Spring is when a young man's fancy turns to....baseball.
Every team is a pennant contender in spring training, every pitcher a potential 20-game winner and every batter a .300 hitter.
Unfortunately, the cream rises to the top pretty quickly in the Major Leagues and pretenders fall to the bottom.
Will the 2009 version of the New York Mets, in their first season in CitiField, be pretenders or contenders?
It has been 23 years since the Mets have won a World Series, the longest drought in their history. They went 17 years between titles from 1969 to 1986.
It would be simplistic to say, "Well, the Mets improved the area that killed them last year, so, of course, they should win the pennant." Well, not so fast.
Yes, the Mets spent wisely and got K-Rod coming off a record-breaking save save at a reasonable price. And. yes, they got JJ Putz to pitch the eighth inning.
They also excised the main culprits of last year's collapse from the bullpen including Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez, and Scott Schoeneweis as well as the reliable Joe Smith who went in the Putz trade.
Yes, the bullpen, which blew 28 saves last year, will be better in 2009 but how about the rest of the Mets.
The Mets did nothing to improve an offense which had the second most runs in the National League last year (tied with the Phillies). The bats, though failed at the most inopportune times such as the final weekend when they could manage only five runs in three games against the Marlins.
Questions abound both in the starting lineup and the starting rotation.
The core, Reyes, Wright, Beltran and Delgado are back.
Each almost played a full complement of 162 games last year. Can that happen again?
Are we going to see the "he ought to be released", tired bat Delgado from the first half of 2008 or the home run hitting Delgado of the second half?
Will Luis Castillo be revived and become a contributor or will he become the latest in a long line of imported second baseman to fail with the Mets, following in the footsteps of Carlos Baerga, Roberto Alomar and Kaz Matsui? He lost weight and seems to be playing better this spring but it still looks he would have to hit the ball twice for him to reach the outfield.
Can Tatis and Murphy replicate last year's success?
How about Ryan Church? Can he fully rebound from his concussions? He was the Mets MVP until he was hurt in a collision at second but only a shell the rest of the season.
In addition to failing to get an outfielder, and second baseman, the Mets also did not get a catcher to compete with Brian Schneider or the oft-injured Ramon Castro.
Time will tell if the Mets should have gotten Orlando Hudson, Raul Ibanez or Ivan Rodriguez to shore up their hitting and fielding.
The Mets' bench is similar, with similar weaknesses.
Jeremy Reed replaces Endy Chavez as the good fielding, lefty hitter and Alex Cora replaces Damion Easley in the infield but if Nick Evans goes to the minors, there is little right-handed hitting on the bench.
The biggest questions, though, are on the mound.
Santana is solid but the rest of the starters are question marks.
Will Pelfry slide back or continue to improve? Will Maine recover from his surgery? Which Oliver Perez will show up? He's looked awful this spring both in the WBC and with the Mets. Olli signed a big contract this winter. Will he become complacent now that he got his big payday with the Mets wishing they had signed Derek Lowe? Will the ageless Livan Hernandez be the answer as the fifth starter?
The front end of the bullpen (or is it the back end) has been greatly improved with K-Rod and Putz but remember, the Mets had a top-notch closer in Billy Wagner for most of last year.
The Mets also added Sean Green to their bullpen but at a cost of Joe Smith.
In addition to K-Rod, Putz and Green, the Mets will have only one lefty, Pedro Feliciano, a holdover, as well as Brian Stokes, Darren O'Day, a sidearmer, and rookie Bobby Parnell. That's two solid pitcher (though Putz had a poor 2008) and at least three questions marks in the middle.
While the Mets do not look appreciably improved for 2009, the Phils look worse with the suspension of JC Romero and the loss of Met-killer Pat Burrell, and no one else in the division looks ready top challenge, though the Barves could contend if Glavine and Lowe pitch well.
As a Mets fan since 1971, who has seen the highs, lows, ups, and downs at Shea, here's hoping that the Mets make the first year at CitiField more memorable than the last year at Shea Stadium.
Till next time, Lute
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