By Mike Steffanos
There was one more news item I meant to talk about this morning, but I got sidetracked with Rickey Henderson and Jose Lima. In Newsday this morning, Jon Heyman offers the following:
The Mets say they dealt Seo and Benson to build their pen, and that is true. ("Pennants are won and lost in the bullpen," Minaya said.) But other reasons, mostly unspoken, are that Mets higher-ups didn't think Seo has good enough stuff to start a playoff game (it's nice that they're thinking of a possible October) and thought just the opposite about Benson, that he'd never get the most out of the great ability he has.
Even more damning, they viewed Seo's hot second half as an affirmation of minor-league coaches Rick Waits and Dan Warthen, not to mention an opportunity to deal him. Scouts are split on Seo; some say he knows how to win, others point out he doesn't possess one pitch that big-league hitters regularly swing at and miss. As one Mets person pointed out, "If we had called the Dodgers a year ago about Jae Seo for Duaner Sanchez, they would have laughed at us."
In the case of Benson, they also were wearying of Mrs. Benson's skimpy clothing, inappropriate comments and distracting ways. Minaya was asked whether Benson still would be a Met if he were single, and Minaya giggled long enough to fill what he apparently thought was his allotted answering time (our best guess is, yes he would).
I'm sure Heyman has some solid sources within the team, and I'm going to assume the reasons given for trading Seo and Benson are legit.
Let's start with Jae Seo. After a nice rookie season in 2003, Seo was pretty awful in 2004. He was stubborn in sticking with just a fastball and changeup, but there wasn't enough difference in speed between the two pitches to keep hitters off-balance, especially after hitters faced him a time or two.
We've heard of battles between Seo and pitching coach Rick Peterson over the need to add pitches to Seo's repertoire. In 2005, Seo didn't make the Mets roster coming out of camp. When Kris Benson injured a muscle in his chest, and Trachsel suffered a severe back injury, the Mets went out and acquired the awful Kaz Ishii rather than trust Seo. When Ishii went down with an injury, Seo came up and had a good start against the Nats, then a bad one, and then pitched a 1-hitter against Philadelphia. Didn't matter -- he was sent back down right after that game.
In AAA-Norfolk, Seo finally worked on adding a breaking ball and a cutter to his arsenal while Ishii was stinking up the joint in New York. It wasn't until early August that Willie and Omar finally came to the realization that Ishii just plain sucked, and brought Seo back up.
Seo was filthy good in his first four starts, and then hit a bump as the Phils knocked him around on August 30 (although Castro saved him with a home run). Seo had a couple of decent games against the Marlins and the Cardinals, and then Washington roughed him up. A couple of games later, the Phillies beat up on him again.
Seo proved to be a much tougher pitcher with his new weapons, but he wasn't the second coming of Tom Seaver. He averaged just over 6 innnings a start, and when he didn't have velocity and command on his fastball he could still look pretty bad -- the difference being that at least he had a chance in those games now. He still doesn't strike out many batters. He looked to me like a solid fourth or fifth starter for a good club.
When Omar traded him for Duaner Sanchez, I was honestly sorry to see him go, but I felt that it wasn't an awful deal. On a starting staff that didn't go deep into games, nabbing a good, young reliever with a rubber arm seemed reasonable -- and I liked this deal a lot better than trading Heilman for a 1 year rental of Danys Baez.
A lot of "experts" took some cheap shots at Omar for this that I felt were unjustified -- based on the thought that Seo would continue to pitch to an ERA of 2.5 for the rest of his career, which seems unlikely at best. I thought it more reasonable, as the league sees him enough with the new pitches, to expect him to be a good bottom-of-the-rotation starter with an ERA of around 4. If he stayed with the Mets, that would have been my hopes for 2006.
Can he turn out to be better than this? Of course. Heyman cites Omar that every trade is a gamble, and that's the gamble here -- that Seo is better than most expect.
The Benson deal is harder to defend. I know there are a lot of fans that hated this deal, and many that were glad to see Benson go. I didn't like this one -- Julio, besides being on the decline over 3 seasons, seems to me a guy lacking a makeup that will enable him to succeed in New York. Benson, for all of his faults, was a solid #3 starter and the money he was making wasn't hugely out of whack.
I keep hoping that the Mets feel confident they can salvage Julio. Omar speaks of John Maine as being an important part of the deal, and he was still considered a top prospect going into last season. Only the future can reveal to us how both incoming players will turn out.
As for Anna being the reason for dumping Benson, I'm sure she didn't help his cause, but prefer to believe that she wasn't the motivating factor. As a Mets fan, I can only hope that the powers that be in Flushing wouldn't make a trade just to dump an annoying wife. That would be so irresponsible from a baseball standpoint I would have no confidence in that leadership going forward. I'm not completely sure about the Wilpons, but I think I give Omar Minaya more credit than that.