Fifth Starter Options

We spent most of the offseason wondering which veteran starter the Mets would sign as insurance behind Orlando Hernandez and Mike Pelfrey. Yes, way back in November we were concerned with the slight possibility that neither El Duque nor Pelfrey would be ready to take a spot in the rotation. Here we are, less than a week before opening day, and what do you know — the fifth spot in the rotation is the team’s largest question mark (and there are several questions right now).

Let’s take a look at who is, and who might be, available.

Free Agents

Claudio Vargas
The most recently released pitcher of consequence, Vargas was abruptly dropped by the Brewers despite a fairly decent spring. He’s a five-inning pitcher with a career ERA of just under 5, so I’m not sure he’d be any better than who the Mets already have.

Horacio Ramirez

Let go last week by the Mariners, Ramirez remains available. I’d be interested in him because of his lefthandedness, and the fact that he was fairly successful in the NL; maybe a return to the senior circuit is exactly what he needs to rediscover his groove.

Jeff Weaver
Another former Mariner, Weaver is still looking for a job. His 6.20 ERA last year is unattractive, but might be worth giving a AAA audition — but certainly not an MLB job.

Rodrigo Lopez
Also still looking for a job, Lopez had a 4.42 ERA in 14 starts with the Rockies last year. I was dead-set against making a deal for him a year ago, but today I’d consider him as a AAA option — though like Weaver there’s no way I’d give him an MLB job right away.

Freddy Garcia
He won’t be ready until at least July. I still think it’s a good idea to pay for his rehab, in hopes of getting something better than Brian Lawrence for the second half.

David Wells, Roger Clemens, Russ Ortiz, John Thomson, Eric Milton

No, no, no, no, and no.

Trade Possibilities

Jon Lieber

Here at MetsToday we strongly advocated for a Jon Lieber signing over the winter. However, Lieber was “promised” a rotation spot with the Cubs. Guess what? He’s starting the season in the ‘pen, as Ryan Dempster and Jason Marquis have won the 4th and 5th spots. Maybe the Cubs would consider moving the elderly innings eater for a NJ-born LOOGY. If they would throw in Matt Murton, all the better.

Jeremy Sowers (or Cliff Lee?)
Omar Minaya and Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro had a meeting a few days ago, but nothing was accomplished. Since then, Sowers was sent down and Cliff Lee won a spot in the Indians rotation. I’d take either of these lefties in a heartbeat right now.

Jonathan Sanchez

The Giants’ lefty is in the running for a rotation spot, but is sporting a 6.00 ERA this spring. Interestingly, that’s better than the two men he’s in competition with. I’d do Pelfrey for Sanchez straight up — though it’s doubtful there’s any chance of that happening.

Edwin Jackson
It wasn’t long ago he was among the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. He’s now losing a battle for a rotation spot with the Rays to J.P. Howell, and is out of options. The Rays might consider moving him, and who knows — maybe all the kid needs is Rick Peterson. Jackson is only 24 years old, by the way.

Dan Meyer
The Woodbury, NJ native has been a bust since being the centerpiece of the deal that sent Tim Hudson to Atlanta. The 26-year-old lefty made the A’s 25-man roster as a mopup reliever. He went 8-2 with a 3.28 ERA in 21 AAA starts last year. Maybe Billy Beane would part with Meyer in exchange for Ruben Gotay and/or one of the Mets’ spare relievers?

Internal Options

Jorge Sosa
The slider machine likely is the de facto Mets #5 starter. Who knows, maybe he can recapture the magic that made him virtually unhittable in the first half of 2007.

Nelson Figueroa

Being the type who roots for the underdog, I’m hoping “Figgy” has a lights-out performance in the “Civil Rights Game” and earns a spot in the rotation.

Aaron Heilman
It wouldn’t be MetsToday without at least one post arguing Heilman’s right to a rotation spot. Yes, it would take about a month to stretch him out, but the long-term results would be well worth the effort. With Brian Stokes, Matt Wise, Joe Smith, Steven Register, Pedro Feliciano, Ricardo Rincon, Jorge Sosa, and Scott Schoeneweis all pitching well out of the ‘pen, plus the eventual return of Duaner Sanchez looming, now is as good a time as any to give Aaron what he wants — there’s plenty of depth to fill in the gap. Omar, it can be all your idea, OK? Just do it already!

Jonathan Niese
He’s looked promising in his spring appearances, including his most recent yesterday afternoon. However, he still needs polish, and ran out of gas in the fifth inning. Hopefully the Mets will stretch him out in the minors, as I think we’ll see him at some point before the end of the season.

