Sorry I haven’t blogged for the past six days, but ever since the Cardinals eliminated the Mets, I have been sitting Shiva
in honor of their great and honorable, but nonetheless, painful loss in
Game 7 of the NLCS. For those unfamiliar with the Jewish culture, after
the death of a loved one there is a customary period of mourning for
the surviving members of the family to allow them to adjust to the loss
suffered. This period is called Shiva. In Hebrew the word Shiva
actually means "seven", so the standard grieving period lasts seven
days. Since I am a fairly quick healer and a dutiful journalist, and
even though I still feels pangs of pain every now and then when I think
of Carlos Beltran standing stoically at the plate as he helplessly
looks at Adam Wainwright’s knee-buckling strike three, I have decided
to end my mourning a day early. My final prayer is, "let the death of the Mets’ 2006 season not be for naught, but rather a great boon for the 2007 Mets".
A Salute To St. Louis
we look ahead to our exciting Mets’ future, I want to tip my cap to the
Cardinals. They played with courage and flair and I wish manager Tony Larussa’s club the greatest success in this year’s World Series. With New York Mets’ conquerer Jeff Suppan pitching at home in Game 4 and the Cardinals up 2-1 against the Tigers, the Redbirds look to be in great position to win their first World Series in 24 years. If they succeed, Mets’ fans can at least take solace in knowing that we lost to the eventual 2006 World Champions.
While we fell just short in 2006, there is a lot to look forward to
in the coming years. As much as this past season was about a run for
the Ring, it was also a great learning experience. So, what did we
learn? Well for one, the Mets have a great pair of leaders in Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph.
Minaya proved to be a skillful evaluator and a talented architect in
building an effective roster on the field. Randolph showed he is a
great motivator of men and an instinctual on-field general who has the
guts to pull the necessary strings to win any given ballgame. As for
the roster, the Mets are brimming with talented ballplayers, a fine mix
of veteran quality and exciting potential. This club is positioned to
be a playoff juggernaut for the near and far future.
While Pedro Martinez had much to do with bringing
respectability back to Flushing, the Mets are well prepared to enter a
post-Pedro period. Not that "the Maestro" is completely finished. He
might well still lead the charge into the postseason in 2007. As of
now, the Mets expect him to return after the All-Star break next year.
The fact remains though that we can no longer count on his greatness
the way we did the past two seasons. And that’s o’k, because there is
enough pitching talent on the horizon to imbue great expectations in
this team— Pedro or no Pedro.
Bolstering and devising a healthy Starting Rotation will be the main
focus of the Mets’ offseason. The greatest benefit the Mets gained from
the untimely injuries to pitchers Orlando Hernandez and Pedro Martinez at the end of 2006 was the emergence of rookie John Maine and the reclaimation of Oliver Perez.
These two youngsters showed that beyond the lively talent in their
arms, they possessed the moxie and spitfire of big game pitchers.
From all indications, it appears that Omar Minaya might have finally made up for the Mets’ disasterous trading away of Scott Kazmir a couple of years ago. Getting Oliver Perez in a deal for Xavier Nady at the Trade Deadline might prove to be the greatest deal the Mets have pulled off since 1983 when they traded Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey for a fella named Keith Hernandez.
Perez is only 25-years old, a lefty with an upper register fastball, a
deadly curve ball and a serviceable changeup. In 2004, he showed what
he could do when he is right! Perez pitched 196 innings that year and
was the second best lefthanded starter in the NL behind only Randy Johnson.
Combining a 95-mph fastball with a 12-to-6 curve and a solid changeup,
Perez was fourth in the league in strikeouts with 239. He led all
pitchers by averaging 10.97 K’s / per 9 IP, was fifth in the league
with a 2.98 ERA, seventh in the league with a 1.15 WHIP and ninth in
K/BB ratio with a 2.95 mark. And though he encountered major control
problems over the next year and a half, it seems that pitching coach Rick Peterson
and crew have gotten young Oliver back on track. His improvement as a
Met was swift and one could see his confidence build as September wore
down. His final outing in Game 7 of the NLCS was an "ace" like performance that was excitingly reminiscient of his 2004 season.
Obtaining John Maine in the Kris Benson
trade at the beginning of 2006 might turn out to be the second best
deal the Mets have pulled off since the Keith Hernandez heist of ’83.
Like Perez, Maine is only 25-years old and his fastball is just as
delicious. The key to Maine’s future success will be honing his slider,
which has the potential to be a devastating out-pitch. The most
exciting Maine-moment for me was watching the confidence he showed when
he threw his best slider of the year to strike out Albert Pujols
in the fifth inning of Game 6. This game was an earmark for the
Virginian native. His 5.1 shutout innings in a "do-or-die" circumstance
was the most inspirational pitching performance by any Mets’ pitchers
in 2006. Based on his postseason perfomance, the fact that he was our
best pitcher in the second half of the season, and the allure of his
final overall numbers (6-5, 3.60 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and a .212 BAA), Mets’
fans should be very excited by his presence in the 2007 Starting
As for the remaining three spots in the 2007 rotation, expect Tom Glavine to work out an agreement to return as he climbs ever closer to the historical 300-win mark.
The Mets will most likely refuse his $14-million team option and
Glavine will most likely do the same with his $7.5-million player
option. The two will probably meet in the middle for what possibly
could be Tommy G’s final year. Glavine was as crafty as ever this past
season on his way to leading the Mets with 15 wins. He was nearly
unhittable in his first two postseason starts, and even though he
struggled in his final playoff start, we never would have even gotten
that far without him. As Kenny Rogers is presently proving,
40-years of age is not necessarily a liability to having mound success,
so expect Glavine to pitch with very similar results in 2007 as he had
Orlando Hernandez is in a similar contractual situation as Glavine.
