Mets 2008 Off-Season Needs: Starting Pitching

You probably thought my next off-season needs post would be the bullpen. Yes, that post is coming soon. It’s almost too much to think about though. So for now, let’s talk about the starting pitching situation.

Returning starters Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, and John Maine will be in the rotation. Santana is a shut-down ace and really requires no further discussion. He’ll be starting on opening day in Cincinnati, period. Pelfrey had a break out season in 2008 and should be the #2 behind Santana. He seemed to run out of gas a bit in September but really found himself in May.

John Maine is coming off shoulder surgery to address a bone spur. He’s cleared to start throwing again in December and should be fine for spring training. I really thought he was going to have a break out season after being nearly unhittable in spring training. But the injuries really damaged his season.

Pedro Martinez and Oliver Perez will both be free agents after the World Series ends. I don’t expect to see Pedro back again. And Ollie will probably get a better offer than he’s worth from someone other than the Mets. If Omar Minaya can make a decent deal with Ollie and Scott Boras (doubtful) in the neighborhood of 3-years/$27 million, he should take it. But I think some team out there will go to four or five years for Ollie because he’s only going to be 27 years old during the 2009 season.

That leaves two openings to be filled in the rotation. Expect Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell to get a shot to compete for one of those spots in spring training. One of those two promising minor leaguers should get a chance to occupy the #5 spot in the rotation.

The Mets will probably look to fill a #4 spot from free agency and take a chance on a “project” starter as insurance in case Niese and Parnell aren’t ready for the majors yet. You can see the complete list of starters that will be free agents next month at MLB Trade Rumors. Beyond CC Sabathia (17-10 2.70) and Ben Sheets (13-9 3.09), the list isn’t really that impressive. Don’t expect the Mets to splurge on another ace like those two. They got Johan Santana last off-season. So I don’t see the Mets making another huge financial commitment to a starter.

A.J. Burnett (18-10 4.07) will probably opt out of his Blue Jays contract. But he’ll be looking for a long-term deal and I don’t expect the Mets to get into a 4+ year deal with any pitchers at this point.

There are several guys that could fit nicely into the middle of the rotation like Derek Lowe (14-11 3.24). Despite the rumors that he doesn’t want to be on the east coast again, he’ll go where the money is. He’ll be 36 years old next season but he could certainly fill the spot in the middle of the rotation. Jon Garland (14-8 4.90) and Ryan Dempster (17-6 4.51) are certainly worth talking to about a three year contract as well.

The “project” pitcher that the Mets pick up on a one-year deal could be anyone from Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Carl Pavano, Matt Clement, or Sidney Ponson. The tricky part will be finding a pitcher that will agree to a minor league contract so the Mets can give Parnell and Niese a legitimate shot at the fifth spot in the rotation. Colon and Clement seem the most likely candidates to agree to start the season in the minors.

Even with Pedro and Ollie probably leaving there are plenty of free agent options available this off-season. I certainly wouldn’t like to see the Mets get into a contract longer than three years for a middle of the rotation starter. That should be the key criteria, even if the contract has to get into the $33 million plus range. Gil Meche and Ted Lilly both got five year deals, so that throws off the market. But the Mets really need to keep their contracts to as short a term as possible.

Add a comment below with your thoughts.

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On Deck: April 12, 2008

Milwaukee Brewers (6-4) at New York Mets (5-4)   1:10pm   TV: SNY   Radio: WFAN

Ben Sheets (1-0) vs. Johan Santana (1-1)

What to watch:  This is a big-time premium pitching match up, ace vs. ace. Luis Castillo should return to the lineup for the Mets and Jose Reyes will probably be out with a tight hamstring.