By Mike Steffanos
With just a few hours left in the year 2006, I think most of us Mets fans will look back on it with a mixture of pride and regret. Although the Mets ultimately came up short, you can't overlook the progress that was made. If 2005 was the year the Mets became respectable again, 2006 was the year they took the next step forward as a team. Now the remaining question is, of course, can this team put it together and win a championship?
There can be no doubt that those championship hopes took a hit when the Mets failed to sign Barry Zito or land an established starting pitcher in a trade. Right now, the starting rotation looks like Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez, John Maine, Oliver Perez and a scrum of candidates. While it's not an ideal situation for a contender to find themselves in, there is opportunity here for some young pitchers to step up and perhaps become a rotation mainstay going forward. While it's easy to hang on the negatives of who's not here, look at the following six names that will be competing for those 3 spots under Glavine and El Duque:
- John Maine (trade 1/2006)
- Oliver Perez (trade 7/2006)
- Dave Williams (trade 5/2006)
- Mike Pelfrey (2005 draft)
- Phil Humber (2004 draft)
- Jason Vargas (trade 12/2006)
Only Phil Humber was with the Mets organization in the spring of 2005, and he missed most of that season after Tommy John surgery in June. All of the other names are promising young pitchers with a lot of upside who Minaya has accumulated since taking over, with the exception of Humber who was drafted under Jim Duquette's watch. There is some talent in this bunch, and both Maine and Perez made big contributions last year. Perhaps it would be wise to give things a couple of months to shake out before we join the mob looking to ride Minaya out of town on a rail.
I'd like to see what some of this bunch can do, much more than I would like to see a trade that sends Lastings Milledge, Aaron Heilman and another prospect out of here for the A's Joe Blanton. I know he's available, but that's too much to give up for a guy who took a huge step back in 2006. Check out these numbers:
To me, those numbers scream "Red Flag!" In typical A's fashion, this kid who just turned 26 has been used hard, with combined major and minor league inning totals over the past 3 seasons of 184, 201 and 194. A jump of over 70 points in opponents' batting average and over 50 points in slugging is not a positive trend. While any pitcher will benefit from a move to the NL, is this just another young A's starter heading for some kind of surgery? With apologies to the San Francisco Chronicle's Ray Ratto (what a name), who thinks a trade of Blanton to the Mets for Milledge and more is "likely", I strongly vote "no." If we're going to roll the dice, I'd rather role it with what we already have.
You have some potential quality among these candidates and you have numbers. Both are important. Envision a scenario where the team breaks camp with a rotation of Tom Glavine, El Duque, Oliver Perez, John Maine and Dave Williams (going for the previous experience, feel free to slot in your own favorite here). Inevitably, there will be injuries or some won't perform. That would leave Pelfrey, Humber, Vargas as guys who may be looked to step in over the course of the season. Add in Alay Soler, who despite experiencing some struggles showed some promise, too. It may not be a sure thing, but it's not unreasonable to hope that Pedro Martinez could return in the second half and contribute something. This is a far from hopeless situation. There are some intriguing and promising options that weren't here a year ago.
Fan Highlight Video Mets fan Scott Tutshen sent me a link to his nicely done 2006 Mets tribute video. Check it out.
Happy New Year, everyone, and Happy Birthday to Greg Prince at Faith and Fear in Flushing.