With the possibility of losing El Duque (no!), Tom Glavine (no!), and Steve Trachsel (yes, please go!) to free agency, and Pedro Martinez out until at least July (possibly longer), the Mets absolutely must find at least one or two veteran starting pitchers to fill in the gaps in the 2007 rotation.
While it’s true the Mets will have John Maine, Brian Bannister, Oliver Perez, Mike Pelfrey, and Philip Humber coming back, I doubt that will be the starting five. Too many things can happen between now and next April — injuries, role changes, trades, etc. — and it seems to be Omar Minaya’s strategy to stock up deep on pitching anyway.
First and foremost, the Mets must cut ties with Steve Trachsel immediately and let him pitch to his buddy Mike Piazza in San Diego. Next, Tom Glavine needs to decide whether he wants to win his 300th on the biggest stage on the planet — New York City — or go back to being a hated Mets opponent in Atlanta. Personally, I hope he comes back, as it’s possible he’ll be the only true veteran returning to the rotation, and he really pitched like a winner in the postseason. For similar reasons, I’d like to see Orlando Hernandez return to Shea — not for the regular season, but to see his magic in the postseason. If he doesn’t come back to the Mets, I would not be surprised to see him back in pinstripes, as the Yankees’ issue next year won’t be winning in the regular season, but getting through the postseason.
Even if El Duque and Glavine come back, the Mets will still need a true ace, or at least a strong #2 or #3-type pitcher. They had too many #4s and #5s on the staff in 2006, and though it wasn’t the pitching that hurt us in the offseason, you have to believe our postseason starters were a little lucky in October. We also can’t count on the bullpen being as proficient and healthy as it was in 2006 — rarely do middle relievers pitch well in consecutive seasons. And in fact, there’s a good chance the bullpen will be without Guillermo Mota, Chad Bradford, Roberto Hernandez, and Darren Oliver, as they all are free agents this winter.
Chances are, the Mets won’t be getting Dontrelle Willis, nor any other top-of-the-line starter, via a trade. Those guys simply are not available in trade, so the only other route (outside of reverting Aaron Heilman to starting) is free agency.
Jason Schmidt is a consideration, but he’s already nearing his mid-thirties, has had some physical issues lately, and has never played on a big stage. His negatives might outweigh his asking price, which should be outrageous. Barry Zito is at the top of everyone’s list, but after the Yankees’ flop in the ALDS, I somehow see him in pin$tripe$.
Interestingly, there is another lefthanded pitcher that used to be under Rick Peterson’s tutelage who is quietly available — Mark Mulder. Very little has been mentioned of Mulder’s free agent status, probably because of the shoulder injury he sustained this year, and the fact that he won’t be back in time for Opening Day 2007. However, he is exactly the guy I see the Mets going after, for several reasons.
First, he’s only 29, and his shoulder injury is far from career-threatening. Because of the injury, he’ll demand much smaller dollar figures, and in fact, might have to agree to an incentive-laden deal. He could be a tremendous steal, similar to what the Cardinals pulled off with Chris Carpenter a few years ago. The Mets don’t really need an ace to start the season, they need one at the end of the season — and beyond — and Mulder, combined with Pedro, could be a fresh, fearsome twosome come September and October.
Though it would be surprising to see the Cardinals not re-sign Mulder — especially considering they traded Kiko Calero and Danny Haren to get him — there’s the slight possibility he’d be interested in re-joining Peterson. And if Glavine returns, he could be a fantastic mentor to Mulder — a guy who after this shoulder injury may need to learn how to pitch in Glavine’s vintage style to keep batters off-balance. If there’s any chance at all, I hope the Mets are able to pull it off.
Failing at Mulder, there are a number of intriguing possibilities on the free-agent scrap heap. Unfortunately, none look like the type of ace or #2 the Mets are looking for. However, a few are on the cusp and could finally meet their potential (or remain enigmas, a la Kelvim Escobar).
One in particular is Tony Armas Jr., whose once-bright future was derailed by injury and inconsistency. He returned this year to post mediocre numbers on a poor Nationals team. Since he’s only going to be 29, appears to be healthy now, and has a connection based on Minaya’s days with the Expos, Armas is a likely “shot in the dark” candidate — similar to the flyer the Mets took on Jose Lima (shudder) last spring. Who knows, with a healthy arm and under the supervision of Rick Peterson, Armas could develop into a solid #3 or #4.
A few other enigmas to consider are Gil Meche, Ted Lilly, Vicente Padilla, and former Met Bruce Chen. All are 30 or under and have seen success in the past. Padilla won 14 games as a 24 and 25-year-old, and was once considered a cornerstone of a young Phillies staff. Meche had similar success, winning 15 for the Mariners as a 24-year-old, and many baseball people believe he has great stuff. After ten minutes with Peterson, either could revert to their #2-type performance. Speaking of, Lilly’s career was going nowhere until he met Peterson in 2002, and had a very solid 2006 for the Blue Jays. Chen, on the other hand, is the enigma of all enigmas, but as a lefty under 30 might be worth taking an incentive-laden flyer on. He may never again be the 13-game winner he was with the Orioles in 2005, but he might turn out to be an ideal replacement for Darren Oliver as a long-relief specialist.
While it would be nice for the Mets to open their pockets for Zito — and it’s not unbelievable, considering Minaya’s interest in making a splash — I see more frugal, cunning pickups happening. In fact, I see Peterson wooing Mulder to NY, and Minaya making very quiet signings of Armas, Chen, and either Meche or a guy like Miguel Batista or Tomo Ohka — and seeing at least two of them join the staff and produce — just as the Mets quietly did with the signings of ChadBrad, Pedro Feliciano, and Darren Oliver.