The expected recall of Lastings Milledge for tonight’s second half opener accompanied the unexpected release of Julio Franco 23, the Mets’ elderly pinch hitter. It’s not like Franco had earned his slot this season, it’s just that, as with the pending Henderson story, the Mets tend to have more tolerance for struggles with track-record holding veterans and figureheads as they’ve shown recently. I guess this is life in the Omar Era. Milledge by the way returned wearing No. 44and in possession of the same nice swing he first impressed with a year ago during Spring Training. This phrase has been uttered an aweful lot this season but perhaps that’s just the spark we need.
Speaking of sparks, Jose Valentin 22 was wearing a cast on his pinky and couldn’t play tonight, allowing Ruben Gotay 6 to further his case as the best option at the keystone. Mets officials say the injury came as the result of intervening in “an altercation” while The Internet appears to believe he broke it in a punching a wall. Let’s call it a Wall-tercation and perhaps, a karmic comeuppance for Valentin who a year ago was the guy the stealing the starting second base job from an underperforming and injured incumbent.
The Henderson story by the way appeared to have leaked sooner than the Mets would have liked. (Willie Randolph in fact appeared perturbed it leaked at all). Today team officials confirmed something was up but wouldn’t release details. It appears possible that Howard Johnson 52 will become batting coach while Henderson assumes HJojo’s role as first base coach. We should know Friday.
The Mets yesterday announced that nine players had been signed to minor league contracts and been invited to Spring Training. They include ancient slugger Andres Galarraga, who will turn 44 this summer — younger than The Francos at least (thanks Paul). It’s possible that the Big Cat makes the team, perhaps as the righthanded swinging half of a first base platoon, but he won’t be wearing his familiar No. 14 here. That’s retired.
Rehabbing Met bullpen veterans Grant Roberts 36 (photo at right by David Whitham); Scott Strickland 28 and Orber Moreno 49 were also retained with minor league contracts, as was outfielder Gerald Williams 21. Bringing back Williams would seem more pointless than usual, but for the news that Mike Cameron 44 is having surgery and will likely miss the first month of the year.
Also joining the mix to spell Cameron will be speedy backup Kerry Robinson, notable here for the fact he used to wear No. 0 while with the Cardinals. (Former Expo Ron Calloway,signed to a Major League deal earlier this week, will also be in the outfield mix.Calloway woreNo. 22 in Montreal/San Juan).
Other signees include pitcher Juan Padilla, a minor league vet who’s had coffee with the Yankees and Reds; Luis Garcia, a first baseman-outfielder who hit 32 HRs last year in the rare air of the PCL with the Dodgers’ organization; catchers Andy Dominique, a chunky minor league vet who made his debut last year with the Red Sox while Varitek served a suspension for getting in A-Rod’s girlish grill; and Ramon Castro, the former Marlins backup fighting a rape charge. Along with the news the Mets had re-signed veteran catcher Vance Wilson 3 to a 2005 contract, it appears a deal or two involving Jason Phillips 23 or That Piazza Guy may happen sooner or later.
Finally, there’s Marlon Anderson, No. 8 on your old Cardinal and Phillie rosters, a utility backup in the mold of Desi Relaford.
These guys will all report when Spring Training begins in six long weeks or so. Till then,Happy Holidays!