Browsing Archive October, 2006

The Barry Bonds Issue

Though there might be a better chance of seeing Sammy Sosa patrolling left field at Shea next year, the fact that Barry Bonds is a free agent is intriguing enough to be covered at this Mets-only blog.

The San Francisco Giants, eager to begin a new chapter in their history, have all but cut ties with the somber slugger. With many old fogeys (Moises Alou, Ray Durham, Jason Schmidt, etc.) going out to the free agent pasture, combined with the steal of manager Bruce Bochy from the Padres (how the heck did that happen?), marks a definitive new beginning for the franchise, which most likely will not include Barry Bonds. Assuming that’s the case, where will Bonds wind up?

His agent Jeff Borris has a rather optimistic stance, believing that all 30 teams will be clamoring for his malcontent client’s services. Fat chance. The more realistic question is, will ANYONE sign Barry Bonds?

Borris claims that there have already been calls. From where? Japan maybe? Maybe the Long Beach Armada want to give Jose Canseco some protection in the lineup. Perhaps Hulk Hogan has gotten the WWF back together. Or maybe Mike Tyson is looking for a three-round exhibition — now THAT I would pay to see.

Let’s pretend that Bonds will not be blackballed by MLB, from Bud Selig down, in the same way Sammy Sosa was last winter. Let’s also pretend that Bonds’ 60-year-old knees, overall poor health, notorious reputation as a clubhouse cancer, high cost, and steroid allegations are not enough to scare a team away. Oh, we’ll also pretend that teams won’t be frightened by the potential PR nightmare and fan backlash that will occur upon his signing. In that fantasy world, what team might put in a bid?

First off, remove all National League teams from the list, as Bonds can no longer play the field. He is strictly a DH, and therefore we’ve already cut down Borris’ “30 teams” down to 14. Considering Bonds’ minimum salary demand to be in the $14M range, and his emphatic insistence that he will not take an incentive-laden deal, we can now eliminate Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Oakland, Cleveland, and Kansas City. Too bad, the A’s would have liked his all-walk, no-run style. Out of the nine teams left, who needs a DH? Go ahead and eliminate the Red Sox (who have David Ortiz) and the Yankees (they’re looking to get rid of lesser-cancer Gary Sheffield). Again, too bad, as it might have been fun to watch those two teams throw millions around in eBay style.

We’re now down to seven teams, most of which could use another bat. The World Series losers, the Tigers, certainly showed they needed a bat. Maybe a return to former manager Jim Leyland would lighten Barry’s mood? Possible, but would Leyland, GM Dave Dombrowski and owner Mike Illitch — really want to mess with the good thing they have worked so hard to build? Not to mention have Bonds around messing with the young and impressionable heads in that clubhouse? Doubtful. The Baltimore Orioles might be a possibility — especially considering owner Peter Angelos’ ill-advised signings from the past — but do they really want to open up another can of B-12 … er, worms? If they sign Bonds, they may as well bring back Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa, and stop shopping Miguel Tejada.

The Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers have spent some stupid dollars on sluggers in the past few years, so maybe one of those teams are looking to be foolish again. Somehow I don’t think so. The Toronto Blue Jays could be a frontrunner, considering last year’s big splashes and their desperation to get over the hump and race directly with the Yankees. Though, instead of a Tyson-Bonds pay-per-view, we might see a Gibbons-Bonds smackdown in the dugout runway.

That leaves the White Sox and Angels. Somehow, I don’t see the Chicago fans embracing Barry Bonds. The Angels might be a good fit. They have needed a legit DH for two years now, their owner is crazy enough to make a huge splash, and they’ve already alienated their Anaheim faithful by claiming to be from Los Angeles, so no further harm can be done there. And hey, Barry’s home is the Left Coast, so it’ll be an easy drive from his home to his clubhouse easy chair. If Bonds isn’t blackballed, Anaheim might well be Barry’s final destination.

This is one blogging baseball fan who hopes for blackballing. Barry Bonds’ tainted performance and assaults on naturally achieved records have already placed a sour stain on baseball. Before he moves past and conquers another well-deserving icon of the sport, let’s hope he instead just goes away.

