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Oliver, Carlos and John

Mike SteffanosTuesday, June 26, 2007
By Mike Steffanos


I guess it's safe to say that not every surprise has been a pleasant one for Mets fans this year. Carlos Delgado's inability to keep his batting average above .230, lingering struggles for key members of the bullpen, and a prolonged June nose-dive have been some of the early low-lights for this club. However, there has been compensation in the form of very nice surprises, too.

I'm sorry that I can't cite the exact source of this, but I read a while back that one of the biggest jokes among baseball people this past winter was to say, "we don't need [insert name of big free agent pitcher here], we have John Maine." The reference, of course, was the insistence of team officials that they had confidence that Maine (and Oliver Perez) would mitigate against the need to purchase an overpriced starter from the superheated pitching market. Many in the baseball press and in the front offices of other teams scoffed at the thought. Indeed, it seems as if I spent the whole winter reading one snarky piece after another ridiculing the club's decision.

Some of these people were honest enough to eat their words, but many were not. A quick look at the stats of Maine, Perez and some of the pitchers the Mets were pressured to sign or trade for show that the numbers speak eloquently for themselves:

 W-LGSIPH/9K/9BB/9BAAERA
John Maine8-415947.27.53.6.2202.87
Oliver Perez
 
7-61488.16.98.03.5.2073.16
Barry Zito6-81587.28.65.54.2.2514.83
Freddie Garcia1-5115811.57.83.0.3185.90
Dontrelle Willis7-91697.110.26.24.1.2854.90
Jeff Suppan8-71610110.44.33.0.2974.90

One reason I choose to make this point now is that I have been reading quite a bit of criticism in the local press of the moves Omar Minaya made this winter. While it certainly is legitimate to criticize the fact that both the trades with the Marlins and Padres look unfavorable at this point, and that both Moises Alou and Orlando Hernandez have spent time on the DL, I have yet to read one of these writers criticizing Minaya bother to point out the fact that the Mets have so far come out far ahead by placing their faith in Maine and Perez rather than chasing any of the above. To my mind, by far the biggest "win" of the off-season for the Mets is this much-criticized decision.

For me, I'd like to think the jury is still out on the Marlins trade, with Jason Vargas at least showing promise of being a decent mid to bottom of the rotation major league starter. Henry Owens has done well, but is out now with a shoulder injury, and Matt Lindstrom has been inconsistent. If Vargas pans out, it's hard to see this one being worse than a push. The Heath Bell and Royce Ring for Ben Johnson deal seems less likely to turn out well, but that's how it goes. No one wins them all. But while criticism of a GM's deals is fair, conveniently leaving out bad deals not made is not.

Those of us Mets fans who liked the decision to go with Maine and Perez this winter -- and there have been many on this site -- have been rewarded in the first 3 months of this season with the privilege of watching the development of two very good young starters. Fans in San Francisco have had the thrill of watching the lefty whom the team opened the vault for pitch like a mid-rotation plodder. His numbers are below those of Maine and Perez in every category above. When I give Omar the responsibility for the failure of some of his moves to pan out, I give him a ton of credit for believing in what he had in these 2 young pitchers. They were literally laughing at the Mets this winter for that. Not any more.

By the way, for what it's worth I think that both pitchers are only scratching the surface of what they will be. Perez in particular can be inconsistent, but when you look at that in the context of how far he has come in such a short period of time, it's obvious to me that he hasn't come close to his ceiling as a pitcher. While some are still skeptical of his long-term performance, I'm not. If he could stay healthy -- and I realize that this always a big "if" with pitchers -- I think he could be a top of the rotation starter for a few years.

As for Maine, those who are already inclined to give up on Mike Pelfrey and/or Philip Humber would do well to remember that not every pitcher enjoys immediate success in the majors. Maine's numbers in his first go-round with the Orioles weren't any better than Pelfrey's this season. For every Verlander who makes an immediate splash there are other pitchers who take time to find themselves and settle in to a major league career. I would say John Maine has done that very nicely given another chance.

At some point down the road, if they continue to pitch well, both Maine and Perez are looking at nice paydays. The difference here between paying them and paying a pitcher that we sign as a free agent or trade for is that we will already know they can pitch in New York. No danger of Kenny Rogers syndrome. Moreover, both Maine and Perez are establishing that they each in their own way thrive under the spotlight and pressure that is New York baseball.

One further point about Omar's winter. Minaya is taking heat for Moises Alou missing so much time after being the big offensive signing of the winter. Part of the reason a 41-year-old was signed to a 1-year deal rather than a younger outfielder is currently on display with the Mets. Carlos Gomez is proving how close he is to being ready to hold down one of the corner outfield spots for the next few years. With Lastings Milledge and Fernando Martinez also knocking on the doors of the major leagues, it didn't make sense to tie up a lot of money and years in an outfielder.

