Mets Could Learn from Red Sox
This is one of the most agonizing periods of the year. Because of exclusive negotiating until November 11th, no “new” free agents can be signed. Due to that, no trades will be made, either. Add in the D-Mat auction — which might not be completed until after Beaujolais Nouveau arrives — and it’s a pretty boring, dormant time for rabid, news-hungry baseball fans. About the only real, hard news that can occur is either a player re-sign (ho-hum) or a managerial change (who cares, unless it’s your team?).
Although, we did get one bit of good news today — Carlos Delgado will waive his right to demand a trade. As a veteran who was dealt in the middle of a multiyear contract, he had that right offered as part of the MLB collective bargaining agreement. While it was good news, it was hardly earth-shattering — half the fans didn’t realize he had that opportunity, and the other half were pretty certain he wouldn’t exercise it. After all, Delgado has already purchased a nice big house in the area, moved his family in, and began throwing himself into community causes — he’s entrenched himself for the long term, thank goodness.
One piece of news that the Mets could create — but won’t — is an official declaration that Aaron Heilman will be given an opportunity to win a spot in the starting rotation. Wouldn’t that be great news? Wouldn’t it let a number of people breathe out a big sigh of relief?
The Mets won’t make this accouncement because they’re too hardheaded and refuse to give in to Heilman’s wishes. Oh, they’ll make 101 excuses, beginning with the supposed disarray of the bullpen. Guillermo Mota may not return because of the 50-game ban; Chad Bradford, Pedro Feliciano, Roberto Hernandez, and Darren Oliver are free agents; Duaner Sanchez is not a guarantee to return healthy — the list of excuses goes on and on. Why these are good excuses to keep him in the bullpen, while the starting rotation situation is currently in much dire straits, defies all logic.
Look at this: Pedro Martinez is out till July or August. Steve Trachsel will not return. El Duque and Tom Glavine are free agents, with no guarantee of returning. Those are the Mets top four starters from 2006, and it is completely within the realm of possibility that none will pitch for the Mets in 2007. But it’s more important that Aaron stays in the bullpen. Whaaaaaaa ??????
Take a look at the Boston Red Sox. They have Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, and Tim Wakefield returning. That’s a pretty nice trio. Yet, they are still going to add Jonathan Papelbon to the 2007 rotation. This decision comes despite the fact that their bullpen will be led by Keith Foulke and Mike Timlin, two rapidly aging veterans who are no longer dependable and coming off a very poor 2006 season. Yet they are willing to remove their one sure thing — Papelbon — from the bullpen and insert him into the rotation. How? Why? For the same reason Bobby Cox pulled his sure thing — John Smoltz — out from the closer role and into the rotation. Because someone with the potential to be a solid 6- to 7-inning starter is much more valuable than even a “cream of the crop” closer.
Think about that. Smoltz was hands-down one of the top 3 closers in the game. Papelbon was easily one of the top three closers in the AL last year. Adam Wainwright was probably the best closer in the 2006 postseason. Yet, all will be starters in 2007.
Aaron Heilman is a very good pitcher. He’s proven that two years running. He’s a good setup reliever — maybe one of the better ones in the NL. However if the Red Sox can afford to take Papelbon out of the closer’s role, how is it so impossible to take Heilman out of a setup role? Especially when you consider that the Mets have Sanchez — who many believe is even better than Heilman? Add in the fact that ChadBrad will probably come back, both Bert and Mota can be re-signed fairly cheaply now, and you have Juan Padilla returning from injury. Remember Padilla? He looked pretty good, and was going to be in Heilman’s role before his elbow injury. Oh, and then there is Royce Ring and Heath Bell coming back, and Henry Owens could be ready to contribute. Not to mention the endless list of middle relievers available on the free agent market.
Unfortunately, the Mets’ stance regarding Heilman’s role is not based on logic. It’s a pride thing, apparently. Omar will not be pushed around by some punk.
Mets’ brass, if you’re listening, consider this: if you make the announcement that Heilman will have a shot at the rotation, it will help in your negotiations with Glavine, El Duque, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Ted Lilly, and/or any other free agent pitchers you pursue. Their agents can’t laugh at your offers and say “you need my guy — you have nothing but #5 starters!”. Instead, you can do what the Red Sox are doing. Announce Heilman as a candidate for the rotation. Get Jay Horwitz to write a dozen press releases, hyping Heilman’s dominant career at Notre Dame, the fact he was a two-time first-rounder, his success in 2005 winter ball as a starter, his little-known but effective breaking pitches that were trashed in his middle-relief role but will be vital as a starter. Get him a few starts on Jose Valentin’s Mantai team in Puerto Rico, and tell the world about it when he throws seven innings of shutout ball. Take pictures of Aaron and Rick Peterson chatting about pitching grips. Quote Peterson saying something about what a bulldog Heilman is, how he’ll be a Cy Young candidate. Hype, hype, and more hype — and then you can go into negotiations with Scott Boras — be it for Zito or Matsuzaka — and say, “well, you know, we don’t need your client that badly … after all, Aaron Heilman is developing into a #2 starter …”
End the insanity already. Give Heilman his opportunity. It will benefit everyone.