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Inbox: Do the Mets need a star at first?

Inbox: Do the Mets need a star at first?

I've been a Mets fan for 40 years. Looking back at 1969 and '86 with Donn Clendenon and Keith Hernandez suggests that a productive and defensively-skilled first baseman is what it takes to have a contending team. Without a great first baseman, teams seem to suffer. What's your thought?
-- Stu S., Weston, Fla.

You are preaching to the choir, sir. I covered most of Hernandez's tenure with the Mets and witnessed how his aggressiveness, positioning (he played farther off the line than any other first baseman), throwing and soft hands dramatically upgraded the Mets' infield. His fellow infielders made throws with greater confidence because of his presence. His aggressiveness influenced the pitchers and helped fellow infielders like Howard Johnson and Ray Knight challenge opponents more.

I've spoken on several occasions with Rick Sutcliffe about just that. Sutcliffe advocates carrying a defensively-skilled first baseman who helps the catcher, pitchers and three other infielders play their positions better. I saw the effect John Olerud and Rico Brogna had with the Mets and how the 1996 Padres improved defensively once Wally Joyner convinced Ken Caminiti to make the throw from third base and not worry whether it will be handled.

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The days of putting fading stars -- Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron -- at first base and compromising defense for the sake of diminished offense should be gone forever.

Of all the negative things to be said about the Mets and their future, there are, in fact, some positives. The Jeff Franceour trade was huge, securing defense, youth, energy, grit and a productive bat. Citi Field is pitcher friendly, and could help revitalize careers or be attractive to pitchers coming from smaller parks. Instead of worrying about the limitations of Citi Field in terms of which hitters would want to play there, why not go after players that have played well in similar parks -- Jarrod Washburn, Endy Chavez, Russell Branyan, Mike Cameron?

There are good role players and bench players on the market. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will a new version of the 2006 Mets. Oliver Perez is our Adam Eaton, send him to Triple-A Buffalo and forget he exists. Pick up J.J. Putz's option, save that money by getting third and fourth starters who can last five or six innings and get ready to play small ball in 2010. Your thoughts.
-- Kevin D., Hunlock Creek, Pa.

I like the idea of Cameron, and so do the Mets. He would provide reliable and comprehensive defense in left field and might hit 15-20 home runs at Citi Field if he played 120 games. And forgetting Perez isn't a bad idea either.

I think the Mets should trade away Perez, Luis Castillo, and Brian Schneider and sign free agents like Matt Holliday, Victor Martinez, Orlando Hudson, and Jon Garland.
-- Williams P., Lyons, N.Y.

Oh? Well, why stop there? Why not trade for Albert Pujols and find a club willing to assume the Mets' obligation to Bobby Bonilla. You make it seem rather easy. First of all, Schneider is eligible for free agency. The Red Sox have an option on Martinez's contract, and Holliday is likely to be in demand. The stock of Hudson and Garland has fallen. And if you can find a taker for Perez, the Mets may share the money saved with you.

I think the Mets should have dedicated a rotunda to Gil Hodges. The reason is because he has more to do with the Mets franchise than Jackie Robinson, who is more of a Dodger than a Met.
-- Sean R., East Northport, N.Y.

How many rotundas do you want? The one and only one was dedicated to Robinson, not because he was a Dodger, but because of the social change he affected and the strength of character he demonstrated. Announcer Howie Rose has advocated naming the bridge beyond the bleachers in right-center field after Hodges. I like that idea.

Have a question about the Mets?
Anthony DiComoE-mail your query to MLB.com Mets beat reporter Anthony DiComo for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
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Do you think Chone Figgins is a free agent that the Mets will pursue? He can play anywhere on the field, perhaps second base. Would there be any Luis Castillo suitors out there? Figgins would be a great addition with his speed, average, defense, and leadership.
-- Omar B., New York

The Mets have specific needs -- power hitting and pitching. Figgins would address neither. And, his unproductive postseason notwithstanding, I suspect the Angels will try to keep him.

I find it interesting that two of the key needs for the Mets are a top-of-the-rotation starter and a power bat at either first base or in the outfield. Both needs could have been addressed via free agency a year ago by signing CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, each of whom has performed so well for that other New York team. With a $200 million payroll, the Yankees organization clearly spends money freely to field a winner. Can we expect the Mets ever to have signings like the Yankees did a year ago?

I'm also concerned with the long-term outlook of the Mets and whether the Madoff scandal, the economy, fear of repeating previous poor signings (Perez, Castillo), etc. will leave us diehard fans suffering with an almost-ran team for years to come.
-- David R., Durham, N.C.

I suggest you look to the money the Mets have spent since the end of their 2004 season. The acquisition of Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Billy Wagner, Johan Santana, Frankie Rodriguez and Carlos Delgado and the signing of David Wright and Jose Reyes have been expensive propositions. And the club spent $60 million on Perez and Castillo.

COO Jeff Wilpon said one day after the season that the club will provide "what [manager] Omar [Minaya] needs" in finances.

So I think your concerns are based in misconception. That said, you may have a wait of a few years. The Mets' flaws run deep, and solutions are not readily apparent.

The Mets had their eyes on Teixeira early in 2008. They had preliminary plans to pursue him. But the renaissance of Delgado and the need for a closer that developed after the injury to Wagner altered their to-do list.

Over the years, clubs such as the Marlins and Twins have traded away big league talent for Triple-A talent . Would the Mets' poor 2009 season be a good enough reason for dealing a Mike Pelfrey or even maybe a Wright for a couple of Triple-A players who, in a couple of years, might produce a respectable farm system?
-- Jonathan Z., Valley Stream, N.Y.

The idea is to win at the big league level. Having a "respectable farm system" serve as a feeder is part of that, but not the end-all objective. The Mets believe Wright and, to a lesser degree, Pelfrey will be critical factors in whatever renaissance the club creates in the next few years.

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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