Enjoy the next few months, Mets fans. This will be the first time the Mets have played stress-free baseball in August and September, and in a good way. And with the National League in a downswing, a World Series appearance shouldn’t be too far off.
Ah, what I’d give for the optimism of yesterday. Instead, today, I stand before you a beaten man. Can’t the Mets go through one July 31st without making a stupid trade? Can’t the Mets avoid making Kazmir deals at the deadline at least once in a while? Just once, even? Please? At least when I came home from work today, my cats were still alive.
Let’s recap: Duaner Sanchez seperated his shoulder in a car accident last night. Out for the season. Obviously, this is bad news. The Mets, suddenly incredibly desperate to fill a hole in the bullpen, start scrambling to try to pick up a reliever, finally getting Roberto Hernandez and Oliver Perez for Xavier Nady. To repeat; the Mets just traded their everyday starting right fielder for a 41 year old relief pitcher, and not even a guy having a particularly good season, and a starter who has been utterly horrific for the last year and a half.
First, let’s talk about the guy they traded in the deal, Xavier Nady. I’m not going to pretend that Xavier Nady was this once-in-a-lifetime right fielder, a guy the Mets will rue the day they gave him up years from now. He was, at best, an average to below average right fielder. His pop was okay, not great (a .487 slugging percentage is nothing to get excited about, though homering once every twenty-one plate appearances isn’t bad). He wasn’t much for hitting (.264 average) or getting on base (.326 OBP). You’d like more out of a corner outfielder, but he wasn’t actively bad or anything. With the lack of available Mets options, he wasn’t bad. Trading him isn’t a bad idea…if they have somebody they can plug into his hole (more on that in a minute).
Next, how about Roberto Hernandez? In forty-six appearances this year, he checks in with a 2.93 ERA, but with 1.63 WHIP. In other words, he’s allowing baserunners, but not allowing them to score, or to use a Cox term, he’s been “getting lucky.” He’s also striking out 6.91 per nine, so he’s not blowing batters away with his stuff. By the way, have I mentioned that he’s forty-one? To expect him to replicate what Duaner Sanchez gives the Mets in the eighth inning is foolhardy. The Mets have at least four non-closer relief pitchers who are as good or better than Roberto Hernandez. Apparently, Omar Minaya doesn’t see Hernandez’s 2005 season with the Mets as the fluke that it was.
Now, let’s talk about Oliver Perez. Last season, he checked in with a robust 5.85 ERA, up from 2.98 in 2004. He allowed twenty-three home runs in 103 innings, or about two per nine innings, up about one home run per nine from the season before. To put this in perspective, he gave up one more home run in ninety-three fewer innings. He also checked in with a 1.67 WHIP, (up from 1.15 the year before) which includes over six walks per nine, (up from 3.71 per nine the year before) and a strikeout rate that declined from 10.97 per nine innings to 6.12 per nine, always a sign of a pitcher on the rise.
This season, the strikeout rate has improved a little, (up to 7.22 per nine, still not up to his 2004 level) and the homeruns have come down, (to “only” 1.54 per nine) but everything else is down. His ERA is up to 6.63, and his WHIP is up to 1.83, and again walking six per nine, so that means that he’s getting hit a lot worse this year than last.
Basically, Oliver Perez is a hugely flawed pitcher. He has upside; his 2004 season was tremendous, and he was only twenty-two at the time, so he was thought of as a pitcher on the rise. There’s also a good chance, a very good chance, that he is never going to replicate that 2004 season ever again. In all likelyhood, he has been injured for the past season and a half (and he did spend time on the disabled list last season). But I’m looking at some Oliver Perez notes in his Sportsline profile…these are the ones that jumped out at me:
“Pirates demote Perez to minors”
“Perez resembles good pitcher”
“Oliver Perez sickening Wednesday”
“Oliver Perez pounded by Padres”
Ladies and gentleman, this is the guy the Mets traded for to solve their rotation woes! So right now, going into a playoff series, they have Pedro Martinez starting Game 1, a guy with health issues and who hasn’t had a “Pedro start” since May. In Game 2, you have Tom Glavine, who was probably the NL’s best pitcher in April and May, but has been god-awful in July. And starting Game 3…well, take your pick: Steve Trachsel, John Maine, Orlando Hernandez, Mike Pelfrey, or now…Oliver Perez. Is anybody REALLY worried about this team in a short series, with THOSE options?
