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Mets Make Deal, Others Possible

Mike SteffanosWednesday, December 6, 2006
By Mike Steffanos

The Mets pulled the trigger on a deal that made sense, trading Brian Bannister to the Royals for hard-throwing right-handed reliever Ambiorix Burgos. Bannister would seem to be somewhat lost in a numbers game of young starting pitching (what a difference a year makes), while Burgos is a 22-year-old kid who has high 90 mph heat, but little command of it.

He's an interesting kid, in that he has a terrific arm, but has been less-than-impressive in both the majors and the minors. Then again, the Royals allowed Burgos all of 12 innings above A-ball before promoting him to the majors, where they tried to make him their closer before he even really learned how to pitch. In fact, his entire minor league career consisted of less than 300 innings. As with many hard throwers, both command and control have been a problem. He has allowed about a walk every other inning and was abused for 16 home runs in 73 innings last year. This is a project along the lines of a Jorge Julio, but he is younger and hopefully less emotionally damaged.

I wouldn't be too quick to pencil him in as the guy who makes Aaron Heilman expendable again, but he seems an ideal candidate for a Rick Peterson makeover.

As for Bannister, although Kansas City is a tough place to land, he'll get a real shot there right away in the starting rotation -- a shot that seems to have passed him by in New York when he suffered that hamstring injury last April. Burgos could conceivably make the team in a role similar to what Julio filled early last year while Peterson works on him, and if things go well might take on some more important innings as the season wears on.

There has also been a lot of buzz about talks with the A's for Rich Harden. Harden is a kid who is signed to a reasonable contract and has the potential to be an ace. Unfortunately, in 2004 at age 22 he was pushed for 190 innings and has managed to stay on the mound for only 128 innings in 2005 and 47 last year. Now you have to wonder if he will be the next great young pitcher or another in a long line that includes Mark Pryor, Ben Sheets and Adam Eaton -- talented young pitchers who are potential difference makers, but can't make it out to the mound often enough to really make a difference.

The significance of this is what Oakland is likely to get back in return. We're hearing Milledge, Heilman and either Pelfrey or Humber. (And with the inflated value of pitching, this isn't a lot to ask.) While this might be a reasonable gamble if the Mets had a stacked rotation where there wasn't room for young pitchers to crack it, that's certainly not the case. I'd rather see the Mets try to develop their own guys than give up that much for a guy who hasn't pitched 180 innings combined over the last two years.

The point is supposed to be that the Mets are concerned about someone stepping up and giving them 180-200 innings, and then you're going to gamble on an admittedly terrific talent who isn't at all a lock to provide that, while giving up your top major-league ready talent? I know I don't have a vote in this, but if I did, I'd pass.

If the Mets really feel they can spare Aaron Heilman from their bullpen enough to include him in a trade, why can't they conceive of using the resilient right arm of this pitcher in the rotation? Even if you are among those who believe Heilman is better suited for the bullpen, I have to think that he could give the Mets a more solid 5-6 innings per game than Steve Trachsel was able to provide last season, and that should be good enough for 12-16 wins and some innings. Plus he provides bullpen insurance if Sanchez doesn't make it back. If as the season goes on, Heilman doesn't give you enough quality as a starter, you could always promote a Pelfrey or Humber and move Aaron back to the bullpen.

If, as I think he will be, Heilman turns out to be a solid starter, you only increase his value in a potential deal if ultimately others surpass him as starters, or perhaps you slide him back into the bullpen role where he already excels. This would seem to me a preferable course of action then giving up so much for one questionable young arm. I know others will disagree with me on this, but I just can't see it.

Finally, great move by the Mets in giving HoJo a big-league coaching job.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (10)

Mike -- great post. Love the HoJo move, HATE the Harden move. For the love of God, if we mortgage the farm for a kid who can't even stay on the mound, I'm gonna cry. We are potentially giving up the next Andre Dawson; a SOLID, DURABLE arm who can be a starter or a reliever; and the crown jewel of our young pitching staff.

