Best of the Low-Risk, High-Reward Crowd

As mentioned yesterday, the starting pitcher market is shrinking quickly. The one legit starter still available that definitely would bolster the Mets’ rotation is Livan Hernandez, and at this late point in the offseason, he might be an economically reasonable pickup. It’s possible, for example, that he could be had for a two-year contract — something the Mets should be willing to offer. But I have a sneaking suspicion that a team such as the Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds, or KC Royals will blow Livan out of the water with a silly four-year deal. Just a hunch.

If that’s the case, the Mets will have very little left to choose from. The healthy pitchers are either awful (Josh Fogg, Rodrigo Lopez), old (David Wells), or both (Steve Trachsel) — though there are a few perpetual enigmas (Brett Tomko, Kyle Lohse) mixed in as well. So the choice is either to sign a terrible starter to a short-term deal, sign a fairly terrible starter to a long-term deal, or take a chance on one of the myriad comebackers (that’s not really a word, I made it up).

The idea with the injured – but – recuperating arms is that they’ll cost relatively little, likely won’t require more than a one-year deal, and if the guy pans out, you may have someone in the middle or near the top of your rotation. Low risk, high reward. Still left in this pool are former big-time winners Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Matt Clement, Kris Benson, Jason Jennings, Eric Milton, and Jon Lieber. All big, well-known names, and all coming off fractured seasons and major injuries. Everyone in this group knows how to pitch, and has won in the past — but which of them is most likely to contribute to a championship season in 2008? Let’s break them down.

Freddy Garcia is the one name that continues to be “buzzing” around Mets circles — the rumors are going back to November, and reportedly Omar Minaya is hot for him. Once a major workhorse and semi-ace with the Mariners and White Sox, the innings appear to have worn him down. He suffered a shoulder injury early in the 2007 that he kept hidden before finally going under the knife at the end of August. His torn labrum could be the end of his career — it’s the type of injury that few come back from successfully. In a best-case scenario, he’ll be available to pitch in June or July, but that really means August or September of 2008 (think: Pedro in ’07). If he is signed, he can’t be expected to help the team until the final stretch run — so if they do take the chance on him, it would behoove the Mets to sign at least one other arm to handle the first 4-5 months of the season.

Another Minaya favorite is Bartolo Colon, who suffered a partial tear of his rotator cuff, but has not had surgery. He’s also had some elbow issues, compounding his health concerns. It doesn’t help that Colon has been a power pitcher — a guy who relied on velocity to get big outs. Unless he can pull a very quick Pedro-like transformation into a junkballer, his career is likely over. Let’s see, what else is going against him … he’ll be 35, he’s always had a weight problem, and his most recent successful season came after training with steroid monger Nao Presinal. Sounds like the pitching version of Mo Vaughn waiting to happen.

Former Rockie and Astro Jason Jennings had elbow issues, shoulder issues, and most recently a torn flexor tendon in his forearm — the same injury that shelved Juan Padilla for all of 2007. No one’s sure if he’ll come back 100%, and some question whether he can be effective if his velocity drops substantially. Even his bat is suspect lately — he hit only .077 last year and .129 in 2006.

At one point, Matt Clement may been among the top five in all of MLB when it came to nastiness of stuff. However, he has been struggling mightily to return from major surgeries on both his rotator cuff and labrum (there’s that injury again) — unfortunately, not everyone comes back as quickly and easily as Pedro Martinez, no matter how hard they try. And Clement definitely is the type of pitcher who needed his velocity to succeed — but chances are, he’ll be lucky to break 90 MPH when he returns to the mound. If he can get back up to that 95+ form, he has a chance to dominate again — but that is a very big “if”.

For obvious reasons, Kris Benson will not return to Flushing. However, it’s just as well — he’s also returning from recent rotator cuff surgery, and reports from his latest workout were not great.

