News, Analysis & UpdatesMay 11, 2004


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Focus on the New York Mets

By Jason Wiedman

I love the Mets! I say it loud and clear and some people might wonder why. Why would one want to be a Mets fan in a city dominated by pinstripes? Could it be that some people actually enjoy the suffering of the post-80s Mets? Could it be that some fans enjoy underdog status, a term synonymous with the Mets, more than actually winning? It couldn’t possibly be tradition, could it?

Mike Vaccaro, a writer for the New York Post, recently summed up Mets fans as follows: “[Being a Mets fan] is a sacred trust, handed down from millions of old Dodgers and Giants fans.” That is who we are; the sons and daughters of baseball fans whose teams abandoned them many moons ago. Many of these scorned fans scoffed at the idea of following the Yankees and instead wallowed in some baseball netherland until 1962, when a new club was formed, eventually winning the hearts of fans worldwide a mere seven years later.

Two World Series championships and 42 years later we find ourselves with a mess of a baseball team on our hands that has undergone several years of general mismanagement. After the 2000 Subway World Series and prior to the firing of GM Steve Phillips, this organization could not decide if it was only one piece shy of a return trip to glory or a team that required massive retooling. Millions of wasted dollars later, they finally determined it was the latter. There is a new GM in town now, Jim Duquette, who has dedicated this organization to a rebuilding plan that involves returning to its roots and the elements that have produced successful teams in the past: pitching and defense. Winning may be a few years off for this squad, but the excitement and magic of youth has returned to Shea Stadium.

So how does this new outlook for the Mets affect our fantasy squads, currently and in the near future? Spare me a moment and follow me around the horn.

C/1B

Last year’s injuries made it glaringly obvious that the current team could not compete without Mike Piazza. In a smart move by both the club and Piazza himself, the decision was made to begin training him at first base, and the team has brought the beloved Todd Zeile back to Shea primarily to make this transition easier. This will apparently make Piazza more valuable this year, partially due to 1B-eligibility, but mostly thanks to the extended playing time he could see. Prior to last year, Piazza normally appeared in 130-140 games. Barring further injuries, we should be able to expect 140-150 games, a .300+ average, 30 dingers and 100 ribbies.

Despite this I believe that Piazza’s days as a top-flight fantasy catcher are numbered. Piazza, arguably the greatest offensive catcher ever, is destined for the American League. The Mets have embarked on a three-year plan that they hope will come to fruition in 2006. It is clear that Mike cannot be a part of those plans, and I expect Piazza to be traded before his contract expires at the end of 2005. A trade this year or during the off-season does not seem as far-fetched now as it may have a year ago. The AL seems like the obvious fit for Mike, with his defensive woes becoming a thing of the past as he becomes a permanent DH and eventually falls from fantasy grace in the manner of Edgar Martinez.

On the other hand, Jason Phillips (27) is a young and exciting player to watch, despite his current sophomoric slump. There is a certain charm to watching young players “leave the tank empty,” as they do everything in their power to make the bigs and stay there. Jason is a natural catcher who has also made the transition to 1B in order to accommodate Piazza. He is a good contact hitter who can hit both RHP and LHP and has decent power, most of which comes against right-handed pitching. Expect Phillips to assume full time catching duties when Piazza departs, at least until prospect Justin Huber is ready to take over the reins. Phillips could remain a value pick at the catcher position for the next three to five years. If Huber is capable of making the club in 2005 and the Mets opt for a free agent 1B during the upcoming off-season, Jason Phillips’ fate in New York is unclear. In that situation, one scenario would be for the team to use Phillips as trade bait to shore up other holes. An interesting note is that Jason says he sees the ball very well at Shea compared to other stadiums, and his batting average was 100 points higher there than on the road last year.