Omar, can you hear me?

If Omar pulls this deal off, we are one more-than-likely career ending injury from this GM undoing all the good work he's given us since he came here.

My fingers are crossed.

Mike, I agree 100% with your thoughts about Heilman. I continue to be puzzled as to why the Mets refuse to consider using Heilman as a starter, especially if they feel they can include him in trade proposals. Stretching him out as a starter, allows the Mets the double benefit of an in-house replacement(and upgrade) for Trachsel, as well as a fall-back option for the bullpen if needed; it makes so much sense, it's difficult to understand the team's reluctance to the idea. Heilman has already turned in some good work as a starter, and properly stretched out, should be able to provide more than capable innings for the Mets; his value in the bullpen is well-documented.

Matt - First of all, sorry for the delay in your comment being posted. The word "mortgage" caused it to be held for approval by me. For this thank all of the *%^*#! spammers who try to advertise their stupid sites in blog comments.

If this deal comes through, I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that Harden stays healthy and lives up to his capabilities. It just seems like a big gamble in return for so much young talent.
George - I get the fact that they don't love Heilman as a starter, but just don't get the fact that they might be willing to give up so much to obtain a young starter. If nothing else, he can give them some solid innings until the young guys are ready, and I don't think proving he can start games too will in any way diminish his value. This is puzzling...


I like the fact that you mention HoJo and Heilman in the same post. For the same simple reason I loved Howard Johnson so much, I've come to admire Heilman: both did whatever was asked of them. Shortstop? Third base? Play a little outfield? Sure thing, coach.

While Heilman is certainly chafing at the bit to get back into a starter's role, you don't hear the rumblings out of him that might be customary in most major league clubhouses where players feel their feelings are being trampled for the greater good.

I hope Heilman can do what it takes to crack the top 5, if not here, then on some other roster. And I really hope the Mets don't include him in a Harden deal. Heck, Milledge and either Pelfrey or Humber is already overpaying in my book.

Hey Mike, stellar post. I think that is too much to give up for a pitcher who is hurt too often. I think they should bite the bullet, sign Zito, and see what they have in Pelfrey, Humber, Guerra, and I think Deveaney is going to be a player as well. Just my 2 cents. Keep up the great work, and happy holidays.


NostraDennis - At the risk of sounding like a bastard, I could care less whether the Mets give Heilman an opportunity to start here, but if they are going to trade Heilman, Pelfrey/Humber and Milledge for Harden because they don't feel Pelfrey and Humber are ready to step up yet then they should consider Heilman in the rotation while buying time for the other two. That deal seems to me like giving up too much, as it obviously does to you. Don't get me wrong, I like Harden, but I could see him becoming Mark Pryor.
Derek - I hate the idea of giving Zito a 6th year, but I'd consider overpaying for him for 5 years if it meant avoiding this kind of deal.

Nice work. One quibble: Rich Harden, Mark Prior and Ben Sheets have all justified the hype , experiencing success to varying degrees on the major league level when healthy. Adam Eaton has not.

Ambiorix Burgos seems like the Heir apparent to the closership. I was wondering about that ever since I heard about Henry Owens. Wikipedia when he was first called up listed him as being born in 77...And some folks called him closer of the future. But when our current closer retires, By that calculation, Owens would be 33. Now, lose two years because Owens was actually born in 79, but he's still on the wrong side of 30, which for a fireballer could possibly mean blown out arm only a few years into his career as our closer. But, when Wagner closes out his Mets career, no pun intended, Ambiorix Burgos will be all of 26. What does that mean? A very solid service time as our Closer, while still maintaining a fireballing delivery. This was a fantastic move, especially if Mr. Peterson saves this guy, which I have absolute trust in him doing. And some folks and Mets Blog agree with me.

Nick - Don't rule out Duaner Sanchez as a future closer. He doesn't have jaw-dropping velocity, but he's got good stuff and the right attitude for the job.

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