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The Second Base Question

In March 2006, the second base position for the New York Mets was more or less an open tryout, with Kaz Matsui, Bret Boone, Jeff Keppinger, and Anderson Hernandez the main competitors. After Boone’s retirement, injuries to Matsui and Hernandez, and an undisclosed remark or action by Keppinger that put him in Willie Randolph’s doghouse, one unlikely candidate emerged from the dust — Jose Valentin.

We loathed the Stache throughout April and through the first part of May, wondering if Randolph were either blind or insane for continuing to put Valentin in games. Eventually, however, Jose Valentin began to produce, and by the end of July had won over our hearts and established himself as one of the hardest-hitting second basemen in the National League — even if Randolph was unwilling to “officially” name him the Mets’ starting second sacker.

However, is Valentin the answer at second base for 2007? That’s a tough question, for several reasons.

First of all, Valentin is no spring chicken — he just turned 37. Second, his production after July left a bit to be desired — perhaps an indication of his advanced age catching up with him. Valentin’s gradual downfall from August first on culminated in an excellent rendition of the invisible man come playoff time, when his most valuable contribution was forcing middle infielders to strain their necks as they chased his mile-high pop ups. Even if you ignore his performance down the stretch, you can’t dismiss his anemic production as a righthanded hitter — a .219 average with two home runs in 96 at-bats.

Overall, his end-of-season numbers look pretty impressive on paper — the only NL second basemen with similar or better production were youngsters Chase Utley, Dan Uggla, and Brandon Phillips. So, he’s in line for a raise — and / or a multiyear contract. But is he worth it?

Personally, I think Valentin has at least one more year left as a platoon player, and maybe another year as a solid guy off the bench — sort of what John Valentin did for the Mets in his final year. But I don’t see Valentin as an everyday starter in 2007, and therefore he might not be worth the kind of dollars he’s seeking.

Assuming Valentin does not test the free-agent waters, he’s a shoo-in to be the starting second baseman against righthanders come Opening Day 2007. But who will play against the lefties?

Forget Anderson Hernandez — he’s never going to hit enough to validate a place in the Mets lineup. Yes, his defense is remarkable — Gold Glove quality — but the Mets are built to score lots of runs and rely on the bullpen. After benefitting from the 18-HR, 62-RBI production of Jose Valentin at second base in the near-AL lineup, it’s hard to imagine the Mets doing with less in 2007. As much as Willie Randolph and Omar Minaya talk about the importance of defense, the bottom line is bats — if there’s a way to get some offense out of second base, the Mets will do it. That said, the other in-house candidates would be Chris Woodward, Ruben Gotay, and Chase Lambin. Woodward had a terrible season, finalized by post-season surgery. He’s also eligible for free-agency, so who even knows if he’ll return. Gotay is an enigma the Mets received from the Royals in return for Keppinger, who has shown some punch but not enough to be considered a serious contender. Lambin is a guy who once showed promise, but at 27 is a fringe prospect whose ceiling looks to be Woodward’s replacement as a utilityman. Therefore, it looks like any platoon partner for Jose Valentin will most likely come from outside the organization.

There are a number of intriguing possibilities from the potential pool of free agents, with three in particular sticking out — Alfonso Soriano, Adam Kennedy and Julio Lugo. All were the subject of myriad rumors involving the Mets over the last 12 months, so you’d have to think there’s some interest. Chances are, though, that if any of these players are signed, Valentin will be allowed to walk — unless he’s OK with returning as the top guy off the bench (which was supposed to be his role in 2006).

If Omar Minaya chooses to follow in the pattern of his first two offseasons and make a big splash free-agent signing, then you can count on Soriano in Flushing — unless Barry Zito is the target. Assuming Minaya passes on Soriano, Lugo and Kennedy both would seem to be appropriate pickups. Either would fit in just fine as a #2 or #8 hitter in the Mets’ lineup, and provide above-average defense. However, Omar seems to like the sleepers, and therefore he may consider one of several veterans — Mark Loretta, Mark DeRosa, and Tony Graffanino leading the way. Further, don’t discount what the Mets learned from Valentin’s performance, and don’t be surprised if Omar takes a flyer on someone you don’t think of as a second sacker, such as Tony Batista, Rich Aurilia, Jeff Cirillo, Aaron Boone, or Pedro Feliz.