In contrast to everyone else in this group, Jon Lieber is not recovering from arm woes — he pitched in only 12 games last year due to a foot injury. Yes, he’ll be 38 years old, but he has a fairly young arm considering that he had Tommy John surgery in 2002. In addition, he’s not the type of pitcher who will lose significant effectiveness as his MPH drops — he’s been successful in the past by relying on sharp control and the ability to mix and match a tough slider, good changeup, and sinking fastball. Out of all the low-risk, high-reward starters, Lieber has the best chance to fulfill the right side of the equation — the high-reward side. No, he won’t be an ace, and likely won’t be much better than a #4 or #5 starter. But then, what do the Mets need more desperately — a possible ace who may not be able to pitch at full strength until August, or a back-end starter who likely will be healthy enough to give the team 160-200 solid innings? Lieber could be that guy, and I’m starting to think he makes more sense than anyone else.

Your thoughts?

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. whatdatmean December 27, 2007 at 11:28 am
    thats a great article. its good to get some good insight on potential acquisitions. I have been on the Colon bandwagon for a while, but you have made some very good and interesting points. Now, shying away from him, you opened some new ideas….
    I would stay away from Lieber. If someone is going to take innings from Pelf + Humb, I want to see some upside or a little flash. He isnt that different from the Duq, and we dont need 2. I wouldnt cry, but im not asking for him either. He has no use for next year, which should be a consideration as well.
    Garcia sounds like a must get. Not so much for this year, but, depth at the end of the year, and next year when we have no pitchers. If Garcia is my 4-5th SP, im happy.
    Clement sounds like the best option. I forgot about him. He probably has a good chance to get back to form. I say why not? He may not need all of his velocity back because, if i remember correctly, he was a pitcher that used movement and sink. He is still young, which is his biggest perk. He can make a formidable 3-some for the 4-6 spot with pelf and duq.

    Also, any word on Mark Hendrickson? He was a very good SP + RP last year for LAD. He may be just what we need because he doesnt have to be a starter, he can start from the BP too. A quality, low risk arm, that is still an upgrade in the BP.

    Does anyone else believe that we have a possible #1 SP in either Maine or Perez?

  2. isuzudude December 27, 2007 at 2:17 pm
    Finally off the Colon bandwagon! Allelujah! There was already one “fat toad” in New York at one time. Lets’ keep it at one.
    As I’ve said before, I’m a fan of Garcia. Chances are small he’ll come back effective this season, but giving a minor league contract to a former ace who would be expected to be nothing more than a #5 starter through August and September is a shrewd move.
    The rest of the free agent arms out there we’ve been over a million times already. We are really beating this issue to death. I think it’s a lot like when you’re in college and you’re hungry but got no money, you keep checking the fridge to see if there’s something new that catches your eye each time you open the door. But alas, nothing changes, and you either wind up going hungry or you eat something you don’t like. And at this point in the offseason, it does no good to lament over how many guys we missed out trading for or signing. So you have to ask yourself, what does anybody on the market now bring to the Mets that Pelfrey, Humber, or Vargas don’t already provide? Inconsistency? Potential? Wildness? A heart beat? Given 150 innings, I don’t doubt Pelfrey could mimic the stats a Lohse or Tomko or Hendrickson or Livan could produce. So why waste the resources and roster spot? I’m all about adding depth, but you can’t sign 4 guys to contracts with the hopes that someone pans out to be the #5 we’re looking for. Chances are, most will not accept demotions to the minors, and won’t make it out of spring training with the Mets. Think of Aaron Sele last Spring, when his ultimatum to the Mets was “keep me in the majors or I’m gone.” The most realistic solution is to keep as many young arms around as possible to substitute into the rotation when (not if) El Duque and Pedro get hurt. I’m still hopeful Omar can make a deal similar to the John Maine deal of 2 years ago, and optimistic he can grab an arm or two for the minors who will likely be helpful at the major league level when called upon (i.e. Jorge Sosa, Darren Oliver).
    I know a lot has been made of how to replace Glavine’s innings, and it’s a fair point. But it must also be considered that the Mets practically had nothing from Pedro last year. I know Pedro is no lock to throw over 150 innings in 2008, but if he does, I think he’ll surpass Glavine’s productivity. The rest of the rotation is pretty much the same, and I fully expect all pitchers to be able to contribute more innings with “catching genius” Brian Schneider behind the plate. Maine and Perez should move over or close to 200 innings, El Duque will add his 160 innings, and Pelfrey/Humber/Vargas/Mulvey/and who ever else we add will contribute the rest. A fresher bullpen without Sele and Mota bogging us down should also be able to increase productivity, with youngsters and the recuperated constantly bolstering the fatigued and injured. There’s a high probability this has been the plan all along, considering the Mets’ extreme lack of action this offseason.
    And to address whatdatmean, yes I believe Maine and Perez can be aces. Look around baseball and name off teams either pitcher would be a #1 on, based on their 2007 stats. And then ask yourself, if Pedro is able to come back as a 3.50 ERA, 15-game winner this year, does any team in the NL have a 1,2,3 starting pitching combo as good as the Mets? Smoltz/Hudson/Glavine? Zambrano/Lilly/Hill? Peavy/Young/Maddux? Maybe Webb/Haren/Big Unit, but that’s even questionable. I keep thinking, how much different is this team to the one that won 97 games in 2006? Is Church that much worse than Nady was for us? Is Castillo worse than Valentin? Schneider worse than Lo Duca? Alou less injury prone than Floyd? Is the pitching staff worse? It’s a long haul and anything can happen, and I’m still confident that as long as the Mets keep their eyes on the prize, they’re plenty good enough to win the NL East and get to the World Series.
  3. whatdatmean December 27, 2007 at 2:48 pm
    Right on Izu!!! I think we do have a championship type team. Built the right way, based around solid D and an explosive O. The pitching is good as is. Yes, Pitching can always be better….but what can we really get to put us over the top?

