Many this offseason have focused on the Mets’ starting pitching as the number one priority. The “best” pitcher of this offseason is still out there, and the Mets are rightfully talking to him. But it appears that the Mets’ offer to Barry Zito hinges on less tangible things than money: New York, playing on a winner, and self-marketing.
So what do the Mets do if Barry Zito decides he’d rather have money? Or that he’d rather be closer to home? The team’s starting rotation as of right now would probably look like this:
1. Tom Glavine
2. Orlando Hernandez
3. John Maine
4. Oliver Perez
5. Dave Williams/Jason Vargas/Mike Pelfrey/Philip Humber/Alay Soler
Clearly, I think the Mets would like to improve on that fifth slot. I think Dave Williams is ultimately slated to take over the role of the now-departed Darren Oliver as the long man out of the pen. Second, I think the team would much rather give Humber and Pelfrey at least a couple of months of Triple-A before giving them more permanent appointments. And Alay Soler was so unimpressive last year that many think he should move to relief.
That leaves Jason Vargas, who has a career ERA of 5.25 in 116 innings and change. His minor league totals, however, suggest he could pitch a little better. His ZiPS projection shows him finishing with a 5.01 ERA and an okay-but-not-great-or-even-good 1.70 K/BB ratio.
So, is there anyone else on the free agent market who would make a good (or even decent) Plan B? Here are the 23 pitchers, according to ESPN’s Free Agent Tracker still out there:
Name Age ERA+ K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Tony Armas 29 88 5.67 4.54 1.03
Bruce Chen 30 65 6.39 3.19 2.55
Shawn Estes 34 94 6.00 4.50 0.00
Rick Helling 36 109 8.23 3.86 1.54
Jason Johnson 33 74 4.23 2.74 1.10
Brian Moehler 35 66 4.28 2.80 1.40
Mark Mulder 29 62 4.82 3.38 1.83
Tomo Ohka 31 93 4.64 3.25 1.11
Ramon Ortiz 34 79 4.91 3.02 1.46
Russ Ortiz 33 57 6.29 5.71 2.57
Chan Ho Park 34 88 6.32 2.90 1.32
Joel Pineiro 28 68 4.73 3.48 1.25
Mark Redman 33 85 4.10 3.40 1.02
Aaron Sele 37 101 4.96 2.61 0.96
Jeff Suppan 32 107 4.93 3.27 0.99
John Thomson 33 91 5.15 3.59 1.23
Steve Trachsel 36 87 4.32 4.26 1.26
Jeff Weaver 30 76 5.60 2.46 1.78
David Wells 44 101 4.54 1.43 1.31
Jerome Williams 25 63 3.65 8.03 1.46
Paul Wilson 34 DID NOT PITCH
Jamey Wright 32 87 4.56 3.69 0.92
Victor Zambrano 31 64 6.33 4.64 2.11
Players’ ages might not match up with the ESPN tracker because the ones I used correspond with how old they’ll be next season according to Baseball-Reference.com. I also didn’t include Roger Clemens, who is off in his own world.
First off, the former Met count: 6. Second, many of these pitchers only pitched incomplete seasons. Only 12 of these 23 guys even threw 100 innings last year and five (Estes, Helling, Williams, Wilson, and Zambrano) threw fewer than 50. This isn’t the most durable bunch of guys.
The pitcher who will get the most attention of this bunch is Jeff Suppan. Suppan is basically a poor man’s Steve Trachsel at the same age. Don’t believe me? Take a look:
Pitcher ERA+ K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Suppan, 2006 107 4.93 3.27 0.99
Trachsel, 2002 116 5.44 3.58 0.83
Trax had a couple more K’s, slightly fewer homers allowed, a couple more walks. Both outperformed their component ratios, and in both cases the homerun ratios were a little out of character. Trachsel fell off a little more each year until he was finally a below average pitcher in 2006. I see Suppan doing the same thing, making him a poor fit for a four-year deal. A GM could do worse, but it’s still not a great idea. You’d be buying high on a pitcher with very little upside.
The youngest guys on this list (other than Jerome Williams – a guy with good control but no ability to get the strikeout) are Joel Pineiro, Tony Armas, and Mark Mulder, the only guys under 30. Pineiro, who was non-tendered by Seattle, is a guy who really needs superb control to succeed and that just wasn’t the case in 2006. I think he’s ultimately too hittable.
Armas has been around a while now, and I think we can say two things about him. First, he’s injury prone (2006 was just the third time in his career he’d thrown 150 innings). Second, he’s not very good. His strikeout rate is mediocre, his walk rate is poor, and he doesn’t even particularly get ground balls.
Mulder is a good idea for some team to sign to an incentive-laden, two-year deal, but I don’t know what he can be counted on for next year. Mulder, who underwent rotator cuff surgery was awful in 2006 and likely wouldn’t be ready until May at the earliest.
The best of the rest, in my opinion, are Jeff Weaver and Chan Ho Park. Both guys had okay 2006’s if you use the word liberally, but most importantly both will require less of a time commitment from their future employer. Both also have some chance of outperforming their 2006 campaigns.
Weaver is younger and has very good control. His big problem in 2006 was the homerun. He allowed 34 in 172 innings, which is probably not going to last to that extreme. Pitchers really can’t control how many of their outfield flies stay in the park, and Weaver was just particularly unlucky last year. The bad news is that his strikeout ratios have been falling slightly, but that’s true of just about every pitcher on this list.
Park, on the other hand, is a little older, but he gets more strikeouts and was slightly better at keeping the ball in the park in 2006. Like Weaver his control is okay, but he has two problems of his own. First, he was better at PETCO than on the road (4.17 ERA at home, 5.45 away). The second problem is Park’s health. He’s had plenty of injuries over the years and had problems in 2006 with intestinal bleeding which caused him to miss significant time from August onward.
They aren’t good pitchers, but these two will come cheaper in both monetary and time commitments than Suppan. Suppan might be the better pitcher, but likely not worth the money it will take to sign him. The next best buys probably include David Wells and Jason Johnson, but those are last resorts. The rest look like minor league deals to me. In the end, the trade market might be more attractive, and Omar Minaya will likely look there before acquiring any free agents.