By Mike Steffanos
As Oliver Perez has his arbitration hearing this afternoon, it seems a good time to speculate about OP's future with the Mets. We hear from news reports that the Mets unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a contract with Scott Boras, Perez' agent, but were rebuffed. The thinking is clearly that Perez will attempt to build on last year's success and strike it rich as a free agent next winter. It's well known that Boras' clients almost invariably chase the last dollar available.
Some Mets fans I know feel a little betrayed by Perez, the thought being that he should be more grateful to the Mets for their part in resurrecting his career and at least be willing to consider a contract extension that will keep him here past this season. Putting that aside for a moment, I think it's interesting to consider the possible implications to a pitching staff that has only Johan Santana, John Maine and the enigmatic Mike Pelfrey under contract beyond 2008.
If Pedro remains healthy and enjoys a successful season, I would have to believe he would be the number one priority to re-sign as a starting pitcher. I'd assume he'd be looking for a 3-year contract with possibly an option beyond that. He's seen Johan Santana hit the jackpot with the Mets, and has also noticed how many mediocre starting pitchers have signed big money deals. Depending on how many innings he's able to throw and how much of his dominance he regains, If Carlos Silva was able to sign for 4 years/$48 million with Seattle and the Mets will be paying Santana more than $20 million per, I'd be surprised if Pedro wasn't looking for around $15 million a year to stay here.
If Oliver Perez builds on his success from last year with more consistency, I don't believe that $15 million per year is out of line for what Boras might ask for a 27-year-old lefty with top of the rotation stuff, and he'll most likely be looking for a 5 year deal. For a team looking for a guy who is capable of leading their staff, that might not seem a lot of money. If Perez is the third or fourth starter for the Mets, and they're already paying the big bucks to Santana and Pedro, you wonder if that might be a little rich for the Mets.
The argument against this, of course, is that -- unless they have an internal replacement for Perez -- it's going to cost the Mets a considerable amount of money to bring someone in to replace him. Given how unlikely a return as a starter by El Duque in 2009 would seem, even in Mike Pelfrey can develop into a solid major league starter there would still be a rotation opening, and the odds of the Mets filling it with another young pitcher -- even if one of their prospects takes a big step up -- seems somewhat dubious.
Getting back to Perez, although I understand the feelings of those of my fellow Mets fans who resent his willingness to possibly leave the team, I can't really fault him. This will be his big chance to cash in, and I can't say I wouldn't do the same thing if I were in his place. After all, if Johan Santana was willing to sign a 4 year deal for $20 million per year, he'd still be in Minnesota rather than here.
So much of what might happen with Perez hinges on a few questions:
1. Does he have a successful campaign in 2008?
Really, the whole thing is moot if Perez regresses this season. He would certainly regret not taking the Mets up on an extension if he struggles through a bad campaign that makes last season look like the fluke.
2. Does he really want to come back here?
Although Boras' clients usually go where the money takes them, we've heard rumors that Perez might prefer to pitch somewhere the fans come to April games wearing t-shirts rather than parkas. Also, although he seems to enjoy the spotlight, New York isn't always a bundle of laughs for an athlete. Now, I don't know what is in Perez' head, but I certainly won't assume he wants to return just because I want him back.
3. What does Pedro do in 2008?
If Pedro can't stay healthy, or his effectiveness diminishes, the Mets would probably be under more pressure to keep Perez. Again, too, although I would like to believe Pedro would want to come back and pitch for the Mets if he continues to pitch, I just can't assume that he will. Certainly if Pedro doesn't come back, there is even more pressure on the Mets to re-sign Perez.
4. How does John Maine do?
I know he faded a bit down the stretch, but I see Maine as a potential #2 starter with experience. If John has a great season and establishes himself as the clear #3 guy behind Santana and Pedro, that probably makes OP expendable, particularly if the Mets find Boras' demands excessive.
5. Is youth served?
Does Mike Pelfrey break out or wash out, and do any of the young arms left in the system put themselves on the fast track -- these are questions that would certainly affect how badly the Mets feel they need to keep OP in New York.
I like Oliver Perez, and I hope he continues to thrive here and the Mets are able to keep him beyond this season. Whatever happens, it should all make a fascinating sub-plot to the 2008 season. And if the Mets can't keep Perez, how about doing what they did when they lost Mike Hampton? Many fans already know that David Wright was the sandwich round pick as compensation for losing Hampton, but did you know the Mets also picked up Aaron Heilman with the first round pick they got from the Rockies? Not a bad haul, all things considered.