Browsing Archive January, 2008

Robin Ventura’s New Ankle

For those who recall the “greatest infield ever”, you should know the name Robin Ventura. Ventura was a major part of the Mets’ success in 1999 and 2000, stroking big clutch hits and flashing gold glove defense at third base. He was a hard-nosed, get-dirty player in the mold of Ray Knight — a sound all-around ballplayer and leader on the field.

Ventura’s career was cut short — though, he did put in 16 seasons — due to a severe ankle injury suffered in a spring training game in 1997 while playing for the White Sox. He slid hard into home plate — yeah, he was one of those guys who went all-out even in ST — and his foot was mangled when it ran into catcher Bill Hasselman. Ventura suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his ankle, and missed over 100 games that season. Though he eventually returned to the field, he suffered continuously with extreme pain in the ankle, regularly getting cortisone shots for the remainder of his career.

The pain grew so great that it forced his retirement in 2004, but leaving the field did nothing to alleviate the problem. Before long, he required a cane to walk around. He had three choices: live the rest of his life in pain, have his ankle fused (and have limited use of it), or get someone else’s ankle.

He picked option three.

Twenty-six months ago, Ventura underwent ankle transplant surgery. A piece of bone harvested from a cadaver was inserted into his right ankle by Dr. William Bugbee, a San Diego-based surgeon who had performed the unusual surgery some 250 times. The procedure involves an incision from the lower shin to the top of the foot and requires removal of a rectangular-shaped portion of the damaged bone, about one inch long, and some cartilage. A piece of bone from a cadaver, shaped to the precise size and shape of the rectangular hole, is inserted and fastened to the bones using four screws.

And now, Ventura is walking — pain-free.

“When they first told me about what they’d be doing and showed me a picture. … yeah, it was, ‘Eeuuuw. I’m not sure this is what I’m looking for — someone else’s bone,'” Ventura said. “My kids don’t get near my foot even now. But I don’t even think about it now. I’m just happy it works.”

More encouraging, it appears that the surgery was a complete success, and Ventura will remain pain-free for the rest of his life … though it’s doubtful he’ll try a comeback anytime soon.

“They said [the transplant] can last one week or for the rest of my life. I’m past one week, so that’s good. And it doesn’t hurt … at all. The beauty of it is that I was never really gifted in that area [with speed], so it hasn’t slowed me down a bit.”

Although I vaguely remember Ventura having some issues with his ankle while with the Mets, he never let on that it was that bad. He was such a gamer, he probably didn’t want anyone to know about it or to appear as a whiner. Glad to find out that he can have a normal life after having such a problem — he was always the type of guy one can feel good about rooting for. I wish him well.

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Acquisition Roundup

We did a half-month report on player movement just a few days ago, but with spring training commencement so close, teams are in a mad rush to sign free-agents and send out ST invites.

A few slightly interesting pickups in the past couple days …

Astros invite Runelvys Hernandez to spring training

Runelvys was beginning to resemble Elvis — meaning, the “fat” Elvis we saw in the mid-1970s just before The King’s death. Hernandez was once mildly promising, while serving as the Royals “ace” and Opening Day pitcher in 2003. However, he demolished his elbow that year and underwent Tommy John surgery, and hasn’t been the same since. After ballooning to Bartolo Colon proportions, the Royals cut him loose and the Red Sox kept him around AAA until the end last May — at which point an opt-out clause kicked in because he wasn’t on the MLB roster. He did fairly well, albeit as a 5-inning starter, posting a 3.06 ERA in 7 starts. The Yankees picked him up for 6 AAA starts, and he continued to perform well with a 3.56 ERA. However, the Yankees released him and he caught on with the Pirates and did poorly — 8.47 ERA in four starts. For the Astros, Hernandez is a fair risk as he has an outside chance to win the 5th starter spot. Although I wouldn’t have minded seeing the Mets take a flyer on him, my guess is the NY spotlight is not the ideal place for him to continue his comeback.

Mariners invite Arthur Rhodes and Chris Reitsma to spring training.

