Don’t Trade Heilman

aaron_heilman_stride.jpgAfter this season, it seems everybody hates Aaron Heilman, and anyone watching, rooting for, or writing about the Mets, would recommend that the Mets find a way to cut ties with the tall righthander.

But that notion makes no sense at all.

First of all, consider that Heilman pitched the entire season with an injury that may have affected his performance. Secondly, remember that for the third year in a row, the Mets put him into a situation that he really isn’t built for — not physically nor mentally. Third, and also for the third consecutive season, the Mets overused (abused?) Heilman. Despite appearing in only seven games in September, Heilman still finished seventh in the NL in appearances with 78. It was already established in previous years that Heilman does not respond well to overuse (not many pitchers do, for that matter). Yet, invariably, the Mets manager — whether it was Willie Randolph or Jerry Manuel — continued to put him on the mound in all kinds of situations, following their inane strategy of “riding the hot hand”. No other Mets pitcher was asked to do what he did — whether it was pitch four days in a row, pitch multiple innings in back to back days, or “take one for the team” in extra-inning ballgames. Did you know, for example, that Heilman TWICE threw 57 or more pitches in a game? And that in one of those instances, it was his third appearance in as many days? The way he was abused, I won’t be surprised to find out that Heilman’s knee surgery will be combined with some kind of elbow surgery.

One of the biggest reasons, however, not to trade Aaron Heilman is this: he has very little value right now. He has more value to the Mets as a potential starting pitcher, than he does in any trade. I think we’re all in agreement that Heilman should NOT return to the Mets bullpen in 2009, but doesn’t it make sense to finally give him a legitimate opportunity to earn a spot in the starting rotation?

Think about it — BEFORE his poor season, the best the Mets could get back for him, supposedly, was a fourth outfielder such as Marcus Thames. What do you think Heilman would bring back now? At best, someone like Argenis Reyes?

The Mets are losing Pedro Martinez and Oliver Perez to free agency, and John Maine’s return is no guarantee. That means there are at least two open spots in the rotation, and possibly a third. Personally, I’m not ready to hand over one of those spots to Jon Niese nor Bobby Parnell, and the Mets aren’t going to sign any of the big-name starters (i.e., C.C. Sabathia, Ben Sheets, AJ Burnett). Even if they did, there will would likely be a spot up for grabs come spring training — why not give Heilman a shot?

The Heilman haters will argue that if Aaron can’t pitch one effective inning, how can he pitch 6 or 7? Of course that is a ludicrous argument — there is a huge difference in optimizing performance for the everyday, random use of a reliever compared to the structured routine of a starter. Heilman showed he has the stuff to get MLB hitters out — he just wasn’t able to do that 3-4 times a week. There is a possibility that, given the opportunity to throw on a regular schedule, he can translate that 96-MPH sinking fastball, changeup, and slider into a decent fourth or fifth starter.

And if Heilman doesn’t win a starting job out of spring training, the Mets have two excellent options: one, he can be the team’s long reliever — filling the role Darren Oliver left behind two years ago. Or, you can trade him — he’ll have the same or better value as he does right now.

For four years the Mets have been forcing this square peg into a round hole. The main excuse was, “he’s too valuable to remove from the bullpen”. (Oh, there are other myths, all dispelled a long time ago here.) Today, I think everyone agrees that Heilman has almost no value to the Mets as a reliever. Before you give him away for a journeyman minor leaguer or non-prospect, why not go back to the original plan when he was a #1 draft pick — make him a starter. Either the Mets trade him and get nothing or keep him and might have something that is relatively difficult to find cheaply — a starting pitcher. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

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. debmc October 2, 2008 at 8:19 am
    If they aren’t going to start him, which they won’t, then he has to go, imo. Clearly, he’s miserable in his role/s (whatever that/those may be), and I think his time here should probably come to an end.

    So, I’d package him and get rid of him. Because the Mets clearly do not view Heilman as a starter; if they did, they’d have helped him make the transition already.

