WTNYAugust 18, 2003
Bickering Back
By Bryan Smith

I recently got a couple of e-mails requesting my breakdown of the future on the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. I'm still on my baseball trip, but here's my response for the Mets. The Phillies will come tomorrow....

The Mets are in a flux: the team should be rebuilding but has too many overpriced veterans to do so. For every Jose Reyes and Aaron Heilman, there's a Cliff Floyd and Tom Glavine. The Steve Phillips era ended horribly, and the team is going to need time to recuperate.

The first thing on everybody's list is always to move Piazza to first. I think this should be a gradual movement, and that it shouldn't happen full-time next season. The team has carried two other catchers this season, Vance Wilson and Jason Phillips. Wilson has gotten the brut of the time behind the plate, as he's sound defensively and has a little bit of pop. Phillips is a good-hitting player, but more like Craig Wilson and Rob Fick, he simply outgrew the position. He's hitting .324/.394/.470 this season, mostly spotting Mo Vaughn at first base. The team's top first base prospect, Craig Brazell, is doing well in AA. The leftie is hitting .292/.331/.470. He doesn't walk as much as you'd like, but he looks to be a great platoon candidate with Phillips. Art Howe's ability to juggle Piazza, Wilson, Phillips, and Brazell next season will be important.

I also believe one key is moving Ty Wigginton back to second base. While his .269/.322/.410 numbers aren't great at third base, its solid for a second basemen. He may also be able to steal 20 bases per season, which would greatly help this team. His middle infield partner, Jose Reyes, will be there for a long time. Reyes is a rich man's Luis Castillo, he has 50SB speed, will lead the league in triples, and play some great defense at short. He may not be the best player to sit atop the lineup, with an OBP of .318, but he's deadly in the two-hole.

That opens a hole for third base next season that Duquette may fill. Looking into the market, he should target young players on the rise who would be cheap. Well, that sounds like Adrian Beltre to me. While Beltre's numbers have been going down for three seasons, he still has amazing potential and is super young. Since his cost will be low, the Mets will be one of many teams in the market. But how many other clubs could offer Beltre something in the line of a two-year, $3M deal?

The outfield has big question marks. Roger Cedeno must be released. His only true position is left field, which is also true for slugger Cliff Floyd. And what are Cedeno's strengths anyway? He can't sit atop a lineup anymore, and plays awful defense. He sounds more like a pinch runner than an everyday player. Floyd is locked in at left, but that's it for the outfield. While Raul Gonzalez walks a lot, and Timo Perez can post a decent average, neither has what it takes to play everyday. Jamie Duncan was tried in the outfield, but in the end that proved a failure.

So, Phillips must find two outfielders? One must be able to lead off, and be relatively young so the team can stay in tact. I think the right fielder should have a good arm, and a solid bat. Not Vladimir Guerrero, but someone that still has a decent name. The right fielder that jumped off the page for me was Jose Guillen. He still won't be expensive, as the one-year fluke rumors will still be flying. But New York should have no problem outbidding Oakland, and the risk/reward is one to take. There are no genuine leadoff centerfielders available, so Duquette must target that through a trade. Landing Randy Winn from Seattle would be a good idea, and it shouldn't cost them too much.

On to the rotation. It seems like the rotation is actually set for next season. The team will lead with Tom Glavine, whether his struggles reflect a decline in his career or a fluke. They like Steve Trachsel a lot, and will pay him $5M to stay around next season. Al Leiter has pitched good since coming back from injury, dropping his ERA from 5.57 to 4.68. He will be much better next season, when he is healthy. Aaron Heilman has proved to not be ready for the Majors, but will get a chance at landing a spot. Jae Seo was making a Rookie of the Year bid in June, before going on a bad streak. He's the type of flyball pitcher that should succeed in Shea Stadium and Dodger Stadium, but struggle in smaller stadiums. The team should be in the market for a 5th starter/long reliever.

Giving a Sterling Hitchcock, Wilson Alvarez, or Andy Ashby one last shot to succeed wouldn't be the worst idea for this franchise. While Heilman prepares better at AAA, these veterans get a chance to boost their trade value and to become effective pitchers again. It helps when you're learning from Leiter and Glavine too.

The bullpen is ugly. The team will be in the market for a closer, and they hope that the San Francisco Giants don't pick up Felix Rodriguez's option. If not, he fits the prototype of a young, high risk/reward player the team should be after. Having Mike Stanton, Grant Roberts, and Dave Weathers in a bullpen is a good start, so they'll have to build from there.

This team isn't going to be good anytime soon, but by getting young risk/reward players, there's a chance that the ball will bounce their way.