Two veteran relievers with similar issues — Reitsma coming back from an ulnar nerve injury and Rhodes returning from TJ surgery. Both have some experience as closers, and have shown success as setup men. On minor league deals, these are no-brainer risks for the M’s, especially considering that both are expected to begin the season in AAA. If the Mariners didn’t already have strong ties to these individuals, they might have been considered by the Mets for AAA / mid-season depth.

Cubs sign Jon Lieber

Damn. On the bright side, the Mets may have the chance to overpay in a trade for Jason Marquis.

Rangers sign Jason Jennings

This makes a lot of sense for both parties, though I was hoping the Mets would have held interest in the righthander. A one-year, $4M contract is all it took, and perhaps Jennings gave the Rangers something of a hometown discount (he grew up in Mesquite, TX and attended Baylor U.). I feel strongly that Jennings will return healthy, but again, NYC was not the right place for him to recover. Let him have a good comeback season and the Mets will get a chance to sign him to a bloated 4-year deal during the winter of 2008-2009 — to pitch once every five days and play first base the other four.

Marlins sign Mark Hendrickson

Damn again. Hendrickson could have slid right in to the Aaron Sele role — except, he would have been more valuable as a LOOGY and spot starter. He received an MLB contract from the Fish, and perhaps wasn’t worth such a guarantee from the Mets.

Cubs invite J.D. Closser to spring training

It wasn’t long ago that Closser was considered a future All-Star. The switch-hitting catcher was a “can’t miss” hitter when anointed as the starting backstop for the Rockies in 2005, but struggled with the bat and found himself back in the minors. He had a terrible year at both levels in 2007, after being a solid .290 hitter with power throughout his minor league career. There’s either a confidence problem or a PED issue here, and if it’s the former and it can be overcome, then the Cubs might have a decent bench guy. In addition to catching, he can play the infield corner positions and some outfield. If he can ever hit again, he’s an ideal 25th man and late-inning pinch hitter.

Meantime, the Mets continue their course of surreptitious, covert operation. In an effort to keep the rest of MLB guessing, they are not revealing any of their ST invites, other than those sent to Jose Valentin, Fernando Tatis, and a handful of guys no one has ever heard of.

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Joe McEwing Retires to Coach

Former Met utilityman Super Joe McEwing has hung ’em up, retiring as a player and joining the Charlotte Knights minor league team as a coach.

The Knights are affiliated with the Chicago White Sox and play in the International League (AAA)

McEwing joins pitching coach Rich Dotson as the newest members of manager Marc Bombard’s staff, who returns for his second season as Charlotte’s skipper. Bombard went 63-80 in his first campaign with the Knights, and leads all active minor league baseball managers in career wins with 1,618.

Sort of sad to see Super Joe retire, as I always rooted for him and enjoyed watching him play — partially because I played against him when he was at the County College of Morris (yes, he was a pesky SOB back then too), and mostly because he squeezed every ounce of ability out of himself. Yes, overall his numbers weren’t fantastic while a Met — other than his initial year in 2001 — but his hustle, all-out play, and willingness to do anything for the team made him a fan favorite.

McEwing only played in 90 MLB games after leaving the Mets after the 2004 season, and spent all of last year in AAA with Pawtucket (Red Sox org.). For the PawSox he batted .268 with 8 HRs and 22 doubles in 477 ABs, playing 2B, SS, 3B, and the outfield. Maybe he should have used HGH or some other PED, and he could still be playing.

Best of luck to “Super Joe” !

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Jon Lieber Signs with Cubs

According to Ken Rosenthal, Jon Lieber has signed a one-year deal with the Cubs. So much for the earlier post … guess we’ll have to get back to the drawing board on finding a veteran to provide competition for the #5 spot.

My guess is that Livan Hernandez will require too long a commitment and too much money — though I wouldn’t mind him coming in. But I get the feeling the Mets would have signed him a long time ago if they were seriously interested.

