October 27, 2006

Off-Season Outpost1: Starting Pitching

We're going to be looking at all of the critical areas on the Mets' roster over the next few weeks, leading up to the wonderful Winter Meetings! John and I had various conversations and emails over our 3,000+ mile distance, and put together our thoughts on the Mets' current and future roster.

Where better to begin then our biggest achille's heal of 2006, our starting pitching?


No aspect of the 2006 Mets was as frustrating and surprising as their starting pitching was. For a team that led the NL in wins, our starting staff fluctuated way too much, due to injuries (primarily) and the reliance on the wrong people. We are confident that, with this situation being taken care of in the offseason, the Mets will again be the strongest team in the NL in 2007.

Back to the 2006 season, which, again, was full of frustration and surprises, as it pertains to our starting staff

~Frustrating, primarily due to the loss for most of the season, and now well into next, of ace Pedro Martinez.

~Frustrating, because most of the youngsters we wanted to count on (Soler, Pelfrey & Bannister) didn’t play a significant role in our season.

~Frustrating, because of names in box-scores like Gonzalez and Lima-time (sorry- we couldn't resist putting a shot of his wife in here one last time...)

~Surprising, primarily because unheralded and unexpected starters John Maine, Oliver Perez and Dave Williams made significant contributions down the stretch, while Brian Bannister (injured), Alay Soler (injured then sent down) and Mike Pelfrey (sent down) contributed, for a variety of reasons, far less to our success then expected.

~Surprising, because Steve Trachsel was the least successful and dominant 15-game winner we’ve ever had.

~Surprising, because Aaron Heilman, despite the plethora of injuries to the starting staff, never went back into the rotation.

~Surprising, because Tom Glavine had another outstanding season, a mere year and a half after most people, including us, thought his career was over.

Looking into our crystal balls, which took a beating during the season, there are a number of ways in which the club can go to improve this area, without mortgaging the future. Here are some suggestions, and our thoughts follow:a.)

a.) Trade Aaron Heilman & Lastings Milledge to the Marlins for Dontrelle Willis

John: This is a deal that should be a no brainier in anybody’s world.

David: Anybody NOT working for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, right?!John: Exactly! No Kazmir here! I have always believed in the statement, “a great pitcher is harder to get than a great outfielder.”

David: I agree 100%.

John: Milledge wouldn’t be a good fit for the Mets next season or any season, as because of his cockiness he has driven a wedge between himself and the rest of the team. Keeping him would just bring more trouble than the Mets need right now.

David: Do you think Omar has harmed Milledge’s trade value by not adding him to the Play-off roster, preferring Michael Tucker?

John: Possibly, but I’m sure the Marlins are still very interested in him at this point. And Omar thought Tucker's experience was the better fit, I guess. But back to Milledge...

David: He’d be a perfect lead-off hitter/ centerfielder for them, and Heilman could either be a starter, or, more importantly, a closer for them.

John: Exactly. Trading Heilman should be a relatively easy thing to do at this point. He has expressed to Willie and Omar that he wants to start. He could get the chance in Florida, or he could be their closer, which might make him happy to be “the man” for them. Besides, along with Juan Padilla and Dauner Sanchez coming back next season, Heilman is expendable and an appetizing trade chip.

David: As much as I hate to admit it, I agree. I’ve always liked him, and if it’s true that he was hurt for much of the season, as his off-season surgery seems to indicate, he might even be more effective next year. However, if we could get Willis…

John: Dontrelle is the pitcher we are looking for, so this trade should happen. He didn’t boast a great ERA this season but that’s just one year. Look at the big picture. He’s only 24 and has been in the majors for four years already, was a proven winner with the 2003 Marlins, has pitched well over 220 innings each of the last two years, his home run rate is a great number (21) and that number would drop considerably coming into Shea, he had four complete games and a shut out this season alone and let’s not forget about his hitting. Who could forget his hitting after seeing him hit two homers off the Mets in one game this season?

