By Mike Steffanos
As expected, there are plenty of folks in the mainstream press that have the answer to the Mets' arms shortage. If Omar doesn't find anything that appeals to him there, he has plenty of bloggers like me that are more than willing to chime in with our thoughts. That's one of the things that makes baseball a beautiful sport, everyone from the die-hards to the most casual of fans can have an opinion in situations like this and make their case for it.
Minaya has come out and said that he won't tinker with his strong bullpen right now, and I can understand that. I'm not that interested in seeing Darren Oliver get starts, in my opinion the more he pitches the more he is exposed as just a journeyman pitcher. He has helped the Mets out of the 'pen, just leave him there. Heilman is a tougher question, of course, and I think the Mets might be forced to make a tough choice with him down the road. Despite the fact that he is probably their best in-house option for a starter, Omar and company are loathe to weaken the team's biggest strength, and who can blame them?
It was nice to see Jorge Julio hang on for a save Saturday, but I'm not quite ready to see Julio pitch in key eighth inning situations regularly. I think he's made remarkable progress, and I confess that I was convinced that he would never be able to solve his issues in the major leagues. I was certainly wrong there, and unlike most mainstream baseball columnists, I'm willing to admit it. Julio's shakiness on Saturday does underscore the fact that it would be best to go slow with him. If you remove the effective Heilman from the bullpen, you have created a pair of negatives -- one, role players like Bradford, Oliver, Feliciano and Julio move up into more important spots; and two, Duaner Sanchez, who has already appeared in half the games and thrown a lot of innings, must now be worked harder to make up for the loss of his fellow setup man. It's a prescription for breakdown later in the year.
If you're Omar, the first options you look at are Jose Lima and Jeremi Gonzalez, but you can't afford to stay with them if they are consistently pummeled. If you're looking outside the team for help, you're hampered by a lack of attractive mid-level prospects to deal. You may be able to swing a deal for someone else's problem, such as Odalis Perez and his terrible contract ($19 million through next season), but if you think Benson was overpriced goods, wait until you're watching the inconsistent Perez pitch every fifth day. If he bombs, Omar has forfeited the salary flexibility he worked so hard to attain.
The in-house options of Mike Pelfrey and Alay Soler are more attractive, but the Mets are steadfast in their desire not to rush either player, especially Pelfrey, who has the chance to be the cornerstone of the pitching staff for the next few years. The Mets also have Heath Bell in Norfolk and Henry Owens in Binghamton as relievers that could come up and possibly free Heilman for a rotation slot. For whatever reason, the Mets seem to have no real faith in Bell, who admittedly wouldn't be an eighth inning option. Owens is intriguing, and has a chance to be a very good setup man or even a closer someday. He has never pitched above A-ball until this season, and you could understand why the Mets are not rushing him. Still, at 27 he is more mature than most Double-A prospects, and that might effect their thinking on him.
For what it's worth, I wouldn't trade Lastings Milledge for anything less than a top-line pitcher, and one that I was sure I could keep beyond this season. Zito, for instance, would require more than just the one prospect, and there is no guarantee that he will sign with the Mets for after this season. Could you imagine the sh*tstorm if Omar gave up Milledge and more for Zito and lost him to the Yankees at the end of the year? That would be ugly. Even if you keep Zito, though, he will command a huge contract, and he just hasn't pitched to the level of an ace in quite some time.
Omar's next move doesn't qualify as a no-brainer, but he will have to make a choice that, all things being equal, he would prefer not to. It might involve weakening his bullpen, or advancing a prospect that he would have liked to given more development time. What he can't afford to do is to stay too long with sub-par veterans, or acquire a pitcher to fill the role of this year's Kaz Ishii. With a team that is a legitimate contender, a real solution needs to be found. A hot start has given Omar a little time to see how it all plays out, and a chance to tinker around a bit. Still, no one knows better than Omar that a solution has to found sooner rather than later.
