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Q&A: Mets Beat Writer Gives Spring Insight

I had a nice phone conversation Feb. 25 with Anthony DiComo, beat writer for the New York Mets at MLB.com. It’s the first of what will be a series of Q&As with DiComo throughout the 2008 season, so we can get a solid glimpse into the world of our chief rivals, the New York Metropolitians.

DiComo answered questions about the Johan Santana deal, the resurgence of Moises Alou and Duaner Sanchez, young standouts and the key to the 2008 Mets offense.

PHILLIES NATION: How confident are the Mets right now?

DICOMO: Every team, from best to worst, has confidence. But the Mets have a lot of confidence, and they wouldn’t have to throw a pitcher out there to get it. They have arguably the best confidence in the game, you can see it just in the clubhouse demeanor.

Are you surprised by Carlos Beltran’s retort to Jimmy Rollins?

I’m not surprised that someone came out and said it. I’m surprised that he’s the guy who did it.

Has the collapse been discussed in the clubhouse?

Willie Randolph made it a point [the first week of camp] to say he hasn’t addressed his players about last year. … He said on multiple occasions there’s nothing he needs to say. Everyone knows they have to deal with it; if that’s not motivation enough I don’t think it’s anything more.

If the Mets fail to make the playoffs in 2008, is Willie Randolph fired?

You know, it’s really tough to say. There’s a lot of ‘ifs’ that can happen from now until October. People thought he could’ve lost his job after last year and that didn’t happen. And I don’t think he should’ve. Everything depends on what happens this year. Say Johan Santana gets hurt in the middle of the year, is that Willie Randolph’s fault?

Directly after the collapse last year there was a thought that somebody has to pay for this. Really, no one did. They kept the team largely in tact. It’s good from the coaches’ perspectives that the front office has confidence.

What was the biggest concern for the Mets going into the offseason?

The rotation. They lost Tom Glavine; say what you want about the guy at the end of the season, but he was the most consistent pitcher all year and gave them double-digit wins. But they pretty quickly turned that concern into a strength when they signed Santana.

Did you think the Johan Santana deal was a win for the Mets?

When I read the deal it almost seemed like robbery. They didn’t give up anyone that they would consider ‘elite.’ They knew Carlos Gomez would develop into a big hitter; Fernando Martinez looks like he can be something special. His numbers don’t pop off the sheet but you have to realize, he’s played as the youngest player in every level. The fact they didn’t give up those guys was a good job by Omar Minaya.

How does Pedro Martinez look this early in the spring?

He looks as good now as I’ve seen him [before]. … He’s kind of transformed himself as a pitcher, where he still has some life on his fastball, but he’s a pitcher now. He knows how to work counts, work batters. Regardless of if the Mets think he’s an ace, they have Santana around, and that takes a ton of pressure off him. I don’t think there are any questions about health anymore, which is the biggest thing.

How does Mike Pelfrey compute into the Mets Opening Day plans?

If Pelfrey has a lights-out spring, I would be surprised to see him in the Opening Day rotation. … [Last year] there’s no question he put pressure on himself. He could spend another year in AAA again; obviously he’d rather be in the Majors, but I don’t think there’s pressure on the Mets that they need him. If he needs another year or half year in the minors I think they’ll be perfectly content with El Duque.

Duaner Sanchez missed 2007, so is he ready to come back and perform in 2008?

I’d say Pedro Martinez looks good. But Duaner Sanchez looks unbelievable. His fastball looks unbelievable, his changeup has life on it. There was a ton of concern because here’s a guy who’s coming off major surgeries and hasn’t pitched since 2006. But not only does it give them obviously the best setup and closing [tandem] in the league, it shortens the game. You got [Aaron] Heilman, [Pedro] Feliciano, Sanchez and of course, Billy Wagner. … With four parts like that, it’d be tough to match.

Are there any concerns about Billy Wagner after ending the 2007 season so poorly?

There’s always concern when guys are blowing games. He was remarkable until early August and then he dropped off. He can’t throw 100 miles an hour anymore, but he’s a guy who’s trying to refine his game. He’s adding a curveball to his repertoire. And he’s going to the windup instead of the stretch all the time. He’s going to need to adapt if he wants to stay in the league. I’m not worried about him at all.

Any prospects or Minor Leaguers who could reach the Opening Day roster? Anyone surprising you?

Eddie Kunz has a great fastball. He can project right to the Majors quickly. You’ll probably see him in September if nothing else.

And [Fernando] Martinez is in camp, and he looks like he has the tools. He says that we’re going to see him this year. But the thing with the Mets is there are so few jobs to be won. Backup for the middle infielders, fifth starter, and one spot in the back of the bullpen that’s probably going to be Matt Wise or [Steven Register]. If these youngsters have brilliant springs they won’t make the team anyways.

Could Fernando Martinez reach the Major Leagues before September 1?

Right now they have three great outfielders in Beltran, Alou and Church — he can hit lefties consistently. They have Endy Chavez, who is one of the better fourth outfielders in the game, and they have Angel Pagan. The fifth outfielder role is definitely his.

I’d be shocked if Martinez made the team out of camp, but it wouldn’t be out of the question. They’d be much more inclined to take non-roster guys like Ben Johnson. And they have Marlon Anderson and Damion Easley, who could play outfield. I don’t think they’re going to rush [Martinez].

You wrote early in the Spring about the resurgence of Moises Alou. What’s changed about him, and what could go right with him?

Last year, he looked and sounded like one of the most disappointed players when the Mets lost out. There was talk he’d retire, but I didn’t think he would retire because he had such an incredible September.

The thing with him is always his health. If they get 400 at bats out of him they’ll be thrilled, and that’s why it’s important they have that outfield depth. When hes healthy, he’s one of the best hitters in the game. He can turn on a fastball like a 22-year-old kid.

As a veteran, is Alou as a clubhouse leader?

That was kind of a big issue last year: ‘Where is this leadership coming from?’ You can’t expect David Wright to do it, or Jose Reyes. You can’t expect Moises Alou to do it [because it was his first season with the Mets]. A lot of guys looked to [Carlos] Delgado, who said ‘I lead by example.’

That’s why it’s interesting that Beltran [spoke up]. Maybe he’ll step up and be the vocal leader for this team. If you look at the complexion, you have a good mix of the older guys — Delgado and Alou — and younger guys like Wright and Reyes, who are both 24 but both veterans, too. It’s a clubhouse where you kind of know the direction they’re going into.

Who is the key to the Mets offense this season?

The key to the offense absolutely is Carlos Delgado. He had a very disappointing season by his standards. He’s at the age where you have to say, ‘Was that a fluke or can he have another season like that?’

If he can hit 30 home runs and in the high .200s in the middle of the lineup, that really changes the dynamic of the offense. He takes it from a very good lineup to an extremely good lineup.”

Jayson Stark, when writing about the Phillies-Mets rivalry, said the teams will brawl at some point in 2008. From what you’ve seen, is that possible?

I don’t think it’s the type of thing where they’re going to start brawling on the field. I think the Mets have to respect the Phillies — they won the division last year. What matters is what happens on the field. Until the mets get a chance again they have to respect that, and the Phillies have to respect the mets. It’s going to be fun, but I don’t think there’s any bad blood on a personal level.

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