Pitching Competition Begins

Pitchers and catchers have now been playing catch for a week, and in less than six weeks from today, only two catchers and 12 pitchers will be leaving Port St. Lucie as New York Mets. Unless something drastic occurs between now and then, the backstops will be Brian Schneider and Ramon Castro (sorry, Robinson Cancel and Raul Casanova). The pitching staff, however, is another story.

We’ll assume the following pitchers are positively guaranteed a spot, barring injury:

1. Johan Santana
2. Pedro Martinez
3. John Maine
4. Oliver Perez
5. Orlando Hernandez
6. Billy Wagner
7. Aaron Heilman

For the remainder of the spots, the following pitchers have the best chance:

8. Duaner Sanchez
9. Pedro Feliciano
10. Scott Schoeneweis
11. Jorge Sosa
12. Matt Wise

Hmm … many would argue that the above five are pretty close to guaranteed a spot on the staff as well. If that’s true, then what’s the competition?

A few things to consider: first, at least one or more arms will go down with either a minor or serious injury — that’s the odds, particularly when your staff includes El Duque. Second, no one is sure exactly what to expect from Sanchez yet. Yes, he looks in great shape, and appears healthy. But he hasn’t thrown an MLB pitch since July 2006. We don’t know for certain that he’ll be able to regain the velocity and movement that made him a lights-out setup man. Third, there’s a chance that of someone not on the above list has an unbelievable spring — good enough to push someone out.

Still, had I not put up that list of 12, would you have realized the pitching staff was so close to being “set”? Take a look again … do you see anyone missing who you thought for sure would be in that group?

Let’s take a look at “everyone else” — the pitchers who will have to fight for the chance to go north:

(from the 40-man roster)

– Joe Smith
– Mike Pelfrey
– Stephen Register
– Ruddy Lugo
– Brian Stokes
– Willie Collazo
– Carlos Muniz
– Jason Vargas
– Adam Bostick

OK, from Lugo down, we’re looking at guys who likely already have their AAA ticket. But Smith would have been a shoo-in for the 25-man roster had he not burned out last June. Pelfrey of course was the top candidate for a rotation spot before that lefty from Minnesota showed up, and we’ve heard enough about Register to think he’s the next Nolan Ryan. Yet all three could start the year in New Orleans.

Non-roster Invitees:

– Tony Armas
– Ricardo Rincon
– Juan Padilla
– Andy Cazavos
– Nate Field
– Nelson Figueroa
– Joselo Diaz
– Ryan Cullen
– Eddie Kunz
– Brant Rustich
– Jon Niese
– Bobby Parnell

We know that Cullen, Kunz, Rustich, Niese, and Parnell don’t have much of a shot to make the big club, but have been brought in just in case one of them turns out to be the next Joe Smith. Before pitching in Japan, Joselo Diaz was the Mets’ annual February wunderkind, the phenom who hit triple digits on the first day of spring training. Nice to see him back in camp to light up the guns; wouldn’t it be great if he could finally find the strike zone?

Of the veterans, we’d think that Armas had the best opportunity — presumably to take the long relief / spot starter / poker partner role that Aaron Sele slept in last year. Rincon has an outside shot to be a LOOGY if the other four LOOGYs car pool to camp every morning and have the misfortune of driving off a bridge. Juan Padilla was the 2004 version of Duaner Sanchez (almost) and it would be a fantastic story if he could come back from his myriad injuries. No one has any idea why Cazavos, Figueroa, and Field are in camp, but I suspect they really weren’t invited but rather were inspired by the movie Wedding Crashers.

Bottom line: there isn’t nearly as much open space on the pitching staff as many of us may have imagined. In fact the competition appears to be as tight as the fight for the 13th position player.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. hdarvick February 20, 2008 at 12:12 pm
    “No one has any idea why Cazavos, Figueroa, and Field are in camp, but I suspect they really weren’t invited but rather were inspired by the movie Wedding Crashers.”

    NELSON FIGUEROA, drafted by the Mets out of Brandeis University in 1995, was invited because he pitched 10 complete games for Chihuahua, 8-6, 3.87 ERA, (24.5 games out of first) in the 2007 Mexican Triple A League, then went to Taiwan where he went 4-0 and then won games 1, 4, and 7 in the 2007 China World Series in October and was voted MVP. He pitched the only game Taiwan won in the 4-game Konami Cup Asia Series in the Tokyo Dome in November. In the Dominican Winter League, he won two games in the playoffs, including the championship game for Aguilas Cibaenas on January 25, 2008, compiling a 4-0 record in the series (4 starts) with a 1.45 ERA, 31 innings pitched, 24 hits, 33 strikeouts, 7 walks. 1.00 WHIP. He pitched the only complete game in the Dominican “Round-Robin” championship series. He had to pitch for Yaquis of Mexico in the Caribe World Series earlier this month (February 2008), not for Aguilas, because he had pitched in the regular season for Mexico. His record was 1-0, 11 innings pitched (9.1 in one game, 1.2 in relief in the other), 0.83 ERA, and was voted the Caribe Series MVP over players like Miguel Tejada, Tony Pena Jr. and Nelson Cruz. THAT’S WHY HE WAS INVITED and why he’ll be at Shea in 2008.

