For now, we’re going to avoid the open issues of second base, right field, and the bats off the bench. As always, pitching is the key to success, and the Mets have a lot of question marks when it comes to the arms.
Herewith are ten questions (actually, 11 … you always get more than your money’s worth at MetsToday) for the Mets’ pitching staff that should be answered by April 1.
1. Will Oliver Perez and John Maine build off their postseason performances, and learn to repeat their mechanics — in turn becoming more consistent, 6-7-inning starters?
2. Is Duaner Sanchez 100% healthy after his season-ending injury, and can he pitch at the same level that he did in 2006?
3. Is Ambiorix Burgos ahead of where Jorge Julio was last year, and if so can The Jacket develop him into a 7th or 8th-inning setup man?
4. If Burgos is indeed further along, and Sanchez is healthy, will it make sense to give Aaron Heilman a crack at the rotation?
5. Can Mike Pelfrey develop a MLB-quality secondary pitch/pitches and grab hold of the #5 spot in the rotation?
6. Can Jason Vargas recapture the magic that propelled him to the bigs after less than 150 minor league innings? If so, can he make an impact on the Mets’ staff in 2007?
7. Is Philip Humber healthy? If so, is he ready for prime time?
8. Will Steve Schmoll or Joe Smith “submarine” other pitchers and steal a bullpen spot? (If not, who will bring the funk?)
9. Is Juan Padilla healthy, and if so, is he the effective setup man of 2005 or the journeyman mop-up guy of 2004?
10. Do the Mets own the 13-3 Jorge Sosa of 2005, or the 3-11 Sosa of 2006?
11. (bonus question) Where does Jon Adkins fit in, if at all?
Of course, these are not the only questions surrounding the pitching staff, but they are the ones that I personally expect to have answered by the time camp breaks at the end of March. Yes, two huge question marks are at the top of the rotation, where Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez anchor the staff with 41-year-old bodies. But its unlikely we’ll know from spring training whether those bodies can handle another 162-game season.
Comparatively, we don’t really know for sure whether Scott Schoeneweis will be an effective LOOGY in the NL. We do know that he is virtually guaranteed a roster spot for the next 2-3 years, and thus will have some role, most likely in the bullpen. But his value cannot be measured until the Mets face the Phillies in a regular-season game, with men on base at a critical point of the contest, Chase Utley at bat and Ryan Howard on deck. Unfortunately, there’s no means of reproducing that scenario in a meaningless spring training game.
In contrast, most — if not all — of the questions posed above can be answered in six weeks of spring training. Sure, we don’t know if Perez and Maine can improve their 2006 numbers, but we will have an idea where they’re going if their mechanics are consistent. Similarly, we won’t really know if Sanchez and Padilla can be solid setup relievers again, but we’ll at least see how healthy they are. Vargas, Pelfrey, Humber, and Burgos may well begin the season in AAA, but all are close enough to MLB-ready that Rick Peterson can discern in six weeks whether their stuff is up to snuff. For example if Humber is snapping off knee-buckling, 12-to-6 curves and buzzing a 94-MPH heater at the knees, he won’t have the pleasure of hanging out at blues clubs in the Big Easy come April.
Some of these questions will be answered very quickly, others will take some time. What the answers are, in the end, will have a significant impact on the shape of the Mets’ pitching staff, and their potential for success in the first half of the 2007 season.