The Mets Are Down to John Smoltz or Bust

Former rival represents best Mets hope for rotation help

Tuesday was a good news/bad news day for the Mets pitching staff. The good news was very good. Johan Santana threw 25 pitches off the mound during a voluntary minicamp in Florida and didn't feel any pain whatsoever. The ace is on target for a regular Spring Training workload and a resumption of his duties as the team's ace starter.

They'll need him. Ben Sheets and Jon Garland, two of the few remaining free agent starters, found new homes on Tuesday. Sheets signed with Oakland and Garland signed in San Diego, which leaves the Mets with a rather unsightly collection of the sickly (Erik Bedard, Chien-Ming Wang), the mediocre (Jarrod Washburn), the well-seasoned (Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz) and Sidney Ponson. Of that group, word is the Mets prefer Smoltz to all others and that they would be content to let Fernando Nieve, Jon Niese and other in-house options battle for the fifth starter job. 

Either way, Mike Pelfrey would be the only Mets starter who didn't miss a significant chunk of the 2009 season with injury which makes it very good news indeed that Santana's elbow is in good shape. Oliver Perez and John Maine aren't particularly reliable in terms of health or performance and there's little reason to believe that Pelfrey's callowness will fall away all at once. 

It's easy for the Mets to argue that Sheets at $10 million is too much money for a pitcher coming off a season lost to injury. It's easy because they're right, but it is much harder for them to argue that their course of action does anything to make them a better team in 2009. The Mets made a lot of noise at the end of last season about playing a style predicated on speed, defense and strong pitching. This offseason they've signed Jason Bay -- known for neither his speed nor his defense -- and done nothing to improve a pitching staff that failed them repeatedly last season.

They can't argue they showed restraint, not when they bid against themselves on Bay and handed him an easily reachable vesting option for a fifth year and not when they tried to sign Bengie Molina. The lack of action on pitchers means they can't really argue they want to contend. With Carlos Beltran's injury, they can't even play the "if everyone is healthy" card.

Smoltz did okay once he landed in St. Louis last season, but he wasn't good in Boston and the pitching-shy Cardinals haven't thought about bringing him back. He's low-risk but he's also low-reward, and the Mets need more for a rotation that's awfully short behind Santana. There's also a large segment of fans that can't stand the guy because he was a key member of Braves teams that regularly pounded the Mets.

There's no strategy here, no overarching principle that governs the Mets roster building. That doesn't fill you with much hope for the season to come because all hope is based on absolutely everything breaking right. We're talking about the Mets, though, and that's not the wisest bet in the casino.  

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