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What's past is past

Mets try to erase '07 from their memory

NEW YORK -- The flip of the calendar has moved the Mets merely one day further from their September downfall, but it has also replaced the four-digit number that marks the point of the greatest disappointment in the 46-year history of the franchise. So the Mets embrace 2008 -- and who doesn't embrace the New Year? -- at least partially, because they need to move past 2007.

The Mets will do all they can to prevent last season from bleeding into '08. The most effective means of accomplishing that, however, is winning. And this team isn't clearly superior to the team that lost 57 of its final 112 games in '07, nor does it appear superior to its competition.

Reinforcements for their rotation and bullpen were what the Mets needed most when last season ended. And though general manager Omar Minaya said the acquisition of two defensively skilled players -- catcher Brian Schneider and right fielder Ryan Church -- "makes our pitching better," no direct improvement of the staff has been accomplished.

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If anything, the staff appears less reliable. The trade that exiled Guillermo Mota may be viewed as an addition by subtraction. But the club hasn't acquired a reliever it can confidently say will better Mota's performance -- a 5.76 ERA and 83 baserunners over 59 1/3 innings. Nor has it imported a starter likely to duplicate the 200 1/3 innings and 23 quality starts Tom Glavine provided last season.

But it isn't for lack of trying. Minaya aimed high, as he is wont to do, in his pursuit of trades that would have moved Johan Santana, Erik Bedard or Dan Haren to Queens and improved the chances of the Mets raising a 2008 National League East championship pennant at Citi Field in '09. But he found that other clubs didn't share his view of the Mets' prospects.

So with three months remaining before they play their first game of 2008, the Mets have a rotation and bullpen seemingly unfit for 162 games. A return to form by right-handed reliever Duaner Sanchez would significantly upgrade the bullpen. But no guarantee exists that he will be the pitcher he was before his right shoulder was severely damaged in a taxi accident 16 months ago. Pedro Martinez, 36, could be as productive as he was in 2005, his first season with the Mets. But for all that Martinez has done to uplift the franchise, the Mets' record in his 59 starts is 31-28. And not he, John Maine, Oliver Perez, Orlando Hernandez or Mike Pelfrey can be considered likely to pitch 200 innings in 2008.

At the same time, the Mets don't approach the season with the same confidence in their offense that they had a year ago -- not after a season of decline by Carlos Delgado and an uneven performance by Jose Reyes.

The Mets want to forget 2007, and understandably so. But they won 88 games last season, as disappointing as it was. Do the Mets project to be an 88-win team at this point?

 Season in Preview
A lot can change by Opening Day, but as 2007 becomes 2008, this is who is projected to take the field for the Mets:
  SSJose Reyes
  2BLuis Castillo
  3BDavid Wright
  CFCarlos Beltran
  1BCarlos Delgado
  LFMoises Alou
  RFRyan Church
  CBrian Schneider
  SPPedro Martinez
  SPJohn Maine
  SPOliver Perez
  SPOrlando Hernandez
  SPMike Pelfrey
  CLBilly Wagner
Schedules: Spring | Regular season
Tickets: Spring | Regular season
More previews:

Grading on a curve: The Mets have made themselves younger behind the plate and on the mound and, if Church is seen as the replacement for Shawn Green, in right field. But how much better off are they at this point is an issue. The acquisition of Schneider and Church improves the defense. But the club hasn't compensated for the departure of Glavine, who led the team in innings last season, nor has it reinforced the bullpen in a meaningful way. With the current cast of starters, the bullpen seemingly will be asked to do more than it did last season. So much appears to ride on the return of Sanchez. The offseason work, on a scale of 1-10, warrants a 7.5

Arrivals: C Brian Schneider and OF Ryan Church (acquired in trade from Nationals), C Johnny Estrada (acquired in trade from the Brewers), RHP Matt Wise signed as a free agent, RHP Brian Stokes (purchased from the Rays), RHP Steven Register (Rule 5 draft selection, drafted from roster of the Rockies' Double A Tulsa affiliate), OF Angel Pagan (acquired in trade from the Cubs).

Departures: LHP Glavine (free agent signed by the Braves), C Paul Lo Duca (free agent signed by the Nationals), OF Lastings Milledge (traded to the Nationals), RHP Mota (traded to the Brewers), C Estrada (non-tendered), RHP Juan Padilla (non-tendered), RF/1B Green (free agent), 2B Jose Valentin (free agent), INF/OF David Newhan (free agent), LHP Dave Williams (free agent), C Sandy Alomar Jr. (retired), C Mike DiFelice (free agent), 1B/OF Jeff Conine (retired), RHP Aaron Sele (free agent) and OF Ben Johnson (non-tendered).

The Road Ahead: The search for pitching continues. Minaya has said several times that the position-player component of the Mets' roster is established. And though he said the club feels confident moving forward with the current rotation, the Mets will look for other means of upgrading the rotation and for reinforcements, i.e., starters with resume who haven't attracted attention as Santana and Bedard have.

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

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