Batista has ties to Minaya going back to a 2004 gamble that Omar took on him in Montreal, when Batista rewarded him with a 32-HR, 110-RBI season. Though a natural third baseman, he has played over 300 Major League games in the middle infield — so the position is not completely foreign to him. Boone and Aurilia have similar experience, and though it would be surprising to see another Boone take a shot at 2B, it isn’t completely out of the question to see him or St. John’s alum Aurilia competing for the keystone in March. The longshot is Feliz, who is more of a corner infielder and never played a game at second base, but has some experience at shortstop. Consider it wishful thinking for the Mets to overpay for Feliz to play out of position — there’s a better chance of seeing Soriano in the Mets blue and orange. But hey, it’s the offseason, and we can dream, can’t we?

Speaking of dreaming, isn’t there a chance the Mets will trade a few arms — say, Aaron Heilman and Mike Pelfrey — to Texas for Michael Young? Or perhaps a package including an arm and Lastings Milledge to the Orioles for Miguel Tejada? OK, maybe not.

Getting back to reality … who will be the Mets’ second baseman in 2007? I’ll go on a limb and bet that Minaya makes the splash with Soriano. If he doesn’t, my second bet is on one of the Marks — DeRosa or Loretta — or a local guy like Aurilia or Frank Catalanotto in a platoon with Valentin and as sometime leftfielder. Failing all those guesses, I see Minaya pouncing on a veteran who has a strong season of winter ball in Liga de Beisbol del Caribe — with my heartstrings pulling for longshot Edgardo Alfonzo.

It’s a long way to spring training, and this is one aspect of the Mets roster that is sure to be an interesting and evolving story throughout the winter.

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Daisuke Matsuzaka — Worth the Dough?

It is true the Mets need pitching … but then, who outside of Houston doesn’t? But is their situation so desperate that they need to bid on the right to negotiate with Japanese phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka ?

After witnessing the ups and downs of Japanese imports such as Hideo Nomo and Hideki Irabu, I’d be a little hesitant to go over the top with a bid. Now, add these two factors — 1. Matsuzaka has hired Scott Boras as his agent, and 2. word on the street is that the winning bid could be close to $20 million.

Think about that — 20 million dollars just to have the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka, then, on top, your negotiation will be with Scott Boras. And all this expense and aggravation for a guy who, at 26 years old, has already logged eight professional years yet never won more than 17 games — in Japan.

Seems like a hefty price to pay for a guy who has not quite dominated Japanese hitters. Some consider the Japanese league to be on AAA level, or maybe somewhat higher. As far as pitchers go, you might say that Japan is a notch below the National League. That said, you’d have to assume that any pitcher making the transition to MLB will lose a good chunk of effectiveness. So a guy like Matsuzaka, whose numbers and age compare to, say, Brandon Webb, will pitch more like Aaron Harang once he gets to the USA.

Think that’s not fair? Let’s not forget that Kaz Matsui was one of the top hitters in Japan, and hit .336 with 36 home runs one year. Let’s also consider that one of the top hitters that Matsuzaka has faced in the last two years is Benny Agbayani.

Now, Aaron Harang is a good young talent, but would anyone pay $20M just to negotiate with him? Probably not. But, let’s give Daisuke Matsuzaka the benefit of the doubt, and let’s say he’ll do as well as Webb, or Dontrelle Willis. Would you pay twenty million dollars for the right to negotiate with Scott Boras for Dontrelle Willis’ services? Even for Willis, or Webb, or any other proven mid-20s flamethrower, that seems to be a steep price to pay — especially when you consider the fragility of arms.

Which brings up another consideration — why are the Seibu Lions so willing to give up a successful, talented, 26-year-old pitcher? Remember, this is the same Seibu club that was willing to let Kaz Matsui escape to the USA — and they seemed to know something we didn’t on that decision. Is it because they are desperate for cash, or do they figure Matsuzaka has peaked? Have they overtaxed his arm in his young years, and know he’s on the verge of a physical breakdown? Are they aware of a slight tear or tweak that could lead to bigger problems in the near future?

