By Mike Steffanos
We finish our look at some of the moves Omar made this off-season, from significant signings to controversial trades.
1/21/2006 - Traded RHP Kris Benson to the Orioles for RHP Jorge Julio and RHP John Maine.
If the Jae Seo for Duaner Sanchez trade from earlier in the month stirred up some controversy, this one took it up to a whole new level. Benson, for all of his underachieving and lack of stamina, was an established major-league middle of the rotation starter with a solid track record. Jorge Julio is a relief pitcher whose star has faded rapidly over the last 3 years. He features a fastball that is as straight as a Midwestern Republican and has a questionable emotional makeup. John Maine is a prospect that has lost luster over the previous 12 months -- most experts now see him as a fifth starter or middle reliever at best.
With the Seo trade, Omar went against the old baseball adage that you don't deal a starting pitcher for a setup guy -- but at least Seo represented somewhat of an unknown, and Duaner Sanchez has looked good over the past 2 years. This one was a lot harder to figure, not only in a perceived lack of quality that Benson brought back, but also in the fact that Benson and Seo were both traded. Starting pitching, which once seemed like an area of strength for the Mets, now seemed like a big question mark.
The Julio deal also led to the small (but vocal) minority of Mets fans that believe Omar is most concerned with Latinizing the Mets to start calling in to equally ignorant radio hosts. Since, despite the "holier than thou" pronouncements of some of the media, I understand most real Mets fans could care less about a player's ethnic background as long as he contributes, we'll leave this manufactured controversy alone.
For as much of a sh--storm that this trade has stirred up, I don't believe that it is as cut and dried as some have tried to make it. I was one that hoped the Mets would hold onto Benson, and believed that he had something to contribute to this year's team. Furthermore, I don't believe his $7.5 million salary is out of line with what similar pitchers are making. Having said that, though, I was always realistic about Benson -- he is what he appeared to be in 2005. The list of those that still believe that Benson can be a top of the rotation starter has shrunken into insignificance.
Meanwhile, there is a real hope that Rick Peterson can work some magic on the talented but enigmatic Julio. Peterson has a track record of success with guys like him -- think Roberto Hernandez from last season. Even John Maine, who was one of Baltimore's top rated prospects heading into last season, has a chance to give them something. Many of the difficulties he experienced in 2005 that caused his stock to drop are supposedly related to inconsistent mechanics. None of us are believers in the Rick Peterson 10 minute fix anymore, but it isn't outside the realm of possibility that Professor Mullet might help Maine find some of that missing consistency.
So what can we expect from Jorge Julio and RHP John Maine? Boy, if I was sure of the answer to that one I'd be making a living in Vegas right now. We know Julio throws hard, and he mostly throws strikes. The rest is up to whatever magic Peterson can come up with. Julio could continue to be the inconsistent and emotionally unstable setup man he was in 2005, or he could blossom into one the league's finest setup men. He certainly has the talent -- we'll have to see if Peterson could help him deliver the goods. The most likely outcome, like so much in life, probably lays somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.
As for John Maine, barring an injury to the Mets suddenly thin starting rotation, look for him to begin the year at AAA-Norfolk.
Who got the better of the trade? Again, this is impossible to answer until we see how everything plays out. The Orioles seem to feel they have a top-of-the rotation starter in Benson. Based on what he did in Shea in 2005, and then translated into the bandbox that is Camden Yards, I wouldn't bet on that. I think if Julio can get turned around this trade will most likely end up as a wash. If not, it will be a clear win for Baltimore.
Summing up the Off-season
None of the trades the Mets made this off-season are clear slam-dunk type winners. The Cameron trade seemed to get the winter off on the wrong foot, as Omar seemed more interested in dumping Cameron's salary than securing top value in return for the former Gold Glove winner. In retrospect, it's hard to argue that Cameron's worth to the Mets as a RF was considerably less than as a CF. If we consider shedding Cameron's salary a component of signing Delgado and Wagner, it certainly puts it into a better light.
Delgado and Wagner were huge additions. Omar gave up 2 good prospects for Carlos Delgado, and undoubtedly both will be contributing long after Delgado has retired. But Delgado was the big bat Omar had to have, and I believe Wagner signing so quickly after the trade was no coincidence.
Lo Duca is going to have to grow on us, as most are skeptical of what he brings to the table and how much he has left. Jose Valentin and Julio Franco seem like odd signings, but all that's being risked is relative chump change. The Seo and Benson trades have been more than adequately covered, and the jury is still out.
I don't agree with everything Omar has done this off-season, but I do understand it all. You have to look at what Omar has done like a chess game -- rather than a series of unconnected moves, they were part of a greater strategy. Omar looked at his starting pitching and didn't love what he saw. When he couldn't swing a deal for a Barry Zito or other top of the rotation starter, he went the other way and put all the effort into trying to build a deep bullpen. Despite my misgivings, it could well work out. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt while it all unfolds this summer in Flushing.