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Just how good is Jae Seo?

Mike SteffanosFriday, February 17, 2006
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.

Comments (4)

I disagree by leaps on this one.

Seo was one of the best minor leaguers the Mets have ever had, talent wise. his arm issues obviously set him back. Because of the pennant races in 99-01, Seo had to rehab and wait and his injury would not go away. If not the lack of velocity it was over compensation. I think he strained his elbow then masked his issues as he had in the minors. But then last yr he HAD his repetoire. In fact the sign of a good pitcher (Pedro?) is he can use his other tools when his FB fails. NOTE TO MIKE; Benson couldnt, Thus the trade, and Traxx cant. I point to the fact no matter how many hits seo gave up from sitting on his FB, nothing was a HR....not so Benson or Traxx.

Seo won period. He eclipsed most of his peers in his tenure. Try an even up comparison to Glavine, Heilman and Traxx (03-05). If not for salary and other reasons those two go first.

That aside, i'm glad Seo is free to start fresh but Benson is screwed. He will be exposed in the AL land of the DH. In contrast this will help Jorge. I think benson is a guy who, a #1 overall pick, compares to Paul Wilson.
a good pitcher but post surgery is merely serviceable...capable of an infrequent good yr.

Hi Ed. I'm going to respectfully disagree with you here. Seo was a power pitcher before the arm injury in the minors, but he never got that velocity back and never will. I think he's going to turn out to be a decent starter, but not great. I could be wrong, it wouldn't be the first time in my life if it was. Just ask my ex-wife...

I really like Sanchez and think he's going to be very important to the Mets for the next few years.

I liked Benson more than most Mets fans, I know. In those 2 games against the Yankees last year he really showed me something. He has no stamina, though, I'm not crying over losing him, I just don't like Julio. If they traded Benson for Duaner Sanchez and a good prospect I would have been okay with it -- we could have kept Seo, too. Of course the Dodgers probably weren't interested.

I'm not a big Trachsel fan, period, although I do respect that he mostly keeps them in games. If they could have gotten Sanchez for Trax instead of Seo, I'd grab that in a heartbeat. Same with Zambrano.

I don't see Benson prospering in Baltimore, either, although with their offense he could win a few games. I hope you're right about Julio -- I just don't like his makeup for NY. If they can fix him, and Maine gives them something, maybe this trade doesn't smell as bad as it seems right now. If you're right about Seo and I'm wrong, that one will smell a lot worse in the long run.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and giving me something to think about.

Trading Seo was unjustified and plane stupid. He was the best strating pitcher last year - better than Pedro. As for so-called "experts" who point out that his pitching well was an abberation - baloney! He pitched very well for 2 out of the 3 years he was on the team. It was disgraceful that he was traded. Shame on you, Mr. Minaya!

Seo was good in 2003, bad in 2004 and good in 2005. When he didn't have a good fastball, like in the two games against the Phillies, he was still very hittable. I think once the league has a good look at his stuff, he settles back down into being a decent starter, no more. I think Sanchez was the type of pitcher they had to get, and I like Seo for Sanchez a lot better than I would have liked Heilman for Baez. We'll see.

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