Thursday, June 02, 2005

Mets musings

Ponderings from behind the keyboard. . .

What's the over/under on Aaron Heilman taking a job in the Mets' starting rotation? My optimistic side hopes it's sooner rather than later, but my realistic side tells me the more time passes, the deeper he digs himself into the long reliever pigeon-hole. Every winning team needs a strong long-man, and Heilman certainly has looked the part, but his early-season success as a stopgap starter earned him the right to a few more starts.

Victor Zambrano and Kaz Ishii, no doubt, will continue their off-again, on-again adventures. Willie Randolph has already made it clear he's going to stick with those guys (and he sort of has to, based on whom they were traded for), so it may depend a lot more on injuries than it will on the performances of Ishii, Zambrano, or even Heliman himself. Over/under: July 15, two weeks before the trade deadline.

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It's been a strange couple of months for the Mets' lineup, which seems to get hot and cold on almost daily basis. First, Cliff Floyd was hot. So was Doug Mientkiewicz, for about a week. Then Mike Piazza had a couple of "Piazza-like" games. Then Mike Cameron came back, and he got hot. Now David Wright is hot, although he's starting to cool slightly. Jose Reyes has had some terrific games, but almost as many clunkers.

Carlos Beltran is even harder to figure. As bizarre as this sounds, the one player to whom I can best compare him is Alex Rodriguez. He's got tremendous talent -- a transcendent five-tool player -- and has put up great (or, at least, very good) numbers, but for some reason hasn't found his place with the fans yet.

Fans always expect more from free agents who breeze into town with big hoopla (see: Giambi, Jason; Glavine, Tom). We're are never as forgiving to hired guns as are to homegrown stars like Derek Jeter or Reyes. However, I would be remiss not to go to bat for Beltran, who was booed after going 0-for-4 and leaving four runners in scoring position Tuesday night.

Beltran's defense has been the one key aspect that has gone, it seems, almost completely unnoticed. He's gotten a few ovations for strong throws from the outfield, but it's his intimidation factor that makes him an almost nightly force for baserunners to cope with.

Example: In Wednesday night's game, the Mets led 2-1 with two outs in the ninth inning. Pinch hitter Tony Clark singles, then Alex Cintron follows with a shot to center. Beltran fields the ball quickly and fires it in. Clark, the potential tying run, does not even try to advance to third. In that situation in any of the past, oh, 43 years, Clark is probably on third base.

I don't need to tell any knowledgeable fan the significance of keeping a tying run off third. It's good, fundamental, winning baseball. That's what Beltran brings to the Mets, and that's why he'll be a great influence to players like Reyes and Wright, who certainly have a lot to learn before they can ascend to the his stratospheric level.

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Did a quick check of the All-Star voting yesterday and discovered the Mike Piazza was the leading vote-getter for NL catchers. Mike's a good man, but this only strengthens every argument against allowing fans to vote for All-Star selections. I suppose I shouldn't get so bent out of shape about it, since the MLB All-Star game is about the fans, after all, right?

But more than anything else, it's a popularity contest. Piazza, batting .249 with 6 home runs and 26 RBIs, is having, by anyone's valuation, the worst season of his career. I've never had problem with aging stars playing in All-Star Games, but at what point do you have to try to be fair to others who have earned the right to start the game?

I'm probably overreacting. But one last note before I move on: Two of the other top vote-getters at their positions -- Cubs shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen -- are currently injured and probably won't even play in the game. And Tino Martinez leads all AL first baseman by nearly 100,000 votes... *shrug*

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Dae-Sung Koo is on his last legs with the Mets. There's no denying that now. Koo's struggles have brought about Omar Minaya's first real challenge of the 2005 season. He's got a surplus of starting pitching and outfielders, and no reliable lefty reliever anywhere in the system. How he molds and reshapes that group could have a significant impact on the rest of the season.

Check back on tomorrow afternoon, when I'll talk to Newsday's Dave Lennon about Minaya's plans for the team this summer, as well as some possible trade candidates at relief pitcher. Perhaps he can shed some light on the critical moves the Mets are bound to make over the next two months.

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Speaking of lefty relievers, it seems that John Rocker has finally corrected the control problems that plagued him early in the season with the Long Island Ducks. But the Mets would never sign him, would they? Well, you'd be surprised. Stay tuned...

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