Saturday, January 10, 2009

Redding aboard?

My gut reaction when I saw that the Mets were close to a deal with Tim Redding was disappointment tempered with fond remembrance. Either of the final two spots of the Mets rotation would seem to be open for Redding, who reached career highs in starts, innings and strikeouts as the only double-digit winner for the cross-division Nationals in 2008, and who should be perfectly capable of eating innings for the boys in orange and blue in 2009.

Although he racked up a 10-11 record for a team that finished 43 games under .500, Redding's other numbers last season were fairly unimpressive. His 110 runs allowed were the fifth most of any pitcher in the National League, so his bloated win total is pretty clearly a result of having received the ninth best run support among NL pitchers. Scoring runs doesn't figure to be a big problem for the Mets, so I'm not overly concerned about what will happen on the nights Redding starts.

Still, even though signing Redding shouldn't financially restrict Omar Minaya from chasing bigger fish like Andy Pettitte, Derek Lowe, or the Mets' own unsigned free agent starters (Oliver Perez and Pedro Martinez), Minaya's acquisition of talent that would seem to slot in behind, rather than in front of projected No. 3 starter Mike Pelfrey is tough to digest.

On one hand, I don't expect Redding to negatively impact my favorite team's fortunes in 2009 all that much because I don't even really expect him to be in the rotation for length of the season. Redding's salary will reportedly be $2.5 million and if his performance (or lack thereof) warrants it, the Mets can cut ties with Redding for a relatively reasonable payoff.

Even if he stays in the rotation for the whole year, I won't be too upset. Steve Trachsel held tenure with the Mets for six seasons and even though he seemed to be on the wrong side of a quality start most nights, his consistently mediocre performance was something to look forward to. In October 2006, I watched in a sold-out Dodger Stadium as Trachsel went inning for inning with Greg Maddux and kept the Mets in the game long enough for the Mets to break through to the Dodgers pen.

The Mets went on to win that game and advanced to the NLCS, where Trachsel was ineffective against the Cardinals, and the Mets lost the series in seven games. The Mets didn't bring Trachsel back in 2007, and I don't think he was missed by most fans, but my memories of Trachsel are mostly positive. He was never brilliant, but it wasn't his fault that he lacked talent. He took the ball when it was his turn, and never complained or lacked effort.

Two years of the Barry Zito era in San Francisco have been ample reminder that making long-term commitments can hamstring a GM's roster flexibility. A three- or four-year deal, which is what Scott Boras is seeking for Lowe and Perez, would provide either starter an opportunity to carry the Mets to a pennant, but either contract would also cost the team significantly more cash and could lead to a distastrous fallout should performance fall short of expectations.

Carl Pavano, Kevin Brown, and more recently Zito and Adrian Beltre are examples of players whose additions cost their teams millions of dollars but perhaps more costly was the hope lost among fans of the Dodgers, Yankees, Giants and Mariners who watched these players fail to live up to the hype. Mets fans remember the recent signings of Martinez and Billy Wagner and couldn't be blamed for having muted optimism as Frankie Rodriguez comes to town as the newest hired gun.

It was because Martinez and Orlando Hernandez were injured, after all, that Trachsel's number was called in Game 3 of the NLDS. Whereas the two talented, former World Series winning aces were sidelined for the Mets only postseason activity of the last eight years, slow and steady Steve Trachsel was ready when his number was called. The pricier, flashier pitchers that Minaya savors are still out there for the chasing, but there are no guarantees that Lowe will remain subtly effective, or that Perez can ever deliver on his potential.

Maybe Tim Redding will be the No. 4 starter the Mets never knew they needed, and if they're wrong, $2.5 million won't be too tough to stomach, I guess.