    We are one of the few teams that have 3 or 4 legit 15 game winners in the rotation, and 3 legit AAA arms that can pitch in the majors. The BP is much better without sele and mota, while adding wise.

    If we do go with Pelfrey as the #5….what happens when El Duq goes down[he’s a lock for 2 DL stints/year]??? Humber, Vargas, Sosa? Would you be comfortable seeing sosa, humber, or vargas + pelfrey as the 4/5 SP for extended time? I dont know either, but i really dont see a lot of alternatives either.

    Jennings or Clement are interesting candidates because they have seen success, are young, and would be here for a few years, only costing money.

    Hey, atleast we dont have any crappy retreads on the roster…yet. im still having nightmares about Lima + Lawrence….yikes!

  4. joe December 27, 2007 at 4:07 pm
    isuzu, i love the fridge comparison, well done. I do agree that Pelfrey can mimic the numbers of most of the remaining pretenders on the market — with the exception of Livan. To match what Livan can bring, Pelf will have to pitch 185+ innings, and I’m not sure he’s ready to do that.

    The thing about replacing Glavine’s innings is this: the Mets needed another workhorse LAST YEAR. If Ollie and Maine did not continue their progress, the Mets are in very deep doo-doo in 2007, and do not spend most of the year in first place. So although Pedro could pick up the slack for Glavine’s 200 IP, you still have to find another guy to give you the 175-200 you needed from 2007 — does that make sense?

    Think about it: the Mets collapsed in September because their pitching — starters and bullpen — were exhausted. It was the inevitable result of starters routinely failing to pitch into the 7th and the relievers getting burned out by pitching 3+ innings every night. By only replacing Glavine’s innings (presumably with Pedro), you’re setting up another late-season collapse.

    Maybe Maine and Perez step it up (again) and hit the 200-inning mark. But what if Pedro only gives you 150, and El Duque gives you less than that? (he’s only gone 150+ three times in his career) Now you’re counting on the #5 to pick up the slack — which is why I’m very nervous about the Pelfrey / Humber / Mulvey combo. Those youngsters are better suited to filling in the gaps where El Duque and others falter, rather than asking one of them to give 175+ IP.

    Also agree with you in that it’s getting REALLY old to continue to beat this dead horse. But until the Mets actually DO SOMETHING about this issue (Stokes? Register? I don’t think so), there isn’t much else to rant about. What’s more important, at this point, than finding another arm or two to give the Mets some quality innings?

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