  2. isuzudude October 2, 2008 at 8:58 am
    I agree with deb, Joe. That soapbox you’ve been standing on for the past 3 years is really starting to show signs of collapse. Heilman may or may not be able to handle the duties of a starting pitcher. That much is debatable. But what we know for certain is that Heilman was a terrific setup reliever who could get both lefties and righties out. I say “was” because the overwork he has recieved since 2006 has left his arm a proverbial dead fish. And even you admit that Heilman is destined for elbow surgery at some point, which very much puts his career in jeopardy. Why wait until the cow drops dead to sell him? His value may be low now, but he’ll be completely untradeable if his arm blows out, which I think we all believe is destined to happen sooner or later. And I would much rather push the Mets hard to package him in some kind of deal this offseason while he’s still functioning than non-tender him next offseason when his arm is on the brink of imploding, or has already imploded. There’s a time to hold on to someone and hope for the best, and there’s a time to cut bait. And at 29, which as many miles as we’ve ridden Heilman for, it’s time to cut bait. If he re-establishes himself as a solid reliever or reliable starter elsewhere, so be it, good for him. But with as much bad history as he’s recorded in New York, it seems like a long shot he could ever turn around his career pitching for the Mets.
  3. joe October 2, 2008 at 9:36 am
    I’d like to either wait a few weeks on this one, to see what kind of surgeries he goes in for, and/or try to dig up some inside info on all of Heilman’s ailments. I’m convinced his performance was a combination of injuries + overuse, and don’t believe it makes sense to swap him away for nothing. He’s not going to be the central part of an impact deal — he’ll be a throw-in guy along the lines of when the Mets obtained Ollie Perez. The Mets will need starting pitching, so why trade away a potential back-end guy when that type of pitcher will be overvalued on the FA market?

    Think back to Braden Looper, who was chased out of NY by the fans for similar reasons. Turned out he pitched all of 2005 with an injury, got himself fixed up, and is now a decent #4.

    Elbow problems don’t scare me nearly as much as shoulder issues — dozens of pitchers have come back from TJ surgery and done just fine. And since Aaron still has his velocity, I’m thinking his shoulder is fine. I think he has a much better chance of coming back from any elbow issues than John Maine has of recovering from his shoulder problems — and if Maine has problems, that’s another hole in the rotation that needs to be filled.

  4. Schmidtxc October 2, 2008 at 10:05 am
    If I was in omar’s position, I’d be tempted to hang on to heilman. I don’t know if I’d be stretching him out to be a starter at this point, I’d be seeing what develops on the free agent and trade market this winter first, but I’d definately keep him. I’m sure the mets have a better idea of the extent of his injuries than we as fans do though. As much as I feel the pen was a major problem last year, I think a guy like heilman who has had success in the past should still be around. Without a lefty closer, I’d still keep 2 lefties in the pen for situational matchups. That may be an easier matchup next year if burrell is no longer in philly…hopefully the phillies can’t back their lefty bats up with a strong righty. So unless we make a move for another lefty (fuentes?) I’d be ok with keeping shoenweis and feliciano just for that. We also don’t seem to have any lefties besides jon niese who are close to being ready for the majors. I’d rather see niese stay a starter at this point than throw him in the pen to start the year and potentially mess up his development. I also think tossing him in the pen could mess up his development.

    Joe Smith is obviously a keeper. I’d make an effort to re-sign ayala on a one year deal, but let him walk if he wants more. He did a nice enough job to justify having him in middle relief. As Joe said, heilman in the past has been able to work to lefties. If the mets front office think his injuries may have affected his performance this season, he’d definately be a nice guy to keep going into spring training. As we’ve seen in the past, you can’t have to many bullpen arms. That leaves two open spots for the free agent and trade market. My thoughts would be to sign juan cruz and trade for jj putz. I just don’t know that I’d be looking at heilman for the rotation at this point. I’d doubt he stays in ny after he’s eligible for free agency anyway, so I’d let some else spend the time to make that transition later on if they want to try.

