Mailbag: Door open for Hernandez?

Mailbag: Door open for Hernandez?

Is the scout who recommended Kaz Matsui still employed by the Mets? Do you think the Mets will ever sign another Japanese free agent who has never played regularly in the U.S.?
-- Brad F., Huntington Beach, Calif.

I suppose the Mets will continue to scout the Pacific Rim. Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and the Japan's appearance in the World Baseball Classic final are proof that Japanese players have abilities. What scouts say most about Kaz Matsui is that the game in the big leagues is too fast for him, which is odd, because he was accustomed to artificial turf in Japan. But phases of the game other than getting to ground balls are also problems for him.

As far as responsibility for signing Matsui, the Mets had six scouts watching him in 2003.

Is it just posturing or showcasing Matsui, or are the Mets serious about starting two weak defensive players on the right side of the infield? It's too late now, but didn't Victor Diaz begin his career in the infield?
-- No name provided

Diaz was a second baseman when the Mets acquired him in 2003. He's tried third base, first base, left field and right field. His second-base ship has sailed. The Mets are quite serious about Matsui at second and Carlos Delgado at first. As Davey Johnson used to say, "You have to score. No one ever won 0-1."

Do the Mets have any shot at getting Alfonso Soriano or Jose Vidro? If they don't, who has the best shot at winning the second-base job?
-- Tariq S., Chapersville

I think you will see Anderson Hernandez at second base before and after Matsui's return. If some other club were to take Matsui and if the Mets had more expendable Minor League talent, a trade for Vidro would be a thought. But as long as Matsui and the $8 million obligation to him are in place and the Mets' Minor Leagues are not too deep in talent, trades that will upgrade are not likely. A trade to fill a void is another matter.

Do you think that, maybe in about two years, we could see Brian Bannister, Mike Pelfrey, Philip Humber and Aaron Heilman as part of a solid rotation?
-- Kevin E., Deer Park, N.Y.

It's possible, for sure, but so much changes from year to year these days, I wouldn't plan on it. Nine of those four will be eligible for free agency in two years, so that makes the possibility greater. I'd be more confident about David Wright being the Mets' third baseman in 2010 than anything else. And wouldn't the Mets be delighted if, when they break camp in 2008, a pitcher named Pedro Martinez were still in their plans?

I heard that Delgado had some kind of an injury in his knee, which is why he didn't play in the World Baseball Classic. What's going on with him? Is he going to be healthy for Opening Day?
-- Shawn A., Great Neck, N.Y.

Delgado had recurring tendinitis in his left elbow, but the pain has dissipated to the extent that he played on Sunday. Delgado is emphatic that he will be ready for Opening Day.

Why does everyone say that Braves manager Bobby Cox is masterful? His teams have won 14 division titles and never won a World Series. It does say that his division is weak.
-- Martin B., Rotonda West, Fla.

No. 1, the Braves won the 1995 World Series. No. 2, a number of people believe that the truest test of baseball excellence is the regular season. The World Series decides only the championship. What the Braves and Cox have accomplished is beyond extraordinary -- even if their divisions were weak. I'd bet that 20-25 clubs would take Cox as their manager.

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Despite the preference of Heilman to start, wouldn't his presence in the bullpen be vital to bridging the gap to Billy Wagner? With Bannister in the No. 5 spot, the Mets could use Heilman's ability against left-handed hitters more often. Unless a starter goes down, shouldn't manager Willie Randolph utilize Heilman's killer changeup out of the bullpen?
-- Robert T., Fairport, N.Y.

Everything you've said has been considered by the Mets. It's not a black-and-white issue, because if Heilman is going to pitch as effectively as he has, why not have him start and throw 200-plus innings rather than 60-80?

I have been hearing and reading that the left-handed relievers in Mets camp haven't been impressive thus far. I noticed that Royce Ring and Darren Oliver both have an ERA of 2.16. What part of their performances makes them not impressive?
-- John H., Hamburg, N.J.

ERA is not an accurate measure of a short reliever. A poor ERA can be an indication of poor pitching by a short reliever, but a good ERA can be quite misleading. A short reliever can allow a bases-clearing double to his first batter, squander a lead, retire three batters and lower his ERA.

That said, Ring, Oliver and Juan Perez have picked it up lately. And Pedro Feliciano, just back from the Classic, looks pretty good.

With Xavier Nady more than likely to be named the starter in right field, do you think the Mets would trade Diaz and a few top prospects for another starter like, say, Barry Zito?
-- Vinny C., New York

Which other prospects are you considering? The Mets' primary prospects are Pelfrey, Lastings Milledge, Humber and Carlos Gomez. Pelfrey could be in the big leagues in July, and Milledge could make it next year. They also still have high regard for Diaz. Zito is desirable, but they Mets say that they're committed to building for the future and trying to win now. They have been condemned endlessly for dealing Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano. But fans then ask for immediate gratification, too.

Heilman and Bannister have pitched well in vying for the No. 5 spot. I think each is superior to Zambrano. Why can't they make Zambrano their long-inning reliever and have Heilman and Bannister start?
-- Scott B., Allendale, N.J.

Randolph has all but guaranteed that Zambrano will be the No. 4 starter. Pitchers with control issues usually benefit from one of two scenarios -- regular work as a starter with an off-day throwing regimen that helps to maintain command or frequent work that includes regular throwing in the bullpen. Long relievers are usually caught in the middle, and Zambrano does have control issues.

With Kaz Ishii back in Japan, Zambrano (5.04) and Dennys Reyes (5.28) are the only active pitchers with a minimum of 500 career innings who average five or more walks per nine innings.

I'd love to see the Mets obtain a big-time slugger like Manny Ramirez. What are the chances of getting a player like Ramirez without having to give up a Minor Leaguer like Milledge? I love seeing farm guys on the Major League roster and contributing.
-- Scott W., South Kingstown, R.I.

Forget about Ramirez. Chances are, if the Mets even wanted him now, the Red Sox would demand Milledge and more.

Why is there so much hype about Bannister? So what if he was 13-6 in Double-A last season and showed decent signs of improving. He's no Heilman, who has proven that he can pitch effectively at a Major League level. He deserves to be the No. 5 starter in the Mets' rotation, not Bannister.
-- Shawn G., Duanesburg, N.Y.

First of all, it's not hype -- it's reporting. Secondly, Bannister's record was 13-5, and he split the season between Double-A Binghamton (9-4) and Triple A Norfolk (4-1). He has also pitched quite effectively this spring. Moreover, the matter isn't whether one deserves to start more than the other. This is about the Mets' need for a late-inning reliever. Heilman was masterful in that role in 2005.

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.