Archive: November 19th, 2007

Under the Radar: Joe Nelson

Joe Nelson pitching for the Kansas City RoyalsThe Kansas City Royals sent righthanded pitcher Joe Nelson to the minors, he refused his assignment, and is now a free-agent.

Ho hum.

Nelson was a career minor leaguer who consistently posted good (not great) numbers in AAA. He finally broke through to the Majors with the Royals by appearing in 43 games and saving 9. However, he always had shoulder issues, and suffered season-ending surgery in March 2007. He might not be ready when March comes around again, so Kansas City dropped him from the 40-man roster.

Might the Mets consider adding the damaged, crusty journeyman, offering him a AAA contract? He’s already 32 years old, and the best he’s ever been was a 4.43 ERA with 44 strikeouts and 24 walks in 44 innings in that 2006 season. You can’t blame the guy for wanting to leave the KC organization, and he’d likely be thrilled to take a minor-league deal with the Mets.

More paint to throw at the wall … the Mets will want to stock that AAA club with pitching.

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Garland Off the Market

Personally, I’m happy to see this deal go down: Jon Garland for Orlando Cabrera. I had been concerned that the Mets might give away several prospects in a deal for Garland, and that he wouldn’t be worth the cost. Now, it’s likely not an issue, unless the Angels are looking to flip him.

Hopefully, Garland’s exit means there’s less of a chance of Jose Contreras being dumped on a team such as the Mets.

In addition, it could also mean that the Angels — who already have plenty of pitching depth — may be more willing to part with Ervin Santana. The Angels rotation currently looks like this: John Lackey, Jon Garland, Kelvim Escobar, Jered Weaver, Santana, and Joe Saunders. That’s one too many, and Santana had a horrendous 7-14 season, posting a 5.76 ERA. No one’s sure exactly what went wrong, but one thing was for certain: he was a heckuva lot more hittable than he was previously. Santana gave up 174 hits in only 150 innings in ’07, after allowing only 181 in 204 IP the year before. Perhaps he’s injured, or maybe the AL simply figured him out. In any case, it seems the 25-year-old righty is ripe for a change in scenery.

The problem, however, is that the Angels need a bat, which the Mets don’t have to offer. Wait, I think we’ve already established the Mets don’t have much of anything to offer to anybody. If anything, this deal for Garland gives the Angels more flexibility in their supposed trade talks with the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera. So we may well see Ervin Santana in Shea — in a Florida uniform.

But maybe the Mets DO have a bat to trade. If the Cabrera deal falls through, the Angels still will need a bat. They might consider sending Santana to the Mets for Lastings Milledge, for example. I’d have to think long and hard about that one. Or, they might be interested in a one-year stopgap for 1B / DH — a guy like Carlos Delgado. Would the Mets offer Delgado to the Angels for Ervin Santana and, say, Casey Kotchman? Would the Angels accept?

There’s been a lot of hype on Kotchman, but I don’t think such a deal would be so far-fetched. After all, Kotchman only hit 11 HRs last year, and never hit more than 10 in a minor league season. He could be a Mark Grace / Sean Casey type — a good hitter for average but low on the power. That makes his value as a first baseman low, and his importance to the Angels equally undervalued. They need guys who can hit the ball over the fence, such as Delgado. Who do you think would be better suited to the current Mets’ lineup — a fading Delgado, who may hit 25 HRs but bat .260, clog the bases and continue to resemble a piece of heavy furniture at first base? Or a kid such as Kotchman, who won’t hit many dingers but will hit in the .280-.300 range with 30-40 doubles, take 50-75 walks, strike out less than 50 times, and play excellent defense at first base? Think hard about this one — which player would you rather have batting sixth, behind Moises Alou, next year? And if you could add a former phenom such as Ervin Santana to the deal? I think I might do that deal even if it had to include Mike Pelfrey.

Of course, this is all conjecture and a big fantasy in my mind. But who knows, the Angels might be willing to consider it. Your thoughts?

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Castillo Stays – Now What?

A bevy of sources are reporting that the Associated Press is reporting that Luis Castillo has signed a 4-year, $25M deal with the Mets.

Funny, isn’t it, what a Yorvit Torrealba deal gone bad can do to a media outlet? Now instead of being “first to the scoop” when it comes to Mets news, everyone is “reporting” what someone else is reporting. Or something like that.

Usually, we can trust the AP with things like this. Of course, we thought we could trust the MLB.com website, too, but found that to be not the case. Although, MLB.com IS reporting the same deal.

For the moment, we will temporarily accept this turn of events as factual, for the purpose of filling our afternoon with useless blogging.

Four years seems like a long commitment for a 32-year-old second baseman with a bad knee. And considering that he’s from the Dominican Republic, there’s at least some reason to believe he could be a few years older than 32. But we won’t go there.

The funny thing is, in 2003, the Mets likely would have balked at a 4-year deal for the then-27 year-old second baseman with a healthy set of knees. Now though, the Mets had to overpay — there really wasn’t much of a choice. It was either 4/25 for Castillo or 4/25 for David Eckstein, and which would YOU prefer?

