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Prepare to be Amazed!
by Derek Smart
New York hates to wait. So, four non-playoff/doormat years later, the National League's Big Apple entry spent the offseason...well...spending, and with great flair to boot. Now they find themselves in the thick of what could be the best race in the NL this year - being a fourth place team that's only 3.5 games back usually signals big fun ahead.
These new-look Metropolitans begin their only Wrigley Field appearance tonight, so it seemed like a good time to call in the reinforcements. Thankfully, Eric Simon of Amazin' Avenue and MetsGeek.com answered the call. We tossed him a few questions about his friends from Flushing, and he responded thusly:
Derek: Mike Piazza is in the final year of his contract. Do you see the Mets re-signing him? Why?
Eric: I think it really depends on what kind of year he has, production-wise and health-wise. After a terrible start to the season Piazza has been hitting much better for the past week or so. If he can catch 120 games this season with above-average offensive production for the position, I can see the Mets bringing Mike back next year. Another factor will be the availability of any reasonable replacement for Piazza. Jim Duquette traded away the Mets best Minor League option in Justin Huber last July and Omar Minaya traded away Jason Phillips this offseason, so at this point there's really no in-house option ready to step in.
Derek: With Mike Cameron off the DL, and the emergence of Victor Diaz in his absence (a man Cubs fans are all too familiar with), how do you see the Mets handling the resulting logjam? If part of the resolution includes a trade, what do you see the Mets getting/asking for in return?
Eric: The Mets are in the enviable position of having four Major League quality outfielders who are all pluses (or better) offensively. Based on Willie Randolph's handling thus far, it looks like Floyd/Beltran/Cameron will be the Big Three, with Victor Diaz getting one-or-two starts a week as the other three guys are occasionally rested. Whichever player isn't in the lineup on a given day provides an attractive option off the bench late in games. GM Omar Minaya is a huge fan of Victor Diaz, so he will have to be blown away with an offer for him at this point.
Cameron is a more likely trade option, but the Mets should be hesitant to deal him in my opinion. Despite his historically low batting averages, top-flight defensive outfielders who put up 20-20 (or 30-20) seasons and draw a good number of walks don't exactly grow on trees. Plus he's signed through 2006 (with an option for 2007) and is making a very reasonable $6.5 million.
Alex: The Mets were widely acclaimed for their offseason maneuverings, snatching both the best starting pitcher available and the best position player. How have you liked watching Pedro and Beltran so far this year?
Eric: Pedro has been as advertised: a dominant #1 stopper-type pitcher. As Cubs fans know from watching Mark Prior (at least Mark Prior circa 2003), a true ace like Pedro is a joy to watch every time he goes out there, and he makes every one of his starts a must-see. He has also shown a great happy-go-lucky attitude, which has run contrary to his reputation as a diva.
Carlos Beltran has yet to really hit his stride has a Met, but he's done reasonably well considering the two batters in front of him (Jose Reyes and Kaz Matsui) have done an abominable job of getting on base. Many fans were expecting him to pick up right where he left off in the playoffs last season, which hasn't really happened yet. He's struggled with consistency a bit early on, but there aren't any real worries about what he'll do for this franchise.
Alex: I've been living in NYC for six years now, and the entire time I've been here it's been all about the Yankees. Some of my friends, though, remember the '80s as a time when the city was squarely behind the Mets. Do you think the tide is shifting once again, and that the Mets are winning their way back into the casual New York fans' hearts?
Eric: It's funny you should ask that, because I really do sense that a bit. It may have more to do with Pedro and Beltran than anything that has happened yet this season, but there has definitely been a noticeable shift in support amongst fans in the metro area. I've seen a lot more Mets hats, shirts, and jerseys than I have in recent years. In the late nineties, a lot of casual fans jumped on the Yankees bandwagon, in large part because the Yankees were a likeable team. They hadn't won anything in a while, they were sporting a lot of homegrown talent and character guys that were acquired via trade or free agency. More recently the Yankees have lost much (or all) of that likeability, as the casual fan has found less to admire in the overpriced, aging, and rapidly-declining Yankee team that takes the field today.
The Mets are now that very likeable team, with emerging homegrown talent like David Wright, Victor Diaz, and Jose Reyes, as well as marquee free agents like Beltran, Pedro, etc. The Mets have become a very easy team to root for, and the Yankees have become quite the opposite.
Cub Town: What's your prediction for the series?
Eric: With the Mets playing well and the Cubbies struggling of late, I'm going to pick the Mets to win 2-of-3. I'll take Heilman over Leicester and Benson over Maddux, with Prior/Zambrano perhaps the mismatch of the season to this point.