  5. isuzudude October 2, 2008 at 10:40 am
    It sounds like your only solution to the bullpen woes is to dump Sanchez. Is that enough? Last offseason all Omar did to address the pen was to dump Mota and sign Matt Wise, and arguably the bullpen this year was worse than last year. I’m thinking the Mets are in need for a complete bullpen overhaul. Not to mention, I think Duaner is one of the few that should be retained. His arm will continue to get stronger as he puts his arm surgery further behind him. He also held batters to a .238 average this season and had a pretty respectable 1.32 WHIP. I think he’s on target for a very nice bounceback season in ’09, and since he’s arbitration eligible this year he won’t be in line for a significant pay raise coming off such a ‘poor’ season. But I think Schoeneweis can be dealt to a team desperate for a lefty. And Heilman’s time in NY has come to a close. And Ayala is just junk (he had a 5.50 ERA and batters hit .308 against after the trade to the Mets, not good). To move ahead we have to shed the past. And then the Mets should look at signing one of Fuentes or KRod, and look at trading for Putz or Huston Street, and look at Juan Cruz, Keith Foulke, Will Ohman, and Damaso Marte, all of whom are available this winter. With what has transpired over the past 2 seasons, its time for a major overhaul. I know I’m asking a lot, and I haven’t even addressed the issue of bullpen mismanagement, but we need to start with the personnel. We can’t keep sticking with the same bodies and hope they come back around. It’s high time for some changes.
  6. Andrew Vazzano October 2, 2008 at 10:50 am
    Heilman and Castillo for Byrnes and Rauch?
  7. joe October 2, 2008 at 10:59 am
    isuzu – I’m with you on Duaner. I think the Mets were delirious to think he’d pitch effectively beyond 45 appearances, but also think he has a chance to regain his strength. I don’t know that he’ll be the guy we saw in 2006, but he should at worst be a valuable middle reliever.

    Andrew, I’m not sure the D-Backs will want to trade any of their middle relievers, considering they may lose Cruz and Lyon. (Is Qualls a potential FA or under control?). But if the Mets pulled off that deal, 99.9% of fans would rejoice!

  8. Schmidtxc October 2, 2008 at 11:12 am
    Isuzu, I definately agree that I’d like to see a totally different bullpen in 2009, but I don’t know how feasable that is. Feliciano and schoenweis are the best lefties we have, and in this division I really think we need two left handed relievers. I like marte, but I think the yankees will probably pick up his option. That makes the only ttwo viable lefties in free agency ohman and fuentes. I like both of them, but with fuentes I don’t think he will be worth the commitment in money and years. If big money is going to be spent for a closer, I’d like to see us just go for krod. Ohman will probably also be looking at a longer term deal than I’d like to see given. I think if the team is going to give out multi year contracts, it has to be for guys that can get both lefties and righties out. I love juan cruz and hope he’s the first guy we sign. I’d rather see us go after putz or street and stay away from the free agent closers entirely. I just think dumping the whole bullpen and going to free agency creates the same problem. At some point we have to hit the bargain bin and run into the same types of pitchers we have.

    I really think that the solution to making these guys more effective is smarter signings with starting pitchers. Ollie, Maine, and Pedro never seemed to go too deep into games. Pelf had trouble with that early in the season as well. Pedro and Ollie are probably gone, I’d hope we replace them with guys who traditionally get deeper into games. Derek Lowe really sounds like a good idea to me, he’s right up there on my list with juan cruz. If the team signs another starter, I hope they shoot for a guy who stays around for longer outings. I really think this is a much more viable way to rebuild the bullpen than to try to sign 6 free agents.

  9. isuzudude October 2, 2008 at 11:13 am
    At this point, I’d do Heilman and Castillo for just Byrnes. But perhaps I’m in the minority.

    By the way, Qualls is under contract for 2009 (arby eligible this and next offseason), and Bob Melvin has already expressed that Qualls will be his closer for next year. Arizona is also devoid of any lefties in th pen, so maybe Schoeneweis/Castillo can net Byrnes?

  10. Schmidtxc October 2, 2008 at 11:17 am
    I’d rather do heilman/castillo…at least the righties are easier to find via free agency.
  11. isuzudude October 2, 2008 at 11:21 am
    I agree with everything you wrote, Schmidt. Obviously I’d much prefer to see starters who last longer in games than 5-6 innings signed than relievers who are asking for multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts. And with that, I’d rather trading for relievers than signing them and giving up draft picks. However, I doubt the Mets will get as lucky as the Phillies and have a Brad Lidge-type closer fall into the laps this winter, so it means free agency signings are likely going to play a large role in revamping the bullpen. And with guys like Fuentes, Cruz, and Ohman available, I’d give Omar my blessing in sacrificing a few draft picks to put some stud arms into the pen to go along with Feliciano, Smith, and Sanchez.
  12. joe October 2, 2008 at 11:27 am
    I wouldn’t give up more than Castillo for Byrnes. Byrnes is owed another $22M, that’s nothing to sneeze at. As much as I like his personality, if he can’t run his value is greatly reduced — he won’t hit 26 HRs again. And he’s going to be 33. Spending that kind of money and giving up two players — even if you hate them — for a guy who might not be more than Trot Nixon, would be irresponsible.

