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Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Updated: January 27, 1:39 PM ET
Mets needed extreme makeover

By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com

Jan. 27

OK, so they lost out on Carlos Delgado to the likely NL East favorite. Look at it this way: never again will they have to deal with Dr. Bizarro, a.k.a. David Sloane. So "sources close to Bud Selig" say he's wondering how, after the Astros and Yankees were out, Scott Boras got the Mets from $112 million to $119 million for Carlos Beltran? Hey, Boras once got Tom Hicks to pay nearly $160 million more than the next-highest bidder for Alex Rodriguez.

So the Mets were supposedly Beltran's third choice. Who cares? He's a Met. Period.

Pedro Martinez
Starting pitcher
New York Mets
Profile
2004 SEASON STATISTICS
IP H SO BB W-L ERA
217 193 227 61 16-9 3.90

So Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson has to make sure to give Pedro Martinez the rest he needs to be the great Pedro, not the good Pedro. He did it with The Big Three in Oakland. So they "overspent" on Kris Benson. See what he does as a third or fourth starter, if healthy. By the way, every inflationary dollar this winter was not the sole result of the Benson signing. By the way, in the second half of last season, Benson's ERA dropped almost a run while his strikeout-walk ratio doubled, very good indicators for a relatively young pitcher coming off serious surgery.

The Wilpons and Omar Minaya had to remake the Mets persona. They have their own cable network beginning in 2006, and they cannot be selling a product that is perceptually inferior to the YES Network product. Delgado or no, the Mets have added a great player in Beltran, who at 27 gives them along with David Wright and Jose Reyes, the core of the team for the next six years. In Martinez they added one of those rare pitchers who creates a buzz every time he walks to the mound, who beyond the earned run average, winning percentage and Cy Young awards, adds a strikeout pitcher to a contact staff, gives them a presence of a No. 1 starter and, pitching at Shea Stadium, might well go out and win his fourth Cy Young, all the while waving to his friends in Jamaica Plain, Mass. He brings an attitude, and his teammates will find out that when a Mike Piazza or Cliff Floyd gets plunked, Pedro will plunk right back (and because Pedro throws harder and with more precise accuracy, his retaliatory plunks hurt a lot more).

For a confluence of reasons, the Mets had become the Islanders (for those who don't understand, the Islanders once played a sport called hockey and were Division II in a Division I market). Did the Wilpons make mistakes? No doubt. Did they react too much to PR? No doubt. But Steve Phillips and Bobby Valentine had them in the World Series in 2000, and if one puts this era in perspective -- after all, the Yankees' 1996-2004 run is historic, especially given the free agent volatility -- then just how loyal the Mets' following remains is a testament to a market capable of exploding.

Remember this: In 1972, the year before George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees, the Mets led the majors in attendance (2.13 million), and the Yankees drew 966,328.

Carlos Beltran
Omar Minaya adds the centerpiece to his reshaped franchise in Carlos Beltran.

Granted, Minaya and company have to be careful. Beltran is not necessarily a franchise personality. His skills are immense, but they are not gaudy statistically. "He's a great player because he does everything," one AL executive said. "He's a tremendous defensive center fielder; he's not Mike Cameron, but he's in the next level. He may be the best baserunner in the game. He hits for power. He brings things to the park every day." Only time and critics will determine if this was an overpay, but the fact is that the Mets have paid for production, baserunning, defense and character, a better investment than simply offense.

The Mets are also not the only New York team with heavy future debt. The Yankees owe Mike Mussina $19 million in both 2005 and 2006. Jason Giambi (whose on-base percentage has declined for three consecutive seasons) will go $20.43M, $23.43M, $23.43M in the next three seasons. In 2006, the Yanks will have four players making at least $19 million -- Mussina, Giambi, Derek Jeter ($20.6M) and Alex Rodriguez ($25.1M), as well as Randy Johnson at $16 million.

There are several American League general managers who are very happy that the Yankees decided to invest all their winter dollars in pitching, and did not pursue Beltran. "He would have changed them for the next seven years," said one GM. "Understand the market. Center fielders who can do that many things are few and far between."

It is easy to say "oh, the Yankees will just go get next winter's Carlos Beltran." Yeah? Who? Johnny Damon is probably the best on the market, but while he has proven to be a winner who plays best under pressure, there are age and skill differences. While on the Boston model, there were those who wondered why they went so hard after Edgar Renteria. But the Red Sox feel that Hanley Ramirez's skills are so exceptional that three years from now Renteria at short and Ramirez in center will be a far more productive middle of the field than Ramirez at short and whomever they can find in center because those middle field, multi-dimensional outfielders are so rare (see Steve Finley).

That combination of offense, defense and speed in the middle of the outfield is rare. Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones and Cameron are all potential 30 home run hitters, but they are not the .900 OPS hitters in Beltran's league. Not only has Beltran scored and knocked in 100 runs each of his last five complete seasons, but his OPS the last two years are .915 and .911. The only center fielder with a better OPS this season was the great Jim Edmonds (1.062), while Vernon Wells (.909 in 2003) and Milton Bradley (.922 in '03) are in that category when healthy. How unusual is a .900 OPS center fielder? In the 21st century, Edmonds (1.003) is the only one above .900. Ken Griffey Jr. (.896) and Bernie Williams (.885) are the only others above Beltran's .857 and the difference, obviously, is the coming into and going out of primes.

