IFs: 2006 vs. 2007

Before spring training last year, the Mets had several “IFs” tied to their 2006 potential. Among them:

1. If Billy Wagner could fulfill his enormous (at the time) contract, despite nearing his mid-30s.

2. If Steve Trachsel could recover from back surgery and assume the #4 starter role.

3. If Victor Zambrano could find the strike zone, and emerge as a solid middle-of-the-rotation innings-eater.

4. If Aaron Heilman could make a successful transition back to the starting rotation, and claim the #5 spot.

5. If Carlos Delgado could continue to wield a powerful bat, despite being the age that many sluggers of the past (Jim Rice, Dale Murphy, Jeromy Burnitz) begin to lose bat speed and regress.

6. If Paul LoDuca could somehow return to his .300-hitting days, not fall apart in the second half, and make Mike Piazza’s departure a little easier.

7. If Kaz Matsui could erase his disappointing first two years in a Mets uniform, and become the “All-Star second baseman” Willie Randolph envisioned.

8. If not Kaz, than if Bret Boone can make a comeback and take 2B?

9. If not Kaz or Boone, if Anderson Hernandez can prove his winter league hitting and rookie of the year award was no fluke?

10. If Tom Glavine, could at the age of 40, rebound from an inconsistent 2005 and quiet the whispers that he was done.

11. If Pedro Martinez could somehow start another 30 games, despite myriad physical ailments.

12. If Cliff Floyd could have another productive, injury-free season.

13. If Carlos Beltran could put a terrible 2005 behind him, and start earning his nine-figure contract.

14. If Jose Reyes could have another pulled-hamstring-free season, and continue to develop as a leadoff hitter … like maybe take a few walks.

15. If Xavier Nady or Victor Diaz — or some combination of them both — can fulfill their potential and adequately replace the gaping hole left by the departure of Mike Cameron.

Looking at the above, you could make a case that Billy Wagner and Carlos Delgado were not question marks at all, despite their advancing age. However, the other 13 “IFs” were legitimate issues to ponder, at the beginning of spring training last year.

This year, we have plenty of “IFs” as well, but they don’t seem quite as concerning compared to last year. Here are a few that occur to me:

1. If Oliver Perez and John Maine can fill out the back-end of the Mets rotation.

2. If Philip Humber, Mike Pelfrey, Dave Williams, Jason Vargas, Alay Soler, or possibly Aaron Heilman emerge as a reliable starter at the back end.

3. If El Duque can remain healthy throughout the season.

4. If El Duque cannot remain healthy, if someone from #2 step up and fill in.

5. If Duaner Sanchez can return to form after surgery.

6. If some combination among Ambiorix Burgos, Jon Adkins, Juan Padilla, Jason Standridge, and Steve Schmoll fill the bullpen roles formerly held by Chad Bradford and possibly Aaron Heilman.

7. If Jose Valentin can continue his late-career renaissance and provide some punch from the 2B position.

8. If Valentin can’t, if AHern, Ruben Gotay, or someone else emerge as a solid second sacker and adequate #8 hitter.

9. If Moises Alou can have a relatively injury-free 2007, and provide protection in the #6 hole behind David Wright.

10. If Shawn Green can at least maintain numbers in the 15 HR / 75 RBI / .280 AVG range and be a somewhat productive #7 hitter.

11. If Guillermo Mota can be the pitcher he was in September 2006, after returning from his 50-game ban.

12. If Paul LoDuca can have another solid year, at age 35.

This year’s “IFs” are worth consideration, but don’t seem nearly as tenuous as last year’s. We had a LOT riding on Trachsel, Zambrano, and Heilman anchoring the back of the rotation, and in the end, only Trax was a starter. Sure, we muddled through, but all in all, those “IFs” became irrelevant.

Likewise, we thought we needed another huge year by Floyd — which we didn’t get. We thought someone from the Matsui / AHern / Boone competition would make an impact, and instead someone completely off the radar — Jose Valentin — established himself as a new IF for 2007.

We also thought that if the Mets were going to go ANYWHERE, we had to have a healthy Pedro. Well, that was proved wrong. In addition, we thought replacing Mike Cameron was going to take a minor miracle. For half a season, we got it from Xavier Nady.

The “IFs” surrounding Wagner and Delgado were more paranoia of a pessimistic Mets fan than legitimate “IFs”. Maybe this year’s unrealistic paranoia is the concern over Mota, Alou, or Valentin.

Perhaps the biggest ifs last year were pinned on Beltran, Reyes, and LoDuca — and all three more than fulfilled expectations. We wanted Beltran to get back to being a 25-HR, 100-RBI guy and he did all that and more. We wanted Reyes to simply stay healthy and take a few walks — and he responded by getting serious consideration for NL MVP. We wanted LoDuca to ease the pain of losing Piazza’s big bat … and there are people today who want to know who is Piazza?

Further, people like Valentin, Chad Bradford, Darren Oliver, Duaner Sanchez, John Maine, Endy Chavez, and El Duque came out of nowhere to make significant contributions.

So before you panic, and start listing all the “IFs” that make success in 2007 seem so questionable for the Mets — be it the rotation, the AARP members in the lineup, whatever — remember that every year has its question marks. Somehow, some way, they all get answered or erased — often out of nowhere.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.