The Minaya Years: 2005 Starting Pitching

With Omar Minaya’s days as general manager numbered, I thought now would be as good a time as any to try to take an objective look at the various Mets teams he has assembled during his days as GM.  This isn’t another excuse to tear Minaya down, it’s a way to look at what he did, to identify his good moves and his mistakes, and how future Mets GMs may learn from them.  In order to give a thorough examination for every aspect of the teams he has built, I am going to be breaking each team into small parts, and from there piecing these small parts together until we have a big picture.  The first thing I am going to examine is Omar Minaya’s 2005 starting pitchers.

ROTATION AT THE END OF 2004:

Tom Glavine, Al Leiter, Kris Benson, Steve Trachsel, Aaron Heilman

OFFSEASON CHANGES:

-Declined Al Leiter’s option for 2005 and allowed Leiter to sign with Florida Marlins as a free agent.
-Re-signed Kris Benson to 3-year, $22.5 million contract.
-Signed Pedro Martinez to 4-year, $53 million contract.
-Traded Jason Phillips to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Kaz Ishii in Spring Training.

ROTATION AT THE START OF 2005:

Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Kaz Ishii, Victor Zambrano, Aaron Heilman

ROTATION AT THE END OF 2005:

Tom Glavine, Victor Zambrano, Kris Benson, Jae Seo, Steve Trachsel

Mets Starter WAR:

Pedro Martinez:   5.9
Tom Glavine:      3.7
Jae Seo:          2.2
Kris Benson:      1.7
Victor Zambrano:  1.6
Aaron Heilman:    0.6
Steve Trachsel:   0.1
Kaz Ishii:       -0.2
Total WAR:       15.6

NOTES:

-Kaz Ishii placed on the DL on April 22nd.  Replaced in the rotation by Jae Seo.
-Kris Benson returns from the disabled list on May 5.  Jae Seo sent back to Norfolk.
-Kaz Ishii returns from disabled list on May 16th.  Aaron Heilman sent to the bullpen.
-Kaz Ishii sent to Norfolk on August 5th.  Replaced in the rotation by Jae Seo.
-Steve Trachsel returns from the disabled list on August 22nd.  Victor Zambrano sent to the bullpen.
-Pedro Martinez shut down with two weeks to go in the season.  Replaced in the rotation by Victor Zambrano.

As far as starting rotations go, it doesn’t get more simple than this.  The Mets only used eight starting pitchers in 2005, which is low considering they would use no fewer than eleven starters in any other season under Minaya.  The starting rotation at the end of the season was roughly the same as it was at the beginning of spring training, except swap Jae Seo out for Pedro Martinez (who missed his final two starts, though I can’t remember why, I’d assume it was due to some sort of nagging injury).  Spoiler alert: that will not happen again under Minaya’s watch.

Perhaps the  simplicity that the 2005 Mets provided Minaya was a reason that his future  rotations seemed so ill-prepared.  This team only suffered a few minor injuries.  Kris Benson missed the first month with a pec injury and Kaz Isii missed a month with a pulled muscle, but those both happened early in the season.  After Ishii came off of the DL, the team did not suffer another injury setback until the end of the season (assumine that Martinez did miss those starts due to injury), a ridiculous run of good health, especially considering the past injury issues suffered by Martinez, Benson, and Zambrano.  Quite fortunate, as I don’t even know who would have made spot starts for the team had they needed a ninth or tenth starter.

The only major injury of this season took place in spring training.  Steve Trachsel went into camp projected to be the fifth starter, but suffered a herniated disk in spring training and missed most of the season.  Three days after Trachsel’s surgery was announced, the team traded Jason Phillips to the Dodgers for Ishii, as they lacked confidence in either Aaron Heilman or Jae Seo as regular starting pitchers.

Acquiring Ishii probably wasn’t a completely terrible idea, even if he hadn’t pitched particularly well in three seasons for the Dodgers.  All it cost them was Phillips, who never again matched his 2003 numbers and had no real place on the 2005 Mets after they signed Ramon Castro.  Yet in the end, the trade was a failure, and Ishii was back in Japan the next season.

The 2005 season stands out in another way, besides the rotation’s relative health; it was the only season without a full-fledged starting rotation battle.  The Mets went into spring training with five set starters, acquired another one when Trachsel went down, and it was only after Benson got hurt that they went to a battle between Heilman and Seo for the fifth starter job.  Heilman edged out Seo for the spot, yet both would both get turns in the rotation.  Heilman pitched 42 innings as a starter before being banished to the bullpen for the rest of his career.  Seo would receive two shots at starting, both times at the expense of Ishii, first due to injury and the second due to ineffectiveness.

Overall, this would have to go down as a pretty successful year for Mets starting pitching.  Pedro Martinez was awesome, Tom Glavine had his best season as a Met, Jae Seo was pretty good in his limited big league action, and Benson and Zambrano both ate some innings, if nothing else.  Ishii was the only starter that was actively bad, but at least the team had the good sense to replace him with Seo when it became obvious that he stunk.  Add good performances, good health, and a little bit of good luck, and you have a pretty good starting rotation.  Sadly, future Mets teams would never quite match the 2005 staff in any of those categories, as we will soon see.

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