If Alou makes it back and balances the lineup through a stretch and playoff run, that signing will look a lot better. A bigger question for me for next season is whether Carlos Delgado can retain enough skills to hold down a middle of the order spot for another year. If Alou and Shawn Green are gone, that would leave David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Delgado as 3-4-5 in the order. Even if Green stays another year he's a 6- or 7-hole hitter now. The Mets might need to do something stop-gap for next year, too, as I doubt that Milledge or Gomez would step into a heart of the lineup role.

Despite complaints about how old the team is this year, they're actually nicely balanced between veterans and rising stars. I don't think Omar Minaya has earned High Honors for this past winter, but the failing grade that some are giving him is unjustified.

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 (8)

Great work Wow! the stats really speak volumes and it sure looks like money, not, spent well. With all the bumps in the road, our pitching has held up very good and shows allot of promise. There are one or two I would trade for a bag of balls, but all and all we stand pretty good with our pitching.I would still feel better if we got one more good starter for the playoffs. I trust Omar would do what is best for the team with out giving away the farm. Who knows the way Omar sees guys like nobody else sees them, we may have that starter already some place in our system about to take center stage.And again, nice work. That should a sport page of the Daily News.

Honestly, not that I'm killing Omar, and I think he's going to do something this month that's helpful. With the exception of not throwing the money around for those guys, I'm underwhelmed with the decisions. I hate Schoeneweis, I hate Mota. They traded away too many of their reliever prospects as a result. Heath Bell was never horrible, He just always had options and they kept using them.

Another superb and right-on post by the master Mets blogger.

The job of general manager is now so much more complex than prior decades. We will never see a Whitey Herzog again. A successful formula in 2007 balances rosters throughout the system, analyzes available amateur talent and talent in other organizations, and studies contracts, all with an eye toward fiscal responsibility. Only the Highlanders can afford to really throw good money at questionable players (Igawa, Pavano and Giambi come to mind). And it seems to be coming back to haunt them this season.

As Mike sagely points out, Omar made very good, calculated decisions toward the future, for which every Met fan should be incredibly grateful. Alou cost no players and he does produce at the rare times he is in the lineup. Gomez has been a pleasant surprise as has Green, so having Chavez/Gomez in left and Green/Milledge in right in 2008 could be a very nice and balanced combination that allows the youngsters to break in gracefully. Green might even be a nice plug at 1B. He is clearly not washed up as so many writers and radio callers (and hosts) had been commenting from last November through this April.

Analyzing, assembling and establishing a balanced pitching staff is tantamount to an art form these days. Starters, long relievers, short relievers and closers are specific roles that really did not exist until the past two decades. In this regard, Omar was assisted admirably by Willie Randolph, Rick Peterson and several others, all of whom deserve credit. The balance extends beyond righty/lefty considerations. It includes arm angles, velocity, situational performance and even physical presence. Having big righties setting up a little, but powerful southpaw closer can be very effective.

Looking at the pitching stats posted by Mike, it is clear that Maine and Perez are head over heels better than those other four pitchers who could have been Mets. Garcia never impressed me. Zito and Suppan were intriguing, but at what price? Well, we found out and it was far too steep. Dontrelle Willis is floundering on a team where he is undermined by inconsistent play and a highly flawed bullpen. If he can be acquired, a gaggle of talent is likely to be sent away. Same might be said of a signed Carlos Zambrano. There is no point to acquiring him for a stretch run and lose talent. However, Omar is acutely aware of the lineup of arms at his inexpensive disposal. Glavine is likely to retire. Jorge Sosa has certainly been a revelation. My hope is he is not a one-season wonder a la southpaw George Stone in 1973. And it is hard to argue with the value of El Duque even at his advanced age and with infirmities. But the lineup of young arms that begins with Maine and Perez and flows to Pelfrey, Humber, Vargas, Mulvey and Guerra are Omar's trump cards. Just how good a poker player is he? I agree with Mike, "Pretty good so far!"

The biggest problem Omar and Willie have facing them is Carlos Delgado, who may well be well past his peak and dragging the Mets lineup in the wrong direction. And unlike Keith Hernandez, who while fading in 1988 and '89 at the tender age of 33 and 34 was still an asset at 1B, Delgado is a distinct liability. Carlos is an excellent team player and role model, however. But timely hits and RBIs are what he is getting paid for.

I now see what you were alluding to in your comment to my post the other day Mike. Fantastic job yet again. All GMs have good and bad moves. But if the bad are those involving relief pitchers and the good involve multiple mid 20-something starters in your rotation, I'd have to say the chips land well in favor of the good.

Some will scoff at Omar's lack of moves and say he got lucky because he was simply outbid for the services of players in the offseason. More shrewd observers will note that he decided upon a fixed ceiling for both money and years to offer each free agent available, and did not waiver much from that stance. That is why he stood pat while other GMs spent money like capricious children at a toy store. That is why he now has the financial flexibility that many other GMs now lack.

