On the 15th day of Christmas, the Mets gave to me …

It was a few days after Epiphany, the Eastern Orthodox Christmas, but yesterday had that feeling of Christmas morning. Had he come overnight? Had midnight led to the most sought-after free agent toy being laid beneath the Mets’ tree? I woke up Sunday morning and rushed to the warm glow of ESPN to see if the midnight deadline for Carlos Beltran to resign with the Houston Astros had come and gone without any word of a deal. Indeed, the morning reports were certain that he wasn’t going back to Texas, leaving the Mets as the primary suitor.

The Mets got their Alex Rodriguez. Certainly, they’d be in better shape these days had Steve Phillips not screwed up four years ago with the made-up claims of Rodriguez’ and Scott Boras’ outrageous demands. Beltran wasn’t as big a free-agent as Rodriguez, who is one of the two best right-handed hitters in the game (Albert Pujols) and, at the time, was one of the best defensive shortstops in the game (now a mute point). Beltran is, however, one of the best defensive centerfielders (the Mets now have two, with Mike Cameron likely moving to right) and probably the best switch-hitter in the game today. He’s a true five-tool player and the kind of in-his-prime cornerstone the Mets need.

Indeed, they haven’t had this kind 0f top-of-the-line impact player since they acquired Mike Piazza in 1998 and two years later, they had surrounded him with the support needed to make a World Series run. Now, Piazza is one of the aging veterans on his way out. The starting rotation has three such pitchers in Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel, followed by two up-and-coming youngsters (Kris Benson, Victor Zambrano) whom the Mets hope turn the corner with that kind of veteran leadership from which to learn. In the field, first base is still a weak link unless Jason Phillips can hit closer to .280 with 15 or (longshot here) 20 home runs instead of .220 with a dozen dingers. But the rest of the infield has relatively young, promising players in Kaz Matsui, Jose Reyes and David Wright. The outfield corners have Cameron and the dangerous but fragile Cliff Floyd, one of whom is a likely candidate to be dealt if any deals happen between now and opening day.

I’m not getting ahead of myself just yet. The Mets aren’t going too far this year, not with the bullpen they have. Other than Braden Looper as the closer, I’m not sure any slot in the relief corps is decided. Felix Heredia? Please. He’ll be lucky to serve a day as the left-handed setup man. By Memorial Day, he’ll be handling long relief mop-up duty in blowouts.

This has been the most exciting, active offseason I can remember in a long time and it just has me more excited for those mid-February pitchers-and-catchers reporting dates.

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