The path to the pennant is guided by pitching — every year, for every team, in every league that doesn’t use a metal bat. That said, there certainly is concern when looking at the Mets’ pitching staff; there seem to be a lot of question marks, gambles, and finger-crossing.
Even before the questionable trades of Kris Benson and Jae Seo, the Mets’ staff was pretty underwhelming. But at least there was depth. Depth is important, considering Pedro’s toe, Trax’s back, and Aaron’s entrance to the rotation. Not to mention the fact that Tom Glavine is not getting any younger, and Victor Zambrano is not getting any better. With Benson and/or Seo around, we had at worst a serviceable #4 starter to take over if any of the aforementioned five faltered.
With both gone, the Mets’ rotation is remarkably vulnerable. The fill-ins to choose from are last-minute addition Jose Lima, the unproven Brian Bannister, and former Oriole John Maine. “Lima Time” might bring some color to the clubhouse, but he is the epitome of a loose cannon. He might pitch lights out and give us a 12-14-win season, or he might have a 10.00 ERA by mid-May and be on his way out of town. His signing is not unlike the Mets’ pickups of Scott Erickson and David Cone over the last few years: a HUGE gamble that they might catch lightning in a bottle. (Same with Bret Boone this year … thank goodness he left quickly.)
And then there are the youngsters, Bannister and Maine. Bannister was a non-prospect from the time he was drafted, and somehow bulldogged his way to the attention of the Mets’ front office. As much as I’d love to see him succeed, in reality he’s probably destined to amount to not much more than a Mike Bacsik: a crafty, overachiever who manages to spot start here and there before fading away to mop up duty and a career minor leaguer. At best, he can be the next Aaron Small … but really, what are the chances of that?
Similarly, Maine would seem to have switched fast tracks: before, he was on the fast track to the Majors, but after looking mediocre in AAA and completely overmatched in a short stint in the Bigs, he’s now on the quick slide to nonprospectville. However, he IS only 25, so assuming that his arm is healthy, there’s still time for him to turn his career around. Unfortunately, that adds up to another Mets “IF” … and the staff is loaded with them.
Most likely, I wouldn’t be so concerned if not for three developments that occurred so quickly this week. The first red flags were Pedro and Billy Wagner pulling themselves out of the World Baseball Classic. Don’t get me wrong, I’d prefer they stay out of that debacle. But, the fact that they did pull out — citing that they weren’t ready to compete at that level — has to be somewhat concerning to the Mets fan. Pedro has now made it clear that his toe is not right … and this toe was not right in September, over five months ago. In other words, five months of rest did not make it better, and now it’s too late for any kind of surgery, meaning Pedro will pitch through the year with it. Meaning he won’t be the Pedro we saw in 2005. In fact we’ll be lucky to see him start 20 games, never mind 30. So, even if he is as stellar as he was last year in those 20 games, what is the best he can give? 15 wins? That won’t be enough to help the Mets win a pennant.
The Billy Wagner thing is slightly disturbing, and more disturbing after seeing him barely break 90 MPH in his first outing of the spring. Sure, it was only the first outing, it’s still early, but I’m a Mets fan, and I have full rights to believe that something is terribly wrong. This is the guy we brought in to flirt with triple digits on the radar gun, not barely break 90. Chance are he’s OK, but if you’re a true Mets fan you understand my concern.
Finally, there is the Trachsel issue. First off, it’s bad enough he missed nearly all of 2005 with a back problem, and a 35-year-old guy with a back problem is a major issue (I know, because I am a 35-year-old guy with a back problem). Now, he’s been hit with the flu, and lost ten pounds (where was that flu when Mo Vaughn was in camp?), a setback he surely can’t afford at this point. Put those factors together with something people keep forgetting: even at his BEST, Trachsel is only a .500 pitcher.
It’s one thing if you are a Cubs fan and concerned for the health of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. After all, if those guys are healthy, the Cubs will win the pennant. But when you are a Mets fan, and concerned about whether Steve Trachsel will be able to put up his typical 12-12 season … well, you know the rotation is in big trouble.
Hopefully, these early red flags will amount to nothing but forgettable blips in a long five weeks of spring training. Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully …