As we rapidly approach the beginning of the truly meaningful part of 2009 for the Mets and their fans, the debate about pitching is heating up. There are indeed several possibilities, and as we are fortunate to be fans of one of the highest spending teams in baseball, we should see some serious improvement.
The Lackey VS Halladay debate has become more intense, as there clearly are merits and demerits for the ideas of adding either one of them.
The starting rotation must be improved, and the era of Pelf/Maine/Ollie as 2-3-4 is over. Regardless of the high points of success the current Met starters have had over the last few years, we are looking at a staff of question marks. Johan is returning from surgery, but when we consider the pain he pitched with in 2008 and the results, especially in his last start, combined with his intensity and the shape he keeps himself in, I do not think anyone should be surprised if we see an even better Johan than we saw the in the second half of 2008 and the first half of 2009.
Mike Pelfrey clearly has talent and throws hard, yet had a very disappointing 2009. He surely will be in the rotation in 2010, perhaps the only other certain Met 2010 starter other than Johan. Maybe Verducci was right when it comes to Pelf; if so, we may see an encouraging rebound.
John Maine will most likely be around for another year, and while the days of expecting him to develop into an ace may be waning, a healthy Maine is still a good and valuable back-of-the-rotation pitcher.
What can be said about Oliver Perez? That he is untradeable seems to be the only near-certainty. As a fifth starter, he has a gigantic potential upside, to go along with an insanely bloated contract.
It does not take too much analysis of the above to conclude that we seriously need help in the rotation. I personally feel that we simply must invest the one giant contract we are likely to award this offseason to the very best starter we can obtain. I think that we have to have either Halladay or Lackey.
Trading for Roy Halladay might be the very best move this team could make. He and Johan and what we have would be more than enough, and the rest of the resources could go to multiple holes and to a potential big midseason move. The 1-2 punch of a healthy Johan and Halladay would be at the level of championship tandems like Koufax/Drysdale, Seaver/Koosman, Schilling/Johnson, and Schilling/Pedro. Prospects are developed, to a large degree, to use in trades. The Johan trade was magnificent. Halladay would almost surely cost more. Omar would be missing the potential chance to lift this team instantly back into contention were he to pass on the realistic chance to trade for Halladay if in fact the Jays do like our prospects. Let the Jays practically have their choice of four minor leaguers, or a combo of prospects and maybe a Murph or a Maine. FMart, Davis, Holt and Mejia might be too much, but if we could land Halladay and keep one or two of those guys, it must be done.
Halladay goes 7+ every time out, and this immediately improves the bullpen; he has averaged over 7 IP per start the last 3 years. He takes the pressure off of Johan somewhat, and makes the rest of the rotation better. Halladayâ€™s ERA, WHIP, CG, and BB are all significantly better than Lackeyâ€™s over the last five years; especially over the last two.
John Lackey is a year younger, and is a very good pitcher to be sure. However, he has missed a chunk of each of the last two years. His ERA each of the last two seasons has been an entire run higher than Halladayâ€™s. For a team like the Mets, who will have a good but not overwhelming offense, this extra run allowed every time out by the number two starter could contribute to many more losses over the course of the year. As the wise Gravediggerhebner recently showed, the difference in winning games changes dramatically once that 4th or 5th run is allowed. One less run every time out over 32 starts can potentially make the difference between a first and second place finish; or between playoffs and no playoffs. This is why Halladay is so much more valuable than Lackey, especially for a team which in 2007 and 2008 missed the postseason by one game.
Another way to go is to target a lesser starter (or two) such as from the Wolf/ Pineiro/Marquis bunch, and then possibly try to harvest a huge potential bargain if a Bedard/Sheets could be had for reasonable money. Or Omar might explore whether the talk of the Braves being willing to deal Lowe is for real. Getting them to take on some of his salary, which might very well be realistic, could make having Lowe very attractive. At several million less per and at one year less than his asking fee last year, slotting him right behind Johan gives the team a potentially excellent 1-2 punch for at least a couple of years, as well as a second chance at Lowe, and at a more reasonable price. Trading someone making anything of significance for Lowe would increase the saving of serious money over a hypothetical Lackey 5/90 deal, or over whatever Halladay would demand in an extension. Lowe is not as desirable as Halladay or Lackey, but is surely better than the group of second-tier FA starters. The Church/Frenchy deal shows that the teams will trade with each other.
