Meet new-look Mets

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:44 AM ET

The New York Mets will be better this season. How much better than their 71 wins last season in baseball's toughest division is anyone's guess.

One thing is for sure, they'll look a lot better. Manager Willie Randolph has shed his pinstripes, but he brought the Yanks' clean-shaven rule with him.

"It doesn't matter to me, sometimes I have a moustache, sometimes a goatee," new Mets pitcher Pedro Martinez said. "I used to shave depending how I felt. I'm not very good at growing a beard.

"I might have a little above and a little bit below my lip, but it never grew to the point where they met."

As reliever Lee Arthur Smith once told us in 1997 "the best pitcher in the whole league has only four hairs on his chest."

The clean-shaven Mets will battle the improved Florida Marlins, a year removed from a World Series; the Philadelphia Phillies, expected to improve under the easy hand of manager Charlie Manuel and the Atlanta Braves, never as good as the year before, but they're still going for their 14th consecutive division title.

"It's the most balanced division in baseball," new Mets general manager Omar Minaya said. "Even the Washington Nationals have improved."

The Washington Nationals -- nee Montreal Expos.

"When I hear that it makes me sad," Martinez said. "Montreal was the greatest city and the safest city I ever played in."

Martinez was with the Expos for four seasons before being acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Delino DeShields in 1993 when manager Tommy Lasorda said Martinez wasn't durable enough to be a starter. Lasorda may be right ... but this is Martinez's 12th season starting.

"The reason I came to the Mets was because Omar showed the most interest," Martinez said.

Minaya and the Mets also offered a four-year deal. Boston stopped at three years.

"Omar came to see me on the American Thanksgiving, he gave up time from his family to come to the Dominican to see me," Martinez said. "He told me that he'd decided to build the team around pitching."

"I don't miss the Boston-Yankee rivalry one bit," the three-time Cy Young Award winner said.

When Minaya sat down to rebuild the Mets, his first priority was power. The general manager wanted to sign a free-agent first baseman, either Carlos Delgado or Richie Sexson.

"I had no idea Pedro was in the cards," Minaya said. "Initially we tried to re-sign Al Leiter (who eventually went to the Marlins). Then, we looked at the free-agent pitchers for the next two years and thought we should make a move."

While Minaya went 0-for-2 at first base, not many GMs had a better winter. Minaya signed free-agent Martinez to a four-year $53-million US deal, outbidding the Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals.

And then Minaya lured centre fielder Carlos Beltran away from the Houston Astros, giving him a seven-deal $119-million deal.

"The Yankees might have said that they weren't in it, but they were after Beltran," Minaya said.

The Mets will start Martinez, lefty Tom Glavine, Kris Benson, Steve Trachsel, Victor Zambrano and Martinez. They also have Jae Weong Seo, who made 21 starts, and Matt Ginter, who made 14.

When Martinez makes his first start at Shea Stadium, you can bet the fans won't be chanting 'Who's Your Daddy.'


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