Bartolo Colon scares me the more I think about him. Josh Fogg is scarier, because he’s bound to remain healthy and hog up a spot on the roster (see: Brian Lawrence). With Colon, at least, there’s a fine chance he’ll go on the 60-day DL and we’ll forget about him. Freddy Garcia is unusable until at least July. Anna Benson will not be brought back to Flushing, so we can forget about her husband Kris — and he’s not healthy anyway. Shawn Chacon looks like a better option for the bullpen, though he might be able to pull off a Jorge Sosa. Kyle Lohse will be more expensive than Livan.

Jason Jennings? Brett Tomko?

Any other ideas ?

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Three Guys to Get Right Now

While we sit idly by in watching the Johan Santana sweepstakes / soap opera, it would be nice if the Mets could acquire someone who 1.) is readily available; 2.) will come relatively cheap; and 3.) can actually help the 2008 cause.

Yeah, I’m still not sold on the acquisitions of Stephen Register, Brian Stokes, and Angel Pagan. The Schroeder / Church deal was okay, though sending away Lastings Milledge makes little sense now that the idea of losing both Carlos Gomez and F-Mart is a possibility.

Anyway, back to the subject. Here are three players the Mets should make a move on, sooner rather than later:

1. Jon Lieber
With or without Johan Santana, Lieber is welcome as veteran depth. At this moment, Lieber makes great sense as someone to fight for the #5 spot. If by chance the Mets acquire Santana, chances are good they’ll also see the exit of Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey, and/or Mike Pelfrey. All three of those youngsters are not only potential fifth starters, but also are the insurance behind El Duque and the rest of the starting staff. Losing two of those means the Mets will still need to sign someone cheap as insurance.

2. Octavio Dotel
What’s the holdup? Yes I am in favor of picking up various so-so, cheap arms for a shuttle system. But Dotel is the one guy I’ll make room for on the 25-man roster, specifically because he has the ability to step in and be a lights-out setup man. If that means Jorge Sosa gets the heave-ho, or Matt Wise has to fight for a job in spring training, so be it. I’m not convinced that Duaner Sanchez will come back 100%, nor that there is sufficient depth to partner with Aaron Heilman in the late innings. Sign him. Now.

3. Jason Botts or Nelson Cruz

These unknowns were brought up a few weeks back, but I’ll introduce them again. Both are fighting for the fourth outfielder spot for the Rangers, but unfortunately neither has much of a chance to win it with the plethora of flycatchers brought to Texas this winter. Each of them is a 27-year-old, righthanded-hitting outfielder with impressive power and nothing left to prove at the AAA level. Cruz has been tearing up the Dominican Winter League, and Botts doing similarly in Mexico — he’s hitting .326 with 15 doubles, 9 homers, and 54 RBI in 242 at-bats. His minor league OPS routinely nears 1.000 and his OBP ranges from .375-.400. Cruz has similar numbers below MLB level, though he doesn’t get on base as much. The knock on Botts is he resembles Adam Dunn in the outfield — but he also plays first base. For those paying attention, Carlos Delgado is in the last year of his contract, so having a big bopper waiting in the wings isn’t such a bad idea. Because the Rangers’ outfield is already filled with Josh Hamilton, Marlon Byrd, Milton Bradley, Frank Catalanotto, and David Murphy, either of these sluggers can be had for a song. Acquiring Botts or Cruz for a AA pitcher is completely possible, and exactly the type of low-risk, high-reward, under-the-radar deal that Omar Minaya supposedly loves.

As we’re all aware, there isn’t much room on the Mets’ projected 25-man roster (though anything can happen in the event of an injury, trade, etc.). But these are three inexpensive, low-risk acquisitions that could significantly fortify the club. I’d be happy to see at least one of them become reality, if not all three. If nothing else, it would be a lot more interesting to hear one of these deals done, rather than read about Hank Steinbrenner’s latest stance on whether the Yankers are pursuing Johan Santana.

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MLB Roster Updates

We’re only halfway through the month, but there’s already been a rash of signings and acquisitions around MLB. The vast majority of transactions has been minor league contracts and spring training invites, with the pitchers and catchers date rapidly approaching.