There’s a good possibility that there is nothing at all wrong with Daisuke Matsuzaka. In fact, assuming he’s healthy, there’s every reason to believe that he will turn out to be a solid Major League pitcher — maybe a #2 or #3 starter on a National League team. But is that worth $20M for negotiation rights, and another $20-$40 in a long-term contract? I’m going to say no, at least, not for the Mets — not with youngsters such as Mike Pelfrey, Philip Humber, John Maine, Oliver Perez, and Brian Bannister ready to make an impact. Their American League brethren in the Bronx, however, is another story. We’ll see if the Yankees’ short-term memory includes Hideki Irabu, or if they’ll dish out the dough for Daisuke Matsuzaka.

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Sign That Lefty Pitcher

With the possibility of losing El Duque (no!), Tom Glavine (no!), and Steve Trachsel (yes, please go!) to free agency, and Pedro Martinez out until at least July (possibly longer), the Mets absolutely must find at least one or two veteran starting pitchers to fill in the gaps in the 2007 rotation.

While it’s true the Mets will have John Maine, Brian Bannister, Oliver Perez, Mike Pelfrey, and Philip Humber coming back, I doubt that will be the starting five. Too many things can happen between now and next April — injuries, role changes, trades, etc. — and it seems to be Omar Minaya’s strategy to stock up deep on pitching anyway.

First and foremost, the Mets must cut ties with Steve Trachsel immediately and let him pitch to his buddy Mike Piazza in San Diego. Next, Tom Glavine needs to decide whether he wants to win his 300th on the biggest stage on the planet — New York City — or go back to being a hated Mets opponent in Atlanta. Personally, I hope he comes back, as it’s possible he’ll be the only true veteran returning to the rotation, and he really pitched like a winner in the postseason. For similar reasons, I’d like to see Orlando Hernandez return to Shea — not for the regular season, but to see his magic in the postseason. If he doesn’t come back to the Mets, I would not be surprised to see him back in pinstripes, as the Yankees’ issue next year won’t be winning in the regular season, but getting through the postseason.

Even if El Duque and Glavine come back, the Mets will still need a true ace, or at least a strong #2 or #3-type pitcher. They had too many #4s and #5s on the staff in 2006, and though it wasn’t the pitching that hurt us in the offseason, you have to believe our postseason starters were a little lucky in October. We also can’t count on the bullpen being as proficient and healthy as it was in 2006 — rarely do middle relievers pitch well in consecutive seasons. And in fact, there’s a good chance the bullpen will be without Guillermo Mota, Chad Bradford, Roberto Hernandez, and Darren Oliver, as they all are free agents this winter.

Chances are, the Mets won’t be getting Dontrelle Willis, nor any other top-of-the-line starter, via a trade. Those guys simply are not available in trade, so the only other route (outside of reverting Aaron Heilman to starting) is free agency.

Jason Schmidt is a consideration, but he’s already nearing his mid-thirties, has had some physical issues lately, and has never played on a big stage. His negatives might outweigh his asking price, which should be outrageous. Barry Zito is at the top of everyone’s list, but after the Yankees’ flop in the ALDS, I somehow see him in pin$tripe$.

Interestingly, there is another lefthanded pitcher that used to be under Rick Peterson’s tutelage who is quietly available — Mark Mulder. Very little has been mentioned of Mulder’s free agent status, probably because of the shoulder injury he sustained this year, and the fact that he won’t be back in time for Opening Day 2007. However, he is exactly the guy I see the Mets going after, for several reasons.

First, he’s only 29, and his shoulder injury is far from career-threatening. Because of the injury, he’ll demand much smaller dollar figures, and in fact, might have to agree to an incentive-laden deal. He could be a tremendous steal, similar to what the Cardinals pulled off with Chris Carpenter a few years ago. The Mets don’t really need an ace to start the season, they need one at the end of the season — and beyond — and Mulder, combined with Pedro, could be a fresh, fearsome twosome come September and October.

