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Looking Ahead While Waiting For the Clinching

Mike SteffanosMonday, September 18, 2006
By Mike Steffanos

This past weekend was certainly frustrating for Mets fans, but not unprecedented. For those of us who were around and paying attention twenty years ago, we suffered through much the same sort of thing as we waited for the Mets to clinch in that magical season. That really doesn't make it much easier to take, but as a veteran Mets fan you learn to take whatever comfort you can wherever you find it.

I didn't have much time to read the papers the last couple of days, but I have scanned a few articles, and one of the more amusing opinions that I came across was that this weekend was from Mike Vaccaro of the Post:

There remains an inevitability about the Mets, if no longer, for the moment, an invincibility. It's a subtle difference now, one that promises to be more pronounced 15 or 16 days from now, whenever their postseason begins in earnest.

I like Vaccaro, but thought that was somewhat silly. Invincibility is an illusion in sports, and I don't believe any of the Mets' opponents would have felt that way about them going into the playoffs. As for the team itself, again I hark back to the 1980s and can find only one world championship from that supremely confident team. If the Mets have discovered this past week in that there is plenty of kryptonite floating around out there, I consider that a good thing. If, on the other hand, this weekend has cost them their confidence after such an impressive season, they're a fragile team, indeed. I tend to doubt it.

I'm going to wait until the Mets actually clinch the playoffs before speculating on things they may or may not do in the post-season, which leaves me to take a different direction with today's post. I didn't have a lot of time to spend on the papers Sunday, either, but thanks to Can't Stop The Bleeding, I found this fascinating NY Post column by Joel Sherman:

DON'T believe the hype, the speculation or the gossip. The Yankees and Mets have almost no interest in pursuing Barry Zito as a free agent.

The buzz all year has been that Zito will gravitate to a coast. But if it is the East Coast, it is going to be outside the Big Apple. Multiple officials from both New York teams said they have no current plans to go after Zito.

Neither club considers the lefty an ace and they know with Scott Boras as his agent, Zito is going to seek No. 1-starter pay. Boras did not return a phone call. But I believe I am familiar enough with his history to surmise his strategy.

Roy Oswalt received a five-year, $73-million extension to stay in Houston. Boras is going to claim his guy deserves more because he is younger, left-handed, more durable and has produced similar career results while working exclusively in the AL. Boras will assemble one of his famous books that will attempt to seduce NL teams by showing how much better guys such as Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez pitched after switching over from the AL, and will try to lure all teams by showing how in 2018 Zito will be winning his 300th game. Never doubt Boras' powers of persuasion since he got huge deals by sprucing up the defective Kevin Brown, Darren Dreifort and Chan Ho Park.

Just don't expect the New York clubs to buy into the hard sell.

At the trade deadline, the Mets thought they had a deal in place for Oswalt and, revealingly, exerted little effort to acquire Zito. More revealingly, when it was suggested to a Mets official that Boras would probably look to exceed Oswalt's years and dollars, the official said, "Zito is no Oswalt."

Another Mets official said the club might seek a rotation upgrade, but "I highly doubt it is going to be Zito." In pitching coach Rick Peterson, the Mets have a resource who worked for a long time with Zito in Oakland. Yet the Mets have expressed concern about bringing flaky Zito to New York.

Besides, the Mets actually feel better today about their 2007 rotation than earlier this year, and think both the free-agent and trade markets might be so prohibitive when it comes to rotation arms that they might just stay in-house.

They believe Tom Glavine and Martinez will be above-average for another season. They think they have assembled a potential-filled inventory of Brian Bannister, Phil Humber, Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez. Plus they still control Victor Zambrano and - if they believe Guillermo Mota and Duaner Sanchez can handle set-up roles - Aaron Heilman can again be auditioned for the rotation.

At this moment, the Mets are prioritizing a second baseman, and Julio Lugo tops their list. Lugo has struggled since becoming a Dodgers utilityman, but Mets GM Omar Minaya adores Lugo, a Brooklyn native. Minaya craves putting as many top athletes on the field as possible and envisions a dynamic top-of-the-order offense and middle-of-the-diamond defense with Jose Reyes, Lugo and Carlos Beltran...

It's an interesting development. Of course, the Mets could be downplaying their real interest in the lefty, but this has a ring of truth to it. I've always been concerned with Zito's poor numbers against the Yankees, and do have questions as to whether he is a fit in New York. I do think he is a very good pitcher who would certainly do well in the National League, but Zito is going to get some crazy money and at least 5 years on his contract, and that's a huge gamble for a guy who isn't a slam-dunk to succeed in New York.

