Running Out of Aces

Early in the offseason, Mets GM Omar Minaya promised to land an impact starting pitcher — this was his proclamation as of November 28th.

However, by December 3rd — less than a week later — Minaya backtracked on that statement, saying,

“We don’t feel like we have to do a deal for a pitcher. That being said, we are going to try to improve ourselves.”

He added,

“How have we addressed pitching? I think our defense makes our pitching better.”

So, in this winter of discontent for Mets fans, what is it that we’re supposed to believe? That the Mets are going to acquire an ace in the next month? That they won’t need to, because the defense now includes Ryan Church and Brian Schneider? But then what is all the buzz about Johan Santana and Joe Blanton?

If the Mets are still after an ace, someone needs to let them know that several have already been dealt — and most decks only have four as it is.

According to Baltimore GM Andy MacPhail, Oriole lefty Eric Bedard is off the trading block. Of course, that is only because MacPhail was unable to land a package of prospects more befitting of Johan Santana than of the fragile Bedard. Chances are, Bedard is indeed still very much on the block, and MacPhail made this “news” public as a form of posturing. Because remarkably, just a few days after that article was published, a new rumor began circulating that the Seattle Mariners have upped their offer to Baltimore to include both Adam Jones and Jeff Clement, as well as second baseman Yung Chi Chen. That deal doesn’t make enough sense for the O’s, who don’t need Clement with Matt Wieters less than a year away. If Seattle replaces Clement with pitching prospect Brandon Morrow, however, MacPhail would be a fool to reject the deal. The way the Mariners have been promising to get an ace (sounds familiar, eh?), and watching their actions so far this winter, I wouldn’t be surprised if they got the deal done within the next week.

What does this mean for the Mets? First, if the M’s are already prepared to give up Clement, Jones, and Chen, then the Mets are out of the running — they can’t match that positional talent package. In comparison, the Mets would have to offer both Carlos Gomez AND Fernando Martinez AND another high-level positional prospect — which they don’t have. And since they likely won’t part with both outfield prospects, the deal is all but dead. In other words, scratch off Bedard as a target — it ain’t happening.

Meantime, the Mets lost another “ace” target when Mark Prior signed with San Diego. Sure, he’s damaged goods, and may only pitch two or three months, but he’s an ace if healthy. Before Prior left the market, the Mets missed out on Danny Haren, Dontrelle Willis, Curt Schilling, Andrew Miller, and Matt Garza — all ace material. They’ve also missed out on middle-of-the-rotation guys such as Carlos Silva and Jon Garland. Back of the rotation starters such as Jair Jurrjens, Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Durbin, Tyler Clippard, and Randy Wolf eluded the Mets’ grasp as well. And then there’s Tom Glavine, who didn’t only walk away but went to fortify the Mets’ main competition in the NL East, the Atlanta Braves. Other than the fantasy of acquiring Johan Santana, who else is left for the Mets to get?

The Blanton and Bedard rumors can persist, but let’s hope the Mets don’t waste a Santana package on either of them. There hasn’t been much buzz at all on any other legitimate starters, so it’s hard to say who else is out there. Kind of strange the Mets weren’t able to wrestle away either John Patterson or Jason Bergmann in the Lastings Milledge deal, but it’s too late to talk about that now. That leaves the free-agent market — becoming thinner by the day — and the usual suspects: Livan Hernandez, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Jason Jennings, Kyle Lohse, Jon Lieber. I refuse to include David Wells, by the way, and there’s no chance Kris Benson will re-join the team as long as Anna is part of the package. Yes, there are others, but none are an upgrade over Mike Pelfrey or Phil Humber; they include Josh Fogg, Josh Towers, Byun-Hyun Kim, Tony Armas Jr., Rodrigo Lopez, Odalis Perez, Brett Tomko, Russ Ortiz, and several other names that make my stomach turn.

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training on February 14, 2008 — that’s what does it say to the right? 50 days or less? So there’s about a month and a half to come up with an arm or two to plug into the rotation, and there isn’t much to choose from at this point. If the Mets do not sign Livan Hernandez, Colon, Lieber, or Jennings (hopefully they pass on Lohse), then they absolutely MUST sign one or more of the top relief arms still available — i.e., Octavio Dotel, Shawn Chacon, Jorge Julio, Jeremy Affeldt (and you thought the starters looked bad) AND do a switcheroo with either Pelfrey or Humber and Aaron Heilman. At the same time, they must pray to the baseball gods that Duaner Sanchez comes back 100% and/or Matt Wise reverts to his 2005 form. Sanchez or Wise at his best can fill the Heilman role, and someone among Wise, Sanchez, Humber, Pelfrey, and the free agents can ably fill the Chad Bradford role that Guillmero Mota disgraced. Everyone left over can complete the rest of the bullpen, along with Pedro Feliciano, Joe Smith, The Show, and the various other holdovers. Heilman can fight it out for the fifth rotation spot with Pelfrey, Humber, or Kevin Mulvey, and if Heilman loses, he goes back to the ‘pen. If he wins, the other two hurlers go to AAA. Nice neat plan, no?