Newark Star-Ledger: Zambrano has been pitching hurt for two years
According to Don Burke, Victor Zambrano has admitted that he's been pitching with a sore elbow his entire time with the Mets. Burke quotes Zambrano on the elbow:
Sometimes it was okay. Sometimes it was worse. When I would go through some soreness, I would just keep working. (Saturday) when I threw that last pitch, I knew it was over.
I never felt pressure from you guys [the press] or the fans. I'm a professional and I like to compete. But it's hard to compete when you're not 100 percent. ... I want to try to let the fans know that I can be good. I can do good things. I can win between 15 and 20 games.
I know the vast majority in the Mets' blogging community would probably like to see Zambrano just go away at this point. As someone who played competitive sports -- admittedly at a level far below professionally -- I know how much trying to play through pain effects you. We never did see Zambrano attain the velocity he had with the Devil Rays, and I'd like to see what Peterson might accomplish with a healthy Zambrano. I would give him another shot next year. If this year has taught us anything, it's that you never have too many pitching options.
Baseball Prospectus (Subscription Required): Soler an option
In his latest Future Shock column, Kevin Goldstein advances Alay Soler as a possibility to help out the rotation later this year:
The 26-year-old Cuban was unhittable in the Florida State League, and allowed just one run over 6.2 innings in his Double-A debut in Saturday, striking out nine. What looked like a total bust six months ago could become a viable second-half option.
Surfing the Mets: Where the "10-minute fix" came from
In his Daily News blog, Adam Rubin posts an excerpt from his book concerning the Kazmir trade, and then offers the following:
By the way, Peterson has long felt betrayed by the "10 minutes" comment being leaked. But I have it on good authority that he also felt it was purposely misrepresented to shift the blame to him after the ill-fated trade. The pitching coach was asked if he could correct a specific mechanical issue with Zambrano's delivery, and he answered on an internal conference call with that comment.
Interesting. Peterson has taken so much heat on this, to the point that WFAN's resident paranoid Mets fan Joe Beningo holds him personally responsible for the trade. Given the way the Mets were run during the dark years of the franchise, nothing about this surprises me. A lot of people make fun of Peterson because he's unorthodox and rather nerdy, but he's done a damn good job with this pitching staff. He should get more credit for that and not have to answer for Jim Duquette's mistake. Period.
Catcher Paul Lo Duca, who threw a second-inning tantrum that got him ejected by plate umpire Angel Hernandez (and then made a bonehead play that allowed a runner to take an extra base), related this story:
Jose said (Hernandez) told him, 'Don't be staring in here. I'm going to give you some corners here and there, but I'm not going to give you three, four inches off the plate, because you're not John Smoltz.' When an umpire says that to my pitcher, I have a problem with that."
Uh ... yeah.
The home plate umpire telling one of the game's starting pitchers that he's not going to get as generous a strike zone as the other one is? Lots of people should have a problem with that. The commissioner's office, really, should have a problem with that.
"I might not be John Smoltz, but I've been around, and I've pitched in some crucial games," Lima said.
And had he ever had an umpire say anything like that to him before?
"Never," he said. "It's amazing. You know what I mean?"
This isn't about whether Hernandez blew the tag call at the plate. Calls get blown all the time, and it's useless and juvenile to complain about them. But the idea of an umpire admitting favoring one pitcher over the other in the same game is shocking.
"And when you ask him something, he acts like he's perfect, right?" Lima said.
Yeah, Lima is no John Smoltz, but the major-leagues are employing those QuesTec machines to ensure a fair and honest strike zone. Of course, the incompetent Hernandez risk of discipline for this is nil. MLB is more interested in spinning stuff like this or denying it to protect their most incompetent umpires than in really improving officiating. What a joke.
Note: This posting was updated at 1:40 PM with a couple of links I inadvertently left out of the original, and the correct link to what I had previously written about umpire Angel Hernandez.