It’s official. With the unsurprising designation of Freddy Garcia to minor league camp, Livan Hernandez will enter the 2009 season as the New York Mets’ fifth starter. Aided by the injury to Tim Redding and the decidedly underwhelming competition in camp, it had been apparent for a while that Livan was the man to beat for the job, and sure enough, here is is. Remember when the Mets signed him to a minor league contract and you joked with your friends about how Omar Minaya’s dream of acquiring Livan Hernandez finally came true? It’s decidedly less funny now.
On Garcia’s demotion, David Lennon writes:
But Garcia, who is signed to an incentive-laden minor-league contract, came to the realization that he needed the extra work after struggling with a 16.71 ERA in four Grapefruit League appearances, two of them starts. He allowed 14 hits and 15 runs in seven innings.
You mean a 16.71 ERA would cause someone to reconsider opting out of a minor league contract? What a shock. In all seriousness, Garcia at least realized his spring performance wouldn’t bring teams to knock down his door and followed the Andruw Jones example, agreeing to stick around with the team that gave him a chance.
Livan Hernandez’s struggles the past three seasons have been talked about here and elsewhere ad nauseum, and it’s probably too much to hope that a good spring portends that he’s suddenly going to turn back the clock. Still, Rob Neyer thinks he isn’t the worst thing - assuming the Mets don’t see him as a season-long solution:
Gosh, I’m not real sure this is a good idea. Significantly better right knee or not. Are we supposed to completely ignore last season? Are we supposed to completely ignore the fact that for three seasons running, Hernandez hasn’t done anything well? OK, that’s not fair; last season he gave up 43 walks in 180 innings. And you couldn’t make a living waiting for him to uncork a wild pitch. But the hits! And the home runs!
I do believe that Hernandez is a better investment than Pedro Martinez. Hernandez might be decent, and he’s one of the more durable hurlers of our time, having now started at least 30 games in 11 straight seasons. I do not think he’ll run that streak to 12, though. I think he’s a cheap and perhaps adequate placeholder while the Mets wait for Jon Niese to prove that he deserves a rotation slot.
The fifth starter, for whatever reason, has been a source of irritation for Mets fans the past few seasons, with names like Jose Lima and Brian Lawrence having had chances to succeed and failing miserably. The best thing to hope for is that Jon Niese gets off to a good start in Buffalo and puts pressure on the club to call him up. There almost certainly isn’t any upside to Livan Hernandez at this point, and the longer he takes a turn in the rotation, the more chances he has to show everyone how hittable he’s been since 2006. In a division that’s been as close as the NL East has the past two seasons, the Mets simply can’t afford that kind of detriment.