The Pitching Market Is Collapsing in the Mets’ Favor

Ripping on Mets general manager Omar Minaya in the last few months has transformed from a hobby into an affectation, or even a tic: You do it the same way that you bite your fingernails absentmindedly, or tap your foot under your desk, or fidget with a ringlet of hair. Most of this is deserved, but, quietly, Minaya is having a decent offseason. For him, anyway.

First off, the Jason Bay contract. Bay might not be the best player in baseball, and he might not be the most charismatic — the only way his introductory press conference could have been more dull would have been if Bay were asleep, and perhaps not even then — but he’s a solid hitter and nice guy to have around at a price that wasn’t exorbitant or onerous. Also, he has resisted the temptation to give Bengie Molina — a hitter whose reputation and self-evaluation far outpace his actual production — a third year, and maybe even a second, leaving the Mets catcher count at a mere 47.

But his best move might ultimately prove to be his waiting for the pitching market to shake out. Right now, here is the five-man starting rotation for the 2010 New York Mets:

Johan Santana
Mike Pelfrey
John Maine
Oliver Perez
Jon Niese/Fernando Nieve

Yeah, not the prettiest of rotations, right? Well, Minaya knows that, which is why the Mets have been looking for pitching. A more panicky GM — like, say, Brewers GM Doug Melvin, who gave Randy Wolf a three-year, $29.75 million contract a month ago — might have started spending like mad. Minaya has waited, taken care of Bay, and now sees the market in his direction.

The best pitcher left — better, surely, than Wolf — is Joel Pineiro, who seems perfectly suited to pitch at Citi Field. Though he might deserve more money than Wolf, he won’t get it: The Mets are hesitant to give him a third year, and definitely hesitant to pay him more than $10 million per. They have other options, too, from the slow-and-steady folk (Jon Garland, Doug Davis: that type) to the low-risk, high-reward sorts like Ben Sheets, Erik Bedard, and even John Smoltz. That all those pitchers are still on the market, starting to sweat about having a job, is something not everyone would have predicted at the start of the offseason. They will come cheaper than expected, perhaps cheaper than they should. Minaya won’t have to overpay to take his pick. He could get Pineiro for — say — two years, $14 million, and throw a million with incentives at Sheets and/or Smoltz, and have the makings of a potentially solid rotation. He could get all three of those guys for just a little over half what he’s paying Oliver Perez this season. If only he had waited then.

The Pitching Market Is Collapsing in the Mets’ Favor