While there have been dozens more moves than the following, I’m pointing out these in particular for no reason other than I find them mildly interesting in relation to the Mets (or my personal whim).


Angels
Signed outfielder Chad Hermansen to a minor league contract.

Hermansen was once a highly touted prospect who fell short of expectations. The righthanded hitting slugger was property of the New Orleans Zephyrs for the second half of the AAA season in 2007. I suppose the Mets saw enough of him to realize what the Pirates, Cubs, Dodgers, and Blue Jays already had — he ain’t all that. Too bad, the Mets could use a RH-hitting outfielder.

Astros
Signed RHP Mike DeJean, Victor Diaz, and J.R. House to minor league deals.

Was it only four years ago we thought DeJean was a steal of a setup man? Not saying the Mets should have jumped on him, but would it have been so bad to have him available in AAA? Probably not. Diaz clearly wore out his welcome … again, too bad, because the Mets suddenly could use a RH-hitting outfielder — and he just turned only 26. House has been mentioned here several times through the winter as an ideal backup catcher and corner infield fill-in, with enough thump from the right side to intrigue as a pinch-hitting option. Best of all, he didn’t need a ML contract. Too bad we missed on this one — I like his versatility and potential with the bat.

Athletics
Signed Emil Brown to a one-year deal. Traded Mark Kotsay to Braves.

Brown is another RH-hitting outfielder who might have fit in nicely. Not on a big-league deal, though. Kotsay is covered below.

Blue Jays
Signed Lance Carter and Shawn Camp to minor league deals.

Two former Rays when they still had the Devil in them. Not fantastic pitchers, but that’s why they’re signed to cheap minor league deals. I wouldn’t have minded either of these guys riding the Heath Bell shuttle.

Braves
Acquired Mark Kotsay for Joey Devine.

The Braves give up on the electric, but not divine, arm of Joey Devine for a desperately needed starting centerfielder. If history is any indicator (see: J.D. Drew, Vinny Castilla, Johnny Estrada, et al), Kotsay will have a massive comeback season in Atlanta, vie for the triple crown, and be the foremost free agent on the market next winter. Hopefully, the Braves’ luck has run out and he’ll spend an injury plagued season hobbling between the lineup and the DL.

Brewers
Signed Mike Cameron.

Noteworthy in that Cameron lost so much value so quickly and that Bill “Butcher Boy” Hall moves back to the infield. With Geoff Jenkins leaving the club, the Brewers had to find someone to make up for all those lost swings and misses.

Cardinals
Acquired Troy Glaus for Scott Rolen. Signed Matt Clement to a one-year, ML deal with a club option for 2009. Signed 1B Josh Phelps to a minor league contract.

Glad that crybaby Rolen has a new manager and organization to irritate, since he seemed to enjoy playing against the Mets and I won’t miss his pouty face. Glaus, if healthy, and on undetectable PEDs, could be a boon for the Cardinals. Clement was another gamble, but smart risk considering the cost of starting pitching these days and the Cards’ history of rehabbing injured arms. Phelps, like J.R. House, would have been a nice ST invite for the Mets, as he can catch, play 1B, and knock the ball over the fence.

Cubs
Signed RHP Chad Fox to a minor league contract.

There was a ten-minute period in his career when people thought he was good. He might have been nice AAA depth, but I won’t lose sleep over the Cubs getting him.

Giants
Signed RHP Victor Santos and 1B Brett Harper.

Santos is intriguing to me only because I caught him and coached him prior to his going pro. With the Mets in need of minor league arms, I was hoping they’d give him a contract (the Mets uniform is one of only two or three left that Santos has yet to wear) … maybe next year. Harper was previously Mets property and was supposed to be the heir apparent to Carlos Delgado. However, his stunted development and the emergence of Mike Carp made him expendable.

Mariners
Signed Miguel Cairo to a ML deal.

Thank goodness the Mets didn’t sign him. We know how the organization likes to keep a full supply of second basemen.

