Says a rival
National League G.M., "They were the best team we've seen this year. But
like everybody else, there are questions about their pitching. Everyone's
scrambling for starting pitching, and it's everyone's dilemma that there may
not be anything out there better than what you already have."
With the Marlins
keeping Dontrelle Willis off the market, Minaya's best option for obtaining a
pitcher who would start one of the first three games of a postseason series
would seem to be Barry Zito, a potential free agent at season's end whom
Oakland would consider trading only in a deal that keeps the A's competitive
this year. That could mean that Minaya would have to give up 21-year-old
Lastings Milledge, an athletic, aggressive outfielder who's precisely the kind
of player who fits Minaya's vision of how the Mets should play the game.
"I grew up a
fan of National League baseball and teams like the Dodgers, Pirates and
Giants," Minaya says, recalling some of the early adapters of integration.
"I believe in a balance of speed, power and pitching, like the way those
teams played ball. I always wanted a team like that. The Mets never were one of
those organizations. Traditionally they relied on pitching in a big ballpark. I
always wanted more athleticism, and from Day One that's what I've tried to do
two cornerstone players to help implement his blueprint: shortstop Jose Reyes
and third baseman David Wright, both 23, who this week were scheduled to become
the third-youngest pair of teammates to start an All-Star Game (trailing only
Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams of the 1941 Red Sox and Dean Chance and Jim
Fregosi of the 1964 Angels). Mr. Wright, as his many admirers refer to him, is
fourth in the league in RBIs, with 74, though his matinee looks and knack for
clutch hitting earn him no slack in the clubhouse.
Visine," Wagner says. "You know, eyewash. One time he dove to catch a
bunt he could have caught standing up. We all went like this...." Wagner
rubs a finger along his eye, as if wiping away a tear.
" Wagner said
that?" Wright says. "He talks a lot for a guy from the woods. You can't
get in a word with that guy."
is teaching Wright Spanish and, with his slashing hitting style and derring-do
as a base runner, is schooling the rest of the league in how to disrupt
opponents. "The best feeling of all," says Reyes, smiling, "is
sliding headfirst into third base with a triple." (He leads the majors with
12.) So dangerous with his legs is Reyes that he is on pace to join MVP
runner-up Lenny Dykstra of the 1993 Phillies as the only players since 1937 to
score more than 140 runs without hitting 20 home runs.
improvement since last year is mind-boggling," Tracy says of Reyes, whose
on-base percentage has risen from .300 in 2005 to .357 in '06. "The Mets
are a good team, but when he's on base they're a different team. He takes them
to another level."
benefited from the counsel of 47-year-old backup first baseman Julio Franco,
who was the first player Minaya tried to sign after being named Mets G.M.
Minaya could not lure Franco away from Atlanta then, but he succeeded last
winter by giving him a two-year contract.
"As long as
I'm running a team, there are two guys who will always have a job with me:
Rickey Henderson [a Mets special instructor] and Julio Franco," Minaya
says. "That's how much I think of [ Franco] as a person. He's like an extra
coach on the staff. I knew he was as important to our chemistry as