(Long Island, N.Y.) Monday was a glorious day at Citi Field. It was opening day for the New York Mets, they had their ace on the mound and were facing a pesky divisional foe. The crowd was into it and the Mets were able to take advantage of some sub-par defense by Florida.
Johan Santana went six innings, but by that time the Marlins had kicked around enough balls for manager Jerry Manuel to even feel comfortable with the Mets bullpen to hold a 7-1 lead. The team with the highest winning percentage on the first day of the season added to that and the tabloids painted a rosy picture.
Then the next game came and things were back to normal around here.
The Marlins played sloppy once again and their bullpen couldn’t find the plate to allow the Mets to come back from an early deficit but still earned their first victory on the young season, 7-6 in 10 innings. But the story of the night was the weak performance by John Maine, who allowed four earned runs and eight hits (including two home runs) in five innings of “work.” And this is the guy who is supposed to man the all-important number-two slot in the rotation.
Thus the difference between Santana and the collection of also-rans and never-haves.
But if you listen to Manuel or general manager Omar Minaya, there is no reason to be concerned. Both have stated numerous times throughout Spring Training that the pitchers in the two through five spots will be just fine and most of them (with the exception of the young lefty Jonathan Niese) have had 15-win (or close to that) seasons in the past, so who’s to say that it all won’t happen again?
Maine went 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA in 2007 but has seen injuries an ineffectiveness lower his win total to 10 and 7, respectively, in the last two years. Mike Pelfrey, who was dropped from the two to the four, had his best campaign in 2008 when he went 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA. Last summer, the Wichita State product was knocked around and finished 10-12, 5.03.
And what about Oliver Perez, the quirky lefthander that Minaya just can’t seem to let go of? Perhaps because he acquired him as a throw-in four years ago and the former Pirate surprised some folks. In 2007, Perez had a very good year and went 15-10, 3.56. The next season, he was not nearly as effective and saw his win total drop to 10 and his ERA rise over four. He also gave up 24 home runs and walked 105 batters.
So what did Minaya do when Ollie became a free agent? He offered him a three-year, $30-million contract – which Perez turned down! And when there were no other serious takers, Minaya felt the need to up the offer another $6 million. Smartly, Perez jumped on it and promptly went 3-4 with an ERA near seven in only 14 starts.
Niese won the fifth starter’s role late in the spring and hopefully will be more consistent than most of his brethren. In three late starts in ’09, he went 1-1 with a 7.07 ERA.
Nelson Figueroa, one of the arms that Niese beat out, did not clear waivers and was claimed by none other than the Phillies, the two-time defending National League champions. Figgy was a good guy to have around and has made numerous spot starts the last two seasons, but will now be doing that in Philadelphia. Another miscalculation by Minaya.
While we’re on that subject, the offseason came and went with a number of possible improvements out there on the open market and signing elsewhere. According to the Mets hierarchy, the likes of Randy Wolf, Joel Pineiro and Jason Marquis were not an improvement over what they already had, so why pay more?
Let’s break it down, just for the heck of it.
RANDY WOLF (Brewers)
- 18-18, 4.73
- 12-12, 4.30
- 11-7, 3.23
JOEL PINEIRO (Angels)
- 7-5, 4.33
- 7-7, 5.15
- 15-12, 3.49
JASON MARQUIS (Nationals)
- 12-9, 4.60
- 11-9, 4.53
- 15-13, 4.04
The numbers don’t lie, and any one of these pitchers would have made a quality addition to the Mets rotation. Come to think of it, even taking a flyer on Chien-Ming Wang would have been worth it. He was the ace of the Yankees staff not that long ago, is still young (30) and would have come cheaply with performance-laden incentives. He had shoulder surgery last July and was signed by Washington, who placed him on the 60-day Disabled List while he is rehabbing. This is the same player who led the American League in wins (19) in 2006 and equaled that total again the following year.
But Minaya saw no reason to take a flyer on any of these proven pitchers and chose to go to battle with an ace coming off of shoulder surgery and a collection of guys who won 21 total games a year ago.
Santana can only get so many starts this year. Too bad pitchers are treated like babies nowadays and they only go on three days rest during a pennant race or the playoffs, neither which will be a concern of the Mets in 2010.