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.