The Mets would like to bring him back, but probably for only one year.
Considering the success El Duque had when healthy and the Mets’ brass
great respect for his big-game disposition, expect the two sides to
work out a one-year deal in the $5-$7 million range.
Mets’ fans should consider anything Pedro gives us in 2007 as gravy.
The time table is for him to return sometime in July or August of 2007.
If he is able to round in to form, Pedro could be a lethal addition to
the pitching staff just in time for the stretch run. If nothing else,
Pedro should give Mets’ fans something to remember in his first start
back as he is only 2 K’s shy of becoming only the 15th pitcher to join
the magical 3000-strikeout club.
The final spot in the rotation will be most interesting. Because of El
Duque’s precarious health and the youth of Maine and Perez, expect the
Mets to go after a big gun in the offseason. The Mets will probably
show major interest in all three of the best free agent pitchers on the
market, the Athletics’ Barry Zito, the Giants’ Jason Schmidt, and Japanese League star Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Schmidt has talked of his inclination to remain on the west coast, so
Zito and Matsuzaka seem to be better bets should the Mets add a major
arm via free-agency. However, there are major challenges that the Mets
will need to overcome if they are to obtain either of them. One of
those challenges is named the Yankees. If Georgie Porgie lets Brian Cashman
loose with the cash, Minaya could have a hard time outbidding his
crosstown rivals. The other major challenge is an agent named Scott Boras.
Boras represents both pitchers and is known for hijacking teams for
extra millions of dollars especially if their need is great enough. The
Mets do have a couple of things going for them though. Rick Peterson is
Zito’s mentor and former pitching coach. This bond is a strong one and
could help sway the talented lefty away from the Bronx or wherever else
he might negotiate.
The bidding process that will take place in order to obtain Matsuzaka
could also be helpful to the Mets. The team that gains the rights to
sign him will have to post a secret bid with the highest one winning.
This secret bidding is helpful in the sense that there will be no
counter-bidding allowed. If the Mets are bold enough, they have the
wherewithall to post the highest bid. Analysts have predicted that it
could cost as much as $30 million to gain the rights to sign Matsuzaka.
It would cost another $10-$12 million a year to sign him. And the early
rumblings are that the 26-year old will want at least a four-year deal.
If Minaya concludes that free-agency is not the way to go in filling
out his rotation, he will likely pursue the trade route. The amount of talent available in the trade market might provide Minaya with a greater pool of talent to choose from. With reliever Aaron Heilman yearning to be a starter (something the Mets will not allow him to do) and set-up man extraordinaire Duaner Sanchez
returning next season, Heilman becomes great bait for Minaya to use in
acquiring a starter. Omar has also seemed to have soured a bit on top
outfield prospect Lastings Milledge, so a package of Heilman
and Milledge could net the Mets the final solution to their rotation
puzzle. A few names Mets’ fans might want to keep track of once the
hot-stove warms up are, Chicago White Sox pitchers Freddy Garcia and Javier Vazquez, Orioles lefty Erik Bedard, and Marlins’ ace Dontrelle Willis.
The White Sox are committed to inserting Brandon McCarthy
into there rotation and have openly stated that they will look to
bolster their bullpen and strengthen their outfield by trading a
starter. The ChiSox have shown long term committments to Jose Contreras and Jon Garland
with recent contract extensions, plus Contreras has a complete no-trade
clause for 2007. That leaves Garcia and Vazquez as potential trade
bait. Both have one year left on their contracts— Garcia is owed $10
million for 2007 and Vasquez is owed $12.5 million. Both are 30-years
old and in the prime of their career. Of the two, Garcia has had more
success. In his 9-year career Garcia is 116-71 with a 4.01 ERA and a
1.29 WHIP. Vazquez, in his 9-year career is 100-105 with a 4.34 ERA and
a 1.27 WHIP. If Minaya obtains Vazquez, he would be acquiring a pitcher
he once traded away, but only for financial reasons (In 2004 as GM of
the Montreal Expos Minaya traded Vazquez to the New York Yankees for Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera and Randy Choate).
The Marlins who are endlessly cutting payroll are also in dire need
of bullpen help and seek a centerfielder. Willis will be due a nice
raise in arbitration that could cost the Marlins $7 or $8 million, which makes
him a very enticing trade candidate.
The Orioles need talent, period! While they will most likely hang
onto Bedard, their young lefty ace, a package including Milledge and
Heilman (who could step into a starting role for them) is a
possibililty that might be explored.
One last caveat that the Mets have for their future rotation is a
triumverate of youngsters that will provide great depth. The trio will
most likely begin the year at Triple-A. Mike Pelfrey will probably be the first call-up upon injury and could be their ace by 2008. Philip Humber their 2004 # 1 pick is not far behind Pelfrey, though he has had some arm troubles. And control artist Brian Bannister is a nice third option in case of major catastrophe.
Mets’ Potential 2007 Starting Rotation
1. Tom Glavine
2. Orlando Hernandez
3. Oliver Perez
4. John Maine
5. ? (But Someone Good)
*Pedro Martinez in second half of 2007
1. Mike Pelfrey
2. Philip Humber
3. Brian Bannister
Next Up: Mets’ 2007 Bullpen and Offense