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Mets Hot Stove Preview: Starting Pitching

Mike SteffanosSunday, October 23, 2005
By Mike Steffanos


Not much is going to happen until after the World Series ends, but we thought we would start taking a look at what the Mets have and what they might be looking to do once the hot stove heats up. We begin with a look at the Mets starting pitching.

It's no secret that the Mets have an abundance of starting pitching. With all the other holes that need to be filled for this team, it's extremely unlikely that the Mets would make a move to acquire a starter. What will indeed be interesting is the moves they make with the surplus starting pitching they already possess.

Based on what we've heard so far and our own common sense, the first three Met starters in 2006 will be Pedro, Glavine and Benson. There are questions about all three -- Pedro's health, Glavine's age and Benson's stamina (and maybe heart) -- but barring an injury these 3 rotation slots are set. The real interest comes when we look at the last 2 slots. As things stand, the candidates include:

  • Victor Zambrano
  • Jae Seo
  • Steve Trachsel
  • Aaron Heilman
  • Kaz Ishii

As wild cards you can include top prospects Yusmeiro Petit and Brian Bannister, and come up with 7 candidates for 2 positions. In looking at it, both Petit and Bannister will undoubtedly start the year in AAA Norfolk, and the Mets are likely to buy out Ishii's option and let him plague some other team's fans. Although Trachsel is a potential free agent I would be extremely surprised (and disappointed) if the Mets didn't pick up his option. At 2.5 million for next year Trax is a bargain in today's baseball reality. That leaves us with Trachsel, Seo, Heilman and Zambrano as 4 legitimate candidates for the 2 slots.

Although part of me wants to see Heilman get a legit shot at earning a rotation spot, with the state of the Mets pen and Aaron's post-All Star game success this year I believe it would be wise to assume he will be a member of the bullpen in 2006. That still leaves us with 3 guys for 2 spots, and all of them have their strengths and weaknesses:

Jae Seo: At 28 years old he's the baby of the trio, and based on what he did after returning from his exile in Norfolk to my mind and for many other Met fans he is the front-runner for the fourth slot in the rotation. He did show some chinks in the armor down the stretch, getting a little beat up in 3 of his last 7 starts. He has something to prove in spring training. Still, his stuff is better than Trachsel's and his control is far better than Zambrano's. Unless he really disappoints in the spring I think Seo will be in the rotation.

Victor Zambrano: His two big problems are his tendency to lose the strike zone and the unwillingness of some Met fans to let go of the Kazmir trade -- or at least stop blaming him for it. He just turned 30, and because he switched to pitching in the minors his arm has relatively less wear and tear than your typical 30 year old pitcher. He has great stuff when he can get it over, but at times this year his stuff was flat and hittable. Although I still see him as a guy that has the potential to be a real good starter, I wonder if he has the mental makeup to make it in New York.

Steve Trachsel: The oldest of the group, he turns 35 on Halloween. Steve certainly has the capability of being one of the better fifth starters in baseball, although some Met fans tend to overrate him, at least in my mind. To repeat something I posted in late September, Steve's 5 September starts looked like this:

7.1 IP, 4R, 4ER, 7H, 2BB, 2HR -- Loss to Atlanta
5.0 IP, 4R, 4ER, 4H, 1BB, 2HR -- loss to St. Louis
6.0 IP, 5R, 2ER, 9H, 3BB, 1 HR -- Loss to Atlanta
6.0 IP, 0R, 0ER, 5H, 1 BB, 0HR -- ND to Washington
4.2 IP, 7R, 7ER, 10H, 3BB, 1 HR -- Loss to Philadelphia

I like Trachsel, I really do, but let's keep a grip on reality here, people. Steve is one of those guys who is what he is. When he's on top of his game, with all of his pitches working, he's a consummate pro and a pleasure to watch. When he struggles, his games can be every bit as ugly as Zambrano's worst efforts. He takes forever between pitches and the game slows down to an excruciating crawl. I made the point once that Trax and Zambrano are virtually the same pitcher, and I'll stand by that. At the end of the season they're both going to be .500 pitchers with an ERA around 4. I feel the biggest difference is that Zambrano is 5 years younger and has potential to improve.

Because of this, I made the point a while back that I felt it was in the best interests of the team to deal Trachsel and keep Zambrano. When I said that, though, I didn't realize that Trachsel now has 5 years with the Mets and has 10-5 rights to veto trades. (Time really does fly, doesn't it?) Zambrano might have to be the one that gets dealt. Either way, though, the one thing that doesn't make sense to me is to try to use Zambrano out of the bullpen in 2006. I don't think it will help his control any to be used as a long man, and I think you diminish his value in a trade. Right now you could probably get an established middle reliever or possibly a couple of young power arms for the pen in exchange for Trachsel or Zambrano, and to me that would be the way to go.

Some would argue that it might make more sense to keep both, using the argument that you never can have too much starting pitching. I agree to a point, but if as an organization you believe in Petit and Bannister then you have more than enough in reserve to cover the odd injury. It's what a successful organization needs to do -- come up with surplus talent that you can move to fill needs, and have a dependable farm system that can cover you in an emergency. Whether it is Trachsel or Zambrano that gets moved, I think you have to take advantage of their value to fill some holes.

A little vindictive pleasure

As I sat here putting the finishing touches on this post I watched Podsednik's home run beat the Astros and put them down 2-0 in the World Series. I remember Phil Garner walking out to the mound and telling Roy Oswalt to hit Cliff Floyd, and I can only think, "eat it, buddy."

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