Tony Armas, Jr.

He won’t be in shape for at least another three weeks, at minimum. Even then, I’m not sure he’s the answer.

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. […] more on the fifth starter, check out Joe Janish at Mets Today, who breaks down every candidate, and then some, while listing why each should or shouldn’t […]
  2. isuzudude March 26, 2008 at 7:44 am
    If it were my decision…

    It would not be Pelfrey. He’s clearly not ready and needs to get more work and confidence in AAA.
    It would not be El Duque. He needs another 3 or 4 weeks to get accustomed to his new delivery and work up arm strength.
    Honestly, I think my pick would be Figueroa. I scoffed when someone on this blog (don’t remember who) predicted that Figueroa was going to make the team way back when ST was just beginning. Well, here’s me, and here’s me eating my words. Kudos to whoever made that prediction. Figueroa doesn’t look dominating and shouldn’t be relied on as a long-term solution, but has earned at least a chance as the #5 SP with his spring performance. And if he does well and El Duque proclaims himself ready for action, then he can seamlessly be transitioned to long-relief work. In the interim, however, Sosa can be that longman, and then switch to ROOGY work when El Duque comes back. In my opinion, Pelfrey should only be considered after he’s started at least 10 games in the minors, and only if there is an injury to one of our front 4 pitchers.

    Of the external options mentioned, I’m pretty sure Rodrigo Lopez is out for most of the year recovering from TJ surgery. I’m not keen on any of the free agents mentioned, aside from Garcia, who will only be available (perhaps) after the all-star break. There’s a good chance other SP options will become available as teams continue to trim their rosters in preparation for opening day, so that forefront needs to keep being monitored. As far as trade options go, it seems as though the Cubs or Indians seem like logical partners with the Mets, considering their abundance of starters and need for spare parts in which the Mets have. A Lieber/Murton or Marquis/Murton acquisition would be incredible, but I’m afraid of what the Cubs would as for in return.

  3. joe March 26, 2008 at 7:59 am
    ‘dude, I’m also leaning toward Figgy … though I’d be OK with Sosa if it meant Steven Register stayed. Totally forgot about Rodrigo Lopez’s TJ surgery … good point.
  4. Micalpalyn March 26, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Nice work. I actually can add very little to your comment. but I’ll try anyway.

    Pelfrey: interesting that you bring up Edwin jackson. Yes he was BA’s #2 prospect a few yrs ago. Only to be traded away. I think he has comeback well and to me is a Mike Pelfrey. I think I have said for almost a yr thaty Pel like MANY others need AAAA experience at a club like Pitt. or Tampa.
    I do disagree with something that Joe said yesterday though.

    It seems some teams like Tampa, Cincy, washington, even Florida have a consistent depth of top draft picks and top tier pitching prospects and as such their 40man is loaded with high ceilling types. But do they ever blossom? Rarely. And not with their original clubs. The Marlins are the exception having developed Burnett, Becket, Willis and now have new kids in Olsen, anibel Sanchez, and our recent fave Gabby Hernandez.

    As such I would advocate a Millz type trade in which Pel was given a fresh start (elsewhere) with the Mets either picking up young developing arms or even trade for an Ed Jackson or jeff Nieman.

    I agree that Figs has on paper has WON a job even as a 5th starter, but we all know SPR tng does not always mean ML success.

  5. isuzudude March 26, 2008 at 3:32 pm
    Additional news on Murton:

    It appears as though the Cubs want him in the minors. It’s too bad he still has options left, or else the Mets would have had a perfect trading partner. Still, since the Cubs have chosen the aging, injury-hampered cast-off Reed Johnson over him, I’m guessing the Cubs have soured for whatever reason on Murton, and maybe are looking to deal him anyway in their pursuit for…well, what do they need? Seems like Johnson took care of their right-hand hitting CF back-up need, and they seemingly already have plenty of arms for the rotation and middle relief. Damn, I wish this were easier…

    Yeah, and Figueroa and Smith didn’t do much to ease my mind in their outings today. Smith’s ERA is over 8 this Spring. I really hope the Mets aren’t serious in having him make the roster over Register.

  6. Micalpalyn March 26, 2008 at 4:35 pm
    Isuzu: You may yet retract your retraction.

    for some reason smith has regressed dramatically since last all-star break. And before Figs gets added to the ML roster it would not be a worst case scenario for him to work some AAA innings. Ditto for Pel. Register has done nothing to remove himself from ML consideration.