- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Unfortunately, with Kingman the Mets now have four players whose best position is first base. One of them is Rusty Staub, signed as a free agent over the winter. That puts Kingman in leftfield, a dangerous proposition, although only slightly more dangerous than Henderson was there. Mazzilli is back in centerfield, weak arm and all, and Rookie Mookie (or is it Mookie Rookie?) Wilson will play right and steal bases. Mookie got his name as a child from his grandmother because he couldn't pronounce the word milk.
Second Baseman Doug Flynn signed a five-year, $2 million contract, putting him among the highest paid .243 hitters in baseball. But that's how good a fielder he is. Shortstop Frank Taveras, somewhat erratic in the field, is at times a dynamo on the base paths. John Stearns gets the Don Zimmer Award as this year's opening Met third baseman unless, of course, it's Hubie Brooks. Staub will play first and yield to Mike Jorgenson in the late innings.
Pitching is no longer the strong suit of the Mets, and Torre might be sorely tempted to put his new pitching coach, Bob Gibson, on the mound now and then. Torre would like more than one good month out of Pat Zachry and the return to form of Randy Jones, acquired from the Padres. Craig Swan, the Mets' best pitcher when healthy, was encouraging in spring training, as was rookie Tim Leary. The bullpen is excellent with Allen (22 saves) and Jeff Reardon (2.62 ERA in 61 games). Also relieving will be Dyar Miller, who has already shown considerable talent with the cowhide: he won a preseason mookieing—sorry—milking contest against the Pirates' Garner.
The Cubs may not be any better, but they'll be happier. "Kingman was like a cavity that made your whole mouth sore," says Pitcher Bill Caudill. The Mets and Cubs play one another this weekend, and Pitcher Lynn McGlothen has already offered to plunk Kingman in the ribs. Kingman's reply: "If I threw like Lynn, I wouldn't want to put the ball over the plate either."
Now that Kingman is gone, the Cubs have little or no power. Durham, picked up from the Cards, will wear Kingman's No. 10 and bat cleanup; he had eight homers last year. The Cubs still have Bill Buckner at first base, the leading hitter in the league last year with a .324 average.
The defense, particularly in the infield, will be vastly improved. Cub third basemen made a total of 41 errors last year. Ken Reitz, obtained in a trade, made only eight while with the Cards. Ivan DeJesus (.259, 44 stolen bases) is probably the most underrated shortstop in the game. Second Baseman Joe Strain, who comes from the Giants, is a good hitter and smooth fielder with limited range. The outfield will be inhabited by Durham, Henderson and Scot Thompson, who won the centerfield job although he batted only .212 last year. Rookie Jim Tracy could crash this group.
The starting pitching begins and ends with the rotund Rick Reuschel. Surprisingly enough, Manager Joe Amalfitano may not miss Sutter at all. Dick Tidrow appeared in 84 games, the most in the majors, and had a 2.79 ERA; Caudill had a 2.18 ERA in 128 innings with 112 strikeouts. In addition, Rookie Lee Smith, an overpowering righthander, had an excellent spring. But considering all the problems, there's little wonder that General Manager Bob Kennedy walked out of one spring training game in disgust.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]