Planning Without Zito
Let’s pretend that there really is a possibility that Barry Zito will sign with the Rangers, or some team on the Left Coast. What will the Mets’ pitching staff look like?
Well, here it is right now (we’re omitting Pedro because we don’t know when/if he’ll be back):
Guillermo Mota (late May / early June)
Looking at the above group, you can understand why Omar is saying he is comfortable with his pitching. Sure, the starting rotation is lacking at the front end, but it was just as lacking during the entire 2006 season, when the Mets flat-out dominated the NL. And with the return from injury of Duaner Sanchez and Juan Padilla, coupled with the pickups of Burgos, Standridge, and Adkins, the bullpen is deep enough to withstand Heilman’s departure to the rotation (should that be in the plans).
Further, the Mets will surely add a few more arms before February. Some free agents still available include Joel Pineiro, David Riske, Mark Mulder, John Thomson, Jeff Suppan, Eddie Guardado, Keith Foulke, Dustin Hermanson, Tony Armas, Bruce Chen, Scott Schoeneweis, Jorge Sosa, Ron Villone, Arthur Rhodes, and Chris Reitsma. From that group, the Mets have a number of options. They could gamble on Mulder coming back from injury, and get Zito-like performance without the expense. Or they could go the safe route, and sign a guy like Thomson, Armas, Pineiro, or Suppan to be an innings-eater. Another possibility is to sign Riske, Guardado, or Rhodes, then move Heilman into the rotation. Most certainly, the Mets will offer a spring training invite to a guy such as Armas or Chen, and hope for a Darren Oliver type of epiphany.
There’s also speculation that if they don’t sign Zito, the Mets will pull the trigger on a deal for a pitcher in return for a package that includes Heilman and Lastings Milledge. I’m really not seeing that as a viable option. First, it’s been said by Mets’ brass that Heilman won’t be moved to the rotation because he’s too valuable to the team as a reliever. If he’s indeed that valuable in the bullpen, then why would they trade him away? Secondly, why would they trade away a pitcher as skilled as Heilman, in addition to top prospect Milledge, in return for a starter who probably won’t be much better than what Heilman can provide in the rotation? A few weeks ago, the Mets might have been able to land a #2 / #3 type of starter, but those rare commodities that were on the market — Freddy Garcia, Jason Jennings, Horacio Ramirez — have already switched teams. The arms that remain available via trade are #4 / #5 types, of which the Mets already have an abundance. I’d think the Mets would rather take the chance that Heilman might develop into a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy, rather than trade him AND Milledge for someone like Javy Vazquez or Joe Blanton. And don’t believe that the Padres would be willing to give up Jake Peavy for those two, and not insist on Pelfrey or Humber (or both) in the deal. Same goes for Billy Beane, who was only shopping Harden and Haren to see if teams were desperate enough to literally give up the farm.
So, let’s say the Mets stand relatively pat, and maybe add a few arms via no-risk flyers. They’ll have at least 10 starters to choose from in order to build a 5-man rotation. In reality, El Duque and Glavine are set, so they need to extract three more from the other eight. Would it be so bad if the back end turned out to be Perez, Maine, and Williams? Or Perez, Maine, and Heilman? And then there is the outside chance that Pelfrey or Humber pulls a Justin Verlander and not only breaks into the rotation, but blossoms into a legitimate ace. And don’t be so quick to count out Soler and Vargas — two guys who were probably brought to the bigs before they were truly ready, and didn’t fulfill expectations. The Mets #2 playoff starter, John Maine, had exactly that experience in Baltimore before coming to New York.
All in all, I like the way the Mets pitching staff looks right now, and agree with Omar’s stance that he’s comfortable with it. Sure, he may be posturing for the sake of negotiations, but he has something solid behind his “comfort”, and he has plenty of options should Zito find greener pastures elsewhere.