    Remember Heilman is still DIRT CHEAP compared to pitchers who are similar in skillset and, in fact, more awful (see: Josh Fogg, Guillermo Mota, Julian Tavarez).

    If you don’t think Schoeneweis can be used as a chip (I think he has some value after his 3.34 ERA), then Scho is a better option in the deal because it takes another $3.6M off the books, and evens out the deal in terms of salary ($22M to $21.6M).

  13. Schmidtxc October 2, 2008 at 11:29 am
    I really think that seattle will look at moving putz, and I’d be surprised if oakland didn’t look to move street. Other than that though, I don’t see many good trade options for closers out there.
  14. Cliffy44 October 3, 2008 at 5:41 am
    I’d trade heilman for a beer or a hot dog vendor to be named later. And, he’d probably fu*k that up also.

    If it weren’t for heilman, the Mets would have played in the NLDS and perhaps the NLCS also.

    Heilman Sucks. Trade him or kill him.

  15. Walnutz15 October 6, 2008 at 8:15 am
    Let me preface this post by saying that I feel it would probably be best to move Aaron Heilman this winter — and that I don’t feel he’ll ever have a “true fit” with this organization, even after a few years of hoping that he’d be given a real opportunity within the starting rotation.


    It should be pretty evident to all who’ve followed this club closely over the past few years that certain key cogs in our bullpen have been char-broiled, bordering on becoming flat-out “burnt” from their (over)usage.

    Don’t get me wrong, “horses” should be able to handle this kind of workload….but when your bullpen is comprised strictly of specialists who are unable to complete a full inning’s worth of work — let alone maybe multiple innings? It starts to have a negative carry-over on every single guy in the ‘pen.

    Heilman is the poster-child…..

    Heilman’s appearances

    – 74 in 2006

    (**off-season surgery on his elbow**)

    – 81 in 2007 (still, even post-surgery)

    – 78 more in 2008 (laboring, altering his arm angle — compensating his delivery — with alleged tendinitis in knee, to boot)

    Heilman’s been an overworked horse for the past 3 seasons….and much like Braden Looper in the past (hated after a couple of seasons), he’s also very likely been pitching hurt — as was the case with Looper, the year he blew a ton of saves.

    If we let Heilman go, would anyone be even the least bit surprised if he didn’t end up owning us as a starting pitcher for an organization like, say — the Cardinals?

    All it takes is:

    1) An honest to goodness assessment of his “true” health — it’s apparent to all, that Heilman was being relied upon quite heavily this season…..and that he had been compensating for a majority of the early goings (not unlike John Maine, and even Looper “The Met Closer” at all….altering their deliveries, flattening out in the process — ultimately GETTING HAMMERED and booed out of town, or put on the D.L. — for organizations who use common sense).

    The Mets are stupid like that — and make themselves look even worse after a guy leaves town to greater success. I expect nothing less in Heilman’s case.

    2) A team with a strong pitching coach…..and in need of a starting pitcher. A’la Dave Duncan….or whatever team Leo Mazzone decides to latch onto.

    I’d hope that a package of Heilman+ can net something of worth to us in the long-run. It seems evident that his time as a NY Met will expire over the winter.

    Couple of attractive points:

    – Heilman’s under team control.
    – He’s got pretty good stuff for a back-end starter, let alone a late-inning reliever.
    – He was pitching through an injury this year (but as we’ve stated, we don’t know how much of his poor performance was a result of the injury.)

    Best believe, that other teams around the league will be looking at Heilman, much like the way they viewed a guy like Looper, now a starter. After leaving, Looper has won 24 ballgames over the past 2 seasons as a starting pitcher — after a successful 1st year of his contract in the Cardinal bullpen.