  2. Walnutz15 February 20, 2008 at 12:15 pm
    Might we be adding Freddy Garcia’s name to that mix — particularly around Mid-Summer for the inevitable vacations of El Duque (and god forbid) Pedro?

    From CNNSI:

    Free-agent pitcher Freddy Garcia visited with the Mets on Wednesday, according to sources.

    The Mets haven’t said anything about possible progress in contract talks, but they have long been interested in Garcia, who was spotted at their camp in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

    The Mets were pleased by Pedro Martinez’s speedy recovery after shoulder surgery and are hopeful they can duplicate that success if they sign Garcia. The 31-year-old Garcia had shoulder surgery last August, cutting short his season in Philadelphia, where he went only 1-5 with a 5.90 ERA in 11 starts. Garcia, a two-time All-Star, is hoping to be available to pitch by June or July.

    The Mets dramatically bolstered their starting rotation by acquiring ace Johan Santana earlier this month, but they’re still interested in improving their depth.


    I love it — as he’d provide a handful of different options.

    Duque goes down….Garcia can be slotted into the rotation.

    Pelfrey doesn’t work out in any of his roles….Garcia can help out.

    Perez up and walks next year….Garcia lessens the blow a bit, provided he can effectively work out the kinks in coming back from surgery.

    As an aside: Garcia provides an excellent back-up plan should Oliver Perez become too expensive for 2009 and beyond. I’d want to throw a team option year (or two) on that even if it (they) had to come with a higher base salary.

    In essence, he’s a Kyle Lohse-type signing that gives them some time to feel things out, and if healthy — he’s a pretty good mid-season pickup in the event of the inevitable Duque injury.

  3. isuzudude February 20, 2008 at 12:55 pm
    I think you’re right to assume that Sanchez doesn’t immediately regain his 2006 form, which is why it was important for the Mets to bring in so many bullpen arms to compete in spring training. I would say, if Sanchez doesn’t appear quite ready for the bigs by the time camp breaks and he needs to spend some time in AAA regaining arm strength, then Joe Smith becomes the favorite to land that 12th spot. But, like you comment, a lot depends on how pitchers perform during the spring, and if a guy like Muniz or Stokes looks real impressive, they could be carried instead. As they say, time will tell.
    Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but if Register is a Rule 5 pick, then doesn’t he get returned to his original team (in this case, the Rockies) if the Mets don’t find a spot for him on their 25-man roster for the entire season? So, maybe to edit my previous statement, perhaps Register is the favorite for the 12th spot. Because, as far as I can tell, he’d no longer be Mets property if he doesn’t make the team.
    To throw out a question, if El Duque is indeed injured when the regular season begins, who do the Mets go with as the #5 starter for the first few weeks of the year? Pelfrey? Armas? Sosa? Or nobody, as the Mets won’t need a #5 until approx. April 20th @ Philadelphia? I’d like to hear what some responses are.
    I agree that Figueroa could be a bigger help to the Mets than some are willing to give him credit for, but that’s a rather weak limb you’re crawling out on to proclaim he will pitch at Shea sometime in 2008. As things stand, he’s still behind Pelfrey, Armas, Vargas, Sosa, and perhaps Garcia (if he gets signed) on the depth chart as far as back-up starting options are concerned. That’s a lot of bodies to jump over. I think the Mets rotation would have to be completely decimated with injuries for Figueroa to get a start at Shea in ’08. And because of his heavy Fall/Winter workload pitching in the Far East and Caribbean, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Figueroa suffer from some serious arm fatigue as this season progresses.
    I’ve been a proponent for signing Garcia for the past couple months. He certainly provides a solid insurance policy in case one of our starters does go down with a prolonged injury. I’m glad Omar has waited to take his shot at signing him rather than opting for a guy like Jennings, Colon, Lohse, Livan, or Chacon.
  4. Micalpalyn February 20, 2008 at 1:21 pm
    Its too early to prognisticate on rosters yet. As Joe points out there possibly are 3-4 spots up for grabs.

    Register: I cant bring myself to comment on him. The lone thing I can add is that the Rocks could cut a deal with the Mets allowing him to be placed in the minors.

    I really like the news on Freddy. He could be a great addition and insurance for El Duque and Ollie. Note El Duque is FA this off season too and his age increasing the likelihood he wont be back. I dont perceive Garcia pitching this yr for the Mets though unless it is in late august after Ollie is traded and El Duque is injured and Freddy makes a mercurial recovery.

