Two things are very clear: the Mets must do something with their starting pitching immediately if they wish to stay on top of the division, and they refuse to exercise the most logical option (put Heilman in there).
LimaTime is over. Jeremi Gonzalez is not the answer, either. This team is relying on Steve Trachsel to be a #3, something he’s never really been, and have huge holes at 4 and 5. Since Heilman is inexplicably out of the picture, following are the possibilities to consider.
Inside the organization:
1. Jeriome Robertson
Robertson went 15-9 for the Astros in 2003, then fell off the face of the planet. Before you get too excited about that 15-win season, consider that he did it with a 5.10 ERA, and his career ERA is 5.79, allowing 293 baserunners in 184 innings. There’s a reason he hasn’t pitched in a Big League game since 2004. However, he’s lefty, so the Mets may pull the Darren Oliver logic and bring him up.
2. Evan MacLane
MacLane is a 23-year-old lefty who has moved very quickly through the Mets organization, and so far this year is pitching lights out. After going 3-1 with a 1.09 WHIP for the B-Mets, he earned a callup to the Tides when Lima and Gonzalez moved to the big club. He’s 2-0 in two starts, and in 14 innings has given up seven hits, one walk, and struck out 16. You can’t do much better than that, but with the Mets holding back Soler and Pelfrey due to inexperience, they may hold the same caution with this youngster. Or perhaps they just want to get through the Yankee series, and give MacLane his ML debut in a situation where there is less media frenzy.
3. Jason Scobie
Scobie began his pro career with the Brooklyn Cyclones as a closer in 2001, but since was converted to a starter, a role he struggled with until blossoming last year with Norfolk, going 15-7 with a 3.34 ERA. He had a longshot at making the Mets out of spring training, as he was one of the nine people brought in to prevent … er, I mean compete with, Aaron Heilman, for the fifth starter’s spot. However, in his one spring appearance, he gave up 4 hits, 3 walks, and 8 runs without recording an out, and his second season with the Tides thus far has been awful: 1-5 record with an 8.09 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP. Either the spring training appearance severely bruised his confidence, or there’s something physically wrong. Whatever the case, it’s doubtful the Mets would promote him as long as his ERA is north of 8.
4. Alay Soler
He’s pitched 8 professional games so far, none above AA. However he was an up and coming professional in Cuba, and pitched effectively in international competition. He has a 91-92 MPH fastball and plus slider, but there aren’t any reports on a true off-speed pitch. Though he dominated younger hitters in the FSL, and has done well so far at the AA level, there are scouts that attribute his success to his advanced age and experience relative to those leagues. At least one scout was quoted as saying, “Maybe he’s a middle reliever. But for what they invested in him, you would think they would have gotten more. Right now, I think you can find a guy like him in Triple-A or Double-A anywhere.” Not exactly the kind of comment Mets fans want to hear.
5. Mike Pelfrey
There is no question that Pelfrey is the future face of the Mets’ pitching staff, as he has already been compared to a young Tom Seaver. Indeed, had it not been for his retaining Scott Boras as his agent, Pelfrey might have been the no. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft. But is he ready? Omar Minaya has been wishy-washy when asked about promoting Pelfrey to the big club in 2006, at first saying it wouldn’t happen and later saying he wouldn’t hold him back. There’s reason to believe he can make a quick jump, a la Mark Prior (who was in the bigs after only 9 minor league starts), considering his polished stuff and mature makeup. However, Prior’s case was a rare one. Even Tom Seaver needed 34 starts in AAA before making the bigs to stay in 1967.
6. Willie Collazo
While everyone is talking about rushing up Alay Soler or Mike Pelfrey, there is a nondescript lefty named Willie Collazo pitching lights out for the AA B-Mets. Originally drafted by the Braves out of Florida International U. in 2001, Collazo also spent three years in the Angels’ organization, struggling to survive as an extra part at the AA level. He’s now 27, five-foot-nine, and clearly a non-prospect. However, he’s currently 3-2 with a 2.15 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP. He’s a longshot even to reach the AAA level, but with the Mets’ lack of depth he should at least receive a few minutes of consideration. Who knows, he could be the next Jeff Fassero.
