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March 4, 2004

Team Health Reports

New York Mets

by Will Carroll

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Lineup

SS Kazuo Matsui
2B Jose Reyes
LF Cliff Floyd
C/1B Mike Piazza
CF Mike Cameron
1B/C Jason Phillips
RF Karim Garcia / Shane Spencer
3B Ty Wigginton

Rotation

SP Tom Glavine
SP Al Leiter
SP Steve Trachsel
SP Jae Weong Seo
SP Aaron Heilman

Closer

CL Braden Looper

It was nice to watch the team play as I wrote the Team Health Report. It should be, if not successful, at least more interesting to watch the Mets in 2004. As the team moves away from a Phillips Era that led to one World Series and much woe, and into what could probably be best described as the Wilpon Era, the team begins to turn over what was an old, fragile lineup.

It's an accepted, but not always true, tenet that younger teams are healthier. Clearly, young pitchers are more at risk in terms of workload, but in fact, there are significant changes in the body over the normal range of ages in a baseball career. Young players tend to have more tears and trauma, while older players tend to have problems of muscles and bone. Like most things, there are too many factors involved to say that there is any one rule. Team health, like players, is very individual.

The two yellows at the top of the rotation aren't terribly concerning to me. Both Leiter and Glavine have operated for the last several years as "crafty left-handers," rarely having problems even when taxed. Leiter especially recognizes the dangers of Dallas Green-style workloads, having the scars to prove it. Pitchers of this age are already nearly singular and have to be special to make it this far. There's a point where the aches and pains destroy their effectiveness and it usually comes in a hurry.

With the acquisition of Rick Peterson and the well-publicized partnership with ASMI, Mets fans have something to look forward to. But don't expect miracles this season; most of what Peterson will be able to do takes both time and the assistance of the organization. It remains to be seen whether the minor league system will be as tightly integrated and controlled as Peterson had in Oakland, but it's a key to the system. Without the organizational support, Peterson's influence on coming arms like Heilman, Scott Kazmir, and Pat Strange will be muted.

In the field, most of the questions surround the core of the lineup. The problems of Mike Piazza last season are well-documented and likely to remain a problem in some form. He's already having problems early in camp, but the injury is on the other side. Compensation injury? Perhaps and well worth watching. The move to at least a part time stint at first will take some level of wear and tear off, but there's no way to tell just how much. Most catcher to position conversions happen at a stage where the player cannot perform behind the plate or is in steep decline. Add in a very unusual "platoon" arrangement with Phillips and Piazza remains a red light. Think Ken Griffey Jr.--something's going to happen, we just don't know exactly what or when.

Coming off a productive season where he fought through Achilles tendon problems, Cliff Floyd should feel much better patrolling the outfield and running the bases. Floyd's injury history is so extensive that I'm not entirely sure if the heel fix will help much in terms of predictive value, but feeling good is important to production. That, at least, is a positive. He's never going to be a green light player, so enjoy the health while it lasts.

Mike Cameron was brought in for his defense as much as any other factor. Hearing that he has a foot problem certainly makes one worry that some of his great reaction speed might suffer. He didn't expect to steal as much hitting behind Floyd and Piazza, but even that reduced expectation may need further reduction. Cameron has been relatively healthy through his career and it's something of a positive that the team medical staff thinks he will not need surgery.

At the top of the order, Kaz Matsui has begun his US stay with an injured finger, but he's been extremely health in Japan, according to one of my Japansese sources. Matsui projects to be everything the Mets were looking for when they moved Reyes across the bag. Reyes has a mild concern in that at a young age and as a speed player, he's shown a tendency to hamstring strains. One nasty tear or loss of flexibility could put a big dent in Reyes' potential.

The Mets appear to be at the stage where they must stay locked in on the future despite having players at their core that will undoubtedly not be with the next winning Mets team. New York teams operate under different rules and aren't allowed normal rebuilding programs, but that's a poor reason for abandoning a necessary process.

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