To me, these lesser routes are just not the right choice for this team; we need the best starter we can obtain. Marquis, Pineiro, and Wolf are all decent pitchers, coming off of years which, for them, were very good. None of them can be counted on to be a serious and reliable number two starter for a team in desperate need of reliability in the role.
Going with the lesser starters, or focusing on Holliday or Bay (or Figgins), are not the right moves. If, as expected, Reyes and Beltran return to at least 80-90% of their pre-injury selves, and Wright does also after the beaning and mysterious power loss, and if Francoeur and Murph hit as they did the latter part of the year, we will have a fine, if not spectacular, offense. Matt Holliday is a very good player whose career stats are dramatically inflated by Coors Field, and Jason Bay is a very good player who is coming off a really good year in a park that tremendously favors RH hitters. Neither of these two can be realistically viewed as a Tex-type, all-around franchise player. Scoring another run a game will not lift this team to contention with a rotation of Johan and a bunch of 3s and 4s.
As some have pointed out, the key difference between the two from an acquisitional standpoint is that we can have Lackey for just a boatload of Freddybucks, whereas Halladay would potentially cost even more money, as well as several of our best prospects. This is certainly true, but it is a risk worth taking.
Some talk of the risk of having so many huge contracts, especially when two would be for pitchers who, in a couple of years, will be well into their 30s. A valid concern, but again, one worth the risk.
Making the postseason in 2010 and winning the WS in 2011 would render these concerns moot, and would provide enough extra dollars to continue to improve the team even with the huge deals and the possible huge future raises for Wright and Reyes. We have one title in the last 40 years, and as disturbing as that may be, I feel that passing on one of the very best pitchers in the game in order to keep prospects who may indeed become nothing more than the prospects we traded for Johan is far too conservative.
As has been pointed out here before, 1-2 ace starter punches like Johan and Halladay have indeed won titles with comparatively little around them other than good, solid, fundamental players. Teams like the 1963 and 1965 Dodgers, the 1969 Mets, and the 2001 Diamondbacks are excellent examples of this. The DBacks may be the best potential parallel-they had a good offense, as we should have, but very, very little else on the pitching staff.
Yes, we need another bullpen arm, and an upgrade is needed in LF and probably at either C or 1B. Moving the potentially trade-able Slappy and trying to acquire Brandon Phillips to play 2B would also be desirable. The team clearly has several holes to fill. But many of those holes-from the rest of the rotation to the pen to the overall offense-are instantly lessened in severity by adding a pitcher of Halladayâ€™s proven ability.
Adding a starting pitcher of Roy Halladayâ€™s outstanding track record has to be done if possible. In addition to being hurt the last two years, Lackey simply is not as good in any way as Halladay, and Lackeyâ€™s injuries must take a much, much larger role in the equation when we remember the season we just witnessed. Should we wake up one day soon to a â€œHalladay to the Yanks/BoSoxâ€ headline, then signing Lackey, or perhaps trading for Lowe, instantly becomes infinitely more pressing.
Regardless, Omar should not go the route of the lesser starter, unless the team does in fact decide to overpay for Holliday and add another serious offensive force, such as Carlos Pena, Adrian Gonzalez, or someone like that. If we add nothing better than Pineiro, Wolf, or Marquis to the rotation, we will need a far better offense than we are likely to have.
Santana/Halladay has the potential to be the successor to the recent title tandems of Schilling/Johnson and Schilling/Pedro.
Letâ€™s just hope Don Fred agrees and tells his Capo Omar what Sonny Corleone said to Peter Clemenza when Paulie failed to show up for work one too many times: â€œI want you to make that first thing on your list, understand?â€