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Aces high

Free-spending Mets will fall short in tough NL East

Posted: Tuesday February 22, 2005 12:40PM; Updated: Monday February 28, 2005 2:14PM
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John Smoltz
2004: 96-66
2005 Preview
2005 Schedule
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2004: 86-76
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 Looser under new skipper, but rotation is lacking
2004: 83-79
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 Talented club must overcome fragile pitching
2004: 71-91
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 The 'pen is suspect and the lineup has many holes
2004: 67-95
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 Finally home, they don't have enough for long haul
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NL East | NL Central | NL West

For pure splash this offseason, nobody outdid the Mets. Not the World Series champion Red Sox. Not the silly-spending Diamondbacks. Not even the Mets' always active, never happy crosstown neighbors, the Yankees.

First-year Mets general manager Omar Minaya stunned just about everybody in baseball when he signed the market's most desirable slugger, young Carlos Beltran (seven years, $119 million contract), and one of the game's most dominating pitchers in Pedro Martinez (a questionable four-year, $52 million contract). Those two deals put everyone in the National League East on notice. The Mets, riding back-to-back-to-back losing seasons, clearly aren't messing around anymore. But neither are the other teams in the East.

The small-revenue Marlins have some of the game's best young pitchers, and they're bolstered by the signings of former Mets lefty Al Leiter and former Toronto slugger Carlos Delgado.

The Braves, who have won their division 13 straight times, traded for Oakland ace Tim Hudson and Milwaukee closer Dan Kolb, allowing former Cy Young winner John Smoltz to rejoin the starting rotation.

The Nationals, née Expos, were active under new GM Jim Bowden, signing NL RBI champ Vinny Castilla from the Rockies, Twins shortstop Cristian Guzman and Angels slugger Jose Guillen.

And the Phillies signed the most effective Yankees pitcher down the stretch, righty Jon Lieber, to go with the most dangerous lineup in the East.

The Mets, truth be told, aren't scaring anybody yet. They signed away Tom Glavine from the Braves two years ago and Mike Cameron from the Mariners last year, remember, without translating those moves into success on the field. Even with Beltran and Martinez, the Mets still have a lot of questions.

Is Mike Piazza on his last legs? What about Cliff Floyd's wheels? Is the double-play combination of Kazuo Matsui and Jose Reyes going to work? Will Cameron be traded or will he accept playing alongside Beltran? Is Martinez, at 33 years old, still strong enough to last a full season?

Are the Mets better than they were at the end of last season? No doubt. But better won't be enough in this division.