Though it would be surprising to see the Cardinals not re-sign Mulder — especially considering they traded Kiko Calero and Danny Haren to get him — there’s the slight possibility he’d be interested in re-joining Peterson. And if Glavine returns, he could be a fantastic mentor to Mulder — a guy who after this shoulder injury may need to learn how to pitch in Glavine’s vintage style to keep batters off-balance. If there’s any chance at all, I hope the Mets are able to pull it off.

Failing at Mulder, there are a number of intriguing possibilities on the free-agent scrap heap. Unfortunately, none look like the type of ace or #2 the Mets are looking for. However, a few are on the cusp and could finally meet their potential (or remain enigmas, a la Kelvim Escobar).

One in particular is Tony Armas Jr., whose once-bright future was derailed by injury and inconsistency. He returned this year to post mediocre numbers on a poor Nationals team. Since he’s only going to be 29, appears to be healthy now, and has a connection based on Minaya’s days with the Expos, Armas is a likely “shot in the dark” candidate — similar to the flyer the Mets took on Jose Lima (shudder) last spring. Who knows, with a healthy arm and under the supervision of Rick Peterson, Armas could develop into a solid #3 or #4.

A few other enigmas to consider are Gil Meche, Ted Lilly, Vicente Padilla, and former Met Bruce Chen. All are 30 or under and have seen success in the past. Padilla won 14 games as a 24 and 25-year-old, and was once considered a cornerstone of a young Phillies staff. Meche had similar success, winning 15 for the Mariners as a 24-year-old, and many baseball people believe he has great stuff. After ten minutes with Peterson, either could revert to their #2-type performance. Speaking of, Lilly’s career was going nowhere until he met Peterson in 2002, and had a very solid 2006 for the Blue Jays. Chen, on the other hand, is the enigma of all enigmas, but as a lefty under 30 might be worth taking an incentive-laden flyer on. He may never again be the 13-game winner he was with the Orioles in 2005, but he might turn out to be an ideal replacement for Darren Oliver as a long-relief specialist.

While it would be nice for the Mets to open their pockets for Zito — and it’s not unbelievable, considering Minaya’s interest in making a splash — I see more frugal, cunning pickups happening. In fact, I see Peterson wooing Mulder to NY, and Minaya making very quiet signings of Armas, Chen, and either Meche or a guy like Miguel Batista or Tomo Ohka — and seeing at least two of them join the staff and produce — just as the Mets quietly did with the signings of ChadBrad, Pedro Feliciano, and Darren Oliver.

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Offseason

My apologies to the half-dozen of you that may have come by in the last few days looking for morsels of Mets information. After Carlos Beltran struck out looking with the bases loaded, I swtiched off the TV and tried to forget about our dear Mets.

The end of the season — this year, anyway — was kind of like losing a good friend. Sort of when you’re in junior high and your best bud moves away during the summer break. He’s long gone, you know you’ll never see him again, and a part of you disappears along with him.

It was easy to fall in like with the 2006 Mets. They played hard, they won a bunch of games, they had a diverse cast of characters, and — except for the starting rotation — they stayed together and intact throughout the bulk of the season.

Consider that last part. For nearly every game of the season from May forward, you could count on seeing Paul LoDuca behind the plate, Carlos Delgado at first, Jose Valentin at 2B, Jose Reyes at SS, David Wright at 3B, Beltran in CF, and either Cliff Floyd or Endy Chavez in LF. You were almost guaranteed to see Julio Franco pinch-hit, and you were just as likely to see at least three faces from the bullpen, which remained healthy and unchanged until Duaner Sanchez went down. The only real changes to the team during the season were the result of one incident — the Sanchez car accident. The players who came in as a result stepped right in and became mainstays — Shawn Green, Roberto Hernandez, Guillermo Mota, and Oliver Perez. It’s a lot easier to follow and enjoy a team when you “don’t need a scorecard” to know who’s in the game.

Enough mush for now … it was a great year, better than many expected, and let’s hope that Omar can keep the good guys around and add a few more pieces to take the Mets one more game forward in 2007.

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