On a day that Willie Randolph proclaimed that only Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez were guaranteed a spot in the rotation, the stage had been set for New York’s very own reality show. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, The Contenders: A Shea Stadium Showdown.
First, lets meet the Executive Producers, Fred and Jeff Wilpon. This is where our story really begins. After a thrilling season which saw the New York Mets come within one strike of going to the World Series, Fred and Jeff Wilpon designed a plan that they thought would surely be a box-office hit, one that would be played out on the back pages of newspapers everywhere in the city. Their mission was to secure the talents of 28 year old, Barry Zito, the most talented star on the market. However things didn’t go as planned, because rather than opening up their wallets and going all out to sign the big star, they chose instead to make him a token offer, believing the allure of starring in New York’s biggest show would be enough to get him to sign on the dotted line. But alas, this fairy tale ending was not meant to be, as the star pitcher decided to take his glove, his guitar, and his matinee idol looks to the West coast where he ended up finding fame and fortune.
Next we have our Director, Omar Minaya, who nearly won his first Best Director award in 2006, but lost out to Terry Ryan who produced the feel good movie of the year, "The Twins." Unlike years past, when his producers gave Omar all the monetary resources he needed to produce a surefire hit, this year would be very different. Despite the huge windfall from a new cable network, a landmark stadium-naming deal, and record breaking ticket sales, this offseason Omar would have to find his cast from among a list of promising "B" actors and former blacklisted performers. Omar was even forced to stretch out his gaze far beyond the reaches of the Dominican Republic, to a far away city located in the isolated regions of the Korean peninsula.
It was a tough task, but Omar Minaya was the perfect man for this particular quest, and after many months of searching and negotiations, he finally put together a short list of would-be candidates, contenders, if you will. As February approached, Omar looked down at his list of contenders and said, "From these nine candidates, we will choose the three best warriors, and they will fill the void on our pitching staff."
And thus, the stage had been set. The challenge had been thrown down. And like gladiators in an arena, these nine heroes will see if they got what it takes to make it up north, where throngs of adoring fans will greet them on a cold April day. Without further adieu, I give you… The Contenders.
John Maine: The Man Who Would Be King – Barring a total spring meltdown, Maine should easily emerge as the leader of this group, and lock up the third spot in the rotation. Last season he stepped in and impressed the Mets brass with his mental guile and his ability to work his way out of trouble.
Oliver Perez: The Would-be Hero – After a dismal season speckled with a few flashes of brilliance, Oliver Perez’ stock is on the rise again after two dominating post season performances. Perez is no stranger to success, as he once struck out 239 batters in 196 innings pitched, with an ERA of 2.98 only two short years ago.
Jason Vargas: The Secret Weapon – The former jewel of the Florida Marlins organization, fell on hard times last season and lost some of his luster The hard throwing lefty is out to prove that he is no one-year wonder, and could surprise this spring.
Chan Ho Park: The Beast From The East – After signing his huge $65 million dollar contract with the Rangers, it’s been all down hill for this former All-star. Last season he seemed to regain his form while with the San Diego Padres, and the Mets are gambling that with a little tweaking, he can become the pitcher he once was.
Aaron Sele: The Wanderer – This year will be the seventh time that Aaron Sele starts the season with a new organization. He is currently the seasoned veteran of the group, but it will be quite a feat if he could hold off some of the more talented youngsters competing against him. Sele has had some success in the past, which may grant him some favor with Willie Randolph.
Mike Pelfrey: The Shooting Star – Pelfrey is the one pitcher that the organization wants to succeed. His talent is without question and he is as polished as they come. With a little more confidence in his abilities, Pelfrey may not only win a rotation spot, but he may even become the ace of the staff by season’s end.
Philip Humber: The Comeback Kid – Humber was on the fast track to a rotation spot, but his hopes were dashed by an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. After missing almost a year, the former 1st round pick came back and put up some impressive numbers last season, striking out more than a batter an inning and even making a couple of appearances with Mets during a September call-up. The Mets are high on this kid.
Jorge Sosa: The Brave Little Toaster – After finally coming into his own with the Braves in 2005, Sosa reverted back to his wild ways last season, prompting the Braves to ship him off to the Cardinals. At 30 years old, it’s time for Sosa to step up, or step aside. He has always been plagued with control problems.
Alay Soler: The Cuban Missile – After starring for the Cuban National team, Soler defected to the United States and signed with the Mets. He made a spectacular debut which included a seven inning gem against the Dodgers, followed by a shutout against the Diamondbacks. However, it all came to a screeching halt after giving up 19 runs in his next three starts, prompting a demotion back to Norfolk.
So there you have it. From among these nine hopefuls, there shall emerge three pitchers who will help lead the Mets to the promised land in 2007.
It’s really going to be fun watching it all unfold, so stay tuned to MetsMerized as we bring you all the drama, all the suspense, and all the unexpected twists, as these nine brave warriors, put it all on the line for a chance to be… a contender.