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.