This is why the Mets NEEDED to get Barry Zito. Barry Zito was available. They could have gotten him for the right deal, if they weren’t afraid of trading Milledge. I’m going to let everybody here on the blog know, something I’ve kept to myself the past few weeks, but I’m going to go public with it, and if I look like a fool years from now, so be it.
I don’t think Milledge is going to become the superstar outfielder we’re all expecting him to be. I don’t think he’s going to pan out. At most, I think he turns into Jay Payton, which is better than being Alex Escobar, but still…he’s not going to be the top-level guy everybody thinks. If the Mets were concerned that they couldn’t get equal value for him in return, I have bad news; I don’t think starting him in right field and displaying his flaws to every teams’ advance scouts wasn’t the way to protect that value.
If all this was going to take to seal the deal was Milledge to bring a top-level starting pitcher to New York, even if only for two months, and the Mets passed up on it…then to me, that means they’re a little too satisfied with this team. They see that the Mets are miles ahead of the rest of the NL East, and that the National League, on the whole, is severely down this year, so a World Series berth is all but guaranteed.
The problem is, this Mets team, as it stands today, is not going to win the World Series, unless whomever wins the AL West sneaks past the good teams of the American League. Sure, once they’re actually in the Series, it’s a crapshoot and anybody can win (see Marlins, Florida). But as it stands, right now the Mets’ odds of coming out on top in that crapshoot are a lot lower than they would have been A) had they not traded their starting right fielder to start an unproven rookie; and B) had they acquired a big-name pitcher to fill out the rotation.
The trade that was made today was not about winning the World Series, and that’s what today’s deal had to be about. This team is too close for them to stockpile parts for the future. Trading Nady, the right fielder of now, to protect Milledge, the right fielder of tomorrow, is an example of that. In current value, Lastings Milledge could have netted the Mets a lot bigger of a catch than Oliver Perez and Roberto Hernandez, and Xavier Nady could have given the Mets more production in right than Milledge. Meanwhile, Perez is clearly not a guy who can help the team win today, especially if they send him down to Norfolk, as is rumored, but he may (or may not) do so in the future. We don’t know if Milledge or Perez will pan out, or if the Mets will have this kind of opportunity to make the World Series ever again, and that’s my biggest problem with today’s moves.
The big problem a lot of Mets fans, and perhaps Minaya himself, seem to have with Zito is that he’s a “two month rental.” First of all, that’s no guarantee; he may wind up liking the Mets and staying here for a long time. Secondly, 2006, for me, is about winning the World Series. This is the best Mets team in a long time, and in a depleted National League, they have an excellent chance of making the World Series. Once they’re there, anything can happen. Today’s moves should have been about improving their chances once they got to the World Series. I would hate for their opportunity at becoming World Champions to be wasted because they were afraid to pull the trigger on the big move. To use a poker term, Omar was afraid to “go all in.”
Ultimately, I’m just really disappointed. I don’t think Milledge is prepared to step in and play every day. I don’t think Roberto Hernandez is the guy to replace Duaner Sanchez in the bullpen. And I certainly don’t think Oliver Perez is the big-time starter the Mets needed to dominate a short series, even if Handyman Peterson can fix him up, good as new. Ultimately, I just don’t think the Mets are as good as they were yesterday, or even as good as they were before Duaner got hurt. I just hope the Mets didn’t ruin what, up until today, was looking like a dream season.
And yes, it did take 1,600 words to say “I didn’t like this trade.”