So Long Soler

Another remnant of the Jim Duquette era was swept out of the Mets organization, as Alay Soler was given his unconditional release.

Strange, it may seem, that the Mets — so desperate for starting pitching — would cut loose Soler, who has shown flashes of brilliance but overall been an enigma.

The conspiracy theorist inside of me believes that Omar Minaya reads MetsToday.com religiously, and acts directly opposite of my evaluations. After all, it is here that the Jose Valentin, Darren Oliver, and Endy Chavez signings were originally bashed; the blog that keeps begging for Aaron Heilman to be put in the starting rotation; the sole site of support for Victor Diaz; the page that gave Chip Ambres 15 minutes of fame; and, most recently, the one place that surmised Alay Soler was ahead of Oliver Perez.

Of course, Minaya has never read MetsToday, and probably never will. More likely, the discrepency between what’s stated here and what actually happens is due to the fact that Minaya and his staff are paid to evaluate baseball talent, while this site is run by some wannabe hack with a keyboard and DSL connection. Nonetheless, I am starting to wonder if my posts have a jinxing effect.

Anywho …

So why did Soler get released? From our perspective — not being on the inside — it’s hard to figure. We can guess that it had something to do with the economics of the situation. If Soler was still with the team beyond March 15th (tomorrow), the Mets would be responsible for paying his entire salary (I think). By releasing him before the official 15th day of spring training, the Mets only have to pay Soler for 30 days’ pay. This bit comes straight from the MLB website:

“March 14th -Last date to request Unconditional Release waivers (By 2:00 p.m. ET) to be secured by March 16th, in order to owe only 30 days termination pay. {Art. IX (B)}”

So it’s probable that the Mets will save themselves a few hundred thousand dollars by cutting him loose. However, the Mets have also kept on Chan Ho Park, Aaron Sele, and Jon Adkins — three guys who have looked more inadequate, are just as costly, and might have less upside.

My guess is that there is more going on than we can know. One thing about Soler that sticks out is his lack of conditioning. Although it’s true he came into camp about 10-15 pounds lighter, it was really too little, too late. While he shed the walrus-like appearance shown at the end of last year, his offseason weight loss merely put him back where was at the beginning of 2006 — which still isn’t good enough. Further, he came in throwing at less than peak velocity. Granted, David Wells can get away with looking like a six-foot-tall beer keg, and not even Billy Wagner is throwing over 90 yet, but Alay Soler could not afford to come into camp at less than peak condition. He was fighting 8-10 other pitchers — most with significant MLB experience — for a spot on the roster. With a salary higher than Aaron Heilman’s, it didn’t make financial sense to keep him around in AAA. For Soler to break the Mets pitching staff — as a starter or reliever — he needed to come into camp in the best shape of his life, already throwing on his own since at least late December / early January. But he didn’t. Perhaps this lack of urgency on his part — or lack of rising to the occasion of the competition in front of him — played a role in the Mets’ decision to drop him.

Personally, I still think he has the talent to pitch somewhere in MLB. No one will be surprised if he resurfaces with the Baltimore Orioles, who 1. are desperate for pitching and 2. have GM Jim Duquette reassembling the 2004 Mets. Although, the Washington Nationals might be a better fit.

Releasing Alay Soler creates a few ripples in Port St. Lucie. First, it shows Jorge Sosa, Chan Ho Park, Aaron Sele, etc., that the Mets are serious about the pitching competition, and not keeping guys around for the sake of keeping them around. No one will be paid to eventually develop or turn around — those competing for a spot need to produce now. Secondly, it gives the competitors more innings to show their wares, and prove their worth. Third, the move gives Rick Peterson more time to work with other “projects”, such as Ambiorix Burgos and Jorge Sosa. Maybe the time the Jacket spent with Soler will be put to better use with Oliver Perez, and Ollie will in turn make strides forward instead of sideways.

Finally, dropping Soler opens a spot on the 40-man roster. There will be other arms (and bats) on the waiver wire, and Omar will be watching. He now has the flexibility to pull the trigger on a mid-March signing or surprise trade. Eventually, that spot could go to, say, Joe Smith — but until then, there’s room to make a move.

It’s still early, but the Mets’ release of Alay Soler sends two messages: 1. everyone is in Port St. Lucie to compete for a job; and 2. the serious competition has begun.

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.