Optimistic Mets have heads held high

Optimistic Mets have heads held high

NEW YORK -- Mets general manager Omar Minaya had yet to roll up his sleeves and start making plans for the 2007 season. This was just past midnight ET on Friday, as Minaya stood in the center of the clubhouse minutes after Carlos Beltran struck out with the bases full for the final out of the Mets' 2006 season in a 3-1 loss to the Cardinals in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.

"Obviously, I was hopeful we would get into the World Series, but I can't say I'm disappointed," Minaya said. "We got to the last inning of the seventh game of the NLCS. How can I be disappointed about what this team did this year? I expected us to score more runs, but this team showed that it never gave up. I expected a walk-off hit in that situation. Everybody pulled together, but we just fell short."

Soon it will be Minaya's job to figure a way to get the Mets past that shortage. There are tough decisions to be made -- roster moves that will surely affect some of the key players on this year's team, which had the best record of any NL club during the regular season.

As is the case with nearly every club in the Majors, pitching is an area the Mets must address. They entered the playoffs by having to scratch two starters with extensive postseason experience: Pedro Martinez and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. Manager Willie Randolph got surprisingly strong outings against the Cardinals from John Maine and Oliver Perez, throw-in players in two of Minaya's trades last year who may have enhanced their chances at making the 2007 rotation.

There are likely to be openings. Martinez, who turns 35 next week, is not expected to pitch before next July while recovering from rotator cuff surgery. Whether Hernandez, who is anywhere from 37 to 41, will return remains to be seen. He is eligible for free agency and appears anxious to test those waters.

Tom Glavine, who will be 41 by next Opening Day, will surely be back for his run at 300 career victories and another chapter of postseason play. Steve Trachsel, who tied Glavine for the club lead in victories with 15, is a long shot to return. His quick exit from Game 3 in the NLCS did not sit well with the front office.

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The Mets have been expected to make a serious run at Barry Zito, who will be a free agent and will come at a price the Athletics likely cannot afford. However, a debate is ongoing within the Mets' organization about whether Zito will be worth the mega-millions that his agent, Scott Boras, is certain to demand, and the club does not have a good history with Boras clients (see Alex Rodriguez, 2000-01 offseason).

There is the chance that the Mets could look to bolster the rotation through trades. Opposing clubs remain interested in the likes of pitcher Aaron Heilman, who took the loss in Game 7, and outfield prospect Lastings Milledge, who got a taste of big-league life this year. Pitching prospects Mike Pelfrey and Philip Humber, both former first-round draft choices, won't be dangled, and Pelfrey will get an opportunity to make the rotation next spring.

The Mets' infield appears solid. Jose Valentin was signed to be a utility man but earned a spot as the regular second baseman. Left fielder Cliff Floyd, a strong clubhouse presence who was hampered by injuries throughout the season, probably won't be retained. The Mets got a pleasant surprise from Endy Chavez, who made the defensive play of the NLCS, but were disappointed in the lack of production from Shawn Green, who came to the club in a late-August trade and is under contract through next season.

In only his second year at the helm, Randolph was a Manager of the Year candidate. His staff did a superb job, but there is a chance he could lose a coach or two, with Jerry Manuel (bench) and Manny Acta (third base) drawing attention from other clubs.

Minaya worked long hours last offseason to make the Mets a team that won 97 games and the respect of all of baseball. This winter will be spent doing some fine-tuning. The foundation is there.

"We accomplished some big things this year," Beltran said. "We won a division that had been dominated by the Braves for a million years. You have to live with the good moments and the bad moments. This game was a bad moment, but we had a lot more good moments. We have something strong to build on here."

Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.