I do think however, that now as we are hovering around the halfway point of the season, it is time to assess the team as a whole. For the most part I think the team is well constructed. But a few issues just need to be addressed. If I may, I will post them now.

1) Get Schoeneweis off the 25 man roster. I don't care what his contract is. The guy is an automatic run just about every time he comes into a close game. His stats are just dreadful (10.43 ERA against righties, .435 BAA vs. righties, .351 BAA vs. lefties, and 20 BB to just 13 K in 27.2 IP). DL, New Orleans, Newfoundland. I don't care where at this point. He has to go for now. Return when you are healthy and able to keep the ball in the park.

2) Same goes for Julio Franco. I understand and appreciate his value as a leader, but when a guy can't play a single defensive position due to injury, and also bats .191 with zero ability to hit a fastball, that's a waste of a roster spot. It doesn't matter that Willie thinks he is the second coming of Reggie Jackson, the guy just can't cut it anymore. He does not warrant a roster spot.

3) Ditto for Aaron Sele. Even Willie has no faith in the guy. He pitches once every 2 weeks, and that to a horrendous ERA. The guy is not trusted and is eating up valuable roster space on a team that needs bullpen help. Time to let him go.

I think there is little need for another lefty specialist out of the pen. I would like to see Omar go after a solid setup man. A guy like Joel Peralta in KC could likely be had for cheap. I would also like to see Jason Vargas get a shot at being the long man out of the pen, if not Dave Williams when he is ready to return. And it would make infinite sense to bring up Andy Tracy or Chip Ambres to be bench bats in the place of Franco.

I know I am just ranting about unlikely scenarios here, but in my heart of hearts feel these are the right moves to make. And that a small amount of tinkering will go a long way in terms of returning this team to the powerhouse it was in 2006.

Mike;

Sorry to be a broken record, but like the Mets brethern above sometimes venting frustration helps. Thanks for letting us do that. Sometimes I (we) are wrong, but sometimes we are right.

1. Bullpen: We had a great discussion on this days ago. Sho is being brought in to the WRONG situations. right now he cant be relied upon in a close game. On the flip side Heilman has been doing great lately. good movement on his pitches again. Joe S shows signs of wear now.

2. The Post today was great. You and I have debated this all season. The one thing that I would add is the Zito money saved will be spent. rumor this morning is Buerle could sign an extension (5yr/70M), but Olney says that is not necessarily true. As I have said for a few weeks, Buerle is a great facimile of Glavine and as Glavine leaves I see few better to take his slot. You cant argue with what the rotation has done though. Of course another Cuban Contreras has extensively been linked to Omar (again) as has Javy Vazquez.

3. Nice to see Beltran coming out of his slump.

4. You talked about trades (revisited), I have no problems with any of them. Johnson was a mini Alou acquisition. Insurance for an Alou injury, and insurance for if one of the chips would be traded. I can see Johnson traded (Wsoxx) as a 2nd/3rd player in a deal. Basically the soxx could use Johnson (4th OF) if the taded Dye in a seperate deal. BUT the trade you did not allude to was Mike Jacobs and Petit for Delgado.

5. Humber pitched 4 hit ball thru 7 innings Mon. again yes I am a broken record but one of Humber, Vargas, santiago even Pelfrey could be tried in a bullpen role (see Adam Wainright/Anthony Reyes).

6. Willie: I almost turned off the game (gameday) when I saw Willie's clueless line up of THE SAME players who had labored thru 11 innings the night before. I would have had Gotay at 2nd, Leddee/Easley in RF Castro catching, and Green at 1st. My point is that Willie has refered to how he wants to use players then he does not follow thru. Howie on Sat refered to an interview with Willie in which he said he overused Valentin last year...Would Cano be the 2nd baseman across town if Willie was their manager?

Ceetar: Heath Bell had issues with Willie that Wags pointed to in a recounted story just a few weeks ago on Metsblog.

Guys, I have to run out now and don't have the time to post intelligent replies to these comments. I read them all and appreciate them. Just some quick things.

Al - If El Duque stays healthy and Pedro comes back with anything, I really don't think we need another playoff starter.

Dave - Willis kind of scares me. I think the Marlins will look for a package based on Willis as a #1 starter, and he's only had one really big year. He's pitched a zillion innings, and I think he's a huge risk.

Ceetar - I agree some of the moves were real bad, including the Schoeneweis signing. My point is on the moves not made. $10 million for Schoeneweis is a lot easier to recover from than $120 mil for Zito.

Salman - Hard to argue with any of that.

Ed - I don't mind the venting as long as you don't put words in my mouth. My gut tells me if Pedro stays on track they won't trade for a starter, but rather bullpen help.

Assuming we make the playoffs.

I guess we can't take anything for granted with this club.

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