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

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. murph November 6, 2008 at 11:52 am
    I agree with you, Joe.
    I think the Mets are continuing to screw with Heilman’s career.
    He will start elsewhere as soon as he is eligible for free agency.
  2. Micalpalyn November 6, 2008 at 4:57 pm
    A change of scenery is good for everyone once in a while.

    Meanwhile K-Rod is saying he is ‘flexible’ and fuentes has submitted ‘his’ first offer to the Mets. Looks like they are coming to Omar. Plus Cordero is in the picture. Sho and Heilman are being actively shopped. Net result; brand NEW BP.

    As much as i sarcastically blew it off, why not propose a minor league/low salary deal to El duque as a BP figure, competing to close?

  3. joe November 6, 2008 at 5:16 pm
    Amazing how the relief pitchers change their tunes when the deepest-pocketed teams shy away.

    If the Mets don’t bid on K-Rod, he’s screwed, because the Yankees and Red Sox won’t be in on the bidding. The next-deepest pockets are the Cubs, who are still for sale, the Dodgers, who likely aren’t looking to replace Saito, and the Angels, who are showing lukewarm interest.

    Mic, I like your idea of Duque in the BP, but history says he’ll pull a quad warming up in the bullpen. 😉

    Oh, BTW, brand new BP means nil with Uncle Jerry coming back.

  4. Micalpalyn November 6, 2008 at 7:13 pm
    Personally I see Fuentes and the Mets matching up at 3yrs 30M with a 12M option. however K-rod counters and Omar decides to take a sabatical to weigh both proposals. In the end Colarado has stated Fuentes will not be back and as the contract is not signed untill arbitration deadline passes.

    I think Jerry will surprise you next year. All provided the BP is comprised of pitchers with arms, knees, elbows and Quads.

    On that note: I am turning the Microcope to Brad Holt. I think Parnall wins the annual Heath Bell Shuttle award, but Brad Holt could surprise in Spring Training (if invited).

  5. joe November 6, 2008 at 10:16 pm
    Mic, I love you but you drive me nuts with your spelling of Parnell. It’s ParnEll, just like ol’ Mel Parnell. Like the song: “…. Kiner and midget Gaedel, the Thumper and Mel Parnell, and Ike was the only one winning down in Wash-ing-TON!”

    I hope the Mets make no offer to Fuentes … he’d be a terrible, terrible mistake.

    I like Brad Holt, based on the very little I saw of him in college and in Brooklyn. The kid throws gas, but doesn’t have a second, MLB-quality pitch (yet) — I don’t care what’s being reported. And he doesn’t have the kind of sinker that Pelfrey does where he can get away with just one pitch — not as a starter. That said, I would hope the Mets put him into a closer role right away and on the fast track. I liken him to Rob Dibble.

  6. Schmidtxc November 7, 2008 at 10:32 am
    I really hope the mets decide to keep brad holt as a starter for now. If down the line he ends up being a reliever, so be it…but getting him some innings and letting him refine his stuff is far more important at the minor league level. I agree with you joe, that I don’t want to see an offer made to brian fuentes. He’s going to be paid well more than he is worth, and he’s getting on in years.

    I really think that there are several out of the box alternatives that may be just as effective. Juan Cruz has always seemed like a guy that could close, given the opportunity. I like the idea of going after Joe Biemel, although that may be for more of a setup role. Kerry Wood might be an interesting one to watch as well…he really does seem like he could be lights out as he gets more innings back under him. I’d like to see us keep Heilman, but I think the best thing for him may be a change of scenery. I just don’t see him being successful here long term, mainly due to not being comfortable here anymore. Even if we get 80 cents on the dollar for him, it may be the best thing for both sides.

    I also agree joe, that the most effective use of aaron may be as a starter. I just don’t know if that would work here. As soon as he struggled, the fans and media would be all over him. I don’t know that giving him a shot here is what’s best for him. I really would like to see him moved to an AL team where he’d have a shot to succeed.

  7. joe November 7, 2008 at 12:16 pm
    The more I’m hearing, the more it sounds inevitable that Heilman will move on — most likely to a team that will give him a shot to start.

    Juan Cruz is not a bad idea. Signing Beimel for anything other than a LOOGY role doesn’t make sense to me — it’s the same as asking Schoeneweis to expand his role.

    While I sort of agree with you on keeping Holt as a starter right now, it really depends on how quickly he can develop a second pitch — specifically, an offspeed pitch. At 22, he’s young and has time to learn one. I just hope it’s a changeup or curve rather than a slider. If we see the Mets teaching him a slider, expect him to quickly move into a bullpen role and fast track to MLB.

  8. Cliffy44 November 9, 2008 at 5:28 am
    H e i l m a n S u c k s.

    Trade him for 3 popcorn venders to be named at a later date.

    (The popcorn venders would be getting the worst of the deal.)