Archive: February 12th, 2008

Mets Land RH Bat

The Mets finally added the last piece to the puzzle — a veteran righthanded-hitting bat to come off the bench and fill in at 1B behind Carlos Delgado. They’ve signed Olmedo Saenz to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.

Oops … hope you were sitting down for that; otherwise the excitement likely would have caused you to fall over. (Luckily most people surf the ‘net while seated.)

While many of us have been clamoring for Kevin Mench, he decided to take a minor league deal and invite from his former club the Texas Rangers. It’s possible that the Mets made him a similar offer, but he was more comfortable returning to his roots. By all public accounts, he was quite happy in Arlington, and not everyone is thrilled by the idea of the pressure cooker in the big city. So be it.

Before we all go crazy with criticism on the Saenz signing, remember that it is a minor league deal and he’ll have to earn a spot on the MLB roster. In addition, if his bat speed looks good in the spring, this could prove to be a great addition. Before hitting only .191 with the Dodgers last season, Saenz was one of the premier RH pinch-hitters in the big leagues — in 2006, he hit .296 with 11 HRs in 179 ABs, which were almost identical numbers to Damion Easley’s in ’07. In addition, Saenz can play both infield corner positions, and is generally considered to be a good clubhouse guy. Yes, he’s starting to sound a lot like Julio Franco, but at least in this case, there’s no multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract in place. So if he’s hitting .078 in late May, it won’t be a big deal to cut him loose or send him down to the farm.

Whether Saenz has a real chance to make the team depends a lot on how he looks when he reports. If he looks like Olmedo Saenz of 2002-2006, he has a chance; if he looks like Horatio Sanz, we could have another Bret Boone-like retirement within a week. All in all, I like the signing — no risk, decent return if he pans out.

Livan Off the Market

Besides Mench signing with Texas, the Twins quietly announced that they signed Livan Hernandez. Interesting move, as he steps right into the spot that Carlos Silva left behind — and he might well outperform Silva. Livan will be expected to eat up innings and take some of the pressure off the myriad young arms that will be on the mound for Minnesota in 2008. A wise, shrewd move by the Twins — and one that came almost out of nowhere.

The only other ST invites of consequence: Doug Mientkiewicz signed with the Pirates (why, no one knows) and the Orioles handed invites to Steve Trachsel and OF Luke Scott — who hit 18 HRs and 28 doubles in 369 ABs for the Astros last year.

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Second-best Acquisition of 2008

Without much fanfare, the Mets made an under-the-radar announcement that didn’t even get picked up by most news and blog sources, yet could have an impact on the Mets’ pitching staff that is similar to the acquisition of Johan Santana.

No, Tom Seaver has not come out of retirement (neither has David Cone), and Omar Minaya is not even thinking about adding Roger Clemens.

The name is one you likely never heard of: Dan Warthen.

Huh?

At the end of January, the Mets quietly announced that Dan Warthen would join the New Orleans Zephyrs as pitching coach.

Amidst all the hoopla surrounding Johan Santana’s entrance to the Mets organization, it’s not surprising that the signing of a AAA pitching coach would go undetected. However, one must consider that Warthen is kind of like the Rick Peterson of the minors — a highly respected and successful pitching coach who has a knack for helping young pitchers get to the next level.

Warthen was the Mets’ AAA pitching coach in 2004-2005, and may have been the sole reason for the success of Jae Seo, Jose Parra, Heath Bell, and Juan Padilla, among others. He spent the last two years as the bullpen coach for the Dodgers, but Joe Torre brought in his own staff so Warthen returned to the Mets.

Although Warthen has experience as a big league pitching coach — with the Tigers, Padres, and Mariners — his value seem to be in the minors, fine-tuning and accelerating the development of young arms on the cusp of the big leagues. Looking at the Mets’ potential AAA staff, we see some specific youngsters who could blossom under Warthen’s guidance: Mike Pelfrey, Jason Vargas, and Adam Bostick.

OK, at face value, Johan Santana means a lot more to the organization than some AAA coach. But if 2008 turns out to be as close a race as 2007, the emergence of Pelfrey or Vargas or someone else from the farm could be the difference between first place and second (for example, imagine if the Mets had not lost five of Brian Lawrence’s six starts?). Maybe Warthen is the personality who can push Pelfrey to the next level — which would benefit the Mets in ’08 and several years beyond. Every little bit helps.

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