The Deadline Deal
Now that it’s a few days removed from the frenzy of the July 31 trade deadline, it’s much easier to take a step back and absorb what happened.
As we all know, there was the possibility of either Jason Schmidt or Roy Oswalt coming to the Mets in return for a package that most likely would have included Lastings Milledge. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), neither of those power arms came our way, and we can only surmise it was due to the Giants, Astros, or Orioles (the Oswalt deal purportedly would have been a 3-way involving Miguel Tejada) GM getting cold feet.
In the wee hours of the 31st, Omar Minaya was alerted to the car accident involving the Mets’ best pitcher, Duaner Sanchez. He moved swiftly and effectively, turning Xavier Nady over to Pittsburgh in return for Robert Hernandez and Oliver Perez. Several news sources confirmed a second deal, in which Perez (and Heath Bell) was then flipped for Scott Linebrink of the Padres, but that deal apparently fell through.
By 5pm on July 31st, Mets fans were mixed: half applauded Omar’s quick fix and the other half wanted his head for not obtaining a lights-out starter. Three days and cooler heads later, how did he really do?
First of all, it was disappointing not to get a starter, but the chances of landing one were pretty slim. The Oswalt deal was not going to happen without Tejada, and even then the Astros weren’t 100% keen to the idea. The Jason Schmidt thing was more of a tease by the Giants to see what they could pry away; with Barry Bonds and several other oldsters likely in the last year of their contracts, the Giants are playing for 2006 and not all that concerned about losing Schmidt in the offseason — he’s not in their future plans. The Mets were not getting Schmidt without overpaying, and would likely lose him to free agency in November. Likewise, the Mets weren’t getting Barry Zito, as Billy Beane’s insistence on Lastings Milledge ++ for the Boras Rental ultimately killed any communication between the clubs. And, the whole Dontrelle Willis speculation was just that: speculation. So in the end, there probably wasn’t a starter on the market worth overpaying for, unless you think Jon Lieber, Kyle Lohse, or Gil Meche could suddenly turn into something better than Steve Trachsel.
In retrospect, the Mets might have stolen the best starter dealt on July 31. Oliver Perez is only 24 years old, and only two years removed from a season in which he was perhaps the most dominating lefty in the NL. Think about it: Perez in 2004 was 22 years old, the same age as Dontrelle Willis, and considered by most to have an equal or higher ceiling than the D-Train. The other starters who changed teams in deadline deals were Lohse, Cory Lidle, Kip Wells, Jorge Sosa, Jeremy Affeldt, Greg Maddux, and Shawn Chacon; considering Perez’s youth and upside, I’ll take my chances with him over any of those guys. While it’s doubtful that Perez will be able to turn himself around in time to help the Mets in 2006, there’s reason to believe that a change of scenery and a different coaching staff can help him become at least a #4 or #5 starter in 2007. As far as we know, he has no physical issues, so his sudden downslide must either be a mental or mechanical thing (or a birth certificate thing). Who knows, after ten minutes with Rick Peterson, he might become an ace!
So let’s not get on Omar for failing to get a starter, as there wasn’t one available. And we very well might be pointing to this deal as central to the Mets success in 2007, if Oliver Perez pans out. Without a starter to get, and assuming Sanchez was healthy, what else would the Mets have gone after? Alfonso Soriano? Not likely. The return of Cliff Floyd and the emergence of Jose Valentin has more or less cemented the lineup for the remainder of the year. The Mets don’t need any more bench players. The only other part that might have been helpful would be another experienced bullpen arm. Which we picked up anyway in Roberto Hernandez.
The only difference between getting Hernandez before and after learning of Sanchez’s season-ending injury, was that we had to overpay. Had the accident never happened, Bert would likely have gone to the Yankees or possibly the Braves, as the Mets would not have offered a package involving Nady. As it was, Minaya had to get somebody, and with the Braves getting Danys Baez a few days before, the best relievers on the market were Scott Linebrink, Bert, Rheal Cormier, and maybe Brad Lidge. Considering that Omar nearly pulled off deals to get Bert AND Linebrink, I think he did quite all right under the circumstances.
Now let’s take a moment and consider this: what if the taxi accident occurred on August 1st? The Mets would be in deep doo-doo, don’tcha think? Look at the Red Sox, who lost Jason Varitek just hours after the deadline passed; they’re now scrambling to replace their leader and backstop, and praying that overpaid hasbeens such as Javy Lopez or Mike Lieberthal pass through waivers. Would the Mets have been able to get Roberto Hernandez, or a reliever of his caliber, after the deadline? Doubtful, as any arm of consequence likely would not pass through waivers. So although the Duaner Sanchez injury is devastating, if there’s a silver lining it is the fact that it happened at a time when Omar could do something about it.
All in all, and considering the Sanchez injury, Omar did a pretty damn good job. He shifted gears quickly to re-stock the bullpen, picked up a potential 2007 lefthanded starter, and didn’t panic. Sure, it would have been great to land a Zito, Schmidt, or Oswalt, but in reality — Duaner’s pang for Dominican food notwithstanding — the Mets probably weren’t getting a playoff starter. If they did, would it really have been worth giving away Milledge, Heilman, Maine and possibly more, for a 60-game rental? As much as the Mets MUST HAVE another quality starter to get through the playoffs, I’d much rather see them get to the playoffs this year, then continue to reach the playoffs in ’07, ’08, ’09 and beyond, behind their young talent. This time last year, the Mets were 53-52, struggling not only to stay near .500 but also to stay out of the cellar. The collapse of the NL East and the 15-game lead has made us greedy; let’s be happy with what’s happening thus far, and consider 2006 the beginning of a long, Yankee-like stretch of great years, rather than a culminating, all-or-nothing season.
Kudos to Omar for his ability to fill in missing pieces on the fly, while keeping a cool head and preserving the Mets’ promising future.