It's interesting to speculate who the Mets might pursue if not Zito, and Sherman's statement that the Mets might find both the trade and free agent markets so prohibitive they might stay in-house with their rotation is not as far-fetched as it might seem at first glance. It would seem to me that a lot would depend on whether Glavine decides to come back, which does seem likely at this point, and what the Mets really feel about Oliver Perez. Although his 2004 season was somewhat fluky, he is a left-handed pitcher with some gifts. Can he become a 15-game winner and offer a contrast to Glavine and Pedro? And what about John Maine -- can he develop those effective and consistent off-speed pitches that would get major league hitters off his fastball?

Perhaps Aaron Heilman becomes expendable from the bullpen if the Mets are able to re-sign Guillermo Mota for 2007, and either becomes a chip in a trade for a starting pitcher or perhaps is given the chance to fairly compete for a starting job next spring. I'd still like to see him get the chance. Much depends on whether the Mets believe he can hone that slider well enough to have three effective pitches to mix the third time through the order.

I still think the Mets pursue a starter either through trade or free agency, but the deal has to make sense. I don't believe that this is strictly a negotiating ploy, either -- there will be plenty of interest in Barry Zito, and he's going to land a huge contract. I honestly believe his contract will quite likely reflect a value above what he can bring to any team. That's just the reality of things right now, with such a shortage of available quality pitchers it's a seller's market. Whether you're a free agent selling yourself or a team that has something decent to trade, you're going to be reap the rewards of this simple truth. It will be fascinating to see what the Mets do this winter.

This topic is being discussed in the MetsMerized Mets Talk Forum.

Speaking of free agents: With the terrific season that Alfonso Soriano put together in Washington this year, I've been asked if I would reconsider my opposition to the Mets trying to sign him. While I make utterly no pretense of having even the slightest influence on what Omar does, I would question whether the security of a long-term contract would lull Mr. Soriano back into the complacency and underachievement that has marked so much of his career. My gut feeling is that it would. It's his track record coming into this season. So, in my opinion and given the money that it will take to sign him, I would just say no to Mr. Soriano. If he makes a liar of me again, so be it.

I hope that the Mets successfully clinch tonight so that we can turn our attention to the post-season again. Please forgive the omission of the usual links to other great blog posts and articles in today's post. I'm incredibly busy with work and didn't have the time to put into it this morning.

More Mets Stories:
SportsSpyder Mets

Continuous Mets Coverage:
Hot Foot

Comments (9)

"I'm incredibly busy with work and didn't have the time to put into it this morning."

What a slacker - only 1,480 words?!?! What are we paying you for, anyway?

Oh...right...never mind.

500 of those words belong to Joel Sherman.

A good read busy man, you always come through uder preasure. I would shout from Mt. Poccono, if the Mets got Ozwalt. Fit him in anyplace with Martinez,Glavine and pick from Humber,Pelfrey, Peraz, Bannister or Hielman and you have a very good rotation. I think Ozwalt would be in a trade, so you may have to give up one of them, but so what.

I see them going after a Gil Meche (as has been rumored) or even a Ted Lilly. A solid guy who can be a better #3 than the other team's #3.

Rev - I think Roy is staying put in Houston now that he's signed a contract with a no-trade clause, but I would have made that trade in a second. I think he's tough enough to pitch here.
bmc - I could see that, but I wonder why the Mariners would trade him. I'm sure they see themselves contending next year.

Gil Meche is a pending free agent. Although he has recently said he wants to re-up with Seattle. Must be the school system. And Safeco.

The top fifteen free agent starters ranked by 2006 VORP:

1. Jason Schmidt
2. Barry Zito
3. Mike Mussina
4. Roger Clemens
5. Tom Glavine
6. Andy Pettitte
7. Miguel Batista
8. Jamie Moyer
9. Vicente Padilla
10. Greg Maddux
11. Woody Williams
12. Ted Lilly
13. Brad Radke
14. Jeff Suppan
15. Gil Meche

Wow, that's not exactly a sexy list, is it?

I wouldn't use the word "sexy." The thought of Jason Schmidt in blue and orange does make me tingle though.

bmc - He scares me a little. Do the Mets really need another older, fragile pitcher?

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