David: I WAS still trying to forget about that…thanks…

John: You’re welcome…besides, taking Dontrelle away from the Marlins would be taking one of the Met-killers off of the street, so to speak. What do you think?

David: I really like this potential deal for a lot of reasons. First, we’d probably have to “throw in” minor league catcher Jesus Flores, as this is an area wherein the Marlins need organizational improvement (and who doesn’t) and, with the addition the youngest Pena as our new #1 catching prospect, we might just be able to trade our top catching prospect in this deal.

John: I hate the idea of adding any catching prospect into this (or any) deal. Do you really think we’d have to do it to make this deal?

David: I would really suspect so. And I agree about trading catching, but that is one of the Marlins biggest targets, so if we really want Dontrelle, we might have to add Flores to the deal. Willis is so right for us on many levels; as you said, he’s young, and financially, we are still in control of his contract; he’s already well-known in the game, serving as the face of the game in some of mlb’s commercials aimed at youngsters; he’s African-American, and a pitcher, a combo that is rare in the game and presents a great P.R. opportunity for the team; he’s a lefty with overpowering stuff who has yet to reach his full potential and should thrive under Peterson’s tutelage. Obviously, I hate the idea of trading both Heilman and Milledge, as I believe in the right circumstances each will flourish- I just don’t think that New York will provide that place for either of them.

John: I’d hate to lose Flores the most, because we have a year or two left in PLD and there’s no other ready-made replacement for him other then Flores. However, if it means the difference in making or not making this deal, we’d have to include him, in my opinion.

David: On a team of youngsters, like the Marlins, Milledge can learn on the job in a way that wouldn’t work for the Mets as we again challenge for the pennant in 2007 and beyond, and we have ample replacements in the minors for his bat (Gomez, Martinez). As I said, Milledge could mean more to the Marlins then the Mets, as he could be their center-fielder and lead-off hitter. At best, with the Mets, he could be a platoon right-fielder with Shawn Green if the Mets sign Alfonso Soriano and ask him to continue in Left-field. If they sign Soriano and don’t resign Floyd or bring in anyone else, and prefer to sign Zito rather than trade for Willis, he could still be our left-fielder next season, but so far Omar has seemed cold to that suggestion.

John: I’d still rather have Willis then Zito, actually, I'd rather have both, but I can understand where you’re going with this. Regarding Heilman, we would also want to resign Mota, as well as having the return to health of Duaner Sanchez and Padilla.

David: I agree, and we’ll speak more about the bullpen next week. I have to say that this deal would be my second choice, and I know it’s your first, behind the signing of Zito, as I hate the idea of giving up on young talent, especially to another team in our division. If we did sign Zito, resign Glavine and keep Oliver Perez in the rotation, we’d be better off not adding Willis simply because that would give us 4 lefty starters. The way I see it, it’s either Zito or Willis, not both.

John: I’d still love to see both of them.

David: So would I, but realistically, I think we’d both agree that our chances of getting one are pretty great, getting both not so much…

John: I agree, but we NEVER count out Omar, so anything is possible…

David: Agreed…

b.) The Signing of Barry Zito

John: Who wants Zito? Everybody. Who wants to pay him 75MM-80MM for five years? Not a lot of teams.

David: The list of teams would probably be limited to the Dodgers, Angels, Giants, Yankees, Phillies, Cardinals, Red Sox and Mets.

John: And maybe the Blue Jays and Orioles, who still want to make a splash in their division.

David: That’s true.

John: You know what? I think that what the Mets should do is “pull a Beltran.” Just give him more money than any other team is offering him. Being 28 makes him more desirable. I don’t care if we have to give up a first round draft pick to the A’s or that we aren’t sure if he will acclimate himself to the NL like Pedro did last year - I care that he would be reunited with Rick Peterson and possibly go on a tear like he did when he won the AL Cy Young Award. I absolutely love and can’t get over that curve that I saw him throw in the playoffs. That pitch is just devastating. This is the single most important signing that the Mets have to make in this off-season, period!

