Pitchers and catchers are only days away, but, unfortunately, the Mets pitchers and catchers are mainly a bunch of back-end rotation guys slotted in behind Johan Santana and a group of backups to catch them. Omar Minaya seems to be going with a (broken, fragile) wing and a prayer for the team’s 2010 rotation. Not overspending on average-to-mediocre talent is all well and fine, but since they didn’t make a big play for the only No. 2 starter out there, John Lackey, they really should have tried to come up with a healthy innings eater to hedge their bet against all the injury-prone pitchers they’ll be going with. Even their depth is coming off injuries. Where is the creative, wheeler-dealer Minaya this off-season? Something akin to last winter’s three-way trade with Seattle might have been a nice tonic for them again (of course, that trade didn’t exactly pan out, but at the time it was looking pretty nice).
We can look into our crystal ball and make an educated guess as to how the seasons of Mike Pelfrey, John Maine and Oliver Perez will unfold. One may have an above-average season (16, 17 wins wouldn’t be out of the question), one may be injured for most of the season and one may just flat-out stink. The problem is, any one of those three pitchers could easily fit into any one of those three scenarios. Take your pick. Pelfrey hasn’t suffered any major injuries yet, but his jitters with runners on base, his penchant for balking and his insistent hand licking may qualify him for some type of list, if not the disabled one. And not only are Maine and Perez trying to come back from an injury-filled season, Fernando Nieve and Jon Niese, who will be fighting for the last slot in the rotation, are both coming off season-ending injuries themselves.
Pelfrey is realistic about his season last year, when he recently said, “I had a lost year. I had a terrible year.” But he doesn’t see what all the hubbub and hand-wringing is about when it comes to the same hurlers taking the mound for the Mets this season: “It’s amazing to me how big of a question there is about the rotation. I hear about it and I just laugh.” Maybe he was just another example of the “Verducci Effect,” and the newly svelte Pelfrey will finally find some consistency and realize his potential in 2010. Or maybe not.
And maybe John Maine will win 15 games, just like he did in 2007. And he’ll make it through a full season without getting hurt. Or maybe not. And maybe the new and improved Oliver Perez, after an off-season of training in Arizona at the Facility For Wacky Athletes Who Can’t Be Trusted to Train on Their Own, with a new body and mindset, will win 15 games with a 3.56 ERA (2007) once again, and be the late bloomer that every Met fan is praying for. Or maybe not. And maybe Nieve will be a diamond in the rough, a great find who will surprise everybody. Or maybe not. And maybe Niese will blossom and spend a full season in the majors with the big club. Or maybe not.
And that’s the problem. The Mets, as usual, are operating under a “best-case-scenario” scenario. A sure thing doesn’t really exist, but Minaya could have done a better job shoring up the rotation with one or two close-to-sure-things. And they still don’t have a number-two starter or innings eater. It’s surely possible the Mets just don’t have any money to spend; there are rumors about their lack of finances everywhere you turn. So what can we expect from the rotation? Maybe it’ll surprise everybody, and be filled with 16 game winners as far as the eye can see. Or maybe not. The Mets have question marks all over the field, but the biggest one is their starting rotation.