Mets poised for return to playoffs
Offense, bullpen remain strengths; rotation has question marks
NEW YORK -- WHIP, OPS, ERA and RISP aside, the Mets were the premier team in the National League last season because they scored a lot of runs and allowed relatively few. Not only did they score the third most runs in the league, but they also allowed the third fewest. No other team achieved so high a rank in the two areas that -- when all is said, done, measured and analyzed -- determine a team's overall success.
Not surprisingly, the Mets' 97-victory season also produced the greatest positive runs differential in the league.
Now let's see them do it again.
Their acquisition of Moises Alou and the anticipated progression of their three most dynamic players -- Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and David Wright -- suggest the Mets again will be a formidable offensive force, perhaps the league's most productive, as they were into early September last season.
Whether their pitching, particularly their starting pitching, will be as effective as it was in 2006 is another issue.
The Mets' need to become a younger pitching team and their unsuccessful attempts to acquire a proven pitcher for the front of their rotation have left them neither well-armed nor certain about their personnel. Most teams with postseason aspirations have more specific notions about their rotations in the first weeks of February. But as the Mets pack for Port St. Lucie and 6 1/2 weeks of "teachin' and bleachin'," they are 100 percent sure of no more than 60 percent of their five-man unit.
Perhaps that's not so bad.
"I think our organization was smart in not spending the money on [Barry] Zito," Tom Glavine said Monday, a reference to the seven-year, $126-million deal that the Giants gave the free agent the Mets had pursued. "I think that we were smart in not pursuing some of the rumored trades and giving up some of the guys that we were rumored to be giving up.
"In the end, we did all of the right things, and we're going to go into Spring Training in a situation where there's going to be a lot of competition. And that's not a bad thing."
Glavine, as does general manager Omar Minaya, sees quality in the collection assembling in Port St. Lucie -- despite the absence of Pedro Martinez, who isn't expected to pitch until August, if then -- and the extremes likely to be represented in the roattion.
Glavine and Orlando Hernandez have been designated the No. 1 and 2 starters. They will be, respectively, 41 and either 36 or 40 come Opening Day.
The other nine are mostly inexperienced. Indeed, Oliver Perez (111), Jorge Sosa (74), Dave Williams (71), John Maine (24), Jason Vargas (18), Alay Soler (eight), Mike Pelfrey (four), Phil Humber (none) and non-roster invitee Aaron Sele (352) have combined for 662 starts in the big leagues, five fewer than Glavine has made combined in the regular season and postseason.
"I think this year," Glavine said, "while there is some question about what those guys are going to be, I'm excited about seeing [them] compete because there are some pretty good arms."
Manager Willie Randolph hasn't identified Maine as the No. 3 starter, but Maine is all but certain to have that distinction when the season begins April 1.
That leaves two rotation spots open for eight, perhaps seven, pitchers with varying resumes, stuff and potential. Each option has its warts.
If the club had its druthers, homegrowns Pelfrey and Humber would assert themselves in their exhibition game auditions, win the jobs and blossom quickly into the big-league pitchers the Mets expect them to become and thereby validate the club's 2004 and '05 drafts. That scenario probably is too much to ask though; two young starters on the same roster rarely establish themselves in one summer, especially on a team that expects to contend for first place, and therefore can't afford to suffer the growing pains all pitchers endure.
The more likely scenario has one of the two, probably Pelfrey, winning a rotation assignment and Perez or one of the other more veteran candidates winning the other.
Perez impressed -- or teased -- the Mets late last season, pitching a five-hit shutout against the Braves on Sept. 6, winning his first postseason start despite allowing five runs in 5 2/3 innings, and affording them a chance to win the clinching game in the National League Championship Series. Nonetheless, he remains a project for pitching coach Rick Peterson. Sosa is older but in the same class.
Soler and Vargas rarely are mentioned by the Mets, and Williams underwent surgery for a herniated disc in his neck Jan. 31 and may be unavailable until June. His status is a mystery. And Sele is 36 and not on the 40-man roster. So who can say about the four of them beyond this? Sele usually is a first-half pitcher, so if none of the young candidates can cut it early, he may serve as a substitute until one is ready.
"We're in a much better position than we were a year ago in terms of the quality of the guys who are going to be competing for those spots," Glavine said. "Last year we came to Spring Training with quantity, maybe not much quality. And we pieced it together and did a good job."
Last year, Victor Zambrano won a place in the rotation out of Spring Training. Damaged, surgically repaired and a free agent, he was talking with the Mets as recently as Jan. 26. But he signed with the Blue Jays.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.