Luis Castillo proved he could handle playing in New York, and that counts for something. He proved that he still has a great glove and can turn a double play with the best of them, even if his range is now severely limited. And he proved he could still put the bat on the ball, as well as take a walk, and made an ideal #2 hitter — those are not so easy to find. And even with a bad wheel, he proved he could still steal a base. And he played hard and focused. Further, there is some hope that he’ll regain some of his Gold Glove range and his basestealing speed after knee surgery. Compare all that to Eckstein, who has always played in small markets, has never had the speed of Castillo, never takes a walk, hit .300 for the first time in his career last year (Castillo has done it 7 times), would have to change his position (with no guarantee he’d turn a DP well from the second base side), and has had two consecutive injury-marred seasons.

The Eckstein consideration, in fact, looks worse and worse the more you examine it. He’s been a leadoff hitter the last few years, despite an average OBP and little speed. With Albert Pujols hitting third, you’d think a leadoff batter would score 100+ runs on an annual basis, yet Eckstein hasn’t done that since 2002 with the Angels. Because he doesn’t walk very often — strange, you’d think that he did — his OBP is directly reliant on his batting average, which makes him, effectively, a shorter and quicker version of Paul LoDuca. The idea that he would easily transition to second base was taken all too easily — the double play turn is completely different, as are the throws. Yes, he can probably do it, and probably will be required to make the move eventually, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be a defensive whiz at the position. Jose Reyes didn’t look so great on the right side back in ’04, did he? And Reyes is much more athletically gifted than Eckstein.

Considering the alternative options, the Luis Castillo signing looks good. Three years would have been more comfortable but hey, sometimes you have to overpay. Now that second base and the #2 spot in the order is settled, Omar Minaya can get back to the plan of finding a catcher and a few pitchers.

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Glavine Goes – Now What?

The tom turkey came a few days early in Atlanta, as the AP is reporting that Tom Glavine has signed with the Braves.

Thank goodness … I certainly did not want to go through another month or so of hem-haw like we endured last winter. Everyone knew Tom wanted to go back to Atlanta, and he took a “hometown discount” of reportedly $8M with no incentives (compare that to the $13M option he declined from the Mets). The question is, however, will he be returning to the same “Tara” he once knew?

Actually, I’m not too comfortable with the state of the Mets’ rotation in comparison to the Braves’ at this juncture. Yes, the Mets are probably better off without Glavine, but look at it this way: Glavine becomes a #4 starter on the Braves, while he was the Mets’ #1 last year. Had he remained a Met, he could have arguably been their #2 to start 2008. Yes, Orlando Hernandez had a better 2007, but both El Duque and Pedro Martinez are annual health concerns. Despite his comeback in September, there’s no guarantee that Pedro will throw 175-200 innings next year. And we all know Hernandez is lucky to make 25 starts in any year. The second-half slumps of Oliver Perez and John Maine keep them as #3 or #4s, for now. You expound on the potential of Maine and Perez until you’re orange and blue in the face but it doesn’t erase the fact that neither pitcher has thrown 200 innings in a season, and neither has put up back-to-back 125-inning seasons in their lives. That’s an important fact, specifically in this day and age of mediocre middle relief and in particular the Mets’ questionable bullpen.

While we can all agree that Glavine was not the ace he used to be, and he let us down hard in September, he averaged 201 innings per season in his five years as a Met. We know for certain he would have given the Mets another 175 innings at the least in 2008. I don’t know that any of the current Met starters are as sure a thing to hit that mark. Can they? Yes. Will they? Maybe. Glavine? Almost definitely.

In contrast, the Braves have John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, and now Glavine, all as a virtual lock to throw at minimum 175 innings next year, likely 200+. After that they have Chuck James, who compares to John Maine in many ways and threw 160 innings in 2007. They also have question mark Mike Hampton, who when healthy is a 200+ inning guy. And they have Buddy Carlyle to fill in at the back end if Hampton falters again. And they have Jair Jurrjens and Jo-Jo Reyes, who may or may not be ready for prime-time. Yes, they have question marks, just as the Mets do. But they have three 200-inning horses to keep the pressure off the pen, while the Mets have none.

That said, one or more of these things has to happen:

1. Maine and Perez continue to fulfill our highest expectations.

2. Pedro must come back 100% and suffer no relapses.

3. El Duque must make at least 25 starts

4. Mike Pelfrey or Philip Humber must step up and pitch 150 innings

5. The Mets must sign or deal for a horse to replace Glavine’s innings

6. The Mets must sign or deal for another proven pitcher and/or pitching prospect.

7. The Mets bullpen has to return to its 2006 form.

The above scenarios are not impossible — in fact they’re somewhat realistic expectations. But most of them must happen. It’s kind of like a Chinese restaurant menu: one from column A, two from column B, etc.

First and foremost, the Mets cannot go into 2008 without replacing the innings left behind by Glavine. Even with Glavine, they needed another horse to guard against a Pedro hiccup, an El Duque DL stint, and fifth starter syndrome (i.e., Pelfrey busting again). We cannot realistically expect Pedro and El Duque to throw 200 innings apiece, and for Pelfrey to have his breakout season — that’s asking for a minor miracle. Not to mention that we’re pinning all that on the assumption that Maine and Perez will be the same or better than they were in 2007.

In other words, signing Carlos Silva or Livan Hernandez is an “at mininum” acquisition. The Mets need to look into adding at least one additional starter, if not more, as well.

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