Last season the New York Mets were forced to use a patch work starting pitching staff to carry them through the playoffs. Due to an injury-laden group that wasn’t that deep to begin with, the Mets knew that following the final out of the National League Championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals that their number one area to address during the winter meetings was to get starting pitching. So why haven’t they done that?
Using an inexperienced young pitcher named John Maine who had only 24 career starts heading into the playoffs (15 in 2006) and an underachieving young lefty named Oliver Perez with a 3-13 record and 6.55 ERA during the regular season, the Mets seemed headed for disaster when they squared off against the Cardinals in the best of seven series. Sure the Mets were the dominant team in the N.L. during the regular season, but how could they survive this series when the most important thing in the postseason is pitching?
Already missing the former two-time CY Young award winner Pedro Martinez and the experienced Orlando Hernandez, the Mets had to scramble to find another starting pitcher during their stretch run. In a late August trade, Xavier Nady was sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates and in return the Mets received a valuable set-up man in Roberto Hernandez and starting pitcher Perez. Perez would have the unenviable task of filling in for future Hall of Famer Martinez. But luckily for the Mets, Perez would flip the switch and began to show signs of the talent he exhibited back in 2004 with the Pirates in which he had 239 strikeouts in 196 innings. Perez would finish off the 2006 regular season pitching very well.
About this same time the Mets discovered another young pitcher who stepped up when they needed it. Right handed pitcher John Maine exceeded expectations and climbed up the depth chart due to some outstanding starts in August. During this time Maine would go on a tear that included winning five straight outings and a 26-inning scoreless streak. The Mets seemed to find their two starters they desperatley needed.
Despite their success at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs, the New York Mets need to ensure some stability in their aging and injury-plagued rotation. With news that their ace Pedro Martinez probably won’t be ready to go until around the All-Star break, the Mets once again have to scramble for a number 1 or 2 starter. With Martinez’s abscense, the 41 year old Tom Glavine will move up a spot and be the team’s ace. But after that things get a bit foggy.
When the 2007 season begins its safe to say the rotation will include one reliable pitcher in Glavine, an often injured and inconsistant Orlando Hernandez, the man, who while he showed impressive stuff late in 2006 still has a career record of 30-43 with a 4.67 ERA, Oliver Perez and the inexperienced Maine. If no more moves are made, the fifth spot will most likely be rounded out by Dave Williams, Cuban righty Alay Soler, offseason aquisition Jason Vargas, or former top picks Phil Humber and Mike Pelfrey. Those five are a very inexperienced group and the Mets would like it if they didn’t have to rely on them quite yet in their young careers.
The number five spot wouldn’t be in question if Martinez would have been healthy or if the Mets were able to land free agent Jeff Suppan (signed with Milwaukee) or their main target, left hander Barry Zito who signed a seven year $126 million dollar contract with the San Francisco Giants. Zito was also a target of the Mets before the trading deadline last summer by the Mets but they just weren’t willing to part with their prize prospect Lastings Milledge.
Not trading for Zito last summer or signing him this offseason was a huge mistake for the Mets as a rotation with Martinez, Zito, and Glavine would for sure have been able to rival that of any other team in the National League. Despite how badly the Mets wanted to keep Milledge, they now seem to have changed their tune a bit. After his brief stints in the Major Leagues last season, Milledge apparently rubbed some of the team’s veterans the wrong way. This perhaps with the Mets realization that they need more pitching has now loosened their stance on the young prospect.
Rumors that have been been bubbling since the winter meetings began is stating that the Mets are trying to work a possible deal with the Oakland Athletics. Oakland is very interested in obtaining the can’t miss abilities of Milledge as the Mets are in sinking their teeth into one of Oakland’s fine young pitchers. The deal that has been rumored to be in the works would send the powerful centerfielder (and perhaps relief pitcher Aaron Heilman and a minor leauge pitcher) to the A’s in exchange for pitcher Dan Haren. This move would benefit both teams immensely. Oakland would pick up a powerful young slugger to put in their lineup to help protect Eric Chavez and Milton Bradley while the Mets would obtain a young stud to insert into their aging rotation as a solid number 2 starter.
In my mind the Mets have to find a way to swing this deal. With their starters continuing to age (Glavine 41, Hernandez 38, and Martinez 36) and break down in 2007, they are going to need a young guy to step up at the top of their rotation and not only eat up innings to give their thinning bullpen a rest, but also to give them the extra confidence that when he takes the mound they have a great chance to win.
Dan Haren is that pitcher and if the New York Mets want to compete this season, they can not afford to pick up one of the other free agents (Tomo Ohka and John Thomson) available who will not give you much return on their inflated price tags. They need to obtain Haren to help hold down the fort until they can get their true ace Pedro back on the mound.
Otherwise it could be a long season for the Mets bullpen and their short fused fans.