Pitching: Keeping Seats Warm
Obviously, we won’t know anything about how the Mets’ pitching staff will shake out come the end of March. Right now, it’s all guesswork. Injuries can occur to anyone at anytime; for all we know, we’ll start the season with Tom Glavine and Billy Wagner on the DL. Or Willie Collazo will surprise everyone and make the team as the #5 starter.
Until the exhibition games start, we’re relegated to making projections based on assumptions. That said, here are some possibilities on how the Mets’ pitching staff will look come Opening Day.
1. Aaron Sele, Chan Ho Park, and Jorge Sosa all make the big-league team. Park is penciled in as the #5 starter, Sele as the “Darren Oliver” long man, and Sosa bounced between middle and long relief.
2. Jason Vargas, Alay Soler, Mike Pelfrey, Philip Humber, Adam Bostick, and Clint Nageotte start the year to comprise New Orleans’ starting rotation. Pelfrey and Humber are on strict pitch counts / innings limitations and are not expected to contribute to the big-league club until at least July. The others are considered to be part of an extended audition for the Major League rotation.
3. Ambiorix Burgos, Juan Padilla, Joe Smith, Marcos Carvajal start the season in New Orleans but will be counted on to continue developing and expected to join the big-league team at some point before the year is over. (Remember, Padilla is still recovering from last March’s Tommy John surgery. It may take him some time to come all the way back.)
4. Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Mike DeFelice are assigned to New Orleans to play the Crash Davis role of mentoring all these young arms.
5. Someone among the original starting rotation will falter and/or suffer an injury before the halfway point of the season. Sele and Sosa will get first cracks at spot starts, much in the same way Dave Williams, Jose Lima and Jeremi Gonzalez were given opportunities last year. At the same time, the Mets will be closely watching Vargas, Soler, and Bostick, and if one of those three is dominating AAA, he will get a callup for a spot start.
Again, this is all guesswork is based on many assumptions — the most fragile assumption being that all of these people will be healthy. Of course, the chance of that is nil, which makes the quantity of arms — or as Omar likes to say, strength in numbers — a signficant strength. While it’s true that the Mets are without a true ace, Tom Glavine and El Duque are realistically back-end guys rather than front-end at this point in their careers, and the rest of the rotation is a collection of question marks, you still have to be impressed with the quality of reinforcements that will be at the ready come May, June, and beyond.
For example, people are looking past Vargas, Bostick, and Soler, but in reality these are three quality young arms that could be part of a starting rotation somewhere in MLB. Maybe that place would be Kansas City or Tampa Bay, but still they have the raw talent to be at the Big League level. Allowing them to further hone their skills at the AAA level could be the best thing for their careers, and exactly the preparation needed to make them into legit #4 or #5 starters (for the Mets, not Tampa Bay).
Similarly, with all the veteran arms available, the Mets can let Humber and Pelfrey take their time and develop at their own pace, yet still be ready to contribute to the stretch run in August and September. Speaking of developing at their own pace, the Mets will have the luxury of giving flamethrowers Ambiorix Burgos and Marcos Carvajal the opportunity get a handle on their erratic control, and perhaps even develop secondary pitches. There is a lot less pressure at the AAA level, and much more forgiveness — in the name of learning — when mistakes are made in the minors.
Finally, let’s not forget that Dave Williams and Guillermo Mota are scheduled to return sometime in May or June. That gives the Mets two more proven arms in the bullpen and in Williams, another candidate for the rotation.
In synopsis, as “bad” as the Mets’ starting rotation looks right now, it doesn’t appear to be something that will significantly hamper the team’s success, not when you look at the potential depth of arms that will be available. Unlike most teams, whose pitching staffs become decimated as a season wears on, the Mets will grow stronger as the months pass. Who else will be able to add a potentially lights-out setup man like Mota at the beginning of June? How many teams will have on their AAA squad two young triple-digit fastballers with MLB experience, one of which saved 18 American League games last year? Who else will have the likes of Pedro Martinez, Mike Pelfrey, and Philip Humber coming in to bolster the staff during the stretch run in September?
There will be a lot of talk regarding the weakness of the Mets starters all though March and most of April and May. However, the Mets are being built for the second half of the season, and by that time the cream will not only be rising to, but spilling over the top. The only thing guys like Park, Sosa, and Sele need to do is keep the seats warm until the reinforcements arrive.