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Nostra Dennis. Mets Heretic

NostraDennisThursday, September 11, 2008
By NostraDennis

Billy Wagner's elbow has given the Mets pause to ponder their course for the rest of their stay at Shea, and their first season on the other side of the parking lot. Wagner is one of those rare Mets who's been unafraid to call out teammates, or even himself, for their shortcomings. Even on those nights when he sucked on the mound, Wags wouldn't hide. He'd face the cameras and microphones and say, "I sucked out there, and that's unacceptable". Because of that, you want to root for him to come back from his surgery and close the door for the Mets in 2010. But what if he can't?

The Mets' front office can go in several different directions this off-season. They could stick with what they've got, and hope Luis Ayala is the answer over a full season. Don't get me wrong. Ayala has done well as a stopgap closer since coming over from the Nationals, earning seven saves while blowing only one. Ayala is who we've got, and he's who we're currently succeeding with. But mapping next year's success deliberately with a bullpen plan like this doesn't make good baseball sense. Not when there are better options available.

They could go after a high-priced closer like K-Rod, which would mean Wagner has pitched his last game as a Met. As much as I like Wagner's grit, this is probably the most prudent course of action. Otherwise, you're counting on a complete recovery from a very tricky surgical procedure. You're also counting on making a new contract offer to a player who will not have pitched in a major league game in seventeen months.

The Mets could try this option, though. If the Mets want to welcome Wagner back when he's ready, they need to find a player who's had unquestioned success as a closer, but who has just enough left in his career to bridge the gap to 2010. Someone who'll be a free agent at the end of the year. Preferably, someone who's had experience winning in the postseason. Someone with, say, a career 3-1 K/BB ratio. Someone who might have something to prove to the team who currently employs him, who have intimated they might not want him back next season. Someone who might relish the opportunity to pitch against that team 18 times a year. Someone who's said recently, "If I'm going to bust my butt and if I feel like I'm good enough and it doesn't work out here, I will be pitching somewhere else." While we're fantasizing, how about making this mythical beast an odds-on bet for the Hall of Fame? If only such a person existed.

Well, he does, and his name is John Smoltz.

Before you light the torches and sharpen your pitchforks, hear me out. Yes, Smoltz is a hated Brave. So was Tom Gl@v!n#, but let's be honest. Though we never really warmed up to that former Brave, nor he to us, we didn't really hate him until the last game of his Mets career.

Yes, Smoltz is recovering from the second major surgery in his career, and won't be able to pitch off a mound until next January. But all he's done since his first major surgery, in 2000 (ironically the same procedure Wagner's undergoing this week), is save 154 games in 168 opportunities and go 47-26 as a starter with a 3.05 ERA. Those are better numbers than his pre-Tommy John surgery stats.

Yes, Smoltz is 41 years old. But age has never stood in Omar Minaya's way for a player he thinks can contribute to his team, and Smoltz's effectiveness has not yet begun to tail off with age. A note of full disclosure - one of the reasons I've let this thought rattle around my brain for so long is because I've met John Smoltz, and I liked him. In early March of 2000, I ran into Smoltz at a concession stand at an Orlando Solar Bears hockey game. The Braves' spring training camp at Lake Buena Vista is a short drive from downtown Orlando, and Smoltz is a hockey fan, I guess. I was as gracious as a Mets fan could be when meeting an Atlanta Brave; I told him I admired his success, and wished him well in recovering from the injury he'd just suffered. He thanked me for not booing him, like he said he was used to Mets fans doing for so many years.

I'm not saying John Smoltz in a Mets uniform is the best option while we wait for Billy to heal. I'm just saying it's an option the Mets should examine.

About Dennis McCarthy: I was born in the Bronx in 1960, but moved to Long Island four years later. I became a Mets fan in '69, thanks to my Aunt Ellen, who still lived in the Bronx.   Read More -->

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Comments (5)

I have to disagree with you about John Smoltz. This is a 41 = year old power pitcher who suffered a significant injury to his pitching shoulder. Shoulder injuries are far trickier than elbow injuries like Wags has suffered to rehab from. This is an injury very similar to what Pedro Martinez suffered. Your argument is assuming Smoltz will come back at all, let alone next season and even if he manages to return in '09 that he will return with the ability to compete at this level as a closer. Making this assumption is setting yourself up for disaster. In my opinion signing Smoltz is not a calculated gamble an organization like the Mets can take.

Ironic how you mentioned Smoltz, he crept into my mind as a stop gap too. However, I do have to consider the injury and recovery factor, will he be close to the closer that is needed, but you never know. The guy is a trooper, and a gamer, the only draw back is he is still a Brave..........and the last time we had one he left the Mets in shambles.

I believe Smoltz to be a livelong Brave. He probably likes the shrine that is his locker at Turner Field; he probably wants no part of jumping into a new pecking order at this late date.

Anyway, why pick a solution that will only send you out looking for a new solution a year later? "Billy Wagner might have recovered by that time" is not a good enough answer, methinks; Billy is a free agent, in mind if not in fact.

AstoriaMetsFan - You're probably right. Like I said, it's not the best path, but it's a calculated gamble they might try, especially if they end up shut out of the K-Rod lottery.
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LJ - Thank you for confirming that my Mets fan mind is not the only one with an apparent chemical imbalance. The sheer force of will that helped resurrect Smoltz' career after 2000 may not be enough this time. But it might.
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dd - I know the idea was for the Braves to reunite Smoltz, Glavine, and Maddux one last time this season. Personally, I was hoping that particular reunion would come on the disabled list, and I got 2/3 of my wish there. But you have a point. Why jump onto a new team in a new park in the biggest city in America when you could just retire gracefully like your employer's hoping you'll do?

Smoltz injury doesn't bother me much, because it occured as a starter, not as a reliever. And the Mets would look to him as a reliever rather than anything else. He'd be able to extend his career in the bullpen by a good 2-3 years. Don't be suprised if that's where he ends up next year, anyways, on the Braves or elsewhere. The Mets will also bring back Ayala and they'll still have Stokes and Smith in the pen. Heilman will most likely get traded, or moved to the rotation. Figueroa works best as a garbage time/long reliever, and I'd consider keeping him in that role.

Thus the Mets pen can look like this: Smoltz, Ayala, Stokes, Smith, Schoeneweis, Feliciano, Figueroa. That's better than what we have now.

Of course, the Mets will be in on the K-Rod stuff, and that's all fine and well. But the Mets also should be in on some of the starting pitchers- especially for guys like Derek Lowe and Jon Garland, who could round out the rotation in a good way, and allow guys like Niese, Parnell, and Aguilar to develop properly in AA and AAA. Smoltz will cost them less than K-Rod would, and it'd allow them to pursue other options.

Oh, and this will sound like sheer lunacy, but I really want the Mets to offer Carl Pavano a contract in the offseason. Get him off the Yankees and watch him become the pitcher he once was with the Marlins.

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