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A Bit of a Shock

It really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that Barry Zito followed the money trail to San Francisco. It's not as though one could punish the Mets for refusing to give a pitcher who has been just above average every year of his career (save for that 2002 23-5 Cy Young season).

Why wouldn't Zito go to San Fran? He doesn't have to switch houses. Moreover, he switches to the National League and stays in a nice pitcher's park. He's not going to Texas. So, as far as I can tell, we have to give maximum credit to the Zito/Boras team. He received everything he could have wanted while not having to make a single sacrifice. In fact, he agreed to the largest deal ever given to a pitcher, tying Mike Hampton's and Kevin Brown's in terms of length, while surpassing both of those in total dollars.

It's funny, actually. One would assume that the greatest contracts ever would have been given to pitchers like Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, or Greg Maddux. These pitchers (with the partial exception of Pedro) have traditionally been the most durable. Up until a few years ago, they, not Hampton or Zito, were perennial Cy Young contenders.

It'll be enjoyable to watch the Giants' management drowning in a pool of their own tears once they realize that Zito isn't all that great. Thankfully for them, they have impressive young righty starter Matt Cain to be a mainstay as an ace, given that Zito certainly cannot fill that role.

The issue for the Mets now exists with the fact that their rotation is in shambles. It's foolish to count on Pedro for anything more than a minimal contribution down the stretch. So, your rotation looks like this:

1. Tom Glavine
2. Orlando Hernandez
3. John Maine
4. Oliver Perez
5. Mike Pelfrey/Phil Humber/Dave Williams

Although we have all recently adopted the "In Omar We Trust" mantra, it's hard to give him much credit for assembling this rotation. El Duque has a history of breaking down: his 162.1 innings this past year were the most since he threw 195.2 in 2000.

Glavine's history is injury-free, but he's unable to go very deep into games unless he's hitting the plate exactly with his changeup. It's tough to say this, but the 41 year-old lefty is probably the closest thing this rotation has to a sure thing.

Maine is a bit of a wild-card. He obviously has an impressive fastball and has shown the ability to work with secondary pitches from time to time, but he survives on a low hit rate, something that usually means future pitfalls for pitchers. He also serves up far too many home runs and a few too many walks. Maine's future is undoubtedly bright, but it's difficult to say whether 2007 will be a progression or a regression.

Oliver Perez has become something of a folk hero within Mets circles. It's deserved, on some level, given his admirable performance on short notice during Game 7 of the NLCS. Perez obviously has a great arm, but it's ridiculous to pencil him in as a sure thing. He's always going to be something of a project, as far as I can tell, and it would not come as a shock to anyone if he was leading the league in strikeouts or biding his time at AAA at the All-Star Break. A bold prediction: Dave Williams and Phil Humber will both make as many (or more) starts for the Mets in 2007 as Perez will.

Pelfrey, Humber, Williams... they're all special in their own ways. It's hard not to like most of what we saw out of Williams last year, but history has shown that he's not exactly an elite pitcher. Humber made a strong recovery from 2005's TJ surgery, but it's hard to say that he's ready to contribute at the big-league level. As far as we can tell with Pelfrey, his biggest problem is working with his secondary pitches. His fastball has a ton of movement, but he can't always bring it over the plate for strikes.

So where do we go from here? Are the Mets really going to begin the season with all of these wildcards in the rotation? My best guess is that they won't. It's awfully likely that the Mets will make a move for a player like Jeff Weaver. If Weaver is still insistent on his four-year deal, it's a safe bet that the Mets will try to kick the tires on Tomo Okha and Tony Armas, Jr. I'm a fan of both, and either one would give the Mets a safe option to bide time until Pelfrey and Humber are dominating AAA.

Nobody said that it would take Zito to win the NL East. It's safe to say, though, that the division won't be as much of a cakewalk next year. The Phillies have upgraded their pitching, while the Marlins' young aces will be impressive as usual. Stay tuned. Omar must have something up his sleeve.

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