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|Friday, January 19
|New York Mets
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
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.
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 Rotation
Glendon Rusch Closer
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:
[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 ESPN.com. His baseball column runs three times per week from November through February.
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