By Mike Steffanos
I mentioned yesterday that I've been having some difficulty writing a piece that ties a bow around all of the pitching previews that I've spent the last five weeks of my life working on. This whole thing really began as just a way to satisfy my own curiosity and have some idea on a bunch of guys I hadn't seen pitch all that much heading into spring training. I think my opinion on a few of them has changed somewhat, but in the end there are probably as many questions as answers, at least in my mind. Still, let's make an effort to wrap everything up.
Chad Bradford, Jose Lima, Darren Oliver, Steve Trachsel
Okay, maybe I'm kidding about Lima. Bradford figures to be the toughest one to replace here. Although it's not incredibly difficult to find righties that can retire other righties, Bradford made himself valuable in two key ways -- by doing well enough against lefties to stay in games for more than just a batter or two, and for his uncanny knack of stranding inherited runners.
Oliver had a nice year in 2006, but it had all the look of a career year for the southpaw, and his numbers dropped off the last couple of months. I'm not sure that it was reasonable to expect anything of the same if Oliver re-signed with the Mets, so I'm not feeling his loss nearly as much as Bradford's. I don't mean this as any sort of knock at Oliver, who gave the Mets all that they could ask for and then some last year. I'm glad he was able to parlay his 2006 success into a contract with the Angels where he will play close to home in 2007.
Trachsel was, for all of his slow pitching and quirkiness, a terrific Met in his years here. He did not come back well from that back injury in 2005, and just wasn't the same pitcher last year. Although he gets too much blame from some for his playoff stumble, he gets too much credit from others for his 15 wins last season. If the Mets can't find a younger, cheaper and more talented pitcher to replace Trachsel's innings than they're just not trying.
Ambiorix Burgos, Scott Schoeneweis, Jorge Sosa
I know the Mets have a lot of pitchers coming into camp, but in this blogger's humble opinion, the three names listed above have the most chance of making a difference. Burgos is young, green and has a chance of being a real power bullpen arm and a difference maker in the bullpen. While it would be enough for him to settle in as a reliable setup man this year, he could be the Mets' closer someday. The Mets and Omar Minaya really feel that they have landed a significant contributor in Schoeneweis. While I remain a little skeptical, Omar has a way of being proven right about guys that he expresses belief in. Sosa had a fine season 2 years ago under Leo Mazzone, and it's not unreasonable to hope that Rick Peterson might also be able to coax some consistency out of him in a Darren Oliver-type role.
Youngsters Who Could Step Up
Mike Pelfrey, Phil Humber, Joe Smith, Jason Vargas
No surprise names on this list, I know. Barring injury, I fully expect Pelfrey and Humber to both be pitching for the Mets by the All-Star break. Smith is a little more of a long shot, but the Mets are high on him, and sidearmers tend to progress fairly quickly. Vargas had a terrible year in 2006, but has a real chance to straighten out and stake his claim on a rotation slot.
John Maine and Oliver Perez
There may be a lot of skepticism about these two 25-year-olds in the press, but the Mets seem to really believe that both youngsters will take their games to the next level in 2007. If they can manage that, all of the worries about the Mets' starting rotation could evaporate. If they can't, things could get ugly.
Maine's problems last year were related to a lack of consistency with his secondary pitches that forced him to rely on his fastball too much. He also would lose focus at times. While he seemed to be just happy to be here in 2006, Maine seems to have brought a level of determination and confidence with him to Florida that should stand him well. Minaya stated on more than one occasion last year that the team saw Maine as a dependable mid-rotation starter, and I think he'll justify that belief in 2007.
The consensus on Oliver Perez is that he might pitch himself into being the Mets' ace this year, or he might pitch himself off the team by May. Many write him off as yet another perennial project type who will alternately tease and frustrate the team. Yet the Mets, from Rick Peterson to Willie Randolph to Omar Minaya, seem to have a real confidence in Perez' chances this year. I think some are too quick to write off this leftie. Sure, he's been around for a while and has been dramatically inconsistent, but he is actually three months younger than John Maine. Lefties often take a while to find their game. I think of him more as a top prospect than a veteran pitcher, and look for him to settle into the rotation just fine in 2007. I think both Maine and Perez will reach double figures in wins, and next year, God willing, we'll all be talking about something else.
Without further ado, and with absolutely no confidence that things will turn out exactly as I foresee, here is what I expect to happen in 2007:
Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez, John Maine and Oliver Perez hold down the first four slots. The fifth starter out of camp is Chan Ho Park, Aaron Sele or Jorge Sosa. Pelfrey, Humber and Vargas join Adam Bostick in New Orleans. Both Pelfrey and Humber will have rotation slots in New York before the season in half over. I like Vargas' chances of contributing in some way, also. Pedro looms on the horizon for a second half shot in the arm.
The locks right now to break camp with the Mets, barring injuries, are Billy Wagner, Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez and Scott Schoeneweis. I think Pedro Feliciano has to prove that last year was no fluke, but he's a pretty good bet to make the team, also. I think the Mets are high on Ambiorix Burgos, and that a job is his to lose coming out of camp. Depending on whether the Mets carry 11 or 12 pitchers, and whether Jorge Sosa wins a fifth starter job out of camp, it gets fairly interesting. It wouldn't shock me if Feliciano doesn't win a job, although I like him. Juan Padilla has a real chance, too. Jon Adkins, who cannot be sent down to the minors, seems a long shot to make this bullpen, but injuries or an outstanding spring could prove otherwise.
Guillermo Mota will return some time in June, complicating matters further. The Mets, who 2 years ago were reduced to taking flyers on guys like Shingo Takatsu and Danny Graves, have some depth in the bullpen that should stand them well. It's better to have some depth in the minors than having minor league caliber guys pitching in New York. I think Padilla winds up in New Orleans as insurance, joined by Clint Nageotte, Steve Schmoll and possibly Joe Smith.
What I Expect
I think the Mets rotation -- though unquestionably a work in progress -- will be better than many expect. I think the bullpen might not be quite as good as last year, but will be more than good enough for the team to cross the 90-win plateau again. The flip side of all the uncertainty about their pitching in 2007 is the opportunity for talented young pitchers to stake their claim to jobs. I like the chances of that happening for the Mets in 2007.
Decide For Yourself
I wrote all these previews so that we all have enough information to make up our own minds about these pitchers. Click on any of the links below:
2007 Bullpen Previews:
Chan Ho Park
Four Other Names for You