David: Zito, another lefty, would cost us cash to the tune of about $16 mil per year, for 5 years, around $80 mil for 5 years, as well as a number 1 draft pick to the A’s. Zito had his best seasons in tandem with Pitching Coach, Rick Peterson, and would be the 3rd member of the A’s famous “Pitching Trio” of Zito, Mulder and Hudson to join the NL. So far, neither Hudson nor Mulder has made a great accounting of themselves with the Braves and Cards, respectively, but I agree, that’s not a reason NOT to sign him. I agree about Zito’s curve – it is devastating to righties, it makes MY knees buckle every time I see it, and he is definitely a pitcher with a lot of good years left in his arm. In combination with Peterson, and as a result of not having to give up any major leaguers or top minor league prospects in exchange, I’d also rank signing Zito as my number one priority this offseason for Omar.

John: We agree!

David: Especially since it’s not our money!

c.) The Signing of Jason Schmidt

John: I don’t want the Mets to go back to signing “old” talent this off season. With Schmidt being 33 years old, he probably doesn’t have a lot of gas left in the tank. Plus it is known that he wishes to remain on the West Coast. My theory would have to be, “Leave sleeping Giants alone.”

David: Cute pun there, John. I have to say I’ve never been a big fan of Schmidt, and he has stated that he’d rather play on the West Coast, particularly with either the Mariners or remaining with the Giants. I’d rather not take a chance on someone of Schmidt’s age and salary requirements, and it seemed to me that he lost a little something off of his fastball this year. How about Suppan?

d.) The Signing of Jeff Suppan

John: Suppan? Come on. Just because he had a good playoff doesn’t mean that we should jump on the Suppan wagon and throw money at him. He is and always will be an average pitcher and we got plenty of them waiting in the wings in the minors. So instead of thinking of signing Suppan, let’s consider bringing up some young talent that we won’t have to shell out $$for.

David: He had a great run in the play-offs, and he’s from the same part of the San Fernando Valley in SoCal that I reside, but his price has soared as a result of his play-off success and he’s still barely a .500 pitcher. Play-off success doesn’t necessarily equate to seasonal success, and it’s not something that can be counted on from a pitcher like Suppan. I’d rather have Schmidt, and I don’t want Schmidt. Plus, I didn’t love that anti-stem cell commercial he is a spokesman for.

John: Hey- no politics here- unless It’s Mets’ politics!

David: Sorry…got carried away…but I’m back now!

e.) The Signing of Daisuke Matsuzaka

John: I’m not so sure that this kid is worth the trouble. It’s going to take the Mets somewhere in the range of 30MM to just get negotiation rights to him. If that’s not enough, he is represented by Scott Boras, so he will be demanding the big pay-day. This could also wind up as a flop for the Mets because of the Matsui factor. Look at what he did for us after he was the so-called “iron man” of Japan. That should say enough. It’s just too much money and too high of a risk for an unproven talent in the Majors.

David: He’s got 3 strikes against him, as far as I am concerned:

1.) he’s from Japan, where our record of signings and acquisitions hasn’t exactly been stellar (think Matsuii, Iriki, Shinjo);
2.) he’s represented by superstar agent, Scott Boras, which means Zito-like $$ for a pitcher who’s never thrown an inning in the majors;
3.) finally, we’d have to enter into a bidding war once he’s posted by his Japanese team, the Seibu Lions, and bidding could end up as high as $25 - $30 million just for the rights to BID on him- that doesn’t include what we’d have to pay him in the way of a contract.

I say pass- I might regret this in 2 years, but that’s way too much money on a remote possibility, in my opinion.

John: Did you see what Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated wrote about Matsuzaka in his column on Thursday?

David: Yep- and we quote:

The Mets seem to like Daisuke Matsuzaka over Barry Zito, but that's partly because the posting fee doesn't go toward the luxury tax and the actual contract is expected to be lower because of the posting fee.

