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4. NEW YORK METS

Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page H13

New general manager Omar Minaya -- who left the Montreal Expos last September -- made sure no team made a bigger splash in free agency than the Mets, who signed the best pitcher (Pedro Martinez) and player (Carlos Beltran) on the market. That, in turn, ratcheted up expectations in Flushing, where the Mets have averaged nearly 91 losses the past three seasons.

But this equation is ripe for disappointment. Most people consider Beltran one of the rising stars in the game. But he has never finished among the top 10 in his league in either homers or RBI and has failed to hit .300 in four of his six full seasons. If he starts slowly in New York, how long before the boo-birds come out? Mike Piazza provides the bat behind Beltran, but he's 36 and coming off a year in which he established career lows for average (.266), homers (20) and RBI (54) for seasons in which he played more than 100 games.


For all the concerns regarding Pedro Martinez's health, the Mets' new ace hasn't exactly been sitting down on the job. In fact, he's made 29 or more starts in each of the last three seasons. (Rick Silva -- AP)

_____ Breakdown _____
 baseball
Lineup
SS Jose Reyes
2B Kazuo Matsui
CF Carlos Beltran
C Mike Piazza
LF Cliff Floyd
1B Doug Mientkiewicz
3B David Wright
RF Mike Cameron
Rotation
RHP Pedro Martinez
LHP Tom Glavine
RHP Kris Benson
RHP Victor Zambrano
LHP Kazuhisha Ishii
Closer
RHP Braden Looper

Best move: CF Carlos Beltran was considered the prize of the free agent market after hitting 38 homers and dominating the playoffs last season.
Biggest loss: LHP Al Leiter loved playing in New York and would have provided stability to the rotation after Steve Trachsel went down with a back injury.
Top rival: New York Yankees.

___ Team Capsules ___
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
NL East
NL Central
NL West
1. Cubs
4. Mets
4. Reds
   
 
AL East
AL Central
AL West
 


Martinez still has ace-like qualities, and the return to the National League -- where he won his first Cy Young Award, with the Expos in 1997 -- could do him some good. For all the talk about his frail nature, he has made at least 29 starts in each of the last three seasons. He's only 33. On a staff which boasts a crafty, over-the-hill veteran (Tom Glavine), unrealized potential (Kris Benson) and a potential stud (Victor Zambrano), can Martinez be a true ace again?


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