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The Mets vs. the Nationals, Johnny Damon and John Smoltz

Mets players gets a better look at the

Mets players gets a better look at the intersquad scrimmage from the dugout at spring training on Monday, February 23, 2009 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Photo Credit: Newsday file photo

First of all, don't believe the non-hype. Chien-Ming Wang and the Nationals have agreed to a deal. As I reported last night on Twitter, Wang will get $2 million guaranteed, and he can more than double that if he hits all of his incentives.

Now, to the matter at hand: Even before Washington acquired Wang, I've had Mets fans complaining to me that their team is no better than the Nationals, who have acquired minor upgrades this winter in Jason Marquis and Matt Capps.

And then yesterday, upon news of the Wang signing, a Tweep wrote me, " If Wang signs, #Nats are in the Wild Card discussion."

Look, you can rip the Mets a thousand ways up and down. You can call this an extremely disappointing winter for their failure to upgrade at catcher, first base, second base or starting pitcher.

But if you honestly think that the Mets and Nationals are at a comparable talent level...well, let's go to the data.

Using the CHONE projections found on FanGraphs, here's the projected 2010 Wins Above Replacement for the two team's starting lineups:

Mets: Omir Santos .6, Daniel Murphy .7, Luis Castillo 1.3, Jose Reyes 5.3, David Wright 5.2, Jason Bay 4.0, Carlos Beltran 4.7, Jeff Francoeur 1.1. Total: 22.9.

Nationals: Ivan Rodriguez 1.2, Adam Dunn 3.1, Cristian Guzman 1.8, Ian Desmond -.8, Ryan Zimmerman 5.0, Josh Willingham 2.5, Nyjer Morgan 1.8, Elijah Dukes 1.8. Total: 16.4

Now, CHONE doesn't project WAR for pitchers, but it does project more basic stats. Let's look at the top four starting pitchers for each team, since the identity of the fifth starter is pretty much a mystery, and the closers. Let's also keep in mind that the return dates of both Beltran and Wang are in question, due to their respective injuries.

Mets: Johan Santana (3.79 FIP in 183 IP), Oliver Perez (4.89 FIP in 128 IP), Mike Pelfrey (4.36 FIP in 175 IP), John Maine (4.43 FIP in 123 IP), Francisco Rodriguez (3.43 FIP in 64 IP).

Nationals: Jason Marquis (4.46 FIP in 178 IP), John Lannan (4.82 FIP in 171 IP), Scott Olsen (5.12 FIP in 125 IP), Chien-Ming Wang (3.94 FIP in 103 IP), Matt Capps (3.82 FIP in 57 IP).

Neither club appears likely to challenge, say, the Cardinals' starting rotation. But the Mets get the edge. And if you say that the Nationals have Stephen Strasburg ready to jump in, I'll respond that the Mets have Jenrry Mejia, not to mention Jonathon Niese.

"We're better than the Nats!" isn't quite a ticket-sales promotion for the Mets. But my goodness, let's have a little bit of a reality check here. The Mets went 70-92 last year when pretty much everything went wrong. And even then, they finished 11 games ahead of Washington.

--The Braves have made an offer to Johnny Damon, and Tyler Kepner reports that it's for $4 million, with half of that deferred, and gosh, I don't know if that's gonna get it done. At this point, Damon and his agent, Scott Boras, are in major face-saving mode, and make no mistake: Player and agent have been together on this one. Damon is no one's puppet.

Would it behoove Damon to wait and let spring training play out some? See if an injury develops, or if an outfielder or DH somewhere underachieves? History doesn't smile upon such a strategy. But Damon and Boras might just be bold enough to try it.

The irony is, I reported back in December, when the Yankees signed Nick Johnson, that the Braves were Damon's first choice, because they train in Orlando, where he lives. Yet there's little indication that he would take an immense pay cut for that comfort. As I reported at the time, Damon had Mike Cameron's Boston deal in mind, not this current Braves offer.

--Before I left for vacation, I reported of "increased momentum" in the talks between the Mets and John Smoltz. Now...not so much. It's clear that the Mets turned off their spigot, at least when it comes to guaranteeing money, after expressing some early enthusiasm to Smoltz.

(Speaking of non-guaranteed money, Nippon Sports reported last night that the Mets and Dodgers were the finalists to sign Hisanori Takahashi to a minor-league deal.)

It now appears more likely that Smoltz will wind up doing the half-season gig that Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez have popularized in recent years. As Smoltz says, in this interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, that idea is coming more from teams, clearly skeptical that the 42-year-old can make it through a full season, than from him.

--Great piece by John Harper of the New York Daily News, who got to catch Johan Santana.

--Bob Klapisch presents his argument as to why the Yankees should re-up with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera right now. Thanks to Buster Olney's blog for the link to this and the two preceding storiers.

--I'll check in later, although I said that yesterday and then I didn't. Maybe I have a future as a politician.

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