The Mets are better off

The Mets couldn’t pull off the free agent trifecta.

In the end, I think the Mets are better off without Carlos Delgado. He’s certainly a player you want on your team, and I would have taken him for four years at around $45 million, but to look at what the Marlins signed him for, I’m glad he went south. It would have been nice to keep him out of the division, but there’s only so much you can do.

First of all, the guy’s going to be 33 when the season starts. Carlos Beltran is five years younger and Pedro Martinez is a pitcher. It’s different giving four years to a 33-year-old pitcher than to a 33-year-old slugger.

Second, you’re taking him out of SkyDome as well as the American League. The pitching’s going to be tougher and in addition to adjusting to a new league and a new city, he’s going to be hitting in a less forgiving ballpark. Shea probably would have been better for him than Dolphins Stadium, but neither can promise him 40, 45 home runs the way Oriole Park would have.

Finally, the Mets need defense. With Mike Piazza behind the plate, Cliff Floyd in left field and Kaz Matsui learning second base (not to mention showing none of the defensive prowess last year he was alleged to have had in Japan), the Mets need a glovemaster at first base. I’ve been a proponent of this since November. I like the idea of someone like John Olerud scooping up whatever the young infield throws at him. That can only help Matsui, Jose Reyes and David Wright improve and gain confidence. I’d be happy to see Olerud come back to Shea, riding the 7 train again from Manhattan on gamedays. But it sounds like the Mets are on the verge of sending a Class A minor-leaguer and some cash to Boston for Doug Mientkiewicz and his baseball. (“Have you seen my baseball? Have you seen my baseball?”) That would be a fine deal, too. Travis Lee is the worst option of the three, but he’d fill the void. Sorry, Jason Phillips, but you’re strictly the backup catcher now. Maybe if you had hit .300 and knocked 15 or 20 balls out of the park you’d have a shot at a platoon or something.

What I don’t understand about ESPN’s coverage of Delgado’s signing is the graphic that asked if Florida was now the NL’s best team. I don’t see how that’s even a question because you can’t even pinpoint the top team in the NL East, and even if you could, do any of them match up with the Cardinals? Maybe Florida has the edge in that fantasy category — on paper — but the lineup suffers a severe drop after the top five (Juan Pierre, Luis Castillo, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Delgado, Mike Lowell). The rotation has nothing but question marks after A.J. Burnett. Can Dontrelle Willis pitch like he did in 2003 more than he did in 2004? Can Josh Beckett stay healthy? Can Al Leiter get through the fifth inning in less than 100 pitches? Can their rotation match up with the Mets’? Ismael Valdez vs. Victor Zambrano? Will Guillermo Mota have any trouble adjusting to the closer’s role? Will they suffer a dropoff with him out of the setup role?

I think that until the Marlins get into camp, and perhaps not until they get through a month of the season, they’ve got too many things to figure out before you can think of them as the best team in the NL. The same goes for the Mets, and that’s only whether or not you can consider them a playoff contender. Well, I think you can consider them a contender; they should be in it late into the season. But without a better bullpen, they’ll end up fading in September, if not sooner.

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