    Figueroa: Realistically he fills the void created by Humber. I agree with Isuzu, if he pitches he would have been the 11th starter after Tony Armas (Jr).

    Dirty Sanchez: My perception is he features for the ML club, but he gets situational duty in the 7th/8th innings untill he proves his arm strength.

  5. joe February 20, 2008 at 2:32 pm
    hdarvick: Thank you for the stats on Figgy — the info is great.

    While it may be a bold statement to say that Figueroa will be at Shea in ’08, I don’t think anyone should be counted out at this point. Right now, Figueroa has a clean slate and an opportunity to wow the Mets brass — same with Armas, Cazavos, etc. It would be a tremendous boost if someone “came out of nowhere” to have a super spring and add to the depth.

    BTW I’m also happy to hear about Garcia. I agree he is worth the relatively low risk — we’ll have low expectations out of the gate, so if he fails, big deal. But if he succeeds … great. The Mets give up nothing but cash and he won’t take innings away from anyone this spring, and presumably he’ll be able to get healthy at his own pace.

  6. hdarvick February 20, 2008 at 2:47 pm
    isuzudud & Micalpalyn: If Nelson Figueroa continues his China and Caribe World Series pitching in Florida, and his 8+ innings per game in Mexico (10 complete games), how can the Mets not bring him north? If not as a starter, as middle relief where he can give you as many innings as necessary (& a spot starter). As far as his arm after a busy winter, 33-year-old RHP Figueroa is determined to get back to the Majors, especially with the team that he rooted for growing up in Coney Island. If he thought his international pitching would hurt his chances to pitch in the Majors, he wouldn’t have pitched that much. In fact, after his 9+ innings in a game in the Caribe WS (he was taken out in the 10th after giving up a one-out single in a 1-1 game), he told his manager that he was available to pitch in relief. His team lost in the 11th. Three days later he came into a 4-4 game in the bottom of the 9th against Licey (D.R.), 1st and 3rd, one out. He retired the next 2 batters on 3 pitches, leaving the winning run on third. Mexico scored 3 in the 11th and after a 1-2-3 11th, Figueroa was the winning pitcher, later voted the Series MVP. Licey won the Caribe WS. No one in Port St. Lucie is more determined to make the Mets than Nelson Figueroa.
  7. joe February 20, 2008 at 2:59 pm
    Sounds like Figgy throws too many innings. The Mets tend to prefer starters who only get through 5 – 5 1/3 at a time. How else are we going to see Schoeneweis and Wise?


  8. isuzudude February 20, 2008 at 3:03 pm
    Ok, Hdarvick, since it’s all but a foregone conclusion in your book that Figueroa is making the Mets team out of spring training, whose spot does he take on the roster? What pitcher do you cut/demote to make room for this journeyman?
    Additionally, if Figueroa indeed struggles during spring training, will you remain as optimistic about his future in 2008?
    Like I said in my last post, I think Figueroa can be a big help for the Mets. And I’m not questioning his heart or determination. But realistically speaking, he’s likely not to contribute on the major league level as well as he did in the Far East and in the Caribbean. After all, his outings in the Fall and Winter did come against lesser competition on a smaller stage. And yes, despite his ability to pitch often this winter, I believe it will catch up to him at some point this year. The human body, especially after rotator cuff surgery (which he had in 2005), is not built to withstand such a constant and heavy workload. I’ll be pulling for Figueroa to make major waves this Spring and put up impressive numbers, because in the end it will all be beneficial for the Mets. But I certainly don’t have my hopes up as high as you do.
  9. hdarvick February 20, 2008 at 3:59 pm
    Whose spot does Figueroa take on the roster? What pitcher do you cut/demote to make room for this journeyman? Let’s see how Schoeneweis, Sosa, Wise, Smith, Pelfrey, Register, Lugo, Stokes, Collazo, Muniz, Vargas, and Bostick do in Spring Training. Someone has to do the best, why not Figueroa? If Figueroa struggles during spring training, he will start the season in New Orleans (he was signed to a minor league contract). I still think he will pitch at Shea in 2008.
  10. Walnutz15 February 20, 2008 at 4:33 pm
    P.S. — Turns out, the Garcia topic was just some different chatter for us today — as it’s been confirmed that Omar’s not interested in Mr. Garcia. Guess his visit was just that……..a visit.

    From Metsblog:

    According to Burt Hubbach, at his blog for the New York Post, Mets GM Omar Minaya said he is not interested in Freddy Garcia, who was only in town to say hello to his friends Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana.

    Earlier today at SI.com, Jon Heyman wrote that Garcia has been seen with his agents at Mets camp in Port St. Lucie.