This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
It is good to be Omar Minaya right now. With an insurmountable lead in the NL East, he doesn’t need any new players; given the generally stellar performance of the Mets’ reserve corps, he doesn’t even need to waste time haggling over the price for a fifth outfielder or a backup second baseman. Most important, of course, he has enormous leverage over potential trade partners, enough to laugh at any absurd proposals coming his way.
It’s also bad to be Omar Minaya right now. Strictly speaking, the Mets might not need anything to get into the playoffs, but everyone knows the team needs a real third starter. For a variety of reasons — few players have expiring contracts, few teams actively need to dump excess salary, and almost every team has at least a vague shot at the playoffs — the trade market looks to be as tight as it has been in memory. And Minaya has little to deal — the Mets can absorb salary, but that doesn’t mean as much as it once did, and past Lastings Milledge there isn’t really much the Mets can trade that anyone else would want.
(Incidentally, anyone who claims the team is willing to trade Mike Pelfrey needs to be smacked with a rolled-up tabloid; he only signed a contract this January, and can’t be traded until a year from the date of the signing due to a rule meant to prevent teams from working around restrictions on trading draft picks.)
With that in mind, here’s a look at pitchers Minaya is or should be looking at, in order not of the likelihood they will be acquired, but of desirability. Before you fire off the angry e-mail, keep in mind that I probably think a lot less of Milledge’s potential than you do, and a lot more of pitchers who have proved themselves able to consistently pitch 200 innings of quality baseball.
DONTRELLE WILLIS, LHP, FLORIDA
For several reasons, this is the least likely of all possible deals. The Marlins don’t need to trade him, and quite a few other teams could offer more attractive packages for him. Common sense suggests the Marlins would have to be blown away to trade him, and that most rumors surrounding him are the product of idle fancy. That said, as a young workhorse who at his best is as valuable as any pitcher in the league and at his worst is good for 210 innings and a 4.00 ERA; as one of the game’s more marketable players; and as someone who’d remain under the team’s control through the end of the decade,he’d easily be worth anything the Marlins could reasonably ask for.
Verdict: Not happening.
JASON SCHMIDT, RHP, SAN FRANCISCO
A free agent after this season, Schmidt has reestablished himself as a true ace after missing time and losing speed on his fastball last year. He’s the kind of dominant fastball pitcher the Mets lack, and placing him between changeup artists Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine would make the team clear playoff favorites.
The problems are that the Giants are quasi-contenders in a weak West and have no real incentive to move their ace with Barry Bonds in possibly his final year in San Francisco. Should the team collapse and Schmidt become available, though, he’d be the one pitcher on an expiring contract to whom you’d have to give serious consideration. Milledge and a couple of lower-tier prospects would be a steep price to pay, but Schmidt is the only available pitcher one can imagine dominating the playoffs.
Verdict: More likely than Willis.
JAKE WESTBROOK, RHP, CLEVELAND
Rumors have had the Indians open to trading Westbrook for some time; with a team that was expected to be in the race down to the final days of the season badly underperforming, there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t become increasingly open as the July 31 deadline approaches.
Westbrook isn’t the sexiest option available, but he’s 29, under contract for a reasonable $5.6 million next year, and is a very good pitcher who’s cleared 210 innings two years in a row. He’s a power sinkerballer who’s reliant on his infield defense and not giving up the longball, which makes him a good fit for the Mets, and while he’s not as good as the 3.38 ERA he put up two years ago, neither is he as bad as the 4.49 he posted last year.
Verdict: Not a bad idea
LIVAN HERNANDEZ, RHP, WASHINGTON
Hernandez one of the few pitchers with the common sense to throw at about 85% unless he needs the big out, which allows him to rack up huge innings totals.There’s some suspicion that his 5.94 ERA has as much to do with his being bored on an uninspired team as with his talent, and that being thrust onto a playoff team with his older half-brother (El Duque) would provoke him into rounding back into his usual form. Even at his best, he’s essentially Steve Trachsel pitching 250 innings a year,which is valuable,especially since he’s under contract for $7 million next year.
But he’s also not the third starter the Mets need for the playoffs. If the Nationals just want to dump his salary, he’d be worth acquiring, but not for any young players worth mentioning.
Verdict: Worth cash, not prospects.
BARRY ZITO, LHP, OAKLAND
Zito gets a bum rap. He’s easily one of the most consistently durable pitchers in baseball; the entire list of starters who entered the season with at least 1,000 career innings and a better park-adjusted ERA relative to the league was Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Tim Hudson.
The problem is that he’d command nearly as hefty a package as Willis, wouldn’t offer anything like the potential for complete-game three hitters in October that Schmidt would, and has Scott Boras for an agent,meaning there’s no chance the Mets could re-sign him without him testing free agency first. He’ll be worth a tremendous amount of money in November, and that’s when the Mets should get him.
Verdict: Just say no.