Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Fifth Starter Competition, And Why Nobody Should Be Listening to Jerry Manuel

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.


Lew said...

Amen! Best post on this I have seen so far -- I also like the idea of Parnell heading back to AAA to work on the cutter he is rumored to be working on

Anonymous said...

Overall I like the approach but I would prefer Takahashi as a starter in lieu of John Maine. It seems reports of his dead arm may indeed be accurate. And if so, I believe Takahashi has the best chance of being successful as a starter than the others. Keep in mind that his entire career was with the Japaneese "Yankees". He has the goods...

Lew said...

When healthy, Maine has proven himself to be an above average starting pitcher.

Healthy is the key question -- he should be given the chance to prove it in April.

But, the uncertainty around him (and Ollie) are another reason the Mets should do everything they can to keep all these candidates in house

Brian said...

Lew - is this sweetlew formerly of MetsGeek?

I agree that Maine should be given a shot as well, but I have never really had much faith in him. I like the guy but he looks to me like the kind of guy that might be out of baseball in a year.

Anonymous said...

I agree with what you say for the most part. I think that Niese matured last year and is major league ready now. I would be happier with Figgy in the pen and Green in another bullpen - whether in the minors mastering the submarine or another team.

Anonymous said...

You're misreading Costa -- when he says that only Nieve is out of options, he's saying that of Niese, Nieve & Takahashi, only Nieve is out of options.

Figgy was out of options last year - that's why he was DFA'd twice.

Chris said...

you forgot Calero. as a RP, he is better than Nieve and Green. Nieve seems expendable at this point.

David said...

What about Misch? He's in the same boat as Nieve (and Figgy). Of the 3, I take the risk of losing Nieve.

Jimmy Mac said...

Great post and I agree with everything you have outlined and what Lew says about Parnell being sent down to the minors to work on his stuff. I'm sorry, but I can't help rooting for Figgy and I'd like to give him a couple months to see if he can hold hte 5th starter spot down. In the past all his starts/appearances have been one-shot opportunities and I kinda think that's unfair, especially for a 5th starter. I think he's a savvy, smart pitcher who may not have the best stuff, but he can manage things and keep his team in the game and that's what you look for in a 5th starter. I genuinely like Niese and if the season goes south call him up and get him as much big league starts and experience as possible but he's coming off a major injury, has options left and still could use some seasoning. Parnell is a one-pitch pitcher, he needs the minors to develop.

Mark Rak said...

Very good look at the potential 5th spot.....but: Jerry Manuel is not a bad mangager??!!

Under Manuel there has been no passion, no fundamentals, players under achieving, the inability to manage a rotation or bullpen, consistatly being out managed and the constant picking of favorites and/or having players in the doghouse. Don't forget that the 2008 collapse was on him. (Everyone likes to blame the bullpen down the stretch for this one....but it was Manuel who misused/overused his relievers from May to leading into September 2008).

The last time I saw a team managed in this poor fashion was the 2004 Chisox, again under Jerry Manuels tenure, and it is no coincedence that when he was fired the team won the championship the very next year.

Bobby V. got to the W.S. with AAA players like Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton, Timo Perez, Rey Ordonez & others by squeezing every last drop of potential out of them. Name one replacement player last season who flourished under Manuel.

Bobby V is waiting for the call Omar...........

Brian said...

Guys, thank you all for your comments. Sorry it has taken me so long to sit down and respond to them.

@ Anonymous 6:29: Yes, you are completely right. I should have known that Figueroa was out of options just based on memory from last year. That said, my plan seems to have subconsciously taken that into account as I don't want Nelson in Triple-A regardless of what the decision on the fifth starter is.

@ Chris: Yes, I forgot to mention Calero. Just an oversight. I love Calero and I love the signing... I am very excited about his addition, despite his injury prone nature, because I think he could fill in for K-Rod if necessary.

@ David: To be honest, I never really considered Misch to be a candidate. He pitched well down the stretch for us a few times but he just doesn't have the kind of resume to make me think his improvement was real.

His only impressive season above AA was in AAA in 2007 when he put together 66 awesome innings. Aside from that he's been entirely "meh" and I doubt anyone would pick him off on waivers if we demoted him. But hey, I've been wrong (many times) before.

@ Mark: Listen -- after Willie Randolph, Jerry Manuel looks like a genius. I feel like the players legitimately like him (and not just in quotes for the newspaper) and that's enough for me. One tactical error a month doesn't matter as much to me as having the team want to play for you and play hard every day.