Heilman Will Not Start (for the Mets)
Only a week into the offseason, GM Omar Minaya has already squashed any hope that the Mets would finally come to their senses and put Aaron Heilman into a position where he can succeed.
From The New York Times:
Although the Mets need at least two starting pitchers, Minaya all but ruled out moving the beleaguered reliever Aaron Heilman back into the rotation.
“Right now he is one of our relievers and he will remain a reliever,” Minaya said. “Relievers have rough years. Lidge had a rough year last year.”
So, either the Mets will trade Heilman (while he’s at his lowest value), or they’ll continue to jam a square peg into a round hole when the spring rolls around.
Over the years I’ve written several articles recommending that Heilman be returned to the rotation — you can peruse them all on the Aaron Heilman Page when you’re bored.
Right now, there is no valid argument that the Mets organization can provide to keep Heilman in the bullpen, and out of the rotation. The excuse file is empty! Let’s go over some of the past “explanations” offered by Omar Minaya and other Mets officials:
He’s a two-pitch pitcher.
Not so. In addition to his fastball and changeup, Heilman also unveiled his slider, a pitch buried from his repertoire two years ago per the recommendation of Rick Peterson. It’s not the best slider in baseball, but it’s effective when used judiciously. Oh, and how many pitches does Mike Pelfrey throw? Yeah …..
He’s too valuable to the bullpen
I think we all agree this one can be stricken from the books. By September, Heilman was the least likely person to emerge from the bullpen during a game.
He was ineffective as a starter in the past.
Yes — BEFORE he returned to his more natural, low-three-quarter delivery. After Guy Conti convinced Rick Peterson to tell Willie Randolph to talk to Heilman about going back to his old ways, Heilman pitched pretty well as a starter. Here are his stats as a starter in 2005, after he ditched the Mets’ force-fed overhand motion:
Only seven games, a small sample for sure, but the numbers suggest he would be at least a decent back-end guy. Add in the outstanding winter he had after the 2005 season, and the excellent showing during the 2006 spring training audition, and there’s enough to dispel the myth that Heilman “failed before as a starter”.
The Mets have a surplus of starters.
That was the argument after Heilman was the best starting pitcher in the spring of 2006, then was sent back to the bullpen. To refresh your memory, they chose instead to go with Brian Bannister, Victor Zambrano, and Steve Trachsel. To further refresh your memory, when the Mets’ rotation suffered injuries that season, they went to their “surplus” of Jose Lima, Geremi Gonzalez, Dave Williams, and Alay Soler.
This year, they have no such surplus. In fact, the Mets are DESPERATE for starting pitching, with only three legitimate starters returning, and one of them coming off shoulder surgery.
There’s one excuse that may be left in the file cabinet:
If he can’t get three outs out of the bullpen, how can you expect him to retire hitters over 6-7 innings as a starter?
Ah, the old catch-22. Heilman pitches well out of the bullpen, and he’s too valuable to remove. But he pitches poorly out of the bullpen, and you can’t try him in a different role? C’mon now, it’s either one way or the other. Further, it can be argued that at least SOME of Heilman’s ineffectiveness this season was due to overuse. Not all, but some. More to the point, as I’ve argued in the past, Heilman’s motion is not ideal for relief — it’s too complicated. He’d be more effective if he pitched according to a regular routine, which would prevent fatigue, which causes major issues with his mechanics.
But why should we care so much about Aaron Heilman? Why should he be given so much time on this blog, and why should the Mets re-think their positioning of him in the bullpen? What makes Aaron Heilman so special? Didn’t he stink last year?
Good questions. Here’s the thing: not many human beings can throw 96 MPH, with sinking movement, and with good control. Even fewer can pair that weapon with an excellent change-up that also dives down in the zone. Heilman’s command was up and down in 2008, but it was outstanding from 2005-2007. In other words, he has the tools and he’s done it before, and he’s young enough to do it again. The Mets are in need of TWO starting pitchers, and are considering fresh blood for the bullpen. Now I ask you: which is going to be more costly, and more difficult to obtain, a decent #4 starter or a decent middle reliever?
Perhaps examples are easier. Will it be more difficult, or expensive, to add, say, David Weathers or Braden Looper? Jon Garland or Dan Wheeler? Better yet, look at the free-agent starting pitchers available this winter, and compare it to the list of free-agent relievers. That list of relievers is a heckuva lot longer, wouldn’t you say? And once you get past Sabathia, Burnett, Sheets, Lowe, Dempster, Looper, and Garland, the dropoff is scary. We’re talking the Sidney Ponsons and Josh Foggs of the world. Not pretty. That dearth of free agents sets the value higher for starters available via trade.
With those points in mind, is there any logical explanation to NOT give Heilman a shot at the rotation? The guy is clearly at a turning point in his career, and in need of some kind of change. Rather than give him away and watch him flourish elsewhere, why not give him the chance to reinvent himself here, at a bargain-basement price? It’s a no-lose, no-risk opportunity.
All arguments are welcome. I’m dying to hear a new excuse.
UPDATE: Glad I’m not the only one thinking clearly. See John Delcos’ “What to do with Heilman“