The 40th anniversary edition of the New York Mets reflects a philosophical change that sets it apart from the previous 39.
The Mets went ballistic, abandoning their “pitching wins pennants” attitude for an offensive machine never before seen at Shea Stadium.
The addition of Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar and Jeromy Burnitz has lowered the odds to win the National League pennant from 8-1 to 4-1. Putting those bats in a lineup with Mike Piazza, and Edgardo Alfonzo gives New York potentially the greatest run-producing lineup in team history.
That is, of course, if there is a season.
Major league baseball approved the sale of the Florida Marlins and Montreal Expos, which would ultimately hand ownership of the Canadian team to a corporation owned by the 29 franchises.
The transaction is part of a complex merry-go-round that also involves John Henry, who was given approval Jan. 16 to drop ownership of the Marlins in order to purchase the Boston Red Sox from the Jean R. Yawkey Foundation for $660 million.
Henry wants to sell the Marlins to Jeffrey Loria for $158.5 million. Loria, who owns the Expos, would then hand the franchise to major league baseball. If all this takes place, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson is likely to become Montreal’s manager.
There is also the possibility of contraction, which would involve the dissolving of two major league franchises (most likely Minnesota and Montreal), which the players association is dead set against. Add that to the strong possibility of another strike, and one can see how mixed up this sport is.
But, the Mets decision to change the makeup of their team has provided a nice diversion from all the political garbage. New York wasn’t afraid to deal popular players such as Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Benny Agbayani, or to become involved in an 11-player, three-team deal.
The Mets finished 82-80 last year thanks to a late push in December that threw a scare into both Atlanta and second-place Philadelphia. The Phillies opened at 18-1 to make the World Series and haven’t done much in the offseason except to re-sign third baseman Scott Rolen.
Clearly, the signing of Vaughn and Alomar gives New York the best infield in the team’s history. Not only do Vaughn and Alomar provide power and offensive punch, but they add to splendid defense to an infield that already includes Alfonso (who moves to third with Robin Ventura gone) and shortstop Ray Ordonez.
The Mets also picked up outfield power in Burnitz along with speed and stolen-base potential in Roger Cedeno and Gary Matthews Jr. Cedeno should solve the troublesome leadoff position in the batting order.
The loss of Kevin Appier and Glendon Rusch take away from the pitching staff. However, if oft-injured hurlers Shawn Estes (San Francisco) and Jeff D’Amico (Milwaukee) can give New York enough quality outings, we just could see a second Subway Series in the last three years.
The big winner from all of these moves could be Piazza, who led the Mets in average (.300), homers (36), RBI (94) and runs (81) and carried the team in the final month.
General Manager Steve Phillips also threw out the welcome mat to 35-year-old to free agent infielder John Valentin. The former Boston Red Sox third baseman was inked to a minor league contract. If Valentin can be a healthy backup for an injury-prone Alfonzo, New York will hardly miss Robin Ventura.
The Mets have been trying to keep up with the Yankees, while also matching Atlanta move for move. The Yanks are 2-1 favorites to win the World Series for the fourth time in the last five years based on their acquisition of slugger Jason Giambi from Oakland.
Atlanta pulled even with the Mets at 8-1 and just behind World Champion Arizona (7-1) after getting Gary Sheffield from the Dodgers in exchange for Met-killer Brian Jordan.
Seattle, which tied the all-time record for most victories in a season last year, is rated at 4-1 to win the World Series. The Mariners were eliminated by the Yankees in five games the ALCS.
The Chicago Cubs look to be a very enticing selection on the futures list at 15-1. LVSC has not moved the Cubs from its opening odds, despite acquiring OF Moises Alou from Houston.
Having Alou in the same outfield with Sammy Sosa, and Fred McGriff returning for another season at first base, gives Chicago its most potent unit in the middle of the batting order since the days of Ron Santo, Ernie Banks and Billy Williams four decades ago.
Heading to Mets:
2B: Roberto Alomar
1B: Mo Vaughn
OF: Gary Matthews Jr
OF: Roger Cedeno
OF: Jeromy Burnitz
LHP: Shawn Estes
RHP: Jeff D’Amico
RHP: Pedro Astacio
RHP: David Weathers
Leaving New York:
3B: Robin Ventura
OF: Matt Lawton
OF: David Justice
OF: Benny Agbayani
OF: Tsuyoshi Shinjo
INF: Todd Zeile
LHP: Glendon Rusch
RHP: Kevin Appier