Early Rotation Troubles Have Mets Considering Options

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.

The New York Sun

One of the benefits of winning twice as many games as you lose is that it allows you to keep perspective on the difference between inconvenience and catastrophe.

Most teams that watch their no. 5 starter hurt himself while running the bases only to see his replacement come up with a finger injury, then watch the bomb inside their no. 4 starter’s elbow explode, leaving them to sort through the likes of Jose Lima, Jeremi Gonzalez, and Darren Oliver to fill the last two slots in their rotation, would be in really bad shape. The Mets aren’t, and ought not to act like they are.

With all respect to Brian Bannister, John Maine, and Victor Zambrano, they’re not going to be all that difficult to replace. The three have made 11 starts between them this season, averaging just under five innings per start with a 4.77 ERA, and with the next two Mondays off, the team will only need six starts out of the two back-end slots in the rotation through the end of the month, by which time Bannister should be back and whatever replacement management settles on for Zambrano should have been found.

Gonzalez, Oliver, Lima, and whoever else could end up pitching as well as the guys they’re replacing, anyway. Think of pitchers like loaded dice – if Pedro Martinez is heavily weighted to come up as a five or six, guys like Bannister and Maine are weighted to come up three or four, and guys like Gonzalez and Lima to come up two or three. Over six starts, the difference just really isn’t all that big. This isn’t anything like a crisis.

That said, the team obviously needs some pitchers. Giving Lima three starts isn’t going to kill you – giving him 20 will. Everyone has a solution: Some people want to put Aaron Heilman in the rotation; some people want the Mets to trade for Barry Zito or Dontrelle Willis; some want to trade a player like Victor Diaz for a reasonable no.4 starter. These ideas have some appeal, but none is likely to happen.

Putting Heilman in the rotation makes no sense for quite a few reasons. The most basic is this: If any of the people most familiar with him thought he could put up, say, a 3.50 ERA over 200 innings, wouldn’t he be in the rotation? Guys who can do that aren’t grown on farms. Even if Heilman were capable of that, you can’t just take someone out of the bullpen, drop him into the rotation, and expect immediate results – not to mention that the Mets’ incredible bullpen depth has been, along with Martinez and Tom Glavine, the team’s biggest strength. This would just be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul only to end up getting prosecuted for the robbery while still being in debt. Best to avoid it.

A trade for a top starter would be appealing, except that it’s just not going to happen. The Athletics aren’t going to trade Zito this early in the season, and if they did, it would take top center field prospect Lastings Milledge and a lot more besides to get him, all for a pitcher who will be a free agent at the end of the season. That’s not a good deal.

Milledge for Willis would be a fair deal – Milledge is overrated and less valuable to the Mets than to other teams because the presence of Carlos Beltran will push him to a corner outfield slot, where he’ll be far less valuable, while Willis is a stud who won’t see free agency until after the 2009 season – but the Mets’ brass seems to have Milledge confused with David Wright, and the Marlins would be better off waiting until the trade deadline or after the season to deal Willis, assuming they even want to do so. It could happen, but this has the stink of drive time fantasy about it.

So do most ideas about reasonable no. 4 starters. There’s a lot of parity in baseball these days. Teams like the Angels and Twins, who have losing records and generic veteran starters they can afford to get rid of, are likely to hold onto them in hopes of seeing their positions on the market improve, while the few outright bad teams like the Mariners and Pirates tend either to not have any pitching at all, or to have young pitching they’re simply not going to trade. Someone with even a Steve Trachsel-type available right now is sitting pretty – all the more reason to scoff at the Kris Benson trade, which seemed ridiculous at the time and seems even more so now.

What, then, are the Mets to do? How about nothing? All they need is two starters who aren’t total scrubs; Bannister will be back soon enough, giving them one, and it shouldn’t be too hard to find one other guy from among Gonzalez, Lima, Oliver, Cuban mystery man Alay Soler, and Maine (once he returns from injury) who can be relied on to throw five innings and give up three runs.

The Mets will need another top starter for October, but that’s a different problem from the one they’re facing now – which isn’t really even all that much of a problem. Not everything needs a big exotic solution. Sometimes you don’t need a solution at all.


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