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Red light C Mike Piazza: When I think of Mike Piazza, I often also think of Ken Griffey Jr.. They’re two players who had amazing peaks and who allowed injuries to take them down to human levels. Both stubbornly insist on playing the position at which they became famous, though Piazza was at least willing to try playing first base, albeit horribly enough to think he may have unconsciously sabotaged the project. He could probably play another five years if he’s willing to be the player Matt LeCroy dreams of being.

Green light 1B Doug Mientkiewicz

Red light 2B Kazuo Matsui: Matsui was so bad last year as to send Clay Davenport back to his translations and to make the Mets double-check his passport to be sure they hadn’t been sent Keiko or Doris instead of the seven-time Japanese All-Star. While the position switch is a short-term negative, his back injury is very worrisome going forward. He showed nothing in spring training to portend a turnaround.

Yellow light SS Jose Reyes: Vern Gambetta worked with Reyes to help take the stress off his hamstrings and lower back before leaving to join Michael Jordan’s company. I met Gambetta at the ASMI Conference, and he had nothing but great things to say about Reyes. Reyes has also worked with Mackie Shillstone, though it should be noted that Reyes has essentially ignored Shillstone’s workout program. All the steals in spring training show that he’s healthy now, yet he’s still just one wrong step away from being the same disappointment he was last season.

Green light 3B David Wright

Red light LF Cliff Floyd: At some point, Cliff Floyd stops being someone that you bang on for being injury-prone. Instead, he’s a player who’s made the best of what he’s been able to do when healthy. It’s the expectation that he’ll play 150+ games that’s unreasonable. Find a platoon advantage that works and use Floyd for what he is rather than complaining about what he isn’t.

Green light CF Carlos Beltran

Red light RF Mike Cameron: Cameron might want to have an allergist check him. He seems allergic to Shea Stadium. The symptoms are varied–leg injuries, injured hands, and bad wrists. It appears to affect his eyes, pushing his strikeouts up. It will be interesting to see how he deals with the position change (it’s usually a short-term negative). So far, he’s looked good in spring training.


Red light SP Pedro Martinez: 244 innings got him a ring and a big contract. The question is whether that workload took more out of Martinez than the off-season can put back into him. Like Jason Varitek for the Red Sox, this is a contract that shouldn’t be thought of as a collection of average amounts over the life of a contract. Martinez’s shoulder just has to hold up long enough to get the Mets a great media deal and, if possible, some playoff appearances. There’s some difference of opinion whether the trade of Sox guru Chris Correnti for Rick Peterson will be a fair one for Martinez.

Red light SP Tom Glavine: Last year, Glavine had a great first half and a bad second half. It wasn’t so much the fatigue that’s the normal cause of that as it seems to be the auto accident he was involved in. While he escaped relatively unharmed, he had a vicious run after the August 10 incident. His age works against him and if we blame the accident for the bad second half, his rating would be yellow. Remember, his contract vesting requires that he pitch 205 innings this season, giving him a lot of incentive to stay in games.

Yellow light SP Kris Benson: Everything you’ve heard is true. His wife is more newsworthy than him. He’s come back slowly from Tommy John, facing shoulder and command problems. He still has the talent that made him a #1 pick inside that arm. Like the rest of the pitchers in this column not named Glavine, the expectation isn’t so much on Benson as it is on Rick Peterson’s ability to do something with him.

Yellow light SP Kaz Ishii: Ishii has control problems. Not your ordinary, everyday control problems, but the kind you’d associate with a pitcher who has insane motion on his pitches, like A.J. Burnett or the pitcher below. The difference is that you’ll take some wildness if there’s upside. Ishii seems more like a panic move after the loss of Steve Trachsel. Perhaps Ben Baumer is just seeing if he can drive Rick Peterson insane.

Red light SP Victor Zambrano: Zambrano is Rick Peterson’s dissertation. He saw something he thought he could fix and the Mets gave up a very shiny bauble–Scott Kazmir–to get him. Now Peterson has to deliver. A flexor strain shut him down. Zambrano has to find command and efficiency to harness his stuff. Add in the risk element of his elbow and shoulder problems and Peterson’s GPA is at risk.

Green light SP Yusmeiro Petit: There’s no real reason to have Petit here. He won’t start the season in the bigs. I just love Petit’s motion, mound savvy, and his name. It’s one you’ll hear a lot in the future.

Green light CL Braden Looper: Rick, please. Do something about Looper’s back leg before I hurt my throat screaming at the screen.

The Mets suffer in comparison with the Yankees, whether in the flags flying in the outfield, in the bottom line, or, most importantly, in the perception of fans. They’re a team that often seems like a parody of themselves, running in circles, yet their on-field success runs counter to the image. The Mets have been in the World Series in the past five seasons, something many teams can’t say, and they still hold some goodwill for their dramatic 1986 championship.

The same is true for injuries. The Wilpon Era in Queens has often seemed confused, with team doctors and trainers coming and going. Ray Ramirez comes in this season as a touted assistant from Texas, learning under the well-regarded Jamie Reed. David Altchek is back as team doctor, so this is essentially a new medical team. They’ll have their work cut out for them. The roster is filled with risks, both calculated and accepted.

Getting Pedro Martinez was a signature move for Omar Minaya, but the right-hander brings with him a questionable shoulder and a heavy workload in addition to his great stuff, shiny ring and midget fetish. Martinez is a risk, but a known one and one that the medical staff and pitching guru Rick Peterson should be able to manage. The rest of the staff is as big a question. There’s an older control artist, a younger guy with great stuff and no command, an older guy with no command, and a Tommy John survivor that’s never lived up to his hype. It’s not only a risky pitching staff–it sounds like the cast of the next “Surreal Life.”

The on-field team is no less risky. Mike Piazza is effective when healthy, but at the end of his useful catching career. Cliff Floyd is still Cliff Floyd. Jose Reyes worked all off-season to get his hamstring trouble under control. Kaz Matsui has been challenged to stay healthy and, you know, hit and field. It’s a veritable crapshoot of baseball injury risk.

As Joe Sheehan tried to teach me last time we were in Vegas, there is some method to the madness of craps. There are odds, there are bets, and there’s Joe’s uncanny ability to read dice. You can walk away with a stack of chips or the money can all go away quickly. Gambling analogies are always dangerous in baseball; however, this one is very accurate. The Mets are playing the long shots, looking to win the division the hard way. Ramirez, Altchek and the rest of the medical staff–including the input of Peterson–are about to get handed the dice.