I wouldn’t read too much into it, as Omar is known to throw out smoke-screens, and it wouldn’t make sense coming right on the heals of the Matsuii-debacle! We love Heyman, but we think he’s wrong this time.

John: Did you see what else he wrote about our pitching staff & Delgado?

David: Yes, I did, actually…

On Steve Trachsel:
Mets people suspect Steve Trachsel quit on them but are desperate enough not to have ruled out Trachsel for next year -- not completely, anyway.

On Oliver Perez:
Oliver Perez won a spot in the Mets' rotation with his October performance.

On Tom Glavine:
Mets people are confident that Tom Glavine will return, which should be no surprise since that was the intention this spring of adding an option year through 2007. While it would be hard to imagine the Mets exercising an option to pay Glavine $14 million (plus another possible $3 million if he makes the All-Star team), in what may be the most complicated one-year extension ever, he can exercise it for $7.5 million plus $6.5 million in incentives (plus the $3 million All-Star bump). Or they could also work out a compromise for the pitcher 10 career victories from 300.

On Carlos Delgado:
The Mets should be confident about keeping Carlos Delgado, too. While Delgado would like his $12 million option for 2009 picked up early, it's hard to imagine he'd walk away from the $34.5 million he's due through '08 in any case (it's his right to leave, as a player traded in the middle of a multiyear deal). Teams generally don't exercise options ahead of time, but his Mets bosses love him, so it's possible.

John: Okay, I disagree on Matsuzaka over Zito, I disagree about Trachsel, and I agree with him on Perez, Glavine and Delgado.

David: I concur with you, and remember- baseball writers are desperate for copy right about now, so speculation keeps people coming back for more…

John: Oh really…in that case, did you hear the rumor about the Mets getting Pujols???

David: Very funny...

f.) Acquiring someone not on this list

John: The only pitcher I would consider the Mets picking up is Freddy Garcia. But if they do their job and get Dontrelle and/or Zito, we won’t need to pick up anyone else. So for the rotation I’m going to stick with is Zito, Glavine, Willis, Maine and Perez. That’s a rotation to be truly proud of.

David: Omar is the best at plucking players who either aren’t seen as being available, or who have been given up on by another team. I can see him grabbing someone like Tony Armas Jr., Vincente Padilla or Freddy Garcia at a reduced price- remember, this is Omar we’re talking about, the man who takes other people’s “poop” and turns them into diamonds! I'd rather he didn't go this route, as we have many deserving candidates in the minors. I know it's only October, but I can’t wait to see who we’ll sign- and in the meantime, my predicted rotation consists of Zito, Maine, Glavine, Hernandez & Perez, with Bannister & Williams waiting in the wings ( I think Williams will replace Darren Oliver as our long-man, as Oliver will, most certainly, be grabbed by another team after his performance this year.)

John: And what an amazing AAA staff we'll have next year!

David: Pelfrey, Soler, Humber, Bannister...

John: And someone else who'll no doubt surprise us, from one of Omar's rabbit-out-of-his-sleeve deals!

David: All for those lucky fans in New Orleans. Well, that about wraps it up...

John: And don't forget Pedro…

David: We'll NEVER forget Pedro…we hope it will be June and not August, but any healthy Pedro next season would be a boost for us- let’s pray.

John: I think we’d both agree that if we were going to bet on anyone coming back, it’d be Pedro!

David: Definitely! Folks, let us know what your rotation predictions are, and we’ll see you next week with our Second Base predicitions/hopes/thoughts!

John’s Projected Rotation:
Barry Zito
Dontrelle Willis
John Maine
Tom Glavine
Oliver Perez

David’s Projected Rotation:
Barry Zito
John Maine
Tom Glavine
O. Hernandez
Oliver Perez

Next Up: Second Base

*Jonathan Elfenbein contributed heavily to this article, although he refused to enter into our little "debate" as his son was emulating Ron Hunt and being hit by a pitch for the fourth time this season! Ouch, Matthew!

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