After injuries riddled the starting pitching prior to the playoffs, which saw the New York Mets win a first round series to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and lose a close best-of-seven to the Saint Louis Cardinals in the Leage Championship Series, Mets fans expected their club to make a splash this winter to improve their starting pitching. After all, New York had lost ace Pedro Martinez to, among other things, a torn rotator cuff, while two of New York’s other starting pitchers are pushing 40.
So, given the success of the Mets last year, a division title and the best record in the National League – due to their aggressiveness of the last two offseasons – it was believed that they would wind up with one or two of the available high-priced pitching free agents. Rumors swirled of the Mets signing Oakland’s Barry Zito, reuniting him with his old pitching coach Rick Peterson, or even the Mets trading for Florida’s Dontrelle Willis, seemed to ignite hopes that the Mets would bolster their pitching staff to championship level. Or so it seemed. With Barry Zito signed to the Giants, Jeff Suppan to the Brewers and Jason Schmidt to the Dodgers, and Dontrelle Willis staying put, along with the Phillies’ trade for workhorse Freddy Garcia, the Mets came up virtually empty.
Breathing a sigh of relief with the resigning of Tom Glavine, Mets’ fans were equally surprised when the club gave Hernandez, a pitcher nearing the end of his career, a multi-year extension. Soon, both will be collecting social security. Furthermore, Mets’ General Manager Omar Minaya confirmed that potential starting pitcher, and former first round draft choice, Aaron Heilman would return to the bullpen. To top it off, the Mets traded promising young right-hander Brian Bannister, another starting pitcher, to the Kansas City Royals for bullpen help.
Why didn’t Omar Minaya improve the starting pitching after it seemed that the most glaring need, aside from a right-handed hitter with power, was rotation help? The rest of the staff will be filled with the wild and unpredictable Oliver Perez and the questionable John Maine, who actually did pitch some excellent games last year. The fifth spot in the rotation could be filled by a number of young potential and unproven starters: Mike Pelfrey, Philip Humber, Dave Williams etc. The Mets certainly have the offense to score enough runs, but how do the Mets plan to keep opponents from scoring on them if their frontline starters have such great question marks? The Mets clearly lack an experienced, proven "young veteran"; a workhorse between the ages of 23 and 34 who could give them a lot of innings and keep the opponents off the scoreboard. Where have you gone Tom Seaver? Where have you gone Jerry Koosman?
What happened this off season, however, made it more difficult for the Mets to acquire, at least via free agency, pitchers they could have easily signed a couple of years ago. With the new baseball television contract signed with FOX, a lucrative and record setting deal, along with the revenue tax with distributes monies to poorer teams, more clubs than in the previous seasons were able to get involved in free agency. When the Mets signed Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez two years ago, there were only a handful of clubs vying for their services. In fact, Beltran only got offers from his former club the Astros and even went as far as approaching the Yankees himself and was rebuffed. This year, however, teams that had not normally involved in free agency in the past, became big time players. Who would have thought that the Milwaukee Brewers would give a 4-year, $42 million contract to a free agent pitcher? Who would have thought that the San Francisco Giants would put up $18 millio n for Zito. Still, the Mets could have traded for a pitcher, namely Freddy Garcia. The Mets had negotiated with the White Sox, but felt that Chicago wanted too much in return. Unfortunately, Garcia wound up with a division rival. With the Marlins’ young phenoms a year more mature, and the Phillies rotation bolstered by Garcia, it will be more difficult for the Mets to be as successful, at least on paper, in 2007. One of the reasons the Mets dominated the National League 2006 with the best record is that the National League was awful. The New York Mets were the only team to finish with over 90 wins. It was clearly weaker than the American League, though the senior circuit’s Cardinals won the World Series.
I believe that Minaya did legitimately want to improve the rotation, but also did not want to spend foolishly. Minaya also seems to feel that with a deep bullpen, with the signing of lefty Scott Schoenweiss and the acquisition of hard throwing Ambriox Burgos (in the Bannister trade), along with the return of Guillermo Mota (after 50 games of suspension for steroids use) and Duanar Sanchez, will improve the Mets and keep them competitive. It seems that Minaya believes that the bullpen is as important, if not more important, to winning as a good staring rotation. That was clearly proved in last year’s playoffs by the Mets who advanced to the NLCS despite a dearth of proven starting pitching. However, I think Minaya made a mistake by not acquiring Freddy Garcia, a playoff-experienced starting pitched who gives you 200 plus innings per season. Garcia has been able to pitch well in the American League and given the fact that he is switching to the Senior Circuit, the league without a Designated Hitter, will give him an advantage.
Despite his lack of signing a well-known name through free agency or trade, Minaya should be given the benefit of the doubt. After all, under his guidance the Mets have had two consecutive winning seasons, the first since the 1999-2000 run and a division title, their franchise’s first since 1988. After all, aren’t results the most important thing that counts on a general manager’s record?
Andrew Schiff is a freelance journalist who has completed a biography on Henry Chadwick, baseball’s first journalist and inventor of the game’s first statistics. Look for Henry Chadwick, The Father of Baseball due for release in late 2007 by McFArland Press.