According to Marty Noble's most recent column at MLB.com, the always-quotable "person familiar with Omar Minaya's thinking" has reared his ugly, rumormongering head, this time to spread word that Aaron Heilman, who has been brilliant in Spring Training (for what it's worth), may be taking the long, slow walk back to the bullpen.
There's no official word as of yet, though I would expect the rest of the local papers to pick up this story tomorrow and run with it. The Mets could not have been impressed with Bannister's control in his Saturday start against Houston, as he walked five and allowed five hits in five innings. Heilman, meanwhile, last pitched on Wednesday, allowing no walks and six hits in five innings.
Last Friday at MetsGeek, I spoke quite a bit about how teams may put too much emphasis on spring performances, and I wonder if they're about to do the same. I don't know that Bannister will be a great pitcher one day, and I don't know that he won't. He has exactly one good Minor League season to his credit; prior to last year he was just a so-so prospect.
I think it's a silly move to pluck Heilman out of the rotation picture, potentially stunting his development as a starter and bruising his confidence in the process, just to give Bannister a crack at the big leagues in April. So long as the Mets have four other healthy pitchers to bring North next week, I think Heilman has done at least enough to deserve a look before Bannister gets one. Bannister shouldn't be the least bit insulted to be sent down to Norfolk to begin the season, knowing full well that his ticket will be the first one punched as soon as the Mets need to replace Pedro/Trachsel/Zambrano when he lands on the disabled list with a toe/back/elbow injury.
Heilman is a former first rounder, and he's finally showing some signs of being something resembling the player they thought they drafted out of Notre Dame. A quality starter will always be more valuable than a quality reliver (is a great reliever more valuable than a quality starter?), and frankly I'd like to see what Heilman has in him before he gets locked away in the bullpen.
The bottom line here is that I think if something happens to one of the Mets' starters and they need to fill a rotation spot for an indefinite period of time, it will be a much smoother transition to bring Bannister up from AAA (where he had been starting) than it will be to move Heilman from the pen to the rotation. Maybe I'm alone here, and maybe it's not a big deal to go from pitching one or two innings every few days to pitching six or seven innings every five. Still, it doesn't make much sense to me.