Marlins
Signed Jorge Cantu to a minor league deal.

It was hoping against hope to think Cantu would consider playing in AAA for the Mets when he could fight for a ML job in Florida. I’d have liked to see him make a comeback and take over 1B in 2009.

Padres
Signed Robert Fick and Jeff DaVanon to minor league deals.

Fick would have been a perfect fit had he been a RH hitter. DaVanon is another RH-hitting outfielder, though not my top choice. Either would have been nice depth in AAA.

Pirates
Signed RHP T.J. Beam to a minor league contract.

Again, no lost sleep here … just another arm ideal for AAA depth.

Rangers
Signed Eddie Guardado to a ML deal. DFA’d 1B Chris Shelton.

Guardado would have been nice on a minor league deal … and contrary to others’ opinions, I don’t see a problem with another lefty in the ‘pen, particularly someone like Steady Eddie who isn’t eaten alive by RH batters. Shelton is interesting because this is the second time he’s been DFA’d this winter. He’s a RH hitter who can also play the outfield and catch in a pinch. If you’ve read this far you know where I’m going — he might be worth a look as AAA depth.

Rays
Signed Mike DiFelice to a minor league contract.

Crash Davis moves on. But don’t be surprised to see him resurface in a Zephyrs uniform to catch Kevin Mulvey by mid-May.

Reds
Signed Andy Phillips to a minor league contract.

Another RH-hitting utilityman with some pop. He played well in the New York spotlight, can play all over the infield and outfield, and is accustomed to being a bench player. On a free-agent deal, he’d have been a good pickup. Only problem is that he’s an ex-Yankee, and some fans have an issue with that.

Rockies
Signed Marcus Giles to a minor league contract.

Notable only because he was such a Mets killer in the Braves uniform. Hasn’t done much since the advent of PED testing. Huh.

Twins
Signed Zach Day to a minor league contract.

Was a time that Zach Day was a young, highly coveted starting pitcher with a bright future. Injuries decimated his career, and the sinkerballer is merely trying to survive at this point. I thought he had a connection to Omar Minaya, and might have been considered AAA filler. No big loss.

Yankees
Signed Jason Lane, Scott Strickland, and Billy Traber to minor league contracts.

If you’ve been a MetsToday reader for at least a year, you know how I feel about Scott Strickland — the idea that he earn a spot on the Yankee roster makes me nauseous. Traber is a former Mets farmhand that was a key piece of the Roberto Alomar deal — but never panned out for the Indians nor anyone else (interesting history, for those worried about losing Mulvey, Pelfrey, Humber, etc., in a trade). Jason Lane is another one of those RH-hitting outfielders who’d be happy with a backup job, and he once hit 26 homers in a year. However, see Marcus Giles, above.

Mets
I’ll review the Mets transactions this month as soon as they sign someone slightly more interesting than Andy Cavazos or Salomon Manriquez.

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NL East Rotations

Currently constructed, we know that the Mets starting rotation does not compare favorably to the best of the National League. That said, we won’t worry right now about how they might match up in a short series with the Diamondbacks (Brandon Webb, Danny Haren), Padres (Jake Peavy, Chris Young), or other teams with strong one-two punches. Instead, we’ll take a look at how the NL East is looking at the moment.

Braves:
1. John Smoltz | 2. Tim Hudson | 3. Tom Glavine
4. Chuck James | 5. Mike Hampton / Jair Jurrjens.

Ouch. The Smoltz / Hudson tandem is right up there with Webb / Haren, Peavy / Young, Penny / Lowe, and just about any other one-two in the league. Further, they have Glavine in the three hole — disheartening to us since he was more or less the Mets’ #1 last year. Their #4, Chuck James, is no slouch either — he’s a work in progress who might be ready to break out much the way John Maine did last season. If Hampton can stay healthy, he’s a fine #5, and if he doesn’t, Jurrjens is supposedly ahead of Mike Pelfrey. Yes, the Braves will have some troubles with their bullpen, but we’re focusing on the impact of the starters here — and Atlanta has, potentially, the toughest one through five the Mets will see from anyone. At the same time, they’re relying heavily on Smoltz and Glavine — two rapidly aging hurlers — to keep up their pace. If one or both falter, Hudson has one of his “off” years, Hampton remains a lost cause, and Jurrjens doesn’t live up to the advance billing … well, it could be a long year for Bobby Cox.

