There has been a lot of talk about the fifth starter spot this spring, but few of the reports have taken a large-scale look at the situation as a whole. So let's set the record straight and figure out as much as we can about the candidates right now. Below are the spring training statistics for the four men who are can be considered true candidates for the spot:
Fernando Nieve: 3 games, 9 IP, 12 hits, 6 runs, 5 bb, 2 K
Nelson Figueroa: 3 games, 8 IP, 4 hits, 0 runs, 3 bb, 9 K
Jonathan Niese: 3 games, 7.2 IP, 10 hits, 6 earned runs, 4 bb, 7 K
Hisanori Takahashi: 2 games, 6 IP, 2 hits, 0 runs, 0 bb, 9 K
Obviously, a few spring innings are not going to tell you much about the player posting them. What is interesting, however, is that in the four men, we have the four most hilariously stereotypical rotation contenders imaginable:
Fernando Nieve -- The Former Top Prospect, resurrecting his career
Nelson Figueroa -- The Journeyman, struggling to prove himself
Jonathan Niese -- The Real Prospect, trying to break into the Show
Hisanori Takahashi -- The Japanese League Veteran , shrouded in mystery.
We've got righties and we've got lefties. We have old and young. We have hard throwers and soft-tossers. It's great.
Who else is in favor of tossing Pelfrey, Perez, and Maine overboard and just going with these guys? At the very least, we could have an interesting Mighty Ducks-style story on our hands. Especially if we include Ryota Igarashi, aka "Swallows Man."
Storyline aside, there is one very important issue. The most important issue, in fact, one which I believe that the beat writers and bloggers have been avoiding for the most part:
What are our goals for this season and beyond, and what do each player offer us to help us toward that goal?
If our objective was to "win now" we could hand the job to the best pitcher, toss the other three in the bullpen, and promote Jennry Mejia right away.
If our objective is to play for 2011, we should send Jon Niese to Triple-A and plug whoever will sell the most tickets into the fifth starter slot.
If, as I imagine, our objective is somewhere in between, the picture becomes less clear, and it is important for us to consider what each of the players offer. It appears that the Mets consider Takahashi and Nieve as candidates for the bullpen, but not Figueroa. According to Brian Costa of the Star-Ledger, Fernando Nieve is the only candidate who is out of options and cannot be sent to the minor leagues without clearing waivers. Each player also offers us a different potential ceiling and floor for their performance.
The one person whose input we should not be taking into account is Jerry Manuel. This is not because I don't like Jerry - in fact, I think he's not a bad manager. However, it is inherent in his position that he wants to win NOW, without regard to the future development of our prospects and without regard to service time and free agency. I don't blame him. If my job depended on how the Mets performed in the first 40 games, I would probably do the same thing. This is precisely why we need to adhere to the manager/GM system which we allegedly have in effect. Manuel, despite all his sneaky comments to the press, particularly about Mejia, shouldn't have much, if any, input into the final shape of our roster.
All of these players are much more than their spring statistics would indicate, but delving into each would take another post altogether. But knowing just the basics, a few things are clear. Fernando Nieve and Hisanori Takahashi will be on the roster Opening Day. If I had it my way, both would be in the bullpen and Nelson Figueroa would be the fifth starter. Jon Niese would have a few months to hone his craft in Triple-A.
This option allows us to a) retain all our players, b) allows Niese to mature as a pitcher, and c) gives Figueroa the shot at the rotation that everyone thinks he deserves. Just as importantly, it moves two potentially powerful forces to the bullpen. Seeing as most pitchers are more effective when relieving rather than starting, Nieve and Takahashi could potentially provide a huge boost to our weakest unit. Takahashi, in particular, would provide us with a second left-handed option in addition to Pedro Feliciano.
A bullpen of Frankie Rodriguez, Pedro Feliciano, Sean Green, Ryota Igarashi, Nieve and Takahashi is deep and provides a variety of different looks.
For the best chance of winning now, holding on to our player properties, and allowing Jon Niese to reach his potential, this arrangement seems to be the obvious answer.