Before the injuries started mounting, before the fielding and mental errors began to grow, the Mets’ front office made another error. This error happened in the offseason and it was made by Omar Minaya. The Mets could have acquired Jason Marquis from the Cubs for practically nothing and didn’t pull the trigger.
First, as reported by Dan Graziano in the Star-Ledger, the Mets could have sent much-beleaguered reliever Aaron Heilman to the Cubs for Marquis. The Cubs would also have paid part of Marquis’ nearly $10 million salary, but the Mets passed on the deal because they were trying to include Heilman in a deal for relief pitching. Instead, Heilman was sent to the Mariners as part of a three-team, 12-player trade that netted the Mets J.J. Putz, Sean Green and Jeremy Reed. Putz had been scuffling along until he was placed on the disabled list in early June. Green has been maddeningly inconsistent this season with an ERA of 5.00. Reed has been serviceable, but this Mets fan will remember him for the throwing error he made against the Dodgers while playing out of position at first base to give Los Angeles the extra-inning victory. The irony of this story is that Heilman was eventually traded to the Cubs by the Mariners. The Cubs desperately wanted Heilman and eventually got their man. The Mets were left with an injury, a scrub and a defensive replacement. Strike one.
The Mets continued to discuss a trade with the Cubs for Jason Marquis in December. Jon Heyman of SI.com reported that the Mets could have sent whipping boy Scott Schoeneweis to the Cubs in exchange for Marquis. For the second time, the Cubs would have paid part of Marquis’ salary to make the deal more attractive to the Mets. Once again, the deal was not made. Instead, the Mets traded Schoeneweis to the Diamondbacks for reliever Connor Robertson. So what has Roberston done since his trade to the Mets? Absolutely nothing! He had been languishing at Triple-A Buffalo, with an 0-3 record and a 5.46 ERA and was designated for assignment in late June. Strike two.
After the Mets failed to pull the trigger on a deal for Marquis, the Cubs stopped being patient and made a deal on their own. They traded Marquis to Colorado for reliever Luis Vizcaino, who was eventually released and signed by the Cleveland Indians.
So why am I making such a big deal about what might have been? After all, Jason Marquis had always been no more than a back of the rotation starter. He was barely over .500 coming into this season (79-70) and had not pitched 200 innings since 2005. He even found a way to lead the league in losses for a team that won the World Series, by going 14-16 for the 2006 Cardinals.
Well, my friends, after pitching eight shutout innings last night against the Nationals, Marquis is now 11-5. His 11 victories now lead the major leagues. He was also recently selected to represent the Rockies in the All-Star Game. Think about that for a moment. He pitches in Colorado. That’s not exactly a place where pitchers thrive. Normally, they only go to Colorado for the excellent school system. (Right, Mr. Hampton?) Yet Jason Marquis has not only pitched well in Colorado, but this season he has become one of the best pitchers in the league. Along with his 11-5 record, his ERA is 3.61. He has also only allowed nine home runs in 117 1/3 innings, while pitching half his games in a ballpark that gives up its share of long balls.
Obviously, we can’t possibly know how he would have performed for his hometown Mets (Marquis was born in Manhasset and raised in Staten Island), but every time Tim Redding or Fernando Nieve takes the mound, think of what that scene would have looked like if it was Jason Marquis on the hill. With the Mets still somehow within reasonable distance of the first place Phillies, Marquis could have made a difference. With the Cubs willing to pay a portion of his salary, he would have been a cheaper option than Oliver Perez without the long-term commitment. Even if the Mets would have signed Marquis to a long-term deal, they probably could have gotten him for less than the $12 million average annual salary that was needed to sign Ollie.
Omar was slow to make a deal for Jason Marquis and is now paying for it. The team has struggled to keep a consistent starting staff together. No one could have predicted the injuries that have decimated the team, but a healthy and consistent Jason Marquis could have alleviated some of the suffering that the fans have been forced to endure watching this team attempt to compete. Strike three.