With the addition of Johan Santana, here is the what the Mets’ starting five looks like:
1. Johan Santana
2. Pedro Martinez
3. Orlando Hernandez
4. John Maine
5. Oliver Perez
There are many who will argue that El Duque is the #5, and not the #3, but my guess is that this is the way the rotation will shake out — barring injuries — when spring training breaks at the end of March. Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph put significant emphasis on past history when evaluating players, and though Orlando Hernandez’s 2007 was abbreviated, the numbers he put up in that limited time were excellent. More to the point, if you take out the handful of his awful starts — which, in hindsight, had to have been affected by health issues — he could have been considered their most dominant starter. When healthy, he was almost a cinch to go seven innings and give up three runs or less.
OK, there may be a better argument for John Maine to be the #3 — the only thing going against Johnny is that his second half was an abysmal disappointment compared to his first-half dominance. But here’s the kicker: go ahead and make your case for Maine — it doesn’t matter! Put Maine #3, Ollie #4, and El Duque #5 and you tell me who suddenly has the deepest starting rotation in the NL East?
This is perhaps the greatest impact of the “Santana Effect” — everyone drops down a notch, and the Mets look really strong at both the backend and the front-end. A week ago, we were concerned that the Mets starters were a collection of question marks — effectively, four #3s and a big hole / hope against hope at #5. We were upset that the Mets one-two punch at the top couldn’t match up with the likes of Hamels / Myers or Smoltz / Hudson. Today, however, the question is not the front-end for the Mets, but everyone else’s back end. Who in the NL East — in baseball, for that matter — will go into the 2008 season with the quality of John Maine and Oliver Perez at #3 and #4? Who has a guy with the dominating potential of Orlando Hernandez at #5?
Speaking of the fifth spot, Johan Santana’s presence could be the best thing to happen to Mike Pelfrey over the long term. In the short term, yes, it probably bumps Pelfrey back to AAA (assuming there are no injuries). However, we’ve argued here several times that Pelfrey needs to spend more time in the minors for seasoning. Maybe now, with the pressure of MLB games lifted, Pelfrey can concentrate on commanding a change-up. Who knows, maybe he’ll even have the chance to pull the cobwebs off an overhand curve. In any case, I don’t think any young pitcher in today’s game can be hurt by extra innings in the minors — nearly all are rushed up too early. Lets watch Pelfrey continue to polish his all-around game, establish an off-speed pitch, build confidence, and dominate at a lower level. There’s no doubt he’ll have an opportunity at some point to fill in for El Duque for some spot starts — and develop at a more realistic pace.
Bottom line: what a difference a day makes.