05 March 2007

NL EAST CONTINUED: AMAZIN' ONCE MORE?



Ignore all of the steroids talk and the ridiculous free agent market, and one of the predominant stories of this offseason is the starting rotation (or lack thereof) of the reining NL East champions, the New York Mets.

It was a surprisingly quiet offseason for the Mets, after the monster one the year before. For a team with two glaring needs (starting pitching and second base), and a ton of money (let’s not forget that they have a license to print cash now that Sportsnet New York is off and running), you can argue that they were less active in the free agent market than the Royals and Brewers. When was the last time you said that about the Mets?

The Mets are operating under a similar theory to the Braves on a number of levels. They are hoping that their offense, which should be stacked again, and a strong and deep bullpen will guide them through the season. The big difference is that Mets do not have the rotation the Braves do.

So is the Mets lack of action a case of extreme hubris or unconventional brilliance on the part of their GM Omar Minaya?

To tell you the truth, I am undecided at this point. What I can say is that signing Barry Zito before the season would make the team stronger, but it has become clear that the Mets are going to be making a MAJOR run at either Carlos Zambrano or Johan Santana in the near future. That will make the team better (and younger) in the long run, and are sacrificing some success next year to do so.

Still, New York’s rotation this season will not be as bad as people are making it out to be for a number of reasons:

  • They have one of the best pitching coaches in the league in Rick Peterson. He’s a little off the wall, but he gets through to his pitchers like none other. If you have any doubt, read this conversation between Rick and Met starter Oliver Perez:

Peterson: If someone says to you, ‘I'm lost,’ what would be the first thing that you would respond? Where do you want to go? It's a logical question. Can you show me your map?

Perez: I don't have one.

Peterson: No wonder you're lost.

  • Although the four spots that seem to be locked in for the Mets aren’t the best four pitchers at this point in their careers (Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez, John Maine and Oliver Perez), they have a solid group of guys behind them who could step up and be successful if one or more should fail.
  • I do like what the Mets have done in terms of building quantity over quality in terms of their rotation. Instead of spending a ridiculous amount of money on ONE mid-level pitcher (i.e. Gil Meche, Jeff Weaver, Jeff Suppan, etc.) as was the pattern this offseason, they spent roughly the same on a number of pitchers a level below (Aaron Sele, Chan Ho Park, Jorge Sosa). So, if one doesn’t work, they can move on to the next without having too many financial repercussions.
  • Let’s also not forget that the Mets have two young studs waiting in the wings to take this staff over: Mike Pelfrey and Phillip Humber. So instead of locking up spots in the rotation for three years with an overpriced, mediocre-at-best pitcher, they have open areas in the near future for their young guns.

Out of the bullpen this year, look for Duaner Sanchez to come back strong, and also for a nice performance from newcomer Ambiorix Burgos (who they received in a trade from Kansas City for starter Brian Bannister). Think about it for a second – Bannister, who was solid for the Mets as a starter before getting hurt last year, was traded for a relief pitcher, despite the fact that the Mets NEEDED starters. You would think that the upside for Burgos is tremendous, based on that and so far word out of Port St. Lucie is that Minaya was dead on.

Offensively, I’m not sure things are as locked up for the Mets as they hope they are. We know how good their big guys are (Reyes, Beltran, Delgado, Wright) and I don’t need to sing their praises here. Paul LoDuca probably has another nice season behind the plate, although I doubt his performance is as good as last year. Meanwhile, I have serious doubts about the Mets two aging corner outfielders in Moises Alou and Shawn Green, not to mention the fact that I think Jose Valentin is lucky if he lasts two weeks as the starter at second.

Again though, the Mets seem to have built up a nice backup plan. Endy Chavez returns after his amazing catch in left field in last year’s NLCS. Also, keep an eye out for outfielder/first baseman David Newhan, who is having a great spring training, and may see a lot of time assuming he makes the team. The Mets also signed Damian Easley, who I wouldn’t want starting, but may be a nice addition as a utility player.

Overall, I don’t think that the Mets win as many games as they did last season, but they will come close. The lack of proven starters in the 3-5 spots in their rotation will hurt the team, but I think they will be able to piece it together enough to allow the offense to guide the team to success, and win the East for the second straight season.

S.O.S’s projected finish: 92-70, 1st in the NL East