As Scott has previously mentioned, I am not a typical Mets fan; which is to say that I choose to be optimistic (while still remaining realistic), rather than dwell on all of the negativity (on and off the field) that has surrounded my beloved Amazins over the last few years.
As a man who is presently single (ladies, you're welcome to change that), there is no love in my life like the love I have for baseball, and more specifically, the New York Mets. It boggles my mind when I turn on one of the local sports radio stations or read through the posts in the Mets' usenet newsgroup (alt.sports.baseball.ny-mets) and see and hear the things that alleged Mets fans have to say about their team.
Sports radio is, at best, a vast wasteland where empty-headed goons like Chris Russo, Mike Francessa and Rob Dibble are allowed to make a living, and where an idiot like "Jerome from Manhattan" is allowed to repeatedly subject other listeners to his tired, old raving lunatic schtick and be given his own sound bytes and intro music. My research has shown that you can safely dismiss 98.4% of everything you hear on New York sports radio.
That said, you would think you could seek shelter from the downpour of negativity and stupidity that flows from your radio speakers in a place full of like-minded individuals: the Mets' newsgroup. Well, sir, you would be very far from correct.
If you're a Mets fan, or a baseball fan in general, that has never had the pleasure of reading through the rantings and ravings of the collection of misfits and condescending know-it-all snobs that populate this little corner of the internet, I can only suggest that you find a nearby object, such as a pen, well-sharpened pencil or screwdriver and jam it in your eye six or seven times instead. I assure you that it will be a far less painful experience.
Right about now you're probably wondering when the "glass is half-full" part begins. OK, here goes...
So, why do I think the Mets will be better in '04 than in the past couple of years? Well, they can't really be any worse, can they? Right, right...positivity.
But seriously, despite their widely-publicized and criticized failure to land Vladimir Guerrero, the Mets have made some wise acquisitions this off-season, even going back as far as mid-season in '03 when Jim Duquette replaced the architect for the Mets' recent failures, Steve Phillips.
In their anger over Duquette's failure to land Guerrero, a player who, in my opinion, had little or no interest in playing for the Mets and was merely using them to get the contract he wanted elsewhere, Mets fans seem to have forgotten that this is the guy that managed to unload the contracts of Armando Benitez, Roberto Alomar and Jeromy Burnitz and get value in return for them; bringing back highly-touted prospects like Royce Ring (White Sox) and Victor Diaz (Dodgers).
In a little more than six months on the job, Duquette has done more to replenish the Mets' minor league system than Phillips did in his six years as general manager. The Mets have turned what was considered to be one of the worst minor league systems into one of the best in a relatively short period of time.
As for the players that will make an immediate impact in '04, you have to love the signing of Mike Cameron. In fact, you have to wonder why he didn't have more suitors than he did. He brings a glove in center field that is probably second only to the Braves' slick-fielding Andruw Jones.
At the plate, Cameron should benefit from the change of scenery. He's stated that some of his struggles at the plate last season could be attributed to problems with the batter's eye at Safeco Field.
In addition to his glove, Cameron can usually be counted on to provide in the neighborhood of 20-25 home runs and 75+ RBI. He won't hit for much of an average, but should provide a boost on the bases to the suddenly-speedy Mets.
Other reasons for optimism:
1) Kaz Matsui: Even if Matsui puts up numbers that are half of what he did in Japan, he will still be better than any shortstop in the history of the Mets.
What he will do offensively remains to be seen, but he comes to the U.S. with an impressive resume.
Defensively, we are told to expect great things from Matsui. The Mets must believe this if they were willing to move mega-prospect Jose Reyes over to 2B. Those two should combine to make a double-play combination that will be very entertaining to watch.
2) A full season of Jose Reyes: Believe the hype! Reyes is the real deal, and he won't even be old enough to legally drink a $7 Shea Stadium beer until mid-June.
Recent reports suggest that Reyes isn't quite 100% recovered from the nasty ankle injury that ended his season early, but he's very close and there doesn't seem to be any concern on the part of the Mets. It's also said that his transition to 2B is going extremely well.
3) Full, healthy seasons from Cliff Floyd and Mike Piazza (hopefully!): OK, so maybe this is more of a 2004 Mets Wish List kind of thing, but healthy years from Floyd and Piazza would certainly go a long way towards making those "meaningful games in September" we've heard so much about a realistic possibility.
4) A vastly improved defense: The Mets defense in the early part of 2003 was just awful. With Reyes, Matsui and Cameron up the middle, it should be anything but awful. In fact, it should be very exciting to watch.
5) A more confident and probably improved pitching staff as a result of the improved defense: Good defense will always inspire confidence in pitchers. The pitchers on the '03 Mets didn't have many reasons to have confidence in their defense. That shouldn't be much of a problem this year.
You have to believe that Tom Glavine will bounce back and put up respectable numbers after posting his first losing record since 1990 last season. He battled some nagging injuries and the controversial QuesTec system last year, but, being the pro and competitor he is, it's not unreasonable to expect that he'll make the necessary adjustments to return to his winning ways.
The years don't seem to have caught up to Al Leiter yet, as he continues to put up consistent, albeit unspectacular numbers at the top of the rotation. Until he stops doing that, I'll continue to expect pretty much the same of him.
Steve Trachsel was the Mets most consistent and effective starter for all of 2003, and he managed that on a really bad team. Things can only get better when he's pitching for what should be a much-improved team in 2004.
6) No more closer-by-committee: How much of an upgrade Braden Looper is over Armando Benitez is debatable. What's not debatable is that he didn't fold under the pressure of facing the Yankees the way Benitez did, and his reward for that was a World Series ring.
At very least, if Looper starts blowing saves, he won't be getting grossly over-paid to do so. He should be fine, though.
Will the Mets contend for a division title, or even the Wild Card this season? Probably not, but they will be an improved team that should be able to finish above .500
With a replenished minor league system and a manager in Art Howe that has proven that he can handle young players well, there is reason to believe that the Mets will return to prominence in the not-too-distant future. Just don't tell Mets fans that, you might ruin their day.
OK, I don't feel like typing anymore.