Phillies:
1. Cole Hamels | 2. Brett Myers | 3. Kyle Kendrick
4. Jamie Moyer | 5. Adam Eaton

Once again, a tough one-two “punch” (pun intended) in Hamels / Myers. Now we know why the Mets are so hot on Johan Santana’s tail — the thought of a reconstructed Pedro Martinez and always ailing El Duque may not strike fear in batters’ hearts the way opposing aces might. Luckily, there isn’t much after Myers — and there’s no guarantee Myers will produce the way everyone thinks. After all, his best years thus far are less impressive than what John Maine and Oliver Perez accomplished in 2007; while he has a world of talent, he has yet to make the most of it. Similarly, Hamels is incredibly gifted, but needs to prove he can hang around for 200 innings to reach elite status. Kendrick was a sleeper last year, and might be exposed in 2008 after only 20 MLB starts in ’07. Moyer doesn’t scare anyone, but still managed 14 wins, 26 decisions, and 200 innings — he’s fine as a #4 or #5. Eaton is the worst starting pitcher in baseball, and could be even worse in 2008.

Florida Marlins
1. Scott Olsen | 2. Sergio Mitre | 3. Andrew Miller
4. Rick Vandenhurk | 5. Ricky Nolasco

On the surface, the exit of D-Train makes the Marlins rotation seem extremely vulnerable; any team that has loose cannon Scott Olsen as an ace would appear to be in big trouble. However, looking at the rotation as a whole, you see two things: impressive raw talent and promising youth. Both Olsen and Nolasco have the kind of skill / brain combination that make scouts simultaneously drool and pound their head against the wall. Mitre is misplaced as a #2 but should fit in nicely at the back end when the others advance — or he’ll be out of a job if Anibal Sanchez can get healthy. Miller is the stud of the group, but hopefully two to three years away from domination. And before you judge Vandenhurk to be the next Adam Eaton, understand that he is 23 years old and was a catcher in the Netherlands until 2002. To move as quickly as he has says quite a bit about his athleticism and future. Overall, the Marlins are not a team to fear, but their pitching staff will have significant, talent-driven “ups” to go with the “downs”.

Washington Nationals
1. Shawn Hill | 2. Jason Bergmann | 3. John Patterson?
4. Matt Chico | 5. Tim Redding / Tyler Clippard

I don’t care how many outfielders they have — this team is going to lose a lot of games. Hill, Bergmann, and Patterson all have injury issues, and the rest of the rotation is downright scary. Now it makes sense as to acquiring Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes to go with holdovers Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena — they’ll need at least four flycatchers patrolling the outfield pasture with these characters chucking from the hill. The only question is whether they’ll sacrifice an infielder to get the extra guy out there or try to put one over on the umpires.

Our New York Mets
1. Pedro Martinez | 2. El Duque | 3. John Maine
4. Oliver Perez | 5. Mike Pelfrey

It’s funny that everyone has El Duque pegged for the bullpen after establishing himself as the Mets’ best starter least season. True, he pitched less than 150 innings and had only 14 decisions, but he was the pitching version of Moises Alou — when healthy, he was tough to beat. We’ll pray that Pedro’s new shoulder can handle a full season. If Maine and Perez do what they did last year, I’ll be ecstatic — and there’s a chance one or both will be even better. Pelfrey — or Phil Humber or Kevin Mulvey — needs to make the next step and grab the #5 spot. In short, this is a rotation of four #3 starters and a scared kid rounding out the the back end. On the one hand, Maine could be the best #3 starter and Perez could be the best #4 in baseball. On the other hand, there’s a good chance the Mets will be overmatched in nearly every series that pits each team’s #1 and #2 head-to-head. Who knows — maybe Pedro will come all the way back and be a magician. But I’d rest a lot easier if he didn’t have to be the ace.