Before anyone suggests that Heilman is too valuable to take out of the bullpen, may I remind you that Heilman has been mentioned in every trade rumor from Johan Santana to Danny Haren to Eric Bedard to Joe Blanton. So there must be some kind of backup plan already in place in the event of Heilman’s exit. Super — then it’s time to move to that plan and push Heilman to the rotation to be the fifth starter the Mets desperately need.

It’s either that, or we may be looking at another last-second signing of Jose Lima the day before camp opens.

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.
  1. strubel December 26, 2007 at 4:29 pm
    Joe: The Mets two best pitchers (in terms of wins) were Oliver Perez (15) and
    John Maine (15). Pedro and El Duque are healthy and the bullpen — if healthy — should be outstanding (Wagner, Sanchez, Heilman, Wise, Sosa and Feliciano).

    Santana would be a huge plus but, despite media pressure (i.e. John Harper), the Mets are not in “desperate need” of an ace.

    See this … http://metsnetwork.com/wordpress/?p=82

    Keep up the great work!

    John

  2. Micalpalyn December 26, 2007 at 4:42 pm
    Sounds like Santana fever has at least given you a runny nose 🙂

    I still believe Omar can and will get the job done. I also agree with his WAY of doing business; Which appears to be ‘ here is my offer…’

    – The pitching NEEDs to improve…no doubt. But can we start the season with what we have …yes. ( The wild card is El Duque)

    – I also agree that if Affeldt, Julio are obtainable for just cash I’d add one.

    – Oliver Perez: Given his 2007 performance and his 2005 performance, can he improve? His body of work suggests yes. He is 26 right now, Hopefully maturity will factor into making his improvement.

    -Joe Blanton: it does intrigue me to see what he might do as a Met. I think Pelfrey could have a break out yr as a Met but I think like so many former Mets he might do better to grow up away from Shea. But can we get the right deal? I think Pelfrey and joe Smith plus one minor leaguer is fair.

  3. RockStar78 December 27, 2007 at 7:57 am
    I agree with giving Heilman a shot at the rotation, but just listening to Omar the other day when he was asked, you basically get the sense that there is a 0 percent chance that will happen. Omar basically said he had success in the bullpen and not so much as a starter and that’s the end of it.
  4. whatdatmean December 27, 2007 at 8:16 am
    I love how “THE METS HAVE NO DESIREABLE PROSPECTS”…. but we couldnt hold onto gomez, heilman, fmart, or pelfrey in any trade demands. hmmm….yeah, our prospects suck!
    I dont know what the real deal is or not….
    Gomez cant go in a blanton deal….it just doesnt make sense. Blanton is a nice pitcher, but Gomez has entirely too much potential to give up without getting an ace.
    I would still like to see Colon added to the rotation. He is a legit SP, with success, and a CY young. Whether we add another SP or not, he should still be added. Who knows, he could win 15+ games? We only lose money.
    Omar has done a GREAT job in the recent years avoiding the SP market. We could have overpaid for crap guys like marquis or suppan, but we havent. I give him a lot of respect for his moxy riding perez and maine last year.
    Now lets see what else he can do.
    From listening to Omar, sounds like we are out on all trade fronts and Heilman is staying in the BP.
    I still want Santana, even Blanton[for the right price]-but I like what we have either way. I prefer to see colon start the season, if he succeeds, we can always make changes by moving pelfrey, duque, humber, vargas into the BP and another into the 5 spot.
    Not getting Santana may be a blessing. Who knows what we have in pelf, he does have ace like stuff, with a 2 cent head-ollie, is that you? Gomez speed, quick hands, great defense and is very young-Reyes? Thats some nice potential that I would like to see grow up.
    Consider the fact that next years FA market is pretty deep, a trade might not be the best idea.
  5. joe December 27, 2007 at 10:36 am
    I have to agree — unless a trade brings back Johan, or a trade brings back someone of value without giving up the farm (fat chance), the best bet is to stick with what we have and/or fortify through the free agent market. The Mulveys, Pelfreys, and Humbers of today could be the Blantons, Gil Meches, and John Maines of tomorrow — and if they’re no longer in orange and blue, the Mets will find themselves in the same place they are now, searching the market for a promising, healthy arm.