Time to Stockpile Pitching

With the Texas Rangers’ recent notification that Barry Zito has until this weekend to accept their contract offer, two things could happen as a result: 1. the real bidding will begin immediately; or 2. Zito and agent Scott Boras will wait as long as necessary for a “mystery team” to emerge.

The latter option is more likely, unless a blockbuster deal occurs quickly. The current bidders against the Mets are the Giants and the Mariners, and neither team is equipped to handle Boras’ demands — at least, not at this time. The Giants first need to finalize the Barry Bonds deal — which supposedly includes deferred funds — and the Mariners need to trade at least one or both of their least tradeable players.

In the meantime, trades and free-agent signings are consuming the few available arms left in a shallow market.

While the Mets are smart to sit back and wait for the Zito thing to run its course, they’d be foolish to stand by idly. Starting pitching is still a weakness on the club, and the Mets do need to add a few more arms to the mix — regardless of whether they sign Barry Zito. However, the clock is ticking, and as we get closer to the mid-February reporting date for pitchers and catchers, more good arms will be scooped up. While Zito bides his time, the Mets need to make a few acquisitions.

Looking at the free-agents still on the market, there are still a few pitchers worthy of at least a spring training invite, if not a one-year contract. With the Rangers dropping out of the Zito sweepstakes, they’ll likely set their sights on Mark Mulder — who would be much cheaper but the Mets have not shown much interest. Which is strange, because he fits the bill as a potential front-end starter, if healthy. Another lefthander, Mark Redman, had a winning record for a lousy Kansas City Royals team, has been curiously ignored by the market. Surely he’s worth at least an ST invite. Tomo Ohka is also out there, and might be worth considering. If the Mets prefer someone more youthful, the 25-year-old Jerome Williams is the youngest free agent pitcher still available, and while his career has gone downhill since winning 10 games in 2004, he’s still young and talented.

Then there’s the non-tendered Joel Pineiro, one of those enigmas with “great stuff” who hasn’t fulfilled expectations. You can consider him the righthanded Oliver Perez. Sure, the last thing Rick Peterson needs is another project, but like Perez, Pineiro could potentially develop into a middle- or top-of-the-rotation starter. In fact, he was a front-end starter as recently as 2003, so he’s capable — maybe ten minutes with the Jacket can help him recapture the magic.

Similar to Pineiro is Tony Armas Jr., a righthander who was the Mike Pelfrey of the Montreal Expos organization back in 2000, and in fact was their Opening Day starter in 2003. Myriad arm problems have stunted his development, but he has shown flashes of brilliance when healthy. He might be worth a one-year deal, with the understanding that he could end up in AAA for the year. He’s a longshot, but is still young and is certainly a more worthwhile investment than, say, Jose Lima.

If Omar Minaya doesn’t sign one of the above-mentioned pitchers — and I’d be surprised if he didn’t offer an ST invite to at least Armas — then you have to figure that one of the following:

1. Omar’s putting all his eggs in one basket – for Zito
2. Omar has a deal in the works that we don’t know about
3. The Mets are ready to give Aaron Heilman another shot at the rotation
4. Jose Lima is coming back

My feeling is that Omar is too smart to put all his eggs into a basket that might not be delivered until Easter. And I’m hoping to god that LimaTime! is over for good. That leaves #2 and #3 as viable options — though a trade seems unlikely for a few reasons.

First, I don’t see the Mets making a trade for anything but a front-end starter — it wouldn’t make sense to trade away talent to bring in another back-end guy. However, there aren’t many (if any) front-end starters on the block. Further, any that appear to be available — Danny Haren, Rich Harden, Jake Peavy, for example — would almost certainly require that Mike Pelfrey and/or Philip Humber be included in any deal, in addition to Heilman and probably Lastings Milledge. My feeling is that Pelfrey and Humber will stay put — unless Billy Beane reduces his demand to include one or the other (and not both) in return for Haren. Hopefully, we won’t see the farm being dealt away for Harden (who has health issues) or Joe Blanton (a mediocre starter whose stock soared thanks to a 16-win, Trachsel-like season).

Minaya has mentioned before that he’s comfortable with his pitching staff the way it is currently constructed, and he does have flexibility. There are a lot of “ifs” in the plan however, as much depends on the progress of John Maine and Oliver Perez — two starters who often have a hard time getting past the fifth inning. With Brian Bannister removed from the equation, you have to think that someone else will be thrown into the starting rotation mix for no other reason than to provide depth. After seeing 13 pitchers start a game in 2006, and having two guys over 40 anchoring the top of the rotation, it’s safe to assume the Mets will stockpile as many arms as they can to get through 2007 — with or without Barry Zito.

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.
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