With the New York Mets 9 games over .500, in 2nd place 2 1/2 games out of 1st place, there is much talk about them venturing into the trade market and coming out of it with a viable starting pitcher. Except for the most optimistic among us not a lot of people felt the 2010 Mets were a playoff team.Â “If everything breaks right…” was a popular phrase this spring.Â So far a lot of things have broken right and the team finds itself in the midst of a race albeit with a lot of season to go.Â So what to do?Â Pay for the past?
On July 30, 2004 the Mets assessed their universe and determined themselves to be contenders.Â They were 4 games under .500, in 4th place 7 games out of 1st place, and traded one of their best pitching prospects to acquire a viable starting pitcher. Victor Zambrano actually pitched pretty decently for the Mets, making 3 starts, going 2-0 with an ERA of 3.86 but was injured and missed the balance of the season, a season which the Mets finished 20 games under .500 then fired their manager.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not the past that I am concerned about the Mets paying for.Â That pitching prospect they sent away for Zambrano, Scott Kazmir, has gone on to make a decent amount of money but has never won more than 13 games, has thrown at least 200 innings only once in 5 seasons, and has made more than 27 starts only twice in 5 seasons.Â In this writer’s opinion he’s been more tease than anything else and in retrospect I don’t miss him much.
The past that I am worried about the Mets paying for is the past performance of a major league starting pitcher. With the Mets seemingly contenders many among us are asking them to go out and get a big-time starter.Â Someone along the lines of Roy Oswalt or Cliff Lee.
That idea scares this writer, and this is coming from someone who spent all winter yelling that the Mets should sign John Lackey to whatever contract he wanted to come here.Â What I’ve learned since then is that it’s seldom worth it to pay pitchers on the other side of 30 top dollar when what you wind up paying them for is more their past than their present or future.Â Even Roy Halladay, while pitching quite well, is currently a pedestrian 8-6 while earning $20 million this year and the next two (and an option for a third) on what right now is a third place club.Â Where the Phillies are now in the standings and where they might ultimately end up is not my point.Â My point is Halladay is being paid for his past.
A few years ago the Mets acquired a big-time starter.Â His name is Johan Santana.Â They gave up some prospects for him, none who have yet distinguished themselves as major leaugers, and they are not missed.Â Then they signed him to a lucrative extension that has not yet reached it’s most expensive years.Â 2 1/2 years later we find Santana is not what he once was.Â He was great, now he is good.Â $21 million in 2010 for a good pitcher is one thing, $25 million in 2013 for what’s left of that good pitcher is another.Â Good is nice, I like good.Â But it’s not great. And he’s being paid as if he’s great.Â He’s being paid for his past more than he’s being paid for his present or future.
In acquiring a Roy Oswalt, the Mets would not only surrender prospects but would also be responsible for paying him $16 million next year while contemplating whether to pay him $16 million in 2012 or buy that out for for a mere $2 million, unless he makes picking up that option mandatory as a consideration in trade in which case there will be no contemplation, there will only be paying $16 million for the past of a 34 year old starting pitcher and hoping he’s still at least good while you’re paying him.
In acquiring a Cliff Lee we have been warned that he is likely to test the free agent market after the current season.Â So there is no guarantee that the Mets would be paying him huge gobs of money for his past well into his future.Â In that context he is more desirable to this writer than Oswalt.Â But is it worth it for a team that was largely not expected to contend, which surprisingly finds itself contending, to surrender prospects for that elusive chance at the brass ring?Â Is 2010 The Year for the Mets or is it a step in a multi-year process?
If it’s The Year then this writer thinks the appropriate response of the front office is to do what it can to acquire Cliff Lee because he gives the team an enhanced shot at the brass ring without the unfortunate addition of paying him well into the future for his past.
But if 2010 is not The Year then I think the the appropriate response of the front office is either to acquire a lesser starting pitcher the ilk of Kevin Millwood or Jake Westbrook because they should not come at a high prospect cost and they do not come with the requirement that the Mets pay them well into their futures for their pasts, or it’s to acquire no one at all and go with what they’ve got, holding onto their pitching prospects who may provide them with cost-effective presents and futures which is something that none of Roy Oswalt & Cliff Lee or pitchers of their ilk, or Kevin Millwood & Jake Westbrook or pitchers of their ilk, can provide the Mets now and in the future.
If the Mets want an ace they should do what it takes to develop one from their own system.Â Only then are they likely to get the best years this ace has to offer at a reasonable price.Â Mike Pelfrey is coming along nicely, Jenrry Mejia is now in the minors transitioning back to starting, Jon Niese has been a very pleasant surprise.Â Ideally from among them or someone else currently in their minor leagues (Armando Rodriguez?Â Jeurys Familia?Â hopefully later this summer Matt Harvey?) the Mets will find their affordable ace, an ace they can pay for his present.Â Augmenting that ace with decent mid-rotation starters with reasonable salaries that may be acquired from other clubs is best for the organization in the long term and seems a better use of resources to this writer than paying for the past of someone else’s former ace.