Saturday, January 28, 2006

Can A Starting Rotation Back-ended by Heilman & Zambrano Be Successful?

This is the third in a series of postings that will address 10 questions about the Mets roster. We are already ahead of schedule, for a change, as this wasn't supposed to post for a few more days. It's nice to be ahead- enjoy!

The offseason seemingly started with a seeming single strength for the Mets, which was our starting rotation. After the trades of Kris Benson and Jae Seo, our starting staff was no longer recognized as a strength by many sportswriters, fans, bloggers, etc. We don't necessarily agree with this, for a number of reasons. However, before we get into these reasons, there is one thing that everyone must remember- as goes Pedro, so goes the state of the Mets. If the Nike-created sneaker helps to solve Pedro's toe problem, there's hope that Pedro can be incredibly effective for 2-3 more years, and possibly beyond, as no one should EVER doubt his competitive spirit. Remember that last year, everyone was ready to give up on Glavine, and now, with some major adjustments, he is a solid number two starter for us. Here are the reasons why we feel that the starting staff will still prove to be a strength:

1.) Seo & Benson were over-rated. Lets face it - Seo was on the verge of being figured out by hitters by the last month of the season, and Benson, for an overall #1 pick, has never put together anything close to a dominant season (save for those between the sheets with the lovely Anna.) Seo has been with us for a long time now, since 1998, and he's already 28 years old, and will turn 29 in May, and has only recently had a measure of success with us. I still trust Rick Peterson's instincts, and Peterson hasn't been Seo's biggest fan these past 2 years. Benson was drafted #1 overall in 1996, and will be 32 this November, without posting even one dominant (or even nearly outstanding) season during this time. With both of these pitchers, Omar received as much as he could in exchange (4 pitchers)- don't believe otherwise- as we all know that Omar is the hardest working GM in the game. If there was a better deal to be made, he would have made it. Get real, people- he did the very best he could in exchanging these pitchers, and neither one could be considered a cornerstone to build around.

2.) With the addition of Wagner, Sanchez, Julio, et al, our starters games have been shortened, as it were, because now there is less of a need to keep a starter in the game longer than needed with a vastly improved bullpen to work with. Just the idea that Wagner is going to get between 35 and 45 saves is enough to make our starters grin from ear to ear- now add in a Sanchez or Julio to take the ball on the remaining days (and often from the 6th to 8th innings), and they don't have to work quite as hard or as often in the later innings. THIS is why Omar (and nearly every other GM) spent so much time this offseason improving our bullpen. THIS will prove to be the best thing that happened to our rotation this year.

3.) Aaron Heilman deserves the opportunity to start, and we don't buy the whole "figuring him out" schtick, because unlike Seo, the two pitches that Heilman has mastered are far more dominating than any of Seo's. Additionally, Heilman is considerably younger (27) than either of the pitchers he has replaced, and is coming off of a career-changing year that, when combined with the Mets agreeing with Heilman's pleas to become a starter should give him a wealth of confidence to draw off of this year. Regarding Zambrano, let's face it- we all miss Kazmir, but he's not here anymore and therefore it is time to see what Zambrano has once and for all- poop or get off the pot, as it were. If he's not the 5th starter, believe me, Omar will take care of this sooner than later. We owe it to ourselves to first see, finally, if Zambrano can somehow cut it (as, like Benson, he is 31), and move forward from the Kazmir trade forever (or at least until Scott files for free agency the first time- one can still hope, right?)

4.) We have options- don't let anyone say otherwise.

a.) We still have John Maine, who was good enough that Billy Beane wanted him last year in a proposed trade for Hudson, and he was also one of the proposed principals in the Orioles failed attempt to trade for A.J. Burnett last year. He is probably better suited to middle relief right now, in order to prove his worth at the major league level, but like Heilman, he has the talent to be a starter- whether he can put it together is to be proven.

b.) We also still have Brian Bannister, whose only crime seems to be performing (once again) better than expectations. He's soon to be 25, so he has youth on his side, and being the son of a successful major leaguer (his father, Floyd, was often rumored to become a Met over the years and was once part of my championship Strat-O-Matic team) has given him an excellent perspective as to what being a major leaguer is all about. I'd love nothing more than to see Bannister as our fifth starter, over Zambrano, because not only does he deserve it, but youth would be served as our staff would get even younger. Here's a great link to a great article/interview with Bannister by Mets Inside Pitch online- read this and I guarantee you'll become a fan of Bannister, too: Just the fact that you can compare his curveball with Bert Blyleven's (who deserves to be in the hall already) excites me to no end!

c.) We also have Mike Pelfrey and Philip Humber coming up in the near future, with the possibility that Pelfrey might even be mature enough to play a role this year. We also have Yusaku Iriki, and enough middle relievers to trade for someone later on in the year if the need arises. Finally, don't discount the quick rise of Alay Soler, as he is already mature (26 - or so we think), has a number of pitches at his disposal, has a lot to prove and has great motivation. Rather than trading for a Jose Contreras, we already have a more mature option at the ready- here's betting that after a great spring & some time in St. Lucie, Soler makes a fast jump to the majors by June (if needed).
d.) Don't discount the fact that Omar knows what it will take to pry away Zito from the A's if/when the time comes that the A's are out of playoff contention. Also, as Zito is a free agent, we might just have to stick with what we have, and acquire a stopgap while waiting for Zito to sign with us next offseason. If it's not Zito, and the need is there, remember that Omar will make something happen (shades of Bartolo Colon) when no one else could.

5.) Tom Glavine looked like the pitcher of 7 years ago who frustrated the heck out of us when he was with the Braves. It's always difficult to base the 2nd position in your rotation on an over-40 year old starter, but Glavine has relied on guile and smarts, not speed, all these years, and sometimes you just have to trust in a future Hall-of-Famer to get the job done. Besides- he's not even turning 40 until March, and as both of us are in our early 40's, remember that 40 is the "new 30" and so we can hope for perhaps 2-3 more good seasons from Mr. Glavine!

6.) Steve Trachsel is the 35 year old pitcher who, at the start of the season, everyone overlooks, and at the end of the season, everyone is surprised by how good he actually pitched. He's been with us since 2001, and has averaged 10.2 wins per season, INCLUDING last year, when he only won 1 game and only pitched in 6 games. In 2003, he won 16 games for us with a 3.78 E.R.A. in 33 games. He can perform well with a little run support- something he should have no problem with this year with our offense being what it is.

7.) Again, it all comes back to Pedro, and toe injury or no toe injury, he is one of the most dominant pitchers of the past 50 years and is a symbol of our revival. Let's give him the chance to get healthy (In Nike We Trust) and strap us to his back, as he has done with the Sox and Expos, and take us to that promised land!

We'll revisit this topic often, as the season plays itself out, and trust that Omar, Rick & Willie will make the right decisions!

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