Scrap Heap Signings Haven’t Solved Mets’ Pitching Problem

Okay, so the Mets went 1-for-2 on their attempts to get a power hitting outfielder and a top of the rotation starter. Then after whiffing on pitchers Jason Marquis and Joel Pineiro and catcher Bengie Molina (the most welcome strikeouts since Kevin Bass in 1986), they didn’t even offer at pitchers Doug Davis, Ben Sheets and Jon Garland. So Omar and company spent the last week taking their swings at the remaining scraps on the free agent market to fill the back end of their roster.

But in the Mets’ case, perhaps the appropriate metaphor to their off-season is the strategy someone on a tight budget takes at a silent auction. You know you want to buy some stuff, perhaps you even need some of the stuff, but you have to pick your spots when you bid. You see a few expensive trinkets but know you can only outbid everyone for one because you might actually win the high bids. Then you see a few items you like, but not enough to outbid everyone else and blow all your cash when you could save that money for next year’s auction. And then as you’re walking to get a cocktail, you see a few cheap, but nice things that nobody has bid on so you take a flier and win.

Coming up with utility man Frank Catalanotto and righthanded reliever Josh Fogg and re-signing Fernando Tatis didn’t exactly set Mets fans hearts aflutter, although all three are acknowledged to be good character and clubhouse guys, something not exactly in abundance the last few years in the team’s locker room.

If the best thing to come out of the Tatis signing is to hasten the end of the Carlos Delgado era at first base, it was worth it. In addition to getting Delgado’s influence, or lack thereof, out of the clubhouse, the Mets could do worse than Tatis–who for the second straight season had decent power numbers coming off the bench, but was a double play machine in the clutch–as the righthanded platoon at first with lefty Daniel Murphy. The Mets are clearly committed to determining if Murphy can be a run producer at first base before deciding on turning to bigger first base fish (the Padres’ Adrian Gonzalez?) at the trade deadline or next year. It’s the right move. With Bay supplying most of the power the team won’t get from Delgado, Murphy should be under less pressure to be the 30-homer guy he clearly is not. If he hits close to .300 against righties, bangs about 20 dingers and plays solid defense (with Tatis supplementing those numbers against lefties), the Mets will be fine at first base.

But back to the silent auction metaphor: This supposed lack of aggressiveness in signing the bigger name free agents this winter–other than outfielder Jason Bay–may actually be a plan, as hard to believe as that may be. If the Mets can stay in the race through the All-Star break, they may be able to supplement the roster through deadline deals for impending free agents. If they’re toast by the 4th of July, they can look to 2011 and sign from among a better crop of free agents that will hit the market after this season.

But they won’t have a chance of being in contention with the Phillies or even the Braves and Marlins if they don’t add another solid starting pitcher, preferably a number two behind Johan Santana. The problem is the only free-agent of that caliber on the market winter was John Lackey and the Mets deemed him too expensive for their budget and not worth the investment.

What’s left to choose from? Aging future Hall of Famers John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez, former stars rehabbing from injuries like Chien-Ming Wang and Eric Bedard, and trade possibilities Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo from the Cincinnati Reds. While either of the latter two would be solid additions to the back end of a staff, perhaps as high as a number three starter, they may not be that much of an upgrade over what the Mets already have in Mike Pelfrey (if he grows up) and John Maine (if he rebounds from injury).

If Jeff Wilpon allows Omar to shop from somewhere other than the scrap heap, he would be wise to take a flyer on Wang and Bedard, perhaps even both. Surely they can’t be worse than Oliver Perez healthy. Both were number two caliber starters when they were with the Yankees and Orioles, respectively, and both should be ready to take a major league mound again by May or June. Omar should stick with his current policy of preserving what’s left of his minor league crop, stay away from trades (unless it involves unloading Luis Castillo) and go for the freebies.

Of course the whole plan goes to hell in a hand basket if Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran don’t revert to 2008 form, let alone stay healthy. At that point, no amount of short-term bargain shopping will help this franchise and we’ll see Bob Melvin in the manager’s chair by June.

About Stephen Hanks 29 Articles
Stephen Hanks (Tom Terrific) is a magazine editor and writer based in Brooklyn, NY, who has been the publisher and editorial director of publications ranging in subjects from sports to health to archaeology. He began his career at the late, great SPORT Magazine in 1977 and in 1983, he co-founded NEW YORK SPORTS Magazine (which ceased publication in 1985). He has written and edited coffee table books on baseball history, penned unauthorized biographies of Bo Jackson and Wayne Gretzky, and in 1990 authored "The Game That Changed Pro Football," an oral history of the 1969 New York Jets Super Bowl Season. Even though he grew up near Yankee Stadium, he loathes the team from the Bronx and has been a die-hard Mets fan since attending his first game at the Polo Grounds in 1963.