Omar Minaya
Minaya

For all his boyish enthusiasm, Minaya also has to be careful that these aren't simply "his" players and that when things get testy, Martinez and others don't go around new manager Willie Randolph to the general manager.

And there are still several flaws with these Mets. The bullpen is thin. The starting pitching cannot afford any breakdowns. The roster is still made up of about 13 players that make over $110 million. One of the concerns about putting too much into Delgado was that, while he is a big offensive force, the lack of pitching throughout the organization means they will have to go the Yankee route and constantly invest in free agent pitching, which is dangerous as well as extremely costly. Incidentally, in 2003, when Doug Mientkiewicz was healthy, his OPS was .843, higher than Kevin Millar in his first season (2003) in Boston.

But the Mets could no longer be the Flushing Meadows. If Kazuo Matsui adjusts in his second season (his .312 average, .785 OPS in the second half before being injured indicate he was starting to do so), he adds several dimensions to Reyes, Beltran and Wright, who by 2006 might well be their franchise leader taking pressure off Beltran.

If you're Terry Ryan or Billy Beane or Walt Jocketty, you shake your head and think it's great to have that kind of money. Theoretically, the Mets do have that kind of money. They play and market in New York, in a fiscal system that is unfair to so many of the other cities with baseball franchises.

The Wilpons had to stop worrying about Bobby Bonilla and Roberto Alomar and get Beltran. Minaya has to now prove that he can make the next four or five moves to spin the team further ahead, but going into spring training, the Mets are a lot stronger franchise moving forward.

Win now? The Braves and Marlins are still favorites, even if the Mets get Sammy Sosa or Magglio Ordonez. But it's more than immediate gratification, something Minaya and the Wilpons cannot forget.

Starters switching leagues
In this offseason, five recent 20 game winners -- Martinez, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Derek Lowe, Esteban Loaiza -- have gone from the American League to the National League. Martinez has three Cy Youngs and arguably should have had a fourth, not to mention an MVP. The other four have all finished in the top three in Cy Young balloting in the last three years.

As we watched Roger Clemens, Chris Carpenter (who had career-best numbers in most categories) and Jeff Weaver move to the NL, we were reminded that it is far, far easier to go in that direction than the NL to AL. "It's a totally different game," said Curt Schilling, who a month into the season began pitching inside and throwing his curveball. Schilling was great. Javier Vazquez saw his walk-strikeout ratio double and his home run rate skyrocket in the second half. Jon Lieber was very good, because he pounds the strike zone, but Miguel Batista had career highs in homers, ERA, walks, hits, earned runs ... (calling Chan Ho Park).

Wins 2000-2004
Randy Johnson 86
Curt Schilling 85
Greg Maddux 84
Bartolo Colon 82
Mark Mulder 81
Tim Hudson 81
Russ Ortiz 81
Roger Clemens 81
Pedro Martinez 75
Mike Mussina 75
Tom Glavine 75

Martinez, who during the World Series offered the opinion that NL lineups added 30 pitches to his game, should see his ERA drop dramatically, and where his home run rate rose sharply in 2004, it should drop as well.

The question with Mulder, whose ERA went from 3.21 and 6.13 first half/second half, and Hudson, whose ERA rose 1.4 runs and against whom lefties had an OPS of .778., is health. While Billy Beane now will only have to deal with Barry Zito on free agent pitching prices -- and this winter showed how inflated they are -- both Mulder and Hudson should benefit immensely from the leagues and their new environments, which includes different pitching coaches. Lowe is a little more complex, as he was a far better pitcher at Fenway Park. But despite the lessened Dodger defense at third and second base, Dodger Stadium is a great pitcher's park and Lowe still has overpowering sinker stuff.

But what about the pitchers going the other way? Randy Johnson? No problem. Great on great, depending on health. But for those who believe that stuff is more important in the American League, it will be interesting to see how others fare. Matt Clement's stuff is unquestioned, and his 2001-2004 record against AL teams (3.60 ERA, 73 Ks, 80 IP) is a good indicator of that stuff translating to the tougher offensive league. David Wells doesn't really count because he is a strike machine who has won in double figures in both leagues in nine of the last 10 seasons -- the one exception when he had back surgery. Jaret Wright doesn't either, because he won in Cleveland, and, anyway, his indicators (K-BB, HR/9 IP, etc.) are very good.

The one exception after four progressively good seasons in Florida is Carl Pavano, who's not a swing-and-miss pitcher. Ron Shandler's "Baseball Forecaster" has a stat he uses to rate "dominance," a pure stuff indicator. Here are some of the pitchers switching leagues: Johnson (11.1), Clement (9.5), Martinez (9.4), Danny Haren (8.5), Wright (7.8), Wade Miller (7.6), Pavano (5.8), Mulder (5.6) and Hudson (5.0).

Translation: If Pedro is healthy, and there is no reason he won't be, he will vie for the Cy Young. Ditto Randy Johnson. But the most interesting is Clement. OK, he worked with one of the great pitching coaches in Larry Rothschild while with the Cubs, but he is, at the age of 30, capable of being an 18-game winner, in either league.