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    The Greg Maddux Watch: Stunning at 355

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    Baseball Told the Right Way
    In-depth Baseball analysis on various topics regarding the sport we all love!

      Against all better judgement…….
    Since it is early in the year and you already saw our picks, I thought I might bring up a team that has a real possibility to surprise people this season. I never really understood the obsession with rooting for underdogs, so I'm not talking about everyone's 2004 version Angels or Marlins who will make a run at the title. Instead, there are teams that have the potential, if everything breaks just right, to be a lot better than most "analysts" predict, and possibly even make the playoffs. More than this, there are a few teams moving in the right direction, making strides to set themselves up to be a serious contender in a few years, or when the Red Sox and Yankees are both scratching their heads trying to figure out how to overcome 3 years of “win now at all costs” strategy. Against my better judgement, I have to admit that I like the Mets. I usually root heavily against them but the Amazing Mess (a.k.a. Mets) really do look like a team that has got their head on straight.

    Needless to say, this hasn’t been the case for a team that was in the World Series as recently as 2000. Since 2000, the Mets have been going the wrong way on the steep path. 94, 82, 75, 66 wins each season and Mets fans are still trying to figure out what the hell happened. Four years of needlessly throwing away money for overpaid, overweight, over-the-hill, overrated, injury prone, and just plain bad players will do that to an organization. A lot of this can be blamed on management, Steve Phillips in particular, and this is a popular battle cry from Mets fans. But please Met fans, Phillips at least deserves credit for building a world series team and I also remember those very same Mets fans getting excited at signings like Glavine or Floyd and being ecstatic at the trade that brought Jeromy Burnitz and Jeff D’Amico to Queens.

    No matter though, that is all in the past. The Mets have new management and coaching and new reasons to be optimistic. Hopefully, they have looked back and learned what is meant by prime and career years (among other things). Lets look forward and see what the new management has done so far under the reign of Jim Duquette.

    The first thing JD did was purge all of the mediocre veterans for whatever spare parts other teams were willing to give up. Could he have gotten better deals? Possibly. He didn’t get back any top prospects, but he didn’t exactly have superstars to trade away either. Victor Diaz, a 22-year-old 2B, and Royce Ring, a potential future closer get honorable mention, but credit him in this case with recognizing mistakes and trying to cut the losses.

    His biggest offseason move was signing Mike Cameron for 3 yrs. $19.5M. This was more of a purpose signing than anything else. I'll explain. After taking over, Jim Duquette quickly hired a stats guy, and if you noticed, the A’s were the other team that was heavily after Cameron. Player evaluation is now being approached in ways your typical batting average and counting stats GM has yet to grasp. This is Duquette's first attempt at trying to break himself free from the previous management and show that the old way is out. (although he was, of course, a part of it and deserves a share of the blame)

    For example, by all measures, Mike Cameron is one of the best defensive CF in the game. Actually, Cameron is one of the few CF’s that can even claim to be sniffing Darrin Erstad's ass in terms of defensive ability. ***According to UZR, Cameron saved an average of 26 runs a season from 2000-2003. Baseball Prospectus had him saving 21 in 2003, and Bill James’ Win Shares gave him 7.7 win shares, or worth about 2½ wins by his defense alone! Its not like the guy can't hit either, a line of .260/.350/.450 and a 20/20 season is probably reasonable to expect. Mets fans will be up in arms with a .260 average and a lot of strikeouts, but the league average for CFs is .269/.330/.410. In Shea, a pitchers park, it would be less, and Cameron’s moving from another pitchers park in Seattle so you can expect a line similar to his career averages.

    *** If you would like an explanation of defensive stats, email me and I’d be happy to explain them, or check out some of the links on the right. And no, Andruw Jones is not even in the same ballpark as Erstad or Cameron, although he'll undeservingly win another Gold Glove. And yes, Jeter still sucks. ***

    Duquette also signed “little” Matsui to play short (stats). I'm not about to try and predict how well he will do, but if he can hit ~.290 with a little power, and play good defense then he will be a solid signing at $7M when Tejada got $10M. Based on early scouting reports and his numbers in Japan, Matsui will achieve at least that, and could very well surpass it. The real question is how the move to 2B will affect Jose Reyes, which brings me to the young kids.

    The young kids are the real reason to get excited about this team. There is a lot to offer here. Jae Seo and Jason Phillips provided pretty solid performances last year. Aaron Heilman struggled, but most scouts think he will turn into a solid middle of the rotation starter. Jose Reyes struggled early, then adjusted and put together a pretty good start to his career. In fact, the pattern for Reyes has been for him to struggle for a bit when he moves to a higher level, and then he makes adjustments and starts terrorizing pitchers. This coupled with the fact that he has been young for every level along the way bodes real well for him in the future. Just hope the move to 2B won't negatively affect him, or the Matsui signing could be a disaster.

    The rest of the Mets farm system is extremely top-heavy, but there are three very good prospects that could step in as early as 2005. Justin Huber is another all-offense, no-defense catcher who makes the move of Piazza to first an even better idea. David Wright should be able to step up and fill the gaping hole at third the Mets have recently been plugging with scrubs like Super Joe and Ty "not Vlad" Wigginton. Lastly, the prize of the Mets farm system is, of course, 20-year-old phenom Scott Kazmir. All Kazmir did was strike out 179 batters in 127.3 innings in his young minor league career. If he stays healthy (read: the Mets don’t AJ Burnett his arm) he could be dominant real soon, taking a path similar to Josh Beckett. In the 2004 Baseball Prospectus, they write about Kazmir: His stuff is so good he could spread it on sandwiches. Gotta love that, Mets fans.

    This could be the lineup/rotation somewhere around 2005/2006:
    C: Huber
    1B: Piazza (w/ Jason Phillips getting ~400 ABs between C, 1B, and maybe LF)
    2B: Reyes
    3B: Wright
    SS: Matsui
    LF: Floyd (yes he’ll still be around)
    CF: Cameron
    RF: Free agent (Vlad would sure have looked good here, eh Mets fans, but I guess a little leaguer shagging fly balls would be better than Cedeno)
    Scott Kazmir
    Aaron Heilman
    Al Leiter
    Tom Glavine
    Jae Seo

    With such a young and cheap team (and a potential $100M payroll) there will be plenty of money to replace Leiter and Glavine with some quality free agents. Derek Lowe, Matt Morris, one of Mulder/Hudson/Zito come immediately to mind. If I were a Mets fan, I would be reasonably excited for the future.