Monday, May 08, 2006

When Problems Arise

Games 30 & 31 – Mets

Mets 6, Braves 5
Braves 13, Mets 3
Record: 21-10

Just as my compatriot extols the successes of our respective teams, the New York Mets reach the most perplexing point in this previously positive season. The Mets blogs are ablaze with activity right now, and the content is of a far more pressing nature than earlier waves (such as why Carlos Beltran isn’t hitting second and whether when you play the horrible, new Mets song backwards it actually sounds better). The Township is sounding off, and there is a palpable urgency within the articles, posts, comments, and sound bites resounding within MetLand. We aren’t at panic level by any means, but then again, we may be slightly closer to panicked hysteria than we are to unconcerned confidence.

The alarm sounded when the news arrived that Victor Zambrano’s latest injury is a torn tendon in his elbow, a season-ending one at that. Apparently Zambrano had been playing with pain all season long, trying to tough it out in vain. With the 5-slot in the rotation already in a state of unknown, this loss essentially cuts the Mets’ staff down to three stable entities and two very sizeable question marks. (Of course, that’s pretending that Zambrano himself was stable, a rather risible notion, but since the guy’s already suffering and it’s moot, anyway, let’s move on.)

Willie & Omar haven’t tipped their hands yet about exactly which path they’ll follow in hopes of exiting this quagmire; their options are plentiful and uniformly unappealing. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, depth is not a quality the New York Mets possess on an organizational level, and injuries . . . well, they hurt. Both Brian Bannister and John Maine are due to depart the disabled list before long, so in theory, a mere stop-gap solution might be in order until that happens. The trouble (short-term), of course, is that Bannister was promising but shaky while Maine was wholly unimpressive before getting hurt, so there’s not an abundance of confidence that these guys can buoy the back end of the starting staff upon their return. Additionally (long-term), few serious title runs are attempted, much less realized, with a pair of unheralded rookies comprising 40% of the rotation.

The prognosis is sketchy at best; unfortunately, the proving grounds for whoever assumes these two spots in the next ten days will be especially harsh. A seriously daunting stretch commences tomorrow in always-friendly Philadelphia (where cans of corn become souvenirs, much to a the detriment of a young pitcher’s psyche), then continues in Milwaukee and St. Louis. A road trip with The Bank, then Miller, then Busch on the itinerary brings back dozens of happy memories for me; for whoever mans the hill after Pedro/Glavine/Trachsel, it could look far less pleasant in the rear view.

I’ve spent a good deal of time lurking amid the comments of the Mets’ quotient of the blogosphere, trying to get a bead on what the collective feels are the best moves for now and down the road. That proved impossible, as the only consistency was the diverse array of opinions. I’ve compiled a few of the sentiments I read, highlighting not the consensus but my own stance based on reviewing most of the suggestions.

What’s your take on Zambrano being out for the year?
o This is devastating and jeopardizes the Mets’ hopes significantly.
o This is the actually best thing that could have happened.
o This is a setback; he was inconsistent but at least he could shoulder some of the load. Now, there are too many unknowns to have any idea how this will play out, and that’s not where the Mets want to be.

How do you feel about Zambrano saying he was playing in pain?
o He’s full of crap.
o This is the Mets fans’ fault. They compared him to Kazmir unfairly, and when he didn’t measure up, they booed him incessantly. By trying to go above and beyond the call of duty, he injured himself worse. He should be praised and pitied.
o While that is true to some degree, he also left the Mets in a bigger hole because he wasn’t up-front with Randolph & Peterson. They counted on him, and although there was some level of guts on his part for playing in agony, there is also some blame for the current quandary.

Can we stop talking about Scott Kazmir now?
o People need to shut up about Kazmir and move on.
o People need to be reminded that bad trades hamper the future, and so that Omar doesn’t duplicate the Duquette/Wilpons error, his name should continue to be brought up.
o People should try to forget about Kazmir, but we all know that human nature being what it is, Tampa’s box scores will still be checked in hopes that Kazmir doesn’t turn out to be the incredible performer he probably will be. It doesn’t keep us up at night, but in moments like this, it takes a whole lot of will power not to “what if” it.

Does yesterday’s beating at the hands of the Braves bode ill for the future?
o Yes. Lima Time!™ is a disaster, and moves need to be made pronto.
o No. There are 162 games, this was one and you can’t take anything from it.
o Not really. It was bound to happen, and the Mets overachieved by not losing Saturday, too. It never feels good to get creamed by Atlanta, but if this is more of the Mets’ collectively laying a goose egg once or twice a week and excelling otherwise, so be it.

Long-term, what should the Mets do about their rotation?
o Trade Lastings Milledge for Barry Zito.
o Trade Lastings Milledge for Dontrelle Willis.
o Sign Roger Clemens immediately.
o Trade Victor Diaz for a solid 3- or 4-starter.
o Lastings Milledge is and should remain untouchable. Offers will come, but don’t get suckered into relinquishing the best prospect you have for four months of a starting pitcher. Diaz will probably not net you a 3- or 4-starter. At this point, though, even someone to shore up the fifth spot would be worth losing Diaz, a guy with a cloudy future at Shea. As for Clemens, it might sound like an attractive option, and hell, maybe it makes sense, but I just don’t want him anywhere near this clubhouse. Gut instinct.

Short-tem, what should the Mets do about their rotation?
o Hurry Bannister and Maine back after some spot starts.
o Use Lima and Darren Oliver, two veteran starters.
o Promote Jeremi Gonzalez from AAA.
o Promote Mike Pelfrey from AA.
o Promote Olay Soler from AA.
o Work with a combination of these options, getting Gonzalez up to the bigs, monitoring the progress of Pelfrey and Soler with an eye on getting them to the Tides, using the vets for scratch starts and hoping Bannister and Maine return even stronger. First and foremost, however, get Aaron Heilman into the rotation right now. This minute.

This last entry is the one with the most uniform opinion across the Township, from what I am reading. Heilman has long been admired by the fans and ignored by the management. The guy has proven himself more than capable of being a starter; he’s got a one-hitter under his belt, and he’s shown the ability and make-up to make the leap. Yet it’s been one closed door after another into the Mets’ rotation for Aaron Heilman, and it continues to puzzle the folks penning blogs and articles.

The latest logic from the Mets is that Heilman is too valuable in a steady-clicking bullpen right now. This makes little sense to me; this is like spending your last dollar on wiper fluid rather than gasoline – not having either may present problems, but one is more essential to the operation. Games are won or lost based on starting pitching at a significantly higher rate than based on the pen. Additionally, Heilman’s contribution as a starter would be an exponentially larger chunk than he can provide in middle relief. With Feliciano and Bradford able to work the middle frames to get to Sanchez to get to Wagner, Heilman is a luxury, not an integral part. How many games will the Mets have to consecutively lose from Mystery Starters #4 and #5 before Aaron Heilman is even considered??

So that’s where we are today. We’re still thrilled to be perched at 21-10 through 31 games, but to dismiss the current crossroads as unrelated to the eventual outcome of this season is short-sighted. It should be an interesting week, and the heat in the Mets’ kitchen just got turned up a few degrees. Let’s go.

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