By Mike Steffanos
In a story in the New York Post, linked to below, Joel Sherman quotes GM Omar Minaya on how looking at the "big picture" makes his off-season trades of Jae Seo and Kris Benson look like less of a gamble. If you read what's written in both the local and national baseball press, you come to understand that Minaya doesn't have a lot of company here -- especially on the national level, where almost every major writer has killed him for trading away starting pitching depth for bullpen arms.
Omar's feeling was that, unlike last year's champion White Sox team, the Mets didn't have a starting pitching staff that would pitch deep into games. He felt that a really deep bullpen would take the Mets a lot farther than having 7 experienced starters. This is a point that I've already talked about, and I'm confident that the debate will linger on for most of the season -- especially if a starter or two goes down for any length of time.
What really isn't debatable, however, is the shift in importance from the starting staff to the bullpen. Don't get me wrong, you still need effective starting pitching to win, but the days of bullpen as an afterthought are gone forever. For all of their ups and downs last season, a few less blown games by Looper and company and the Mets could have easily been a playoff team. In 2006, the bullpen has been upgraded considerably, while the rotation has taken a hit. The "big picture" is that the innings at the end of the game are in much better hands, while there are some big questions about the early innings.
You can argue all you want about the wisdom of trading starters for relievers. What I hope becomes another part of the "big picture" for future of this franchise would be a priority in the organization in developing some of their own bullpen arms. The Mets have had some success over the years in grooming starters, but their consistent failures in coming up with viable young relievers has meant that they consistently have to overpay in salary (Billy Wagner) or trade chips (Seo and Benson) to put the final brush strokes on the "big picture". If grooming relievers is so much easier than producing starters, what's going on down on the farm?
We've been hearing about Henry Owens, who can be a part of the picture in Flushing in the near future. There are also a few promising arms in various stages of development in the Mets farm system. We can only hope that the Mets can find a way to nurture some of them into being productive major leaguers, eliminating the need for trades like Seo for Sanchez in the future.
New York Post: Bullpen Gambles
Joel Sherman uses Jorge Julio's arrival in camp as a starting point for discussing Omar Minaya's controversial off-season moves:
...nothing less than Minaya's reputation and the Mets' season could be tied to how well Julio and Duaner Sanchez chaperone the ball from the rotation to the trustworthy Billy Wagner.
Minaya's predecessor, Jim Duquette, continues to be stung by being on watch when the Mets controversially exchanged Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano. This is Minaya's Kazmir moment; the debatable decision to thin his starting-pitching depth to obtain Julio and Sanchez.
Of course, Minaya doesn't see the moves as a gamble, saying you need to look at the big picture. Sherman quotes Rick Peterson on what the "big picture" is:
When you look at the trades, you get wrapped up in just a piece of the puzzle. But if you look at the whole puzzle, which means covering about 1,450 innings for the season, we have a much better looking overall puzzle with [Julio and Sanchez].
Sherman also cites club sources for the reasons Seo and Benson were readed away:
Behind the scenes, though, Mets people will say Seo overachieved last season and that his stuff is not better than that of prospect Brian Bannister. And it is well known now that the Mets found living with Kris Benson's contract more tolerable than living with Anna Benson.
[Another Anna Benson shot. I swear it's a contest as to who's more childish -- New York sportswriters or Anna. They don't like her, but they keep handing her free publicity.]
Seo and Bannister are indeed very similar as pitchers. Their arsenal is similar, although Bannister's changeup is nowhere near as polished as Seo's. I've gotten flack from readers because I see Seo as ultimately a decent four or five starter, but even I'm not going to say that he isn't an upgrade on an untested prospect. I respect Seo for what he did last year, and I'll never quite understand the low regard the Mets seemed to have for him. Having said that, I like Sanchez a lot and feel it was a trade that had to be made.
I found this quite promising:
Sanchez must prove the change-up he learned from Dodgers teammate Eric Gagne -- that has the Mets so enthralled (bullpen coach Guy Conti called it the third best in camp after Pedro Martinez's and Aaron Heilman's -- can help him better cope with lefty hitters, who batted .310 off him last season.
I think has to be one of our biggest worries, that neither Sanchez nor Julio is all that effective against lefties. If Conti -- who is definitely one of the unsung heroes of this coaching staff -- can help Sanchez to hone that changeup, things will be looking a lot better in that department.
Daily News: Jorge Julio
Adam Rubin also profiles new setup man Jorge Julio, now in camp after obtaining a new visa. Rubin takes what seems to be the obligatory swipe at Anna Benson -- at least he had more reason than most, I guess, but I wish these guys would turn the page and stop contributing to the Anna publicity machine. Anyway, Julio blames "inconsistent use" and not knowing his role last season for his troubles -- which doesn't really explain his problems from the previous two years.
Rubin quotes Lee Mazzilli, his former manager with the Orioles, that Julio's problems were often related to overthrowing:
He's got a really good breaking ball. He's young. I love him. He's a good kid. He's got to stay away from that radar gun. He's got to stay ahead of hitters, that's what he's got to do. He's got great stuff, but he can't pitch from behind. I don't care how hard you throw, you can't do that.
The Seattle Times: The Boone
Larry Stone has an interesting look at Brett Boone.