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Sifting Through The Remains Of The Starting Pitching Market

The once-ample-yet-unspectacular pile of free-agent starting pitchers is shrinking by the day. Still unspectacular, no longer ample. Joel Pineiro signed with the Angels for two years and $16 million, taking Los Anaheimgeles's offer over a Mets deal that was reported to be comparable in both years and dollars. The Brewers signed Doug Davis to a one-year, $5.25 million with an option for 2011. Neither pitcher is slam-dunk spectacular, and Pineiro's 2009 was the only really good season either has pitched in a long time. Both are fair bets to be at least decent, each figures to be worth at least the money he is being paid, and Pineiro has a chance to be quite good.

Meanwhile, the Mets rotation as presently constituted looks like this.

  1. Johan Santana -- had season-ending elbow surgery at the end of August.
  2. Mike Pelfrey -- ERA went up 1.3 runs; FIP went up 0.4 runs; xFIP stayed the same.
  3. John Maine -- Missed final 3+ months of the season.
  4. Oliver Perez -- Is Oliver Perez.
  5. ...?

Normally this is where I'd prattle on a bit about how Jon Niese has great minor league strikeout, walk, and groundball rates, and that he throws with his left hand, all of which are 'things' he has 'going for him'. The problem is that young pitchers with little big-league experience are often slow to get rolling, and given the other question marks in the starting rotation it might be too much to dump on Niese right now. Nelson Figueroa is another in-house option, and I guess he isn't terrible. The issue is not with Niese or Figueroa in particular, who might be reasonable number-five starters if the Mets had credible one-through-fours. The problem is that the Mets don't have a decent one-through-four rotation, and I don't think anyone knows what to expect out of Maine and Perez especially. We're already two seasons removed from their promising 2007 seasons and they're at least as likely to repeat their 2009 performances than their 2007's, if not more so.

Some options.

  • Ben Sheets. The list of teams that watched Sheets pitch a simulated game in Louisiana seems to get longer with each story written about the now-famous throwing session. Buster Olney thinks the Mets are in a good position, which I guess just means they have some money to spend and at least one available rotation spot. Sheets was said to be throwing his fastball in the low-nineties and his curveball had a good break to it. That's great and all, but he has a storied injury history and missed all of 2009 recovering from right-elbow surgery. At his best he strikes out many and walks few. At his worst he doesn't pitch at all. The last I read he was looking for $7 million, which seems like a lot to guarantee someone who pitched as much as I did last year. Heck, Pineiro was fantastic last season and he'll only get paid $8 million or so next year. I do like Sheets, though, and I would imagine that even a one-year deal at the $7 million he's asking for might be a medium-risk, high-reward gamble for a team that could really stand to have a few things go their way.
  • Jon Garland. Sam hates him. I think he's at least okay. The guy can throw 200 innings in his sleep, which is something no Met did last year and only three Mets have done in the past four years. He has good control and not much else, but with FIPs around the league average every year he is far from the worst option. Earlier in the offseason I wouldn't have been surprised to see him sign a two-year, $10 million deal, but now he could very well go for $2-3 million for a single season, and at that price point the Mets have to at least dip their toes in the water.
  • Erik Bedard. It's hard to believe that this is the same guy some argued might have been a preferable acquisition to Johan Santana two offseasons ago. Bedard had shoulder surgery last summer and is undergoing physical therapy as we speak, and reports differ as to when he might be ready to return. Some have him coming back mid-season while others say he'll be in game shape in May sometime. Whatever the case, any deal he signs will likely have a low base with considerable incentives, and he's probably looking for a make-good deal so he can hit the market again next year. I suspect he'll get a base similar to Garland's with innings pitched (or games, or whatever) bonuses that could bring it into Sheets territory. The Orioles have been keeping tabs on Bedard whereas I haven't read even a single story linking him to the Mets.
  • Pedro Martinez. Our old friend. He doesn't really solve this rotation's reliability problems, but nor does anyone on this list apart from Garland. Pedro's fastball was up to 88.5 MPH last season, which is higher than even his first season with the Mets in 2005. He has very good control and strikes out enough batters to be useful in that area, but his biggest problem -- as it was in 2008 -- is the longball. His HR/FB was 11.5% last year, which is comparable to his last three years with the Mets (in 2005 it was 7.5%).
  • Chien-Ming Wang. Wang pitched 42 terrible innings with the Yankees last year and was non-tendered in the wake of that team's hard-fought and richly-deserved 27th World Series title. He has historically been a low-walk, low-strikeout, groundball machine, two-thirds of which are extremely desirable traits. He had shoulder surgery in July and could begin throwing from a mound in February with a possible return to action sometime in April.

Not much to look at, I suppose. Sheets might be the best combination of talent and availability since he should be on track for Opening Day. Garland has the fewest health concerns but is certainly the least talented of this group. Bedard could be the best pitcher of the lot but we have no idea when he'll be ready to resume throwing. Wang is intriguing because groundballs are sexy. Pedro is Pedro.