By Mike Steffanos
On ESPN.com, Buster Olney is citing reports out of Baltimore that the O's and reliever Chad Bradford are close to a 3-year deal that would, of course, remove Bradford's sidearm funk from the bullpen equation for 2007. This rumor comes the day after we've heard that the Mets and Bradford might be close on a 2-year deal. Baltimore is spending a lot of money on their bullpen so far this offseason, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Jim Duquette wasn't committed to trying to hurt the Mets almost as much now as he did when he was the GM.
All jokes aside, losing Chad Bradford would certainly be a blow to the Mets terrific bullpen, but I don't think it's the end of the world. I freely admit that I wanted him to stay in New York for a couple more seasons. With the uncertainty of Duaner Sanchez returning from a pretty serious injury, it would have been nice to have Bradford's stabilizing influence. He may not be tremendously effective against lefties, and doesn't blow you away with his stuff, but he never seems to lose his composure out there on the mound - which I'm sure contributed significantly to his success at stranding baserunners.
The Mets have a kid in their system named Joe Smith who is the heir apparent to Bradford's sidearm funk. He was drafted in the third round last year, and pitched in Brooklyn for a while before the Mets pushed him up to Double-A Binghamton. He only has 32 innings as a pro, however, and is still learning the pro game. Although he could be one to watch for later in the season or in 2008, the Mets generally don't rush their prospects, and that's usually a good thing.
The Mets will definitely retain the services of closer Billy Wagner, lefty Pedro Feliciano, and the returning Duaner Sanchez. Juan Padilla, who was effective in 2005, is returning from injury. Everything else is somewhat of a crapshoot, although if the Mets feel that Aaron Heilman can accept another year in the bullpen I would think he would most surely be back. While I feel confident that one of Rick Peterson's strengths is coaxing solid years out of relievers, it would be nice if the Mets could have kept Bradford -- especially with all of the questions concerning their starters. Having said that, Bradford is a 31-year-old righty specialist, and the Mets haven't shown the inclination to go the route that the Orioles are taking and overpay for relief pitchers. You can't blame Chad for taking care of his family by accepting the best deal, but I'm not going to fault Minaya and company for letting him go, either.
Speaking of Starters
I mentioned a while back why I feel the Mets will not depend on their young starters for large inning contributions in 2007. It's important not to push developing young pitchers significantly past the workloads they have achieved in their short careers. SI.com's Tom Verducci has a long piece on this phenomenon on-line describing what he calls the "Year-After Effect":
It's based on a general rule of thumb among executives and pitching coaches: young pitchers should not have their innings workload increased by more than 25 or 30 innings per year. It's the same principle as training for a marathon; you get to 26.1 miles incrementally, not by jumping directly from a 10K. The body cannot easily withstand being pushed so far behind its previous capacity for work, at least not without consequences. Typically, those consequences occur the next season, not the year in which the body is pushed.
When I've looked at major league pitchers 25-and-younger who were pushed 30 or more innings beyond their previous season (or, in cases such as injury-shortened years, their previous pro high), I've been amazed how often those pitchers broke down with a serious injury the next season or took a major step backward in their development. (The season total includes all innings in the minors, majors and postseason. )
There is quite a bit of evidence that backs up this theory, and it's a good part f the reason why I would be more in favor of Mike Pelfrey and Phil Humber receiving mid-season call-ups rather than earning a rotation spot out of spring training.
A Good Cause
For the rest of you animal lovers out there, Hot Foot's Anthony De Rosa has some information up on what looks to be a very worthy cause.