the Omar ordered.

ROBERT PARNELL & JONATHAN NIESE
A righty and lefty with promise. Both of these guys came to camp with something to prove and ended up turning a lot of heads. Both will contribute, along with Santana, Maine, and either Perez (don't know if the Mets will be able to sign him) or Big Pelf (can he do it?), and will create a splendid and balanced rotation sooner than later.

JOE SMITH
After a very slow start, Smith finished with his unorthodox slider and fastball looking extremely effective. Reaching the 90s and stifling hitters during the closing two weeks put Joe back at Shea, at least until Duaner Sanchez returns.

JOHN MAINE
Saved the best for last. Maine appears to be the real deal in every respect. He seems to have gained command of his pitches and throws some wicked high heat that is tough to lay off. A shame he wasn't penciled in behind Santana, as that one/two punch would send shivers down the spines of the opposition. Look for a big year that belies the $405,000 the Mets are underpaying him.

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Talking Turkey on the Two Big Deals

Minaya made two profound deals this past offseason (and one small one for Pagan) that have already paid some dividends.

Many Mets fans and even some insiders have missed a point in the Milledge for Schneider and Church deal.

Lastings is a far better centerfielder than corner outfielder. With the Mets, he was destined to be a slightly below average corner outfielder. Combine that limitation with his unique persona and he was not the best fit on the Mets. As Schneider has exhibited (what a play keeping Castillo's throw from going in the dugout on Opening Day) and will continue to exhibit, he is a gifted receiver and rounds out MLBs best up-the-middle defense--always a pitcher's best friend. Church is also a far better corner outfielder than Lastings will likely ever be, and he can play centerfield as well. Washington and Manny Acta are an excellent fit for Milledge and he will prosper there. The Mets made a very good deal especially when you consider that there are very few left-handed hitting catchers in baseball to compliment Ramon Castro. Whatever Schneider does with the bat is a bonus if he shores up the defense and the pitching staff gains added confidence with him behind the dish.

The Santana deal had a similar overtone. Carlos Gomez is a gifted and speedy outfielder anywhere he plays, but centerfield is suited to his extraordinary speed and grace. That position is not open on the Mets and they also have Chavez, Pagan and Church, all of whom can play all the outfield positions very well.

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Who Will Win?

League where pure baseball is played

EAST:Mets - Braves - Phils - Nats - Fish
CENTRAL:     Brewers - Cubs - Bucs - Astros - Cards - Reds
WEST:D-Backs - Rockies - Pads - Dodgers - Giants

League where pitchers do not bat and managers do not manage

EAST:Red Sox - Highlanders - Rays - Blue Jays - Orioles
CENTRAL:     Indians - Tigers - ChiSox - Twins - Royals
WEST:Mariners - Angels - Rangers - A's
Playoff teams underscored.
Mets vs. Mariners in World Series.
Mets in six.

About Dave: Dave Mills, born in Kew Gardens, Queens, the day after Willie Mays' circus catch in the 1954 World Series, is a devout Met fan since 1962. The first game he attended was Mets v. Reds at the Polo Grounds on September 14, 1962. With the game tied 9-9 in the 9th, Choo Choo ("Bub") Coleman hit a game-winning walkoff HR down the rightfield line on to the tin roof. The sound is indelibly etched in his memory! Dave lives on Oahu, where he markets and writes about golf. His company, HawaiiGolfDeals.com is the leading deliverer of golfers to the Aloha State. His take on Golf in Australia is in the Oct/Nov issue of Fairways & Greens Magazine.

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