Conclusion

Yes, there’s more to a pitching staff than the starting rotation … the bullpen, for example. But it’s too early to guess as to what each team’s relief corps will look like (ask me in, say, July), and this is meaningless, preliminary banter to get us warmed up for the day that pitchers and catchers report. Seriously though, don’t we all look at the starting pitching matchup when trying to figure out which team is going to win? Of course … and there’s something to be said for the mental effect on hitters when they know a particular pitcher is beginning the game on the mound — for better or worse. The 162-game season is broken up into dozens of 3-game series (with a few 4- and 2-gamers mixed in), and when we predict wins or losses, most of our prognosis is based on the starters. So this exercise gives us an overview of what we’ll probably be seeing dozens of times in 2008.

What do you think? How do the Mets’ starters match up?

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Johan Santana – On The Way?

It’s do or die time for Omar Minaya.

No matter how many times Minaya, or Willie Randolph, or any other Mets official says that the team is “comfortable” with their pitching staff, we know better — they’re NOT comfortable. Oh, we fans — many of us, anyway — are satisfied with the current state of the rotation, so long as the Sheasters pick up one decent veteran arm (Jon Lieber?) as a backup plan. Leading with Pedro, John Maine, and Oliver Perez, then crossing our fingers on El Duque and one of the youngsters, seems like a fair plan. Not ideal, but less questionable than a year ago, for sure.

But the pressure is on Omar to make THE move — the biggest move of his tenure since the Pedro – Beltran one-two punch.

The Twins have been playing chicken with the Yankees and Red Sox all winter, with the Mets a jealous bystander. Now, however, it’s time for someone to blink — and both the BoSox and Bronxters have withdrawn their offers, making the Mets the unlikely leaders. The Yankees have “officially” removed themselves from the sweepstakes, according to owner and figurehead Hank Steinbrenner — but then again, Hank is the same guy who vowed that there would be absolutely no negotiations with a certain third baseman who enjoys the company of Canadian dancers. Still, publicly, the Yankees are out, which means the Red Sox will not budge on their separate offers (one headed by Jacoby Ellsbury and the other featuring Jon Lester). That leaves the Mets and their measly 4-prospect package of Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Phil Humber, and Kevin Mulvey — not a one ready for MLB duty. Supposedly, the Twins are demanding one more juicy prospect — Fernando Martinez to be exact — and Omar hasn’t blinked … yet.

We’ve already covered the negative aspect of dumping the last of the Mohicans from the Mets’ farm system, so we won’t beat that horse again. We’ll hold our collective breath in hopes that F-Mart is not added to the package, a move that would ultimately set back the minor league system about four years. If F-Mart is added, and the Twins pull the trigger, there will be no turning back — the Mets will be playing for RIGHT NOW for the next five years.

Yes, the Mets are always playing for the present, but at this moment they also have just enough bits and pieces to be optimistic about building from within as they enter their new ballpark in 2009. Chances are good that at least one if not two or three of the aforementioned prospects can make an impact at Citi Field in the near future. Is missing the blossoming of home-grown talent in two or three years worth having Johan Santana now?

Maybe.

It all comes down to this: do the Mets want to stay the course and hope to grow into a longstanding contender, or throw down the gauntlet and show all of MLB they are serious about capturing elite status here and now.

Having ignored, flubbed, or barely missed on all other possibilities this winter, Omar Minaya is pressured to make a move. He has the proper size ego to pull off a deal of this magnitude — in truth, it kills him not to make a big splash. For Minaya, this is almost too easy: the urgency demands that an ace be brought to Shea, the youngsters are mostly unknown to the majority of casual Mets fans, and even if they do pan out, they’ll do it way up in Minnesota — so who in New York would even notice?

In exactly one month’s time, pitchers and catchers will be playing catch. The possibility that Johan Santana will be in Port St. Lucie at that time seems to be growing more realistic every day.

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