By Ed Coleman
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It’s always darkest before the dawn. And for Met fans, it was the ultimate of ironies to hear the news on Thursday night or wake up to it on Friday morning. Carlos Beltran had just signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, a two-year deal worth $26 million. The World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. The same World Champions back in 2006, when Beltran had looked at a more than nasty called strike three from Adam Wainwright that ended the NLCS and seemed to send the Mets on a 5-year downward spiral that at times seems like it has no end in sight.

Yes, Albert Pujols is gone, but Wainwright – whom the Cardinals won a championship without – is back and healthy, and Beltran, if he stays healthy, will definitely help. Two things about Beltran – just as he aided many young Met players during his tenure in New York with tips and advice about hitting, he will be a positive influence on his younger Cardinal teammates in a much warmer fan-player atmosphere (St. Louis vs. New York). And secondly, to me Beltran is at his best and a much more dangerous hitter when he has good bats around him – and Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, David Freese, et al would qualify.

And oh, that Gio Gonzalez to the Mets rumor, well, scratch that. The lefty Gonzalez went to division rival Washington, giving them a formidable rotation, albeit at a steep price. The Nationals gave Oakland their # 3 (RHP Brad Peacock), # 4 (RHP A.J.Cole) and # 9 (catcher Derek Norris) prospects, along with promising LHP Tom Milone. If the Mets were to give up their 3, 4 and 9 prospects, they would be OF Cesar Puello, RHP Matt Harvey and 3B Aderlin Rodriguez. But considering that Washington surrendered three pitchers plus a catcher, the trade might look something like the following – Peacock would translate to Harvey – Cole would be akin to Zack Wheeler – Milone would likely be Jenrry Mejia – and Norris could be Rodriguez. If I’m the Mets, I’m not doing that, nor do I think they could or should.

Gonzalez is a good one who’s under team control through 2015, but he led the major leagues in walks with 91 this past season. Yes, prospects are prospects, but the Nats’ foursome have impressive credentials which may translate well. Peacock went 10-2 at Double AA, averaged a strikeout-per-inning in 9 Triple AAA starts, then pitched 12 innings in the majors, allowing just 7 hits and one run for a 0.75 ERA. The 19-year old Cole may be the best of the bunch – he struck out 108 in 89 innings at Single A this year. Met fans are all too familiar with Milone – he made his major league debut against the Mets on September 3, and blasted a 3-run HR on the first pitch he saw in the bigs. A control pitcher with great command, Milone walked only 4 batters – two of them intentionally – in 26 major-league innings. And Norris is a power-hitting catcher (20 HR at Double AA) who had a .367 OBP with 77 walks. Norris also stole 13 bases and threw out 40% of base stealers.

In the already tough N.L. East, the Phillies’, Braves’ and Marlins’ rotations are pretty stacked to begin with. Now add Gonzalez to Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Chien Ming Wang and John Lannan (with Ross Detwiler backing up) in the Nationals’ mix, and you can see what the Mets are up against. Happy New Year!! By the way, there’s no doubt which way Oakland is leaning for the immediate future. In the last two weeks they’ve traded pitchers Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow, and received 7 players in return, five of them pitchers – the aforementioned four plus pitchers Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook and OF Collin Cowgill.

Remember that guy from Staten Island that wanted to pitch for the Mets the last couple of seasons? Well, Jason Marquis was recently inked to a one-year $3 million deal by the Minnesota Twins. Another one bites the dust.

The Mets also lost out on backup catcher Luis Martinez when San Diego traded the righty-hitter to Texas for minor-league pitcher Ryan Kelly. But they did sign another Padre backstop _ Rob Johnson – to come to camp and battle with Mike Nickeas for the backup righty role behind Josh Thole.

You want good news. Well, the Mets did finally ink their end-of-game acquisitions, projected closer Frank Francisco to a two-year $12 million deal and setup man Jon Rauch to a one-year $3.5 million deal. Coupled with the addition of Ramon Ramirez in the Angel Pagan trade, I think the Mets did the best they could under the circumstances to correct the problems they had finishing games in 2011. Francisco had 17 saves for Toronto last season with 53 strikeouts in 51 innings. He did his best work after the All-Star break, converting all 7 save opportunities and posting a 1.37 ERA. Rauch fought through an injury-plagued campaign in 2011 that saw his ERA balloon to almost 5. Rauch is usually better and consistent – over the last 6 years, he leads all major league relievers with 31 wins and ranks 2nd in appearances with 434. And Ramirez may be a sleeper. He has great location, terrific command of his changeup and slider, and is very durable working often out of the bullpen.

We’ll see what awaits in Mets’ stockings this holiday season. Merry Christmas to all – and let’s hope there are a lot of good nights that lie ahead. And just maybe G.M. Alderson can be a Sandy Claus to answer a myriad of Met wishes now and in the future.

C U soon
Eddie C.

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