Minaya preparing for Alou-less Mets
Left fielder likely to return first or second week in May
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- One day after the worst news of this bad-news camp hit -- even as Moises Alou was in recovery from surgery to repair a hernia -- the Mets cloaked themselves in "it is what it is," the phrase they were thought to have worn out last year. Their reaction to the projected absence of their left fielder was barely to react at all. Little public hand-wringing, no four-letter laments, despite Alou's importance to the offense and the club's lack of a suitable understudy.
The Mets had anticipated that some physical malady would deny them Alou's services at some point this year, but they hadn't considered a hernia -- or any problem -- in the second week of March. But the club that has carried rosters of older players for two seasons and planned to do so again in 2008 has become as accustomed to the phrase "on the disabled list" as the cry of "play ball." So the Mets weren't scurrying to find a replacement.
Indeed, general manager Omar Minaya discussed Alou's latest condition matter-of-factly on Thursday. At first he indicated that Alou could return in as little as four weeks, meaning that the veteran left fielder might miss fewer than two weeks of the regular season.
But Minaya's subsequent comments were more consistent with what the club had announced on Wednesday after receiving the diagnosis that Alou would be able to resume baseball activities in four to six weeks. Unsaid, because it is unknown, is how long Alou will require to get in baseball shape once he has resumed those activities.
The best-case scenario, and one that is hardly familiar to the Mets of the Minaya-Willie Randolph regime, is that Alou will be ready to play in late April. A more likely scenario would have him returning to active duty in the first or second week of May. If the latter proves to be case -- if Alou were to return in time for the Mets' series at Yankee Stadium May 16-18 -- he will have missed 41 games (including six against the Phillies and six against the Braves), or about a quarter of the season.
With Randolph intent on regularly resting his 41-year-old No. 6 hitter, Alou would be hard-pressed to play in 110 games, much less the 125 that Minaya mentioned on Thursday. And those projections don't take into consideration the real possibility of additional games missed because of injuries to the injury-prone player, who appeared in merely 87 games last season.
Yet the chance of Minaya pursuing a deal for a full-fledged replacement is remote. He said as much on Thursday because, as he stated, "We're getting Moises back."
Minaya dismissed the mere mention of Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds and other possible solutions with, "It's fair to say we'll go with someone internal right now."
Minaya mentioned Angel Pagan, an exhibition-game revelation to this point, and Brady Clark, who, because of the unavailability of other outfielders, has played with Cal Ripken-like regularity so far. Endy Chavez came up almost as an afterthought from the general manager, perhaps because Randolph sees Chavez's greatest value as a No. 4 outfielder whose performance is subject to the law of diminishing return.
Minaya said that the staff already had discussed solutions involving players with other clubs, and defined clubs with "surpluses" in the outfield. Later he acknowledged that an outfielder with experience at first base would be quite appealing.
The players' first thoughts were of Xavier Nady, their former colleague, now a contributing member of the Pirates.
"He'd be perfect for us," one of the veterans said. "He's right-handed, plays first and the outfield, and everyone here liked the X-Man."
But a deal for Nady, dealt to the Pirates at the 2006 trading deadline, is quite unlikely, even if the Mets had what the Pirates want. And they don't.
The Mets' roster of prospects whom other clubs covet essentially begins and ends with the quite unavailable Fernando Martinez. Left-handed pitcher Jonathan Niese has appeal, but with Orlando Hernandez a question, Jason Vargas unable to pitch and Tony Armas Jr. not even in camp, the Mets have almost no depth in their rotation. Niese, 21 and without experience beyond Class A, doesn't constitute depth, but with the club unsure of El Duque, Pedro Martinez and Oliver Perez in 2009, it must retain some starting pitching.
Marcus Thames, the right-handed-hitting outfielder who started 31 games at first base for the Tigers last season, is a possible solution. He has pop, which the Mets don't have in sufficient quantities on their bench as presently constituted -- witness the 26 home runs he hit in merely 348 at-bats in 2006.
But Minaya indicated that the Mets had contacted no other club since receiving the diagnosis on Alou, and that any deal probably would happen late in Spring Training, when clubs are trimming their rosters.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.