Reader Brian M. recently asked:
"Where do the Mets turn now that Victor Zambrano is out for the year? Bannister will be back in week or so, but with Maine also being placed on the DL, and Lima getting slammed today, the Mets need one more arm. Do they turn to Heilman (the obvious choice, but Mets brass are too stubborn to take him out of the ’pen)? Time to search free agency? Perhaps time to trade Victor Diaz? What should they do, and what do you think they will do?"
Good question, Brian. The Mets currently have a rotation of Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, Steve Trachsel, and Brian Bannister. Bannister is eligible to come off the DL on May 12th, but his actual return date is uncertain. John Maine can return on May 18th, which is also no lock.
Today marked the next round of Lima Time, and it wasn’t pretty. He’ll probably remain in the rotation anyway until Bannister gets back. For the next few weeks, I expect the Mets to pair Lima with their last remaining option from the Norfolk rotation: Jeremi Gonzalez. Gonzalez will probably get two or three starts this month for the Mets; he has a 3.03 ERA through six Triple A starts this year. Jason Scobie is a longshot; he’s performing poorly so far and is more of a minor league lifer.
Yusaku Iriki, never a great option, will be out until June with a steroid suspension. With just two Double A starts under his belt, promoting Mike Pelfrey right now could be a tad risky for one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. Jeremi Gonzalez is a fine fifth starter for the rest of May, and I’m not sure he’ll do much worse than Pelfrey would. With Billy Wagner’s finger in doubt, the bullpen cannot afford to lose Aaron Heilman.
Come June and beyond, a fifth starter of Gonzalez/Lima/Maine won’t cut it. Bannister profiles as a fifth starter himself, and Trachsel something of a fourth. The Mets are going to be looking for a solid #3 type. Both Pelfrey and Alay Soler have the goods, but are they ready for The Show?
Soler is a 26 year-old Cuban defector who breezed through Single A and has had one good start at Double A so far. Baseball America says he has two plus pitches and big-game experience, so he may be closer than some people realize. Back in 2003, the Yankees gave Jose Contreras just six starts in the minors before promoting him. Contreras went 7-2 with a 3.30 ERA and 1.15 WHIP for the big club that year, posting the highest strikeout rate of his career. Soler could provide a similar shot in the arm in mid-June, and I’d probably promote him over Pelfrey.
Omar Minaya will be prowling the trade market regardless. If the Cubs are out of it by July, Greg Maddux might make a good fit. Jason Schmidt and Barry Zito will also have the rumor mill churning in a few months. If Minaya decides to bring in more of a #4 type, he can make a play for Joel Pineiro or Gil Meche from Seattle, maybe Kip Wells from the Pirates if he’s healthy.
Here’s the problem: Lastings Milledge is tearing up Triple A, and he is the one trading chip the Mets have left that can bring a #2-3 starter. I do not expect the Mets to trade him. Young outfield prospect Carlos Gomez has been overmatched at Double A so far, and Victor Diaz needs to start hitting to get his stock up. Double A first baseman Brett Harper could be part of a package, as could Triple A 2B Jeff Keppinger. 17 year-old outfielder Fernando Martinez would be a nice prize for a team like the Pirates or Mariners and is the best prospect the Mets can offer not named Milledge.
To review: Omar’s options are A)Soler/Pelfrey, B)trade Milledge for a true #2-3, or C)get a second-tier guy for Diaz and a few other mid-level prospects.
If it were up to me? I’d try everything under the sun to get Schmidt from Brian Sabean without including Milledge, starting now. In the meantime I would promote Soler in June and give him a good 5-7 starts. If Soler does well, I’d stand pat at the deadline knowing that I could still use Pelfrey if necessary. If Soler bombed, I would offer Fernando Martinez and/or Victor Diaz to get the best available starter. This is what I expect Minaya to do as well, perhaps settling for a Diaz/Pineiro swap when nothing reasonable comes along.
One last aggressive option up for debate: would Omar give up Milledge to acquire Dontrelle Willis at the deadline?