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Money's no guarantee the Mets will return to NL prominence

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2002

So the Mets didn't sign outfielder Juan Gonzalez.

So the Mets didn't sign outfielder Juan Gonzalez.

Big deal.

General manager Steve Phillips got just about everyone else during an offseason in which the Mets spent more money and kept the transaction wire busier than any other team.

But the acquisitions of first baseman Mo Vaughn, second baseman Roberto Alomar, rightfielder Jeromy Burnitz, leftfielder Roger Cedeno and pitchers Jeff D'Amico, Shawn Estes and Pedro Astacio are no guarantee the Mets will unseat the Braves atop the NL East or return to the World Series as they did in 2000.

"There's just something about this game that won't allow me to definitely project popping any champagne corks right now," catcher Mike Piazza said. "It's not easy to win. I don't care how much money you have. It's been proven many times before that teams that just go out and spend money and feel like they got good guys on paper haven't won.

"So what do you have to do? Obviously you have to have the talent. Obviously you do have to spend the money. But you also have to have a bunch of guys that play together as a team. As teams have proven in the past, there's no guarantee for that."

There's also no guaranteeing health.

Vaughn missed last season with a torn biceps. D'Amico missed time with a nerve disorder. Astacio, though he proved his health playing in the Dominican Republic this offseason, will pitch with a torn labrum in his shoulder. Estes is healthy, but inconsistency has defined his career.

"We've assumed some degree of risk with some of these players," Phillips said. "But, at the same time, we hope for some kind of reward."

The potential reward: Piazza won't be counted on to produce all the Mets runs, and the pitching staff should get much-needed run support. New York scored the fewest runs of any team last season.

"What we should be able to do is put the fear of God into people," Vaughn said. "To see how the Mets are going about their business as an organization, to make this team a championship club, is great."

BEHIND BARS: The future doesn't look bright for Greg "Toe" Nash, the Rays outfield prospect arrested Tuesday in Louisiana and charged with the aggravated rape of a 15-year-old girl, aggravated crime against nature and felony theft.

The rape charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

"We're looking at very long prison sentences and he's facing some serious time," Ascension Parish District Attorney Tony Falterman told Baseball America. "If he's convicted, then when he gets out he may be able to watch baseball, but I don't think he'll be able to play it."

MINOR MATTERS: Of the seven players the Rays signed to minor-league contracts and invited to major-league spring training Thursday, four have major-league experience.

Pitcher Jason Dickson is 26-25 with a 4.99 ERA in 73 games with Anaheim but pitched in the Blue Jays farm system last season.

Catcher Kevin Brown played in 17 games with the Brewers. Infielder Kevin Sefcik was 0-for-1 in his only game with the Rockies. Outfielder Ryan Freel played in nine games for the Blue Jays and hit .273 with three RBIs and two stolen bases.

WHO'S IN CHARGE: Don't laugh, but mascot Billy the Marlin could run the Marlins if the pending sale of the club to Expos owner Jeffrey Loria doesn't hurry up.

When assistant general manager Al Avila left last week to become a special assistant to Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield, it made executive vice president Julio Rebull Jr., whose background is in marketing, the highest ranking official still with the Marlins.

BIONIC PITCHER: Seattle relief pitcher Norm Charlton will have season-ending surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder Monday.

The left-hander was 4-2 with a 3.02 ERA out of the bullpen last season. Though he has come back from 1993 Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow, Charlton isn't considering retirement.

"Once Doc opens my shoulder up, it could be a lot better than he thinks it is or it could be a lot worse," he said. "I'm not a stupid guy. I understand I'm 39, and I'm not going to heal as fast, and I may not react to surgery as well as I did when I was 22. It's a deal where I'd still like to play."

WORKING RELATIONSHIP: Cubs officials will be interested to see how former Rays manager and new Chicago pitching coach Larry Rothschild and pitcher Kerry Wood relate to each other.

The right-handed Wood had such a close relationship with the club's former pitching coach Oscar Acosta, who resigned in October, that he visited Acosta in New Mexico this offseason.

"I have spoken a couple times on the phone with Larry, and it seems like that will be a good working relationship too," said Wood, who agreed to a one-year deal worth $3.695-million. "Oscar got into each pitcher's personal life as far as he could without causing problems. I don't know if that ever will be the same, but I'm looking forward to being with Larry. He is my pitching coach, and he is going to need to know everything about me."

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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