2B

Second base brings us to Jose Reyes, the poster child for the New York Mets. Many of us are currently suffering while Jose takes up a valuable DL spot on our rosters. The truth is … well, nobody knows exactly what the truth is. It’s no secret that Reyes has the tools to become an excellent fantasy option. He will hit for average, steal bases, and has shown signs that he will develop some power over time. To top it all off, the kid turns twenty-one in June. The issue now is his hamstring, and this is a problem the Mets must correct immediately. One anonymous scout said this about Reyes prior to his last injury: “It’s confusing and troubling. Why would a guy like that have a bad hammy? He’s not thick through the legs. It scares me a little if it keeps happening.” It scares me, too, and it scares the Mets. The scary aspect from the fantasy point of view is that the club’s future is not now, so be prepared for Reyes to be shelved for the better part of this year while the organization rectifies the situation.

In the interim, keep your eyes on Danny Garcia (24). Ricky Gutierrez and Super Joe McEwing are nothing more than insurance policies so that the Mets can field a legal team. Neither of them has any value on a fantasy roster. Garcia disappointed when brought up from the minor leagues last year, but is currently taking full advantage of this second opportunity. In 14 games and 33 at bats, the kid is hitting .273 with a .419 OBP, and has shown mature patience at the plate. He has caught Art Howe’s eye and is going to be given a shot to take sole possession of 2B in Reyes’ absence. Garcia is a player worth watching as a potential surprise this year.

SS

Kazuo Matsui, the Mets’ starting shortstop, needs no introduction. I haven’t seen this type of fanfare surrounding a Mets player since the odd Los Angeles to Florida to New York Piazza trade. When Kaz began spring training, I had nightmare visions of Roger Cedeno hacking at balls “JUST a bit outside,” but by the time the season rolled around Matsui began displaying a great deal more patience. He is still struggling to adapt to major league pitching, but despite the Ks, he is attempting to make contact, not just hacking. I don’t believe a .280-.300 batting average is out the question. From a fantasy angle Kaz’s speed and his ability to steal bases are the biggest concern. Matsui is extremely fast and clearly a smart base runner, but I am not convinced this will translate into a lot of stolen bases. How many fast major leaguers can you name who cannot swipe bags? Matsui’s timing will be off until he becomes accustomed to MLB pitchers, but he has not yet displayed that explosiveness you would expect from a player that some people were pegging to rack upl 50 SB. At this point 20�30 seems much more likely, with a majority of those coming in the second half of the season.

3B

The Mets, third base, and fantasy baseball have never been a good combination. Ty Wigginton (27), only worth mentioning in deep NL-only leagues, is currently filling the black hole. Ty is a player who I feel is destined to become a great bench player in the real game, but will never have a fantasy impact.

But wait! What’s that on the horizon? Could it possibly be the answer to the the Amazins’ historic hot corner woes? The organization believes that David Wright (22) could reach the show sometime this year, next year at the latest, and he is expected to become the answer at 3B. Scouts believe he is already skilled enough to perform at the pro level defensively, but that he still requires time to develop his hitting skills. Perhaps that time has come, because Wright is currently tearing it up with the AA Binghamton squad, hitting .345 with a .611 SLG% in 113 at bats. Reyes jumped from AA to the majors last season, and I expect that Wright will get that opportunity at some point this year.

OF

The current Mets outfielders include Cliff Floyd, Mike Cameron, and the platoon of Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer. Floyd has the highest potential, but also carries the most risk; those of us who drafted him late are already suffering through his first injury. If both Floyd and Piazza can stay healthy, I expect a great year from Floyd, and he would certainly have high value for a late pick. Unfortunately, this remains a big if. I think he’s worth taking a flier on, but he is far too big a risk to rely on.

Mike Cameron was brought to Shea as a defensive specialist to roam the large outfield, but he deserves mention from a fantasy perspective in 12-team or larger leagues. Hopefully, a return to .270 and 20-25 HR is in the works. Cameron’s aggressiveness on the bases really stands out this year, and a return to 30 SB does not seem unrealistic.

Both Garcia and Spencer have impressed as Mets so far. Both are streaky, 4A type ballplayers who can fill in admirably while the team rebuilds. From a fantasy perspective, it would have been more beneficial if Spencer had struggled and Garcia had won the job outright. Karim will never anchor your fantasy outfield, but with a full-time job, you could at least ride him while hot. Expect both of them to return to the RF platoon once Floyd comes off the DL; neither will have much fantasy value.