Outside the organization:
1. Kyle Lohse
As a 24-year-old, Lohse looked to be a star in the making. He followed up a 13-win season in 2002 with a 14-win season in 2003, and though his ERA was over four both years, he had respectable strikeout numbers, a WHIP around 1.30, and never missed a start. With his competitiveness and talent, it looked like he was on the fast track and an up-and-coming, future 20-game winner. Fast-forward to 2006, and he has fallen so out of favor with the Twins that he was demoted to the minors, as much for his near-9 ERA as for his attitude. As of this writing, he had not reported to AAA Rochester, leading to speculation that he might become a free agent or be traded. If the Mets can get him for nothing, or next-to-nothing, he might be worth the gamble. After all, he’s only 27, seems to be OK physically, and has been successful in the past (this is different from signing a 35-year-old pitcher who has been successful in the past). Maybe all he needs is an attitude adjustment, or tweak in his mechanics, or a new environment, to get back on track. After taking a flyer on Jose Lima for reasons unknown, you’d have to think the Mets would jump on the opportunity to take this talent, considering the current disarray in the rotation.
2. Livan Hernandez
He makes so much sense for the Mets: he’s an Omar guy, he’s a tough competitor, and he routinely pitches into the eighth and ninth inning, a true innings eater if there ever was one. And with the Nats already 10 games out of first, and showing no signs of winning anything this year, it would make sense to dump the veteran Hernandez and his salary for some youth. A few problems, however. First, the Nats finally have an owner, as of only two weeks ago. The new ownership has barely gotten their furniture in, and no doubt has designs on restructuring the management team. It would be difficult for the acting GM, Jim Bowden, to pull the trigger on a deal that would send away the team’s #1 starter. Plus, outside of Victor Diaz, the Mets don’t have a whole lot of young talent available that would satisfy the Nats in such a deal. Add in the Mets’ current desperation, and you can smell overpay; I wouldn’t be surprised to see a package of Diaz and Evan MacLane needed to make this deal happen.
3. Dontrelle Willis
Forget it. It’s not going to happen. The Marlins have no reason to trade away D-Train. He is to the Marlins what Dwight Gooden was to the Mets in the mid-1980s: a great draw, a great pitcher, and cheap. The only people talking about him leaving are baseball writers and pundits trying to create news.
4. Jamie Moyer
With the Mariners in last place, and off the heels of a two-hour, closed-door meeting, there’s some thought that they’ll trash the season and trade away some high-paid veterans. However, although in last, they’re only five games out — hardly enough to call it a season. And again, the Mets would have to grossly overpay in talent to pry Moyer away from the M’s.
5. Barry Zito
Enough already … like the D-train rumors, this ain’t happening, at least not until mid-July. Even then, the A’s are reportedly demanding Lastings Milledge and other top prospects. Omar will wait for the free agent season.
6. Brad Radke or Carlos Silva
The Twins are fading fast, in a division that was ultra-competitive BEFORE the Tigers came out of nowhere to take over first place. Silva has already been demoted to the bullpen, and Radke has been pitching poorly since September of last year. They might look to dump Radke while he still has some value, as he’s not getting any younger. Either pitcher could be a good addition to the Mets, assuming that Rick Peterson has ten minutes or so to fix one of them. They both throw lots and lots of strikes, and would benefit both from pitcher-friendly Shea and the NL batters’ unfamiliarlity of them. Who knows what it might take to pry either away, however?
Unless the Mets change their stance on Heilman, or feel confident in rushing MacLane, it doesn’t look like the answer will come from within. That said, the most logical and possible option from the outside would be Lohse, though from his performance thus far this year, I don’t know that he’ll be more effective than Jeremi Gonzalez—at least right away. He could, however, turn out to be a solid #4 or #5 in the long run, and that’s not such a bad thing to have these days.
Personally, I’d love to see Livan Hernandez come in, but it just doesn’t seem plausible, considering the Nats’ pitching issues and the new ownership’s priority list.
If I were in charge, and Omar wouldn’t let me take Aaron out of the ‘pen, I’d sign Lohse, put him in the pen for a week or two, and make him Peterson’s number one project. Lima would be gone, and in his place in the rotation, I’d bring up a different guy each time the rotation spot came up, then send him back down the next day. Collazo first, then Soler, then MacLane. They’d all get one start and go right back. The theory is that no one has seen these guys, there’s little available in the scouting reports, and who knows, they might just get through five or six innings. It happens against the Mets so often, I’ve got to think it could work for them once in a while. By the time MacLane is sent down, either John Maine or Brian Bannister will be back, and/or Lohse will be ready to be a #5 guy.
This would be so much simpler if they’d just put Heilman in the rotation …