NL East Arms Race: New York Mets
The moving and the shaking has not missed the National League East this hot stove season, with more than a few new faces joining East squads that are setting their sights on a trip to October. Atlanta brings a new look rotation into 2009, but their divisional rivals have made some big improvements as well. This installment of the “NL East Arms Race” delves into the pitching staff of the New York Mets.
Over the past three years, the Mets have been built to win, holding onto first place for large chunks of time before falling at the hands of the Phillies in the end. A near World Series trip in 2006 still fresh on their minds, the Mets have taken strides each off-season to bolster their squad. That trend continued this winter with a bullpen makeover.
When the Mets lost ninth inning man Billy Wagner to elbow surgery last season, they suffered through numerous late inning collapses and finished the year with 29 blown saves as a team. New closer Francisco Rodriguez comes off a record setting 62 saves last season for the Angels. Signing Rodriguez to a three-year deal was just step one of general manager Omar Minaya‘s plan to solidify the achilles heel of the 2008 Mets.
K-Rod will have help from another American League late inning star, J.J. Putz, who was acquired in a December trade with the Seattle Mariners. Putz will serve as the primary set-up man for manager Jerry Manuel. Lefty Pedro Feliciano and righty Duaner Sanchez will return to their roles in the pen this season and will be joined by right-hander Sean Green, who was also acquired in the Putz deal.
The Mets rotation will be the next place Minaya looks to fortify as Spring Training approaches. Johan Santana was spectacular in the second half of last season, but even his stellar work was not enough to lift the Mets above and beyond the September slide. The bullpen cost Santana a chance to win 20 games and likely take home his first Cy Young Award in the National League.
Minaya has already signed veteran right-hander Tim Redding to bolster the back of the rotation. Redding, who will be 31 when the seasons starts, revived his career while pitching for the Washington Nationals over the past two seasons. He tied a previous career-best with 10 wins and notched a career-high 182 innings in 33 starts in 2008. Still, Redding projects to be no more than a fourth or fifth starter in the Mets plans.
The Mets have turned their focus to bringing back lefty Oliver Perez, having lost out in the Derek Lowe sweepstakes. Perez, 27, was brought over in a 2006 trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates and promptly re-established himself with a 15-win season in 2007. His electric stuff is often overshadowed by his lack of command and penchant for bases on balls.
Perez, 10-7 with a 4.22 ERA in 34 starts a year ago, lead the National League with 105 walks last season and set career-highs with 11 hit batsmen and nine wild pitches. New York extended a three-year $30 million offer to Perez and agent Scott Boras, but those terms are far short of the reported five-year $80 million deal that Boras is believed to be seeking for Perez’s services.
That figure is mind boggling for a pitcher who won less games in 2008 than Ubaldo Jimenez, Kyle Kendrick, Brian Moehler and Jason Marquis. Pitchers who matched Perez’s win total from a year ago include Redding, Jorge De la Rosa, Manny Parra, Jeff Suppan and Barry Zito. None of those names can exactly be looked upon as impact players, but Scott Boras has a way with words and dollar signs. Just ask Zito.
Mike Pelfrey is a young talent on the rise, but more on the level of a Jair Jurrjens of Atlanta. Neither pitcher has the experience that makes them a bona fide number two starter in their teams’ rotation. Going 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA and logging 200.2 innings in his first full season with New York, Pelfrey proved to be a key component when injuries sapped the rotation of Pedro Martinez and John Maine.
Speaking of Maine, his health will be absolutely vital the Mets hopes this season. In just 25 starts a year ago, Maine was 10-8 with 122 strikeouts in 140 innings before a strained rotator cuff put him on the shelf late in the year. Surgery to remove a bone spur in his throwing shoulder should have him back at 100 percent and ready to go this spring.
Prospect Jon Niese, 22, could also figure into New York’s rotation with a strong spring, perhaps grabbing the fifth starter’s spot. Niese has won 11 games in back-to-back seasons and is coming off a very solid campaign that earned him a September call-up. Last season, Niese was 11-8 with a 3.13 ERA in 29 starts, striking out 144 batters in 164 innings between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A New Orleans.
If the Mets are unable to come to terms with Perez in a time frame that suits them, they could benefit from the standstill between the Yankees and Andy Pettitte and lure him away from the Bronx. The 36-year old Pettitte went 14-14 for the Yankees last season while logging 204 innings. A shorter term pact with Pettitte would not only save the Mets money, but also bring in a pitcher who carries 14 victories in 35 career post-season starts.
Till next time,