    Additionally, Heilman had nowhere near the level of chances afforded to other “throwaway” Met starting pitchers over the past few years.

    The immediate need for him was in the bullpen, surely….and he excelled early in that role — however, to say definitively that Heilman wouldn’t ever have been an effective starting pitcher at the Major League level…is an assumption.

    His mechanics and release points were messed up from the second the Mets got their hands on him out of Notre Dame — to the point where Bobby Ojeda left the organization — citing that the Mets tinkered too much with their youngr pitchers.

    Heilman went back to his original arm angle and delivery — and actually pitched a bit better. Like clockwork, he was promptly removed from the rotation.

    Let’s take a look at a side-by-side comparison……

    Player A — 25 Major League starts stretched out over 3 seasons

    133.2 IP
    5.93 ERA
    106 K’s

    Player B — 17 Major League starts over 2 seasons

    90.2 IP
    5.56 ERA
    56 K’s

    Player A = Aaron Heilman

    Player B = Mike Pelfrey……pre-breakout 2008

    Two 1st round draft picks who dominated in college…..2 guys the Mets have severely mishandled in the beginning.

    Situations show little difference, IMO — except in fan perception.

    Now, I’m not saying that Aaron Heilman will become Mike Pelfrey, if he’s given a chance to start….he’ll be 30 in November, and there are definite questions about his mental make-up and physical health at this point. But who is to say that he couldn’t?

    I hope that if the Mets are looking to move him — that they don’t just give him away.

  16. joe October 6, 2008 at 8:45 am
    Funny you should bring the use / misuse of Heilman, Walnutz … it just so happens I’m in the middle of a “bullpen blueprint” that, among other things, proves the Mets were by far the most abusive in MLB when it came to bullpen management in 2008, and Heilman was the most abused reliever. And I’m using numbers, something you know I rarely do to back up my argument. In fact, the argument began with numbers.

    It’s going to be too big for a post, so I’ll make it available as a PDF download, hopefully by the end of next week. Based on the numbers, it’s astonishing how boneheaded the Mets were in comparison to everyone else.

  17. Walnutz15 October 6, 2008 at 8:59 am
    I know that this is pretty unpopular, Joe — re: Heilman — but I felt it should be discussed.

    Looking forward to your PDF.

  18. isuzudude October 6, 2008 at 10:03 am
    By stating that the Mets overused and abused the bullpen, are you really going to be breaking any ground? To me this horse has already been beaten to a bloody pulp. I think those associated with the Mets know that half the problem is replacing all the “specialists” in the bullpen with guys who can get both lefties and righties out, thus allowing management to avoid playing the matchup game the moment the starting pitcher comes out; and the other half of the problem is overusage. And that can be helped by starters going longer in games, and by management not playing the aforementioned matchup game and managing each game from April thru September like game 7 of the world series.

    It’ll be the brainiac that figures which new relievers need to brought in, which current relievers need to go, what roles the 2009 bullpen pitchers should have, and what system will prevent relievers from getting fatigued late in the season that gets my credit.

  19. joe October 6, 2008 at 2:07 pm
    ‘dude, way to make me feel great about the last 32 hours I spent on my bullpen report …. 🙂

    In fact it’s not as obvious to everyone else that the Mets bullpen was mismanaged. For example the lead story on MetsBlog ended with a comment on how it’s pointless to go after CC Sabathia because the bullpen is so bad. And every other blogger, journalist, radio jockey, and pundit has been talking about how much the Mets’ bullpen stinks. I’m getting to the bottom of the truth — it’s not the bullpen personnel, but the management of that personnel. The more I dig into the research on other teams, the more it’s apparent how much the Mets look like a bunch of clowns when it comes to handling relievers.

    At the same time, my research will hopefully start a conversation on the RIGHT way to manage a bullpen — as it appears there are several teams who are close to having a clue.

    In fact, the more I look into this, the more I see that the Mets don’t need to remove ANYONE from their 2008 bullpen — they just need to have an idea on how to properly use who they have, and possibly add a few more arms.

    That “system” you refer to, that prevents relievers from getting fatigued late in the season, appears to be in place by other teams. Hopefully my document, when it’s complete, will prove that, to an extent.