Although we are seeing Duncan and Valent make appearances due to injuries, it is unlikely that any of the Mets OF prospects are going to make a fantasy splash this year or next. There is one exception, although he wasn’t an OF prospect until very recently. Victor Diaz (23) is a talented hitter acquired from the Dodgers in last year’s Jeromy Burnitz trade. The Mets recently switched him from 2B to RF, beginning the experiment in spring training. He wasn’t likely to make the team as an infielder with Reyes at 2B and Wright being pruned for 3B, but he has shown promise in the outfield. If he makes the transition successfully, he could be a player to watch for late this year.

SP

Tom Glavine, Al Leiter and Steve Trachsel are the only three Mets starters worth mentioning at the moment, and in fantasy leagues, each of them is a back-of-the-rotation filler. Leiter is the most interesting of the three because there is a very good chance that he gets traded to a contender by the deadline, in which case his value would only rise. Leiter has the power to veto any trade, but the feeling among beat reporters seems to be that he would OK a trade for one last shot if it did not take him too far from his home in New Jersey. The Yankees are one possible scenario that was rumored recently in the New York media.

Other aging starters for the Mets include Scott Erickson, recovering from a hamstring injury, and James Baldwin, who has just recently extended his minor league contract in the hopes that another team would become interested in him. Neither stands to have much fantasy impact, and many fans wonder why past-their-prime veterans were brought in when the Mets, who are rebuilding, have a glut of pitching prospects waiting in the wings. Here’s my take: the team has historically rushed players to the major leagues, especially pitchers (� la Generation K), and I believe Duquette added these veterans to insure that any young gun who needed more time in the minors would receive it. Both Erickson and Baldwin will be gone by the end of the year.

Jae Weong Seo recovered from Tommy John surgery in 1999 and ended up having a very solid year for the Mets in 2003. Unfortunately, the commitment was not there and he lost a spot in the rotation during spring training. Due to the injury to Erickson, he has been given another chance, and since he has shown promise in the past, he deserves to be monitored. I expect a solid second half from Seo.

The Mets have a slew of other pitching prospects, such as Grant Roberts (27), Tyler Yates (27), Jeremy Griffiths (26), Aaron Heilmann (26), Jeremy Hill (27), Bob Keppel (20), Matt Peterson (22), and Scott Kazmir (20). It would be impossible to cover all of them here, but don’t expect many of them to contribute much for at least two more years. They all deserve attention, however, especially in dynasty leagues that allow you to protect minor leaguers. Hopefully this is not Generation K: The Sequel. Four pitchers in this group who could have immediate impact are Yates, who is pitching currently for the Mets, as well as Griffiths, Heilmann, and Roberts, all of whom had the opportunity to win the fifth spot in the rotation this spring.

I like Yates, but my gut feeling is that he will be moved into the pen by next year and has a much better chance of becoming the Mets’ future closer than does Royce Ring (see below).

RP

Heading into the season, it appeared that the Mets’ bullpen was one of its bright spots, minus the question marks concerning Braden Looper’s ability to pitch in New York. Then the season started and the pen imploded. Fortunately, Looper was not one of the trouble spots, and has gone on to pleasantly surprise Mets fans. During the drafts I was a part of, Looper was a last ditch attempt at grabbing a reliever, but now it appears that he will be very solid and give his owners considerable return on that low draft pick.

Royce Ring (24), acquired from the Chicago White Sox in the Alomar trade, is touted by some as the Mets’ future at closer. Although Ring has raised the speed of his fastball back into the low 90s, it seems more likely that he may become Looper’s set-up man next year. He should have an opportunity to make the bullpen at some point this year.
 

Jason Wiedman, fittingly known in the Cafe Forums as Amazinz, feels that no article on the Mets would be complete without mentioning that the game was tied and essentially lost BEFORE the ball rolled through Bill Buckner’s legs.

What do you expect from the Mets this season? Are they doomed to a sub-.500 finish? And more importantly, which Mets will make a fantasy impact?

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