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Randolph praises Lo Duca

Randolph praises Lo Duca

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NEW YORK -- With Yorvit Torrealba taking paces this week toward becoming the newest member of the Mets, manager Willie Randolph used a public forum Thursday to heap praise on former catcher Paul Lo Duca. Then, he explained why none of it matters.

"I thought he brought a lot to the table this year, but that doesn't mean that you hold onto a guy because of that," Randolph said of Lo Duca. "You hope you can bring other guys in that maybe can pick up that slack. But each year is totally different."

Randolph was in Manhattan in support of the David Wright Foundation's "Do the Wright Thing" gala, an annual event designed to raise funds for Wright's namesake charity. The foundation is in its third year of providing aid to both children and adults in need, with an emphasis on helping those afflicted by Multiple Sclerosis.

Wright, for one, seemed plenty comfortable as the lone Mets player to hit the red carpet outside the Hard Rock Cafe. Perhaps that was because he knew that he was helping a good cause. Perhaps it was because he's now secure at third base, after Alex Rodriguez agreed to the framework of a contract to remain with the Yankees. Whatever the reason, Wright's future in both endeavors is secure.

Randolph's isn't, and a large part of his future will hinge on how his Mets perform next season. With so many holes to fill this winter -- catcher, second base, and the starting rotation stand most conspicuous -- there's not much he can do but sit back and hope general manager Omar Minaya constructs a contender.

Randolph confirmed that Minaya is in talks to retain free agent second baseman Luis Castillo, though he didn't comment on the tenor of the conversation. But the hotter topic remains behind the plate, where reports on Thursday pegged the Mets as possibly just moments away from signing Torrealba to a three-year deal worth $14.4 million.

There are questions about Torrealba's offense and experience, just as there are questions about Lo Duca's age. And a signing would be an admission of which outweighs the other.

"He wants three or four years, and we have to look at that and see how that fits into our plans," Randolph said of his old catcher. "But I like Lo Duca. I think Paulie's the kind of player that knows how to win, and that gives me all that he has every day."

Until the Torrealba rumors gained steam this week, the Mets had been relatively quiet on the free agent front, and Randolph said the inactivity didn't surprise him. Teams have only been able to talk money with outside free agents since Tuesday, and the free agent class as a whole is weak.

"We could be totally different by the time Spring Training comes around," Randolph said. "Or, if things don't fall right, we could be closer to where we were last year."

Which is not where they'd prefer to be. And so the Mets aim to improve their bullpen and starting rotation -- both of which were heavy factors in the team's September collapse -- knowing that they can only make a real splash via trade. There simply isn't much free agent talent to be had.

"Right now everyone's jockeying, everyone's posturing," Randolph said. "You look at the free agent market, nothing jumps out you, really. So everyone's kind of just holding back and waiting."

And reflecting. Randolph said he still thinks about that collapse often -- no surprise there. But events like Thursday's can help.

"You're kind of in a little bit of a malaise, and you kind of think back to what happened and how it happened," Randolph said. "It's just going to take a while for me to get over this, really. I live and die with my team every year and every day, so it's not something that goes away easy. Not for me, anyway."

Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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