Last week, it was reported that reliever Matt Wise was fully recovered from a forearm bruise and would activated from the DL in time for the weekend series against the Diamondbacks.
You may not have noticed, but Wise did not suit up in Arizona. Instead, he reported to Port St. Lucie and pitched two perfect innings against Lakeland. Mets GM Omar Minaya indicated that he wanted to see Wise pitch in back-to-back games before officially activating him on the 25-man roster.
Translation: the Mets don’t know who to demote.
Here’s the problem … before the weekend, Joe Smith, the man with options, was pitching more effectively than Jorge Sosa. However, Smith let up a run to tie the game on Sunday, and Sosa ended up with the victory — his FOURTH on the season. I would be stunned if the Mets demoted Smith after one bad outing — that smells of the 1980 Yankees — but it is equally hard to demote Sosa, who despite being the most awful pitcher in the ‘pen, currently has more wins than Johan Santana. The second-worst reliever is Scott Schoeneweis — but you’d never know it from his svelte 1.93 ERA. Neither Sosa nor The Show have options, so unless the Mets want to outright release either of them (they don’t), then the odd man out would seemingly be Joe Smith.
Except for one thing.
There’s one other reliever WITH options, who also is pitching poorly: Aaron Heilman.
Sending Heilman down to make room for Matt Wise won’t happen, however — at least, I don’t think so — except under one condition: to switch him back to starting.
It would make a heckuva lot of sense for a number of reasons. First, there’s the fact that the Mets have absolutely NO young starting pitchers who are close to MLB-ready — Mike Pelfrey included. That’s a problem, especially when you consider that the contracts of Oliver Perez, Pedro Martinez, Nelson Figueroa, and Orlando Hernandez all expire at the end of this season. In other words, the 2009 starting rotation begins and ends with Johan Santana, John Maine, and Pelfrey. The Mets are dry of prospects available for trade, and don’t appear to have any Major Leaguers who could bring back a decent starter. There will be some free agents on the market, but what are the chances the Mets will buy two? Even if they are looking to the free agent pool to find starters — or would consider re-signing Pedro, Figgy, or Duque — it would behoove them to have more starters available for negotiation leverage.
We all know that Aaron Heilman wants to be a starter, and it wouldn’t be MetsToday if there wasn’t an article about him returning to the rotation (if you joined us late, check out: Aaron Heilman’s Elbow, Why Heilman Must Start, Heilman In the Pen, Another Heilman Harangue, Haren, Heilman or Harden, or Heilman or Bannister. For those who think he “doesn’t have enough pitches”, I will once again remind you that he throws four — a fastball, a change-up, a forkball, and a slider. I’ll also point out that Pelfrey still doesn’t throw more than one consistently for strikes, and that hasn’t prevented him from taking the ball to begin games. And the naysayers who scream that Heilman already had his chance and failed as a starter, I’ll point you to one more article from the archives: Aaron Heilman: Dispelling the Myths.
But let’s forget the past and look at this from the standpoint of today, a time when the Mets find themselves with a plethora of relief pitchers, yet are dangerously thin in starting pitching depth. Further, we’ll point out that Heilman has been failing miserably out of the ‘pen, despite still demonstrating good stuff. His velocity is 95-96; his changeup is diving; his sinker has good movement. Yet, he’s struggling, which suggests that the problem is in his head. It doesn’t help that the scumbags who call themselves “Mets fans” begin booing him the minute he’s warming up in the bullpen. Bottom line is, it’s time a drastic change is made, and Heilman is too talented to trade away. Solid starting pitching is rare, and Heilman has the skills and desire to be a legitimate #4 — possibly a #3. Now that he’s lost his setup role to Duaner Sanchez, and the Mets have Smith, Pedro Feliciano, and soon Matt Wise to handle the sixth and seventh, there’s no better time to move Heilman back into a starting role.
Send Aaron down to AAA, put him in the Zephyrs rotation, let him slowly work his way back to the Majors as a starting pitcher. It will take at least two months for him to get into shape — to “stretch him out” — but who cares? This will be done as much for 2009 as for 2008. In the meantime, Matt Wise will be available for middle relief, and if more relievers are needed, there is Carlos Muniz and Brian Stokes chomping at the bit in AAA — not to mention Ricardo Rincon stashed in Mexico.
Another angle to consider: if Aaron Heilman is demoted to AAA and remains a reliever, it would be a tremendous blow to his psyche, confidence, and his pride. However, if he goes down to become a starter, the blow is softened — after all, this is what he ultimately wants. The very worst thing that can happen is Heilman turns out to be slightly better starter than Pelfrey — in which case the Mets either have an extra fifth starter or Heilman will be forced to admit his career role remains in the bullpen. If nothing else, we’ll know for sure where Aaron ultimately belongs.
Right now is as good a time as any for that question to be tested and answered — both for the Mets and for Aaron Heilman.
*** UPDATE ***
I’m still trying to figure out the “options” and waiver rules, and I might be incorrect about the Mets’ ability to send down Heilman. On the one hand, he does have one “option” remaining — meaning he can be sent down — but there is still some question in my head as to whether he’d have to be placed on waivers first. It would be great if Omar Minaya or Tony Bernazard could post a comment here one way or the other … en espanol is fine, BTW.
About the Author
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.