Thursday, January 26, 2006

Just maybe ...

A gray-haired, straight-shooting manager can lead the Tigers to prominence again?

The latest from Jim Leyland:

"I'm not asking anyone to be patient, I can tell you that. People get sick and tired of hearing that. Tiger fans are sick and tired of hearing that. We don't have that long. ... So I don't have any long-term plans. I have short-term plans. And we better get good pretty quick."

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

How can this team be Seo stupid?

The Mets have traded their youngest, and probably at least third-best, starting pitcher, and all they got was a couple of relief pitchers and a spot in the starting rotation for Victor Zambrano. Jae Seo is headed to the Dodgers along with reliever Tim Hamulack in exchange for Duaner Sanchez and Steve Schmoll. This may be the worst trade the Mets have made this offseason, and that is no small feat.

In 2005, after his midseason liberation from the minor leagues, Seo had the best year of his major league career. He posted a 2.59 ERA in 90.1 innings, striking out 59 batters, walking 16 and compiling a record of eight wins and two losses. He outpitched Kris Benson and >Victor Zambrano with ease and nearly kept pace with Tom Glavine's post-All Star resurgence. It's doubtful he could keep up that excellence for a full season. But given that neither Benson nor Zambrano has ever pitched that well for even half a season and that both are older and more expensive that Seo, it shouldn't be too hard to see which is the most valuable pitcher among these three.

So, as a result of this trade, the Mets' starting rotation is composed of five pitchers, all at least thirty years old, none products of the Mets' minor league system. I suppose it is possible that they will choose Aaron Heilman to fill Seo's rotation spot rather than Zambrano, but given Omar Minaya's recent obsession with upgrading the bullpen and Heilman's success there in 2005, I don't expect it. So it's Pedro Martinez, Glavine, Benson, Zambrano and Steve Trachsel. It's often been said recently that starting pitching was an area of depth for the Mets. But how can any team be considered deep if they're resorting to starting Victor Zambrano?

The 2006 Mets' rotation got older and worse as a result of this trade. But what about 2007? This offseason the Mets have divested themselves of pitching prospects and now they're ditching any major leaguer with the foul stench of youth, too. Martinez and Benson are the only starters the Mets have under contract for 2007, though they could still control the rights to Zambrano as well. And now, as a result of other recent trades, they have no reinforcements coming from the minors. This deal doesn't only make the Mets more reliant on aging mercenaries in the present, in ensures that they'll have to increase that reliance in the future. To put together a good rotation next year the Mets are going to have to count on continued health from a thirty-five year old Martinez, miraculous improvement from a thirty-two year old Benson and some serious luck on the free agent market. Does this sound like a wise and well-considered plan to you?

And, though I feel like I've asked this before, for what? Duaner Sanchez is a twenty-six year old relief pitcher with a career ERA of 4.19 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 124:71 in 174 career innings. He's had two consecutive seasons in which he's pitched at least 80 innings and posted and ERA under four. But over the last three years, lefties have hit .302/.361/.476 against him. That would seem to suggest that in order to get optimal value out of Sanchez, Willie Randolph would have to pay attention to such statistics and use him accordingly. That plan is about as reasonable as the one in the last paragraph.

In 2005, the Mets' best reliever was Roberto Hernandez. He was acquired not in exchange for one of the team's best major league pitchers, but for the cost of a minor league contract and a spring training invite. That's what it took to get a relief pitcher who had a season significantly better than any on Duaner Sanchez's resume. Instead of throwing valuable players away chasing a name, the Mets made a smart move and took an inexpensive chance. The fact that they apparently didn't learn anything from its success does not bode well for their digging their way out of the hole they are currently digging.

The cost of this move in 2006, the difference between a team with Seo in the rotation and Zambrano in the bullpen and one with Zambrano in the rotation and Sanchez in the bullpen, may only be a handful of wins. It may be even less than that. The Mets are clearly going for broke this year, and this trade made not impede their march toward the playoffs at all. But the team's recent moves leave me more and more concerned about the aftermath of this approach. Omar Minaya doesn't seem to even have an eye toward 2007, let alone beyond that. The Mets' window to win a World Series with Pedro Martinez and Carlos Delgado may be closing. But I hope, when it does close, that Minaya hasn't slammed it shut so tight that David Wright and Carlos Beltran won't be able to pry it back open.