Says Wright of the
man who has spent some of his 29 pro seasons in Japan, South Korea and Mexico
and has 2,546 major league hits, "He's talked to Jose and me about things
like, 'If I only knew back then when I was young some of what I know now, I'd
be looking at 3,000 hits.'" Adds Lo Duca, "That's Moses. He's
all-knowing. Wisdom and knowledge, that's what he brings. He hasn't lost an
For his part, Lo
Duca seems ever in search of an argument, whether getting in the grill of his
pitchers when they lose focus, spiking the baseball in a fit of anger at the
feet of umpire Angel Hernandez or barking at Yankees third baseman Alex
Rodriguez for styling too much after hitting a home run. "That's just
me," says Lo Duca, whom Wagner refers to as Captain Red Ass. "Must be
the Italian blood."
Minaya wound up
with Lo Duca and Delgado, his cleanup hitter and first baseman, only after
Florida's decision last winter to slash its payroll. Minaya knew a year ago
that he needed a middle-of-the-order hitter, but he was unsure where to turn
after a three-team midseason deal to get Manny Ramirez from Boston fell through
when Tampa Bay backed out. (Minaya was prepared to trade Milledge in that
deal.) "Power hitters like that just don't come on the market," Minaya
says of Ramirez.
Then, on the final
day of the general managers' meetings last November in Palm Springs, Marlins
G.M. Larry Beinfest told Minaya, "We're prepared to talk about everybody
except Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis." Says Minaya, "That started
the ball rolling for the 2006 team." Delgado was the perfect fit: a premier
power hitter, a close friend of quiet Mets centerfielder Carlos Beltran, who
struggled in 2005 trying to be the Mets' franchise player, and a charitable
soul whom Minaya calls "a better person than he is a player." The Mets
gave up three young players to get Delgado on Nov. 24, then two weeks later
sent another pair of prospects to the Marlins to get Lo Duca.
three-year offers out to [free-agent catchers] Ramon Hernandez and Bengie
Molina," Minaya says. "Then Lo Duca popped up. I always feel like when
you have a bird in hand, you take the bird."
In between those
trades Minaya signed Wagner to a four-year, $43 million contract, fulfilling a
promise he had made to Martinez and Glavine. "I told them, 'At this stage
in your careers, I promise you I will do everything I can to make sure you get
the wins that are coming to you,'" Minaya says. "We went after B.J.
Ryan and Wagner. I give the Blue Jays credit. They went out aggressive on Ryan,
giving him five years right away. We needed Wagner after that."
Wagner did not
become fully vested as a Met until May 21, when he saved a game against the
Yankees the day after blowing a four-run lead against the crosstown rivals.
Minaya, understanding that Wagner had to pass such a trial by fire, told him in
the clubhouse after that save, "Congratulations. You just won us the
has worked as well on the field as it promised to on paper. Martinez and
Glavine have 18 total wins, half of which have been saved by Wagner. Beltran,
buoyed by the presence of Delgado, is one of a franchise-record six All-Stars,
sports a career-high .995 OPS and was recently named one of People magazine's
100 most beautiful people-a designation that inspired a teamwide vote to
determine the ugliest Met. ( Castro, Franco and Eli Marrero tied for the honor.
"Finishing in a very strong second place was David Wright," says Lo
Duca.) Wright and Reyes, insulated by veteran stars, have blossomed without the
added burden of being team leaders. Franco leads the league in pinch hits and
that was the worst for team chemistry," Franco says. "We'd get 80,000
[fans] on Opening Day and 2,000 after that. By the All-Star break we'd be 20
games out, and guys were worried only about their stats, not winning. Now in
Still, Minaya is
not satisfied. Sitting over a cup of Navy-bean soup last week at a New Jersey
diner, the towers of the George Washington Bridge looming through the window
behind him, Minaya, expert though he may be on the lay of this land, wore a
countenance drawn more from concern than confidence. He wants his team to
improve on grinding out at bats, the way he watched the Red Sox do while
sweeping a three-game series from his club late last month. (The Mets went on a
3-6 slide against AL East powers Toronto, Boston and New York.) He knows he may
need another pitcher. The architecture of these new Mets, he knows, is a work
in progress. The concrete is still wet.