Archive: February 11th, 2007

Chan the Man

By now you’ve no doubt found out that the Mets have signed yet another c(h)an of paint to throw at the wall — Chan Ho Park.

Last year, a few days before pitchers and catchers reported, the Mets gave a flyer to another righthander who had success in the past — Jose Lima. Hopefully Park will be able to give us a better show than what LimaTime! presented.

There are at least a few reasons Chan Ho Park can please us more in 2007 than Jose Lima did in 2006. First of all, Lima’s terrible performances have set the bar pretty low for all spring training invites — we’re not expecting much. Secondly, Park should be a lot quieter, keeping a much lower profile than Lima. Lima’s colorful personality — which often matched his just as colorful hairdos — was a strike against him from the get-go. It’s hard enough to compete in MLB with decaying skills; to attract attention to yourself at every turn only compounds the situation.

Park may also have some talent — something Lima lost a few years ago. Though he’s the same age as Lima (34), he’s only had an ERA over 6 once in his career, and that in an injury-shortened 2003 season. In contrast, Lima’s ERA through the years has been on a rollercoaster ride from the time he broke into the bigs in 1994 — from one year to the other his numbers alternated between good and godawful. Even after winning 21 games in 1999, Lima returned the next year to post a 7-16, 6.65 ERA at age 27 — presumably a prime year in his career.

In contrast, Chan Ho Park put up fairly consistent numbers while healthy and performing in a pitcher’s park (Dodger Stadium) in the National League. His career hit rock bottom after four things changed: 1. his salary rose to meteoric heights; 2. he moved to the American League; 3. to a hitter’s park; 4. and became injured.

A long-term, multimillion-dollar contract seems to be the kiss of death for starting pitchers (see: Park, Mike Hampton, Denny Neagle, Carl Pavano, Don Gullett, Catfish Hunter, Wayne Garland, etc.). There may be some explanation to it … for example in some cases perhaps the pitcher tries harder to justify his contract, and pitches through pain he normally wouldn’t — thereby causing injury. Maybe that was part of Park’s problem — the mental side of owing up to his side of the bargain. We know for sure that the Ballpark at Arlington did not help his case, nor did the addition of the DH instead of the automatic out at the end of the lineup. There’s no doubt Barry Zito and his agent Scott Boras — formerly Park’s agent — took a good long look at what happened to Chan Ho Park while they considered the Rangers’ contract offer this past winter.

After his first few years in Texas, Chan Ho Park had no chance to win — not games, not fans, and not forgiveness. His situation is much like Pavano’s is now in the Bronx; Pavano will have to win back-to-back Cy Youngs to justify his contract to the NY fans and media. It was next to impossible for Park to start over while still in Texas, but his contract was too overbearing and his health too fragile until the fourth year of the deal, when he was finally unloaded to San Diego.

Interestingly, he began to rebound while still in Texas, going 8-5 in 20 games before finishing 12-8 on the season between there and San Diego. His ERA though, was too high — 5.66 in Texas and 5.91 with the Padres. Last year, he started 21 games, went 7-7, and posted an okay 4.81 ERA. One encouraging note: he did pitch one complete-game, 2-hit shutout (though he didn’t get a decision; the game was won in the 11th), and went into or past the seventh in five other starts. His biggest issue — even during his successful years as a Dodger — has been control, and last year he struck out twice as many as he walked for only the fourth time in 13 years. Is it too much of a stretch to call this encouraging?

Let’s face it — we as Mets fans are going to squeeze every little nugget of a positive stat as much as we can when it comes to our anemic starting rotation candidates. We’re remembering Oliver Perez’s gutty performances in the postseason and his magical 5-hit shutout vs. the Braves, and forgetting the 3-13 record and 6.55 ERA of last year. While it’s true that Perez has youth on his side, his situation is not unlike Chan Ho Park’s — or Jorge Sosa or Aaron Sele’s, for that matter. All four pitchers at one time, just a few years ago, were at the top of their game — even if it were only for a season or two. Standing back, and away from your emotional role as a Mets fan — which means forgetting Oliver’s 11 2/3 innings in the postseason — you must admit that Park, Sosa, and Sele have just as much a chance to recapture their former greatness as Perez. You may argue that Sele and Park are in their mid-30s, but that’s not a strong enough reason to dismiss them. For every Jose Lima and Scott Erickson, there’s a Jamie Moyer, Tommy John, Luis Tiant, or Roger Clemens who was able to find or recapture the magic in his 30s.

Anything can happen, so who’s to say Chan Ho Park won’t be the one to rise from the dregs and capture a regular spot in the rotation?

Five more agonizing days till pitchers and catcher report to Port St. Lucie …