Remaining free agents could fill Mets' need
Crop of starters on market include safe bets, risk-reward types
While unveiling his big offseason signing in Jason Bay recently, general manager Omar Minaya stressed his offseason imprint on the Mets is not yet complete.
Starting pitching is a big reason for that sentiment.
Spring Training is drawing closer, and the Mets still haven't added a starter. But they want to -- and need to.
Mets starters combined to post a 4.77 ERA that ranked 12th in the National League in 2009, and nothing has changed since then. They have an ace in Johan Santana, but what they'll get out of Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine next season is anybody's guess.
During Tuesday's news conference at Citi Field, Minaya said his pitching acquisition "has to be a guy that fits what we're looking to do."
But who exactly is that fit?
It's unlikely to be heralded Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman, who's been offered up to $15.5 million by the Red Sox and doesn't seem to be garnering interest from the Mets -- a point ESPN.com confirmed earlier this week.
But here are some free-agent starters from a divided pool who could land in Queens, N.Y.
The steady hands: Joel Pineiro pretty much leads a free-agent-starters class composed of relative innings-eaters at the top. There may not be any frontline starters left in the pool, but in Pineiro, Jon Garland and Doug Davis -- three of the free agents most tied to the Mets this offseason -- Minaya can at least sign a consistent, reliable arm.
Many have mentioned Pineiro as the starter the Mets most covet. The 31-year-old right-hander had an uncharacteristic type of standout year for the Cardinals in 2009, going 15-12 with a 3.49 ERA. It was Pineiro's first ERA under 4.00 since '03, and now he's reportedly seeking a deal similar to the three-year, $29.75 million contract Randy Wolf signed with the Brewers. The Mets, however, are reportedly only willing to give him something close to what Jason Marquis got from the Nationals -- two years at $15 million.
Garland struggled with the D-backs this past season (a 4.29 ERA in 27 starts) but was stellar down the stretch with the Dodgers (2.72 ERA in six starts). Since becoming a full-time starter in 2002, Garland has finished with an ERA under 4.00 just once and has a collective 4.38 mark. But the 30-year-old right-hander wins games -- he's 107-87 during that stretch, notching double-digit wins each season and 18 wins twice -- and he hasn't made less than 32 starts in the past eight years. Garland reportedly wants to sign with a West Coast team, so the Mets may have to outbid someone from the other coast if they want his services.
Davis struggled with his control with the D-backs in 2009, walking 103 batters in a season that saw him finish 9-14 with a 4.12 ERA in 34 starts. The 34-year-old lefty has a 4.41 ERA the past four years, but he has made at least 33 starts in five of the past six years. Davis opted for free agency after Arizona didn't give him the three-year contract he desired, and interest in the southpaw has seemed slim this offseason.
The wild cards: There's an enigmatic crop of starters who can turn out to either be a risky signing or a rewarding deal. That's where Chien-Ming Wang, John Smoltz, Ben Sheets, Pedro Martinez and Erik Bedard stand. Ideally, if the Mets sign one of these pitchers, it would be to a one-year, incentive-laden contract for minimum guaranteed money. But whether any of them takes that type of deal remains to be seen.
Sheets missed the 2009 season because of right elbow surgery, halting what had been a very solid career up until that point. The 31-year-old righty is 86-83 with a 3.72 ERA in eight big league seasons, having made at least 25 starts in five of those years, and from '04-08, he sported a 3.24 ERA. The Mets have been linked to Sheets frequently, but earlier this offseason, he was reportedly looking for $12 million, similar to what he made in his last season in Milwaukee. That may be too much for the Mets.
Bedard is perhaps the biggest question mark, since there's a chance he won't be ready to pitch until the second half of the season. The 30-year-old lefty went 5-3 with a 2.82 ERA in 15 starts for the Mariners in 2009, before being shut down in July because of eventual shoulder surgery for the second successive year. Bedard has shown Cy Young Award-quality stuff when healthy, but he hasn't been that in a while.
After an extended break and a late start, Martinez was pretty impressive with the Phillies this past season, going 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA in nine starts. The 38-year-old reportedly wants to play a full season in 2010, but there are conflicting reports on the Mets' interest in bringing him back.
Wang, coming off shoulder surgery, is expected back on the mound in six to eight weeks. The 29-year-old has hurled just 137 innings the past two years, but teams haven't forgotten Wang notched back-to-back 19-win seasons while sporting a collective 3.67 ERA in 2006 and '07. His agent, Alan Nero, told ESPN 1050 recently that 15 teams are interested in his client, but the Mets aren't one of them. Perhaps that will change.
After struggling with the Red Sox to start the 2009 season, Smoltz was decent with the Cardinals, posting a 4.26 ERA in seven starts. MetsBlog.com reported Thursday that the Mets have interest in Smoltz, who could fill a void in the rotation and perhaps even see some late-inning relief action.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.