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Sport Sections
Friday, January 19
New York Mets

The Numbers
94-68, .580 (5th overall)
$89.7 million (5th overall)

Runs scored:
807, 7th in NL
Runs allowed:
738, 3rd in NL
Run differential:
+69, 9th overall

Starters' ERA:
4.07, 2nd in NL
Bullpen ERA:
4.37, 8th in NL

279-208, .573 (3rd overall)
3-year payroll:
$219.9 million (5th overall)

2000 in review
What went right?
The pitchers and fielders (with a little help from Shea Stadium) combined to allow just 738 runs, third-fewest in the National League and only 24 more than Atlanta. The hitters ranked seventh in the league in run production, thanks to superstars Mike Piazza and Edgardo Alfonzo, both of whom were among the very best in the NL at their positions.

What went wrong?
Not much, until the World Series. Third baseman Robin Ventura suffered a serious decline from his excellent 1999 campaign. Bobby Jones struggled terribly before the All-Star break (but bounced back in the second half and tossed a one-hitter in October). After an amazing April, right fielder Derek Bell batted .237 the rest of the way.

In retrospect, the critical decisions were:
1. Trading for Mike Hampton. After a bizarre start -- 36 walks in his first seven starts -- Hampton settled down and finished with a 3.14 ERA, fifth-best in the NL.

2. Signing Todd Zeile. With the departure of John Olerud to his hometown, the Mets desperately needed a slugging first baseman. Zeile didn't set Flushing on fire, but he did give the Mets enough production at the plate, and even played decently in his first season as a first baseman.

3. Keeping Benny Agbayani. More on him below.

Looking ahead to 2001
Key questions
1. Who's going to play right field? The Mets wisely allowed Derek Bell to go his merry way, but unfortunately they didn't have much of a backup plan.

2. Does (Kevin Appier + Steve Trachsel) = (Mike Hampton + Bobby Jones)? Well, no. But Bobby Valentine needs to find an equation that does work, or it's going to be a long season for Mets fans accustomed to postseason parties.

Dave Campbell's
Man on the Spot
Because of what Robin Ventura did in 1999, there was still a fear factor in right-handers who faced him last year. Mike Piazza still got some pitches to hit. But if he's going to continue to hit behind Piazza in the lineup, Ventura will have to rebound. Last year's slide could be attributed to lingering effects of injuries. But he's going to have to prove that because the Mets are going to need to score a few more runs this year -- they acquired virtually no offensive help in the offseason. Everything was down for Ventura -- batting average, home runs, RBI -- last year. And he is supposed to be a big run producer for New York. If he continues to struggle at the plate, Piazza will see fewer and fewer good pitches to hit.

Can expect to play better
Third baseman Robin Ventura is not really a .301 hitter (as he was in 1999), nor is he a .232 hitter (as he was in 2000). Ventura should rebound to his typical .265 range, and if his shoulder is healthy, he'll hit 30-plus home runs.

Can expect to play worse
Nobody, really. If we have to pick one, however, it's probably Todd Zeile. He's 35, and struggled in the second half last season (.224, after hitting .305 in the first half).

Projected lineup
RF Timo Perez
2B Edgardo Alfonzo
C Mike Piazza
3B Robin Ventura
1B Todd Zeile
LF Benny Agbayani
CF Jay Payton
SS Rey Ordonez

Al Leiter
Rick Reed
Kevin Appier
Steve Trachsel
Glendon Rusch

Armando Benitez

A closer look
Let history remember that the 2000 New York Mets, who wound up in the World Series, featured a projected Opening Day outfield comprised of:

  • A 41-year-old, injury-prone left fielder who didn't want to be there;

  • A 35-year-old, injury-prone center fielder with a .388 career slugging percentage; and

  • A 31-year-old, injury-prone right fielder who had batted .236 with 12 home runs in 1999.

    It was perhaps the worst set of starting outfielders in the National League, along with San Diego. How -- I asked in a preseason column -- could the Mets compete with the Braves when Rickey Henderson (LF), Darryl Hamilton (CF) and Derek Bell (RF) were all expected to play key roles? Even with Piazza and Alfonzo, how could the Mets score enough runs?

    Fortunately, Benny Agbayani was on the scene ... if just barely. According to the media, Mets GM Steve Phillips wanting to farm out Agbayani before the season started, and Bobby Valentine wanted to keep him. And in the second game of the season, on March 30 in Tokyo, Agbayani pinch-hit a grand slam in the 11th inning to beat the Cubs, 5-1.

    And so he stayed. Didn't spend a single day in Norfolk, Virginia (home of the Mets' Triple-A affiliate). And with Rickey Henderson sulking, ailing, and eventually ending up in Seattle, Agbayani wound up getting 350 at-bats. He slugged .480 and posted an outstanding .391 on-base percentage.

    A week into the season, Hamilton got hurt. And by the time he returned to the team in August, rookie Jay Payton -- who opened the season as the club's fifth outfielder -- had established himself as the everyday center fielder. And a pretty good everyday center fielder, at that.

    As it turned out, what the Mets considered their only real outfield strength turned out as their only real outfield weakness. After a strong start, Derek Bell gave the Mets very little in right field, and the club made no attempt to re-sign him after the season.

    So a year ago, the Mets didn't have much of an outfield, but Bobby Valentine made the best of a bad situation. This year? According to the latest USA Today Baseball Weekly,

    [Darren] Bragg ... will compete for outfield time with Benny Agbayani, Timo Perez, Darryl Hamilton and Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Jay Payton will play center.

    A year ago, Bell was handed a job, even though he entered the 2000 season with a 761 career OPS; paltry for a corner outfielder. This year, Benny Agbayani enters the 2001 season with an 871 career OPS. If he really has to compete for outfield time, something is very, very amiss in Metland. Let's assume, then, that Agbayani takes his rightful spot in left field. So who's in right?

    Yes, Timo Perez played well last October. No, there's not any evidence that suggests he's a championship-quality right fielder.

    Given Tsuyoshi Shinjo's so-so stats in Japan, he might not even make the 25-man roster out of spring training, let alone win a regular job.

    Darryl Hamilton is still Darryl Hamilton.

    Darren Bragg is still Darren Bragg.

    Take heart, Mets fans. Perez might develop, Hamilton's not so bad when he's healthy, and Bragg ... well, Bragg will keep the laundry machines busy. One way or another, Bobby Valentine will get the most out of what he's got.

    A more difficult test of Valentine's powers of alchemy relates to the pitching staff. Can he somehow transform Kevin Appier (4.52 ERA in 2000) into Mike Hampton (3.14). Both pitchers won 15 games last year and both walked a lot of guys -- Appier for the Athletics, Hampton for the Mets -- but nothing else about their seasons were the same. In 2000, the Mets' 4.16 team ERA ranked third in the National League.

    Valentine's job is to take the staff to such rarified territory again. If he doesn't, the Mets won't win 94 games again. However, the Braves figure to be weaker in 2001, too, so expect another dogfight in the East.

    Rob Neyer is a Senior Writer for His baseball column runs three times per week from November through February.

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