By Mike Steffanos
Before I get into this, I wanted to take a moment to thank you guys for all the great comments over the past few days. It's been fun for me to read them -- even when you don't agree with me. Thanks, guys.
The news that Derek Lowe has signed with the Braves doesn't break my heart, but I am disappointed to see the Mets miss out on the pitcher who was clearly the best one out there. Oliver Perez now moves to the head of the class of what's left, and there's no guarantee that a team won't come out of the woodwork and place a higher value on him than the Mets have.
From what I could see, the reaction to Lowe's signing is somewhat mixed, but much of it is fairly critical of Minaya and the Mets. They have been accused of misreading the market, of trying to "lowball" their target, and even -- incredulously to me -- "punished" by Scott Boras for the temerity of not valuing the aging righty sinkerballer as high as he and his agent did.
Look, the truth of the matter is that the Mets had a value for Derek Lowe and the cost rose beyond that value. You can argue that their value was too low, but everyone works from a budget, and overpaying in one area inevitably will lead to skimping somewhere else. The Mets are working from a plan, and I won't criticize it until I see how everything plays out.
I do think, however, that Lowe was by far the Mets best chance of having a really good starting rotation. With him slotting behind Santana, everything seemed to fall into place in a manner that made sense. Now, even if they do re-sign Perez, who's the number two on this staff?
Based on last year it's Pelfrey -- if we see the Pelfrey that dominated in June, July and August before tiring and fading somewhat in September. Pelfrey (6.25) was the only Mets starter besides Santana to average more than 6 innings per start. Ollie Perez averaged only 5.7 in his 34 starts, and Maine 5.6.
Ideally with a healthy shoulder Maine should do better, but he's always been a pitcher that struggles with high pitch counts. Ollie is Forrest Gump's box of chocolates -- you never know whether it's going to be an 8-inning gem or a third inning shower. I mentioned a couple of days ago that Tim Redding has averaged 5.2 per start in his career.
Lowe was a guy that could get you into the seventh or eighth without chewing up your bullpen. If Pelfrey regresses and Maine and Perez don't step it up we can easily see a return to needing 3 or 4 relievers to finish up games, with predictable results by September.
So, it can only be hoped that when Omar and his crew were doing their evaluating of what Derek Lowe was really worth, they took that into account. Because Oliver Perez instead of Derek Lowe will most likely mean a few more innings from your bullpen.
I don't believe that missing out on Lowe portends disaster, but it will demand of level of creativity from Minaya and the front office. I think it could make sense to sign Perez and Randy Wolf, Pedro or another starter that is a cut above the usual Jose Limas and Brandon Knights on the food chain. Have some depth in the rotation and a long man capable of picking up the slack when one of the starters makes an early exit.
The last thing Minaya needs to do right now is to wind up overpaying Ollie Perez because he wasn't willing to overpay Lowe. He may have to look at the trade market to provide a backup plan. Maybe you sign Wolf and try to get Ben Sheets on a 1- or 2-year deal. Maybe you find another guy to make the bullpen even stronger and deeper.
I like Omar, but if the Mets wind up falling short this coming season because the starters can't pull their weight and the bullpen wears out, I'll find it hard to make a case for him deserving to stick around. He probably will, since he just signed the extension, but he might find himself sharing the "love" of the fans with Luis Castillo, one of last winter's errors in judgment. More tomorrow.