Hope springs eternal, and as far as baseball goes, spring is eternally hopeful. Optimism abounds at every camp in Arizona and Florida in Februray through the end of March, as every team has a chance to contend in the coming year (OK, except for the Devil Rays). Inexperienced youngsters are “up and coming phenoms”; fading veterans are “providing experience and leadership”; last-minute free-agent pickups are “reclamation projects”. For everyone, the slate is clean, and on March 1st, every player in camp has a chance to have the best season of his career.
While the spring training buzz is still clouding our judgment, and the glass is half full, let’s take a look at some possibilities for the 2007 Mets pitching staff through our rose-colored glasses.
1. Oliver Perez regains the confidence and form in 2004 that made him the best young lefty hurler this side of D-Train. He wins 17 games, including three shutouts, and is among the NL leaders in strikeouts.
2. John Maine builds on his second-half performance of 2006, and gives the Mets consistent, quality starts. He wins 12 games, and the Mets win the majority of his no-decisions.
3. Tom Glavine is “Vintage Glavine” more times than not, doesn’t miss a start all year, and wins his 300th game shortly after the All-Star break.
4. El Duque starts out the season strong, winning his first eight decisions and is named to the NL All-Star team.
5. Chan Ho Park, healthy, happy, and benefitting from pitcher-friendly Shea, returns to being the pitcher that dominated NL batters from 1997-2001. He is dealt at the trading deadline to the surprising Baltimore Orioles in exchange for 2B Brian Roberts. The O’s are nine games behind in the Wild Card, but GM Jim Duquette believes Park and Carl Pavano (acquired earlier in the day from the Yankees) are exactly what the team needs to get them into the playoffs.
6. Jorge Sosa picks up where Darren Oliver left off, eating up innings and giving the Mets a chance to win when a starter has trouble early in the game. He is part of the package sent to Baltimore for Brian Roberts.
7. Dave Williams returns from back surgery to fill Sosa’s long relief role and sports a sub-3.00 ERA the rest of the way.
8. Guillermo Mota returns in June and shows that the end of 2006 was neither a fluke nor attributed to performance-enhancing drugs. He, a 100% healthy Duaner Sanchez, and Aaron Heilman form the deepest, strongest corps of setup relief in MLB history.
9. Mike Pelfrey impresses everyone in camp, but spends the first few months in New Orleans on very limited pitch counts honing his change-up. He is called up the day after the Park trade and is an immediate sensation, going 7-0 through the end of the year.
10. Scott Schoeneweis and Pedro Feliciano are outstanding in their two-headed LOOGY role of neutralizing lefthanded hitting. They are particularly effective against the Phillies, and seeing both of them appear in the same game is a common occurrence.
11. Pedro Martinez returns in mid-August and is without a spot in the rotation. He is used out of the bullpen to build up his arm strength and shake off the rust. His fastball has returned to the low 90s, occasionally touching 94.
12. Ambiorix Burgos and Marcos Carvajal spend the year in New Orleans splitting the closer role, and by August both are ready to contribute down the stretch if needed — or used as trade bait for the extra arm or bat the Mets need to put them over the hump. Burgos is used extensively in September and his performance is reminiscent of K-Rod’s 2002 debut.
13. Billy Wagner‘s newly developed forkball is devastating, and Wagner has the most dominating season of any NL closer. His 52 saves earn him the Cy Young Award.
14. The Mets make the playoffs, and all arms are 100% healthy and fresh come October. Willie Randolph can’t decide which of his starters are the “top three”, especially with Pedro’s return and Pelfrey’s dominance. He may have both El Duque and Pedro working out of relief, but the ‘pen is getting crowded too with the emergence of Burgos. All in all it’s a good problem to have, and despite another outstanding offensive performance, most onlookers point to the pitching staff as the Mets’ strength.