by Frank Barone
After an exciting and active off-season that included signing the two biggest free agents out on the market, the optimism is back for most Met fans. How excited should we be? That really depends on the answers to these question marks on this 2005 Mets team:
How will the free agent acquisitions perform?
Omar Minaya signed Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, hoping to have them as the foundation for this year and future Met teams.
Pedro Martinez comes to the Mets off his worst year, ERA wise, of his career posting a 3.90 ERA in 217 innings pitched. The Mets are banking that the move to the National League (which means facing the pitcherâ€™s spot instead of a designated hitter) and from Fenway Park to Shea Stadium should help lower his ERA. The Mets gave him a 4 year contract, which many Met fans fear will look bad by the end of it because of Pedroâ€™s perceived durability problems. These concerns are legitimate, it is well known Pedro has a partially torn labrum, which is something that can not be fixed.
The other big free agent signing was Carlos Beltran. He brings great defense to centerfield, is a great baserunner (He has a career 89% success rate as a basestealer) and brings a young bat in the middle of the lineup, and there is strong emphasis on young for a Mets team that is relatively old. Met fans expect big things from him and it is hard to believe that he will disappoint.
Will the position switches work?
The Mets are making three position changes this year. Mike Cameron is moving from centerfield to right field, Mike Piazza is moving from first base back to catcher and Kaz Matsui is moving to second base (with Jose Reyes going back to shortstop).
Cameron had been a Gold Glove winner in Seattle but had a rough first year in adjusting to Shea Stadium and other National League ballparks. Offensively he gave what was expected from him- decent power numbers with above average strikeouts and a 250-260 batting average. The switch to right field will put added pressure on him but the feeling here is that will make the adjustment and have a better year than his first in the new league.
What can we expect from Mike Piazza? The hope is that he can give at least 120 games behind the plate and contribute enough offensively to support the middle of the Mets batting order. His health, at age 36 with the physical demands of catching provide enough reasons to be concerned.
The final position change is Kaz Matsui move to second base, allowing Jose Reyes to play his natural position of shortstop. Matsuiâ€™s defense last year was horrible-I can not sugercoat it. His range was not bad but his hands were suspect and his arm was weak. The shorter throw from second base should help with the arm problem as well as the presence of Doug Mientkiewicz, an excellent defensive first baseman.
Rick Peterson-Can he be the pitching guru as advertised?
Petersonâ€™s two major projects are Victor Zambrano and Kaz Ishii.
Zambrano has the natural ability, but unless he can control where his pitches go, he will never be a very good pitcher and will never be one that that can go deep into games (he averaged less than 6 innings per start last year). And Met fans will always remember him as what they got for trading Scott Kazmir, the top pitching prospect in their farm system and in all the major leagues.
Ishii has walked 305 batters over the last three years and only Russ Ortiz has walked more in this time period. His 36 wins for the Dodgers over that time span tied him with Hideo Nomo for top winner for the Dodgers though. He has built a reputation of being a battler and performing in the clutch. How Peterson can work to improve Zambrano and Ishii will go a long way in determining the effectiveness of the Mets starting rotation.
Are there any decent arms in the bullpen beside Looper?
Braden Looper is set as the closer with Mike Dejean as the righty setâ€“up man.
The lefties in the pen appear to be Felix Heredia and Dae-Sung Koo. Heredia was terrible last year for the Yankees and there is not much to base he will be any better this year. Koo, is a South Korean pitcher that played in Japan and it is hard to know what to expect from him.
As for the other righties in the pen it looks like Matt Ginter will be spot starter and long man in the pen. The other spots seem to be at the moment Roberto Hernandez, Heath Bell and Bartolome Fortunato, who the Mets acquired also, in the Scott Kazmir trade last year, who has had a strong spring training. Hernandez is a 40 year old veteran that has seen his best years while Bell had good numbers in the Mets farm system and pitched well in a late season call up last year.
Down the line there is hope that Scott Strickland, if he accepts a minor league assignment, while still recovering from Tommy John type surgery, and Orber Moreno, who was impressive last year before his arm problems, can get healthy and stay healthy to shore up the bullpen.