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Find Me a Real Alternative to Zambrano and I'll Sign On

Mike SteffanosWednesday, April 19, 2006
By Mike Steffanos

You'll forgive me if there are no news links in this post today. I started reading the New York papers this morning and just had to give it up. It wasn't that they didn't do their usual great job today, it's just that I learned long ago that my key to not burning myself out as a day-in, day-out diehard fan is to know when to take a brief step back. The ugliness I witnessed with own eyes last night was quite enough for that game.

I understand that I have become the unofficial defender of Victor Zambrano in the Mets blogosphere. My initial reaction is to run away from this somewhat dubious honor. I felt the same way as most Mets fans last night: disheartened, disgusted, disillusioned, fill in your favorite dis- word here. I mentioned in last night's post that no one can look better giving up 7 runs than Zambrano, apparently some didn't understand that this wasn't meant as a compliment. It's less painful to watch a normal pitcher like Steve Trachsel go out there without his good stuff and just absorb an old-fashioned pounding than to watch Victor go out there with really good stuff and make mistake after mistake as the game slowly sinks down the drain.

My gut feeling after watching the game was the same as most. I felt that it was time for Zambrano to go. I even got a good ways into writing a post to that effect. But then I started thinking -- always a dangerous thing to do, it's caused me nothing but trouble in my life.

Right now, the bottom of the Mets rotation is populated by the enigmatic Mr. Zambrano and:

  • Steve Trachsel, who is 36, missed most of last year with a back injury, didn't pitch well in most of his starts coming back, had a rough spring, and got bombed by the weak-hitting Brewers in his second start of 2006.

  • Brian Bannister, a rookie with very little Triple-A experience, who made the team by throwing strikes in spring training but seemingly has lost the knack in his 3 starts once the games started counting.

Trachsel has yet to prove to me that he can return to being an effective pitcher in most of his starts. I like Steve, but I don't feel confident on days that he pitches right now.

I love Bannister, love his makeup, his grasp of the mental game, and his toughness. Despite reading repeatedly that he only possesses 4 "average" pitches, that's not quite true. His curveball, which he has been struggling with in the early going, is definitely a plus pitch -- if he can start throwing it for strikes. I think this kid might top out as a solid mid-rotation starter, but at least he'll be a dependable 4 or 5 guy.

Having said that, he needs to find his way back to getting ahead of hitters. He's taken advantage of the overeagerness of poor hitting teams with runners in scoring positions. If he continues to put himself into that position with better hitting teams, he will pay, and pay dearly. I need to see some growth out of this kid in that regard before I trust him when he starts a game.

Therefore, to me the big problem right now isn't just one question mark at the bottom of the rotation -- it's all three. I'm not quite sure where any of the three will be in a month or two.

When I look at the Mets' in-house options for a replacement, I don't like what I see. Do you really believe it will be any less demoralizing to watch Jose Lima or Jeremi Gonzalez get pounded? Sad to say, I doubt either gives the Mets even the same chance to win a game as Zambrano right now, much less a better one. Mike Pelfrey? It doesn't make sense to rush a top pitching prospect. He might be on the fast-track, but let's not put him on the express train to nowhere. Decisions on Pelfrey need to be made based strictly on what's right for him.

I know what name is going to come up: Aaron Heilman. I have to admit that I'm tempted by that one, but there's just too many questions in the bullpen right now. Besides the fact that Heilman and Sanchez have been the only effective setup men, Billy Wagner has yet to prove that the whispers we keep hearing about his finger being more serious of a problem than the Mets are letting on are false. Unless Jorge Julio can return from the dead, Aaron Heilman needs to stay in the bullpen.

I'd like to join in the chorus of dumping Zambrano, because I truly am getting weary of watching him. I just can't right now, because it doesn't make sense. When there is a real option available that gives the team a better chance of winning, I'll sign on. Hey, if Satan was to pitch for this team, could get batters out and help them to win, I'd be willing to look the other way as he devours a few souls, as long as they weren't important ones.

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Comments (8)

Yeah we could be looking at a rotation meltdown if the cards fall badly.

I disagree, the Brewers are not a weak hitting team. I'll bet that by the end of the season they will be one of the best hitting.

Who is available if we cut Mr. Monday?

You're right about the Brewers not being a weak hitting team, but they had been struggling with RISP, and were overeager in those situations. Bannister, to his credit, was savvy enough to take advantage of this.

Honestly, to pick up a starting pitcher right now who doesn't at least have as many issues as Zambrano, you'd probably have to overpay almost as much as they did to get Victor in 2004. I'm sure Omar would trade for a good starter in a heartbeat if someone was willing to make a deal that made sense.

Heilman might be an option for the rotation if they cut bait with the bullpen.

Julio should go down to AAA to work out his problems and why are the Mets now carrying both lefties Oliver an Feliciano. In the mean time we're wasting Henry Owens 0.00 era in AA. Heath Bell would also be a better option.

I'd be interested to see what they do with Owens if he keeps pitching well. I still think you need Heilman in the bullpen until Wagner proves he's 100%. As for Bell, he should be up already instead of Julio, you're preaching to the choir on that one.

I hear ya Mike. I've been one of the Zambrano backers for a while but I've had it. It's not just this year. It's just his inability to pitch. He doesn't think like a pitcher and that is very apparent. He was a catcher turned infielder turned pitcher...Not cool man...not cool.

As anyone who has played the game as a pitcher knows, it's not the stuff that makes you. It's your ability to get the outs. Glavine is a perfect example of that. He doesn't have anything that makes you say "WOW, Did you see that pitch?" He simply follows the pitcher's philosophy of LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. If only Peterson would teach that to Zambrano, we would be alright.

I just think he lacks the concentration to ever make it to the next level. I wish I could give his fastball and slider to Trachsel or Bannister.

I agree. Our hands are tied right now. But let's not forget that it didn't have to be this way. We had options before we send Benson packing. The only question I keep asking myself though is why is Heath Bell good enough for other teams to keep asking about him, but not good enough to pitch for us? In addition, keep an eye on the radar gun when Heilman pitches. He's throwing a 82mph changeup and getting his fast ball up to 94MPH! That's faster than any pitch Pedro threw this season. The combo of the two is devastating and while I think is good for the pen, there is no use it unless we can get to the pen with a lead. Of Bannister, Zambrano, Trachsel & Heilman, who do you think is the most likely to get us to the 7th inning w/ a lead??

I was for keeping Heilman as a starter when the move happened, but now, with Wagner's finger such a question mark, I think you have to leave him in the bullpen. And again, Chris, I'm not even sure at this point that Zambrano is the weakest link in the rotation.

As much as it hurts to drop 2 to the Braves, you have to give things a little time to shake out.

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