According to John Harper of the Daily News, the Mets did not expect there to be so much demand for Derek Lowe, and that they’re moving on to cheaper options. From the article:
The Mets aren’t conceding anything yet, but privately they admit they didn’t expect Lowe to be in such high demand, and they worry that with the Yankees and Red Sox in the hunt, they may have to lower their sights for a starting pitcher.
Huh. First of all, how could the Mets underestimate the value of a veteran sinkerballer who hasn’t missed a start in seven years, and won 106 games during that span? Further, how could they think Lowe wouldn’t be heavily courted, considering that 29 MLB teams can’t afford C.C. Sabathia? Unlike A.J. Burnett and Ben Sheets, Lowe is a sure thing. He may be older than those two oft-injured fireballers, but not by much. People tend to forget that Burnett will be 32 next year, and Sheets is entering his thirties. Further, in the combined 18 years of MLB between Burnett and Sheets, you can only find one season of more than 13 wins. In contrast, Lowe has AVERAGED 15 wins per season since he became a full-time starter.
I find it hard to believe that the Mets have been blindsided by the demand for Lowe. What’s more believable is that they’re not comfortable offering Lowe — nor any other pitcher — more than three years. This would be an acceptable stance if the Mets were gushing with near-ready pitching prospects in their farm system. Unfortunately, after Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell, they don’t have anyone who projects to be better than a fourth or fifth starter within the next three years. That’s a fact. And there are enough scouts who aren’t sold on Niese and Parnell, either. So the Mets won’t be able to fill their rotation needs from within the organization for at least a few years. Further, the 2010 free agent class is filled with injury-prone starters (Rich Harden, Jason Schmidt, Mark Mulder, Eric Bedard), with the top starters being John Lackey and Brett Myers. Looking ahead a year, Lackey might command a 5-year, $80M contract. Will the Mets pay that premium?
Harper also suggests that it would take Ryan Church to pry away Edwin Jackson from the Rays — I agree. It makes me laugh when people suggest that the Mets can get one of the Rays’ young starters in return for Aaron Heilman. Sure, Jackson has been inconsistent and Andy Sonnanstine appears to have ordinary stuff, but they both won 13+ games in the AL East and are only 25 years old. You don’t get talent like that in return for a 30-year-old middle reliever with a 5+ ERA. More to the point, the Rays don’t need arms, they need bats. They have a sudden surplus of pitching, and are looking to deal from that strength to find a corner outfielder with some pop.
If in fact the Red Sox or Yankees (or some other team) sign Lowe, the Mets may have to go the trade route to fill their starting rotation. If the price is too high or too risky for Lowe, then the cost for A.J. Burnett has to be way out of the Mets’ league. From all reports, there’s no interest in getting into the Sabathia bidding, and I don’t see the Mets going after Sheets, who at this point is riskier than Burnett. The next-best starter available is Jon Garland, who despite a high win total gets hit hard — opposing batters hit .303 against him last year — and probably isn’t worth the many millions he’ll get on the open market. After Garland, the quality drops off significantly — the next tier is Braden Looper, Randy Wolf, and Livan Hernandez.
Oh, and of course there is Oliver Perez — who is starting to look a lot more appealing than when the offseason began.